Operation Tannenberg-Stellung

This was a German defensive position on the Eastern Front to the west of Narva in Estonia (26 July/10 August 1944).

Between 26 July and 10 August the Battle of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ was fought as what may be seen as the last act of the ‘Narva Offensive Operation’ as the winner of this battle would still control the all-important Narva ‘isthmus’ between Lake Peipus and the south coast of the Gulf if Finland. After defending the Narva bridgehead for six months, the German forces fell back to the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ in the Sinimäed hills, as noted above, on 26 July. The hills are aligned in an east/west line, and comprise the Lastekodumägi (Kinderheimhöhe in German), Grenaderimägi (Grenadierhöhe) and Tornimägi (Liebhöhe). All three have steep slopes and rise to a height of between 65 and 165 ft (20 and 50 m) above the surrounding land.

SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Felix Steiner’s III SS Panzerkorps (germanisches) of General Anton Grasser’s Armeeabteilung 'Narwa' ended its withdrawal from Narva as it moved into defensive positions on the hills. SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Jürgen Wagner’s 4th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade 'Nederland' (from 1 August SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade 'Nederland') started to entrench itself on the northern flank of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’, SS-Brigadeführer under Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Franz Augsberger’s 20th SS Waffen Grenadierdivision der SS (estnische Nr 1 in the centre, and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Joachim Ziegler’s 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland' on the southern flank. Generalleutnant Hellmuth Raymann’s 11th Division of General Ehrenfried Boege’s XLIII Corps prepared to hold another sector of the front a few miles farther to the south, against the 8th Army, in the Krivasoo bridgehead. At Steiner’s disposal were approximately 22,250 men, seven tanks, between 70 and 80 pieces of artillery, and 49 aircraft.

Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Leonid A. Govorov, commander of the Leingrad Front, believed the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ to be the key position of Generalfeldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner’s Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’, and for the Soviet assault on the position concentrated the best forces available to the Leningrad Front, elements of General Major Vasili A. Trubachev’s CXVII Corps and General Major Nikolai M. Martynchuk’s CXXII Corps of General Leytenant Ivan T. Korovnikov’s 59th Army being grouped with General Major Nikolai P. Yakunin’s CXXIV Corps of the 2nd Shock Army, whose commander, General Leytenant Ivan I. Fedyuninsky, was to command the assault designed to break through the III SS Panzerkorps defences on the Lastekodumägi, drive through to the town of Jõhvi in the west and reach the Kunda river by 1 August.

To accomplish this, Govorov was instructed to destroy communications behind the German forces and conduct air assaults on the railway stations of Jõhvi and Tapa on 26 July.

There is no complete overview of the order or strengths of the Soviet forces in the Battle of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’, though it is likely to have been in the order of 136,800 men, 150 armoured fighting vehicles, 1,680 pieces of artillery and mortars, and the 545 aircraft of General Leytenant Stepan D. Rybalchenko’s 13th Air Army. For the attack on 29 July, Govorov concentrated all of his effective strength, comprising 11 divisions and six tank regiments, all the formations and units which had suffered major losses were brought up to strength, and a considerable quantity of heavy artillery was brought forward to support the nine divisions of General Leytenant Ivan P. Alferov’s CIX Corps and the CXVII Corps and CXXII Corps. Of these corps, the first two were concentrated close to the Sinimäed hills, and the last on the southern section by the church of Vaivara parish. The positions of the 11th Division were attacked primarily by the 35,000 men of General Major Filipp Ya. Solovev’s CXII Corps of General Leytenant Filipp N. Starikov’s 8th Army, two fresh tank regiments with 150 tanks, and nine artillery regiments. The armoured strength included early examples of the IS-2 heavy tank with very thick armour and a 122-mm (4.8-in) gun: the new tank’s most significant tactical deficiencies were its limited ammunition capacity of a mere 28 rounds, and the main gun’s lengthy reloading time.

