Finnish Winter War 1939-1940
The Finnish Army was raised in the revolutionary year of 1918. On the 16thof January 1918, General-Lieutenant Carl Gustav Mannerheim wascommissioned by the Finnish senate to unite all the home guard(Suojeluskunta) units and to form an army for the new republic. At thattime, 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 tocreate a relatively democratic state, independent from Soviet Russia.White Finland was decidedly anti-Communist, and Mannerheim and his newlyformed troops sided with them. Nearly 200,000 Finns took part in this warand about 18,000 were killed, including civilians. Also on the side of theWhites were the German Baltic Division lead by Rüdiger von der Goltz(12,000 men) which landed in Hanko, Finland. There were still Russiantroops in Finland when the war between the Reds and Whites began, and about3,000 – 5,000 took part on the side of the Reds. Eventually, theanti-Communist forces won after 5 months of fierce fighting, including thebattle of Tampere which was the largest battle in Scandinavian historyuntil that time.
After the war, the German connection to Finland began to show. SomeFinnish government members at the time desired to make Finland a monarchy,thus they got in touch with the Prince of Hessen Friedrich Karl and decidedthat he would be the king of Finland. He was officially King for littleover a month but stepped aside when Germany lost WWI. The parliament thenelected the first president, K. J. Ståhlberg, to lead the new Finnishdemocracy.
The non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia in 1938 turned heads inFinland. Germany agreed to give the Baltic states, including Finland, toRussia. Of course, all this was kept a secret, but as time went on,the events became known to the Finns. As Russian aggression grew, theFinns requested help from Germany, only to be turned away – leaving theFinns 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 – thesymbol was a silver “S” with pine twigs on top). Suojeluskunnat were smalllocal militia units formed in the restless days of 1917-1918. After thewar, they were made a part of the official Finnish army. They organizedmilitary games, shooting competitions, recruiting rallies, and youthactivities – much like the German Hitlerjügend – only without the NSDAPideology.
There was a period of time during the 1930s when right-wing activity wason the rise, and part of the Suojeluskunta staff took part in right-wingactivities. When some of these activities began to get out of hand, thegovernment intervened and disbanded many untrustworthy members from theSuojeluskunta. Later, there was a revolution in Mäntsäläled by right-wing activists, but the Suojeluskunta maintained order andforced their surrender. During the 1930s, when Finnish Prime MinisterCajander ruled the Senate, there was a major cut in military funding. Thisprevented the army from expanding and from getting new weapons and equipment.When the Winter War began, the soldiers were provided with a belt, anational cockade, and most of the time, an old French rifle. Only theregular 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 fromRussian-Finland during WWI to be trained in Germany to liberate theirhomeland from Russian rule. The Germans formed a unit from the Finns, theKaiser’s Jäger-Bataillone 27 and used it on the eastern front from 1916 to1917). The high command also had members from the ex-Russian army, includingGen. Mannerheim.
The Finnish Navy consisted of 2 heavy cruisers (or panssarilaiva,armor ships, as they are called in Finnish), 5 submarines, a few gunshipsand a couple dozen MTBs and minelayers. As the Baltic Coast is mostlyfrozen from November to March, naval activity wasn’t very important duringthe Winter War. The two capital ships, Ilmarinen and Väinämöinen(Characters from the Finnish saga Kalevala) were used in Turku as airdefense platforms during the majority of the conflict.
Finnish coastal artillery had a much stronger influence on the Winter War, asthey 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 WinterWar. Only 46 of them were fighters. The Finnish armed forces emblem, theblue swastika was originally a good-luck-charm of Baron von Rosen, aGerman benefactor, who donated the first plane to the Finnish air force in1918. 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 ithad as its basic premise the idea of stopping an enemy attack on theKarelian Isthmus at a certain point where natural obstacles like theVuoksi-river would suppress the enemy forces and prevent their operationalpossibilities. This line was later christened, by the international press,the Mannerheim-line. It went from east to west on a lineTaipale-Suvanto-Vuoksi-Äyräpäänjärvi-Muolaanjärvi-Kipinolan-järvi.It had 67 concrete bunkers mostly in the Summa and Lähde regions. Itwasn’t a favored operational plan and was strongly criticized before thewar, and a lack of funding prevented further construction. The Finnishplan estimated that the Russians would be able to mobilize up to 10divisions in 7-8 days against the Karelian Isthmus defenses.
To the north of Ladoga Lake, orders were given to use alternative methodsto slow down and eventually stop the weakened enemy before it could reachthe strategic points of Oulu, Kajaani, Rovaniemi, Kemi, and Petsamo. Enemystrength was estimated at a max of 4 divisions.
