Moonsund Defensive Operation of 1941

Moonsund Defensive Operation of 1941

 

the he roic defense of the islands of the Moonsund Archipelago by Soviet forces from September 6 to October 22 in the Great Patriotic War (1941–45).

After Tallinn was abandoned on August 28, the garrison on the islands of the Moonsund Archipelago was left deep in the enemy’s rear. The islands were defended by detached units of the Eighth Army and of the Baltic Fleet, a total of about 24,000 men; the coast artillery had 16 batteries (55 guns with a caliber of 100–180 mm); also based on the islands were six torpedo cutters, 17 minesweepers, several motorboats, and other vessels; there were 12 fighter planes at the airfield on the island of Saaremaa (Oesel). Lieutenant General A. B. Eliseev, commandant of the Coast Defense of the Baltic Region, directed the defense.

The enemy assigned for the capture of the islands a landing force composed of two infantry divisions. The lack of reliable fortifications on the eastern front and the lack of air cover facilitated the offensive by the superior forces of the enemy, which was begun from the captured coast of Estonia. On September 6 the coast batteries of Osmussaar Island repulsed the enemy’s attempt to debark a landing force. On September 8 the enemy debarked a landing force on Vormsi Island and occupied it by September 11 after fierce fighting. A landing force began disem-barking on September 14 on Muhu (Moon) Island; the Muhu Island garrison held out for four days. At the same time the enemy tried to disembark landing forces on Saaremaa, but a landing in Lou Bay on September 13 was repulsed by coast artillery fire and a torpedo-boat attack, and on September 14 battery fire from Abruka Island and Kiibassaar Peninsula foiled a landing in the region of Koiguste Bay; at the same time an airborne landing force on Kiibassaar Peninsula was destroyed.

On September 17, Soviet troops abandoned Muhu Island and withdrew to Saaremaa. On the same day the enemy broke through the Orissaare position and advanced into the interior of Saaremaa. By September 23, Soviet troops withdrew to Sorve Peninsula and held a defensive line on the narrow isthmus until September 30, despite the fire of enemy ships (two light cruisers and from three to six destroyers) and air bombardment. On September 30 the troops that defended Sorve Peninsula with-drew to the center of the peninsula, where they held out until October 3. On the night of October 3 a small part of the garrison was successfully evacuated to the island of Hiiumaa.

On October 12 the enemy began landing a large force on Hiiumaa at six points but succeeded in capturing bridgeheads in only two places, while suffering heavy losses. The garrison of the island, despite the numerical superiority of the enemy and a shortage of ammunition, fought heroically and stubbornly for six days. On October 18 the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet issued an order to evacuate the garrison to Hanko Peninsula and Osmussaar Island. The evacuation lasted until October 22. The stubborn defense of the Soviet troops diverted over 50,000 enemy soldiers and officers and considerable aviation forces, thereby weakening the grouping that conducted an offensive on Leningrad.

REFERENCE

Achkasov, V. I., and B. A. Vainer. Krasnoznamenyi Baltiiskii Flot v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine. Moscow, 1957.

V. I. ACHKASOV and IU. G. PERECHNEV

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