The Finnish Winter War 1939-1940
by Juha Ilo
History The Finnish Army was raised in the revolutionary year of 1918. On the 16th of January 1918, General Lieutenant Carl Gustav Mannerheim was commissioned by the Finnish senate to unite all the home guard (Suojeluskunta) units and to form an army for the new republic. At that time, Finland was divided into two parts, White Finland and Red Finland. Red Finland was controlled by mostly left wing Socialists from the former Finnish Autonomous Republic of Russia, while White Finland was striving to create a relatively democratic state, independent from Soviet Russia. White Finland was decidedly anti-Communist, and Mannerheim and his newly formed troops sided with them. Nearly 200,000 Finns took part in this war and about 18,000 were killed, including civilians. Also on the side of the Whites, was the German Baltic Division lead by Rüdiger von der Goltz (12,000 men) which landed in Hanko, Finland. There were still Russian troops in Finland when the war betwen the Reds and Whites began, and about 3,000 - 5,000 took part on the side of the Reds. Eventually, the anti-Communist forces won after 5 months of fierce fighting, including the battle of Tampere which was the largest battle in Scandinavian history until that time.

After the war, the German connection to Finland began to show. Some Finnish government members at the time desired to make Finland a monarchy, thus they got in touch with the Prince of Hessen Friedrich Karl and decided that he would be the king of Finland. He was officially King for little over a month, but stepped aside when Germany lost WWI. The parliament then elected the first president, K. J. Ståhlberg, to lead the new Finnish democracy.

The non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia in 1938 turned heads in Finland. Germany agreed to give the Baltic states, including Finland, to Russia. Of course, all this was kept a secret, but as time went on, the events became known to the Finns. As Russian aggression grew, the Finns requested help from Germany, only to be turned away - leaving the Finns to face Russia's aggression alone.

Suojeluskunnat and the official army (Suojeluskunta - singular, Suojeluskunnat - plural)

There were two major military organizations in Finland during 1920-1945, the official army, and the home guard/national guard (Suojeluskunta - the symbol was a silver "S" with pine twigs on top). Suojeluskunnat were small local militia units formed in the restless days of 1917-1918. After the war they were made a part of the official Finnish army. They organized military games, shooting competitions, recruiting rallies, and youth activities - much like the German Hitlerjügend - only without the NSDAP ideology.

There was a period of time during the 1930s when right-wing activity was on the rise, and part of the Suojeluskunta staff took part in right-wing activities. When some of these activities began to get out of hand, the government intervened and disbanded many untrustworthy members from the Suojeluskunta. Later, there was a revolution in Mäntsälä led by right-wing activists, but the Suojeluskunta maintained order and forced their surrender. During the 1930s, when Finnish Prime Minister Cajander ruled the senate, there was a major cut in military funding. This prevented the army from expaning and from getting new weapons and equipment. When the Winter War began, the soldiers were provided with a belt, a national cocade, and most of the time, an old French rifle. Only the regular army and the Suojeluskunta men had proper equipment.

Most of the officers and NCOs of the official army were ex-Jägers (Jääkäriliike = Jäger movement; young who men fled from Russian-Finland during WWI to be trained in Germany to liberate their homeland from Russian rule. The Germans formed a unit from the Finns, the Kaiser's Jäger-Bataillone 27 and used it on the eastern front from 1916 to 1917). The high command also had members from the ex-Russian army, including Gen. Mannerheim.

The Finnish Navy consisted of 2 heavy cruisers (or panssarilaiva, armorships, as they are called in Finnish), 5 submarines, a few gunships and a couple dozen MTBs and minelayers. As the Baltic Coast is mostly frozen from November to March, naval activity wasn't very important during the Winter War. The two capital ships, Ilmarinen and Väinämöinen (Characters from the Finnish saga Kalevala) were used in Turku as air defence platforms during the majority of the conflict.

Finnish coastal artillery had a much stronger influence on the Winter War, as they protected the Finnish Baltic coastline from land attacks over the ice. In Ladoga, they were used as artillery support for the army.

The Finnish air force had 116 air-worthy planes on the eve of the Winter War. Only 46 of them were fighters. The Finnish armed forces emblem, the blue swastika, was originally a good-luck-charm of Baron von Rosenberg, a German benefactor, who donated the first plane to the Finnish air force in 1918. The symbol had no NSDAP connection at all.

Finnish Armed Forces on November 30th 1939

The defensive plan of the Finnish high command was dated in 1934 and it had as its basic premise the idea of stopping an enemy attack on the Karelian Isthmus at a certain point where natural obstacles like the Vuoksi-river would suppress the enemy forces and prevent their operational possibilities. This line was later christened, by the international press, the Mannerheim-line. It went from east to west on a line Taipale-Suvanto-Vuoksi-Äyräpäänjärvi-Muolaanjärvi-Kipinolan-järvi. It had 67 concrete bunkers mostly in the Summa and Lähde regions. It wasn’t a favored operational plan, and was strongly criticised before the war, and a lack of funding prevented further construction. The Finnish plan estimated that the Russians would be able to mobilize up to 10 divisions in 7-8 days against the Karelian Isthmus defences.