When the partial mobilization orders were given in 7.10.1939, there was anorder 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’tthe original plan, and the idea was to ensure the safety of the Isthmus ifthe mobilization would appear to get too sluggish. General-Lieutenant HugoÖsterman was appointed the leader of this new army HQ. Also, duringthis new setup, Gen.Lt. Harald Öhqvist’s II Army Corps (4th, 5th, and11th Divisions) was deployed on the western side of the Isthmus underKarelian Isthmus Army command. The other army corp of the Karelian IstmusArmy was the III Army Corps (8th and 10th Divisions) commanded by ErikHeinrichs 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 of the Border Troops and local Suojeluskunta-men. They werecalled 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 underthe III Army Corps. Behind these groups were 3 brigades made up from localSuojeluskunta-men and regular army personnel stationed in the area. FieldMarshal Mannerheim gave this Army the order to defend southern Finland bykeeping the enemy at the isthmus at all costs. The army numbered about133,000 men (42% of the armed forces total) including the air defenseunits separate from the field army. After the initial deployment, 2 of thebrigades were united to form a reserve division, the 1st Division, lead byGen.Maj. Taavetti “Pappa” Laatikainen, to be placed behind the maindefense line. Later it was reinforced with the third brigade. The IV ArmyCorps was deployed between Ladoga and Ilomantsi and Gen. Maj. JuhoHeiskanen was placed in command. In addition to the northern Border andShield 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 armywas deployed as the High Commander’s reserves (6th Division inLuumäki and the 9th Division in Oulu – the 9th had no artillery). Tothe north of IV Army Corps was the Northern-Finland Group, P-SR, lead byGen.Maj. W.E. Tuompo.
The equipment of the Finnish army was nearly obsolete. Most Finnishequipment was termed “malli Cajander” or Model Cajander, named after thepre-war prime minister who was blamed for cutting back on army funding(mentioned above). During the mobilization, it was estimated that the armycould provide every man a uniform jacket by January and an overcoat byFebruary. This still wasn’t enough and so the government had to confiscateall the ulsters and fur coats of the civilian clothing stores in December.According to Gen. Lt. Öhqvist, these actions and the foreign helpprovided every man at the Isthmus front with a warm overcoat alreadybefore Christmas. Almost every man also had a personal weapon, usually aMoisin-Nagant 1891 or a Berdan-rifle, but there was not much ammo for themto 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 hadto fight with only one comb of ammo of 7 rounds, or no ammo at all! Therewas also at least one submachine gun and one automatic rifle (Finnish madeLahti-Saloranta) per platoon. These weapons were was not much but better.Usually the supply personnel had no weapons at all (except the guardsmenof course). The real problem was with Finnish artillery. Althoughartillery training was excellent and Finnish artillery tactics weregenerally superior to the Russians, there simply weren’t enough guns. Onedivision had approximately 36 artillery pieces, while a Russian divisionhad 78. The Russians also had reserve artillery units almost every timethey attacked. The munitions situation was even worse; the artillery had200,000 rounds for field cannons and 70,000 rounds for howitzers when theWinter War began. In comparison, Russian artillery shot over 200,000rounds at the 2nd Division (the former 11th Division) in 6 hours duringtheir February-offensive. Luckily, Gen. Lt. V.P. Nenonen had designed andtaught Finnish artillerymen tactics which were greatly admired by theRussians. Once a captured Russian artillery officer asked his captors:”Your artillery hits almost every time with the first shots, but why don’tyou shoot more?”
Finnish Order of Battle on November 30th 1939:
Headquarters, under Marshal C. G. Mannerheim
General HQ Reserves:
6th Division – in Luumäki
The Karelian Isthmus region:
Karelian Army, under Gen.Lt. H Österman
II Army Corps, under Lt.Gen. H. Öhquist
1st Division (Shield Force Unit)
III Army Corps, under Gen.Maj. E. Heinrichs
“R” Brigade (Shield Force Unit)
IV Army Corps, under Gen.Maj. J. Heiskanen
Northern Finland region:
North Finland Group, under Gen.Maj W. Tuompo
Northern Karelia Group, under Lt.Col. E. Raappana
Official values of Finnish Divisions on the 30th November 1939:
Total Manpower: 14,200
3 infantry regiments
36 artillery pieces
Russian divisions were much larger than Finnish divisions, but Finnishregiments and battalions were were larger than their Russiancounter-parts. This gave a definite advantage to the Finns when fightingsmall scale skirmishes in the forests of the eastern Karelia andLapland.
