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Perhaps the earliest initiatives in the 1920s with regard to “Industrial Forestry” and sustained yield of timber were those programs which concentrated on reforestation and on forest fire identification control. Simultaneously with these came a focus on improving wood stock growth by taking swampy peatland and improving timber yield through ongoing drainage work (where swampy land was drained to improve tree growth in the surrounding areas). A little later came improvements as a result of mechanization –largely involved the construction of logging roads to facilitate the extraction of timber via the new logging trucks. Then came the use of aircraft for fire early spotting, followed by the use of aircraft to carry and drop firefighters in by parachute to hard-to-reach forest fire outbreaks in isolated areas and some associated innovations and improvements in firefighting techniques. And lastly were the early waterbombers. Many of these improvements and techniques were mirrored in other countries where the timber extraction industry was carried out on a large scale – primarily the USSR, the USA and Canada.
However, where Finland was unique was in taking many of the techniques and tools used in the forest fire-fighting efforts of the 1930’s and deriving military applications for these. As we walk through the development of forest fire fighting techniques and skills, we will also look at how these were picked up the Suomen Maavoimat and applied in a practical manner as part of standard Maavoimat tactics – and we will also take a very brief look ahead at their applications in the Winter War itself. In large part this came about as a result of the large-scale membership of the Suojeluskuntas. Particularly in rural areas a large proportion of the male population were active members of the Suojeluskuntas and participated in ongoing military training at local unit level throughout the year. In the early 1930’s, this training began to include large-unit exercises on a regular basis. With the Maavoimat’s ongoing encouragement of tactical experimentation at a local unit level (and the sharing of this information through the Suojeluskuntas publications we have looked at in earlier posts), successful experimentation percolated rapidly and was often informally adopted well before the Maavoimat itself made the adoption formal.
Thus, it was a logical process whereby rural Suojeluskuntas members, who were also forest fire fighters or volunteer firefighters, occasionally took techniques and equipment used for fire-fighting and introduced them into military exercises. Such experiments resulted in the Suomen Maavoimat’s flamethrowers – originally an adapatation of the flamethrowers used for starting backburns during forest fires. Such an experiment also resulted in the Suomen Maavoimat’s parajaegers – after a local Metsähallitus “Savusukeltaja” (Forest Service SmokeJumper) unit wholly made up of Suojeluskuntas members parachuted into an exercise and wiped out the “enemy” headquarters in a completely unexpected attack. Both the Suojeluskuntas and Maavoimat were quick to see the potential and the first experimental ParaJaeger unit was set up within weeks of this exercise. So to, were the origins of “flame-bombing” on a large scale. The awesome power of a raging forest fire and an inability to do anything to combat this force of nature led to the Ilmavoimat’s development of early “fire-bombs” designed to set large areas of forest on fire and incinerate any enemy troops caught in the resultant inferno. From this in turn came the idea that you really didn’t need a forest fire to incinerate the enemy – just a good sticky flame-bomb that would thoroughly coat the area that it hit with a flammable liquid that would stick and was almost impossible to extinguish.
Further innovations were the use of the Fire Watchtowers as Aircraft Observations Posts throughout the country – made practical by the introduction of radios into the Fire Watchtowers in the 1930’s, and the widespread introduction of rugged man-portable radios – which were first designed, tested and built to be used by the Savusukeltaja (SmokeJumper) teams to maintain communications after they parachuted in to remote areas to fight forest fires. Again, the military applications were soon seen and what had been developed for a civilian Savusukeltaja use soon morphed into a rugged man-portable military radio that was at its time perhaps the best in the world and with which all Maavoimat units were equipped down to at least Company level at the start of the Winter War.
Likewise, the techniques used by the logging industry to extract timber had military applications. Through the 1920s and 1930s, even with the introduction of trucks, the extraction of timber was a heavily manual process. With the smaller privately-owned woodlots, it was uneconomic to even consider mechanization and so horses and sleighs continued to be used until well after WW2. As we will see, the techniques of building ice roads for use by horse and sleight to extract timber in winter were well understood and used by the logging industry – and the Suomen Maavoimat’s Pioneeri units in the Winter War were prepared and able to rapidly construct ice roads over lakes and through forests wherever needed – a technique that was used to great effect to rapidly move men and equipment to points unexpected as they fought the Red Army.
We should also not discount the importance of the mechanization of the logging industry. The Finnish heavy vehicle manufacturing company Sisu Oy was a world leader in the design and construction of heavy vehicles for the logging industry and had from the late 1920’s on developed numerous specialized vehicles for the Finnish forestry and construction industry, including heavy 4WD Logging Trucks with an excellent unformed road capability – something with obvious military logistics applications. Sisu Oy also manufactured caterpillar-tracked machinery for use in Finland’s forests and well understood the need to balance weight with track size and width to ensure an ability to move on swampy ground without bogging down. In the mid to late 1930’s, this knowledge and experience had fed into the Defence Ministry’s Patria Oy armoured vehicle development program, as we will see in detail when we begin to look at this aspect of the Suomen Maavoimat’s equipment in subsequent posts.
In subsequent Posts, we’ll go on to look at each of these in more detail.
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By the mid 19th century, the productivity, growth and well-being of the forests on which Finland relied for much of its export earnings were the subject of forest research and also of higher education. While efficient, sustained-yield forestry had not really been practised in Finland on a large scale, the idea and the intentions were there. In 1917, METLA - the Finnish Forest Research Institute – had been set up under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and was the central organization in the field and was funded from the state budget and, later on, from the private sector. Research was also carried out at several universities, more especially in the Universities of Helsinki and later on in Joensuu. Early forest research was almost exclusively aimed at increasing wood production and developing new regeneration techniques.
Regeneration techniques took two different approaches – the first being the natural forest regeneration along the lines of natural development in the forest ecosystem, and the second being artificial regeneration of plantation forests (usually pine forests). The focus was largely on natural regeneration, with tree species composition directed at establishing
mixed stands based closely on the original composition of the forest. However, approximately 20% of Finland’s forests were plantation forests and subject to clear cutting rather than selective logging, as was practiced in “natural” forests. Clear felled areas and operations in general were relatively small, and tailored to conform to the topography. Yield was also increased through thinnings carried out one to four times during the life-cycle rotation of the area. All commercially tended tree species were (and are) indigenous to Finland.
The Life-cycle starts with Timber-felling and its results – clear-felled land in the case of plantation forests…..
Vihti, Uusimaa: Avohakkuualue kallioperäisellä puolukkatyypin maalla / Forest Land that has been clear-felled. Lingonberries will grow here…
Talven tullen ajetaan tukit rannalle odottamaan kevättä / Winter comes, the logs have been felled and are waiting by the shore for spring
Or Forest that has been badly danaged
Määrämittahakkuulla pilattua metsää. Pystyssä vain vialliset ja kasvunsa lopettaneet puut. Uudistettu L. metsälautakunnan toimesta vuonna 1928 / Bad Felling techniques have left a Ruined forest. Left standing are only defective and immature trees. Board of Forestry, 1928
Then comes the planting of seedlings…..
Taimitarhaa / First, the seedlings are grown in Tree Nurseries….
Taimitarhaa / Nursery
Pojat kylvävät metsää, takana seisova mies valvoo työn sujumista / Boys plant seedlings, a man standing behind monitors the pace of the work
Tytöt metsää istuttamassa / Girls planting seedlings
Varusmiehet istuttavat puun taimia hakkuualueella Lappeenrannan kaupungin metsässä / Conscripts are planting tree seedlings in a cleared area of forest outside the city of Lappeenranta
Young people were often involved in Voluntary Tree Planting Programs
Partiopojat metsänistutustyössä Snellmanin päivänä 1927 / 1927 Boy Scouts carrying out reforestation work
Partiolaiset metsää istuttamassa Snellmanin päivänän. Pojat kaivavat kuoppia, tytöt istuttavat. Nuorten on tulevaisuus / Scouts on a Forest Planting Day. The boys dig the holes, the girls plant the seedling trees. “Young People are our Future.”
Two Girl-Scouts participating in a Tree Planting Camp
Partiolaiset ja kansakoululapset metsänviljelystöissä Helsingin lähellä. Päivällisloma." Partiolaiset ja kansakoululaiset ovat kokoontuneet nuotion ääreen. Leiripaikalla on myös teltta / "Scouts and school children are the people gathered in front of a campfire. There ia also a camping tent
Partiolaiset istuttava metsää. Etummainen rivi valmistaa kuokalla kylvöalueen, takimmainen rivi hoitaa kylvön. " Helsingin partiolaiset metsää istuttamassa Snellmanin päivänä 1930 / Girl Scouts in the forest. The front row digging holes for planting, in the rear are planting trees. "Helsinki Scouts woodland planting, April 1930
Partiolaiset istuttavat kuusentaimia Backastilalla lähellä Helsinkiä Snellmanin päivänä 1928 / Boy and Girl Scouts planting tree seedlings on the Backas farm near Helsinki, 1928
Overview of a Scout Camp from 1930 - Many of these Scout Camp planting activities were carried out on a large scale with mass participation by large numbers of Boy and Girl Scouts
And lastly, the slow regenerative growth of new forest over the years …. The life cycle of a forest is measured in decades rather than years, particularly in the cold northern climate that slows growth….
1928: Young spruce plantation – 21 years old
Istutettua kuusikkoa. Tällaiseen kuusentaimistoon ei joulukuusen ottajalla saa olla asiaa / Spruce Trees of Mixed ages. Older growth in the background
A 50-year Pine Forest in good condition – cut by one of the new Logging Roads
"Hyvässä kasvussa olevaa 80-vuotista mänty - koivusekametsää." Nainen nojaa mäntyyn / And at 80-years: A mixed Pine / Birch Forest. For size, a woman can seen standing before a tree in the center of the photo
And the final result - a well-maintained 150-year old Pine Plantation / Noin 150-vuotinen säästömännikkö Evolla
Ryhmä vanhoja jalokuusia, joista useimman kuutiosisältö noin 10 m3 / A group of noble old Fir trees, each of which contains about 10 cubic metres of timber
And the end result – Finland’s “Green Gold” harvested
Prima-koivu on käytettävä faneripuuksi. Varastoja Kaukaan tehtailla. " Varastoalueen halki kulkee rautatie. Oy Kaukas Ab, Lappeenranta, Etelä-Karjala / Prime birch stocks at the Kaukas mills. "The storage area is traversed by the railway. Kaukas Ab Oy, Lappeenranta, South Karelia
Yleiskuva Varkauden tehdaslaitoksista / Overview of the Varkaus mill plants – this gives some idea of the size and scale of the forestry industry
And the end result in many cases…….
Valtavia paperirullia Varkauden paperitehtaan sisällä, Pohjois-Savo/ Huge paper rolls inside a paper mill in Varkaus, North Savo
As a result of increasingly efficient forest management, combined with the rehabilitation of poorly growing forests, wetland drainage, greater stocking of the forests through ongoing regeneration and planting programs and fertilization, the 1920’s and 1930s saw an overall increase in Finland's forest resources despite a steadily increasing harvesting of tree stock for timber, pulp, paper and other industrial forestry products. At the same time, public and voluntary involvement in forest regeneration and tree planting programs resulted in an increased awareness of the importance of Finland’s forests and the maintenance of the Finnish cultural affinity for the forest even as the Finnish population rapidly urbanized. Through programs such as the Scout Tree Planting Camps, youngsters from the cities learned more about the forests, became familiar with the forest environment and learnt the skills needed to survive and find their way around in the forest – all of which were to be useful in the Winter War. In short, Finns were at home in the Forest. Where to the Russians in the Winter War the Forest was an alien, featureless and terrifying environment, to the Finns it was a familiar home that they understood and were comfortable in.....
The prevailing socio-economic-environmental importance of forestry and forests in Finland since the late 19th century has also had many cultural impacts via arts. The foremost Finnish artists travelled around 1900 in the vast forests and made a number of famous paintings like the one by Eero Järnefelt. Also Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Juho Rissanen and others made several paintings inspired by forestry works or forest nature. A statue of a logger was designed and carved by Kalervo Kallio in 1958 in Rovaniemi on the shoreline of Kemi river, which has been the major floating route until recently.
Other similar statues are located in Joensuu and some other localities.
Aleksis Kivi was the first author to publish novels and plays in Finnish by the middle of the 19th century. His novel “The Seven Brothers” describes mostly the life in forest wilderness. The book is among the best-sellers in Finland. It has been translated into several languages. Also Johannes Linnankoski, Ilmari Kianto, Juhani Aho, Pentti Haanpää and others were inspired by forests and forestry in their novels and short stories. Teuvo Pakkala wrote in the early 20th century a novel “Tukkijoella”, which described the life of the loggers floating logs along a river. It became not only an evergreen book, but also an evergreen play and film in Finland. About a hundred films must have been produced in Finland up until 1960 with the major inspiration being from forestry and floating of timber. Jean Sibelius composed a series of piano pieces with such names as “Mountain Ash”, “Pine”, “Spruce”, “Birch”, and “Aspen”. Many other compositions by him were also inspired by forests. Once around 1900 he travelled with his piano for inspiration to Koli, the remote forested mountain accessible only by boat in eastern Finland.
Nearly two-thirds of the Finnish forest is owned by private individuals. The number of private forest owners totaled more than 300,000 with much of their land being located on better-than-average sites and containing about 80% of the logging potential. Private forests therefore play a central role in the Finnish forestry and most are situated in the southern and central parts of the country, where timber production is at its best. Indeed, their share of the standing volume of timber and of felling volumes is considerably higher than their share of the total forest area. Conversely, state-owned forests make up a quarter of the forest land area and are primarily situated on poorer soils in northern and eastern Finland. Only 8 per cent of the forests are owned by companies. With 20 million hectares of forest and a further 6.3 million hectares of wooded land (not suitable for forestry), about two thirds of Finland was covered in forests.
Geographically, Finland lacks real mountains but, on the other hand, the terrain is not altogether flat, either. The bedrock and the soil in general have been formed by the ice ages. The inland ice has eroded the bedrock, scraping off soil from here and leaving heaps there. In places the rock is totally exposed. The tens of thousand of lakes in Finland are post-glacial. Another unique phenomenon, land elevation, is also an effect of the glaciers. Various kinds of peatlands are a fundamental element of the Finnish landscape. In the cool and humid climate the soil becomes waterlogged, which creates the right conditions for peatland vegetation and the formation of peat. Originally, about one third of Finland was covered by peatlands. They have been drained for farming, forestry and peat extraction purposes over the years but still about half of the original peatland area has been preserved in its virgin state.