To the north of Ladoga Lake, orders were given to use alternative methods to slow down and eventually stop the weakened enemy before it could reach the strategic points of Oulu, Kajaani, Rovaniemi, Kemi and Petsamo. Enemy strenght was estimated at a max of 4 divisions.

When the partial mobilization orders were given in 7.10.1939, there was an order to build up an army HQ (added to the II, III and IV Army Corps HQs): the (Karelian) Isthmus Army HQ or Kannaksen Armeijan Esikunta. This wasn’t the original plan, and the idea was to ensure the safety of the Isthmus if the mobilization would appear to get too sluggish. General Lieutenant Hugo Österman was appointed the leader of this new army HQ. Also, during this new setup, Gen.Lt. Harald Öhqvist’s II Army Corps (4th, 5th, and 11th Divisions) was deployed on the western side of the Isthmus under Karelian Isthmus Army command. The other army corp of the Karelian Istmus Army was the III Army Corps (8th and 10th Divisions) commanded by Erik Heinrichs and deployed in the eastern Isthmus along the Vuoksi riverbend. Also under the Karelian Isthmus Army were 4 so called Shield Force units, made up from the Border Troops and local Suojeluskunta-men. The were called the U(Uudenkirkko), M(Muolaa), L(Lipola) and the R(Rautu) groups. The U, M and L-groups served under the II Army Corps and the R-group under the III Army Corps. Behind these groups were 3 brigades made up from local Suojeluskunta-men and regular army personnel stationed in the area. Field Marshal Mannerheim gave this Army the order to defend southern Finland by keeping the enemy at the isthmus at all costs. The army numbered about 133,000 men (42% of the armed forces total) including the air defence units separate from the field army. After the initial deployment, 2 of the brigades were united to form a reserve division, the 1st Division, lead by Gen.Maj. Taavetti "Pappa" Laatikainen, to be placed behind the main defence line. Later it was reinforced with the third brigade. The IV Army Corps was deployed between Ladoga and Ilomantsi and Gen. Maj. Juho Heiskanen was placed in command. In addition to the northern Border and Shield Forces it was made from the 12th and 13th Divisions. The 13th Division was in the south and the 12th on the north side of the frontline. The IV Army Corps numbered around 40,000 men. The rest of the field army was deployed as the High Commander’s reserves (6th Division in Luumäki and the 9th Division in Oulu - the 9th had no artillery). To the north of IV Army Corps was the Northern-Finland Group, P-SR, lead by Gen.Maj. W.E. Tuompo.

The equipment of the Finnish army was nearly obsolete. Most Finnish equipment was termed "malli Cajander" or Model Cajander, named after the pre-war prime minister who was blamed for cutting back on army funding (mentioned above). During the mobilization it was estimated that the army could provide every man a uniform jacket by January and a overcoat by February. This still wasn’t enough and so the government had to confiscate all the ulsters and furcoats of the civilian clothing stores in December. According to Gen. Lt. Öhqvist, these actions and the foreign help provided every man at the Isthmus front with a warm overcoat already before Christmas. Almost every man also had a personal weapon, usually a Moisin-Nagant 1891 or a Berdan-rifle, but there was not much ammo for them to use. The ammo that did exist, was also not distributed very equally, which added to the problems. Most of the ammo went to the isthmus front, in fact, there were some battles in the north where Finnish riflemen had to fight with only one comb of ammo of 7 rounds, or no ammo at all! There was also at least one submachinegun and one automatic rifle (Finnish made Lahti-Saloranta) per platoon. These weapons were was not much but better. Usually the supply personnel had no weapons at all (except the guardsmen of course). The real problem was with Finnish artillery. Although artillery training was excellent and Finnish artillery tactics were generally superior to the Russians, there simply weren't enough guns. One division had approximately 36 artillery pieces, while a Russian division had 78. The Russians also had reserve artillery units almost every time they attacked. The munitions situation was even worse; the artillery had 200,000 rounds for field cannons and 70,000 rounds for howitzers when the Winter War began. In comparison, Russian artillery shot over 200,000 rounds at the 2nd Division (the former 11th Division) in 6 hours during their February-offensive. Luckily, Gen. Lt. V.P. Nenonen had designed and taught Finnish artillerymen tactics which were greatly admired by the Russians. Once a captured Russian artillery officer asked his captors: "Your artillery hits almost every time with the first shots, but why don’t you shoot more?"

