Estonian partisans

Estonian Partisans or the Forest Brothers in Estonia (Estonian: Metsavennad) were partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against the Soviet forces in Estonia from 1940 to 1941 and 1944–1978.

Armed Resistance in Estonia (Forest Brothers)
Part of Guerrilla war in the Baltic states and Occupation of the Baltic States
Eesti metsavennad.jpg
Estonian group of partisans between 1945–1950
Date6 August 1940 — 22 June 1941
1 July 1944 — 29 March 1953

Soviet victory

  • Defeat of Estonian pro-independence partisans
Estonia Estonian Partisans

Soviet Union Soviet Union

Soviet Union NKVD (until 1946, dissolution)
30,000 (total throughout 1944–1953) Unknown
Casualties and losses
>2,200 891 (Soviet estimate)

As soon as the USSR occupied and annexed Estonia in 1940, former civilians, soldiers, and potential political opposition to the Kremlin were threatened with arrests and repression. More people began to seek refuge in the forest after the mass deportation on June 14, 1941. The largest organization of the Forest Brothers was the Armed Combat Union (RVL), which operated from 1946 to 1949. The most important leaders of the RVL fell in the summer of 1949. Johannes Lillenurm, the last released member of the RVL, died in Läänemaa in 1980. The biggest battles between the Forest Brothers and the KGB units ended in Estonia in 1953. Some battles continued to be fought until 1957.

The last Forest Brothers alive were arrested in the summer of 1967 in Võru County, Hugo and Aksel Mõttus. The last of the fallen Forest Brothers was August Sabbe, who died in 1978.[1]


The "Home Guard" detachment in the Mõniste Parish on the day of the formation, 1 August 1941.
A group of forest brothers in northern Estonia, 1941.

The Soviet Union occupied and annexed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1940. From then on, former statesmen or soldiers who would otherwise have been imprisoned hid in the forests. Many began to hide in the woods after mass deportations.

The Summer WarEdit

When the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on June 22, 1941, many armed men went to the forest to help liberate Estonia from Soviet occupation.[2] During the Summer War, the Forest Brothers liberated Southern Estonia. The biggest battles took place around Timmkanal and in Tartu, where the Forest Brothers started the Tartu uprising on July 10, 1941.

After 1944Edit

By November 25, 1944, the territory of Estonia was completely occupied by the Red Army. By the autumn of 1944, thousands of Estonian soldiers, former officers of the Wehrmacht, and self-defense detachments (Omakaitse) took refuge in the forest. Former employees of the occupation administration and people evading conscription into the Red Army also hid along with them. They were armed mainly with German infantry weapons left behind when the Germans were pushed back. Their uniforms combined elements of the uniforms of the former Estonian army, the Wehrmacht, and civilian clothing.

Until the spring of 1945, the Forest Brothers did not take any noticeable action. The small groups of the Estonian Forest Brothers consisted of 5–10 people, with whom several dozen "accomplices" in the local population were associated.

Nevertheless, the Soviet command and the government of the Estonian SSR concentrated significant forces to fight the anti-Soviet underground. The 5th Infantry Division of the Internal Troops of the NKVD under the command of Major General Pyotr Leontiev, stationed in Latvia, extended its operations to Estonia. Estonian destruction battalions[3] (5,300 men) were also formed.

Estonian "Forest Brothers" with a moonshine still. 1950

Arnold Veimer, having received a petition from the chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Estonian SSR, to evict the families of "traitors to the Motherland, traitors, and other hostile elements", and in August 1945, 407 civilians, most of them of German descent, were transferred from Estonia to Perm Oblast.18 families (51 persons) were transferred to Tyumen Oblast in October (51 persons), 37 families (87 persons) in November and other 37 families (91 persons) in December 1945 as "traitors".

In 1945, NKVD troops and destruction battalions, killed 432 Estonian freedom fighters, arrested 584 people, and arrested 449 supporters of the partisans. At the same time 56 policemen, soldiers, and officers of the NKVD troops; 86 fighter squad members; and 141 members of the Soviet party activists were killed. The anti-Soviet partisan war in Estonia continued until 1953. Up to 30,000 people passed through the units of the "Forest Brothers".

