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1944: Battle of Tannenberg Line and The Slaughter at Orphanage Hill4 min read

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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 back the Soviet forces in the famous Battle of the Blue Mountains (Sinimäed Hills) in Estonia.

The Blue Mountains in Estonia, which are more like hills, have always had 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.

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

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.

On-site at the Blue Mountains they began to prepare for the huge Soviet offensive that waited. Blue Mountains consist of three hills that runs 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. Total amount of soldiers were 22,250.

Several memorials to the fallen.

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 were a constant reinforcement with new troops.

The 26th of July began the Soviet attack on the hill called Orphanage hill. On 28th July fell Orphanage hill in Soviet controll, 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.

View from the edge of the Blue Mountains today.

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.

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

Salvaged tank barriers.

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.

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

German fuel barrel.

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 to 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.

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.

A small museum is located on site.

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.

Wreckage from the battlefield.

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 for the Soviet 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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