1939 - 1945 II WW2 - timeline

At the outbreak of World War II, both Latvia and Estonia declared neutrality. However a treaty between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had defined the spheres of power between the two totalitarian regimes and soon the Baltic states were occupied by the Soviet Union. The Soviets were driven out by Nazis in 1941 only to return in 1944. Many Estonian and Latvian men were forced to fight on both sides.

23 August 1939
The Soviet Union and Germany sign a non-aggression pact

The Soviet Union and Germany sign a non-aggression pact (the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop or Hitler-Stalin Pact). The secret protocol of the pact divided Eastern Europe between the two. The Baltic States, Finland, Eastern Poland and Bessarabia came under the Soviet sphere of influence, while the larger part of Poland came under the German sphere of influence.

1 September 1939
The outbreak of World War II

Germany invades Poland. France and Great Britain, allied to Poland, declare war on Germany on 3 September.

September 1, 1939
World War II

World War II begins, and Latvia announces its neutrality.

28 September 1939
The Soviet Union imposes a mutual assistance treaty on Estonia

The Soviet Union imposes a mutual assistance treaty on Estonia, permitting the Soviet Union to build military bases and station 25,000 Red Army soldiers in the country. Although de jure independent, the Baltic States were de facto under Soviet control and forced into an alliance that lasted from 1939-1940.

The resettlement (Umsiedlung in German) of over 14,000 Baltic Germans from Estonia to Germany

In spring 1941 an additional 7000 people were resettled to Germany following the signing of an agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany. The resettlement was prompted by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, according to which the German populace of Estonia (and Latvia) would soon have found itself in the Soviet sphere of influence. In the course of the resettlement, a significant number of non-Germans managed to flee from Estonia.

14 June 1940
The start of the June Coup

Falsely accused of failing to remain neutral, Estonia is blockaded by air and sea by the Soviet Union, which presents an ultimatum to allow even more military units to be stationed and a Moscow-minded government to be installed in the country, threatening to use force if rejected.

21 June 1940
A puppet government dictated by Stalin's personal proxy Andrei Zhdanov is installed, initiating the process of Estonia’s Sovietisation

Staged parliamentary elections, which were entirely unconstitutional, were hastily held in July. The newly convened parliament declared Estonia a Soviet Socialist Republic and requested statehood within the Soviet Union. To portray the coup d'état as a people's revolution, large public meetings were staged with Estonian communists making speeches while the Red Army kept watch.

23 July 1940
The Welles Declaration

The US Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles declares that the United States does not recognise the Soviet annihilation of the political independence and territorial integrity of the Baltic States. This was the start of the non-recognition policy in the West.

August 5, 1940
Accession of Latvia to the USSR

After a sham election in the presence of the Red Army, with just one, Soviet-approved list of candidates, a new Parliament was established, and it requested and received permission for Latvia to become a constituent republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

6 August 1940
Estonia is incorporated as a union republic into the Soviet Union

The social organisation, economic structure and culture scene in Estonia were all substituted with their Soviet counterparts. The apportioning of land ownership and the nationalisation of private assets had already begun the month before. In autumn 1940 the Soviet Rouble became legal tender in Estonia.

Autumn 1940
Dismantling of Latvia's armed forces

After Latvia's occupation, Latvia's army was renamed the People's Army on June 25, and on August 27 it became part of the Red Army as the 24th Territorial Riflemen's Corps.  Troop numbers were reduced by relieving officers and instructors who were not seen as loyal to the Soviet regime from their duty.  Soviet security institutions gradually began repressions against those who were so relieved.

June 14, 1941
Deportations of Latvian residents

On June 14, 1941, the Soviet regime deported more than 15,000 people - men, women and children - to the eastern regions of Russia and in cattle wagons.  Among them were many Latvian military soldiers and officers who had been arrested at a military camp at Litene.

14 June 1941
The June deportations

More than 10,000 people are deported from Estonia to the Soviet Union, first and foremost Estonian state and local government officials, officers in the army, members of the Defence League, businessmen, policemen and farmers along with their families. The goal was to eradicate the country’s intellectual, political and economic elite as an anti-Soviet element.

June 22, 1941
German occupation of Latvia

Germany organised the Operation Barbarossa to invade the Soviet Union, and within two weeks or so after the invasion, all of Latvia was occupied by the Nazi forces.

22 June 1941
Germany launches its offensive against the Soviet Union

The German forces advanced swiftly and caused huge losses for the Red Army.