The Winter War
The Soviet forces crossed the border on the isthmus the 30th of November1939. The first tried to penetrate the preliminary defenses on theM-group’s frontline.They also made some probe attack all over thesouthern front. Enemy forces were delayed until the 2nd day when allShield Forces units had to pull back because the M-group’s defensive linehad been broken and the U-group was a threat to be circled and cutoff. There was a major mix up when rumors said that the enemy had landedin Puumala, a couple of dozen kilometers west from the U-group. Later therumor was cleared, but some ground was already lost so HQ decided topull the forces back and keep them combat worthy instead of throwing themto fire again. From the 3rd to the 5th day, Russian troops were trying tobreak through the R-group and the remains of the M-group. KA’s HQ decidedto pull the Shield groups back to the Mannerheim-line. Russians reachedthe line on the 6th day, and somewhere on the front, they were delayeduntil the 11th day. The battles of the first week showed the relieving fact tothe high command that the Russian war machine could not fight Blitzkriegagainst them. The Shield forces were very much able to delay and even stopthe enemy forces if they didn’t have any armor. Shield forces had nothingto fight the steel monsters. Casualties were counted to about 400 men,around 100 of them killed.
The first place on the main defense line where Russians tried itsstrength was the III AC region in Taipale. On the 6th and 7th day, theytried to break the line with 2 divisions immediately they arrived on thescene. The 10.D on the defense was able to stop the attacks but a weeklater the Russians struck again with 2 divisions and an armor brigade.Finnish artillery punched holes in Russian infantry formations, but still, they were able to come over to Finnish positions and take them, but duringthe day and the next day, they were thrown back. On the Christmas Daymorning 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 comeacross the Vuoksi-river. Finns made a series of counter-attacks againstthem during the 26th through 28th day and finally, almost all enemy forceswere thrown back to their side of the river.In the Summa region, the 5.D was holding its positions. But the highcommand was afraid that it would not be able to stop the Russians if theycame with numbers. So they split the region into two fronts, 5.D on the rightflank and the reserve division (1.D) on the left flank. Also, 6.D wasmoved from reserves to II AC’s district to fortify the 2nd defense line incase the main line would break.
The awaited Russian offensive started on the 17th of December, and the eyeof the storm was in the Summa region (the shortest and the main road routewent through it to Viipuri and Helsinki). After the heavy artillerypreparation, the Russians attacked with armor support but were stopped. Insome sectors, they were, however, able to get their tanks into Finnishpositions but Finns were able to destroy their supportive infantry andafter dark destroys the tanks with improvised antitank weapons like themolotov cocktail and satchel charges. After the first day, over 20 tankswere destroyed in the Lähde sector. The next day the main attack was alsodirected against the Lähde sector. There were about 70 tanks supportingthe attack. This day, however, the Finnish artillery was able to destroysome of the tanks and scratch few men from the infantry formations, butthe enemy was not suppressed. This day the enemy again was able to get todefender’s positions, but by the end of the day, they were thrown backagain. The 19th day the attack was directed against the defenders of theSumma village but were again thrown back with about 20 tanks lost. Thenext few days the attacks went on but were just local skirmishes or probeattacks and by 21st of December, the whole defensive line was cleared ofthe enemy. The December Offensive was broken. Russians lost numerous men,and about 52 tanks during their 3-day offensive. Finnish II AC losses werecounted on the 22nd day: 744 KIA, 1225 WIA, and 113 MIA = 2082 men lost. Itwas clear that with these losses, the enemy could break the line soon. Sothe Mannerheim moved his reserves(6.D) to the II AC in the 19th day to beused either in counter-offensive or to clear the defensive line of enemytroops. II AC’s commander Gen.Lt. Öhqvist had planned thecounter-offensive already in the beginning of December but Mannerheim hadrefused to deploy his reserve division to him. The attack was planned tostart on the 23rd day and all the 5 divisions in the area were to be usedto circle the enemy in the Summa region. It was the biggest offensive everin Finnish war history. But it failed. Already the day 1 the forces werepulled back. The preparation time was too short. This lead to mix-ups inartillery support and deployment. The officers were not trained toco-operate or in offensive maneuvers. And again, the resources were onefactor in the failure; artillery shot only 1100 rounds in artillerypreparation. These