Estonia in the 1940’s

by | March 1, 2022

Since July 22, 1940 it constitutes one of the 16 republics of the USSR with a slightly smaller extension than that of 1939, since it had to cede (January 1945) to the Russian federal republic a part of the Petseri district (1350 sq. Km. And 50,000 residents). Estonia now extends over 46,200 sq km. and it is therefore, after Armenia and Moldavia, which are however somewhat more inhabited, the smallest by area among the Soviet republics. It counts 968,680 residents and is therefore in the penultimate place for inhabited, followed by Finnish Karelia. Capital is Tallinn (146,000 residents in 1939).

During the last decade, the ethnic structure has undergone various modifications because, immediately after the demarcation of the sphere of influence between Germany and Russia, about 13,000 Germans left (18 October-5 November 1939), descendants of those colonizers who came to the Baltic provinces after the founding of Riga (1201), dedicated to liberal professions and jobs, and therefore mainly living in cities (7000 in Tallinn and 3000 in Tartu), both because many Russians have flown in exchange, while 60,000 Estonians they were transferred to the northern Urals, to the island of Sakhalin, to the Kurils, to the Kamchatka peninsula.

With the annexation to the USSR there was a radical agrarian reform, which led to the collectivization of the lands, canceling the bourgeois agrarian reforms; furthermore, there has been the elimination of the residues of the old regimes and the nationalization of industries and banks.

For the Soviet Union, the purchase of Estonia has limited economic importance (except for the fuel shale fields in the northern part), while it has considerable political-strategic value, as it provides the Soviet fleet with well-equipped bases in the Baltic..


The Baltic Agreement, signed in 1934 between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and which, in conditions of normal development, could have borne its fruits, had no support from Estonia which withdrew in 1935. In 1939, as for the other two Baltic states, the pact of mutual assistance (28 September 1939) between the USSR and Estonia, by virtue of which the USSR occupied certain strategic points of the country: Baltic Port (Paldiski), Oesel (Saaremaa) and Dagö (Hiiumaa); this occupation, on June 17, 1940, under the direction of A. Ždanov, extended to the whole territory. To put aside the bourgeois parties in power until then, new elections were held with single lists that led to the formation of a social-communist chamber, which voted for a new Soviet-type constitution and demanded that the Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union as an autonomous federative republic. The new government deported the members of the overthrown administration to Russia (June 14, 1941), starting with the president of the republic K. Päts.

At the outbreak of the German-Soviet conflict (22 June 1941), Estonia, like the other Baltic countries, immediately became a field of operations, where the armies of Marshal von Leebe, left wing of the Wehrmacht deployment acted offensively. Having occupied Lithuania and Latvia, German troops crossed the Estonian border on 10 July 1941; with rapid advance on the 17th Mustvee was occupied on the western bank of the Peipus; on the 28th the capital Tallinn.

With operations on the north coast between Tallinn and Narva, which ended in early August, all of Estonia was in German hands. Estonia became part of the German Commissariat of Ostland, established on November 17, 1941, which included, in addition to the Baltic countries, also White Russia and had Riga as its capital.

During the Soviet counter-offensive, the Germans fought with great energy to defend the country; the advance of the Soviets was therefore slow and with successive ups and downs. They crossed the border in February 1944 after a violent struggle and forced the Germans to clear the right bank of the Peipus. Harsh battle the Germans later engaged in Narva which resisted for a long time. The fight suffered long pauses alternating with violent resumptions and, only in the summer, was it reignited violently. Pskow fell on August 22, Tartu on 25. The Soviets, arrested on the Narva-Riga front until 15 September, resumed the offensive, occupying Tallinn on 22 Paldiski, 24 Haapsalu. The Germans built a bridgehead on the island of Oesel (Saaremaa); but they were forced to surrender in both western and eastern Estonia, although their stubborn resistance forced the Soviets to proceed slowly. On September 26, 1944, Estonia was completely cleared of the Germans.

The Russians immediately re-established the Soviet order and, as mentioned, underwent a notable change in its ethnic physiognomy.

Estonia in the 1940's