There is also around 9 million hectares of swamp-land in Finland, around half of which was suitable for forestry if it was well-drained in order to facilitate better forest growth. A large percentage of the land owned by the state and by the large forestry companies was in fact on peatland and that is also why the drainage of forests has played an important role in national forestry policy over the years. In the case of undrained peatlands, excessive water in the substrate checks root growth and microbial activity, and may lead to unfavorable biochemical phenomena. When looking to improve wood yield from peatland, one of the most important tasks is improving drainage to adjust the water content of the soil to a level which ensures sufficient aeration. The most important factors used for calculating the profitability of drainage are: the site quality, the volume of the tree stand capable of response at the time of draining, the temperature sum, and the stumpage price. With peatland making up a large percentage of the forest areas owned by the state and the large forestry companies, and therefore an important timber resource, there was a substantial economic incentive to carry out drainage work.
The oldest areas drained for forestry are about 120 years old. Ditches were dug during the famine years of the early 1890’s to decrease unemployment. More systematic forest drainage activity started on state-owned lands in 1908 and on privately-owned lands in 1928. The most intensive period of forest drainage started in the mid-1920’s as the state-owned forestry companies focused on growing output and improving sustainability in line with the increased timber harvets (OTL, 1960’s) and lasted into the 1960’s, with a lull during the war years. During that period the annual drained area was increased on average by 100 000 hectares per year, with approximately 700,000 hectares of private forest drained and another 800,000 hectares of state-owned or forestry company land. Forest amelioration activity on private forests was entrusted to the Central Forestry Board Tapio, an organization promoting private forestry. Drainage operations on private land were co-operatively performed projects. The Government subsidized forest drainage on private forests by paying about 60% of the total drainage costs; partly as grants, and partly in the form of low-interest loans.
By 1939, drained peatland forests formed an important timber resource in Finland, with drained peatlands making up some 18–22% of the total forestry land area in Finland and forestry drainage reportedly increasing the annual incremental tree growth in Finland by 10.4 million cubic metres or 15 per cent to the national annual increment figure. Much of the drainage in Finland was on the extensive areas of naturally tree-covered peatlands. The study of peatland afforestation has, therefore, received less attention than the effect of drainage on the growth of tree stands prevailing on the site already at the time of drainage. The profitability of draining peatlands is dependent on the fertility of the site, on the state of the existing growing stock and, thirdly, on the geographical location of the site. These factors have a bearing on the growth on the trees subsequent to drainage of the site. As a generalization, it may be said that drainage becomes more profitable with increasingly fertile sites, the more timber there is on the site, and the further south the site is located.
Drainage techniques improved over the 1930’s. Until the mid-1930’s, forest ditches in Finland were dug manually. Mechanized forest drainage commenced in 1933 with the introduction of the first Sisu Oy designed and built forest ditch plows, with optimal conditions for plowing found in the large homogeneous peatland areas of northern and eastern Finland. On open peatlands water furrows also are used. The drainage ditches are spaced 30 to 40 m apart, and the furrows are placed perpendicularly to them at 3 to 5 m spacings. The water furrows are 25 to 50 cm deep and are made by rotary ditchers or site preparation plows. The water furrows shorten the period of high ground water and contribute to the lowering of the water table, particularly in the case of wide drainage-ditch spacing. Simultaneously, furrowing acts as a form of site preparation for afforestation. Trap ditches collect surface and subsurface water entering the drainage area. These ditches are dug along the border between the peat-covered sites and the surrounding mineral soils. The design of a main ditch is dependent mainly on its capacity to lead water away from the site. The water in the main ditch should not rise above a level that would prevent the drainage ditches from discharging. In bigger drainage areas the dimensions of the main ditch are calculated on the basis of the average peak flow (MHq) which takes into consideration the influx of spring snowmelt.
Fertilization of forest land was also introduced in the mid-1930’s, with more than two million hectares forest land fertilized, slightly more than 10 percent of the total productive forest land. Half of the fertilized area was peatland. Fertilization recommendations for tree-covered drained peatlands varied according to the quality of the site type, stage of development of the tree stand, etc. On fertile and medium quality sites PK fertilizer was applied in quantities corresponding to 30-50 kg/ha and 40-80 kg/ha of P and K, respectively. Poor sites required an additional 50-100 kg/ha of N. The duration of fertilizing influence for phosphorus and potassium was 10-15 years, and for nitrogen 5-7 years. First commercial thinning was also introduced as a highly important silvicultural measure in Finland. In addition to determination of the growing density and the species composition of the stand it proved possible in this phase to influence the quality of the residual growing stock. However, from the viewpoint of tree growth, intensive intermediate cuttings that caused a rise of the ground water table were avoided on drained peatlands. The biological drainage effect of the tree stand in itself (evapotranspiration) proved of great importance, particularly on old drainage areas where the ditches may have collapsed
1927: Oulun kaupungin metsät, Pikkusuo. Alkuaan melkein aukealle suolle ojituksen jälkeen syntynyt rehevä nuori mäntymetsä. Oulu, Pohjanmaa, Pohjois-Pohjanmaa / City of Oulu, forests, Pikkusuo. Initially, this was an open swamp but after drainage, we see a lush young pine forest. Oulu, Ostrobothnia, Northern Ostrobothnia
Jaakkoinsuo (?)" Ojitettu suo, jossa kasvaa mäntyjä. Taaempana oikealla ihmisryhmä / After the swamp has been drained the swamp, the pines grow. Further back on the right are a group of people
Ojituksen jälkeen elpynyttä mänty - koivu sekametsää Huhtalan tilalla Kyyjärven kunnassa. Ojitettu 1913 / Drainage leads to a renewal of the mixed forest of pine and birch on Huhtala Kyyjärvi farm. Drained in 1913
1933: Suo-ojitus Purosen tilalla Pellossa. " Turtola, ( Pello ) Lappi ( Pohjanmaa ). / Fin-farm drainage Purosen Pello. "Turtola, (Pello) Lapland (Ostrobothnia).
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Reported in “The Times” London (UK), 23 October 1940. In March 1940, Sotamies (Private) Arto Luhtala survived a Soviet mortar shell landing ten feet away from him. The explosion threw him into the air, but he suffered nothing more serious than a badly bruised chest. Sotamies Luhtala told this reporter at the time that “another soldier on the same patrol stopped six burp-gun slugs with his jacket. All he got out of it was a couple of bruises.” The reason they both survived without serious injury has up until now been a military secret closely guarded by the Finnish Army – lightweight body armour of an innovative design with which most Finnish soldiers fighting on the frontlines are equipped. However, now that the Winter War is over and a Peace Treaty with the Soviet Union has been signed, this closely guarded military secret can now be revealed – and the Finnish Government has approached our military with an offer to sell the design to our Army. An offer that our Government has shamefully declined, to the disgust of this Reporter who saw how effective it was during the fighting in the Winter War. One can only surmise the reasons behind our military’s decision.”
This was the only news report on the Maavoimat’s innovative Lightweight Body Armor that saw the light of day. The Maavoimat had ensured strict censorship on foreign reporters based in Finland throughout the Winter War and no reports of this useful piece of equipment emerged during the fighting. The Reporter who wrote this short piece for The Times unfortunately died in an unfortunate accident in the London Underground two days after the short article appeared in The Times. However, it can now, many years later, be revealed that the Suomen Maavoimat had in fact introduced with some success an innovative and effective Lightweight Body Armor that was widely used by their soldiers both in the Winter War, throught the remainder of WW2 and into the 1950’s. This story is a living example of the splendid cooperation, interchange of information, and integration of efforts on the part of the Maavoimat, the Finnish Forest Product manufacturers and Neste (the Finnish Oil Refining company which had branched out in the late 1930’s to include the manufacturing of Chemicals) in the development of a superior instrument of warfare. It is one in which we can all take a great deal of pride; members of the military, members of industry, and Finnish taxpayers alike.
It pertains to the development and use of non-metallic body armor - a highly engineered and designed combination of wood, resin and plastics developed by a team of researchers from various Finnish forest product manufacturers over the years 1936-1938. In the early 1930’s, the Maavoimat had begun a study of casualties in WWI, largely sourcing British and French investigations from the period of the war itself. Studies of casualties of British forces through 1916 indicated that more than three-quarters of the wounded men could have been saved if some form of armor had been worn. A large preponderance of wounds derived from fragmentation-type weapons (either shrapnel or shell fragment). Studies of French casualties showed that 60 to 80 percent of all wounds were produced by missiles of low to medium velocity.
The Maavoimat also investigated the work that had been done on WW1 body armour to protect against shrapnel or shell fragments. The British had developed a silk-lined necklet which was purported to stop a 230-grain pistol ball at 600 f.p.s. However, the primary materials, extremely difficult to obtain, had deteriorated very rapidly under combat conditions and were considered costly ($25). In addition, the British also studied a 6-pound body shield that was approximately 1 inch thick and was made of many layers of linen, cotton, and silk hardened by a resinous material. During World War I, the United States had also developed several types of armor. One, the Brewster Body Shield, was made of chrome nickel steel, weighed 40 pounds, and consisted of a breastplate and a headpiece. This armor would withstand Lewis machinegun bullets at 2,700 f.p.s. but was unduly clumsy and heavy.
The Maavoimat came up with an initial “body armour jacket” that was made up of steel plates sown into a cloth vest that hung over the shoulders to protect the chest and stomach but this was, as could be expected, rather too bulky and at 30lbs, very heavy, was incompatible with standard items of equipment, and tended to restrict the mobility of the soldier. It did stop low velocity shrapnel, but not pistol, rifle or machinegun bullets. However, it was decided that the project should continue, albeit with a low level of funding and in 1935, the Maavoimat issued a secret research contract for the development for effective lightweight body armor for our Finnish soldiers. Our Forestry Industry responded to the challenge by putting together a team of our leading research and development scientists who accepted this challenge with zeal and determination. The willingness of these companies to pool their efforts into one single military program is indicative of the genuine spirit of cooperation developed between the military and industry in the years before the Winter War.
In May 1937, the R&D Team laminated a mixture of fibrous wood and bakelite in a special manner which provided encouraging ballistic values. After this initial success, the R&D Team was authorized to intensify its research program. It thoroughly investigated the bonding properties of all available resins together with the production of high-strength plywood and wood pulp mixtures, together with the best types of fabric weaves and metallic meshs to provide greater strength and lamination together with fabrication processes to provide optimum results. The end result was, by mid-1938, a wood, phenolic resin and fine metallic mesh laminate of some 20 different layers. The phenolic laminate was made by impregnating layers of different base material (in this case both a wood pulp mix similar to but far stronger than paper and silk) with phenolic resin and laminating layers of the resin-saturated base materials under heat and pressure. The resin was fully polymerized (cured) during this process. The phenolic laminate sheets were then laminated with sheets of a thin wood-resin mix and a fine metallic (steel) mesh in multiple layers which were then pressed using 1,800 tons of heated pressure that fused everything into a super-resistant, quarter-inch-thick panel. The plates were approximately 1/4 inch thick and cut into five inch squares which were then inserted into pockets in a canvas vest that covered the front and back portions of the torso as well as the shoulders. The vest weighed approximately 8-10 pounds. The plates could be molded to fit the contours of the chest or back and the design of the vest using curved to conform with the contours of the body.
Maavoimat Body Armour – introduced on a large scale starting in 1939
The Wood Fibre / Phenolic Resin / Metallic Mesh / Glue Plates which were inserted into pockets in the Canvas Jacket
The Maavoimat reported after extensive trials: "Although tree wood may not seem like the most impenetrable defense for soldiers, when combined with resins and glues it creates a sturdy shield against exploding mortar fragments. It will not stop direct fire from rifle or machinegun bullets, but it will protect against ricochets, slow-moving shrapnel and grenade and mortar fragments.” Such was the confidence of the Maavoimat evaluation team that in a demonstration to senior officers of the GHQ, one of the team fired a .45 caliber pistol at another member of the team wo was wearing the armor in order to demonstrate its effectiveness. As a result of the demonstrations and the evaluation reports, the Maavoimat ordered large scale production of the vests. By late 1939, enough were available to equip some 50,000 Maavoimat soldiers and with the outbreak of the Winter War, production was stepped up considerably. There was never enough body armour to equip all front-line soldiers – and many soldiers did not like wearing the armor as they felt it restricted movement too much. Overall however, the body armor saved a considerable number of lives and both the military and the participating companies of the forestry and chemical industries have been more than rewarded by the knowledge that these body-armor jackets returned many of our Maavoimat soldiers to their families who otherwise would have been listed "Killed in Combat."
During the Winter War, efforts were concentrated on manufacturing the Body Armour on a large scale. After the War ended in September 1940, R&D continued and it was found that the overall strength of the laminate could be improved through the use of a thin steel plate (rather than the steel mesh previously used (to which the laminate was bonded). It also proved possible to increase the protection offered by using smaller plates (2 inches wide and circular rather than the original 5 inches and square) and overlapping these in a manner similar to old-fashioned scale armour. This was found to be far more flexible for the wearer and could absorb more damage, offering greater protection to the wearer. Tests showed that this armour could withstand direct impacts from lower velocity rifle bullets. Although it was also far more expensive and harder to work, in 1942, this armour was put into mass production. By the time Finland entered WW2, the Maavoimat’s front-line soldiers (and many of the Allied troops now present in Finland) were fully equipped with the new “Lohikäärme Vuota” as it had come to be called.
The Maavoimat’s “Lohikäärme Vuota”
In addition to the now-standard Chest, Back and Side protecting Vest, the laminate was used for the manufacture of lighter helmets – something that the soldiers appreciated. Additional pieces were also designed for the protection of extremities – shoulder plates, as well as neck, leg, knee, arm and elbow protectors and pieces for use in specially designed gloves. These additional pieces of protection were largely used when the Maavoimat was mounting all-out attacks and were otherwise largely carried in the Armoured Fighting Vehicles and Trucks rather than by the soldiers themselves, being issued when appropriate. The end result was that in Finland’s involvement in the war against the German Reich, Maavoimat casualties were significantly lower than those experienced by every other Army involved in the War. The combination of the Maavoimat’s superb tactical skills, outstanding weapons, Finnish Sisu and inherent aggressiveness (name another country that idolizes knife fighters if you can…) together with the sense of invulnerability given by the use of “Lohikäärme Vuota” made the Maavoimat soldiers the most feared in Europe as they charged into battle screaming the old war-cry of “Hakkaa päälle,” last heard in Germany during the Thirty Years War when the Finnish Cavalry of Gustavus Adolphus terrorized the battlefield (the alternative battle cry, generally when on the defensive, was the equally feared “Tulta munille!" which translates roughly as "Fire at their balls!").