flaws lead to the death of 361 men, 777 men werewounded 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 strongerforces than expected. With 4 divisions they advanced along all the mainroads, one on each. already on the 2nd day of December, the 13.D had toabandon their main defense line at Tulemajoki and to the south ofSuojärvi, 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 nextday along the Loimola-Suojärvi road and destroy the enemy. The attackfailed and the forces were pulled back to the Kollaa river line, where theywere able to stop the advance. Gen.Maj. Juho Heiskanen was replaced withGen.Maj. Woldemar Hägglund on the 4th day. On the road to Tolvajärvi, the enemy attacked Finnish lines along Aittojoki, and the defenders pulledback or at some point, fled in near panic. The 5th day, enemy probed thedefensive line of Ägläjärvi, and soon the line was lost. So now the enemyhad an 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 defensesand 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 changes were made in command structure and Mannerheim moved some ofhis small reserves to the region. The new unit was named DetachmentTalvela, after it’s commander (the member of the war munitions department)Col. Paavo Talvela (on the 19th it was again named the Group Talvela). Theunit was made up from Er.P 11(separate battalion 11), detachment Räsänen(3 battalions) and JR 16 lead by Col.Lt. Aaro Pajari and one largeartillery unit both separated from 6.D. Its orders were to destroy theenemy 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 leadthe attack with his regiment. So the JR 16 was moved to Tolvajärvi wherethey arrived in around 8th and 9th of December. In Ilomantsi, the highcommand decided to form a Detachment A, from the pullback defenders inthe area and from 3 replacement battalions, fresh from the boot camp. Theywere real ragtag units, lacking in almost every area of equipment. Col.Per Ekholm was placed in command. On the 8th day, the situation lookeddisastrous to Col. Talvela. The enemy advanced in all areas despite theefforts to stop it. Troops were in near panic. Talvela and Pajari decidedthey should attack immediately against the advancing enemy to gain theinitiative and boost the morale. With two companies, Col.Lt. Pajariadvanced around the southern bend of Tolvajärvi, attacked over the icylake against the enemy at Kivisalmi and destroyed them. This attack andsuccess boosted the morale and will-to-fight among other units. But it didnot destroy the Russian 139.D and the next day it attacked all sectorsagainst the defenders and tried to circle them. To the north of lakeTolvajärvi, the enemy had reached JR 16’s supply troops and was threateningits rear. Col. Pajari was just arriving the scene from a briefing withTalvela and immediately gathered about a hundred men and attacked theenemy. Later other Finnish units were involved and after a fierce day offighting, Finns won and threw back the enemy. The enemy was also stoppedin the southern flank but Talvela had to move the beginning of the plannedattack to the next day (12.). The plan was to use two battalions to goaround the northern tip of the lake and circle the enemy. The detachment, however, bumped into the middle of enemy attack formations and was forcedto pull back. On the southern flank, one battalion stormed Kotisaari (alarge island in the lake overwatching the ice) and after all day longfighting was able to destroy the enemy regiment. The plan was then toattack the center and break the enemy there, but since the northerncircle failed, it seemed to fail too. Pajari, however, decided toattack. The leading platoon stormed over the ice but only 8 men were ableto get to the other side alive. Despite the losses, the attack went on andFinnish troops were able to break some parts of the defenses. Pajari threwall his troops to the attack and by the end of the day, he was able tocapture 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 and2 artillery batteries. But Finnish losses were also big, nearly a hundredwere dead and close to 200 wounded. But the victory was sweet. It wasexceptional that Finns could beat the Russians in open ground with the frontalattack. It was an example for all the defenders. The next day Pajaricontinued the attack and reached Ägläjärvi the 18th day and captured itthe 23rd. Then it was discovered that there were two divisions involved onthe Russian side that sector; the 139th and 75th divisions. Finnishleading units reached Aittojoki-river line in the night of 23rd andswitched to defense. Talvela was promoted to Gen.Maj. and Pajari to Col.The 139th enemy division was almost destroyed and the just arrived 75thhad suffered heavy losses. Finns counted 4000 enemy soldiers dead (myestimate would be about 6000 men wounded but there is no information onthat). Finnish troops suffered about 2000 men losses killed or wounded(30% of the officers were lost). In the Ilomantsi region, neither side hadenough forces to turn the tide so the frontline was established.
