A pivotal engagement through the bitter Winter Struggle between the Soviet Union and Finland had far reaching penalties.
By David H. Lippman
From Leningrad to Murmansk, columns of Soviet Purple Military troops stormed down roads and trails into Finland’s dense forests, lakes, and swamps, looking for to chop Finland in half.
Soviet Union Communist Celebration Basic Secretary Josef Stalin—recognized merely because the “Vozhd” or “Boss” to his internal circle—had ordered his large armies to invade Finland, a blatant act of aggression, in 1939, a yr of aggression. His large armies, lavishly outfitted with tanks, weapons, and plane, simply outnumbered the Finns, and Stalin anticipated that he would carve out a land barrier between Leningrad, Russia’s “Window on the West,” and his supposed ally, Nazi Germany.
At first the bloodthirsty dictator sought to realize hundreds of thousands of acres of Finnish soil via diplomacy, however regardless of their nation’s small measurement and weaker financial system the Finns have been harder than the nations that had given in to Hitler in 1938 over Czechoslovakia. They might not yield an inch of their forested soil. Their three million individuals would stand towards the Soviet Union’s 105 million.
On paper, the Finns had no probability. However this conflict, like all wars, was not fought in a ledger ebook. In contrast to different wars, the struggle between Russia and Finland was fought in a winter panorama of infinite forests, swamps, frozen lakes, subfreezing temperatures, and wilderness. In contrast to their enemies, the Finns have been at house on this dreadful surroundings and ready to struggle in it.
Stalin had gutted his military throughout bloody 1930s purges, turning the as soon as formidable machine that had defeated the White Russian Military and Western invaders within the 1920s right into a corps of obedient and incompetent lackeys. Regardless of the harshness of Soviet winters, Russian troops weren’t educated or outfitted for winter preventing. Soviet subject kitchens, for instance, spewed out simply seen black smoke by means of chimneys that went straight up. Finnish kitchens used screens to carry again darkish ash and vented horizontally.
Snowboarding was Finland’s nationwide pastime, and the Soviets ignored it. In consequence, Soviet ski troops have been educated to face upright and hearth their rifles from their skis. Finnish troops have been educated to fireside their rifles susceptible, utilizing the skis as braces for his or her rifles to make sure accuracy. Invading Soviet forces didn’t hassle to put on snowsuits and have been slowed by heavy automobiles that would not function offroad within the heavy snowfalls.
The Finns had one other edge, their supreme commander, Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, age 72, a former czarist Russian Guards officer, hero of the Finnish Civil Warfare, big-game hunter, humanitarian, and nationwide icon. He insisted that Finland refuse to barter. When Finnish politicians despatched a delegation to Moscow to speak peace, he resigned his place as commander in chief. Simply earlier than the struggle broke out, the Finnish authorities begged him to renew his place and he did so. A Spartan, chilly man, he dominated any gathering by the sheer drive of his imperial character. Maybe most significantly, the Finnish Military and its males have been educated to make use of their very own initiative in troublesome conditions, counterattack swiftly, and have been above all free males preventing for his or her houses towards a overseas invader. The Soviets have been that invader, and their initiative and adaptability had been sapped by the purges and political officers that peered over each commander’s shoulder and reviewed his plans.
The Soviet assault got here on a large entrance. On November 29, 1939, the Soviet 155th Infantry Division attacked the Finnish 4th Corps within the Suojärvi sector, headed for a key street junction at Ilomantsi in Finland’s midsection. Some 40 miles to the south, the 139th Infantry Division attacked via lakes alongside the axis of the Tolvajärvi Street, headed for a serious street, which might in flip allow the Soviets to chop the rail line that provided the whole IV Corps, imperil that pressure, and stop its personal counterattack. If the Soviet assault succeeded, it might minimize Finland in two.
So as to add punch to this offensive, the Soviet 55th Infantry Division was shifting parallel to the rail line between Suojärvi and Loimola. Lastly, the 168th Infantry Division, shifting on the shore street, was headed northwest to Kitelä. The Soviets superior slowly, slowed down by the tractors they have been utilizing to haul provides and artillery.
Learning his maps and the panicked reviews from IV Corps officers, Mannerheim turned to an advert hoc drive named Activity Pressure R after its commanding officer, Lt. Col. Veikko Räsänen, which consisted of 4 unbiased infantry battalions and PPP-7, the designation for the seventh Bicycle Battalion. PPP-7 had left its bikes within the barracks and was working on skis, like everyone else within the Finnish Military. The duty drive was weak in artillery with solely 5 or 6 trendy weapons within the rear and two 50-year-old area items on the border.
The troops have been robust sufficient, however Räsänen didn’t rise to the event—he appeared shocked and shortly misplaced his grip on the state of affairs. At a time when frontline management was desperately wanted, Räsänen stayed in his bunker at Ägläjärvi, six miles behind the entrance—too far for the Finns with their erratic communications.
When the Soviets hit the Finns on November 30, they streamed throughout the border however confirmed appreciable warning—each time a Finnish rifle opened hearth, they hit the bottom. One Finnish automated rifle workforce held up a full Soviet regiment for greater than an hour close to Jehkila on the northeast tip of Lake Suojärvi.
