Estonia in the Second World War


May 25, 2022

While remaining complex to analyze, the role of Estonia during the Second World War can be divided into various phases that unfolded during the course of the conflict. Before the outbreak of the war, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, under which, by virtue of a secret additional protocol signed in August 1939, the two powers agreed for a partition of several states sovereigns of Eastern Europe, including Estonia, which would fall back to Moscow. The Republic of Estonia proclaimed its neutrality when hostilities broke out, but this was not enough to prevent the Soviet Union from deciding to occupy it militarily in 1940. This event was followed by mass political arrests, deportations and various executions. When the Germans declared war on Moscow and started Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the pro-independence brothers of the forest took southern Estonia from the control of the NKVD and the 8th army before the arrival of the 18th German army. On the opposite front, the istrebiteli, or Soviet paramilitary units, carried out several punitive expeditions, including looting and killings, carrying out the scorched earth tactic ordered by Iosif Stalin. Estonia was therefore occupied by Germany and, soon after, merged with the Reichskommissariat Ostland. In 1941, the Estonians enlisted joined the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps and, from then until 1944, many inhabitants joined the Wehrmacht, while some of those who managed to escape the mobilizations went to Finland and formed the 200th regiment of Finnish infantry. About 40% of the pre-war Estonian fleet was requisitioned by the British authorities and used in Atlantic convoys; nearly 1 000 Estonian sailors served in the British merchant navy, including 200 as officers. A small number of Estonians instead served in the Royal Air Force, the British Army and the United States Army. From February to September 1944, the detachment of the German "Narwa" army delayed the Soviet reconquest of Estonia. After having undermined the defense of the II Corps across the Emajõgi River and defeated the Estonian separatist troops, the Red Army reoccupied mainland Estonia in September 1944 and, after the war, Estonia became a Soviet republic of Union known as the Estonian SSR until 1991, despite the Atlantic Charter of 1941 stated that there would be no territorial agreements. The losses caused by the Second World War in Estonia, estimated at 23.9% of the population (271 200 out of 1 136 400), were among the highest in Europe in percentage terms. Wanting to limit the number to only the three years of German occupation (1941-1944), although it is quite difficult to try to reconstruct an exact figure, according to the historian Raun, it is possible to hypothesize the death of more than 100,000 Estonians. If, in order to reconstruct a total quota, one wanted to take a look only at the documents available, the calculation of the confirmed victims would be more limited, as it would only refer to the deaths of 81,000 Estonians. The figure also includes deaths caused by Nazi and Soviet deportations and executions, as well as deaths due to the Holocaust.


Interwar period

Before the Second World War, the Republic of Estonia and the USSR had signed and ratified several treaties, listed here in chronological order: Briand-Kellogg Pact (27 August 1928): war was repudiated as an instrument for resolving disputes (also ratified by Estonia and the USSR on 24 July 1929) Non-aggression treaty: signed on 4 May 1932 Convention for the definition of aggression : on July 3, 1933, for the first time in the history of international law, a definition of aggress was provided