Finnish Order of Battle on November 30th 1939:

Headquarters, under Marshal C. G. Mannerheim

  General HQ Reserves:

  6th Division - in Luumäki
  9th Division (minus Artillery) - in Oulu

The Karelian Isthmus region:

Karelian Army, under Gen.Lt. H Österman

  II Army Corps, under Lt.Gen. H. Öhquist

    1st Division (Shield Force Unit)
    4th Division
    5th Division
    11th Division

  III Army Corps, under Gen.Maj. E. Heinrichs

    "R" Brigade (Shield Force Unit)
    8th Division
    10th Division

Ladoga-Karelia region:

  IV Army Corps, under Gen.Maj. J. Heiskanen

    12th Division
    13th Division
    4 detached battalions

Northern Finland region:

  North Finland Group, under Gen.Maj W. Tuompo

    2 battalions

  Northern Karelia Group, under Lt.Col. E. Raappana

    3 battalions

  Lappland Group

    1 battalion

  Southern Coastline

    7 battalions

  Ålånd

    1 regiment

Official values of Finnish Divisions on the 30th November 1939:

Total Manpower: 14,200

Consisting of:

3 infantry regiments
1 artillery regiment

36 artillery pieces
12 anti-tank guns (37mm)
18 light mortars (82mm)
250 SMGs
250 ARs
116 MGs(7.62mm Maxim)

Russian divisions were much larger than Finnish divisions, but Finnish regiments and battalions were were larger than their Russian counter-parts. This gave a definite advantage to the Finns when fighting small scale skirmishes in the forests of the eastern Karelia and Lapland.

The Winter War

The Soviet forces crossed the border on the isthmus the 30th of November 1939. The first tried to penetrate the preliminary defences on the M-group’s frontiline.They also made some probe attack all over the southern front. Enemy forces were delayed until the 2nd day when all Shield Forces units had to pull back, because the M-group’s defence line had been broken and the U-group was in a threat to be circeled and cut off. There was a major mix up when rumors said that the enemy had landed in Puumala, couple of dozen kilometers west from the U-group. Later the rumor was cleared, but the some gorund was already lost so HQ decided to pull the forces back and keep them combat worthy instead of throwing them to fire again. From the 3rd to the 5th day, Russian troops were trying to brake through the R-group and the remains of the M-group. KA’s HQ decided to pull the Shield groups back to the Mannerheim-line. Russians reached the line on the 6th day, and somewhere on the front they were delayed until 11th day. The battles of the first week showed the relieving fact to the high command that the Russian war machine could not fight Blitzkrieg against them. The Shield forces were very much able to delay and even stop the enemy forces, if they didn’t have any armor. Shield forces had nothing to fight the steel monsters. Casualties were counted to about 400 men, around 100 of them killed.

The first place on the main defence line where Russians tried it’s strenght was the III AC region in Taipale. On the 6th and 7th day, they tried to break the line with 2 divisions immediately they arrived on the scene. The 10.D on the defence was able to stop the attacks but a week later the Russians striked again with 2 divisions and a armor brigade. Finnish artillery punched holes to Russian infantry formations, but still they were able to come over to Finnish positions and take them, but during the day and the next day, they were thrown back. On the Christmas Day morning Russians came again this time against the right flank of the 10.D. With the help of darkness and snowing weather they were able to come across the Vuoksi-river. Finns made a series of counter-attacks against them during the 26th through 28th day and finally almost all enemy forces were thrown back to their side of the river. On the Summa region, the 5.D was holding it’s positions. But the high command was afraid that it would not be able to stop the Russians if they came with numbers. So they split the region to two front, 5.D on right flank and the reserve division (1.D) on the left flank. Also, 6.D was moved from reserves to II AC’s district to fortify the 2nd defence line in case the main line would break.

The awaited Russian offensive started in the 17th of December, and the eye of the storm was on the Summa region (the shortest and the main road route went through it to Viipuri and Helsinki). After heavy artillery preparation the Russians attacked with armor support but were stopped. In some sectors they were however able to get their tanks in to Finnish positions but Finns were able to destroy their supportive infantry and after dark destroy the tanks with improvised antitank weapons like the molotov cocktail and satchel charges. After the first day, over 20 tanks were destroyed in the Lähde sector. The next day the main attack was also directed against the Lähde sector. There were about 70 tanks supporting the attack. This day however the Finnish artillery was able to destroy some of the tanks and scratch few men from the infantry formations, but the enemy was not suppressed. This day the enemy again was able to get to defender’s positions, but by the end of the day, they were thrown back again. The 19th day the attack was directed against the defenders of the Summa village but were again thrown back with about 20 tanks lost. The next few days the attacks went on, but were just local skirmishes or probe attacks and by 21st of December, the whole defensive line was cleared of the enemy. The December Offensive was broken. Russians lost numerous men, and about 52 tanks during their 3 day offensive. Finnish II AC losses were counted on the 22nd day: 744 KIA, 1225 WIA and 113 MIA = 2082 men lost. It was clear that with these losses, the enemy could break the line soon. So the Mannerheim moved his reserves(6.D) to the II AC in the 19th day to be used either in counter-offensive or to clear the defensive line of enemy troops. II AC’s commander Gen.Lt. Öhqvist had planned the counter-offensive already in the beginning of December but Mannerheim had refused to deploy his reserve division to him. The attack was planned to start on the 23rd day and all the 5 divisions in the area were to be used to circle the enemy in the Summa region. It was the biggest offensive ever in Finnish war history. But it failed. Already the day 1 the forces were pulled back. The preparation time was too short. This lead to mix ups in artillery support and deployment. The officers were not trained to co-operate or in offensive maneuvers. And again, the resources were one factor in the failure; artillery shot only 1100 rounds in artillery preparation. These flaws lead to the death of 361 men, 777 men were wounded and 190 MIA. The offensive was named the "crash of the fool" (hölmön törmäys) by the men.