However on December 1, the load of Soviet numbers started forcing the Finns again. They arrange delaying positions at Varpakyla. The Soviets attacked with frontal assaults over open terrain and fell in heaps. However the sacrifice diverted the Finns from efforts to flank the defenders’ roadblocks, forcing them to retreat to additional delaying positions.
To purchase time, Finnish engineers blew a dam on Lake Suojärvi’s western shore, which flooded icy water over each side. The Finns took benefit of the flood to flee, however the water quickly froze up and the Soviets resumed the assault, driving the Finns off a north-south street from Suojärvi and Salonjärvi and its roadblock.
Activity Pressure R dug in on the western financial institution of the Aittojoki River, with PPP-7 because the reserve at Ägläjärvi. Among the many Finnish troops digging in was Particular Battalion No. 112, made up of rear-echelon paperchasers with little or no coaching and outdated gear.
The Soviet advance was worrying Mannerheim, and he personally ordered Activity Drive R to counterattack on December three to reopen the street. The Finns jumped off on time and stunned the Soviet invaders. However when Soviet tanks confirmed up, the Finnish assault was stalled in its tracks.
Soviet troops and tanks started shifting throughout Lake Salonjärvi’s ice to encircle Process Drive R. The one unit left to save lots of the day was Particular Battalion No. 112, they usually charged right into a counterattack, hurtling the Soviets into the forest. The assault gave the Finns time to withdraw to the ready defenses on the Aittojoki.
The subsequent morning, December four, the Soviets attacked the Finns within the misty predawn darkness. The Finns held the road for 3 hours towards heavy frontal assaults.
Lastly, the Soviets broke by means of and slammed into PPP-7’s headquarters. The battalion’s commander, a serious, rallied his miscellaneous assortment of clerks, medics, cooks, quartermaster troops, and strolling wounded, who fought the Soviets with private sidearms, knives, and weapons grabbed from the lifeless. The Finns put up a decided struggle, however midway by way of the battle the most important was wounded and rumors unfold that he had been killed. The defenders collapsed in worry and panic. The lads on the entrance, studying that their rear was being torn aside, additionally caved in. Räsänen and his headquarters group needed to flee to Tolvajärvi whereas the remainder of Process Pressure R fled to Ägläjärvi.
By morning on December 5, Activity Pressure R had regrouped and dug in. Mannerheim ordered Räsänen to counterattack, and the colonel formulated a dangerous and impressive plan—PPP-7 would go ahead, braced on the flanks and rear by Particular Battalion 112. These two outfits would take up the subsequent Soviet assault and maintain it in place whereas the remainder of Activity Pressure R, within the dense forests north of the street, hit the Soviet flank.
The plan would have been a superb one if the Finns had good communications and extra males, however they didn’t. PPP-7 broke underneath Soviet strain within the first quarter hour on December 5. The remainder of Activity Drive R by no means received the phrase to make the flanking assault, which might have simply minimize off the Soviet advance.
Räsänen ordered one other retirement, however this was carried out in good order because of the energetic Particular Battalion 112. The Finns have been now a gaggle of hungry, scared, exhausted, frozen, depressed, whipped males falling again on Tolvajärvi and its hills and frozen lakes. Räsänen gloomily reported to Mannerheim that his males have been nearing the purpose of ineffectiveness.
Finnish troops had retreated greater than 40 miles and confirmed the pressure. Some males had shot at one another by mistake, and others had fled on the mere rumor of tanks. Now the Soviets have been poised to take the rail junction at Värtsilä. If the Soviets did so, they might collapse the Ladoga-Karelia entrance, and the Mannerheim Line can be open to assault from the rear.
The state of affairs was determined for Mannerheim. Learning his maps, he ordered JR-25 of the ninth Division to entrain for Kuhmo to function the nucleus of a newly shaped brigade, regardless of its shortages of clothes and gear. JR-27 was despatched to Suomussalmi on December 7. The third and final regiment of the ninth Division, JR-26, was left on the Karelian Isthmus, dealing with the most important Soviet offensive.
On December 5, JR-16 of the sixth Division was assigned to Mannerheim’s private command and despatched to Tolvajärvi to stiffen the defenses.
The Finns continued to crumble on December 5. Ägläjärvi fell, placing them midway between the border and the rail junction. The Soviet 155th Division was storming towards Ilomantsi, which might imply that each one the Finnish troops at Tolvajärvi can be reduce off.
The one excellent news for Mannerheim was that the Soviet assaults north of Lake Ladoga weren’t coordinated; they have been separate columns attacking up roads and trails, tied by their heavy automobiles to these slender arteries, unable to correctly deploy past them or transfer and struggle nicely within the adjoining woods, swamps, and frozen lakes.
Mannerheim realized that if these remoted columns could possibly be reduce off and destroyed shortly the Finnish troops preventing there could possibly be transferred to the Karelian Isthmus to carry the primary entrance on the Mannerheim Line. All that was wanted was some decided management.
Luckily, Finland abounded in such males. Mannerheim appointed certainly one of his greatest officers, Maj. Gen. Woldemar Hägglund, as commander of the IV Corps and assigned him to defeat 10 Soviet divisions.
Subsequent, Mannerheim turned to an in depth private good friend, Colonel Paavo Talvela, a hero of the 1918 civil conflict, vice chairman of the nationwide movie firm, and president of the state liquor board, to function subject commander. Talvela was an applicable selection. He had accomplished in depth map wargames over that space whereas learning on the Finnish Conflict School, the place he had graduated on the prime of his class. Daring, resolute, robust, Talvela was an imaginative tactician and acquainted with the terrain. Mannerheim described him as “a fearless and strong-willed commander, who possesses that diploma of ruthlessness required in an offensive towards a drastically superior adversary.”