To the American soldiers fighting alongside the Maavoimat against Germany, the Lohikäärme Vuota armour together with their strange looking rifles, submachineguns, hand-held mortar-guns (aka grenade launchers) and armoured fighting vehicles made the Finnish soldiers look like something from a Buck Rogers cartoon. However, once they and the British saw how effective the Maavoimat’s equipment was, they did their level best to acquire it against the express orders of their own senior commanders (the Maavoimat of course equipped the Polish and Estonian forces fighting with them of their own accord – and later the Latvian volunteers that joined as Latvia was retaken). To start with this led to a thriving black market, but once the Maavoimat clicked as to what was happening a decision was made that in return for hard cash (US Dollars or Pounds Sterling Kiitos), American and British soldiers were allowed to buy equipment directly from Maavoimat supply units. This had three direct results – hard foreign exchange for the Finns, lower numbers of allied casualties for the Maavoimat medical units to deal with and reduced casualties for the Allied Forces fighting under the Maavoimat’s overall command.
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Prior to mechanization, logging was a highly manual task requiring a large labour force to achieve any substantial volume output of timber or of timber products such as tar. Tools and techniques changed very little between the 15th and the 20th centuries as the following picture illustrates.
A 15th-century tapestry work illustrating forestry techniques, which includes tree felling and cutting with an ax, cutting of time using a frame saw, and various other aspects of forestry work.
Logging was generally seasonal work and many of the loggers in Finland were small farmers, working their farms during the spring, summer and autumn months and supplementing their income by working as loggers in winter, either on their own wood lots or for the larger forestry companies. The division of labor in logging camps led to several specialized jobs on logging crews, such as whistle punk, chaser, and high climber. (I’m using North American terminology here bcase I don’t know the Finnish names for these jobs, but the general breakdown within the forestry industry was pretty much identical world-wide). The whistle punk's job was to sound a whistle as a signal to the yarder, who controlled the movement of logs and acted as a safety lookout. A good whistle punk had to be alert and think fast as the safety of the others depended on him. The high climber (also known as a tree topper) used iron climbing hooks and rope to ascend a tall tree in the landing area of the logging site, where he would chop off limbs as he climbed, chop off the top of the tree, and finally attach pulleys and rigging to the tree so it could be used as a spar so logs could be skidded into the landing.
High climbers and whistle punks were only phased out in the 1960s to early 1970s when portable steel towers replaced spar trees and radio equipment replaced steam whistles for communication. The chokersetters attached steel cables (or chokers) to downed logs so they could be dragged into the landing by the yarder. The chasers removed the chokers once the logs were at the landing. Chokersetters and chasers were often entry-level positions on logging crews, with more experienced loggers seeking to move up to more skill-intensive positions such as yarder operator and high climber, or supervisory positions such as hooktender. Despite the common perception that all loggers cut trees, the actual felling and bucking of trees were also specialized job positions done by fallers and buckers.
It was only in the very late 19th and early 20th century that new tools such as the two-person broad-bladed saw introduced from North America and then Sweden began to be used for felling large-diameter trees. This saw was also used for bucking the trunks into transportable lengths. Later on, a one-man manual saw with a narrow blade with wooden frames was developed in Finland for small dimension trees. Both saw logs and pulpwood were manually peeled of bark in the forests with simple tools And even with the new tools, it was a hard life – back-breaking manual labour felling, debarking and bucking the trees and moving the timber to collection points in winter using horse and sleighs, then running the logs down waterways to the sawmills in the Spring.
I - Logging with a two-handed saw – early 1900’s
II - Logging with a two-handed saw – early 1900’s
Tukkipuun kaatoa 1900-luvun alussa / Logging in Finland in the early 1900s
Metsätöissä Talvella / Working in the forest in winter
Bucking and limbing a felled tree, circa 1890. Limbing removed the branches while bucking cut the logs into movable lengths which made it easier to lift the logs onto sleighs and slide them into the water.
Puunkuorinta petkeleellä eli teräsimellä Valamanjoen varressa Jongunjoen hoitoalueella / Using Wood Chisels to peeling bark from the logs, Mella River Valaman Jongunjoen treatment area
Naispuolinen savottalainen kaataa puunrunkoa pokasahalla sahaamalla lumisessa metsässä / Woman using a frame saw
Metsätyömiesten vanhempia kämppiä Karjalassa, lähellä Venäjän rajaa. Karjala; / Forest workmen lived in Logging Camps in the woods – these are older cabins in Karelia, near the Russian border.
Even in the early days of industrial logging, care was often taken to selectively log, with specific trees selected and marked for felling during the Summer and Autumn. The “stampers” would select timber stands and specific trees for their employers, estimate how many board feet of lumber the trees would produce and then map the location for the logging teams. Logging gangs would then move through in the winter, felling and collecting the selected trees and leaving the remainder to continue growing.
Metsänhoidollista leimausta Saarikon metsässä Laukaassa / Stamping marks on selected trees, Laukaa
After the trees were felled and cut into transportable lengths came the hard work of actually moving them to collection points. Before mechanization, these collection points were usually on waterways where the logs could be rolled into the water in Spring. The timber was felled and moved over the winter months, when the snow and ice made transport by horse-drawn sled easy (relatively speaking, of course). Ice roads were often used to transport the logs as the solid ice base made the transport of heavy loads of timber faster and more effective. Building and maintaining the ice roads was a large scale task, requiring teams of horses and men to plough and pack the snow, form the ice (using water tanks mounted on horse-drawn sleds to sprinkle water on the hard-packed snow) and keep the ice roads clear over winter. Ice road maintenance was often carried out at night when the roads weren’t being used to transport timber. The size of the loads that could be pulled by horses on these ice roads was quite astounding, as can be seen in one of the following photos.
1928: "Lohkottaista paljaaksihakkausta kaistaleittain. Huomaa eri puutavaralajit." "Nk. reunahakkauksen (?) ensimmäinen aste. Kapea kaistale on hakattu nuorennettavassa metsikössä, alkaen vasemmalla (pohjoispuolella) näkyvästä nuoremman metsikön rajasta. Tukit viety talvella, paperipuut ja halot hakattu seuraavana keväänä." Metsätaloudellisen valistustoimiston postikortti numero 35. Nuutajärven kartano, Urjala, Pirkanmaa. / Blocks of stacked logs. Note the different types of wood. A narrow strip of forest has been clear-cut, on the left (north) is the boundary of some younger forest. The logs were felled and stacked during the winter, then transported to sawmills and paper mills in the following spring." Forest Office of Financial Education Postcard Mumber 35, Nuutajärvi Manor, Urjala, Pirkanmaa.
Jäätien Kunnossapitoa Avonaisella Rämeellä / Ice road maintenance using an open Sleigh
Jäätien kunnossapitoon tarkoitettu tiehöylä (tieaura?) avonaisella rämeellä / A Horse-drawn Grader used for Ice road maintenance - an open sleigh
Jäätien tekoa Ukonjoella. Hevonen vetää vesity slaatikkoa, jonka päällä istuu kaksi miestä. Pielisjärvi (Lieksa), Pohjois-Karjala / Ice road-making. The horse pulls a sled-mounted water tank used for spraying water onto the ice road, on top of which sit two men. Pielinen (Lieksa), North Karelia
The sprinkling crews usually worked at night or on Sundays when the ice roads were not used by the logging sleighs
Water tanks (also called water wagons or water sleighs) could hold as much as 3,000 gallons of water. When plugs at the rear of the tank were pulled, water splashed onto the ice covered logging road making smooth ice for the logging sleighs to pass over.
Metsätyötä hevosen avulla vuonna 1938 / Logging in Finland using a horse in 1938
A load of logs being hauled by a four horse hitch to the log landing, where they will be sent on the river in Spring
“Picture loads” were constructed by logging camps in informal contests to see which camp could load and haul the largest load. These loads were usually constructed annually in the late winter at the end of the logging season when the ice roads were at their slickest. Records were kept informally each year and were a source of pride for logging companies and lumberjacks alike. Called "picture loads" photographers were called in to document the loads. Normal sleigh loads were about 5,000 board feet. The load in this photo consisted of 31,480 board feet of pine logs hauled one mile by a four-horse hitch.
Another large load of Logs pulled by a four horse team
100 000 m3 paperipuuta sellulosatehtaan varastossa Mäntässä. / 100 000 cubic meters of timber stock for the Mäntässä.paper mill
I’m not just waffling here - there are two important factots to consider when looking at the Forestry Industry in Finland. The first is that there was vast experience within the Finnish logging industry in the construction of ice roads – and in the Winter War, ice roads were constructed and used for many purposes, not least for the rapid outflanking of Red Army forces through terrain that the Soviets considered impassable – and for the subsequent movement of artillery and supplies as well as troops. And while the Maavoimat units were mobile on skis, ice roads made the movement of large units on skis even faster. Maavoimat units were highly mobile in winter, and it was a mobility that no military outside of Finland comprehended. The Maavoimat had studied and rehearsed such movements on a smaller scale for years – and the speed, scale and coordination of their unit movements in the Winter War was like nothing the world had seen before. When we come to the Winter War, we will see this occur on numerous occasions outside of the confines of the Karelian Isthmus.
The Finns had the equipment, knowledge and experience to build ice roads to facilitate movement – almost all from the logging industry – and it was an ability they factored in to their military planning and tactics. Reservist Pioneeri (Engineer) units existed whose specialist focus was this task in winter, and the construction of routes through the forest in summer. And such routes could be constructed very rapidly indeed – miles of ice road in one night was not uncommon and where units were brought together, routes could be constructed rapidly on a very large scale indeed. And the ice roads could be rapidly thickened and strengthened for the transport of heavy equipment by the simple method of using pumps and hoses to pump water from lakes and streams onto the ice roads.
The second factor was with regard to logistics. One thing to consider if you deal with sawmills and pulp mills is that you get really really good at controlling and keeping track of logging movements and wood deliveries. Winter logging, which was the standard in the 1930’s, basically means that you need to move all your wood for the year in a short time span over recently constructed ice roads and logging tracks (as trucks were introduced into the logging industry). This is not much different than front line logistics support. Plan the best routes, queue up the trucks and stand back and adjust for the unexpected. And with tens of thousands of trips, there was a great deal of logistical planning and coordination. Also, by the late 1930’s there were some 800 different companies within Finland involved in providing services to the logging industry alone – this is not the logging companies themselves – just the companies supporting the loggers with things like trucks, heavy equipment and the like. There was vast logistical experience here, and it was this experience that fed into the Maavoimat’s transportation and supply units through the involvement of the men working for these companies in the Suojeluskuntas and the Reserves. With limited numbers of men available, the Maavoimat (unlike most military organizations) put a great deal of emphasis on finding square holes for square pegs, and where men had specialized skills, there were generally allocated to units that best suited these.
Talven tullen ajetaan tukit rannalle odottamaan kevättä / Winter comes and the logs wait by the shore, ready to be run downriver in spring
Tukki varastoa Mäntyjärvellä Pihtiputaan pitäjässä / Logs stockpiled at Mäntyjärvellä (Pine Lake), Pihtipudas Parish
Paperipuun ja halkojen varastopaikka / Wood Storage beside a lack – this timber is intended for the Paper Mills
Rivermen (in North America they were called riverhogs) equipped with spiked boots and pike poles would move the logs down river to the sawmills. Log rolling, the art of staying on top of a floating log while "rolling" the log by walking, was another skill much in demand among lumberjacks. It was dangerous work for the riverhogs but the success of log drives meant economic life or death for the sawmills. Individual lumbering companies had their marks stamped into the ends of the logs. Most of these log marks were registered, but there were pirates who stole logs from the river before they were delivered to sawmills. When the logs were at the collection booms on the river more sorting began. Logs in the sorting pens were fastened together with rope and wooden rafting pins. Some companies preferred iron rings and chains. These rafts were then towed to the company mill pond.
Tukkeja vieritetään uit ettaviksi Laklajoella Jongun joen hoitoalueella / Logs are rolled into the water from the Storage areas - Laklajoella Jongun river management area
The spring thaw made for considerable volumes of water in the streams and rivers, which made moving the logs easier – but also dangerous.
1932: Tukeista tehty uittokouru jyrkässä Pusurinjoen Louhikoskessa Lieksan hoitoalueella / A steep chite for floating Logs - Pusurin Dragon River rapids, Lieksa management area
Tukkiränni idyllisessä ympäristössä Jaalan pitäjän Karijärven vesistössä / A log chute in the idyllic surroundings of the upper reaches of the Kari Lake watershed. Where the waterways were too small or rocky or where rapids would obstruct movement of the timber, log chutes were often used and the timber was directed down these.
A log chute was a man-made trough that was used to carry logs over rough river landscape to a sawmill or down to a major river. Log chutes were built by the logging companies that held the cutting rights in the area where the chute was required. When a logging company performed its annual inspection of trackways and camps in preparation for the next season, workers would also inspect and repair log chutes. Repairs were made with whatever kind of wood was handy, sturdy, and not valuable. Log chutes were always attached to dams that were also built by the logging companies. These dams, built of timber crib construction, held back the water until the spring log drives when thousands of logs would be flushed downstream in a mighty torrent. To maintain the dams and check on water levels required the services of a “damkeeper”. Travelling by horse, on foot, by boat or a combination of any of these, this man would travel his circuit and report back the status of structures and levels to the logging company.
Kevätuittoa Aittokoskella. Uittoränni kosken alajuoksulta katsottuna / Kevätuittoa Aittojärvi rapids. Timber Slide can be seen center top of the photo
Lotinan eli tilapäisen padon pohjan raivausta Ukonjoella / Building a dam on the river
1932: Näkymä lotinan, tilapäisen padon, luikusta. Vasemmalla valmista, oikealla keskeneräistä lotinaa. Näreillä toisiinsa sidottujen ja kuntalla eli suoturpeella tiivistettyjen tukkien päälle on vielä lisättävä uusia. Koitereen hoitoalue / View of a temporary dam used to glide logs downstrean. On the left the dam is finished, on the right its is unfinished. Logs are chained to each other, the foundation sites directly on the peat. Koitere management area
1938: Lotina valmiina uittoa varten. Lotinassa näkyy pönkkien tukemat niskahirret, joiden varaan on ladottu neulaset. Niitä vastaan painavat tukeista ladotut kossat, jotka lisäksi painavat alla olevan täytteen tiiviiksi. Taustalla lotinan yläpuolella ajettu puutavara. Talviaisjoki / Logs area stored ready for floating behind a dam.