In the northern side of lake Ladoga, Russians attacked with stronger forces than expected. With 4 divisions they advanced along all the main roads, one on each. already on the 2nd day of December the 13.D had to abandon their main defence line at Tulemajoki and to the south of Suojärvi, some of the defenders were forced to retreat. On the same day, high command gave an order to the IV AC that they should attack the next day along the Loimola-Suojärvi road and destroy the enemy. The attack failed and the forces were pulled back to the Kollaa-riverline, where they were able to stop the advance. Gen.Maj. Juho Heiskanen was replaced with Gen.Maj. Woldemar Hägglund on the 4th day. On the road to Tolvajärvi, enemy attacked Finnish lines along Aittojoki, and the defenders pulled back or at some point, fled in near panic. The 5th day, enemy probed the defensive line of Ägläjärvi, and soon the line was lost. So now the enemy had almost clear route to the back of the defenders of Kollaa line (12.D). To the north of Tolvajärvi, the enemy had penetrated through the defences and was advancing rapidly. On the 6th day they were 10km from Ilomantsi, which was a major road conjunction and a gate to the heart of Finland. Some chances were made in command structure and Mannerheim moved some of his small reserves to the region. The new unit was named Detachment Talvela, after it’s commander (the member of the war munitions department) Col. Paavo Talvela (on the 19th it was again named the Group Talvela). The unit was made up from Er.P 11(separate batallion 11), detachment Räsänen (3 batallions) and JR 16 lead by Col.Lt. Aaro Pajari and one large artillery unit both separated from 6.D. It’s orders were to destroy the enemy near Ilomantsi and move towards Suojärvi to recapture it with IV AC. Talvela knew Pajari and thought that he would be the best person to lead the attack with his regiment. So the JR 16 was moved to Tolvajärvi where they arrived in around 8th and 9th of December. In Ilomantsi, the high command decided to form a Detachment A, from the pull back defenders in the area and from 3 replacement batallions, fresh from the boot camp. They were real rag tag units, lacking in almost every area of equipment. Col. Per Ekholm was placed in command. on the 8th day, situation looked disastrous to Col. Talvela. The enemy advanced in all areas despite the efforts to stop it. Troops were in near panic. Talvela and Pajari decided they should attack immediately against the advancing enemy to gain the initiative and boost the morale. With two companies, Col.Lt. Pajari advanced around the southern bend of Tolvajärvi, attacked over the icy lake against the enemy at Kivisalmi and destroyed them. This attack and success boosted the morale and will-to-fight among other units. But it did not destroy the Russian 139.D and the next day it attacked on all sectors against the defenders and tried to circle them. To the north of lake Tolvajärvi, enemy had reached JR 16’s supply troops and was threatening it’s rear. Col. Pajari was just arriving the scene from a briefing with Talvela and immediately gathered about a hundred men and attacked the enemy. Later other Finnish units were involved and after a fierce day of fighting, Finns won and threw back the enemy. The enemy was also stopped in the southern flank but Talvela had to move the beginning of the planned attack to the next day (12.). The plan was to use two battalions to go around the northern tip of the lake and circle the enemy. The detachment however bumped into the middle of enemy attack formations and was forced to pull back. On the southern flank, one battalion stormed Kotisaari (a large island in the lake overwatching the ice) and after all day long fighting was able to destroy the enemy regiment. The plan was then to attack the center and break the enemy there, but since the northern circlement was failed it seemed to fail too. Pajari however decided to attack. The leading platoon stormed over the ice but only 8 men were able to get to the other side alive. Despite of the losses, attack went on and Finnish troops were able to break some parts of the defences. Pajari threw all his troops to the attack and by the end of the day, he was able to capture the enemy positions. The Russian 139.D had lost about 1000 men, and Finns had captured a lot of their equipment, for example 20 tanks and 2 artillery batteries. But Finnish losses were also big, nearly a hundred were dead and close to 200 wounded. But the victory was sweet. It was exeptional that Finns could beat the Russians in open ground with frontal attack. It was an example for all the defenders. The next day Pajari continued the attack and reached Ägläjärvi the 18th day and captured it the 23rd. Then it was discovered that there were two divisions involved on the Russian side that sector; the 139th and 75th divisions. Finnish leading units reached Aittojoki-riverline in the night of 23rd and switched to defence. Talvela was promoted to Gen.Maj. and Pajari to Col. The 139th enemy division was almost destroyed and the just arrived 75th had suffered heavy losses. Finns counted 4000 enemy soldiers dead (my estimate would be about 6000 men wounded but there are no information on that). Finnish troops suffered about 2000 men losses killed or wounded (30% of the officers were lost). In the Ilomantsi region, neither side had enough forces to turn the tide so the frontline was established.

