February 28, This day during the World War ll

February 28, 1944 – The Narva Offensive was a campaign fought between the German army detachment “Narwa” and the Soviet Leningrad Front for the strategically important Narva Isthmus. At the time of the operation, Stalin was personally interested in taking Estonia, viewing it as a precondition for forcing Finland out of the war. The 2nd Shock Army expanded the bridgehead in the Krivasoo swamp south of Narva, temporally cutting the railway behind the Sponheimer Group. Army General Leonid Govorov was unable to take advantage of the opportunity of encircling the smaller German army group which called in reinforcements. These came mostly from the newly mobilised Estonians who were motivated to resist the looming Soviet re-occupation. The Soviet 30th Guards Rifle Corps and the 124th Rifle Corps, which resumed the Soviet operation, were exhausted by the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps in ferocious battles. The offensive was halted on 20 February. Symbolically coinciding with Estonian Independence Day on 24 February, the fresh 45th and 46th SS Waffen Grenadier Regiments (1st and 2nd Estonian), destroyed the Soviet Riigiküla bridgehead north of Narva. After a heavy artillery strike on 15 February, the Soviet 45th Rifle Guard Division broke through to the railway 500 metres to the west of Auvere station, but a powerful attack by German Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers pinned them down. The Narva–Tallinn railway, supplying the III SS Panzer Corps around the city, was cut in two places, threatening to encircle the German detachment. In the course of the action, the Soviet 30th Guards Rifle Corps lost 7,773 troops and ceased to exist as a combat-ready unit. Units of the Sponheimer Group went on to the counterattack, stopping the Soviet rifle corps’ advance. Despite heavy resistance from the German 61st Infantry Division, the rifle corps mounted a powerful strike behind the railway. Johannes Frießner, in charge of the army group, hurried his forces southward against the 124th Rifle Corps advance. The German 61st Infantry Division and the German Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle 1, supported by the 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion, drove the rifle corps back to the swamp in a pitched battle. A battalion from the Norge Regiment was brought in to help hold the line. After the offensive, the weakened Soviet 30th Guards Rifle Corps was replaced by the 109th Rifle Corps The 214th Infantry Division cut a rifle division off from the rest of their forces on 28 February. The 43rd Soviet Rifle Corps restored the situation. Steiner threw the Estonian Division into battle on 20 February. Being the first into Narva, the division had the 1st and 2nd Estonian Regiments separate the two bridgeheads at Riigiküla and Sliversti on 21 February. The failure of their follow-up attacks made it clear that direct assaults were impossible because of the batteries across the river. Instead, “rolling” tactics were applied; they had been learned by officers in the Estonian National Defence College before World War II. This meant placing small shock platoons in the Soviet trenches which the artillery found impossible to spot. It was considered a matter of national honour to annihilate the Soviet bridgehead by 24 February – Estonian Independence Day. The bridgehead was reinforced with the 1078th Rifle Regiment increasing the number of defenders to 776 and 14 assault guns. The Leningrad Front command was convinced by well-placed artillery fire forcing back every possible attack. The II.Battalion, 2nd Estonian Regiment, and the German artillery appeared as if committing a direct assault while a platoon of the 6th Company threw themselves into the Soviet trenches. At first, the Soviets resisted but after running out of hand-grenades, they were forced to retreat over the frozen river. The setbacks on the Narva front came as an unpleasant surprise for the leadership of the Leningrad Front, blaming it on the arrival of the Estonian Division. Since the beginning of January, the Leningrad Front had lost 227,440 troops killed, wounded or missing in action, which constituted more than half of the troops who participated in the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive. Both sides rushed-in reinforcements. The 59th Army was brought to Narva and the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps placed under the command of the Leningrad Front. The newly arrived army attacked westwards from the Krivasoo bridgehead south of Narva and encircled the strongpoints of the 214th Infantry Division and two Estonian Eastern Battalions. The resistance of the encircled units gave the German command time to move in all available forces and to stop the 59th Army advance. The next task for the Estonian Division was the destruction of the Siivertsi Bridgehead defended by the 1,100-strong 378th Rifle Division equipped with 20 assault guns. The attack was commanded by Standartenführer Paul Vent. The 1st Estonian Regiment made a direct assault on the bridgehead on 29 February. Simultaneously, the 2nd Estonian Regiment, in their attempt to attack from the left flank, ran into Soviet fortifications and a minefield, which was crossed. As the I.Battalion, 2nd Estonian Regiment had lost almost all of its officers, Unterscharführer Harald Nugiseks stepped in as the leader of the attack. He immediately changed tactics, loading a quantity of hand-grenades onto some sledges, so that the attackers would not have to crawl back for the supplies over the minefield. With the hand-grenades passed along the trenches, the bridgehead was squeezed in from the north by the “rolling” tactics. The SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark took Siivertsi cemetery, attacking from the northern suburbs of Narva, but they could not destroy a Soviet machinegun strongpoint inside a massive granite monument erected to the honour of the perished soldiers of the Northwestern White Army in the battle of Narva, 1919. Eventually, the machinegunners were killed by a flamethrower. Another machinegun strong point was in the wreck of a Tiger tank, which was destroyed by Ago Loorpärg firing at it with a captured Soviet 45 mm gun. The Soviet bridgehead was squeezed into a few hundred metres of river bank around the ruins of the borough of Vepsküla by 5 March. In a surprise attack by the 1st Estonian Regiment, the bridgehead was split into three parts and “rolled”-down hand-grenades. A small Soviet bridgehead still left on the west bank was cleared by the II.Battalion, 2nd Estonian Regiment on 6 March.

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