Fall of Viipuri (Vyborg) 1944

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MikeF
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Fall of Viipuri (Vyborg) 1944

Post by MikeF » 03 Sep 2006 22:24

Hello all,

I am interested in the events of 20 June 1944 on the Karelian Isthmus that led to the Soviet capture of Viipuri. I have searched the web and this forum and have come across some of the controversy over the fall of the city (Airo's possible disagreement w/Mannerheim about holding the city, supply difficulties, the unpreparedness of the 20th Brigade, etc); however, I am also interested in the actual actions on the field. Was it not this encounter where the BT-42s lost so many of their number ( I have a picture of Ps.511-19 knocked out on the Isthmus)? What actions occurred on the field of battle? I have a book in my library titled "Suomi Suursodassa" by Olavi Antila that shows a map of the battle. I neither read Finnish or Swedish but I can make out from the map there was something like 8xBT-42s, 8xAT guns (both 45mm & 75mm) & 9 panzershrecks available for the defense along with the 5,6, 7,13 and 14 Companies in the front line. It appears the 5th & 6th Companies bore the brunt of the Soviet attack. What happened to cause the city to fall so quickly.

On a side note, I also read that Stalin requested the city be totally flattened by American bombers but this request was refused.

Regards,
Mike

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Hanski
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Re: Fall of Viipuri (Vyborg) 1944

Post by Hanski » 04 Sep 2006 07:23

MikeF wrote:On a side note, I also read that Stalin requested the city be totally flattened by American bombers but this request was refused

Can you please extend on this and give the source?

Regards,
Hanski

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Post by JariL » 04 Sep 2006 09:03

Source of the Viipuri bombings is Geust I believe. But two things have been mixed here. ADD actually tried to level Viipuri June 17, 1944 (hope I remember the date correctly) but it's bombers were called back due to bad weather. American bombers were not to bomb Viipuri but Finnish artillery positions in Tali-Ihantala but 8 USA turned the Soviet request down.

Regards,

Jari

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Post by Mikko H. » 04 Sep 2006 09:07

IIRC the ADD was supposed to bomb Viipuri on 9 or 10 June, at the same time as the offensive started. And the Soviet marshal who planned the offensive's air operations (Novikov?) at one point hoped to have American B-29's (!) available for the initial bombing of Finnish positions.

Gotta check these once I'm back at home.

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Re: Fall of Viipuri (Vyborg) 1944

Post by arctic fox » 04 Sep 2006 10:42

MikeF wrote:What happened to cause the city to fall so quickly.


Hi,

There were numerous reasons for the total fiasco at Viipuri.

I think the most important single event on the battlefield June 20th was that a company of 2nd battalion panicked and their line collapsed without giving a real fight. There was a constant flow of deserters going through their positions and there were rumours that an order to withdraw had been given. I wouldn't blame them though, because the whole defence was so extemely badly planned and executed.

-AF

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Viipuri Attack

Post by MikeF » 04 Sep 2006 14:11

Hello Hanski,

My source for the comment in regards to US bombers hitting Viipuri came from:

http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Sixty+ ... 6152955740

Yes, Arctic Fox, I have read about the rumors of a retreat order. I have also read that such an order was due to a possible spy or just a misinformed/scared private and once the retreat started it was just impossible to stop. I guess what I am really after is more details about your final comment about the defense plan being poorly planned and executed. Why was that so? Was the brigade commander not an experienced wartime leader? Was it due to supply problems and how were the BT-42s used that resulted in such losses? I know the BT-42s were not the best designed AFVs but they had performed relatively well in Karelia.

Regards,
Mike

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Post by Mikko H. » 04 Sep 2006 16:41

1. ADD was going to bomb Viipuri with 400-500 aircraft on the night of 9/10 June 1944, but was forced to turn back to its bases in southern Russia because of bad weather over central Russia.

2. In mid-May 1944 Chief Marshal of Air Force Alexander Novikov began planning the air operations against Finns in Karelian Isthmus. Soviets were under impression that the USA had promised to them a squadron of B-29 Superfortresses, and Novikov hoped to use them against Finns. However, no aircraft were forthcoming.