Metsätaloudellisen valistustoimiston postikortti numero 22. Tukkeja uitetaan patoaukon läpi. Salmi, Karjala / Logs are floated through a hole in the dam. Salmi, Karelia
1930: Pato eli tammi on täyttynyt ääriään myöten ja uitto on alkanut Hiirenjärvellä Valtimon hoitoalueella / It’s Jnanuary and the Dam is filled to the bri, Floating the logs downstream has begun
1931 – Logs coming down the river
Mutkaiseen koskeen on rakennettu seiniä ottamaan vastaan ja ohjaamaan tukkien syöksyjä / Curved walls have been built with logs along the banks of the river to receive and guide the logs downstream
Purouittoa Ägläjärven ja Yläjärven välillä Suistamolla. Miehet seisovat kossilla ohjaten kekseillä tukkeja virtaavassa vedessä. Kossat on rakennettu tukeista puron molemmille rannoille, jotta uitettavat tukit eivät tarttuisi kiinni rantakiviin. Puron yli on tehty silta kahdesta tukista, jotka ovat kossien varassa / The men are standing and directing the logs in the flowing water. The Chute is built of logs on both shores of the creek, so as to prevent logs jamming in the rocks. The bridge over the creek is made of two logs, which rest on the sides of the Chute.
Kevättulva nousemassa Ylä-Koitajoella / Logs coming down the River in the Spring Flood
1929: Kevättulva on noussut Viekinjoessa ja uittomiehet purkavat tukkikasoja uittoon. / The river has risen with the Spring floods, logs \ are floating in the river and the men are moving logs into the water
Further downstream in more placid water, the work of running the logs was less dangerous.
Kuivan kevään takia tulvavesi ei noussut Ruunaanjärvessä, jolloin suuri suma jäi luhdalle pitkien vierity smat kojen taakse Itkiin pohjassa / A dry spring did not raise the water in Lake Ruunaa. As a result, a large backlog of logs have collected
1930: Rauhallista jokiuittoa Tohlin joella eli Ukonjoen alajuoksulla Koitereen hoitoalueella / Loggers in a boat on the River Tohlin guiding logs downstream – Koitere management area
Log floaters in the Skogfoss rapids
Log floating in the Pasvik River
Log floating in Ovre Pasvik 1925. The same style of boat was used by loggers in North America on the rivers there.
And in fact, even in old illustrations (this os Gallen-Kallela - The defence of the Sampo) from the Kalevala, you can see the same style of boat……
Vesikuljetus on halvempaa kuin rautateitse Paperipuista valmistettu proomu Saimaan kanavassa / Water transport is cheaper than rail. A Saimaa Canal timber barge
Kissakosken tehdas. Hirvensalmi, Savo, Etelä-Savo / Kissakoski factory. Hirvensalmi, Savo, South Savo
Paperitehdas, puuhiomo ja saha lännestä katsottuna / The paper mill and log holding pond
Before the railway was invented, logs were transported in large numbers from the forests down rivers either freely or as wooden rafts. This was not without its problems and wood was often damaged in transit. In addition suitable rivers were not always available. However the invention of the steam locomotive and steel rails soon led to these being employed for forestry. However the difficult terrain within forests meant that narrow gauge railways, which took up less space, were lighter and easier to build (and remove) and which enabled tight curves to be laid, were preferred. These were the so-called forest railways. Special small locomotive classes were developed for use on these lines. From the second half of the 20th century forest railways were threatened by road transportation and by the end of the 1960s they had practically disappeared. Roads were often laid in their place on the old trackbeds.
Generally, the forest railways within Finland only existed in areas owned and managed by the large state forestry companies – but where they did exist, they enable large volumes of timber to be extracted quickly, regardless of the season of the year. However, they were capital-intensive and relatively inflexible, meaning that as trucks became more common, the forest railways began to disappear.
Forest Railway carrying Hikers in the summer
Forest Railway - wagons loaded with timber
Kuorma-autolla ajetaan halkoja, kuorma on sidottu naruilla kiinni / A truck carrying small logs, the load is tied on with rope.
Henkilöauto on törmännyt sähköpylvääseen ja kaatunut kumolleen tien poskeen. Pylväs on mennyt poikki. " Mellan Borgå och Sibbo 1930. " Negatiivipussissa teksti: metsäkongressi 1927. Porvoo, Sipoo, Uusimaa / Passenger Has crashed and rolled into an electric pole. Column is broken. "Mella Borgå och Sipoo 1930." Negatiivipussissa Text: Forestry Congress in 1927. Porvoo, Sipoo, Uusimaa
Early Logging Truck – 1920’s – early roads were poor, the engines were small and the tires were solid. No power steering either. Driving these trucks was tough and dangersous work. In the background you can see a “spar tree” - a tall tree in the landing area of the logging site to which pulleys and rigging was attached so it could be used as a spar so logs could be skidded into the landing and onto the trucks
The advent of trucks starting in the 1920’s meant that logging could also take place in summer, although in Finland the use of vehicles in the industry was initially restricted to the large forestry companies who could afford the capital outlay needed to buy the trucks and construct and maintain the logging roads which would enable the trucks to be used.
1930’s – early Sisu Oy Logging Truck
In this, Finland benefitted from the early experiences with mechanisation in North America and, interestingly enough, in Latvia. Latvia and Estonia in the 1920’s and 1930’s both had fairly large scale forestry industries – and in Latvia at least, the forests were state-owned. Without the lakes and rivers of Finland to facilitate the movement of wood, Latvia had a relatively gentle landscape. Latvia thus relied on sleighs in winter and carts in summer and was an early adopter of the use of vehicles within the forestry industry, with logging tracks designed for sleighs and carts proving easily adaptable to use by trucks. Latvian forests were soon criss-crossed with plenty of good logging roads. Experience with the use of trucks from Latvia (and Estonia) percolated northwards into Finland very quickly. Finland’s economy was strong and there was an ongoing demand for labour, with shortages in the workforce often being met by Estonians (the similarity in languages meant Estonians had no major language issues) and to a much lesser extent, Latvians.
“Latvian valtion metsissä on runsaasti hyviä teitä, joita myöten voidaan ajaa autolla" - Latvia / Latvia's state-owned forests have plenty of good roads, which can be easily used by cars - Latvia
Aside from the forestry industry, Finland and Latvia had many ties through the 1920s and 1930s, and the booming Finnish economy both imported from these countries (largely agricultural products) and also saw them as an important export market for many manufactured items. There were also ongoing political and military links between Finland, Estonia and Latvia (which will be covered in detail in a subsequent post) – and these links, economic, political, military and even individual, would have far-flung ramifications.
To give one specific example of the far-flung ramifications of these links, ties and inter-dependancies, just one of these Latvian immigrants was Alfred Kabzems, of whom we will see much more - born on a farm near Wolmar, Latvia on June 20, 1911, Kabzems graduated from High School, completed his period of conscription in the Latvian Army and then worked as a merchant seaman on Latvian ships. The boom in Finnish merchant shipping and the better wages paid by Finnish shipowners (relative to Latvia at least) soon saw him working as a seaman on Finnish cargo ships where he travelled the world for a number of years. In 1933 he took a shore job in Finland as an apprentice scaler and then in 1935 he took a position as a sawmill supervisor. At the same time he applied for and was granted Finnish citizenship and also joined the Suojeluskuntas, being excused Finnish conscript service due to his prior Latvian Army training.
He returned to Latvia briefly in 1935, where he married his childhood sweetheart and classmate with whom he had started school in 1921, Austra, who then joined him in Finland. When the Winter War broke out in late 1939, Kabzems fought as a member of the Maavoimat while his wife joined the Lotta Svard organisation. Some months after the war ended, early in 1941, Kabzems and his wife returned to Latvia in an attempt to move family members to Finland but were trapped by the Soviet occupation, fortunately avoiding the fate of deportation or outright execution that all to many Latvians suffered at the hands of the murderous thugs of the NKVD. Unable to escape during the Soviet occupation, Kabzems and his wife were trapped in Latvia at the time of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Kabzems took the opportunity to study at the University of Riga and then the Agricultural Academy in Jelgava, graduating as a Forestry Engineer in 1943. In mid 1943, one of the more secretive units within the Maavoimat’s Special Operations Forces established contact with Kabzems in Latvia as Finland prepared for war with Germany.
Following this contact, Kabzems became an early and senior member of the underground Latvian Army and took on an active role in recuiting Latvians for the Finnish-organised underground Latvian Army, including many members of the Latvian Legion who were at that stage fighting the Russians within the Waffen SS. The Finnish Special Operations Forces spent most of 1943 building up an underground network in Estonia, Latvia and to a lesser extent in Lithuania as well as establishing contacts with the Polish Home Army. Kabzems, speaking Finnish and a Finnish as well as Latvian citizen and with his military experience and rank in the Maavoimat from the Winter War, was trusted by the Maavoimat’s Special Operations Forces and found himself in an increasingly senior position within the underground Latvian Army. As the Maavoimat moved southwards into Latvia, Kabzems led the underground Latvian Army into open war with the Germans.
Following the liberation of Latvia, Kabzems was appointed Divisional Commander for one of the newly formed Latvian Army Divisions and led his Division into Poland and then Germany as part of the Finnish-led Allied Army under the overall command of Marshal Mannerheim. Kabzems commanded and fought with ability and distinction through this period, before returning to an independent Latvia at the end of the war.
As we move through the history of the Winter War, Alfred Kabzems' name will pop up now and then, but his major role would be played out in the last years of WW2, from 1943 on. After the war, Kabzems continued serve in the Latvian Army but his real wish was to return to a life of working in the forestry industry. This proved difficult for him to achieve in Latvia due to the military distinctions he had received but in 1947, feeling that Latvia’s independence was now secure and his duty to his country had been done, he and his wife, Austra immigrated to Canada where he worked in the forests of Saskatchewan as a timber cruiser, forester and eventually as Director of Forest Inventory. He was recognized as a pioneer forest ecologist and published articles and books in English and Latvian on topics related to silviculture and forest productivity. In 1996 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Latvian Agricultural University, recognizing his contributions to forestry, forestry research and his services to forestry organizations. A scholarship fund was established in his name in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Jelgava, Latvia. Alfred Kabzems died in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on July 26th 2011.
Alfred Kabzems provides just one of many examples.
Kuitupuuta kuormataan kourakuormaimella kuorma-auton lavalle / Pulpwood loaded onto a truck using a grapple loader
The Construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway - 1939
As a practical illustration of the experience within Finland that existed within the logging and construction industry at the end of the 1930’s, the construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway is an outstanding example. Within the context of the entire Second World War, perhaps the only two comparable engineering projects were the constructions of the Alaska Highway and the Burma Road – both of which came well after the construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway. The later Petsamo Highway, built in 1940, while a major engineering feat, was based on an existing highway and while it was completed rapidly in light of the German invasion of Norway, there was not quite the same groundbreaking factor involved.
In the next Post, we’ll go on to look at the construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway in detail as an example of the military use to which the equipment and experience that existed within the Finnish forestry industry was put in a time of dire need.
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This saw is called "Justeeri", used until late 1950s.CanKiwi2 wrote:I - Logging with a two-handed saw – early 1900’s
Rivermen (in North America they were called riverhogs) equipped with spiked boots and pike poles would move the logs down river to the sawmills.CanKiwi2 wrote:Rivermen (in North America they were called riverhogs) equipped with spiked boots and pike poles would move the logs down river to the sawmills. Log rolling, the art of staying on top of a floating log while "rolling" the log by walking, was another skill much in demand among lumberjacks. It was dangerous work for the riverhogs but the success of log drives meant economic life or death for the sawmills. Individual lumbering companies had their marks stamped into the ends of the logs. Most of these log marks were registered, but there were pirates who stole logs from the river before they were delivered to sawmills. When the logs were at the collection booms on the river more sorting began. Logs in the sorting pens were fastened together with rope and wooden rafting pins. Some companies preferred iron rings and chains. These rafts were then towed to the company mill pond.
In Finnish "Tukkijätkä" or simply "Jätkä".
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As a practical illustration of the experience within Finland that existed within the logging and construction industry at the end of the 1930’s, the construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway is an outstanding example. Within the context of the entire Second World War, perhaps the only two comparable engineering projects were the constructions of the Alaska Highway and the Burma Road – both of which came well after the construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway. The later Petsamo Highway, built in 1940, while a major engineering feat, was based on an existing highway and while it was completed rapidly in light of the German invasion of Norway, there was not quite the same groundbreaking factor involved.
The construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway as an emergency measure had been sparked off by the Munich Crisis of September 1938. This and the subsequent dismemberment of Czechosolvakia, the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations and the appeasement of Germany by France and Britain at the cost of the independance of a small European state had come as a shock to many in the Finnish Government. To others, it was a vindication of all they had been warning about for so many years. Munich also unfortunately resulted in the abrupt termination of a number of as yet unfulfilled orders for military equipment that Skoda was in the process of completing for the Finnish Army, chiefly Artillery pieces – orders that Germany simply took over without compensation. Finland’s protests were ignored and while Germany continued to be a major trading partner for Finland, the actions of the German government did nothing to improve the Finnish-German relationship, which was in any case at best peripheral for Germany.
The Government of Finland responded in a number of different ways – these we will cover in later posts. Suffice it to say that in the event of a major European war, as in WWI it was expected that shipping traffic to and from the Baltic would be cut. Thus it was planned that in the case of a global conflict or of a war between Finland and the USSR, the majority of the fast cargo ships would be sent out of the Baltic in order to operate to and from Swedish and Norwegian ports. As port capacity of the Swedish port of Göteborg and the Norwegian port of Bergen would almost certainly be hard pressed, the basic wartime shipping contingency plan was to utilize Narvik for emergency import and export tasks. The planned use of Narvik was facilitated by three factors: First was that congestion in Narvik had decreased due to the shifting of iron ore transportation to the Swedish port of Luleå, and secondly, due to the fact that Sweden, whose major industries and population were concentrated in the south, was unlikely to fully utilize Luleå port’s full capability. Third was the rail link to Narvik.
Despite disparate railway gauges between the Swedish and Finnish rail networks (1524mm for Finland and 1435mm for Sweden) this was the only really viable alternative link that was usable for major volumes of freight – and this was also a bottleneck in a crisis situation. Firstly, the 103 mile long line from Boden in Sweden north to Haparanda (and then a further 1.9 miles from Haparanda to Tornio in Finland) was only a single track line. This railway was built in several sections over the course of 17 years with first segment from Buddbyn to Niemisel completed in 1900, followed by the segment Niemisel to Morjärv in 1902. The railway did not reach Lappträsk until in 1910, and the Swedish–Russian border at Karungi on the west bank of Torne River was not reached until 1913. Karungi was to become a junction, and the railway reaching northward to Övertorneå was not build until 1914, followed by the southern Karungi to Haparanda line in 1915. The only open railway connection between Germany and Russia during World War I ran through here. Lenin traveled here in 1917 to organise the Russian Revolution. The rail bridge over the Torne River between Haparanda and Tornio was only placed in service in 1919. Before that passengers had to walk or use horse carriages the short distance between the cities. The Haparanda station building was finished in 1918, and was sized based on the traffic during the war. All international travelers had to change trains here because of the break-of-gauge, and had to go through passport checks.
