Soviet occupation of the Baltic states (1944)

Last updated

The Soviet Union occupied most of the territory of the Baltic states in its 1944 Baltic Offensive during World War II. [1] [ neutrality is disputed ] The Red Army regained control over the three Baltic capitals and encircled retreating Wehrmacht and Latvian forces in the Courland Pocket where they held out until the final German surrender at the end of the war. The German forces were deported and the leaders of Latvian collaborating forces were executed as traitors[ citation needed ]. After the war, the Baltic territories were reorganized into constituent republics of the USSR until they declared independence in 1990 amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Soviet offensives and reoccupation

The day is not far off when we will completely liberate the Ukraine, and the White Russia, Leningrad and Kalinin regions from the enemy; when we will liberate … the people of the Crimea and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moldavia and Karelo-Finnish Republic.
Joseph Stalin in a public speech broadcast in Moscow during the Second Battle of Kiev, November 1943 [2]

By 2 February 1944 the siege of Leningrad was over and the Soviet troops were on the border with Estonia. [3] Having failed to break through, the Soviets launched the Tartu Offensive on 10 August, and the Baltic Offensive on 14 September with forces totalling 1.5 million. The High Command of the German Army issued Operation Aster on 16 September, whereby the Estonian forces would cover the German withdrawal. [4] Soon after the Soviet reoccupation of the Estonian capital Tallinn, the first mission of the NKVD was to stop anyone escaping from the country [5] ; however, many refugees did escape to Sweden or Finland, particularly the Estonian Swedes, who had lived in coastal Estonia since they days of Danish and Swedish Estonia [ citation needed ]. The NKVD also targeted members of the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia. The Estonian Forest Brothers (established in 1941) initially maintained a low profile during the Soviet reoccupation. The 1945 VE Day did not bring a restoration of independence to Estonia, and the Forest Brothers then renewed their campaign of killing Soviet senior armed forces and NKVD officers. [5]

In Latvia, NKVD units were the main anti-partisan force fighting against 10,000 active members of the resistance forces. The Soviets signed separate ceasefire agreements with the different resistance forces, which did not become active until after the end of the war; the agreement in Lithuania differed from those in Estonia and Latvia. [5] The Soviets introduced conscription immediately after their occupation of Vilnius in July 1944. Only 14 percent of those eligible responded to the summons. The Soviets tracked down draft dodgers and killed over 400 people[ citation needed ]. During 1944 and 1945 the Soviets conscripted 82,000 Lithuanians. [6]

Attempts to restore independence

The National Committee of the Republic of Estonia, headed by Juri Uluots, attempted to re-establish Estonian independence in 1944. Juri Uluots.jpg
The National Committee of the Republic of Estonia, headed by Jüri Uluots, attempted to re-establish Estonian independence in 1944.

There were efforts to restore independence during the German occupation. In 1941, the Lithuanians had overthrown Soviet rule two days before the Germans arrived in Kaunas. The Germans allowed the Provisional Government to function for over a month. [7] Towards the end of the war, once it became clear that Germany would be defeated, many Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians joined the Germans once again. It was hoped that by engaging in such a war the Baltic countries would be able to attract Western support for the cause of independence from the USSR. [8] In Latvia an underground nationalist Central Council of Latvia was formed on 13 August 1943. An analogous body, the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania, emerged on 25 November 1943.

On 23 March 1944, the underground National Committee of the Estonian Republic was founded. Thousands of Estonians not willing to side with the Nazis joined the Finnish Defence Forces to fight against the Soviet Union. The Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 was formed out of the volunteers known colloquially as the "Finnish Boys" (Estonian: soomepoisid). On 2 February 1944, the front reached the former Estonian border, starting the battle of Narva. The city was evacuated. Jüri Uluots, the last legitimate prime minister and the head of the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia delivered a radio address that implored all able-bodied men born from 1904 through 1923 to report for military service (prior to this, Uluots had opposed the mobilisation). The call drew support from across the country: 38,000 conscripts jammed registration centers. [9] Two thousand Finland Boys returned. In 1943 and 1944, two divisions of Waffen SS were formed from Latvians, predominantly conscripts, to fight against the Red Army. The battles of Narva were perceived by Estonian people as the fight for their country, a consolation for the humiliation of 1940. [10] The lengthy German defense on the North Eastern border prevented a swift Soviet breakthrough into Estonia, which gave the underground Estonian National Committee enough time for an attempt to re-establish Estonian independence.