The IV AC was ordered to beat the enemy coming from Lemetti and in thatway threaten the main attack’s flank which was coming from Salmi-Koirinojaregion. But both attempts during the 12th and 17-19th days failed. Despitethe failure, the AC was preparing for another attack soon so that the enemywould not have time to regroup. The main attack was directed against the18th enemy division positioned around Ruhtinaanmäki. The plan was to gothrough the softer flank of the enemy and cut their supply andreinforcement routes. The other part of the offensive was to tie the 18.Dto Ruhtinaanmäki by attacking them frequently. The attack was launched andthe enemy had to regroup his troops to defend. Finnish troops reached theroad leading to Uomaa by the 3rd of January. This gave Finns thepossibility to expand their counter-offensive and so high command sentCol. V. Nihtilä to observe the attack and report to the high command. Bythe end of January, reinforcements were sent to the IV AC totaling about14800 men. The plan was to cut the supply routes of the enemy and thusweakening the and finally destroy them. Two units were formed, one led byCol. H. Hannuksela and the other lead by Col. P. Auti. The attack waslaunched in the 6th of January 1940. When the attack started, the enemydid not pull back nor start any counter-measures but dug in place. Thisenabled Finnish troops to continue their offensive and leave only parts oftheir units to guard the enemy. These defense outposts were later named”motti”s (the name came from the term motti, a pile of lumber. Finnishlumberjacks were paid after how many mottis they made. Usually, they madeone motti, marked it and moved on, similar to the tactic they used now inthe war. Most of the men involved in the war were common men, who went towork as lumberjacks in the winters so they understood the idea and used italso on other fronts. Thus the name, motti-tactic). Finally, Col. Auti’scommanded detachment reached Koirinoja in the 11th day so the enemy 168.Dwas surrounded. Also, the 18.D and the 34th Armor brigade were split intoseveral mottis. The enemy was supplied with air support and the 168th overthe ice of Lake Ladoga, but after Auti invaded the islands overlooking theice, Russians had to rely only on air support. There were three majormottis, the western Lemetti, eastern Lemetti and the “Regiment motti”manned by one of the regiments of 168.D. The rest of the division wassurrounded by Kitelä. Western Lemetti had 32 tanks, 6 artillery guns, and a light mortar and was cleared in 4th of February. The eastern Lemettiwas much stronger, 70 tanks and about 20 armored cars were dug in. Theytried to break through later in February but were totally destroyed. Theregiment motti was later split into smaller mottis and finally destroyed in18th of February. 20 tanks and over 30 artillery guns were captured amongother munitions. The rest of the 168th held their positions until the warended. This counter-offensive was possible for one reason only, the Kollaariver line held. The regiment defending the line(JR 34) suffered 56%casualties (1665 men) but refused to pull back because they knew that theline 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 themost part, destroyed but the II AC was frequently reinforced and so theisthmus front did not get the reinforcements it needed.
Further north, between Porajärvi and Salla, the enemy had it’s 9th Army (5divisions). The main direction of attack was in Salla where the enemy had2 divisions. Suomussalmi was attacked with two and Kuhmo with onedivision. There was also one regiment directed against Lieksa but it hadmost obviously had no advancement objectives. In the Suomussalmi theleading 163.D had orders to capture the road junctions of the village andthen the 44.D (partially motorized) was ordered to move towards Oulu. TheFinnish forces in the area consisted of one battalion only, Er.P 15positioned mainly in the village. Some troops were positioned on bothobvious attack directions, the Juntusranta road, and the famous Raate road.Later reinforced, Finnish troops numbered 3600 men (in the start less thana half of it) with no artillery whatsoever. The enemy had at least 23000men, around 188 artillery guns, and 45 tanks. They advanced rapidly inJuntusranta and on the Raate road. Finnish troops had to retreat and onthe 6th day, they burned Suomussalmi before pulling back from the village.Russian forces reached the ashes by 8th of December. Now situation beganto look serious. The reserve division (9.D) in Oulu had already given twoof 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 NorthernBothnia Military Region Col. Siilasvuo received an order to form a brigadefrom the remnants of the 9.D (JR 27). It was moved to Suomussalmi and thefirst units arrived in Hyrynsalmi by 9th of December. Siilasvuo plannedthe counter-attack so that the first objective was to cut enemy supplyroute (the Raate road) and then attack the village. The 10th day JR 27(reinforced with local Shield force units) attacked the road androadblocked it. By the end of the day, Finns had 5km of the road in theirhands. On the next day, main elements moved towards the village andcaptured 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 attackbegan to lose its momentum. The attack was halted in 20th of December.But just in time that the reinforcements were at the scene. Mannerheimhad ordered already in the previous day to join two reinforcementregiments in Oulu to form a new 9.D and move it to Suomussalmi. With thehelp of the high command, the HQ of the Northern Group formed a detachmentSusi (Wolf) lead by Col.Lt. P. Susitaival. This detachment was reinforcedwith the other of 9.D’s regiments (JR 65) and ordered to beat the enemy atPiispanjärvi and Palovaara and cut the supply route from