The IV AC was ordered to beat the enemy coming from Lemetti and in that way threaten the main attack’s flank which was coming from Salmi-Koirinoja region. But both attempts during the 12th and 17-19th days failed. Despite the failure the AC was preparing for another attack soon so that the enemy would not have time to regroup. The main attack was directed against the 18th enemy division positioned around Ruhtinaanmäki. The plan was to go through the softer flank of the enemy and cut their supply and reinforcement routes. The other part of the offensive was to tie the 18.D to Ruhtinaanmäki by attacking them frequently. The attack was launched and the enemy had to regroup his troops to defence. Finnish troops reached the road leading to Uomaa by the 3rd of January. This gave Finns the possibility to expand their counter-offensive and so high command sent Col. V. Nihtilä to observe the attack and report to the high command. By the end of January, reinforcements were sent to the IV AC totaling about 14800 men. The plan was to cut the supply routes of the enemy and thus weakening the and finally destroy them. Two units were formed, one lead by Col. H. Hannuksela and the other lead by Col. P. Auti. The attack was launched in the 6th of January 1940. When the attack started, the enemy did not pull back nor start any counter-measures but dug in place. This enabled Finnish troops to continue their offensive and leave only parts of their units to guard the enemy. These defence outposts were later named "motti"s (the name came from the term motti, a pile of lumber. Finnish lumberjacks were paid after how many mottis they made. Usually they made one motti, marked it and moved on, similar to the tactic they used now in the war. Most of the men involved in the war were common men, who went to work as lumberjacks in the winters so they understood the idea and used it also on other fronts. Thus the name, motti-tactic). Finally Col. Auti’s commanded detachment reached Koirinoja in the 11th day so the enemy 168.D was surrounded. Also the 18.D and the 34th Armor brigade were split to several mottis. The enemy was supplied with air support and the 168th over the ice of Lake Ladoga, but after Auti invaded the islands overlooking the ice, Russians had to rely only on air support. There were three major mottis, the western Lemetti, eastern Lemetti and the "Regiment motti" manned by one of the regiments of 168.D. The rest of the division was surrounded around Kitelä. Western Lemetti had 32 tanks, 6 artillery guns and a light mortar and was cleared in 4th of February. The eastern Lemetti was much stronger, 70 tanks and about 20 armored cars were dug in. They tried to break through later in February but were totally destroyed. The regiment motti was later split to smaller mottis and finally destroyed in 18th of February. 20 tanks and over 30 artillert guns were captured among other munitions. The rest of the 168th held their positions until the war ended. This counter-offensive was possible for one reason only, the Kollaa riverline held. The regiment defending the line(JR 34) suffered 56% casualties (1665 men) but refused to pull back because they knew that the line was crucial. Total losses of the II AC during the war were 3725 dead, 9651 wounded and 572 MIA = 13,948 men. The enemy was stopped and for the most part destroyed but the II AC was frequently reinforced and so the ishtmus front did not get the reinforcements it needed.