On 1 August 1944, the Estonian National Committee pronounced itself Estonia’s highest authority, and on 18 September 1944, acting Head of State Jüri Uluots appointed a new government led by Otto Tief. Over the radio, in English, the Estonian government declared its neutrality in the war. The government issued two editions of the State Gazette. On 21 September, nationalist forces seized the government buildings in Tallinn and ordered the German forces to leave. [11] The Estonian flag was raised to the permanent flag mast on the tallest tower of Tallinn only to be removed by the Soviets four days later. The Estonian Government in Exile served to carry the continuity of the Estonian state forward until 1992, when Heinrich Mark, the last prime minister in the role of Head of State, handed his credentials over to the incoming President Lennart Meri. Latvian and Lithuanian governments-in-exile continued, based in their pre-war embassies in the U.S. and UK.

The Allies and the Baltic states

The Western Allies' lack of interest

The Yalta Conference in 1945. Seated from left Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Jalta 1945.jpg
The Yalta Conference in 1945. Seated from left Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.

The Baltic states did not have governments in exile as effective as those of the French under Charles de Gaulle or the Polish under Władysław Sikorski, and their geographic location made communication to the West of circumstances there difficult. The leaders of Great Britain and the United States had little interest in the Baltic cause, particularly while the war against Nazi Germany remained undecided and secretly regarded them as disposable in order to secure Stalin's cooperation. Members of the European Left tended to support the official Soviet view on the Baltic states, regarding them as "naturally" belonging to the Soviet Union to safeguard its "legitimate" security interests. [12]

The Germans' defeat in 1945 left Eastern Europe within the Soviet sphere of influence. However, despite territorial losses and a heavy reparations burden in the Continuation War, Finland survived as a neutral, western-oriented capitalist democracy and did not share the fate of the Baltic states. Despite this apparent freedom, the Finns still had to take into consideration Soviet foreign policy interests including specific accommodations in their domestic affairs, with critics calling the process "Finlandisation". [13]

The Western Allies acquiesce on Stalin's hold of the Baltics

The precedent under international law established by the earlier-adopted Stimson Doctrine, as applied to the Baltic states in the Welles Declaration, issued on July 23, 1940 by US Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, then acting Secretary of State, and the only public statement of policy by the US, defined the basis for non-recognition by the United States of the Soviet Union's forcible incorporation of the Baltic states. [14] [15]

Despite Welles's statement, the Baltic states soon reprised their centuries-long role as pawns in the conflicts of larger powers. After visiting Moscow in the winter of 1941–1942, British Foreign Minister Eden had already advocated sacrificing the Baltic states to secure Soviet cooperation in the war. The British ambassador to the U.S., Halifax, reported, "Mr. Eden cannot incur the danger of antagonizing Stalin, and the British War Cabinet have... agree[d] to negotiate a treaty with Stalin, which will recognize the 1940 frontiers of the Soviet Union." [16] In March, 1942, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt urging the sacrifice of the Baltic states: "The increasing gravity of the war has led me to feel that the principles of the Atlantic Charter ought not to be construed so as to deny Russia the frontiers she occupied when Germany attacked here. ... I hope therefore that you will be able to give us a free hand to sign the treaty which Stalin desires as soon as possible." [17]

By 1943 Roosevelt had also consigned the Baltic states and Eastern Europe to Stalin. Meeting with his confidante, Archbishop (later, Cardinal) Spellman in New York on September 3, Roosevelt stated, "The European people will simply have to endure Russian domination, in the hope that in ten or twenty years they will be able to live well with the Russians." [18] Meeting with Stalin in Tehran on 1 December 1943, Roosevelt "said that he fully realized the three Baltic Republics had in history and again more recently been part of Russia and jokingly added, that when the Soviet armies re-occupied these areas, he did not intend to go to war with the Soviet Union on this point." [19] A month later, Roosevelt related to Otto von Habsburg that he had told the Russians they could take over and control Romania, Bulgaria, Bukovina, Eastern Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. [20]

The future was sealed when on 9 October 1944, Churchill met with Stalin in Moscow and penciled out the post-war partition of Europe. Churchill recounts: "At length I said, 'Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed that we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.''No, you keep it,' said Stalin." [21] The February 1945 Yalta Conference, widely regarded as determining the future of Europe, invoked the Atlantic Charter and the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, however did not directly address the issue of the Baltic states, paving the path to unopposed Soviet hegemony over post-war Eastern Europe.