Mannerheim despatched JR-16 from Oulu to Värtsilä late on December 5, and Talvela arrived at Mannerheim’s headquarters at four am on December 6, Finland’s Independence Day, sporting full gown uniform.
Mannerheim briefed Talvela on the state of affairs. The Soviet assault was two campaigns, one on IV Corps’ northern flank, alongside the street from Suvilahti to Kollaa, and one other on the roads to Tolvajärvi and Ilomantsi. Mannerheim would subsequently detach all of the troops on the latter entrance from IV Corps to report on to him. This drive can be underneath Talvela and referred to as Group Talvela.
Talvela’s job was to halt the enemy drives, throw them again, and recapture Suojärvi’s street community, chopping off all provides to the southern Russian column on the Kollaa Street. Talvela would have lower than half the manpower of his opponents, no armor by any means, no air help, and valuable few mortars and artillery.
Nonetheless, Talvela was desperate to take the offensive. JR-16 can be his trump card. It was commanded by an previous pal and Finnish Civil Conflict comrade, Lt. Col. Aaro Pajari, a extremely competent officer who hid his coronary heart situation beneath nice willpower. Talvela phoned Pajari and advised him to seek out out what was happening on the entrance after which drive again to Värtsilä with a full report. Pajari did so, speaking to commanders and frontline troopers, urging them to talk freely. He spent a while learning terrain and recent intelligence reviews after which headed again, assembly with Talvela at three am.
Pajari’s report was grim. The defenders of Tolvajärvi had been retreating for every week, pounded by artillery and tanks, solely capable of reply with machine weapons and hand grenades. The lads have been bodily exhausted, edgy, and self-discipline was being maintained solely by a thread. Yet one more Soviet push would break them. The opposing Soviet 139th Infantry Division had a excessive degree of coaching and tactical cohesion and was making strong flanking assaults. The Finns have been on the mistaken finish of five-to-one numbers.
To make issues worse, the climate was aiding the invaders. Snowfall had been mild and spotty, which means that the offroad snowdrifts weren’t sufficient to hamper Soviet troops and never sufficient to offer Finnish ski troops with their benefits. Pajari concluded that the Finns wanted one thing near a miracle to halt the Soviets. Taking the initiative was merely inconceivable.
Talvela absorbed this report and had one other fear, the secondary menace at Ilomantsi. There the Soviet 155th Infantry Division was heading southwest and almost 10 miles from the city. Towards this the Finns might put up solely two battalions, however the Soviet drive was actually being stopped by the 155th Division’s commander, Common Gusevski, who was shifting cautiously.
Talvela determined to gamble. Assuming that the 155th would proceed to maneuver slowly, he would focus his power on Tolvajärvi. First, he would put metal within the Finnish defenses. The Finns would maintain the west shore of Lake Tolvajärvi. Talvela despatched Pajari again to the entrance, not as an observer, however as commander. He would relieve the hapless Räsänen. Talvela stated later, “In conditions like this, as in all confused and hopeless conditions, an lively assault towards the closest enemy was and is the one approach to enhance the spirits of the lads and to get management of the state of affairs.”
However whereas the 2 officers deliberate their technique, the preventing went on. PPP-7 retreated 5 miles from its place at Ristisalmi on the japanese shore of Lake Ala Tolvajärvi to Lake Hirvasjärvi, north of Lake Tolvajärvi.
Nevertheless, Talvela acquired some assist from IV Corps—a battery of artillery on December 6, two extra en route, and an unbiased battalion, ErP-9 (“Er” standing for “unbiased” or “indifferent”). Pajari’s personal regiment, JR-16, reached the entrance on December 7.
The first/JR-16 arrived first, early on December 7, and commenced digging in west and north of a bridge that spanned the narrows between Lakes Tolvajärvi and Hirvasjärvi. However as quickly because the battalion started digging in, it got here beneath enemy artillery hearth, and a few of the Finns fled as far west as Korpiselka. That opened a niche within the Finnish strains that enabled the Soviets to realize management of Kottisaari and an extended slender peninsula referred to as Hirvasharju, which prolonged to the northwest and cut up Lake Hirvasjärvi from Lake Tolvajärvi. On that peninsula stood a brand new two-story vacationer lodge, constructed chalet-style with the second flooring overhanging the primary. It had an outstanding view of the lakes and hills. The commander of the Soviet 609th Infantry Regiment noticed it as a command submit and bunker and turned it into his headquarters.
Talvela arrived on the scene late within the day to seek out 1st/JR-16 retreating and reorganizing and tried to rally a number of the males. They have been too dispersed for him to take action, however the panic had run its course. The weary males regrouped, and third/JR-16, underneath Pajari, arrived. Pajari ordered his males to dig in, strolling up and down the road, calmly and firmly telling his males to do their obligation. Regardless of his calm voice, Pajari had misgivings.
Pajari’s drive was badly outfitted by Finnish requirements, missing uniforms and snow boots and as unprepared to face the sub-zero temperatures because it was Soviet artillery hearth. Luckily, third/JR-16 was not onerous pressed. The Soviets have been consolidating positions across the lodge that Pajari might see via his binoculars.