The Soviet order of battle, as of 28 July, was the 2nd Shock Army with the CIX Corps (72nd, 109th and 125th Divisions), CXXII Corps, General Major Mikhail D. Papchenko’s CXXIV Corps, the 131st and 191st Divisions and the 21st Engineer Brigade (26,850 infantry, 112 tanks and 458 pieces of artillery); the 8th Army with the 2nd and 377th Divisions, CXII Corps (48th Division) and CXVII Corps (120th, 201st and 256th Divisions) (28,000 infantry, 174 tanks, 44 self-propelled guns and 518 pieces of artillery); and General Leytenant Lembit Pärn’s VIII Estonian Corps (11th, 43rd, 98th, 123rd, 189th and 206th Divisions).

Against these very substantial Soviet forces, the Germans could pit only a few tired regiments without reserves. Although he was later proved to have been too pessimistic, Grasser assessed the capability of his Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ 1 as insufficient to check any Soviet attack: even though they had sufficient machine guns and ammunition, the German divisions were now hard pressed in terms of their morale, and Grasser felt that determination of some of the Estonian troops had already been severely damaged. On 29 July, Grasser reported to his superiors that without immediate reinforcements, the Soviets would inevitably break through the German line, but such reinforcement could not be provided by Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’, whose commander, Schörner, had repeatedly brought to the attention of Adolf Hitler the fact that virtually no German-manned division was left for the defence of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’, which was under imminent danger of collapse, as indeed had by now become almost inevitable. These calls had no effect and Hitler merely reiterated his mantra of stand and die.

It was on 26 July that the Soviet attack fell on the Lastekodumägi, the easternmost position of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’, before the Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ had been able to complete its positions. Soviet artillery and warplanes rained shells and bombs onto the German positions, in the process destroying most of the forest on the hills. The headquarters of the newly arrived 6th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade ‘Langemarck’ was destroyed and almost all of its officers were wounded. With SS-Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Rehmann forced to leave the battlefield, it fell to SS-Obersturmführer (soon SS-Sturmbannführer) George D’Haese to bring the brigade back to combat-readiness. The German artillery batteries had also been badly hit, the commander of one of them being killed. It took the Germans a few days to repair their assault guns, and until this had been completed the German artillery was limited in its capability. Exploiting this disorder in the Germ dispositions, the 201st and 256th Divisions, supported by the 98th Tank Regiment, assaulted the positions of the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision, seizing the eastern side of the Lastekodumägi. In the darkness of the night which followed, however, the anti-tank company of the 24th SS Panzergrenadierregiment destroyed the Soviet tanks and regained the original German positions.

In the morning of 27 July, the Soviet forces began another powerful artillery barrage toward the Sinimäed hills and Steiner, anticipating an infantry attack, concentrated the few serviceable armoured fighting vehicles available to him: these were just seven tanks under the command of Kausch. Steiner placed this little force behind the westernmost Tornimägi, which was also known to the Germans Höhe 69.9 or Liebhöhe. One company of Nebelwerfer artillery rocket launchers was placed behind this armoured force. Units of the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision were positioned between the two hills, and the defensive arrangement was completed by the anti-tank company of the 46th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment behind the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision.

The Soviet attack concentrated at the Lastekodumägi and the 24th SS Panzergrenadierregiment to the south of it. The Danish anti-tank company used its Panzerfaust anti-tank launchers to good effect, hitting and setting fire to 14 Soviet tanks. The Soviet infantry meanwhile forced the weakened 6th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade to pull back from the southern side of the Lastekodumägi and dig new trenches in front of the Grenaderimägi. As a last resort, SS-Unterscharführer Remi Schrijnen used the only heavy weapon left to the Sturmbrigade, a 75-mm (2.95-in) PaK 40 anti-tank gun despite the fact that he was wounded, cut off from the rest of his unit and had to serve as both loader and gunner. Schrijnen and the Flemish heavy machine gunners halted several Soviet tank attacks which threatened to encircle the 6th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade and the Estonian battalions.

The Soviet attack also failed to penetrate the defence line of the 2/49th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierregiment. Several Soviet tanks broke through to the battalion’s headquarters, but were then driven back by SS-Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz Edler von Rerancze’s despatch of 12 assault guns pushed forward from the reserve. To the south of the Lastekodumägi, Soviet forces broke through the defence of the 24th SS Panzergrenadierregiment and by the fall of night had taken most of the hill.

