Author: Mikko Porvali
Swedish title: Bakom Röda Armeens Linjer (Behind Red Army Lines)
Original Finnish title: Operaatio Hokki – Päämajan vaiettu kaukopartio
What a book – and what a story! This is about the Finnish “Lurps” – the true Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols – the “fjärrpatrols”, which can be translated as the “Far Patrols”. And far out it is. I know that this sort of warfare is in the core of the Finnish soldiers’ bones, the way they operated during the Winter War give us a good indication on that. This book confirms it excellently.
While the book describes one specific mission it also gives a good background on the Finnish units tasked with reconnaissance and sabotage actions behind enemy lines. These were Fjärrpatrulj-folkene – the long-range patrol people - of the 4th Independent Battalion, directly attached to the Finnish High Command, a system common to the Nordic countries. Not to be confused with the regular Jäger (Ranger) units.
Operation Hokki was carried out in August/September 1944 with the purpose of exerting pressure on the Soviets during the upcoming Armistice negotiations between Finland and the Soviet Union. The mission was to do maximum damage on the railway centre in the Karelian town of Petroskoj, far behind enemy lines, to stop the supply flow to the front further West. The operation had its name from its leader, the 39 year old Captain Ilmari Honkanen, a veteran from the Winter War with two dozen excursions behind enemy lines already and decorated with the Mannerhheim Cross, the highest Finnish order, in 1942.
The author, Mikko Porvali, is 32 years old and a criminal investigator with the Finnish police. This is his third book. His connection to the operation described in the book is somewhat special as not only his grandfather, but also his grandfather’s brother, participated in it. They were both experienced Sissus, a description which is a little difficult to explain to non-Finns. Maybe a Finn reading this can take it upon himself. To my knowledge the book is not translated into English. It ought to be.
Since there is not a plot as such, it is not a novel, I feel I can give some details on what the book deals with. Operation Hakko, as many special operations, came into being in a hurry. Finland was on the verge of collapse and the High Command needed some spectacular feats to cool off the Soviets during the upcoming negotiations. Hankonen, at the time, was with the training unit of the 4th Independent battalion and as such he had to collect his band from instructors and other specialist present there. He was also able to bring some more, experienced people, in from the outside. In the end they were 50 men, a rather large group considering that they should operate behind enemy lines where stealth was an important factor. But the mission was a heavy one. After the insertion they had to penetrate the local defense around Petroskoj, an important communication center, to destroy rolling stock, rail systems and workshops. Only to carry the explosives for such a mission demanded a large number of men.
Insertion was to be by by two aircrafts, a Heinkel He115 floatplane and a Heinkel He59 seaplane each during two following nights, the common method at the time. Resupply should be according to need, ordered and organized via wireless. The unit had three dedicated radio operators.
OK, here I need to restrain myself not to take away the excitement of anybody wanting to acquire the book. Enough said is that it did not go, as could be expected considering the intricacy of the mission, entirely according to plan. There were losses, there were improvisations, there were successes. But, first of all, there were long marches with the enemy hot on the heels. As one member of the group replied to Field Marshall Mannerheim when he was awarded the Mannerheim Cross and asked what he believed was the main reason for him getting the award: “I have carried a rucksack”.
A problem for the author has been the fact that much of the reports and war diaries were destroyed or hidden away after the war. This was due to the uncertainty on how the Armistice would develop. Would the Soviets enter Finland, would they demand access to reports of the clandestine operations? Some of the members of the unit were ethnic Russians or Estonians and under all this was the wish to protect these persons from future Soviet persecution. Personal interviews with some of the participants has also revealed some discrepancies in how the events were perceived which isn’t so strange considering the pressure and physical exhaustion the members of the group experienced at times.
A nice bonus is the pictures taken by members of the group during the operation.
Incidentally, one of the last persons the author spoke to during his research for the book was Heikki Nykänen who died only recently, on February 13th 2013. (Correction: Nykänen died earlier - 2011 - please see posting below)
Picture is taken during the patrol. Captain Honkanen center front.
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Last edited by fredleander on 16 Feb 2013 00:10, edited 1 time in total.