The Scandinavian Rail Network
Haparanda Station, Sweden
The Haparanda-Tornio Rail Bridge (note the different rail gauges – 1524mm for Finland, 1435mm for Sweden – as late as 1915, Sweden's fear of the old enemy Russia was stronger than the economic reasons to establish a direct rail link).
During World War I in 1914-1916 Tornio had experienced an unprecedented period of bustling trade. As soon as the war started Russia's usual foreign trade access points through the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea were closed off. As Russia's wartime economy was dependant on imports, trade routes had to be changed to alternative paths. Goods started to be transported via Sweden and Norway to Finland and onwards to Russia. Russian exports were partly also transported via the same route. As a large part of these goods passed through Tornio, since there was already a railway in place, the traffic conditions of the city were completely revolutionized. Tornio was not only important to the upkeep of Russia but in the war years it was a major transit point for Finnish foreign trade.
Even though Tornio was merely a transit point, this traffic left money behind in many ways and as a byproduct Tornio's own commerce flourished. All major trading companies from the southern Finnish cities set up offices in Tornio to manage the transport of goods between Tornio and Haparanda across the border in Sweden. In Tornio many new companies were also established and there was an unlimited amount of work for them. The transport companies hired all available horses and freight costs were high.The largest such company, Karl Boström, quickly arranged a horse freight service via Kilpisjärvi to Lyngenfjord in Norway (and it was recent memories and experience with this link that gave rise to the Lyngenfjord Highway proposal of the late 1930’s – this was not a venture into the unknown, it was a route that had been heavily used only 20 years earlier). This unending stream of transport saw its height in 1916 while in the year of the revolution in 1917 the trade to Russia dried up. Even so in the early spring of 1918 Tornio was still the commercial gateway to “white” Finland. Many refugees as well as prisoners of war who had escaped from prison camps also travelled through Tornio in both directions. The border at Tornio also became an exchange point between Germany and Russia for the exchange of prisoners and the wounded.
A railway between Tornio and Haparanda would have assisted greatly in the transportation of goods over the course of WW1 but the link was not completed until 1919. Post 1919, exports through Tornio to Sweden and via Scandinavia to the rest of the world would continue to be remarkably extensive and importing businesses also started to take advantage of the railway link. There were some hindrances – the different rail gauges between the two rail networks meant that onward freight in both directions needed to be cross-loaded, and in the early 1920’s, this was a labour intensive task. Logistical handling improvements speeded up this work and reduced the costs of cross-loading substantially (as was covered in one of the very early posts).
However, the single line link WAS a logistical bottleneck and there was also a potential political problem in that Sweden could not be relied on to support Finland unequivocally should a war break out between. As we will cover in a later Post, from the mid 1920’s onwards, Finland had continuously worked to try and build a defensive alliance with Sweden. These efforts however had not had any success – Sweden was cautious with any action that had the potential to bring the country into a conflict wit the USSR (old fears of Russia were always close to the surface). There was an additional factor, in that the leftist governments of Sweden were suspicious of the Finnish governments (there was no great love for the Finnish conservative coalition governments of the 1920s, and even the “Red Earth” coalition was looked at with suspicion). Thus, there was a continuing “risk factor” that in a war between Finland amd Sweden, Swedish support might be non-existent and pressure on Sweden from the USSR might result in any links to the external world through Sweden also being cut. Thus, while the rail route to Narvik was a likely contingency route, it was not by any means guaranteed. Likewise, the rail link to Narvik itself was a bottleneck. Perhaps a little more description of this link is in order before we examine the Lyngenfjord Highway Project in detail.
The Railway to Narvik
While Narvik is a town with a long history, it only really became important in the 1870’s, when the Swedish government began to understand the potential of the iron ore mines in Kiruna, Sweden. Some of the best iron in the world comes from Sweden. One of the most important iron ore districts of Sweden—the Norrbotten District— lies in the wild fastnesses of Lapland, beyond the Arctic Circle. The existence of the great Lapland ore fields was well known generations ago, but the iron workable in those parts had a high content of phosphorus, which made it useless in the smelting methods used in days gone by. Lapland ore consists of magnetite (magnetic oxide of iron), and has an iron content of 60 to 65 per cent, this varying according to the amount of phosphorus in the ore. The greater the phosphorus percentage, the less is that of iron. Iron to-day dominates the region that stretches in an attenuated form from the Gulf of Bothnia in Sweden to the coast of the North Atlantic at Narvik, in Norway.
Once that district was remote and as little penetrated as was the Hudson Bay area in Canada. To-day, electric trains run across and through the mountains, and men have built busy industrial towns in the middle of the primeval forest. Iron was the sole reason for these developments. Away from the beaten track—that is, the iron ore districts and their traffic artery—Lapland is still virgin country. Though the smelting and conversion to steel are not carried on in the Norrbotten District, the Basic Bessemer process was the immediate cause of the development of that district. In his original process, Sir Henry Bessemer was obliged to avoid using phosphoric iron because it was unsuitable for his original converters. In 1878 the engineers Thomas and Gilchrist, faced with this disability of the Bessemer process, conceived the idea of lining the furnaces or converters with magnesia and lime where phosphoric iron was to be treated. They bonded the mixture together with tar, or similar material containing little silica, and added lime to the metal during the blowing process. The magnesian limestone mixture absorbs phosphorus out of the molten iron as long as oxidization is continued, as, for example, by the frequent addition of ore containing iron oxide. Thus the introducers of the Basic Bessemer process assured the future of the Lapland ore fields.
The 'eighties of the last century saw the first developments in the opening up of the Lapland iron ore district. Close to Gallivare, nearly fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle, rose the great Malmberg, 2,026 feet high and described as a "solid mountain of iron." "Reef" would, perhaps, be a more correct term, though the name Malmberg means "iron mountain." This huge reef, between three and four miles in length, consists chiefly of bright specular iron (crystalline sesquioxide of iron) mixed with magnetic oxide of iron. The Malmberg, however, could not be worked without a means for carrying the ore away to the sea for shipment. Obtaining iron ore from Kiruna had one significant problem in that there was no suitable Swedish port. The nearest Swedish port, Luleå, had limitations. It was covered with ice all winter, it was quiote a distance from Kiruna, and it could service only medium-sized bulk freight vessels. Of roads in Swedish Lapland there were none worth the name. None of the country's huge rivers, with their rapids and falls, could support shipping, and iron ore could not be carried down these swift rivers in the same way as timber. Realizing these problems, a Swedish company (Gällivarre Aktiebolag) decided to build a railway to Narvik, through surroundings and into latitudes where the locomotive had never before been imagined, as the port there is ice-free thanks to the warm Gulf Stream, and is naturally large, allowing ships of virtually any size to anchor. Therefore, Narvik was established as an all-year ice free port for the Kiruna and Gällivare iron mines.
In 1887 work was begun by British engineers on the railway from Lulea, on the Gulf of Bothnia, to Gallivare and Malmberg. This line was owned by the North Europe Railway Company and was promoted by capitalists in England. The railway to the Gallivare area was opened in 1888, and with its inauguration the mining engineers were able to make a beginning. After the start made at Gallivare, the prospectors pushed on, still farther north, to the great ore reefs known as Kiirunavaara and Luossavaara. To reach these reefs the engineers had to carry their line more than 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They penetrated virgin forest and bare mountain-side until they reached the reefs. The main reef, Kiirunavaara, appears from a distance as a serrated mountain ridge and has a length of nearly five miles. The Luossavaara reef, besides being considerably smaller, forms the summit of a rounded hill. The three reefs already mentioned are estimated to contain at least a billion and a half tons of ore. It is probable that a great deal more remains for the prospector. In addition to these, there are lesser workings owned by the Swedish Government in Lapland at Svappavaara, Leveaniemi, Ekstromsberg and Mertainen.
Dr. Hjalmar Lundbohm was the father of the Kiirunavaara workings and of the modern township of Kiruna which has sprung up beside them out of the northern waste. He saw his projects realized in the early years of the present century and to-day the community virtually founded by him is the largest in the whole of the Norrbotten District. In this district the mining engineers use the "open cut" system in attacking the great reefs at the Gallivare and Kiruna centres. This means that they quarry out the sides of the reef in terraces, or "benches," as they are called, so that the mountain looks as if it has been cut into a series of enormous steps. The miners bore the face of the mountain with powerful rock drills and insert their charges. When a blasting operation is about to take place a siren is sounded and an observer sees figures on the face of the workings beginning to move away from the critical place. Again the siren sounds, a third time and a fourth. Finally another siren, with a deeper pitch, sends forth a long-drawn note as a last warning. Then the man responsible fires his charge. There is heard the deep, thudding volley of the charges, followed by the crash of falling rock.
In adopting the open-cut system, the engineers had to evolve means of getting the ore quickly and easily away from the working face and into the trains which carry it off for export. This was done by making "glory holes," as they are called in English-speaking countries. At ground level the men pierce the face of the mountain with a series of railway tunnels, each terminating in a dead end. This dead end contains a spacious ore bunker, from which the excavators bore what is known as a "raise," straight upwards through the rock until they break ground on the surface of the bench overhead. The upper end of the raise they widen out in a funnel formation, so that the glory hole acts as a huge chute, with a hopper at the top. The miners clear away the ore from the face of the cliff and pass it into huge crushers which reduce the pieces of ore to a size suitable for shooting down the glory hole. Small tram-roads assist in carrying material on the benches and huge power-driven shovels do the lifting and dumping.
THE GLORY HOLE of an open iron ore mine is shown in this sectional diagram. The glory hole is a chute or funnel-shaped shaft, leading from the working face to a bunker at the end of a tunnel along which railway trucks remove the ore.
This entire operation of blasting, crushing and transporting to the tops of the raises is known as milling. While the milling is going on up above, the men at work in the bunkers down below are busy. As the ore falls into the bunkers, it is held back by strong gates, from which the loaders draw it off, finally shooting it into the waiting railway wagons in the tunnel. The open cut system of mining is a method of some antiquity. Miners knew it long before they knew the deep shaft, the high-speed winding engine or galleries situated about a mile below the surface of the earth. In Germany all classes of mining are known as Bergwerk, or "mountain working" and, on considering the open cut system, we see how the early mining engineers came to use this term. When the first pioneers came to the Lapland ore fields, they saw that the open cut system would be the one to employ on the vast reefs round Gallivare and Kiruna. Where it can be practised the system eliminates many difficulties with which the builders of underground workings have to contend. The open benches cannot be flooded nor can they catch fire. The dangers from falling rock, though they exist, are far less than in the vast systems of underground galleries common in Great Britain and elsewhere. The ore is on the surface, waiting to be taken away.
The township of Kiruna is a good example of town planning. For his site Dr. Lundbohm took a relatively low hill and arranged the roads of the residential parts as a series of concentric rings girdling its lower slopes. On the summit he set the site for the public buildings which to-day consist principally of a bank, a post office, a church and a cinema. With this nucleus it is an easy matter to expand the town without destroying its symmetry and initial layout. The great Lapland Ore Railway is the traffic artery without which the whole industry in these remote parts would be at a standstill. When the old North Europe Railway Company began work on its first section between Gallivare and the coast, it had a relatively easy task before it. Sweden has a generally easy slope down towards the Baltic and the Gulf of Bothnia from the central Scandinavian mountain chain, which divides the country from Norway on the west. In carrying their line up from the coast, the railway engineers took a fairly straight slant across this gradual inclination. The gradients were relatively easy and the engineers encountered none of the difficulties that were keeping their colleagues at bay in Norway. After a time, however, the private company gave place to Swedish Government interests.
ACROSS THE ARCTIC CIRCLE to Narvik, on the Otot Fjord, Norway, the Iron Ore Railway affords a direct outlet from the iron ore districts of Lapland at all times of the year. The railway was built from Lulea, on the Gulf of Bothnia, and work began in 1887.
In the beginning of the present century the railway engineers completed their line over the great Lapland mountains, by dint of superhuman work with rock drill and blasting charge. In 1884, Gellivare Aktiebolag (taken over in 1889 by LKAB) was granted a concession for mining in Malmberget. Four years later, the first part of the Ore Line, from Malmberget to Luleå, was completed. In 1889, the mining company filed for bankruptcy, and the Government of Sweden bought the line for 8 million Swedish krona, half the original investment cost. Construction of the Ore Line and Ofoten Line from Gällevare to Narvik started in 1898 and was completed in 1902. The Norwegian section of the Line was called Ofotbanen (the Ofoten Line) and was a 43-kilometre (27 mi) railway line running from the Port of Narvik to Riksgränsen on the Norway–Sweden border, where the line continues as the Ore Line via Kiruna and Gällivare to Luleå.The Ofoten Line was single track, electrified at 15 kV 16⅔ Hz AC and with seven stations. Construction of the Ofoten Line started in 1898, simultaneously with construction work on the Ore Line from Riksgränsen to Kiruna.
The year 1902 saw the first, ore trains running through from Kiruna to Narvik allowing iron ore to be hauled from the mines in Kiruna to the ice-free Port of Narvik. The Lapland iron industry was independent of the Lapland winter at last. But the opening of the through railway line did not solve the problems of the engineers responsible for the transport of the ore. Their walls, giant fences and snowsheds might ward off the devastating effects of sliding snow, but they had still the drifting snow to contend with. At first they adopted the same methods as are used in Great Britain on the exposed lines of the Scottish Highlands and on the Pennines. A locomotive would have a great prow-shaped plough built up over its buffers and smokebox; two others would be coupled up behind, and the three, thus armoured, would be sent at speed into the drifts. This method worked fairly well, but there was always an element of danger in it and it could scarcely be described as scientific. One day in the winter of 1904 a plough, thus driven by three locomotives, met with such resistance that all were thrown off the track.
Because of this accident, the Mechanical Engineer's Department of the Swedish State Railways decided that the only way to deal with such a climate as that of Lapland was to adopt the rotary type of plough. Briefly, this consists of a huge multi-bladed wheel or rotor, with a central cutting boss, mounted on the front of a special railway van and turned by a powerful engine inside the van. With this appliance, those responsible for keeping the track clear are able to screw their way through the drifts instead of forcing through them. As the rotor turns, it automatically shoots the waste snow out at one side of the stout steel hood that covers it. The entire snow plough is propelled by an ordinary locomotive coupled up behind it. The ploughs, originally steam-driven, are to-day electrically operated. The Swedish State Railways' engineers were the first to apply electricity as a motive power for snow ploughs.
The original motive power of the Iron Ore Railway was steam. From the first, the Operating Department found that steam had its limitations. The steam locomotive is not an ideal form of power in exceptionally cold climates, and the winter temperature in the mountains of Lapland is often round about zero Fahrenheit. The engines, too, were of only moderate power, and at first it was normal for three to be requisitioned for hauling one ore train over the mountains, a wasteful and costly process, particularly in a country such as Sweden, which has few coalfields and has to import her fuel. Large engines were built in an attempt to reduce piloting and its attendant costs, but shortly before the war of 1914—18 the engineers of the Swedish State Railways decided that electrification would provide the solution of their traction troubles. Even this was not without its difficulties. They could not use conductor rails, which are most susceptible to the effects of ice and snow.
