War and the Resilience of the Young – Part Two

March 17th, 2012 → 1:39 pm @ // No Comments

As I recall, the event below, like many of the others, seemed to be more of an action-packed adventure for me than being concerned about my personal safety. Of course, there was a notable exception. I’ll discuss that episode in a future blog.

“Father and I departed Tallinn for the earth works (construction of infantry fortifications) on September 5, 1944. The destination of our group was a little village called Luua, less than twenty miles north of Tartu. The mood of the men and women riding on flatbeds and in open freight cars was almost festive. They joked, laughed and sang folk songs for most of the trip. Of course, Estonians are known to sing for any reason, even if they were headed for locations not too far behind the front lines.

In Luua we were housed in the main building of an old German manor. From the village we were transported back and forth to work in open trucks. The location where we built all sorts of infantry trenches, machine gun nests, and bunkers, in addition to clearing away a lot of the underbrush to improve the line of fire from the trenches, was only about a mile south of Luua…

…Most of the twelve days at the earth works and at the manor were uneventful. Occasionally we could hear muffled artillery fire from the direction ofTartu. Once we were even strafed by a lone Soviet fighter. Fortunately, the plane only made one relatively high pass at us. By the time Father had pulled me into one of the dugouts the aircraft had already disappeared.

Before long, however, the peace and quiet of the countryside was shattered by the thunder of war. Since the nights had become chilly, Father and I were sleeping with several other people from our group on the floor of the manor’s large kitchen. At precisely six in the morning on September 17, we were awakened by the sudden shaking of the concrete floor. The Russians had launched their anticipated massive attack. For two hours the ground shook beneath our feet, and from the south we heard the continuous rumbling of heavy weapons…

…Eventually the defenders (in Tartu) were overwhelmed by the sea of Soviet troops, tanks, artillery and planes. Once the Soviet forces broke through, there were hardly any combat ready troops left to fall back to the newly constructed fortifications behind them, and there were no available reserves. It was the beginning of the end forEstonia.

Since it was Sunday, the trucks that normally ferried us back and forth from the work site were not at the manor. We were told, nevertheless, that the vehicles would be there early Monday morning as usual. If necessary, they could then take us farther northward away from danger. Luckily, Father’s survival instincts were as sharp as ever. After hearing about the vehicle situation I recall him telling one of his friends, who was from the local area, “By tomorrow morning Russian tanks will be here instead of the trucks. I’m not willing to risk wasting valuable time waiting and hoping that we may be picked up at daybreak. With the enemy on our heels the only possible safe way out of here will be through the nearby forests and swamps. No, I’ll take my son and start walking for the nearest train station immediately”…

…We walked what, for me, seemed forever and we were without any food or water. At one point in the late afternoon we even came close to being run over by a column of fleeing German panzers. Finally, by nightfall we arrived at the Kaarepere Railroad Station. There we were momentarily scared out of our wits by the Station Master when he informed us that no more trains were expected to arrive from the direction ofTartusince the city had been overrun by the communist forces.

A German troop train, however, was already at the station ready to depart for Tallinn at any moment. The man suggested that we check with the commander of the unit and see if he would allow us to board his train. I remember nervously going into the caboose with my father. There several German officers were warming themselves around a red-hot potbellied stove.  As they saw me some of them immediately began to smile and pat me on the head. They also offered me food and drink. We stayed in the caboose until we reached Tallinn…”

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