Further north, between Porajärvi and Salla, the enemy had it’s 9th Army (5 divisions). The main direction of attack was in Salla where the enemy had 2 divisions. Suomussalmi was attacked with two and Kuhmo with one division. There was also one regiment directed against Lieksa but it had most obviously had no advancement objectives. In the Suomussalmi the leading 163.D had orders to capture the road junctions of the village and then the 44.D (partially motorized) was ordered to move towards Oulu. The Finnish forces in the area consisted of one battalion only, Er.P 15 positioned mainly in the village. Some troops were positioned on both obvious attack directions, the Juntusranta road and the famous Raate road. Later reinforced, Finnish troops numbered 3600 men (in the start less than a half of it) with no artillert what-so-ever. The enemy had at least 23000 men, around 188 artillry guns and 45 tanks. They advanced rapidly in Juntusranta and on the Raate road. Finnish troops had to retreat and on the 6th day they burned Suomussalmi before pulling back from the village. Russian forces reached the ashes by 8th of December. Now situation began to look serious. The reserve division (9.D) in Oulu had already given two of it’s regiments to other fronts (JR 26 to isthmus and JR 25 to Kuhmo). In the morning of the 7th of December, the commander of the Northern Bothnia Military Region Col. Siilasvuo received an order to form a brigade from the remnants of the 9.D (JR 27). It was moved to Suomussalmi and the first units arrived in Hyrynsalmi by 9th of December. Siilasvuo planned the counter-attack so that the first objective was to cut enemy supply route (the Raate road) and then attack the village. The 10th day JR 27 (reinforced with local Shield force units) attacked the road and roadblocked it. By the end of the day, Finns had 5km of the road in their hands. On the next day, main elements moved towards the village and captured a foothold in it. The attack on the village began the next day. The enemy was well dug in and due to the lack of artillery the attack began to lose it’s momentum. The attack was halted in 20th of December. But just for time that the reinforcements were at the scene. Mannerheim had ordered already in the previous day to join two reinforcement regiments in Oulu to form a new 9.D and move it to Suomussalmi. With the help of the high command, the HQ of the Northern Group formed a detachment Susi (Wolf) lead by Col.Lt. P. Susitaival. This detachment was reinforced with the other of 9.D’s regiments (JR 65) and ordered to beat the enemy at Piispanjärvi and Palovaara and cut the supply route from Suomussalmi to Juntusranta. Now the previously formed brigade was reinforced with the other regiment (JR 64)and a light detachment (Kev.Os.22) and named the 9.D once again. The orders were given in 24th to use the 9.D to beat the enemy at Hulkonniemi and recapture Suomussalmi and at the same time support the attack from south (Raate) and north (Piispanjärvi, Detachment Susi). Due to problems in deployment and transportation the attack was delayed one day and started in 27th of December 1939. On the 23th the enemy launched a suprise attack against the JR 27 using heavy artillery support and a dozen fighters. The line was thin and it seemed like it would break but it eventually held. In the Christmas Day, Russians attacked again but the 163rd division was already so weak that it could not penetrate the lines on Raate road and so could not get in contact with the 44.D. The 27th was a day of fierce fighting and some ground was taken but nothing decicive was gained. The same time air reconnaisance reported the Raate road crowded with the 44.D troops and armor moving towards JR 27 and Suomussalmi. Siilasvuo ordered a fresh battalion (Sissipataljoona 1) to hinder the 44.D. The delay was succesful. From the morning of the 28th, Russian defences began to crack. Enemy units fled over the ice of the Kiantajärvi lake supported by tanks, armored cars and air support so Kev.Os 22 was not able to harass the retreat. By the end of the day, the village was recaptured and 9.D got the order to follow up and destroy the fleeing enemy. By the 30th of December, the 163rd enemy division was destroyed and much of it’s heavy equipment captured. Detachment Susi had the same time attacked against the enemy in the northern flank and was able to force the enemy to retreat and capture most of it’s equipment. Now Finnish eyes turned to the 44th. It had stayed on it’s positions along the road mostly because of it’s heavy equipment. The 9.D used a frozen river to move to 44th rear and cut their connection to east. The main attack was launched in the 5th of January from three separate directions. The 6th day the enemy showed already a considerable weakness and they tried to break through towards east but were forced back. Between the 6th and 7th day, around midnight the enemy tried again to break through but failed. During the following days, the division was split to pieces and destroyed. It suffered over 70% casualties (some smaller units were able to flee through gaps in Finnish lines) in addition to 1200 prisoners of war the Finnish took. Practically all of the South Ukranian division’s heavy equipment was captured. Col. Siilasvuo was promoted to Gen.Maj. The enemy commander Vinogradov and his staff was executed by the enemy. Oulu was safe. In Kuhmo, enemy had little over 12000 (54th Guards Division) men against 1200 Finnish. By the 6th of December Finnish forces had pulled back and the high command decided to use the JR 25 in Oulu and attach some other reserve units to it and form a Separate Brigade commanded by Col. Lt Vuokko. It was moved to Kuhmo by 8th day. The brigade counter-attacked and recaptured some of the ground lost to the 54.GD and force some of the units to pull back over the border but the main elements of the division remained in the area. After the fights had ended in Suomussalmi, the 9.D was moved to Kuhmo and was ordered to destoy the division. It offered fierce resistance and the 9.D was unable to destoy it. It remained in it’s motti until the peace. In Salla region the enemy had it’s 122nd and 88th divisions. Their objective was to capture Rovaniemi in two weeks and from there to advance towards Tornio. Finnish troops (Er.P 17 and after 4th of Dec Er.P 25) were unable to delay the attackers and Salla village was burned in the 9th of December. High command formed a battalion in Rovaniemi of whatever troops it could find. Also, two 2 sissi detachments were sent to the area. And in the 11th of December Mannerheim formed a new HQ unit called the Group Lappland and appointed Gen.Maj. K.M. Wallenius in it’s command. The group included the troops in Salla and in Petsamo. The new HQ ordered JR 40, positioned in Kemijärvi to counterattack the enemy in Pelkosenniemi. The attack was to be through the enemy’s northern flank and so advancing to their rear. The regiment advanced towards the enemy, and in some point it seemed like they would hold their positions, but then two Finnish companies charged accidently the Russian supply and artillery depot and destroyed it. This lead to panic in the enemy lines, because they thought they were surrounded and they fled towards east. JR 40 was then moved towards Salla where Russian forces were trying to break through to the road leading to Kemijärvi. With the reinforcements these attempts were beaten and the enemy dug in. Using the sissi units to harrass their supply Finns were finally able to force the Russians to pull back to east during the 13.-16th of December. They stopped at Märkäjärvi, where they held their positions. By the end of February, a Swedish volunteer brigade was moved to the area and relieved the Finnish troops to be used elsewhere. Much much further north, the Russian 14th Army had 3 divisions to protect the crucial port of Murmansk and capture the coastline leading to Petsamo to prevent foreign intervention through there. The Finns had one company defending the area in addition to small border troops reinforced with one battery of artillery, guns dating back to 1887. The ammo used in these guns had 50% dud rate. Finns pulled back after some contacts with the enemy until they reached Nautsi riverline and established a firm defensive line there. On the way they burned Liinahamari port and sank all the ships in there. The Russians had met their objectives and Finns had no interest in that area, so the situation was stable.