3. Commander of the 20th Brigade, Colonel Armas Kemppi was very experienced front commander.He had spent all of the Winter War and most of the Continuation War as infantry regiment commander, and briefly held the acting command of the 2nd Division in late August 1941. He had been recommended for the Mannerheim Cross, 2nd Class, but not awarded one.

The reasons for the brigade's dismal performance on 20 June 1944 were many. The brigade was formed just at the beginning of 1944 from Infantry Regiment 22, but when the brigade was founded, soldiers were moved around so that the old unit cohesion was lost. Before the Soviet offensive the brigade had spent its time in labour assignments behind the front, and was not in good shape. When it arrived in Viipuri just days before the fateful 20 June, the situation was chaotic. Demoralized men of the Cavalry Brigade and 10th Division were retreating through their positions, spreading wild and depressing rumours. Kemppi and other officers had to work hard to get supplies, but couldn't get enough, apparently because the IV Army Corps supply system was badly overstretched -- it was later testified that the commander of the ill-fated II Battalion, Major Kurt Bäckström, hadn't had any sleep for four nights.

Also Kemppi's command arrangements have been criticized. Training had been neglected. Kemppi didn't take any measures to prevent the contact between his men and those demoralized soldiers retreating through their positions, and took no counter-measures against the effect the rumours had on his men. Kemppi remained passively in his command post, relying only in field telephones (which lines were easily cut) and dispatch runners. Also the battalion commanders were not without blame. Of commander of the II Battalion (which was first to break) it has been said, that he was "already during the peace-time been known as amiable man, but one who gets nervous easily".

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Post by Hanski » 04 Sep 2006 17:10

Hello Mike and Mikko,

And thank you for the clarifications. I never knew about this plan to use American bombers against Finland, so it was quite a surprise to me. If it wasn't clear enough already, it graphically illustrates how Stalin must really have hated the Finns' guts and spared no effort to get them finished once and for all. You learn something new every day at the AHF!

Cheers,
Hanski

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BT-42s at Viipuri

Post by MikeF » 05 Sep 2006 00:54

What role did these vehicles play in the short battle? I know a handful were destroyed outright due to the ineffective nature of its 114mm gun against armor. I have read that the BT-42 was an useful vehicle when used against bunkers and the such but was completely outclassed when faced with enemy armor. Were they thrown into the battle in an effort to stop the sudden collapse or were they overwhelmed right at the beginning of the short battle?

BR,
Mike :D

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Post by Korpraali V » 05 Sep 2006 08:16

One of the mentioned reasons is that the Heavy Artillery Battalion 40 wasn't supplied well enough. The Battalion was equipped with 12 m1937 152mm (6in) Howitzers. In the beginning the guns had only 400 grenades, which were quickly spent. Also the Light Artillery Battalion in the area lacked ammunition. Unfortunately the trench warfare period from late 1941 to summer 1944 had increased the bureaucracy and made the flexibility harder. The ammo dumb officer wasn't very interested of givin anything away. The 20th Brigade lacked right papers, which resulted one day delay from 18th to 19th of June. Another day was spent before the decision was made. Oral decision however wasn't enough for the ammo dumb officer. Finally the Headquarters got the information of the situation and direct order was given to take all ammo needed. Since the officer in ammo dumb didn't believe that, the ammo was taken by force. All seemed finally go well, until the crewmen in Artillery Battalion saw that the ammo taken was for m1938 gun!! By then it was too late for Viipuri defenders.

This is not the only reason, maybe not the main one either, but for sure not very small reason for the loss of Viipuri.

Source: Finnish translation of Geoffrey Regan's Book of Military Blunders (Päin mäntyä - Kirja sotilaallisista tunaroinneista). The article is written for the translation by the translator Lt.Col. Heikki Tiilikainen.

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Re: BT-42s at Viipuri

Post by Harri » 05 Sep 2006 08:38

MikeF wrote:What role did these vehicles play in the short battle? I know a handful were destroyed outright due to the ineffective nature of its 114mm gun against armor. I have read that the BT-42 was an useful vehicle when used against bunkers and the such but was completely outclassed when faced with enemy armor. Were they thrown into the battle in an effort to stop the sudden collapse or were they overwhelmed right at the beginning of the short battle?