Ants KaljurandEdit

Mugshot of Ants Kaljurand

One notable Forest Brother was Ants "The Terrible" Kaljurand, a partisan who served as the local leader[citation needed] of the RVL, a partisan organization founded by Endel Redlich. Kaljurand was arrested in 1949 and executed in March 1951.

Forest Brothers of VõrumaaEdit

The Forest Brothers of Võrumaa were a large force and were sent to destroy large Soviet KGB units, which led to several battles between the KGB forces and the Forest Brothers. Although the losses in these battles were borne by both sides, most of them resulted in greater losses for the Soviet KGB forces.

According to various sources, there were more Forest Brothers in Võru County than in other Estonian counties.

Substantial BattlesEdit

The Battle of OsulaEdit

The Battle of Osula was in the village of Osula in Sõmerpalu Parish on 1 April 1946. The battle between the Forest Brothers and the Soviet KGB forces on Meretsi Farm was one of the largest in the county. Seven forest brothers took part in the battle. There were five men and two women in the group. However, the exact number of KGB soldiers was unknown. The battle lasted for seven hours, but as the Forest Brothers ran out of ammunition at the end of the battle and the KGB soldiers used flames, the house caught fire. Two forest brothers died during the battle, and the rest burned into the house.

A letter was found in the furnace flue of the burnt house with the text:

"Estonian People! Today, on 1 April 1946, we, the Estonian partisans, fought against the traitors of the Estonian people. We resisted about ~ 8 hours. Estonian people, fight just as firmly for the freedom and independence of the Estonian people. Long live free Estonia and the Estonian people!"

Battle Of SaikaEdit

The biggest and bloodiest battle between the Forest Brothers was the Battle of Saika in the forest of Saika village on 7 March 1951.

Eight forest brothers and several truckloads of KGB guards took part in the battle.

Around 10 a.m., gunshots began to sound in nearby villages. The battle was bloody, lasted a few hours, and the forest brothers Tullus, Tomba, Visk, Keir, and Pild were killed. When the battle ended, there were only three of the eight forest brothers left. They still resisted stubbornly, and began to retreat. During the exchange of fire they managed to break through. The three brothers ran a hundred yards, and the KGB men chasing them fired constantly until Roland Uibo [et] was hit. Due to this, only August Kuus and a wounded Richard Vähi escaped the battlefield. They ran to a forest farm, took a horse, and fled to the forest.

The KGB officers allegedly went into the forest with several trucks and returned with only one truck full of men. The KGB lost an estimated 30 men dead or wounded. The fallen Forest Brothers were taken to a KGB shelter, where their relatives were ordered to identify them. The Forest Brothers were buried in a swamp near Vastseliina, and the fallen KGB soldiers were buried in various places in Estonia to give the impression that very few people died.

Battle of PuutliEdit

The largest bunker battle of Puutli in Vastseliina municipality took place on 29 March 1953, in Vastseliina Parish, Võru County. In 1953, they[who?] hid in a bunker in the forest near the villages of Loosi and Puutli. The Resistance had eight forces.

On 29 March, the KGB officers raided the Forest Brothers' bunker at 9 a.m. The bunker siege lasted almost three hours. There was a powerful exchange of fire in the forest.

Forest brothers Richard Vähi, Karl Kaur, August Kuus, August Kurra, Leida Grünthal, Endel Leimann, Lehte-Kai Ojamäe and Ilse Vähi were killed in the battle. The wounded Forest Brothers exploded their grenades to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy.

However, the losses of the KGB forces were much greater. After the battle, the bunker was burned by security. The fallen Forest Brothers were taken for identification and later buried at the edge of the Ristimäe forest.

August Sabbe's death place monument, near the Võhandu river in, Paidra, Estonia, 2008. Estonian inscription: Here on 28 September 1978, drowned the last Estonian soldier of the Forest Brothers, August Sabbe


A list of Forest Brothers who have died since 1944 compiled by Eerik-Niiles Kross contains 1,700 names, including Forest Brothers who have died in captivity. Historian Mart Laar claims, based on Kross, that there were more than 2,200 known fatalities.