Early that night Talvela conferred with Pajari, they usually agreed that the state of affairs had stabilized however the virus of defeat was spreading. Dramatic motion was wanted to curb the panic, regain the initiative, and present the Finns that the Soviets could possibly be crushed.
Talvela sketched out a broad scheme for a robust raid towards enemy troops, going throughout the frozen Lake Tolvajärvi and hitting the Soviet troops bivouacked on the street to Ägläjärvi. Talvela needed to steer the raid himself, however his employees talked him out of it. Pajari, regardless of having had a troublesome, lengthy day, volunteered to steer the raid.
The raiders have been drawn from 2nd/JR-16, which had not been engaged but. Simply earlier than midnight, two corporations—the ninth and 4th—moved throughout the ice south of Kottisaari Island. An hour later, PPP-7, beneath its new commander, Main Ericsson, launched a feint towards Kottisaari itself. The diversion didn’t fare too properly. Ericsson was killed early—the second PPP-7 battalion commander misplaced in 5 days—and the battalion withdrew.
However 2nd/JR-16 moved throughout the ice beneath a moonless and empty sky, the one sound the scrape of its skis and the occasional whisper and crackle of ice responding to strain. For all of the Finnish troops, the transfer was terrifying —the utter darkness, the chilly, the worry that a Soviet patrol may spot them at any minute. Logically, underneath these circumstances the 2 corporations received misplaced. The ninth Firm hit a patch of open water, headed south to keep away from it, and misplaced contact with 4th Firm. Ultimately, the ninth crossed the lake however met some Russian pockets, which led to a firefight at the hours of darkness.
However 4th Firm held to its route, headed by Lieutenant Urho Isotalo and Pajari. An hour after crossing the lake, Finnish scouts noticed giant bonfires in a gully close to the Kivisalmi Bridge. The Finns had met up with a small Russian safety patrol and killed the lot soundlessly.
Past that stood an extended, low, closely timbered ridge, and farther past was extra firelight. The raiders fanned out on the base of the ridge and superior up it concurrently in order that your complete drive would attain the crest on the similar time. When Pajari crawled the previous few meters to the highest, he whipped out his binoculars to see via the evergreens. He noticed an enormous encampment 100 meters away, holding a full Soviet battalion, all asleep or retaining heat at their campfires, and no sentries posted. Within the distance, Pajari noticed two extra encampments for 2 extra battalions. Pajari’s one firm was about to ambush a whole Soviet regiment.
Whereas the Soviets continued to doze, Pajari moved his males into place. They heard PPP-7 making its diversion within the distance, however the Soviets earlier than them have been uninterested as a number of males seemed up on the sound, shrugged, and returned to their fires.
By 2 am, 140 riflemen and 16 automated weapons have been posted in a semicircle alongside the ridge crest hid in bushes, snow, and brush. All the lads had targets acquired. Talvela fired the primary shot himself, and the Finns opened up with every part that they had into the gully beneath them.
The Soviets have been so shocked by the pressure and violence of the Finnish ambush that they didn’t hearth again. In three to 4 minutes, there have been no standing targets—solely heaps of lifeless Soviet troopers mendacity in rings round their nonetheless blazing fires.
The Soviet battalions within the distance reacted to the noise and destruction by opening hearth in all instructions. Pajari led his males out by way of a gully close to one of many encampments to confuse pursuers. The Finns slithered away whereas the Soviets waged a fierce firefight with one another that went on for 2 hours.
Pajari and his males discovered the return march extra tiring than the strategy. Pajari himself, affected by a coronary heart situation, wanted to be transported in an improvised litter. However everybody made it again, some with badly wanted Soviet felt boots, and the victory was full.
Finnish morale was boosted by the feat. It was the primary large-scale victory on the IV Corps entrance. Extra importantly, the raid knocked the Soviets off stability. They made no additional main assaults within the space for 2 days, limiting themselves to patrols, artillery duels, and sniping.
With Tolvajärvi in hand, Talvela went as much as Ilomantsi, the place the Soviet 155th Infantry Division was nonetheless plodding alongside slowly, solely 12 miles from the Ilomantsi-Korpiselka street junction. The Finnish ErP-11, underneath Main Nikoskelainen, was making an attempt to cease the Soviets on the Möhkö Hill. Talvela ordered the heights held in any respect prices, and his troops did so till being pressured to tug again to Oinaansalmi on December 9.
Talvela put all Finnish troops within the Ilomantsi sector beneath Colonel Per Ekholm and named the command Process Pressure E. This consisted of 4 infantry battalions, however two of them have been poorly educated ex-quartermaster troops. On December eight, the Ilomantsi defenders have been strengthened by a battery of mortars, and a day and a half later by two previous French 75mm subject items, certainly one of which proved inoperable. Process Pressure E already had 5 vintage mild area weapons. This drive would face the absolutely outfitted Soviet 155th Infantry Division.
Nevertheless, Ekholm proved ferocious. One in every of his patrols discovered an understrength Soviet battalion of 350 males wandering behind the Finnish left flank about 5 miles northeast of Ilomantsi, in a lavatory named Tetrilampi. Ekholm ordered the Soviets attacked by a strike drive outfitted with automated weapons, and the Finnish group shortly surrounded the Soviets. In the course of the night time, Ekholm arrange an ambush. At daybreak the Finns opened a murderous crossfire on the Soviets. Not one Russian survived.