BT-42s were issued to 20th Brigade at the same time it arrived in Viipuri. IIRC Separate Armoured Company (Erillinen panssarikomppania, Er.Ps.K) arrived in Viipuri during the night on 19./20.6. and was grouped to different defence sectors. On the sector of the city they were at first rather close to the front line probably to boost the defence (I think that was the main meaning of BT-42s at Viipuri) but after Soviet artillery or aerial attacks they were "withdrawn" backwards into the city where they could be camouflaged better. That "operation" was one of the nails to the coffin of the II Battalion / 20th Brigade. Another one was the moving of II Battalion's command post which most likely triggered the rumours that "battalion will withdraw".

A new HEAT ammo BT-42s used was developed in Finland to penetrate the armour of T-34 but apparently it couldn't do so. I have no information how well this was known within the company before the battles but the several unsuccesfull attempts to destroy Soviet T-34s seem to prove that the weak penetration was a great shock also to the tankers. Anyway BT-42 was not suitable for tank vs. tank battles because it used separate ammo loadings. I have never heard of any research why the new HEAT ammo was so ineffective. That too would be interesting to know.

Personnel of the company came largely from the field artillery (also Company Chief Lt. Stig Sippel) but there were also men from the Armoured Brigade (all drivers for example). Assault Gun Battalion (with StuG IIIGs) had basically similar personnel in addition to many Finnish SS volunteers who usually were vehicle or platoon leaders (I don't know if any of them served in the Er.Ps.K). Separate Armoured Company was detached from the original Assault Gun Battalion when it was re-equipped in late 1943.

Anyway company did what it could and tried (together with reserve battalion IV/20.Pr.) to delay the Soviet advance into the central city. These battles lasted a few hours. After losing its Company Chief and several vehicles company was ordered to withdraw from Viipuri together with the last parts of 20th Brigade. Colonel Kemppi was among them but soon afterwards decided to drive to the HQ / IV Army Korps to personally tell about the situation (Kemppi was later sentenced of that in a Military Court). One BT-42 finally shot down a bridge which blocked the Soviet advance. It's a good question what would have happened if Assault Gun Company with StuG IIIGs had defended Viipuri.

----

For example Lauri Jäntti (Capt. in Heavy Artillery Battalion 14) in his books about the Viipuri case don't share the view that 20th Brigade would have been bad unit (or at least any worse than other Finnish units). Brigade was basically composed of good battalions with front experience as well and also Battalion Commanders were experienced. Surprisingly only the Commander of II Battalion seems to have been clearly unsuitable for front service because of his health problems. Why wasn't he replaced with some more suitable one and why he received the most critical defence sector is again mystery to me.

----

Finland was not in war with USA so it would have been a real surprise if USA had planned or promised anything like that for USSR (bombing of Viipuri). This one seems to be yet one of the numerous Soviet plans which never came true. Maybe it was just in their dreams? :roll:

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Re: BT-42s at Viipuri

Post by JTV » 05 Sep 2006 10:33

Harri wrote:A new HEAT ammo BT-42s used was developed in Finland to penetrate the armour of T-34 but apparently it couldn't do so. I have no information how well this was known within the company before the battles but the several unsuccesfull attempts to destroy Soviet T-34s seem to prove that the weak penetration was a great shock also to the tankers. Anyway BT-42 was not suitable for tank vs. tank battles because it used separate ammo loadings. I have never heard of any research why the new HEAT ammo was so ineffective. That too would be interesting to know.


The particular round used was "114 hkr 42/C-18/24-38 is 32-18/24", which had HEAT-projectile with warhead of German 10,5 cm Hl/C. Weight of the resulting projectile was 13.50 kg. As the calibre of actual gun is 114.3-mm the projectile was relatively funny shape (the front part is very long and doesn't quite seem to fit to rest of the projectile). It's impossible to say for sure, but I suspect this might have something to do with the matter.