July-October 1941
The so-called Summer War takes place

The so-called Summer War takes place, in which the Estonian resistance (the Forest Brothers and Home Guard) and the German 18th Army on the eastern front fight against the Soviet 8th Army and NKVD Internal Troops. During this power vacuum, local governments were restored for a short period in many parts of Estonia.

August 3, 1941
: Establishment of a Latvian riflemen's unit within the Red Army

At the beginning of the war, the 24th Territorial Riflemen's Corps retreated to Russia and was dismantled.  Instead it became the 201st Latvian Riflemen's Division, which included volunteers and mobilised people from Latvia who were living in the USSR.

14 August 1941
President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain sign the Atlantic Charter

The charter prohibited the claiming of any new territories as a result of the war and the recognition of any annexations and vowed to respect a nation's right to freely choose its form of government. Yet the Baltic States were the only nations whose independence was not restored, not even nominally.

September 1941-October 1944
The German occupation of Estonia

The first German troops crossed the southern border of Estonia on 5 July 1941. Estonia fell completely under German control by 21 October. Germany imposed an occupational regime in which a civilian and a military administration shared power.

November 11, 1941
Slaughter of the Jews in Riga

Jews who were cooped up in the Rīga ghetto were murdered.  Approximately 73,000 Jews from Latvia and 16,000 from other countries were slaughtered in Latvia during the Holocaust (data from the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia).

February 10, 1943
Formation of the Latvian Legion as part of the German army

As German armed forces suffered losses on the eastern font lines, they were partly replaced by a mobilisation of men from Nazi-occupied territories.  Beginning in 1941, volunteers established police battalions, but in 1943, the German regime, in violation of the 1907 Hague Convention, began to mobilise Latvians into its armed forces.  This included the establishment of the Latvian Legion.

Attempts to restore Latvia's independence

The Latvian Central Council was established on August 13, 1943, with the aim of restoring the independence of the Republic of Latvia.  On March 17, 1944, its participants signed a memorandum to declare the need to restore Latvia's sovereignty.  The Nazi Gestapo arrested some of those who did so, including the chairman of the council, Konstantīns Čakste.  They were sent to a prison camp at Salaspils and then to the Stutthof concentration camp in Eastern Prussia.  The Latvian Central Council also helped to organise boats for refugees who fled across the Baltic Sea.  A military unit led by General Jānis Kurelis was established in the summer of 1944 with German permission to conduct diversions behind the lines of the Soviet forces.  National forces saw this as permission to re-establish their own forces, which could defend Latvia after the German withdrawal.  Between late October and early December, 1944, Germans wiped out Kurelis' group.  Particularly serious battles occurred in November and December against a Latvian battalion that was led by Lt Roberts Rubenis.

January 1944
Red Army units pursuing the German 18th Army retreating from Leningrad reach the Estonian border
2 February-26 July 1944
The Battle of Narva

The Red Army advance over the Narva River was hampered largely by the Estonian units in the German forces.

March 1944
Soviet air raids on Tallinn, Narva, Tartu and Pärnu

The Old Town in Narva was completely obliterated in these air raids, but the population had been evacuating since 25 January, given that the town was on the front line. Tallinn had already suffered multiple Soviet air raids, but the worst occurred on 9 & 10 March 1944. Official records state that 757 were killed, 213 severely injured and 446 less seriously injured as a result of the air raid. 1549 buildings were destroyed, 3350 were damaged and approximately 20,000 people were left homeless. Tartu was also raided by Soviet air forces multiple times. Approximately 100 civilians were killed and 80 buildings destroyed there in the bombing on 25 & 26 March.

July 1944
The Red Army returns to Latvia

The Red Army occupied Rēzekne and Daugavpils and started to move toward Rīga.  Late in July, a rapid attack from Lithuania allowed the Red Army to reach Tukums and to trap the German army group “Nord” in Vidzeme and Estonia.  After the siege was broken, the Germans retreated into Kurzeme.  There were fierce battles at More from September 25 until October 6, with the 19th Division of the Latvian Legion and German forces hindering the attempt of the Red Army to get to Rīga.  This also allowed German units to retreat.  The Red Army entered Rīga on October 13.