Suomussalmi toJuntusranta. Now the previously formed brigade was reinforced with theother regiment (JR 64)and a light detachment (Kev.Os.22) and named the 9.Donce again. The orders were given in 24th to use the 9.D to beat the enemyat Hulkonniemi and recapture Suomussalmi and at the same time support theattack from the south (Raate) and north (Piispanjärvi, Detachment Susi). Dueto problems in deployment and transportation, the attack was delayed oneday and started in 27th of December 1939. On the 23rd the enemy launched asurprise attack against the JR 27 using heavy artillery support and a dozenfighters. The line was thin and it seemed like it would break but iteventually held. In the Christmas Day, Russians attacked again but the163rd division was already so weak that it could not penetrate the lineson Raate road and so could not get in contact with the 44.D. The 27th wasa day of fierce fighting and some ground was taken but nothing decisivewas gained. The same time air reconnaissance reported the Raate roadcrowded with the 44.D troops and armor moving towards JR 27 andSuomussalmi. Siilasvuo ordered a fresh battalion (Sissipataljoona 1) tohinder the 44.D. The delay was successful. From the morning of the 28th,Russian defenses began to crack. Enemy units fled over the ice of theKiantajärvi lake supported by tanks, armored cars, and air support soKev.Os 22 was not able to harass the retreat. By the end of the day, thevillage was recaptured and 9.D got the order to follow up and destroy thefleeing enemy. By the 30th of December, the 163rd enemy division wasdestroyed and much of its heavy equipment captured. Detachment Susi hadthe same time attacked against the enemy in the northern flank and wasable to force the enemy to retreat and capture most of its equipment. NowFinnish eyes turned to the 44th. It had stayed on its positions along theroad mostly because of its heavy equipment. The 9.D used a frozen riverto move to the 44th rear and cut their connection to the east. The main attack waslaunched in the 5th of January from three separate directions. The 6th daythe enemy showed already a considerable weakness and they tried to breakthrough towards east but were forced back. Between the 6th and 7th day,around midnight the enemy tried again to break through but failed. Duringthe following days, the division was split to pieces and destroyed. Itsuffered over 70% casualties (some smaller units were able to flee throughgaps in Finnish lines) in addition to 1200 prisoners of war the Finnishtook. Practically all of the South Ukranian division’s heavy equipment wascaptured. Col. Siilasvuo was promoted to Gen.Maj. The enemy commanderVinogradov and his staff were executed by the enemy. Oulu was safe. InKuhmo, enemy had little over 12000 (54th Guards Division) men against 1200Finnish. By the 6th of December Finnish forces had pulled back and thehigh command decided to use the JR 25 in Oulu and attach some otherreserve units to it and form a Separate Brigade commanded by Col. LtVuokko. It was moved to Kuhmo by the 8th day. The brigade counter-attacked andrecaptured some of the ground lost to the 54.GD and force some of theunits to pull back over the border but the main elements of the divisionremained in the area. After the fights had ended in Suomussalmi, the 9.Dwas moved to Kuhmo and was ordered to destroy the division. It offeredfierce resistance and the 9.D was unable to destroy it. It remained in itsmotti until the peace. In Salla region the enemy had it’s 122nd and 88thdivisions. Their objective was to capture Rovaniemi in two weeks and fromthere to advance towards Tornio. Finnish troops (Er.P 17 and after 4th ofDec Er.P 25) were unable to delay the attackers and Salla village wasburned in the 9th of December. High command formed a battalion inRovaniemi of whatever troops it could find. Also, two 2 Sissi detachmentswere sent to the area. And in the 11th of December Mannerheim formed a newHQ unit called the Group Lappland and appointed Gen.Maj. K.M. Wallenius inits command. The group included the troops in Salla and in Petsamo. Thenew HQ ordered JR 40, positioned in Kemijärvi to counterattack the enemyin Pelkosenniemi. The attack was to be through the enemy’s northern flankand so advancing to their rear. The regiment advanced towards the enemy,and at some point, it seemed like they would hold their positions, but thentwo Finnish companies charged accidentally the Russian supply and artillerydepot and destroyed it. This lead to panic in the enemy lines becausethey thought they were surrounded and they fled towards the east. JR 40 wasthen moved towards Salla where Russian forces were trying to break throughto the road leading to Kemijärvi. With the reinforcements these attemptswere beaten and the enemy dug in. Using the Sissi units to harass theirsupply Finns were finally able to force the Russians to pull back to eastduring the 13.-16th of December. They stopped at Märkäjärvi, where theyheld their positions. By the end of February, a Swedish volunteer brigadewas moved to the area and relieved the Finnish troops to be usedelsewhere. Much much further north, the Russian 14th Army had 3 divisionsto protect the crucial port of Murmansk and capture the coastline leadingto Petsamo to prevent foreign intervention through there. The Finns hadone company defending the area in addition to small border troopsreinforced with one battery of artillery, guns dating back to 1887. Theammo used in these guns had 50% dud rate. Finns pulled back after somecontacts with the enemy until they reached Nautsi river line andestablished a firm defensive line there. On the way they burnedLiinahamari port and sank all the ships in there. The Russians had mettheir objectives and Finns had no interest in that area, so the situationwas stable.
