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1944: Battle Of Tannenberg Line And The Slaughter At Orphanage Hill

In July and August 1944, at the verdant hills of northeastern Estonia, the calmness was broken in what would become a bloodbath. German and Estonian soldiers were determined to push the Soviet forces back in the famous Battle of the Blue Mountains (Sinimäed Hills) in Estonia.

Today it is difficult to imagine the horrific scenes that took place here in 1944.

The Blue Mountains in Estonia

The Blue Mountains in Estonia, which are more like hills, have always been a military significance. In history and during the First World War, fierce fighting was a common element at these strategic important hills. When World War II was close to its end the Germans and their allies had to retreat more and more when the Soviet troops hit in full force.

In six months had the Germans and the Allies defended the bridgehead of Narva to prevent Soviet troops to cross the river which separated Estonia from Russia. They decided to fall back to the Tannenberg line, about 15 kilometers west of Narva.

Several memorials to the fallen.

Waiting for the huge Soviet offensive

On-site at the Blue Mountains they began to prepare for the huge Soviet offensive that waited. The Blue Mountains consist of three hills that run from east to west. The supporters consisted of a variety of SS units. The largest number of soldiers were Germans and Estonians. In addition to these, there were divisions of SS volunteers from countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. The total amount of soldiers were 22,250.

The Soviet strength was many times greater. On the paper stated the Soviet crew to 136,830, but because the losses considered to be around 170,000 there was a constant reinforcement with new troops.

View from the edge of the Blue Mountains today.

The attack on Orphanage hill

The 26th of July began the Soviet attack on the hill called Orphanage hill. On 28th July fell Orphanage hill under Soviet control, and the next day began a huge bombardment of Soviet artillery against the two remaining hills. 25,000 artillery pieces fired and the entire area was covered in a thick fog.

Old German street signs.

German troops had dug themselves into the mud in the field and therefore did the artillery just a little damage. Neither Soviet airplane could spot the camouflaged Germans.

Soviet ordered 9000 soldiers supported by nearly 100 tanks to the front. The tanks blew out what was left of the German bunker constructions.

Objects found in the terrain.

Now they began seizure against the German pockets and after hard fighting, the Germans and others fall back on the third and last litter. Soviet forces now controlled most of Tannenberg line, but they were weakened because of the huge losses they suffered. It was hard to hold their defensive positions.

The counterattack

This opened for a German counterattack. With reinforcements of armor, which actually belonged to the reserve, reconquered the Germans the two hills they previously had abandoned. There was a shortage of ammunition and the Germans, therefore, had to use weapons from fallen Soviets. Meanwhile, the Soviet defense was completely disorganized and low-flying planes tried to tick individual German soldiers who defected from the bomb craters.

German fuel barrel.

During the afternoon of July 29th did the Soviet Union no less than 8 attempts to recapture the Sinimäed Hills.

Lack of discipline in Soviet lines

The disaster of the Soviet Union was a fact. Officially they said that the hill in the center certainly was controlled by the Soviet forces. Meantime, they tried to find the faults in their defeat. They discovered shortcomings in coordination. Tanks had driven straight into uncleared minefields. Even the officers were hard accused about the extensive alcohol intoxication that occurred among soldiers during the fighting.

A small museum is located on site.

Stalin was furious. He issued an order that they have to break through the line to Tallinn, what sacrifices it may require. In early August, the Soviet front received large reinforcements.

The German troops began to be tired. The finale of the battle took place on August 3. Huge quantities of Soviet armor and artillery attacked the German positions, but until August 10 not much had changed.

A stillness fell at Tannenberg Line. Both sides focused on defense and until the middle of September, there were no major clashes.

Huge losses at the Blue Mountains

The results of the battles at the Blue Mountains was for Soviet a defeat of enormous proportions. While Germans allies had losses of 10,000 of which 2,500 were dead or missing was the result of the Soviet forces 35,000 dead or missing, 135,000 injured or sick, and around 160 tanks destroyed.

Memorial Monument of the battle at the top of Orphanage Hill.

The 14th September, the Riga offensive started. For one of the sides in the war, this was the kiss of death …

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