The attitude taken by the Western Allies with regard to the Baltic states following World War II was summarized by Hector McNeil, the Under-Secretary of the Foreign Affairs (1945-1946), before the House of Commons on 10 February 1947. McNeil stated that the British government recognized the absorption of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union de facto but not de jure. He also agreed that the annexation violated the self-determination principle of the Atlantic Charter, but that it should be kept in mind that the Baltic states had been part of the Russian Empire before 1918. [22]

Related Research Articles

Occupation of the Baltic states period in history of the Baltic States (1940–1991)

The occupation of the Baltic states involved the military occupation of the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—by the Soviet Union under the auspices of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in June 1940. They were then annexed into the Soviet Union as constituent republics in August 1940, though most Western powers and nations never recognised their incorporation. On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and within weeks occupied the Baltic territories. In July 1941, the Third Reich incorporated the Baltic territory into its Reichskommissariat Ostland. As a result of the Red Army's Baltic Offensive of 1944, the Soviet Union recaptured most of the Baltic states and trapped the remaining German forces in the Courland pocket until their formal surrender in May 1945. The Soviet "annexation occupation" or occupation sui generis of the Baltic states lasted until August 1991, when the three countries regained their independence.

Forest Brothers resistance against the Soviet Union during and after World War II

The Forest Brothers were Baltic and Estonian partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II. Similar anti-Soviet Central and Eastern European resistance groups fought against Soviet and communist rule in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and western Ukraine.

Battle of Narva (1944) Battle of World War II

The Battle of Narva was a military campaign between the German Army Detachment "Narwa" and the Soviet Leningrad Front fought for possession of the strategically important Narva Isthmus on 2 February – 10 August 1944 during World War II.

Jüri Uluots Estonian prime minister

Jüri Uluots was an Estonian prime minister, journalist, prominent attorney and distinguished Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Tartu.

German occupation of Estonia during World War II

After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Army Group North reached Estonia in July. Initially the Germans were perceived by most Estonians as liberators from the USSR and its repressions, having arrived only a week after the first mass deportations from the Baltic States. Although hopes were raised for the restoration of the country's independence, it was soon realized that they were but another occupying power. The Germans pillaged the country for their war effort and unleashed The Holocaust in Estonia during which they and their collaborators murdered tens of thousands of people. For the duration of the occupation, Estonia was incorporated into the German province of Ostland.

German occupation of the Baltic states during World War II

The occupation of the Baltic states by Nazi Germany occurred during Operation Barbarossa from 1941 to 1944. Initially, many Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians considered the Germans as liberators from the Soviet Union. The Balts hoped for the restoration of independence, but instead the Germans established a provisional government. During the occupation the Germans carried out discrimination, mass deportations and mass killings generating Baltic resistance movements.

Estonia in World War II involvement of Estonia in World War II

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, concerning the partition and disposition of sovereign states, including Estonia, and in particular its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939.

State continuity of the Baltic states Legal continuity of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania under international law

State continuity of the Baltic states describes the continuity of the Baltic states as legal entities under international law while under Soviet rule and German occupation from 1940 to 1991. The prevailing opinion accepts the Baltic thesis of illegal occupation and the actions of the USSR are regarded as contrary to international law in general and to the bilateral treaties between the USSR and the Baltic states in particular.

Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 Military occupation of the Republic of Latvia by the Soviet Union

The Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 refers to the military occupation of the Republic of Latvia by the Soviet Union under the provisions of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany and its Secret Additional Protocol signed in August 1939. The occupation took place according to the European Court of Human Rights, the Government of Latvia, the United States Department of State, and the European Union. In 1989, the USSR also condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Nazi Germany and herself that had led to the invasion and occupation of the three Baltic countries, including Latvia.

The Tallinn Offensive was a strategic offensive by the Red Army's 2nd Shock and 8th Armies and the Baltic Fleet against the German Army Detachment Narwa and Estonian units in mainland Estonia on the Eastern Front of World War II on 17–26 September 1944. Its German counterpart was the abandonment of the Estonian territory in a retreat codenamed Operation Aster.

Soviet re-occupation of Latvia in 1944

The Soviet re-occupation of Latvia in 1944 refers to the military occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union in 1944. During World War II Latvia was first occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940 and then was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941–1944 after which it was re-occupied by the Soviet Union.

Baltic–Soviet relations

Relevant events began regarding the Baltic states and the Soviet Union when, following Bolshevist Russia's conflict with the Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—several peace treaties were signed with Russia and its successor, the Soviet Union. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Soviet Union and all three Baltic States further signed non-aggression treaties. The Soviet Union also confirmed that it would adhere to the Kellogg–Briand Pact with regard to its neighbors, including Estonia and Latvia, and entered into a convention defining "aggression" that included all three Baltic countries.

