Tallinn Defense of 1941
Tallinn Defense of 1941
the heroic defense of the capital of the Estonian SSR and the main base of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet from Aug. 5 to 28, 1941, during the Great Patriotic War (1941–45).
On July 3, 1941, the command of the Northwestern Front entrusted the defense of Tallinn from the land side to the Eighth Army, composed of the X and XI Infantry Corps; on July 10, the army took up positions on the distant approaches to Tallinn, north of the line Pärnu-Tartu-Lake Chudskoe. Despite its small total and effective combat strength, the Eighth Army, supported by detachments of marines and construction battalions from the fleet, repulsed an enemy offensive from July 11 to 17 and wiped out enemy forces attempting a breakthrough toward Märjamaa, south of Tallinn. On July 15, the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet (commanded by Vice Admiral V. F. Tributs and member of the Military Council N. K. Smirnov) ordered the engineer department to build defense fortifications. Party and Soviet agencies of the Estonian SSR mobilized the civilian population for the work and organized the production of construction materials. Three defense lines composed of strongpoints were created.
On July 22, the enemy resumed the offensive from the Tartu area toward the Rakvere and Kunda area and from the Pärnu area toward Märjamaa. On August 5, a defense headquarters for the main base was set up. After fierce fighting that ended late on August 7, fascist German troops reached the Gulf of Finland in the Juminda and Kunda area and cut off Tallinn from the land. The troops of the Eighth Army were split: the X Infantry Corps retreated to Tallinn and the XI to Narva. On August 14, Marshal of the Soviet Union K. E. Voroshilov, the commander in chief of the Northwestern Axis of Operation, entrusted the defense of Tallinn from the land side to the Military Council of the Baltic Fleet. The defenders numbered 27,000, including 16,000 sailors, and were supported by ship and coast artillery and by 85 aircraft from the fleet. The heroic efforts of the Tallinn defenders stopped the enemy by August 10. Latvian and Estonian workers’ regiments fought heroically alongside the soldiers of the regular army.
The enemy moved up four infantry divisions, totaling 60,000, to Tallinn and passed to the offensive on August 20. Soviet soldiers fought stubbornly, but on August 25, under the pressure of superior enemy forces, had to retreat to the main defense line, where bitter fighting continued for two days. The enemy began bombarding the ships in the roadsteads and at moorings. On August 26 the commander in chief of the Northwestern Axis of Operation, in view of the situation and aware of bitter fighting that had broken out around Leningrad in August, ordered the evacuation of Tallinn in order to transfer the fleet to Kronstadt and strengthen the defense of Leningrad.
Soviet troops counterattacked on August 27 and began a retreat to the points of embarkation under the cover of ship and coast artillery. The evacuation was set to begin on the night of August 27, but a storm delayed the departure. The ships went out to the roadsteads in the morning of August 28 and weighed anchor in the afternoon. A rearguard covered the departure and repulsed enemy air strikes until the evening. The move to Kronstadt took place under exceptionally difficult conditions, across minefields and without air cover until Gogland Island. At night, as more and more ships were destroyed by mines, the commander of the fleet ordered the ships to anchor. The voyage resumed in the morning under continuous enemy air strikes. The sailors displayed exceptional heroism during the voyage. On August 29 the first warships arrived in Kronstadt, and on August 30 the transfer of the transports and warships was completed. The losses in transit amounted to a few warships out of 100 and to 34 transports and auxiliary vessels, most of them small, out of 67. The fleet had fulfilled its mission. The defense of Tallinn was of great importance for the defense of Leningrad during a most difficult period of the war.
REFERENCESBaltiiskii flot. Moscow, 1960.
Krasnoznamennyi Baltiiskii flot v bitve za Leningrad. 1941–1944. Moscow, 1973.
Tallin v ogne. Sb. st., 2nd ed. Tallinn, 1971.
IU. I. CHERNOV