Having studied methods which were then being adopted in the Alpine countries, they decided to use the single-phase system, feeding current to overhead contact wires at 16,000 volts, 15 cycles. For the source of their energy they chose the Great Lulea River, near where it flows out of the Suorva Lakes on the first stage of its journey down to the coast at Lulea. They placed the hydro-electric power station at Porjus. As a protection against climatic conditions the machinery was installed in a hall 160 feet below ground. Porjus Power Station contains six single-phase generators for traction and power, one being held in reserve. The energy is generated at 4,000 volts, 15 cycles, but the transformers feed it to the overhead transmission lines at a pressure of 80,000 volts. Two main transmission lines radiate from Porjus to the fifteen sub-stations, where the current is stepped down to its final pressure of 16,000 volts. Of these lines one runs northwards and forks, sending branches to Kiruna and Tarendo, and the other southwards to the Gulf of Bothnia.
On 19 January 1915, the Ore Line between Riksgränsen and Kiruna was electrified. Until 1925, Swedish Oe locomotives were used. NSB decided to order two types of electric locomotive for the line: El 3 and El 4. El 3 was nearly identical to Oe and was a twin unit locomotive with a combined power output of 2,132 kilowatts (2,859 hp). Four twin units were delivered in 1925, and a fifth in 1929. The El 4 locomotives were longer and more powerful, and operated as singles. Each single El 4 had the same power output as a twin El 3. Two units were delivered in 1926, two in 1928 and one in 1929.
Operation and ownership of the Ofoten Line was held by the Norwegian State Railways. A plan for electrification of the Ofoten Line had been made in 1911, but not until 1920 did parliament approve the plans. Operations with electric traction engines started on 15 May 1923, and the line was officially opened on 10 July. and started using El 3 and El 4 locomotives. The full ore trains operated at 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph), while the empty return trains operated at 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph). NSB operated the trains using their rolling stock from Narvik to Abisko, where there was a change of locomotive and operating company.
THE DAM ACROSS THE GREAT LULEA RIVER, where it flows out of the Suorva Lakes, in north-west Sweden, is 4,115 feet long and 42 feet high. The dam had to be specially strengthened to resist the pressure of the ice brought down the river in winter. Water for driving the turbines in the generating stations is drawn through a tunnel bored through the solid rock. Power is transmitted to the Iron Ore Railway by overhead conductors.
AT A DEPTH OF 160 FEET below the surface of the ground is the dynamo room of the Porjus Power Station. In this hall, 230 feet long and 33 feet high, the temperature is 50° Fahrenheit when there are 72 degrees of frost above. Power from this station is supplied to the Iron Ore Railway and to the iron ore fields and works in the Norrbotten District.
ONE OF THE STEEL PYLONS which carry the transmission fines of the Iron Ore Railway across 316 miles of bleak fells and deserted forests. Power is generated at Porjus, in Sweden, and transmitted at a pressure of 80,000 volts to the fifteen sub-stations, where it is stepped down to 16,000 volts.
AN IRON ORE TRAIN on the Lulea-Narvik railway. Ore from the prolific fields of Malmberget (the "iron mountain "), Kiirunavaara, Luossavaara and other workings in the Norrbotten district is transported by this railway for shipment either at Narvik, in Norway, or at Lulea, on the Gulf of Bothnia, the northern arm of the Baltic Sea.
Altogether these transmission lines, with their gaunt steel pylons straddling the bleak fells and deserted forests, cover upwards of 316 route miles. The sub-stations are situated at intervals of twenty miles from one another. By June 14, 1923, electric traction was in operation throughout between the Gulf of Bothnia and the North Atlantic coast at Narvik. Since that date the whole of the traction on the Ore Railway, and all the machinery used in connexion with the workings at Gallivare and Kiruna, have been operated by energy drawn from the fall of the Lapland rivers. Nature, the old enemy, was thus tamed by the engineers into becoming the prime mover. To regulate the flow out of the Suorva Lakes, feeding the works at Porjus and Harspranget, experts sent into the North by the Government decided to throw a dam or barrage across the Great Lulea River at a point near where it leaves the Lakes at the beginning of its downward course. Their preliminary work began in 1919, and they undertook it at a point near the head of the river where it was divided into two channels. Across the western channel they built a dam with no outlet. For the eastern channel they provided two tunnels passing under a dam equal in height to the western dam, the water being headed up 343 feet. The tunnels are not incorporated in the dam itself, for the builders bored them through the solid rock underneath. One of the tunnels is sufficient to regulate the flow, the other being provided as a stand-by.
Protection of Machinery from Ice
The ice formations in the Lapland rivers presented a formidable problem to the builders of dams and hydro electric installations. They had particular trouble in rapids situated above power plants. "Anchor ice" formed on the boulders at the bottom of the stream. In due course this ice became loosened, was carried down and formed dangerous jams. Moreover, the agitation of the water in the rapids caused it to be additionally exposed to the cold air above and to form ice needles. These ice needles, as they accumulated, resolved themselves into troublesome ice sludge, which was aggravated by the presence of snow blown into the current from the banks. At the generating stations, too, those responsible found themselves facing serious difficulties from ice. The turbines, being built on an enormous scale, suffer little from ice sludge, but the screens covering the turbine intakes became clogged with it. The engineers adopted two methods. One consisted of heating the screens by electricity, thus thawing out the sludge as fast as it adhered. In other instances they removed the screens altogether. At the sluices the ice at first tended to choke the rolling sluice gates and to pack up in the intakes. The experts overcame these troubles by electrically heating the gates, as they had the turbine screens, and by providing a kind of wooden flooring for the intakes, under which they drew hot air from the generating house.
PORJUS POWER STATION supplies electric power not only to the Iron Ore Railway, but also to many of the iron ore workings in Lapland. Water for driving the turbines comes from the Suorva Lakes. Six single-phase generators are installed for traction and power.
The Suorva Dams are situated some distance above Porjus. This is the nearest point on the railway, and there was no road, the only means of surface communication being by boats on the navigable parts of the Great Lulea and by sledge in winter. Yet there the Swedish engineers set up their two great dams, building them of the native stone. Aircraft solved one problem of communication, the aeroplanes being mounted on floats in summer, when they alight on the calmer water of the Great Lulea, In winter ordinary land aeroplanes are in use, these having skis substituted for the usual undercarriage. At Narvik, the Ore Company has its great quays and loading appliances on the shores of the Ofot Fjord, a vast, weird sea loch running in among precipitous mountains. Alongside the quays may be seen steamers waiting to carry the ore away to all parts of the world. A representative example of an iron ore steamer is the Sir Ernest Cassel, of 7,739 tons gross. In appearance she resembles a huge collier, with the engine-room and cabins right aft, a small navigating bridge amidships, and most of her space given over to holds.
Steamship SIR ERNEST CASSEL (photo in Narvik) was a Swedish steam-engined ore carrier of 7,773grt built in 1910 by Hawthorn Leslie, Hebburn, England. In 1921 she was sold and renamed ERNEST SS for Bolten, Millers NFL. In 1922 she was again sold and renamed SIR ERNEST CASSEL SS when purchased by P. A. Welin. Sweden. On the 16th April 1941 she was sunk by gunfire by the German raider Thor.
Another iron-ore carrier - SS Martha Hendrik Fisser, Narvik, Norway: At the iron ore dock. Port of Registry was Emden, Germany
The Port of Narvik in 1924. During the construction of the railway, the port was planned to be called Victoriahavn (Victoria Harbour) up until 1898, when the name was changed to Narvik. The town was officially founded in 1902
Bjørnfjell Station, at 513 metres (1,683 ft) above mean sea level, in 1906
Map of the Narvik to Luleå Iron Ore Line
Swedish Iron Ore, Germany and the Finnish perspective
Finland had long factored access to the external world via Sweden and the Narvik link in to military strategy in the event of a war with the USSR. What had not been factored in was the impact on this strategic assessment of a European War involving Germany at one and the same time. The Munich Crisis of late 1938 had led to a rapid and complete reanalysis of the situation – and the prognosis gave cause to serious concern.
In 1915 (during WW1) British warships had violated Norwegian territorial waters to seize a German steamer inside the three mile limit. And near the end of the First World War the British, Americans and French had induced the Norwegians to allow the Skjaergaard to be mined in order to prevent German ships and submarines from using their territorial waters as a way around the Great Northern Barrage, a massive minefield laid from Scotland to Norway as part of the earlier allied blockade strategy. Suomen Maavoimat intelligence indicated that Germany in 1937 had received 20m tons of iron ore overall from various foreign sources. Although she was able to produce around 10m tons of her own iron ore each year, it was of low grade quality and needed to be mixed with high grade material from other countries such as Sweden, which annually supplied her with 9m tons (7m from Kiruna and Gallivare in Lapland and 2m from the central Swedish ore fields north-west of Stockholm. There were two main routes by which iron ore was shipped to Germany from Sweden.
The Eastern Route: From May- November, ore from the Northern region was shipped from the port of Lulea down the Gulf of Bothnia to the German north Baltic ports at Lubeck, Swinemunde and Stettin. Outside these months, the Gulf of Bothnia froze over, severely restricting supplies, and although an alternate port was available at Oxelösund, south of Stockholm for the transport of iron ore from the mines in Bergslagen, this facility was unable supply the full amount required by Germany, and in any case froze over herself from March – January each year. And while in 1938, Finnish icebreakers kept the sea-route to Lulea open for much of the winter season, it was estimated that even when Lulea and the Baltic ports of Oxelosund & Gavel were open it could only supply around 8m tons or less than half pre-war imports. And by 1938 much of this was carried in Finnish ore carriers – a trade which would itself be under serious threat in the event of a war with the USSR. The Finnish assessment concluded that in the event of the USSR attacking Finland while a state of war existed in the rest of Europe (and more particularly, between Britain/France and Germany), Germany would have no choice other than to transport the majority of its ore along the sea route down Norway’s heavily indented Western coast from Narvik. This in turn would in all likeliehood provoke a British attack on the German ships and possibly Narvik – and this was the port and rail route that Finland was counting on for access to what would be vital military supplies in the event of a war with the USSR. “Serious concern” was an understatement as this realization dawned on the Finns.
The Western Route (The ‘Norwegian Corridor’, Western Leads or Skjaergaard): The port of Narvik, high above the Arctic Circle was open for iron ore shipments all year round. But the stormy Atlantic coast of Norway in WW1 had provided another extremely useful geological feature for Germany in her attempts to continue shipping the ore and beating the allied blockade. Immediately offshore from Norway’s western coast lies the Skjaergaard (Skjærgård), a continuous chain of some 50,000 glacially formed skerries (small uninhabited islands) sea stacks and rocks running parallel to the shore. A partially hidden sea lane (which Churchill called the Norwegian Corridor) exists in the area between this rocky fringe and the coastal landmass proper. Inside this protected channel it is possible to navigate the entire 1,600 km length of the Norwegian coast from North Cape to Stavanger. Such coastlines, sometimes known as Leads - a rough English translation for the common Norwegian nautical term Ledene (shipping lane) are common around Scandinavia - Skjaergaard also exist along the Swedish and Finnish Baltic coasts and off Greenland.
In WW1 the Germans had made great use of the Norwegian Corridor to avoid the attention of the always watching Royal Navy and the Finnish Military Intelligence assessment was they would do so again. Up until the time of the Munich Crisis, Finland had not invested any significant effort in a military analysis of the ramifications of another European War. Finnish resources had been largely concentrated on the ever-present threat from the USSR and with Finland having good to close relationships with ALL the major European Powers, no real attention had been paid to the geo-political ramifications of such a conflict. Following the Munich Crisis, the blinkers had been lifted and in the rapid reassessment that followed, the blunt Finnish Military Intelligence assessment was that a steady stream of German iron ore vessels ould attempt to make the long trip south from Narvik, sometimes within the three mile curtilege of neutral Norwegian territorial waters, sometimes just outside if the way appeared hazardous or the sea particularly turbulent. At the southernmost point the iron ore captains had to make a choice:
1) Follow the Skjaergaard around the coasts of Norway and Sweden, down through the Kattgat and finally into the north German North Baltic ports of Lubeck and Stettin. This route was safer because it brought them much closer to the protection of the German naval patrols and Luftwaffe air cover but involved hauling the very bulky and heavy iron ore the long way overland to the industrial centres on the heavily overburdened German railway system
2) Leave the safety of the Skjaergaard and make a dash south across the Skagerrak, (the sea channel north of the Danish Jutland peninsula) and hurry down the west coast of Denmark to Hamburg and Bremen. This was the preferred route because it allowed the ore to be taken straight along the efficient inland waterways to the industrial heartlands of the Ruhr and the Rhineland where it could be processed. It was however much more hazardous, putting the ships and their precious cargo at the mercy of what were anticipated to be the waiting allied submarines and patrolling destroyers – as had been the case in WW1.
In the event of a war involving Germany vs Britain and France, the Finnish assessment was that Swedish iron ore (and Finnish iron ore from Tornio together with Finnish Nickel and Copper for that matter) would be an important economic factor for Germany and shipments to Germany would as a matter of course be a target for the Royal Navy. The importance of these shipments would be increased after other sources were cut off from Germany by a British sea blockade as was the case in WW1. On the beginning of hostilites, Britain and France were to be expected to re-enact a repeat of the blockade system used to great effect throughout the previous war. They would be able to do this because they had vastly more powerful naval forces at their disposal than Germany, a country lacking in natural resources and heavily reliant on large scale imports of a wide range of goods. And the material Germany needed above all others was iron ore, a steady supply of which was imperative in the creation of steel which would be needed to sustain her war effort and general economy.
With any declaration of war and the start of the blockade, much of the foreign supplies of iron ore would be lost to Germany. Germany could be expected to retain access to 3 million tons per annum from neutral Norway and Luxembourg, but the 10 million tons from Lorraine in France and the supplies from Morocco and Spain were lost to her, and so the remaining supplies from neutral Scandinavia would become of crucial importance. Grand Admiral Raeder, head of the German navy, had been recorded as declaring that it would be "utterly impossible to make war should the navy not be able to secure the supplies of iron-ore from Sweden." All of this meant that access of Finnish shipping to Narvik was now a high-risk proposition.