From the start of the February, the enemy showed increasing activity in the Summa region. They used massive artillery barrages and air attacks to destroy Finnish fortifications and suppress the defending troops. They also made probe attacks to get information on weak spots. This lasted from the 1st of February to the 10th. Some of the probe attacks were so severe, that Finnish lines almost broke. On the 5th day for example, one of the JR 7’s companies (in the Summa village) lost it’s commander 3 times while fighting against two attacks. During these 10 days of suppressive fire and fiece combat, Finnish troops began to be immensely tired. On the 8th day JR 7’s commander made a report to II AC that his men were sleeping on guard and in the trenches even when the same time enemy tanks were rolling in their positions and enemy artillery and air forces bombed the lines. They were relieved from frontline duty in the 10th of February, when enemy artilltery started to keep pauses in their fire. The 3.D(former 6.D) had however still been able to hold it’s positions and inflict heavy casualties to the enemy (5000 dead and about 60 tanks destroyed). On the morning of the 11th day the main offensive finally started all around the Karelian Isthmus front. After three hours of artillery preparation 3 Russian divisions (100.D, 123.D and 138.D) attacked against the 3.D defending Summa region. Already at noon the commander Col. P. Paalu had to ask for help from the neighbouring 5.D because all of his own reserves were already used. High command however refused to split the division up and so the 3rd had to make on it’s own. The situation went critical in 1900 hours when a Russian armor unit finally broke through. Then the high command moved one regiment (JR 13) to 3rd division. It was used in counter attack near Lähde but by the end of the day it had gained nothing. The enemy kept coming through the night and it was really unclear if the 3rd could keep it’s positions. Also the neighbouring divisions (4.D in the west and 11.D in the east) were under heavy enemy activity. In the next morning enemy directed it’s attack against a so called Millionfort (miljoonalinnake, because of it’s size and equipment, it must’ve cost at least million marks). The commander gave retreat orders at the noon and after that the whole Lähde region was under enemy possession. During the night of the 12th, 5.D tried to counter attack and recapture the main line, but failed. The night of the 12th and 13th day was really cold, minus 25-30 degrees of celsius and the defending troops didn’t have any shelters. In the morning one of the 5.D’s regiments (JR 14) charged the Russian lines, but was thrown back from them with armor support by the end of the day. All day the Russians attacked the temporary defences but were unable to decicevly to break through, although it was obvious that the 3.D and the 5.D had lost. They had no possibilities to gain back the lost lines and the enemy fire prevented them to be reinforced. But at the night, one regiment of the 21.D (in Taipale front) was ordered to move into Lähde. Also both divisions were supplied and slightly reinforced. The next morning Mannerheim arrived to the II AC’s command post to negotiate about the situation. They decided to split the II AC and form a new one to defend the II AC’s left flank. At the following night, the 3.D and the 5.D pulled back a few kilometers to a more suitable defence line and began to dig in. Fresh troops and units were brought to the line. The next day the enemy didn’t move, so the defenders got some more time to prepare their defences and deploy more reinforcements. The next day the Russians came again and reports showed that the improvised line would not hold for too long so Mannerheim gave the order to retreat to the 2nd line. At 2000 hours the II AC pulled back with