The 155th’s commander, baffled on the disappearance of a whole infantry battalion, turned much more cautious.
Talvela was impressed. His males weren’t simply holding floor; they have been taking motion, throwing the Soviets off stability, and build up their very own morale. It was time to assault on each fronts. He completed his plans on December 10 and ordered the assault to go within the subsequent day.
Earlier than Talvela might assault, the Soviets hit him on his left flank, utilizing the ski battalion of the Finnish Nationwide Military, a set of renegade Finns who have been prepared to struggle for Stalin. The whole battalion marched via the forests on his left flank at Lake Tolvajärvi. The Soviets aimed toward Talvela’s provide line, the street to Korpiselka. There have been no defensive works there, simply subject kitchens, artillerymen, quartermasters, and the headquarters firm. At 11 that night time, the Soviets attacked the place, the place Finnish cooks have been simmering giant vats of sausage soup. The Soviets scattered the panic-stricken cooks after which sat right down to eat the Finnish soup.
Whereas they did, the Finns had slightly time to get well. It was a stroke of luck for the Finns. One other was that Pajari himself was close by. On his personal initiative, he assembled 100 cooks, clerks, medics, provide sergeants, and artillerymen, and led them in a counterattack. It was a uncommon instance of bayonet preventing within the Russo-Finnish Struggle, and the Finnish troops, livid to see their very own countrymen preventing for the hated Soviet invader, took no prisoners.
In the meantime, Pajari summoned two corporations of frontline troops to again up his ragtag band, they usually hit the renegades from the east. By four am, the Finnish Nationwide Military was in full retreat, and by daybreak the preventing was over. Just a few of the renegade Finns made it again to their strains. The street and forests have been strewn with frozen corpses, a minimum of 100 of them close to the bullet-riddled soup pots, some with hunks of sausage nonetheless clinging to their grey lips.
The battle turned legendary in Finnish historical past because the Sausage Conflict and was a serious increase to Finnish morale.
However the Tolvajärvi wrestle continued. The identical night time, a Russian battalion moved out from Kottisaaari Island throughout the ice, heading for Tolvajärvi village from the south.
The Finns have been alert, and Lieutenant Eero Kivela’s JR-16 firm was first to get hit. He left two platoons and his heavy machine weapons to carry the village and outflanked the outflankers with three rifle platoons. At daybreak, the Soviets have been simply throughout the lake, nonetheless within the open. Kivela’s males wasted no time. They opened hearth and killed scores of males with their first volley. The Soviets panicked and fled throughout the open ice, making excellent targets. Kivela’s males stored firing till the Soviets have been gone after which strode onto the ice to grab 16 machine weapons from the lifeless males earlier than retiring.
The Soviets stored making an attempt on December 11, however the different assaults have been much less threatening. One Soviet goal had been achieved, maybe unintentionally. Talvela must postpone his personal counterattack till December 12.
Talvela assigned the duty to the freshest males he had, Battalion ErP-9 and two corporations of 1st/JR-16. If they might open the Russian defenses, his different forces might undergo the opening within the lock. One pincer would cross the northern finish of Lake Hirvasjärvi, pivot southeast, and hit the Hirvasharju Peninsula from the excessive floor within the rear, putting the vacationer lodge, which was the lynchpin of the Soviet defenses.
When the northern pincer had made progress, Pajari would lead a frontal assault on the peninsula. Pajari would have his personal troops together with an organization from JR-37 and the 10th Unbiased Battalion (ErP-10). A 3rd southern pincer, consisting of two corporations of ErP-112, would assault Kottisaari Island, taking its excessive floor and enabling Finnish weapons to interdict the Soviet provide line —the street over the Kivisalmi bridge. With luck, good timing, and willpower, the Finns might win.
Talvela additionally made plans to counterattack at Ilomantsi. On December 11, the Soviets attacked at Oinaansalmi and the ferry crossing at Kallioniemi. In each locations, the Soviets have been thrown again with average casualties—two tanks wrecked by satchel costs and Molotov cocktails on the former and 134 lifeless on the latter. Now Talvela needed three of Ekholm’s battalions to hit the Russians at Möhkö from the flanks and frontally.
On the opposite aspect, Commander Belaev, who headed the Soviet 139th Division, was underneath strain to advance. Corps Commander Panin arrived on the 139th’s tactical headquarters on the morning of December 12 and personally took command of the division, ordering Belaev to assault.
The Finnish assault went mistaken from the beginning. The 2nd and third Corporations of JR-16 moved off on the northern pincer at Lake Hirvasjärvi in foot-deep snowdrifts, unable to succeed in their begin strains till nicely after daylight, costing them tactical shock. Whereas these Finns tried to sneak up on the Soviets, the Soviets have been making an attempt to do the identical in accordance with Panin’s orders.
As an alternative, each side stunned one another. The third Firm, on the far Finnish left, took the warmth of the assault and Soviet machine-gun hearth, and the Finns withdrew all the best way to the Tolvajärvi Street. The 2nd Firm slipped previous the Soviets throughout the lake and readied for the southward flip when it was stopped chilly by heavy Soviet hearth at 11 am. Pinned down, it misplaced contact with ErP-9.