Regardless, following the Munich Crisis, other measures were taken to improve the ability for Finland to use the Narvik Line for importing of military supplies in a war-emergency situation. Forseeing the possibility of Finland having to rely on Narvik for imports, the government directed Valtionrautatiet / Statsjärnvägarna (State Railways) to begin constructing a large number of oil-tanker wagons to facilitate the importation of Oil via the Narvik rail link. This was not complex engineering, and progress was steady over 1939, so that by the time of the Winter War, a considerable amount of rolling stock suitable for the transport of Oil had been built up. As an insurance program in the event of war, it was a surprisingly successful move – of course, once Norway was invaded by the Germans, ensuring shipments of Oil arrived at Narvik then became the problem. But at least in the early months of the Winter War, once it was at Narvik, transport to the Finnish Oil Refinery was not an issue.
These oil-tanker wagons were also designed and built with axles and wheels that could be adjusted from the Swedish to Finnish gauge and special equipment was installed at the Tornio railroad station to allow for adjusting the gauge of these specially fitted train wagons so there is no longer need to cross-load the cargo. An effort was also made to construct a number of standard freight wagons along the same lines and these were built and used by Valtionrautatiet on the Finnish rail network – but were available to be relocated if necessary in the event of war. After negotiations between the Swedish and Finnish governments in early 1939, Valtionrautatiet had also ordered six El 4 locomotives for use on the Narvik Line – only two of these had been delivered prior to the outbreak of the Winter War and the consequent shortage of electric locomotives proved to be a bottleneck, limiting the number of trains that could be run down the line.
Further Contingency Plans
As a result of increasing tension within Europe, the above analysis and the dawning realization of the serious danger to Finland, two further contingency plans for emergency ports were drawn up. The first and perhaps the most obvious was to use the Finnish port of Petsamo in Northern Finland. The other, based on the recent use of Lyngenfjord in Norway as an access route in WW1, was for the use of Lyngenfjord in Norway.
It was decided that work to implement Lyngenfjord as a contingency port would begin immediately with the construction of a dual lane all-weather highway taking priority. Work on a Rail link to Lyngenfjord would begin simultaneously but was expected to take longer to complete than the Highway. A 116 mile long line already ran in the right direction – the Kolarin Rata (Kolari Railway) from Tornio and Kolari. The railway was not electrified and it was the standard Finnish broad gauge, inter-connecting to the Oulu–Tornio railway in Tornio. The first 49 miles from Tornio to Kaulinranta had been built in 1928, and with the opening of the large-scale Rautuvaara iron ore mine in 1935 to feed the steel mills of Tornio, the railway had been extended over 1933-35 the remaining 76 miles to Kolari, with a 12 mile extension to the mine of Rautuvaara (in 1937, the Äkäsjokisuu had been brought into production). These mines were the primary reason to extend the railway north of Kaulinranta and the fact that this had already been done served Finland well.
Thus, a sizable chunk (116 miles) of the 350 mile route from Tornio to Lyngenfjord had already been finished, with both a road and a railway line in existence. As it stood, the reasoning behind the construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway was straightforward. In the event of a war with the Soviet Union, it was entirely likely that Finland’s main trade routes by sea through the Baltic to the rest of the world would be cut off. And while Petsamo provided an all-year round ice-free port, it was both undeveloped and entirely too close to the border with the USSR. Strategically, building a good all-weather route to Petsamo and upgrading the port facilities would not alleviate Finland’s strategic exposure but would rather make her more vulnerable in the event of a Soviet attack.
While building a highway to Petsamo was seen as a strategic risk given the proximity of the port to the border with the USSR, the cost of building two major highways simultaneously was also considered prohibitively expensive – so the decision was to concentrate on the Lyngenfjord option as being the most strategically sound alternative. This was undertaken as an emergency program, with Maavoimat engineering units and private construction firms organized in late 1938, negotiations with the Norwegians to secure Norway’s agreement, equipment and supplies stockpiled over winter and work beginning early in the Spring of 1939. Confident in their own neutrality, and more than happy at jobs for Norwegians being financed by someone else, the Norwegian government made no objections and indeed, actively facilitated both the Highway Construction Project, the simultaneous Rail Link Project and the construction of wharf facilities at the small Norwegian village of Skibotn, located on the southeastern shore of the Lyngen Fjord.
(OTL Map from Post-WW2) …but it shows the Finnish road link to Norway that runs parallel to the Swedish border – this is the route of the Lyngenfjord Highway - Lygnenfjord is where the highway from Finland now links to the main North-South highway through Northern Norway (at the time, in 1938, there was no North-South Highway, merely a road constructed for reindeer and sleds that was only navigable during the winter months
Lygnenfjord is a sheltered fjord in the Troms County of norther Norway, bordering the Finnmark to the northeast and Nordland to the southwest. To the south is Norrbotten Län in Sweden and further southeast is a shorter border with the Lapland Province of Finland. The Lyngenfjord Highway as it was eventually built terminated at the Norwegian village of Skibotn, located on the southeastern shore of the Lyngen Fjord. The distance by road to Kilpisjärvi, the northernmost community in the western "arm" of Finland, is approximately 50 kilometres (31 mi). Prior to the construction of the Highway and port facilities, the population of Skibotn was around 700 people.
Lyngenfjord, with the locations of the small village of Skibotn shown. This was a large and well-protected anchorage and with the development of suitable wharfing facilities to handle larger amounts of cargo, proved to be of critical importance in the Winter War. Securing Lyngenfjord was the major reason for Finnish intervention during the German invasion of Norway.
Next: The Construction of the LyngenFjord Highway……..
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The construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway and the parallel Lyngenfjord Railway is a little known engineering epic which was not widely publicized at the time for security reasons. Perhaps the only comparable engineering projects of the WW2 period were the constructions of the Alaska Highway and the Burma Road – both of which came well afterwards. The construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway as an emergency measure had been sparked off by the Munich Crisis of September 1938 and the reasoning behind the decision to build this Highway and the parallel Railway have been covered in the previous post. The construction project itself was fast-paced from the moment the Go decision was made (in mid-December 1938). The epic project’s success was an illustration of all that had been achieved in Finland over the past 20 years – the ability of the politicians to come together and, on military advice, make a strategically necessary decision without the internecine bickering of party politics intervening. The ability of the military to mobilize and move rapidly in close partnership with Finnish companes – and it was the logging, construction and engineering industries that supplied the key expertise and construction resources.
And it should always be kept in mind that while this was the largest and fastest engineering project undertaken in Finland to that date, major work was also underway that same spring and summer on the Karelian Isthmus, with many thousands of volunteers at work strengthening the defensive positions throughout the Isthmus. Over the spring and summer of 1939, Finland was humming with activity – the defence related manufacturing plants were working 24/7, military exercises were continuous, the Karelian Isthmus was like a next of disturbed ants and deep in the wilds of Lapland, 10,000 men from Suomen Maavoimat Pioneeri (Engineer) units working alongside a further 12,000 civilian contractors to drive the Lyngenfjord Highway through.
A road of sorts to Lyngenfjord already existed and had been used even prior to WW1, but for most of thr route it was more of a mud track than a formed road – as most roads were in back-country areas before the coming of the automobile. Still, it formed the basis for part of the route and it also allowed construction to start at a number of points simultaneously….
The route of the Tornio to Lyngenfjord Highway ran for 350 miles, traversing forests, crossing swamps, bridging numerous rivers and streams and finally piercing the Norwegian mountains before finally reaching Lyngenfjord. Fortunately, the first 100 miles to Kolari already existed, together with a railway, and this reduced the length of road and rail that had to be driven through to “only” some 250 miles. The decision to build had been made in mid-December 1938, but the fierce Arctic winter meant construction work could not start until March 1939 at the earliest. Those months were not idle ones – the first step in building the Highway was to determine its route – and route surveys were carried out through the dead of winter, largely following the old route to Lyngenfjord and assessing its suitability, gradients and creating maps to work from when work started. Leading the team of surveyors that winter was Tuomas Vohlonen.
The old route to Lyngenfjord in Winter
Tuomas Vohlonen, leader of the Lyngenfjord Survey Team, Winter 1938, taking a bearing with the compass he had designed and manufactured. Vohlonen was an experienced surveyor and a well-known member of the Suojeluskuntas. Vohlonen volunteered to lead the survey party on their two month long task. He died in the summer of 1939, shortly after returning from a trip to the Finnmark where he had completed a last detailed survey.
Tuomas Vohlonen (1878–1939 was a famous Finnish inventor. A surveyor by trade, his patents cover a wide area of devices and activities including compasses, skis, surveying, engines and farming. His most important heritage is the company Suunto Oy which is still active producing compasses according to his patented method as well as dive computers, outdoor wristtop computers, and heartrate watches. In April 1933, after experimentation with various designs, Vohlonen applied for a patent from the Finnish National Board of Patents and Registration for a compact liquid-filled field compass, in which the magnetic needle and damping fluid were completely sealed into a unitary fused celluloid capsule. Volhonen was granted a patent on January 25th, 1935. Together with his wife Elli and nephew Kauko he founded Suunto Oy in 1936. Vohlonen incorporated his new liquid-filled capsule into a lightweight wrist-mounted design, the M-311, suitable for use by soldiers, surveyors, hikers, and others navigating whilst afoot. His march compass was adopted by the Suomen Maavoimat and was in widespread use throughout the Maavoimat by late 1938.
The leadership of the Winter Survey Team was to be Vohlonen’s last major accomplishment and one of which he was, justly, proud – in the summer of 1939 at the age of 61, shortly after his return from Kolari, Tuomas Vohlonen, surveyor, inventor and managing director of an emerging company whose efforts were now bearing fruit, died suddenly and unexpectedly. The most groundbreaking of Tuomas Vohlonen’s inventions was the method for manufacturing a liquid-damped march compass and it had been a proud moment for him when a militarised version had been adopted by the Suomen Maavoimat as the standard compass for its soldiers. (His company incidentally still exists and it continues to manufacture high quality watches and compasses – http://www.suuntowatches.com).
Meanwhile, contracts with construction and forestry companies were being signed, materials stockpiled and plans were drawn up to mobilize a large number of Suojeluskuntas Pioneeri units and to hire construction labourers, loggers and all the ancillary personnel necessary for such a large scale project. Equipment was assembled, first around various sites in Finland and then moved to Tornio, Kolrani and by ship to Lyngenfjord itself – with work planned to start from all three points simultaneously. Within the project, there were a number of sub-projects that were to kick-off at more or less the same time, with some variability for the weather. It was expected that wharf, warehouse and barracks construction in Lyngenfjord could start first, and the men and materials for this component of the project were dispatched by ship in late January 1939 - as soon as the necessary materials had been purchased and loaded and the workers assembled. Planning for the port was based on the projected needs of the Finnish military in the event of a war with the USSR and was based on estimates of “discharge capability.” The ability to export via the port was considered a secondary benefit in the initial stages, and later in the WW2 period, much additional work was undertaken to allow large volumes of exports to be shipped out, as well as military supplies shipped in.
The construction of the first wharf at Lyngenfjord progressed rapidly. This wharf was needed to permit the rapid offloading of construction materials and equipment – initial supplies were landed by lighters onto the beaches, such as they were….
Commercial Wharf construction underway: Summer of 1939. Wharf facilities were constructed rapidly, but the scale and size of the planned port facility meant that work was still underway as the Winter War broke out. In the event of a war, it was envisaged that military supplies would be arriving in crates or boxes, which would necessitate the use of shore cranes to speed upoffloading. In the event, shore cranes were not available at the start of the Winter War and cargo ships had to use their own cranes – although the situation was partially alleviated by the relocation of one of Finland’s two heavy-lift cargo ships to Lyngenfjord.
The port facility was designed for military usage initially, but commercial considerations were also kept in mind, and the facility was designed to handle 2,000 tons of cargo per day – handling four ships simultaneously at an estimated 500 tons per ship per day offloading capacity using ships derricks and wharf-based cranes. This would then need to be moved from the docks to warehousing facilities for loading onto available transport (rail or truck). A major advantage here was that with Finland being an export-based economy, and with most exports leaving via ship, a large amount of expertise in this area was available. Consequently, the needs were well-understood and planning was effective. A further major consideration at Lyngenfjord was the construction of storage and warehousing facilities as well as marshaling yard capacity for both trucks and, eventually, for the planned rail link. Three marshaling yards were built – the first for trucks with a capacity for an estimated 1,000 trucks, the second and third for railway wagons, with a capacity for 700 wagons in the first yard and 800 at the second.
Warehouse facilities at Lyngenfjord later in WW2. American equipment is begining to arrive....
Two freight trains leaving the Lyngenfjord Marshaling Yards en route to Tornio, early 1941 – the rail link to Lyngenfjord was completed in September 1940 and freight trains began using the link within days. By 1943, a double track would be in place over the entire distance to Tornio, considerably speeding up transit times. Two Ilmavoimat VL Wihuri’s based from the Ilmavoimat’s Bardufoss Airfield fly low overhead.
Ilmavoimat VL Wihuri’s heading down Lyngenfjord – December 1940. Following the German invasion of Norway in May 1940, Finland would seize control of the Finnmark to protect access to Lyngenfjord and go on to build up her military strength in the area, including construction of a large air base at Bardufoss.
The construction of the Lyngenfjord Highway started a little later, in March 1939. Large amounts of material and equipment had already been moved and stockpiled over the winter months and startup was immediate, taking place as soon as weather conditions permitted.
Early March 1939: Construction equipment being assembled in Turku prior to movement by Rail to Tornio where work would start in April. This was the largest engineering project of its kind undertaken in Finland and its success. The project would not have been possible without the 3,500 different vehicles assembled, including 1,750 heavy trucks, 500 bulldozers and tractors, 500 diggers, graders and rollers and 750 other assorted vehicles including buses and trucks to transport the workers to and from work sites.
As the weather conditions improved, equipment and men began working from Lyngenfjord, Kolrani and Tornio simultaneously. The Tornio-Kolrani section was perhaps the easiest – the work here was simply to upgrade the existing road to a dual-lane all-weather highway on the one hand and to lay a second railway line on the other, effectively double-tracking the line as far as Kolrani. This work was not trail-blazing, and standard rail and road construction techniques were used. Work progressed rapidly on this part of the project with multiple start points being used and large teams at work, covering the distance rapidly.
Laying down railway track north of Tornio – Summer 1939
The winter Survey laid out the route in broad detail, mapped the path through the mountains and generally confirmed the viability of the existing road as a baseline from which to work. For the detailed work on the Lyngenfjord Highway project, much of the surveying during the project itself was accomplished by “Sight” Surveying - using the original survey as a guide to the general route and direction whilst accomplishing the immediate objective by climbing a tree or standing on a bulldozer, picking the next point in the distance and working toward it while at the same time attempting to avoid the numerous small swamps, rivers and small lakes, rock outcroppings and steep grades. Local guides were employed where needed to help the surveyors.