Original German 10.5 cm Hl/C HEAT-projectile was capable of penetrating about:
100 mm of armour steel with point of hit in 60 degree angle
And Finnish testing suggested that Finnish 114-mm HEAT-projectile was supposed to penetrate:
110 - 115 mm of armour steel with point of hit in 70 degree angle
So, the ammunition should have most certainly been capable of penetrating front armour of T-34.

What I have read before introduction this ammunition it had been intended to be tested against armour plate similar to front hull of T-34. But as the persons doing the testing failed finding correct armour plate (high quality homogenous armour plate of necassary thickness) they decided to do the testing by stacking few thinner steel plates (which likely were not proper quality armour plate as it turned out). Hence while the result of this testing showed that the ammunition was supposed to penetrate front hull armour of T-34, in reality it failed doing this. What made the situation even more impossible is that the Soviet tanks that BT-42 met in Viipuri included also IS-2 heavy tanks, whose armour the ammunition had not even been intended to penetrate.

In any case BT-42 was a failure when used as a tank killer. It had very thin armour, poor terrain mobility, poor sights (taken from 76 K/02 field gun), ineffective antitank ammunition, its howitzer was slow to both aim (aiming mechanism build from recycled parts coming from aiming systems of captured 45-mm tank guns) and reload (both due to two-part ammunition and poor ammunition storage), its large turret made it easy target and the vehicle didn't have any machineguns for fighting against infantry.

Jarkko

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Viipuri 20 June 1944

Post by CF Geust » 05 Sep 2006 13:12

Hello everyone,
my attention has been drawn to some of the topics of this site (including some explicite references to my humble personf).

The option of USAAF taking part in the attack against Finnish forces on the Karelian isthmus in June 1944 is mentioned in the memoirs of the Commander of the Soviet AF, Air Marshal Aleksandr Novikov "V nebe Leningrada" (In the sky of Leningrad), published by the prestigious Nauka (publishing co. of the Academy of Sciences) 1970. The question of American participation was dealt with when planning Operation Frantic, or shuttle bombing by 8th Air Force (with B-17s and B-24s - of course bot B-29s which was not operational at that time). Operation Frantic (with three bases in newly liberated Ukraine, Poltava, Mirgorod and Piryatin handed over to USAAF) was intiated practically simulateneously with the allied invasion in Normandie. Take-off bases of the shuttle bombers were in UK and Italy. According to Novikov Stalin put the question frankly to the Americans in May 1944: - are the American bombers able to make a "turn" via Viipuri on their way from UK to Ukraine? This question got no postive answer, and Stalin remarked privately to Novikov "so we will again fight alone..". Interestingly enough, so far I have found no reference to this discussion in American publications!

The reasons for the negative American standpoint are apparently
- firstly there was no state of war between USA and Finland (although the diplomatic relations were frozen down to zero),
- secondly the range of B-17s and B-24s would hardly have enabled this long mission.

For Finnish readers I refer to my articles in Sotahistoriallinen aikakauskirja (Yearbook of Milltary History) Vol. 13 (1994) and 23 (2004). The first mentioned article about the air campaign summer 1944 has also been published in Russian in "Aviatsiya i vremya" no. 4, 5 and 6/1997.
Carl

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Post by Mikko H. » 05 Sep 2006 13:43

Thanks and welcome to the list!

About the B-29's: my info comes from the book Stalin's Generals, where Novikov's article is written (IIRC) by John Erickson. The way I understood it, Novikov in May 1944 hoped to get a squadron of B-29's for ADD service; no USAAF participation was discussed. I wonder what was Erickson's source here? Did he perhaps confuse B-17 with B-29?

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Post by Hanski » 05 Sep 2006 14:50

Carl,

You are cordially welcome, we are very honoured to have you contributing to our discussions!

I must dig out the reference you mentioned at the first opportunity, as the whole idea is somewhat sensational to me. (BTW, what is the best way of subscribing to Sotahistoriallinen aikakauskirja? Any discounts for members of the Suomen sotahistoriallinen seura?)

It sounds almost comical to read about poor Stalin complaining "so we will again fight alone..", as if Finland would have been such an excessive burden to the mighty Soviet Union...

Hanski

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