That battalion was not doing a lot better. One firm obtained mangled within the battle and retreated to the Tolvajärvi Street by 10:30. The battalion regrouped and joined the 2nd Firm to stop them from being overwhelmed, however this Finnish group might make no progress and withdrew, besides a gaggle of 100 males from the 2nd Firm, which stayed within the battle, drawing down giant numbers of Soviet troops.
The southern pincer didn’t do too nicely, both. ErP-112 attacked at eight am backed by heavy machine weapons and 4 or 5 artillery items. The lads crossed the frozen lake, clambered up the island, and reached some rocky islets close to the Kivisalmi Bridge, however their help, the ninth Firm of JR-16, by no means confirmed up. Their regimental headquarters by no means gave the corporate commander a jump-off time, so by the point he was advised to advance it was gone the designated hour. He needed to look forward to additional directions.
The third thrust, within the middle, was assigned to 2nd/JR-16. Pajari didn’t need to ship his males towards fortified positions over open floor with out artillery help, and the weapons didn’t get into place till two hours after they have been purported to. When the Finnish shells got here crashing down, there have been so few that Pajari cursed himself for ready within the first place.
Pajari gave the phrase, and Lieutenant Isotalo led his 2nd Firm of JR-16 throughout the straits on the lake’s southern aspect with machine weapons offering cowl hearth. Struggling solely mild casualties, 2nd Firm moved throughout. Nevertheless, sixth Firm got here underneath Soviet artillery and lightweight automated weapons hearth, which tied them down. Quickly the 4th, fifth, and sixth Corporations, all intermingled, have been pinned down as nicely.
But the Finns continued to assault. Backed by their machine weapons, the ski-suited Finns silenced Soviet troops of their foxholes and gun pits and commenced partaking the Soviet heavy machine weapons.
Extremely, the Finns fought their approach ahead to the vacationer lodge. Soviet troops within the fortified lodge opened up with gunfire from home windows and loopholes minimize into its thick log partitions. Finnish officers confirmed appreciable initiative, grouping and regrouping miscellaneous troops into fight groups to battle for the village and lodge. Officers and NCOs took casualties. Lieutenant Isotalo was shot within the hand, paused to get it bandaged, after which went ahead to steer his males once more.
The toughest preventing befell in a line of gravel pits about 200 yards west of the lodge and its hill. The street was slender, the terrain jagged, and the Finns needed to advance in single file. Pajari had his 37mm Bofors weapons sited simply in case—and shortly sufficient three Soviet tanks trundled up the street to counterattack. The Bofors weapons opened hearth, and the three tanks have been destroyed.
Pajari determined that there was nonetheless simply sufficient of a struggle on his northern flank to divert the enemy and allow him to strengthen the lads within the gravel pits throughout the frozen lake. He ordered third Firm of ErP-10 to take action, and the 2nd Firm of ErP-10 to assault straight throughout Lake Myllyjärvi into the bottom of the Hirvasharju Peninsula’s wishbone form to place strain on the lodge from the northwest.
The assault resumed at 1:30 pm. Finnish troops, refreshed by meals and cigarettes, charged up a 60-foot hill towards the chalet-style lodge and its log and granite partitions. Soviet troops within the constructing and rifle pits in entrance of it blazed away with machine weapons, rifles, and grenades. If the Finns had been supported by artillery, they might have simply taken the lodge, however as an alternative the wrestle got here right down to a battle of squaddies.
The battle raged forwards and backwards for an hour, hand handy at some locations. Finnish troops hurled grenades by way of lodge home windows and shoved bayonets into Soviet our bodies. Soviet troops counterattacked. One Finnish firm commander was killed, one other gravely wounded.
The size was tipped when the 2nd Firm of ErP-10 arrived, bringing the lodge beneath hearth from the north, weakening the Soviets. Some Finns have been capable of sneak round to the constructing’s southern aspect and snipe at its home windows, which made the Soviets understand they have been near being surrounded.
A number of the defenders started to withdraw to the Kivisalmi Bridge, and the Finns, sensing victory, launched a cost into the lodge, hurling dozens of grenades by way of the bottom flooring home windows, silencing all resistance on that flooring.
Nevertheless, there have been nonetheless Soviets on the higher flooring, they usually maintained a heavy hearth. So long as they held the lodge, the Finns couldn’t advance. Lieutenant Siukosaari, commanding sixth Firm, figured that the easiest way to get rid of the issue was to pour gasoline into the constructing, set it ablaze, and shoot any Soviets who tried to flee. A serious standing close by overruled that thought and ordered a extra typical assault. The choice might have been because of squeamishness or as a result of the lodge was a outstanding supply of native delight.
Both means, Siukosaari led the assault by instance, brandishing his Lahti pistol. He ran smack right into a Russian officer armed together with his personal pistol on the doorway resulting in the lodge kitchen. Each males opened hearth three ft aside, however Siukosaari’s shot hit first, killing the Soviet. Siukosaari’s males charged over the lifeless Russian into the lodge.
The Finns then had a neater time, hurling grenades into the higher degree after which dashing up the stairway. They discovered 28 Soviet troopers nonetheless alive, most of them wounded and able to give up, together with the corpse of the commander of the 609th Soviet Infantry Regiment and the standard regimental papers, all helpful for intelligence. Of larger worth to Siukosaari and his crew have been the 18 usable automated weapons and ammunition—they doubled his platoon’s firepower.