The last partisan, August Sabbe, died in a clash on 27 September 1978, reportedly drowning in a river after being found by KGB while he was fishing, where he was lodged under a log.[4]

Since 1998, the Defense League has been organizing military-sports expeditions in the forests of Vana-Vigala and Eidapere every summer, which is called the Põrgupõhja expedition. The trip is dedicated to the memory of the freedom fighters.

In 2019, a job was created in the Estonian War Museum to study the Forest Brothers.

Songs of the Forest BrothersEdit

In popular cultureEdit

  • The Canadian film Legendi loojad (Creators of the Legend) about the Estonian Forest Brothers was released in 1963. The film was funded by donations from Estonians in exile.[5][6]
  • A 1997 documentary film We Lived for Estonia tells the story of the Estonian Forest Brothers from the viewpoint of one of the participants.[7]
  • The 2007 Estonian film Sons of One Forest (Estonian: Ühe metsa pojad) follows the story of two Forest Brothers in southern Estonia, who fight with an Estonian from the Waffen-SS against the Soviet occupants.
  • The 2013 novel Forest Brothers by Geraint Roberts follows the fortune of a disgraced British Navy officer who returns to Estonia in 1944 for British Intelligence. Many of the people from his past who aid him have taken to the forest, during the ongoing conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union.


According to historians who studied the forest holdouts, there were about 14,000–15,000 forest brothers in Estonia after the Second World War,[8] along with people simply hiding in the woods, the total number of forest brothers has been suggested to be higher, up to 30,000[citation needed]. According to a report submitted by Soviet KGB Major Oskar Borelli in June 1953, 1,495 members of the Forest Brothers and secret organizations had been killed by the Soviet KGB forces between 1944 and 1 June 1953, and 9,870 people had been arrested (5,471 members of the Forest Brothers and 1,114 members of the secret organization, 1212 citizens).[9]

According to Soviet sources, 891 people died between 1946 and 1956 as a result of the Forest Brotherhood, including 447 Soviet and party activists, newcomers and their families, 295 members of extermination battalions, 52 NKVD and NKGB, MGB and 47 military personnel.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "August Sabbe radadel". Kultuur ja Elu. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  2. ^ Uibu, Krista; Timm, Maile (April 2014). "Sõnasemantika ja teksti mõistmine põhikooli esimeses ja teises kooliastmes". Eesti Rakenduslingvistika Ühingu aastaraamat = Estonian Papers in Applied Linguistics (10): 319–334. doi:10.5128/erya10.20. ISSN 1736-2563.
  3. ^ "Destruction battalions", Wikipedia, 2022-05-12, retrieved 2022-06-03
  4. ^ "История "лесного брата" завершилась". Эстония (in Russian). 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  5. ^ "1938. A Põhiseadusele tuginev Eesti Vabariigi Valitsus". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  6. ^ "Legendi Loojad". IMDb.
  7. ^ "WE LIVED FOR ESTONIA: ELASIME EESTILE: NOUS VIVIONS POUR L'ESTONIE" (in English and French). Festival Cinema Nordique. 2003.
  8. ^ Tark, Triin (2020-12-31). "Igor Kopõtin, Rahvuse kool: Eesti rahvusarmee ja vähemusrahvused aastatel 1918–1940 (Tartu: Rahvusarhiiv, 2020), 631 lk, ISBN: 978-9949- 630-07-3". Ajalooline Ajakiri. The Estonian Historical Journal. 172 (2): 179–185. doi:10.12697/aa.2020.2.05. ISSN 2228-3897. S2CID 234442443.
  9. ^ Tannberg, Tõnu (2019-05-27). ""Üks võimsamaid relvi võitluses kodanlise natsionalismi vastu on kindlasti eesti ajalugu…". Eesti vabariigi perioodi uurimisest Eesti NSV Teaduste Akadeemia ajaloo instituudis aastatel 1946–1950". Ajalooline Ajakiri. The Estonian Historical Journal (2/3). doi:10.12697/aa.2018.2-3.05. ISSN 2228-3897. S2CID 198014148.
  10. ^ "РСПП: Статьи". Retrieved 2022-04-22.