Alfons Rebane

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Alfons Rebane
Alfons Rebane (3).jpg
Rebane in three uniforms
Birth date 24 June 1908(1908-06-24)
Place of birth Valga, Livonia, Russian Empire
Death date 8 March 1976 (aged 67)
Place of death Augsburg, Bavaria, West Germany
Allegiance  Estonia
 National Socialist Germany
 United Kingdom
Service/branch Coat of arms of Estonia.png Estonian Army
Soviet Red Army cockade adorned on peaked caps.png Red Army
Balkenkreuz.jpg Wehrmacht
Flag Schutzstaffel.png Waffen-SS
Years of service 1929–1940
Rank Waffen-Standartenführer der SS (colonel)
Unit 1929, 1st Armored Train Regiment
1935, Viljandi County Territorial Regiment
1939, Lääne County Territorial Regiment
1940, Commandant of Lihula
1941, 184th Security Battalion, Wehrmacht
1943, 658th (Estonian) Ost Battalion, Wehrmacht
1944, 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
1947 MI6
Battles/wars World War II: Eastern Front
Awards Iron Cross 2nd & 1st class
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Relations ∞ 1931 Agnia Soomets (daughter Tiiu died young)
Other work MI6

Alfons Vilhelm Robert Rebane (b. 24 June 1908 in Valga, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire; d. 8 March 1976 in Augsburg, Bavaria, West Germany) was an Estonian military officer. During World War II, he commanded several Estonian units attached to Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, among them the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. He was awarded with Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, the highest military decoration that an Estonian has ever received.


Three Knight's Cross recipients of Estonia: SS-Obersturmbannführer Alfons Rebane (left), SS-Unterscharführer Harald Nugiseks (center) and SS-Obersturmbannführer Harald Riipalu (right), late summer 1944

Early life and career

Rebane was born in Valga in southern Estonia. In 1920 Rebane, son of a railway official, attended the secondary school in Narva. From 1926 to 1929 he attended the Estonian War Collegeand graduated it with first class honours. He served as an infantry officer on the armoured train "Captain Irv" of the 1st Armored Train Regiment as a second lieutenant in 1929. Married in 1931 to Agnia Soomets, they had one daughter Tiiu who died soon afterwards. On Estonian Independence Day, 24 February 24 1933, Rebane was promoted to first lieutenant. From 1935 to 1939 served as junior instructor in the Defence League Viljandi County Territorial Regiment, between 1939-1940 in the Lääne County Territorial Regiment. From January to June 1940 Rebane was the Commandant of Lihula.

World War II

Rebane served as an officer in the Estonian Army until the Soviet troops occupied the country in 1940. The Soviets disbanded the Estonian Army and arrested and executed the entire Estonian high command. More junior officers, such as Rebane, were dismissed after a short, forced service due to their lack of "political reliability" and were liable to be deported. For a while, Rebane worked on constructions, then fled into the forests when the Soviets began mass deportations in 1941. He established and led an anti-Soviet Forest Brothers unit in Northern Estonia in May 1941.

After German units had reached Northern Estonia, Rebane joined the German Wehrmacht and went on to fight against the Soviets in Northwestern Russia, subsequently becoming the captain of the 184th Security Battalion, then Major of the Estonian 658th Eastern Battalion. In February 1944 Major Rebane's unit was transferred to the Narva Front and attached to the Wehrmacht's 26th Army Corps on March 2. On April 27, 1944, the unit was released from the Wehrmacht and Rebane was reluctantly drafted into the newly-formed 20th (Estonian) Division of the Waffen-SS, eventually becoming colonel of the 47th Waffen-Grenadier Regiment.

The Estonian division played a significant role in the Battle of Narva and the Battle of Emajõgi, holding back the Soviet re-occupation of Estonia until the September 1944 while suffering heavy casualties. Rebane's unit was then evacuated to Germany for refitting and saw more action on the Eastern Front in the spring of 1945.

Despite being encircled several times, Rebane was amongst a small group of Estonian soldiers who in the final days of the war evaded capture by the Soviets and managed to reach the Americans to surrender. Soldiers who fought in units under his command were often colloquially referred to as the "Fox cubs" (Rebane translates to "fox" in Estonian). Rebane was nicknamed "Estonian Rommel" for his leadership and tactical skills.


Alfons Rebane's urn arrives at the forest cemetery in Tallinn from Augsburg, 1999; to the left his old comrade Harald Nugiseks.
Oberst der Reserve a. D. Wolfram Kertz with an moving eulogy in German

After World War II, Rebane joined the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) where he played a key role in assisting the armed resistance to Soviet rule in Estonia and other Baltic countries. He led the Estonian portion of MI6's Operation Jungle well into the 1950s. In 1961, Rebane retired from the British intelligence services and moved to Germany, where he stayed until his death.


SS Standartenführer a. D. Alfons Rebane died of lung cancer on 8 March 1976 in Augsburg. The funeral took place on 12 March in Augsburg. In 1999, with the financial support of OdR, Rebane's ashes were transferred to Estonia, where he was once again ceremonially buried in the Tallinn Forest Cemetery with state honors. This caused a number of Jewish and Russian protests, despite Rebane not being convicted of any war crimes.


In June 2018, a plaque commemorating Rebane was unveiled on the wall of a private building in Mustla where he had lived.The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the unveiling.

Awards and decorations

Estonian military

  • Estonian Defence League White Cross 3rd Class in 1939
  • Latvian Aizsargi Cross of Merit in 1940


  • Iron Cross (1939)
    • 2nd Class (9 April 1943)[1]
    • 1st Class (9 November 1943)[1]
  • Eastern Front Medal
  • Infantry Assault Badge (Infanterie-Sturmabzeichen) in Silver
  • Close Combat Clasp in Silver
  • War Merit Cross, 2nd Class with Swords
  • Tapferkeits- und Verdienstauszeichnung für Angehörige der Ostvölker, 2nd Class in Bronze und Silver
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
    • Knight's Cross on 23 February 1944 as Major and commander of the Estonian voluntary battalion 658[2]
    • 875th Oak Leaves on 9 May 1945 as SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment of the SS 46[3]
      • Alfons Rebane received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 February 1944 as Major and commander of the estnisches Freiwilligen-Bataillon 658 in the 28. Jäger-Division, at the time a Wehrmacht division and not part of the Waffen-SS. His nomination of the Oak Leaves was submitted to the Heeres Personalamt (Army Staff Office) on 12 April 1945. The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) only hold a copy of the nomination. The nomination list for the higher grade of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves dates the nomination on 2 April 1945. The Order Commission of the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) processed this case in 1974 and decided: 875th Oak Leaves on 8 May 1945. The sequential number "875" was assigned by the AKCR, the date was later changed by Fellgiebel to 9 May 1945. Rebane was member of the AKCR.[4]

Further reading

  • Thomas, Franz (1997): Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945, Band 2: L–Z (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000): Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945, Podzun-Pallas, Friedburg, ISBN 3-7909-0284-5
  • Patzwall, Klaus D. / Scherzer, Veit (2001): Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber, Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007): Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2


  1. 1.0 1.1 Thomas 1998, p. 185.
  2. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 350.
  3. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 104.
  4. Scherzer 2007, p. 165.