Buoyed by the victory, Pajari threw within the final card in his deck, Bicycle Battalion PPP-7, which mopped up so far as Kivisalmi Bridge. Pajari had gained the southern a part of his battle.
At Ilomantsi, the uneven wrestle went on all day. The double pincers at Möhkö didn’t accomplish a lot, however close to Kallioniemi the Finns knocked out 4 extra tanks.
The subsequent day, the Soviets made extra infantry probes at Kallioniemi and the Finns tried once more at Möhkö. By day’s finish, the Ilomantsi entrance was a stalemate. The Finns lacked the facility to throw the Soviets again, and the Soviet 155th Infantry Division lacked the skis—and subsequently the mobility—to flank the Finns. The temperature dropped to 25 levels under zero, and the endlessly falling snow was greater than a foot deep. The Soviets couldn’t budge the Finns.
Nevertheless, the Finns had skis and the coaching to make use of them, and Ekholm waged an lively protection, staging raids and probing assaults towards the 155th Infantry. As December dragged on, the Soviets tried to defeat Ekholm with little success. At one level, they slipped a battalion by means of Finnish strains and menaced his headquarters. Ekholm rallied his rear-echelon troops, counterattacked vigorously, and drove the Soviets off. The world remained quiet for a lot of the conflict.
Not so at Tolvajärvi, the place PPP-7 started shifting ahead to Ristisalmi on December 13, whereas the remainder of Pajari’s troops took a time without work to reorganize. Pajari was not proud of that. He acknowledged that one of the simplest ways to cope with the opposing Soviet 139th Infantry Division, as another Soviet unit, was to assault relentlessly. After the 13th, Pajari drove his males to do exactly that.
In the meantime, the Soviets have been decided not to surrender at Tolvajärvi. They strengthened the battered 139th Division with the 75th Infantry Division. Pajari discovered of this improvement on December 16 as Finnish air reconnaissance noticed exhausted and wounded males of the 139th heading again to Russia whereas automobiles and males of the 75th headed ahead.
Pajari moved swiftly. He continued his assault on December 14, with ErP-9 main the assault. The Finns have been stopped when two Russian tanks appeared, driving forwards and backwards, hurling shells and machine-gun hearth on the Finns, who might hearth again nothing however colourful invective. They didn’t even have Molotov cocktails. When phrase of this holdup reached ErP-9’s headquarters and its sole antitank gun crew, one in every of its gunners, Corporal Mutka, hitched up the 37mm gun to a farm horse, mounted it, and rode the horse bareback to the entrance. As soon as there, Mutka unlimbered the gun, aimed on the tanks, and blasted them open with three or 4 photographs.
When the Soviet tanks exploded into the standard balls of fireside and smoke, the infantry they have been working with have been demoralized and commenced to flee. The Finnish troops charged ahead a mile earlier than being stopped at Metsanvaara Ridge.
Talvela despatched Pajari 350 replacements on December 15, all overage reservists. They have been able to battle however poorly educated, poorly armed, and never as bodily resilient because the younger males who had died or have been wounded.
Pajari ordered his males ahead, and on December 16 they pushed previous Metsanvaara and made good progress till hitting a decided group of Soviet troops at a roadblock simply west of Lake Hietajärvi. The defenders have been 200 males from a Russian officer candidate faculty, nicely educated, bodily match, extremely motivated, and correctly dug in. The Finns who fought on this battle later stated they have been the hardest troops they confronted. The officer candidates inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking Finns. The sixth Firm of ErP-9 misplaced six of 20, together with its commanding officer, within the first hour of preventing. The officer candidates fought to the demise. Solely two are recognized to have survived.
Pajari couldn’t afford such engagements and their attendant losses. He tried to outflank the primary street, counting on skis and shock. He despatched an ErP-10 firm on a large finish run to the south by way of Vieksinki and launched guerrilla strikes on the Ägläjärvi Street. Two corporations of ErP-10 did the identical from the north.
Seeing that Pajari was making nice positive aspects, Talvela gave him management of all Finnish reserves within the Tolvajärvi sector on December 17, with an order of the day that learn: “The final energies of the troops have to be used.” Talvela additionally promoted Pajari to full colonel in recognition of his achievements.
On December 18, the Soviet Air Pressure lastly intervened with assault planes swooping down on the forests. The bombs have been extra annoying than damaging, however Pajari’s assaults on Ägläjärvi made no headway towards Soviet roadblocks.
On December 19, Mannerheim promoted Talvela to main common however was on the sting of calling off the entire Tolvajärvi counteroffensive because of the lengthening casualty lists and the lads’s exhaustion. The newly promoted Talvela persuaded Mannerheim that his males had sufficient drive to interrupt via the Soviet defenses and stabilize the state of affairs. Mannerheim agreed to offer Talvela extra time.
Within the predawn darkness, the Soviet 75th Division hurled a battalion of infantry and 9 tanks towards the Finns from Ägläjärvi, going straight for the Finnish antitank platoon and ramming the primary gun. Corporal Mutka, nonetheless within the battle, closed with the tank because it crunched over the Bofors gun and blew it up with a satchel cost, blocking the street for the remainder of the Soviet armor.