By this time the German defence was on the verge of collapse under the weight of the Soviet pressure. On 27 July, Schörner arrived at the Sinimäed battlefield, ordering the immediate recapture of the Lastekodumägi and demanding unquenchable resistance. A meeting convened by von Scholz, the commander of the 4th SS Panzergrenadierregiment, fixed the tactics which were to be employed in the implementation of the order but, immediately after the meeting, von Scholz was killed by a shrapnel splinter in front of his headquarters.

On the night of 27/28 July, the 11th SS Aufklärungsabteilung and the 1/47th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment launched a ferocious counterattack. The losses on each side were very heavy, and the Estonian battalion was effectively destroyed. The fighting for the Lastekodumägi lasted to the end of 28 July without pause. A battalion of the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision launched a determined attempt to retake the Lastekodumägi, but was repulsed. The surviving German forces fell back to the Grenaderimägi.

For the fighting of 28 July, the 2nd Shock Army was reinforced with the 31st and the 82nd Tank Regiments, three howitzer brigades, and nine heavy artillery regiments. In the morning, the Soviet forces made a major attempt to outflank, from the north, the German forces still resisting on the Lastekodumägi, but were denied, largely by the effort of the 6th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade’s last anti-tank gun, which destroyed the Soviet armoured force. They Soviets suffered heavy losses, and now ordered an air and artillery assault aimed at destroying the withdrawing German units. Anticipating the attack, the Flemish troops in fact advanced into no man’s land close to the Soviet units instead and, in close-quarter fighting a Flemish regiment repulsed the Soviets though only at the expense of its own near-destruction.

In the evening of 28 July, the German forces made yet another attempt to retake the Lastekodumägi. Using the tactic of ‘rolling’ small units into the Soviet positions, the German troops seized the trenches on the slope of the feature, but the arrival of a Soviet tank squadron signalled the collapse of the German attack. In a sector held by an element of the 11th Division near Sirgala in the south, a Soviet tank force aimed to break through, and Steiner ordered a withdrawal to a new defensive line at the Lastekodumägi. However, the order did not reach a significant part of the German forces still on the Lastekodumägi. Anticipating a major attack, Steiner ordered the heavy weapons of the two Panzergrenadier regiments of the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision to be pooled as a pair of shock units. By the fall of night on 28 July, the battle had subsided.

On the Grenaderimägi, the morning of 29 July began with a preparatory bombardment of 25,000 shells fired by the Soviet artillery: the bombardment covered the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ in an all-enveloping cloud of dust. The forest areas of the on the Sinimäed hills were entirely destroyed, all the trees cut down to a height of 6.5 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m). While they had a great psychological effect, severely affecting the morale of the Germans and their allies, the Katyusha rocket launchers of the Soviets were inaccurate and caused little damage to the German and allied forces, who were well entrenched, and the 70 to 80 German Nebelwerfer rocket launchers responded. Next there came an attack by Soviet bombers, which attempted to hit the last of the German and allied troops, tucked as low as possible in their trenches and little affected by the aerial bombardment.

The guiding concept of the Soviet attack in the Sinimäed hills was overwhelming frontal shock, with only a few of the attackers presumed to have reached their target after breaking the German and allied forces’ main defences. The attack by a force of 6,000 Soviet infantry of the CIX Corps began at 09.00 with the support of one regiment of nearly 100 armoured fighting vehicles, most of them IS-2 heavy tanks using their 4.8-in (122-mm) guns to fire directly at any strongpoints which showing any signs of life, and these destroyed the remaining bunkers. The remnants of the German advance guard were annihilated, and one Soviet platoon broke through to the top of the Grenaderimägi and raised a red flag on the summit. The small German units which still offered resistance were largely ignored by the Soviets as they continued the main attack to the west.