From the start of the February, the enemy showed increasing activity inthe Summa region. They used massive artillery barrages and air attacks todestroy Finnish fortifications and suppress the defending troops. Theyalso made probe attacks to get information on weak spots. This lasted fromthe 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 JR7’s companies (in the Summa village) lost it’s commander 3 times whilefighting against two attacks. During these 10 days of suppressive fire andfierce combat, Finnish troops began to be immensely tired. On the 8th dayJR 7’s commander made a report to II AC that his men were sleeping onguard and in the trenches even when the same time enemy tanks were rollingin their positions and enemy artillery and air forces bombed the lines.They were relieved from frontline duty in the 10th of February when enemyartillery started to keep pauses in their fire. The 3.D(former 6.D) hadhowever still been able to hold its positions and inflict heavycasualties to the enemy (5000 dead and about 60 tanks destroyed). On themorning of the 11th day, the main offensive finally started all around theKarelian Isthmus front. After three hours of artillery preparation 3Russian divisions (100.D, 123.D, and 138.D) attacked against the 3.Ddefending Summa region. Already at noon the commander Col. P. Paalu had toask for help from the neighboring 5.D because all of his own reserveswere already used. High command, however, refused to split the division upand so the 3rd had to make on its own. The situation went critical in1900 hours when a Russian armor unit finally broke through. Then the highcommand 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. Theenemy kept coming through the night and it was really unclear if the 3rdcould keep its positions. Also, the neighboring divisions (4.D in thewest and 11.D in the east) were under heavy enemy activity. In the nextmorning, enemy directed it’s attack against a so-called Millionfort(miljoonalinnake, because of it’s size and equipment, it must’ve cost atleast million marks). The commander gave retreat orders at the noon andafter that, the whole Lähde region was under enemy possession. During thenight of the 12th, 5.D tried to counter-attack and recapture the mainline 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 anyshelters. In the morning one of the 5.D’s regiments (JR 14) charged theRussian lines but was thrown back from them with armor support by the endof the day. All day the Russians attacked the temporary defenses but wereunable to decisively to break through, although it was obvious that the 3.Dand the 5.D had lost. They had no possibilities to gain back the lostlines and the enemy fire prevented them to be reinforced. But at thenight, one regiment of the 21.D (in Taipale front) was ordered to moveinto Lähde. Also, both divisions were supplied and slightly reinforced. Thenext morning Mannerheim arrived at the II AC’s command post to negotiateabout the situation. They decided to split the II AC and form a new one todefend the II AC’s left flank. At the following night, the 3.D and the 5.Dpulled back a few kilometers to a more suitable defense line and began todig in. Fresh troops and units were brought to the line. The next day theenemy didn’t move, so the defenders got some more time to prepare theirdefenses and deploy more reinforcements. The next day the Russians cameagain and reports showed that the improvised line would not hold for toolong so Mannerheim gave the order to retreat to the 2nd line. At 2000hours the II AC pulled back with
1531 dead and 4430 wounded. 445 men weremissed in action. The 2nd line was really temporary, with only randomlyfortified positions. The Russians reached it by the 17th of February andbreached through JR 62, a fresh regiment, to the road to Viipuri. However, the Russian tanks did not want to advance without their infantry which wasfar behind so the situation was halted. The tanks were isolated but notforced to pull back. Another break was inflicted near Näykkijärvi on the19th, where the enemy attacked against a fresh battalion, which fled inpanic and left their positions to the enemy. The same day Gen.Lt.Österman, II AC’s commander had a nervous breakdown and was replaced withfreshly promoted Gen.Lt. Erik Heinrichs. The ongoing peace negotiationsmade it crucial to hold as much ground as possible. The new I AC wasformed from the 1. and the 2.D and it was ordered to defend theVuoksi river line to the east of II AC al the way to the III AC’s flank. Itwas commanded by Gen. Maj. Taavetti “Pappa” Laatikainen. At this momentthe Swedish volunteers were united to the Finnish army as an independentunit and moved to Salla. This would, in turn, free some forces to be used inthe south. The same time the Swedish commander Gen. Linder was appointedthe leader of the Group Lappland. On the 25th day, Russian troops advancedto one of the gaps in Finnish lines and threatened the 5.D rear. TheFinnish