25 July-10 August 1944
The Battle of the Tannenberg Line a.k.a. the Battle of the Blue Hills

The Red Army launched its Narva offensive operation in late July in order to crush the German defences and conquer Estonia. The German forces abandoned Narva and fell back to the Tannenberg Line, setting up defensive positions. Thousands of Estonians took part in this, one of the deadliest battles fought on Estonian soil, defending their homeland among the German ranks. Failing to push through, the Red Army halted their offensive on 10 August. The significance of the battle to Estonia lies in its delaying the Red Army advance, giving many Estonians more time to flee to the West. The casualties either side sustained are not precisely known: approximately 2000 German soldiers are buried in cemeteries in Narva, Jõhvi and Toila, while Soviet cemeteries saw 20,000 burials.

August-November 1944
In early August the Red Army launches its offensive in North-eastern Latvia, reaching the Emajõgi River by the end of the month

In early August the Red Army launches its offensive in North-eastern Latvia, reaching the Emajõgi River by the end of the month, where the front line stabilises. The advances made by the Red Army in Latvia and Lithuania threatened to surround and cut off the German troops fighting in Estonia.

16 September 1944
Hitler agrees to abandon and retreat from mainland Estonia
17 September 1944
The Red Army begins its advance from the Emajõgi front line

The Red Army begins its advance from the Emajõgi front line, among them the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps. The German forces quickly retreated from South-eastern Estonia, the Narva River and the Blue Hills. Estonian units found themselves in a difficult situation.

18 September 1944
The government of Otto Tief comes to power

This government, formed during the brief power vacuum, was the last constitutional government of the Republic of Estonia until the restoration of the country’s independence on 20 August 1991. The governments-in-exile of the Republic of Estonia were important in preserving the legitimate continuity of the Republic of Estonia.

22 September 1944
The Red Army takes Tallinn
October 1944-May 1945
"Kurzeme Cauldron" - the siege of the German army in Kurzeme

As the German forces were retreating from Rīga to Kurzeme, there were six major battles along the front lines of Kurzeme:

1)  October 15-22:  around Dobele and Džūkste

2)  October 27 - November 27:  around Priekule, Vaiņode and Auce

3)  December 21-31 (Second Christmas Battle):  around Saldus, Vaiņode and Lestene

4)  January 25 - February 23:  around Liepāja and Saldus

5)  February 12 - March 14:  around Džūkste, Irlava, Priekule and Saldus

6)  March 17 - April 3:  around Saldus and Blīdene

Because of the ferocity of the battles this region became known as the Kurzeme Cauldron or Kurzeme Fortress.  The Red Army could not conquer Kurzeme fully until the full capitulation of German forces.  Many refugees in Kurzeme were evacuated to Germany from ports in Ventspils and Liepāja, while others took fishing boats to reach neutral Sweden.

Autumn 1944
Tens of thousands flee in the Great Escape

An estimated 70,000 Estonians fled to Germany and Sweden as part of the exodus. They were placed in refugee camps on arrival. The integration of refugees was quicker in Sweden, whereas in war-torn Germany many had to remain in the camps until the end of the 1940s. The aggressive repatriation policy of the Soviet Union led to many fearing they would be forcibly returned. This brought about a second wave of migration, with Estonians settling in the United States, Canada and other countries. Some sailed there on boats unfit for ocean crossings (so-called Vikings).

8 October 1944
The night-time Battle of Tehumardi takes place

The night-time Battle of Tehumardi takes place, becoming one of the most brutal battles of World War II on the island of Saaremaa.

15 December 1944
The last German units withdraw from the island of Ruhnu

By 19 December all of Estonia was under Soviet control.

1945. gada 2-3. marts
Attack to national partisan camp in Stompaki

Soviet Interior Ministry forces with 483 men attacked the camp on March 2-3, 1945.  After an intensive battle, including 28 dead, 40 injured and 7 captured members the partisans managed to break through to the North under the cover of night and snow.  After this battle, partisans changed their tactics and never again established large groups.

May 8, 1945
End of World War II in Europe, capitulation of Germany

The Germans capitulated at Reims on May 8, and the German army group “Kurland” in Kurzeme signed a capitulation act at the Ezermaļi homestead of the Ezere Parish in the Saldus District.  137,000 German troops and 9,000 members of the Latvian Legion surrendered.  Some 4,000 members of the legion decided to join national partisan movements.  Several dozen camps for prisoners of war and their filtration were established.  Prisoners were used to remove ruins or sent to labour camps in Siberia, where many of them died.  Those who did not were gradually liberated until 1953.  Civilians in Kurzeme also underwent filtration to check their personal data and to find out what they had been doing during the Nazi occupation.