With artillery fire preventing the despatch of any German or allied reinforcements from the rear, the 8th Army now drove a wedge into the northern flank of the 11th Division. As noted above, the Soviets’ primary tactical objective, the Grenaderimägi, was assaulted by men of Alferov’s CIX Corps. General Major Nikolai A. Truzhkin’s 109th Division attacked the 4th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade, which was covering the hill, from the north. General Major Alexei V. Batluk’s 120th Division hit the Grenaderimägi from the east. General Major Ilya I. Yastrebov’s 72nd Division assaulted the 2/47th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment, which was defending the northern flank. The other two divisions of Trubachev’s CXVII Corps stood ready to break through the last of the German defences. The Lastekodumägi fell to the Soviets, whose assault was spearheaded by the 191st Regiment and suffered heavy losses from the fire of the last defenders as they were in turn either killed or forced back to the Grenaderimägi. With the seizure of the Lastekodumägi, General Major Vyacheslav P. Yakutovich’s 201st Division and General Major Anatoli G. Koziyev’s 256th Division were exhausted, and Truzhkin’s 109th Division continued to press toward the Grenaderimägi on its own. The defence was led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Bachmeier, the 2/23rd Panzergrenadierregiment's commander. The 1 and 2/47th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment had been placed under Bachmeier’s command, but each now mustered only between 20 and 30 men. For the defence of the Grenaderimägi, every available Estonian, including communications personnel, was committed. The central command post was destroyed by Soviet fire while the Germans, Flemings, Norwegians and Estonians escaped destruction by lying prone in their bunkers. Behind them, at the summit of the Grenaderimägi, was the 4th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade. German artillery blew great gaps in the attacking lines of Soviet infantry and armour, but this did not halt the Soviet advance.

The 109th Division bypassed the remnants of the 2/4th SS Panzergrenadierregiment, whose men used their machine guns to inflict heavy casualties on the Soviet ranks. The Soviet attack now met Schrijnen’s camouflaged anti-tank gun near the north-eastern corner of the hill. Schrijnen opened fire, destroying seven tanks but himself being severely wounded as his gun was destroyed by an IS-2 tank returning fire from a range of only 33 yards (30 m). Despite Schrijnen’s heroic stand, the Soviet tanks besieged the Grenaderimägi and also pressed forward round the hill, all the while firing on the defence. Nevertheless, they could not capture the summit as a result of the heavy casualties they had sustained from the German anti-tank guns and the anti-aircraft guns firing down the slope. Other Soviet tanks reached the westernmost Tornimägi where the defenders occupied bunkers which were poorly protected against attacks from the north and the flanks, and were accordingly destroyed. One of the Soviet tanks reached the community centre of Vaivara, blasting a hole through its wall. This remained the most westerly point reached by the the Soviet forces in north-eastern Estonia until a time late in September of the same year.

By 12.00 on 29 July, the Soviet forces had seized control of almost the entire ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’. During the attack, however, they had suffered heavy casualties and, despite their tactical successes, were unable to secure their positions in the Sinimäed hills. A mortally wounded German radio operator cleared the eastern slope of the Grenaderimägi by waiting for the Soviet troops to reach his position and then calling down an artillery barrage on himself and the Soviets now surrounding him. Soviet tanks threatened the headquarters of the 4th SS Panzergrenadierregiment, and the counterattack by the headquarters company was repelled and Collani, seeing a Soviet tank from the door of his headquarters, shot himself. His belief that the position was lost was erroneous, however, for Steiner ordered the last German tanks, commanded by Kausch, out of reserve and divided them into three units: one counterattacked the Soviets besieging the Tornimägi, the second secured the road linking Narva and Tallinn, and the third counterattacked between the Tornimägi and the railway a few miles to the south. The arrival of the German tanks was unexpected by the Soviet armour which, probably being out of ammunition, fell back, and the counterattack of the 4th SS Panzergrenadierregiment then expelled the other Soviet troops from the Tornimägi. After the counterattack, the Germans were left with only one Panther battle tank.

After the German counterattack, the tactical situation on the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ remained unclear. The Norwegian remnants of the 2/23rd SS Panzergrenadierregiment on the Tornimägi attacked the Soviets, who suffered heavy losses but regrouped and cut off the Norwegians at the eastern side of the hill. On the western terrace of the Grenaderimägi, the Kampfgruppe ‘Bachmeier’ and the 3/47th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment maintained their resistance even as the Soviets began to search seized bunkers for documents and prisoners. Steiner ordered an air attack by dive-bombers from the airfield at Tallinn, but the Soviets had anticipated the attack and moved their self-propelled anti-aircraft units to the Lastekodumägi, then shooting down several of the German warplanes before turning their fire on the German infantry.