armor company freshly equipped with captured tanks took part inthe following counterattack. Its debut showed that their tanks were fartoo light to be of any match to the Russians in the deep snow. Each tankexcept one was destroyed. The counterattack failed and so the II and I ACreceived an order to pull back to the 3rd line starting from Viipuri andgoing along the Vuoksi river to Taipale. On the Taipale front, theRussians had been attacking with strong forces all the way from the 8th ofFebruary. Positions were frequently lost and gained again, but finally, both Russian divisions were beaten back. The new commander Gen. MajTalvela (took Laatikainen’s place) ordered the construction of rear line acouple of kilometers from the main line, in case the enemy would breakthrough. 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 ofMarch, but the major offensive against the T-Line began on the 4th ofMarch, all the way from Viipuri Bay along Vuoksi river line through Taipaleand across the Lake Ladoga to the Ladogakarelian front. The Sovietcommander Timoshenko wanted to suppress the Finns and thus preventing themfrom moving reinforcements to the defense of Viipuri. In the morning ofthe 2nd, one Russian division assaulted over the ice of Viipuri bay to cutFinnish supply routes from Southern Finland to Viipuri. They managed togain a thin bridgehead and thus were able to move the main forces of theattack over the ice, almost unhindered. The General Headquarters hastilyorganized a separate group, Coastal Group to handle the problem.Gen.Maj. K. M. Wallenius took its command but under enormous mentalpressure causing his inability to stop the enemy from advancing, he wasreplaced the same day with Gen.Lt. K. L. Oesch from General Staff (Chiefof Staff). Despite fast reaction and rapid troop deployments, the enemywas able to cut the main road between Säkkijärvi and Viipuri by 7th ofMarch. Troops were withdrawn even from the main line itself and finally, they were able to stop the enemy advance, although by 13th day (the dayarmistice was announced) there were at least 6 enemy divisions in thebridgehead. Finnish casualties during this 2-week long fighting arose toabout 5200 men, nearly 8 % of the total casualties in the war. This tellsus something about the intensity of the fighting. In the Tali region,Soviet units punched through the thin T-Line but were too cautious toadvance. In Vuosalmi, the defending 2.D took several attacks before it hadto pull back from Äyräpää hill overlooking the Vuoksi river line in thatregion. III AC HQ gave an order to move the 21.Div. from Taipale to fillthe gap of fleeing Finnish division (or not a total fleeing, but someunits actually lost their whole chain of command, and thought that thewhole division was gone). The problem was, the 21st was no longer adivision, but an oversized battalion instead, numbering only about 1600men losing nearly 600 of them in the Äyräpää positions before the 13thday. In the Ladogakarelian front Finns stopped all the Soviet attacks andthus the frontline held as it was. Overall orders were to keep all theground possible, no matter the cost. Due to the ongoing peacenegotiations, it was imperative to keep as much credibility as possible sothat the peace would be a negotiated one, not a total surrender under theboot of an overwhelming enemy. Gen. Öhquist wrote to his diary in the 11thday: “It’s a terrible poker we’re playing here”. In fact, the III AC hadalready prepared an order of withdrawal on the evening of the 12th day, tobe issued to the units the next morning.
Finally, peace was achieved in the late hours between the 12th and the 13thof March 1940 in Moscow. The armistice was to take place immediately,though as always, the message did not get to all units until after fewdays. 35 000 square kilometers were lost, 430 000 people lost their homes(12% of the total population). Finnish casualties at the home frontincluded 826 killed and 1538 wounded by enemy air activity. Finnish fieldarmy lost 22849 men killed or missed in action and 43557 wounded, of whichnearly 10000 permanently disabled. Official Soviet estimates show 230000total casualties, but for example German Wehrmacht studies the followingyear(41) reckoned 273000 dead and 800000 wounded. This would raise thetotal casualties 5 times higher, over a million. Even Hrutshev himself hassaid that “I’d say we lost as many as million lives” when referring toWinter War in his memoirs.
The Winter War showed, as had the War of Independence, that Finns couldfight. They showed we are stubborn, determined and aggressive defenders,always gaining the initiative. They also showed that Finns could notattack. This was mostly due to lack of mobility, but also to the inability ofthe officers of conducting large-scale military operations. InsteadFinnish were (and by the way, still are) trained to think individually,use smaller, more flexible forces to gain the initiative and in that way thekeys to win battles.