Welles Declaration US diplomatic statement of July 23, 1940

The Welles Declaration was a diplomatic statement issued on July 23, 1940, by Sumner Welles, the United States' acting Secretary of State, condemning the June 1940 occupation by the Soviet Union of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and refusing to recognize their annexation as Soviet Republics. It was an application of the 1932 Stimson Doctrine of non-recognition of international territorial changes that were executed by force. It was consistent with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attitude towards territorial expansion.

Timeline of the occupation of the Baltic States lists key events in the military occupation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by the Soviet Union and by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic union republic of the Soviet Union

The Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic was a republic of the Soviet Union. The ESSR was initially established on the territory of the Republic of Estonia on 21 July 1940, following the invasion of Soviet troops on 17 June 1940, and the installation of an illegitimate communist government backed by the Soviet Union, which declared Estonia a Soviet constituency. The Estonian SSR was subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union as a Soviet Republic on 6 August 1940. The territory was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944 and administered as a part of Reichskommissariat Ostland.

Background of the occupation of the Baltic states

The background of the occupation of the Baltic states covers the period before the first Soviet occupation on 14 June 1940, stretching from independence in 1918 to the Soviet ultimatums in 1939–1940. The Baltic states gained their independence during and after the Russian revolutions of 1917; Lenin's government allowed them to secede. They managed to sign non-aggression treaties in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the treaties, the Baltic states were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 in the aftermath of the German–Soviet pact of 1939.

Baltic states under Soviet rule (1944–1991)

This Baltic states were under Soviet rule from the end of World War II in 1945, from Sovietization onwards until independence was regained in 1991. The Baltic states were occupied and annexed, becoming the Soviet socialist republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After their annexation by Nazi Germany, the USSR reoccupied the Baltic territories in 1944 and maintained control there until the Baltic states regained their independence nearly 50 years later in the aftermath of the Soviet coup of 1991.

Soviet occupation of the Baltic states (1940)

The Soviet occupation of the Baltic states covers the period from the Soviet–Baltic mutual assistance pacts in 1939, to their invasion and annexation in 1940, to the mass deportations of 1941.

Soviet–Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty

The Soviet–Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty, also known as the Bases Treaty was a bilateral treaty signed in Moscow on 28 September 1939. The treaty obliged both parties to respect each other's sovereignty and independence, and allowed the Soviet government to establish military bases in Estonia. These bases facilitated the Soviet takeover of the country in June 1940.

The following lists events that happened during 1944 in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.



  1. Dear (2001). p. 85.
  2. World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF RUSSIA: The Ousting is at Hand, TIME Magazine , November 15, 1943
  3. Bellamy (2007). p. 621.
  4. Bellamy (2007). p. 622.
  5. 1 2 3 Bellamy (2007). p. 623.
  6. Bellamy (2007). p. 624.
  7. Hiden & Salmon (1994). p. 120.
  8. The Baltic States: The National Self-Determination of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by Graham Smith, p. 91. ISBN   0-312-16192-1
  9. Resistance! Occupied Europe and Its Defiance of Hitler by Dave Lande, p. 200. ISBN   0-7603-0745-8
  10. Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak.
  11. By Royal Institute of International Affairs. Information Dept. Published 1945
  12. Gerner & Hedlund (1993). p. 60.
  13. Hiden & Salmon (1994). p. 125.
  14. U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship at
  15. The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania By David J. Smith; Page 138
  16. Harriman, Averell & Abel, Elie. Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin 1941–1946, Random House, New York. 1974. p. 1135.
  17. Berthon, Potts. Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-Creation of World War II Through the Eyes and Minds of Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Da Capo Press and Methuen Publishing. 2006. p. 138.
  18. Gannon, Robert. The Cardinal Spellman Story. Doubleday, New York. 1962. pp. 222–223
  19. Minutes of meeting, Bohlen, recording. Foreign Relations of the United States, The Conferences of Cairo and Tehran, 1943, pp. 594–596
  20. Bullitt, Orville. For the President: Personal and Secret. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston. 1972. p. 601.
  21. Churchill, Winston. The Second World War (6 volumes). Houghton-Mifflin, Boston. 1953. v. 6. pp. 227–228.
  22. "Annexations". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) . House of Commons. 10 February 1947. col. 5–6.