Steiner had one more battalion to commit. This was the 1/45 SS Waffen Grenadierregiment, whose Estonian soldiers had not been committed in previous counterattacks because of the battalion’s shortage of able-bodied men. SS-Sturmbannführer Paul Maitla requested reinforcements from the men in the field hospital: 20 of the less grievously injured men responded, joining the remains of the other destroyed units, including a naval unit, and supported by the single remaining Panther tank. The battalion’s counterattack started from the parish cemetery to the south of the Tornimägi, and its left flank cleared the Soviets from the hill. The counterattack continued toward the summit under heavy Soviet artillery and bomber attack, getting into close combat in the Soviet positions. The small German grenadier units managed to infiltrate themselves into the trenches and, running out of ammunition, the German troops began to use Soviet grenades and automatic weapons taken from the dead. It seemed to the men that low-flying Soviet bombers were attempting to hit every individual German soldier jumping between craters, from time to time being buried under the soil hurled into the air by the detonations of Soviet shells. The Soviets were forced to retreat from the Grenaderimägi.

During the afternoon of 29 July, the Soviet forces made eight attempts to regain control of the Grenaderimägi, and the last of the German reserves, including supply troops, were committed. Two assaults by Maitla’s improvised platoon at the Lastekodumägi forced the Soviets to halt further attacks, and gave the Germans time to regroup.

Reluctant to admit the setback in his report to the Soviet high command on 30 July, the political commissar of the 2nd Army falsely stated that the Grenaderimägi was still in the hands of the CIX Corps’ men, and a an attempted justification of the failure to break through the German defences, cited the poor co-operation between the artillery and the infantry. The report also mentioned the poorly co-ordinated efforts of the armoured units, which had on several occasions driven into minefields which had not been cleared by the sapper units. The commissar made serious reproaches against the commanders of the units and claimed in his report than they were very drunk while attempting to command the attacks.

On 30 July the battle continued in much the same fashion as before. The Soviet artillery increased the intensity of its fire to 30,000 rounds, and the German artillery answered with 10,000 rounds. The subsequent attack by Soviet heavy tanks broke through the 2/4th SS Panzergrenadierbrigade's defenders, who comprised between 35 and 45 effectives running between several machine guns positions. SS-Hauptsturmführer Helmut Scholz then led a counterattack by elements of the 4th SS Panzergrenadierregiment, destroying two tanks at the entrance of Scholz’s bunker and forcing the Soviets to retreat.

At the same time, Soviet infantry was moving up the Grenaderimägi under intense German bombardment, and their attack was finally repelled by German hand grenades. The Soviets attacked the 2/47th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment which, in close combat, destroyed 12 tanks and repelled this latest assault. Units of the 8th Army advanced in the forests of the southern section of the front.

On 31 July, the Soviet command changed the direction of the preparatory artillery fire, this time aiming it behind the hill, isolating the German defenders from the rest of the Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’. During this period the gradual decrease in the weight of the Soviet artillery fire, totalling only 9,000 rounds on 30 July, was striking evidence of the weakening of the Soviet attacks. Even so, Soviet infantry started once again to climb the slope of Grenaderimägi. The Estonian units trying to halt them ran out of ammunition, and just in time an improvised platoon of the 24th SS Panzergrenadierregiment arrived to save the situation by driving back the Soviet attack. In the evening, the Soviets attempted yet another assault on the Grenaderimägi, but this was repelled by the unit commanded by Bachmeier. The remnants of the 1/47th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment resisted the Soviet attacks on the southern flank.

On this occasion the political commissar of the 2nd Shock Army admitted the failure to break through the defence, which he sought to explain by stating that the artillery fire was running late. The report also presented the false assertion that the Germans had recaptured the Grenaderimägi only on 30 July.