1531 dead and 4430 wounded. 445 men were missed in action. The 2nd line was really temporary, with only randomly fortified positions. The Russians reached it by 17th of February and breached through JR 62, a fresh regiment, to the road to Viipuri. However the Russian tanks did not want to advance without their infantry which was far behind so the situation was halted. The tanks were isolated but not forced to pull back. Another break was inflicted near Näykkijärvi on the 19th, where the enemy attacked against a fresh battallion, which fled in panic and left their positions to the enemy. The same day Gen.Lt. Österman, II AC’s commander had a nervous breakdown and was replaced with freshly promoted Gen.Lt. Erik Heinrichs. The ongoing peace negotiations made it crucial to hold as much ground as possible. The new I AC was formed from the 1. and the 2.D and it was ordered to defend the Vuoksi-riverline to the east of II AC al the way to the III AC’s flank. It was commanded by Gen. Maj. Taavetti "Pappa" Laatikainen. At this moment the Swedish volunteers were united to the Finnish army as an independent unit and moved to Salla. This would in turn free some forces to be used in the south. The same time the Swedish commander Gen. Linder was appointed the leader of the Group Lappland. On the 25th day, Russian troops advanced to one of the gaps in Finnish lines and threatened the 5.D rear. The Finnish armor company freshly equipped with captured tanks took part in the following counter attack. It’s debut showed that their tanks were far too light to be of any match to the Russians in the deep snow. Each tank exept one was destroyed. The counter attack failed and so the II and I AC received an order to pull back to the 3rd line starting from Viipuri and going along the Vuoksi river to Taipale. On the Taipale front, the Russians had been attacking with strong forces all the way from the 8th of February. Positions were frequently lost and gained again, but finally both Russian divisions were beaten back. The new commander Gen. Maj Talvela (took Laatikainen’s place) ordered the construction of rear line a couple of kilometers from the main line, in case the enemy would brake through. The III AC lost 4888 men during the period of 4.2-2.3 (1207 dead, 3174 wounded and 507 missed). This line would be called the T-Line.

The Soviet forces reached the outskirts of Viipuri already on the 1st of March, but the major offensive against the T-Line began on the 4th of March, all the way from Viipuri Bay along Vuoksi riverline through Taipale and across the Lake Ladoga to the Ladogakarelian front. The Soviet commander Timoshenko wanted to suppress the Finns and thus preventing them from moving reinforcements to the defence of Viipuri. In the morning of the 2nd, one Russian division assaulted over the ice of Viipuri bay to cut Finnish supply routes from Southern Finland to Viipuri. They managed to gain a thin bridgehead and thus were able to move the main forces of the attack over the ice, almost unhindered. The General Headquarters hastly organized a separate group, Coastal Group to handle with the problem. Gen.Maj. K. M. Wallenius took its command but under enormous mental pressure causing his inability to stop the enemy from advancing, he was replaced the same day with Gen.Lt. K. L. Oesch from General Staff (Chief of Staff). Despite fast reaction and rapid troop deployments, the enemy was able to cut the main road between Säkkijärvi and Viipuri by 7th of March. Troops were withdrawn even from the main line itself and finally they were able to stop the enemy advance, although by 13th day (the day armistice was announced) there were atleast 6 enemy divisions in the bridgehead. Finnish casualties during this 2 week long fighting arose to about 5200 men, nearly 8 % of the total casualties in the war. This tells us something about the intesity of the fighting. At the Tali region, Soviet units punched through the thin T-Line, but were too cautious to advance. In Vuosalmi, the defending 2.D took several attacks before it had to pull back from Äyräpää hill overlooking the Vuoksi riverline in that region. III AC HQ gave an order to move the 21.Div. from Taipale to fill the gap of fleeing Finnish division (or not a total fleeing, but some units actually lost their whole chain of command, and thought that the whole division was gone). The problem was, the 21st was no longer a division, but an oversized battalion instead, numbering only about 1600 men losing nearly 600 of them in the Äyräpää positions before the 13th day. In the Ladogakarelian front Finns stopped all the Soviet attacks and thus the frontline held as it was. Overall orders were to keep all the ground possible, no matter the cost. Due to the ongoing peace negotiations, it was imperative to keep as much credibility as possible so that the peace would be a negotiated one, not a total surrender under the boot of an overwhelming enemy. Gen. Öhquist wrote to his diary in the 11th day: "It’s a terrible poker we’re playing here". In fact the III AC had already prepared an order of withdrawal in the evening of the 12th day, to be issued to the units the next morning.

Finally peace was achieved in the late hours between the 12th and the 13th of March 1940 in Moscow. The armistice was to take place immediately, though as always, the message did not get to all units until after few days. 35 000 square kilometers were lost, 430 000 people lost their homes (12% of the total population). Finnish casualties at the home front included 826 killed and 1538 wounded by enemy air activity. Finnish field army lost 22849 men killed or missed in action and 43557 wounded, of which nearly 10000 permanently disabled. Official Soviet estimates show 230000 total casualties, but for example German Wehrmacht studies the following year(41) reckoned 273000 dead and 800000 wounded. This would raise the total casualties 5 times higher, over a million. Even Hrutshev himself has said that "I’d say we lost as many as million lives" when referring to Winter War in his memoirs.

The Winter War showed, as had the War of Independence, that Finns could fight. They showed we are stubborn, determined and aggresive defenders, always gaining the initiative. They also showed that Finns could not attack. This was mostly due to lack of mobility, but also to inability of the officers of conducting larger scale military operations. Instead Finnish were (and by the way, still are) trained to think individually, use smaller, more flexible forces to gain initiative and in that way the keys to win battles.