At daylight, Mutka bore-sighted his remaining Bofors gun and hit the rear Soviet tank within the column, trapping the entire drive. He labored ahead together with his gun and hit two extra automobiles. The crews of the surviving tanks received the purpose. They bailed out of their automobiles, and the Finns captured them intact with their engines operating. The Soviet assault was accomplished. The Finns tried to counterattack themselves, however the Soviets held them off.
The identical day, Pajari hit his personal private restrict. Bodily exhausted from the ordeal and personally main assaults, he was despatched to the rear by Talvela and changed by Lt. Col. Kaarlo Viljanen, one other 27th Jaeger veteran, who proved to have loads of willpower himself.
Finns and Soviets clashed on December 21, 22, and 23 with little impression. The Soviets introduced up extra plane, and the Finns introduced up extra antiaircraft weapons, capturing down three Soviet planes on December 21.
Late on the 21st, 2nd/JR-16 and two corporations of ErP-9 attacked Ägläjärvi from the north, and two corporations of ErP-10 and all of ErP-112 attacked from the south. At the hours of darkness, the Finns crossed the ice and closed on the village with out losses towards heavy however wild Soviet hearth.
Nevertheless, the Soviets had turned the small village right into a fortress. The Soviets arrange their automated weapons for converging hearth, and Finnish NCO and platoon chief casualties have been once more heavy—one battalion misplaced all three of its firm commanders.
Every constructing was a separate strongpoint. One Finnish soldier stated, “The homes have been shot filled with holes like sieves.” The Finns hurled grenades into the buildings, however defending wounded Soviet troops went on preventing. The Finns fought home to deal with and room to room with grenades and bayonets. The preventing was so shut that neither aspect might use its mortars.
Finnish mobility ultimately informed the story, as one Finnish detachment reduce off the village with a roadblock to the east, trapping the defenders. By midday, the 2nd Firm of PPP-7 broke by way of into the middle of the village to knock out a set of interlocking machine-gun nests. By 2 pm, the Soviets, in need of ammunition and males, have been in retreat. By nightfall, Mannerheim referred to as off additional assaults, conscious of his restricted provides of males and munitions.
After the victory, preventing didn’t cease within the Tolvajärvi sector. On Christmas Day, the Soviets bombed Pajari’s headquarters at Aittojoki, killing the regimental chaplain whereas he held Christmas providers. The Finnish Air Pressure retaliated, capturing down 4 Soviet bombers.
After that, preventing quieted down within the sector to company-sized actions and ski patrols, and in late December the primary Finnish-American volunteers to succeed in the entrance have been deployed to that sector, making up for the heavy losses. It was a token pressure of a few platoon, however it was in motion for the remainder of the struggle, offering no less than ethical if not materials help to the Finnish trigger.
Panin and Belaev confronted defeat on their aspect. The 139th Division had misplaced a regimental headquarters, most of its artillery, and had been completely mauled. Many males, together with officers, have been near mutiny. Panin and Belaev ordered the division to withdraw, one thing the Pink Military had not achieved because the Russian Civil Struggle in 1919. Doing so was a shock to the Soviets and a lift to Finnish morale.
One other casualty of the marketing campaign was the eighth Military’s boss, Corps Commander Khabarov, who was changed by Military Commander (Second Rank) Grigory Mikhailovich Shtern, a Stalin favourite. Sarcastically, he can be shot in a last-minute purge in June 1941, simply earlier than the German invasion of Russia.
The Tolvajärvi marketing campaign was Finland’s bloodiest of the conflict. Talvela misplaced a 3rd of his officers and NCOs and 1 / 4 of his different ranks, a complete of 630 males killed and 1,320 wounded.
Soviet losses have been harder to rely. A minimum of 1,000 died within the snow with out being seen or counted. The Finns pulled four,000 Soviet our bodies out of the snow between Tolvajärvi and Aittojoki. Some 5,000 Soviets have been wounded and virtually 600 taken prisoner, many struggling frostbite because of poor winter clothes. The Soviets additionally misplaced 59 tanks and armored automobiles. The Finns took possession of 220 usable machine weapons and lightweight automated weapons.
Talvela had eradicated the Soviet menace to all the Ladoga-Karelia Entrance, burned up the Soviet eighth Military’s reserves, and offered his personal nation with an enormous morale booster after the failure on the Karelian Isthmus. The marketing campaign confirmed the toughness of the person Finnish soldier and the weak spot of the typical Soviet soldier. The Soviet prisoners stated they didn’t know why they have been preventing. Maybe most importantly, the victory displayed the braveness and battlefield prowess of quite a few Finnish officers.
However no one considered this at dusk on December 23, when the Finns reached the Aittojoki River. The riverbank was a very good defensive position, the Soviet menace was decisively checked, and the Finns have been exhausted. That they had carried out sufficient for 2 weeks, and the weary Finns started digging in, breaking into ration packs. They might take pleasure in a particular deal with for Christmas, presents from the 80,000-strong Lotta Svärd ladies’s group, together with civilian presents of knitted clothes, delicacies, espresso, brandy, tobacco, and aquavit.
It was a welcome respite from the preventing towards the Soviet juggernaut, and it proved all too temporary. Quickly sufficient the Purple Military would return, and the conflict would proceed till March 1940, as their overwhelming superiority in males and materiel resulted in a pricey victory for the invaders.
Writer David Lippman is a frequent contributor to WWII Historical past. He additionally maintains an internet site devoted to the every day occasions of World Conflict II.