After receiving an order from Stalin to break through to Tallinn at all costs, Govorov made Fedyuninsky responsible for reaching Rakvere no later than 7 August. During the first days of August, the 2nd Shock Army received reinforcements in the form of General Major Semyon I. Donskov’s CXX Corps and Yakunin’s CXXIV Corps, and the 8th Army received similar additions to its strength in the form of Solovev’s CXII Corps and Trubachev’s CXVII Corps. The strength of the Soviet tank forces was also rebuilt to a total of 104 armoured vehicles of all types. Along the primary 5.6-mile (9-km) sector of the front, the Soviets grouped 1,913 pieces of artillery to create a density of some 340 guns per mile (215 guns per km). Some 365 pieces of heavy artillery were directed against the Grenaderimägi and 200 at the Sirgala hamlet in the southern segment. The quantity of ammunition for the artillery was also increased significantly.

The was no fighting on 1 August as each side reorganised its forces. As part of this, the Leningrad Front tried to shift the centre of its weight farther to the south.

The Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ made strenuous efforts in the first days of August to replace its hardest-hit units with the less damaged detachments. Despite inflicting immense casualties on the Soviets, the Waffen SS units were themselves steadily being degraded in numbers and capability. The 4th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierregiment had been reduced to the size of a regiment, while the two regiments of the 6th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade had each been reduced to the equivalent of a reinforced company. The 46th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment had effectively ceased to exist, and the 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision was a shadow of its former self. However, the Germans were aided by the fact that Soviet intelligence severely overestimated their strength, including more than 60 tanks and 800 pieces of artillery at a time when there were in fact just one tank and 70 to 80 pieces of artillery in the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung'.

By 2 August the 2nd Shock Army had completed its redeployment and reinforcement, and attacked once again using essentially unaltered tactics. The men of the 4th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierregiment who survived the artillery bombardment now fell back down the slopes of the Grenaderimägi with the Soviet in pursuit. When the Soviet artillery barrage ended, the Estonians of the freshly drafted 2/46th Waffen Grenadierregiment returned fire, inflicted severe casualties on the assaulting Soviet infantry and then counterattacked, reclaiming the Grenaderimägi. Soviet tanks broke through in the south-eastern section of the front as the Estonian assault team commanded by SS-Hauptsturmführer Oskar Ruut, the 11th Division and the 300th Division zbV repelled them despite themselves suffering heavy casualties.

On 3 August, the Soviets made a stronger attempt, the preparatory artillery barrage of 25,000 to 30,000 shells reaching the intensity of the attack on 29 July. The barrage caused heavy losses, and some of the defenders abandoned their positions. A total of 11 Soviet infantry divisions and four tank regiments tried to spread their attack right along the front, although the main weight of the attack was again concentrated against the Grenaderimägi. German artillery observers had taken note of the concentration of the Soviet forces, however, and a heavy Nebelwerfer barrage then inflicted large numbers of casualties on the Soviet infantry and tanks even before these had started their attack. Even so, the German artillery fire did nothing more than slightly dent the Soviet superiority in manpower, and the Soviet attack began as scheduled. Assaulting the Grenaderimägi, General Major Afanasi S. Griaznov’s CX Corps found itself caught in the cross-fire of he remnants of the 1/46th SS Waffen Grenadierregiment. Senior officers of the corps wrongly reported to the headquarters of the 2nd Shock Army that Grenaderimägi had been taken, as as a result the artillery fire was lifted. The Estonians then counterattacked and cleared the hill. Simultaneously, the CXXIV Corps attacked the southern segment of the front by the Vaivara parish church, and was repulsed.

In a similar fashion, the Soviets made two more attacks on 3 August. Each began with a massive artillery bombardment and ended with a German counterattack which restored the previous positions. On 3 August the Soviets lost 20 tanks. The Soviet attacks from 4 to 6 August were weaker: on 4 August the Soviets lost 11 tanks, on 5 August another seven, and during the night of 5/6 August yet another six.

On 10 August, the military council of the Leningrad Front called an end to the offensive, and the Soviet forces switched to the defence. The Soviets now limited their operations to patrol activities interspersed with occasional attacks. The Germans and their allies used this respite to rotate several exhausted units out of the line for a few days for rest and refit, and to strengthen their positions. Until the middle of September, the front stayed quiet.

In the Soviet era, losses in the Battle of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ were not mentioned in official sources, so it is possible to infer these only from secondary sources. It is therefore reasonable to estimate that of the 46,385 men with whom it had embarked on the Estonian operation on 25 July, the 2nd Shock army had only a few thousands of effectives left, and that the losses of the 8th Army were basically similar. During the evening of 29 July, the Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ counted some 113 to 120 Soviet tanks destroyed, almost half of them in the fighting of 29 July, and the Germans counted another 44 Soviet tanks destroyed between 3 and 6 August.

Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ buried 1,709 men in Estonia between 24 July and 10 August, and added to the number of men missing in action, the number of irrecoverable casualties in the period was approximately 2,500. Accounting the standard ratio 1/4 of irrecoverable casualties to wounded, the total number of German casualties in the Battle of the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’ was therefore in the order of 10,000 men.

On 14 September, the Soviet 1st, 2nd and 3rd Baltic Fronts launched the ‘Baltic Offensive Operation’, one of whose four sub-operations was the ‘Riga Offensive Operation’ intended to take Riga and cut off Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ in the Kurland region of western Latvia. After much argument and forced to consider realities, Hitler finally agreed to allow the evacuation of all troops in Estonia. After months of holding the line, the exhausted men of the III SS Panzerkorps joined the withdrawal and fought their way back from the ‘Tannenberg-Stellung’.

On 17 September, the 3rd Baltic Front launched the ‘Tallinn Offensive Operation’ from the Emajõgi river front joining Lakes Peipus and Võrtsjärv with the object of encircling the Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’. Unable to check this Soviet advance, the German and allied formations and units withdrew to the north-west while the incomplete II Corps was left to stall the Soviet attack. The Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ pulled back swiftly toward the Latvian border, and on 22 September the Germans abandoned Tallinn. Appreciating the way events were developing, some of the Estonian formations and units now began to attack the retreating Germans in attempts to secure supplies, weapons and ammunition with which to continue a guerrilla war as the ‘Forest Brothers’ against a renewed Soviet occupation. Several elements of the 20th SS Waffen Grenadierdivision (estnisch Nr 1) remained in Estonia to continue the fight, some of its survivors joining the guerrilla groups which fought the Soviet occupying forces until the end of the 1970s.

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As on 28 July, the order of battle of the Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ was Steiner’s III SS Panzerkorps with Ziegler’s 11th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision (SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Knöchlein’s 23rd SS Panzergrenadierregiment and SS-Sturmbannführer Albrecht Krügel’s 24th SS Panzergrenadierregiment); Augsberger’s 20th SS Waffen Grenadierdivision (Waffen-Obersturmbannführer Harald Riipalu’s 45th SS Freiwilligen Grenadierregiment, Waffen-Standartenführer Juhan Tuuling’s 46th SS Freiwilligen Grenadierregiment, Waffen-Obersturmbannführer Paul Vent’s 47th SS Freiwilligen Grenadierregiment, and Waffen-Obersturmbannführer Aleksandr Sobolev’s 20th SS Freiwilligen Artillerieregiment); Wagner’s 4th SS Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade (SS-Hauptsturmführer Helmut Scholz’s 4th SS Panzergrenadierregiment ‘De Ruyter’, SS-Sturmbannführer Léon Degrelle’s 5th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade ‘Wallonien’ and SS-Sturmbannführer Georg D’Haese’s 6th SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade ‘Langemarck’); Generalmajor Maximilian Wengler’s 227th Division, and Major Prinz zur Lippe’s 113th Sicherungsregiment; Grasser’s own XXVI Corps with Reymann’s 11th Division and Generalmajor Rudolf Höfer’s 300th Division zbV; and separate detachments in the form of four Estonian police battalions, Generalleutnant Alfons Luczny’s Eastern Sector Coastal Defence, two Estonian border defence regiments, the 513th Marineartillerieabteilung, 502nd schwere Panzerabteilung and 752nd Panzerabwehrabteilung. Despite its plethora of diverse formations and units, however, the Armeeabteilung ‘Narwa’ had only 22,250 men deployed in 25 Estonian and 24 German, Dutch, Danish, Flemish, Norwegian and Walloon battalions.