The first priority was simply to survey the route and blaze an initial track over which trucks could move in men and materials to improve the route while also moving men and materials into place for work to start. Here, a truck ferrying building materials is bogged down in the mud ruts in the original “road” – and is being winched out using a cable
Surveyors setting out the route for the Highway. Generally, this followed the existing route……
Once a route was surveyed, the work on the road starts in earnest. First, loggers would cut down the trees to clear a route and then the bulldozers would clear what was left, leaving a clear swath through the forest.
Whereever possible, heavy construction machinery was used to speed up the process – in this case a bulldozer and a large scraper….
Working on the cleared route….
Behind the loggers felling the trees and the bulldozers clearing the route other teams built culverts or temporary bridges, dug ditches to keep the road surface relatively dry, put down base material and in soggy sections laid down a wooden bed consisting of several feet of trees. This "corduroy road" would then be covered with gravel and packed down, ensuring that supplies and fuel moved forward to the teams at the front. Finally, the largest teams would follow as close behind the bulldozers as possible, widening and straightening the road, eliminating some steep grades, and covering surfaces with more gravel, then packing this down. The initial result was a passable military road 18 to 24 feet wide, far below the standards required for a safe civilian highway but adequate for military trucks. Construction teams further to the rear – usually some 10 to 20 miles back - worked to widen the road to dual lane, build rest and refueling stops and build accommodation for the maintenance crews and shelters for their vehicles and equipment. The workers hacked, slugged and pushed their way through dense forest, hard rock, muddy bogs and mosquito-ridden swamps, working exhausting 12 to 16-hour days in harsh and often dangerous conditions.
Building a Log Bridge: Speed was essential and timber was available – all the early bridges were built from logs, many were later replaced with steel “Bailey Bridge” style construction. The log bridges could be constructed rapidly from immediately available materials – this bridge took a mere three days to build. Teams all along the surveyed route built bridges as fast as possible while other work teams constructed the roads between the bridges
Building a more permanent bridge to replace an earlier log bridge. Numerous such bridges had been pre-fabricated and stockpiled prior to work on the highway beginning. They were moved into position as soon as the road had gotten to a point where they could be moved up and put into place.
Crane Shovel putting in a Culvert
Where sections of the Highway ran into soggy or swampy ground, this was overcome through the building of corduroy (or log) roads which provided a solid foundation over which gravel was laid. The sections laid down in this way formed a wooden bed consisting of several feet of logs over which a deep layer of gravel was laid and compressed. The resultant road was generally solid and where the logs were laid in wet, acidic, anaerobic soils such as peat they decayed very slowly. In constructing these roads it was important to select logs about ten inches in diameter and place them in several layers. As in the superstructure of a bridge, stringers, double layers of crossed logs, and siderail lashings had to be used. The guard rails had to be wired because nails could not be used. The cross logs had to be topped with a layer of sand - not dirt - or, when no sand was available, with cinders or gravel. Such thoroughly constructed corduroy roads could stand the strain of constant heavy traffic.
And a corduroy “bridge” over a small trickle like this took a mere three hours for a small construction team…..
Early in the project, small sections of corduroy road were laid down wherever needed…
The material for the corduroy foundation was certainly easy to source….
Grading and leveling was done with whatever equipment was to hand… and there was a great deal of improvisation – something the Finnish logging and constructions workers excelled in ..
And last of all, over everything came a thick layer of gravel which was packed down by rollers
The final result may not have been pretty, but together with the parallel Lyngenfjord Railway it would prove to be Finland’s lifeline for 6 long years…..
The hardest section of the road to build was that that ran through the mountains along the Norwegian-Finnish border. It was rugged terrain and while the route existed and was usable, it needed to be upgraded considerably to take a major Highway and then a Rail line. This section involved a considerable percentage of the overall 22,000 man work force and was completed in roughly the same timeframe - by late summer 1939.
Building the highway up the side of a small lake as the Norwegian border was neared
Forcing the route up into the mountains…..
The pace was rapid, risks were taken and accidents happened all the time. Vehicles and machinery were recovered wherever possible but speed was of the essence and if recovery would slow progress, the obstacles were simply pushed to one side and abandoned until later…..
And a truck that had rolled over….Wrecked and abandoned vehicles were a common sight on the sides of the road as it grew in length.
As were sunken vehicles at times…..
A building going up on the road – this building when finished would be used as accommodation for drivers in transit at a rest-point along the highway.
December 1939: Wedge and wing plow widening the road. Maintenance was an ongoing task in summer and snow-ploughing in winter. It was down this highway in the depths of winter that many of the Volunteer units that fought in Finland would come….At the height of the Winter War, some 500 trucks per day travelled in each direction on the road with 2,000 trucks in use at any one time. Kolrani turned into a major cross-loading depot as trucks off loaded and transferred their freight to the rail system…
Once completed, the Lyngenfjord Highway (and later also the “Arctic Road” to Petsamo) required a substantial number of people to maintain and run the route. The Lyngenfjord Highway by itself required some 3,000 staff to carry out traffic management during the Winter War. There were about 2,000 jobs related to loading and unloading, road maintenance employed about 4,000 people in total and other services around 1,000 - in other words, almost 10 000 people were needed in one way or another to run the Lyngenfjord Highway (and the “Arctic Road” to Petsamo, which was also managed by Oy Pohjolan Liikenne Ab, required similar numbers of personnel from late 1940 on). During the Winter War, almost 75% of these 10,000 were women – and a large number of the men were Swedish volunteers.
The building of the Highway was an epic undertaking, but its opening at the end of summer 1939 was not mentioned in the newspapers – largely for security reasons. Meanwhile, work on running the rail track through to Lyngenfjord continued at the same breakneck pace that had seen the Highway driven through. The Rail link itself took longer, only being completed towards the end of 1940.
At the same time as work on the Lyngenfjord Highway started, the State founded a transport company called Oy Pohjolan Liikenne Ab which would handle all cargo movement to and from Lyngenfjord (rail traffic to Narvik was handled by Finnish State Railways). At the same time as construction on the road started, an order for some 1,000 trucks was placed with both Sisu Construction Vehicles and with the Ford Helsinki Plant. Some 750 of these were standard heavy-duty militarized cargo trucks, but 250 were for an innovative and rugged 6 wheeled all-wheel drive military truck that could handle pretty much any type of conditions encountered on the Highway.
The Sisu-designed and built 4-axle 8x8 all-wheel drive Military Truck. Designed to cope with swampy ground in summer and snow in winter, this had been designed in 1936 and trialed over 1937. The Maavoimat had already placed and order for 500 of these trucks in late 1937 – An order for a further 250 was placed by Oy Pohjolan Liikenne Ab in January 1939 for use on the Lyngenfjord Highway.
In addition, Oy Pohjolan Liikenne Ab also liased with private transport companies and the Maavoimat for the use of privately owned vehicles in the event of war. With the road completed in September 1939 and the basics of a port at Lygenfjord in place, the outbreak of the Winter War resulted in a further 1,000 privately owned trucks being contracted to work the route. Contract carriers used their trade organisations (among them the Lapland Road Hauliers' Association) to negotiate terms and fees with their employer. Negotiations were often necessary in connection with e.g. arrangements for loading and unloading, compensation for goods lost in transit, tariffs, road maintenance, insurance, and traffic safety.
At this point, we’ll leave the details of the actual operation of the Lyngenfjord Highway until we get to the Winter War itself. Suffice it to say that as a project, the Lyngenfjord Highway construction project brought together the experience and knowledge of a range of Finnish companies and industries, but the glue that held it all together was the experience in rapidly building logging roads under rugged conditions that had been developed within the Finnish Forestry Industry through the 1930’s….
Next Post…. The Development of Fire Watching and it’s military applications within Finland
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Interestingly enough, it was the Finnish experience with forest fire fighting techniques that led to a number of military programs and weapons which we will first summarise here and then go onto to look at each in detail in turn. When looking at the introduction of these weapons and pieces of equipment, it’s also important to keep in mind the continuous cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques between the military and civilian organisations. With a large percentage of Finnish men actively involved in the Suojeluskuntas, particularly in rural areas where farming and forestry was the primary occupation, and with an openness to experimentation and a willingness to consider ideas and tactical techniques and innovations originating from the bottom, rather than imposed from the top, there was always an avenue for even the strangest of proposals to receive at least some consideration. And some proposals that made their way up the chain were strange indeed….
Perhaps the first serious proposal to come out of the milieu of forest fire fighting was one regarding the military use of flamethrowers. In fighting forest fires, a technique that is often used is the controlled backburn. This is where firefighters set fire to an area ahead of a raging forest fire, aiming to burn up combustible material that could feed the wildfire but under controlled conditions. The backburn creates a manmade firebreak that aids in containing the fire. An early way of starting backburns was with a flaming piece of wood or brush, but by the 1920’s, a drip torch was more commonly used.
The Drip Torch – from this and an academic knowledge of WW1 Flamethrower Weapons, the Suomen Maavoimat began to experiment with military flamethrowers in the 1930’s
Prior to the early 1930’s the Suomen Maavoimat, as with most armies of the time, had no real experience with Flame Throwers as a combat weapon. Flame Throwers were of course known from World War I, where they were used in trench warfare, but the Maavoimat in the early 1930’s had no real experience or institutional knowledge of flamethrowers as a weapon. Once the Finnish military began to examine the Flame-Weapon proposal in detail, as they did in 1933, it rapidly became obvious that this was an existing weapon that had been used effectively in the First World War but which, post-war, had faded from view. Some initial research by Finnish Military Attache’s (who found themselves doing this kind of “real” work more and more through the 1930’s), produced the information that this weapon had actually been invented by the German engineer Richard Fiedler in 1900, and tested in secret by the Imperial German army the following year. By 1912 the German Army had formed a Flammenwerfer regiment (of three battalions, with twelve companies in total). Each was equipped with man-portable flame-throwers consisting of a steel cylinder tank that was worn on the back attached to a 6-foot (1.8-metre) rubber tube and nozzle. The tank was subdivided into two: an upper reservoir containing a compressed gas to provide the pressure, and a flammable liquid (usually oil) in the lower. The gas propelled the liquid down the hose, which was ignited at the end of the nozzle by a wick. Flame could be projected for 20 yards (18 metres) for about two minutes, or shorter bursts could be obtained by igniting a cartridge for each burst, as with a shotgun. This principle of design has not changed since.
French soldiers make a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders, Belgium, during WWI.
The weapon had been tested in action against the French in February 1915 in the Verdun sector, but was more famously used against British troops at Hooge, near Ypres, on the night of 29-30 July 1915. The six throwers that were used formed only a small part of a larger attack, aimed at inexperienced troops of the British New Army. Achieving complete surprise, the British trenches doused with flame were quickly taken, and the attack also had a great psychological effect on other defenders. The effect of the dangerous nature of the surprise attack proved terrifying to the British opposition, although their line, initially pushed back, was stabilised later the same night. In two days of severe fighting the British lost 31 officers and 751 other ranks during the attack. With the success of the Hooge attack, at least so far as the Flammenwerfer was concerned, the German army adopted the device on a widespread basis across all fronts of battle. The Flammenwerfers tended to be used in groups of six during battle, each machine worked by two men. They were used mostly to clear forward defenders during the start of a German attack, preceding their infantry colleagues.
They were undeniably useful when used at short-range, but were of limited wider effectiveness, especially once the British and French had overcome their initial alarm at their use. Quite aside from the worries of handling the device - it was entirely feasible that the cylinder carrying the fuel might unexpectedly explode - they were marked men; the British and French poured rifle-fire into the area of attack where Flammenwerfers were used, and their operators could expect no mercy should they be taken prisoner. Their life expectancy was therefore short. The British Army also experimented with flame-throwers. However, they found short-range jets inefficient. They also developed four 2-ton throwers that could send a flame over 30 yards built directly into a forward trench constructed in No Man's Land a mere 60 yards from the German line. These were introduced in July 1916 but within a couple of weeks two had been destroyed. Each was painstakingly constructed piece by piece, although two were destroyed by shellfire prior to 1 July 1916 (the start of the Somme offensive). The remaining two, each with a range of 90 yards, were put to use as planned on 1 July. Again highly effective at clearing trenches at a local level, they were of practically no wider benefit.
Although these large flame-throwers initially created panic amongst German soldiers, the British were unable to capture the trenches under attack. With this failure, the British generals decided to abandon the use of flame-throwers. Similarly the French developed their own portable one-man Schilt flamethrower, of a superior build to the German model. It was used in trench attacks during 1917-18. The Germans produced a lightweight modified version of their Flammenwerfer, the Wex, in 1917, which had the benefit of self-igniting. During the war the Germans launched in excess of 650 flamethrower attacks; no numbers exist for British or French attacks. By the close of the war flamethrower use had been extended to tank-mounted flamethrowers. The advantage of a tank-mounted flamethrower was two-fold – the size of the tank meant that powered pumps could be used, rather than using pressureized gas – this extended the range of the weapon considerably, and the tank offered far greater protection to the crew operating the weapon.
Thereafter flame-throwers entered the arsenals of modern armies, usually as “pioneer” or “engineer” weapons, but as they had failed to achieve a spectacular success during WWI, they were not widely used. The lessons of late-WW1 with regard to tank-mounted flamethrowers were largely forgotten – only to be rediscovered, largely independently, by the Red Army in the 1930’s. The Red Army would go on to use flamethrower tanks against the Maavoimat in the Winter War. The Finns however, had not been taken by surprise by this weapon. Military Intelligence had identified that the Soviets were working on flamethrower type weapons, including designing a flamethrower tank, and Maavoimat soldiers, particularly the anti-tank gunners, had been informed and trained to identify and deal with these tanks as soon as possible.
The Maavoimat itself had initiated its own research and development program into Flamethrowers in 1936, concentrating on man-portable versions as being more suited to the type of warfare the Maavoimat intended to fight. German expertise was sought and with the assistance of two of the engineers who had worked on the development of these weapons in WW1, an adequate design was soon forthcoming, with certain Finnish-inspired modifications. Among these were camouflaging the weapon by designing the firing mechanism to look like the standard Mosin-Nagant Rifle and the fuel tanks with a military knapsack-like appearance, thus reducing the chances of the operator being easily identified. In addition, early tests under the harsh conditions of a Finnish winter led to a problem unforeseen by the German designers, in that it was too cold to light the fuel. The production model incorporated a revised system which eliminated the problem.
The rifle-shaped flamethrower was an idea the Red Army would later copy from the Maavoimat.
These Finnish manufactured man-portable flamethrowers were capable of 10 “bursts” with a maximum range in the region of 120 feet. They used a version of jellied gasoline and had an 18 Liter fuel tank which used a container of pressurised nitrogen gas as a propellant. The mechanics of the device were fairly simple – two side by side tanks, one containing the fuel, the other containing the gas propellant. The two substances were mixed as they passed through a valve, the force provided by the compressed gas. The mixture was directed through a pipe and out through a nozzle. At this point the concoction was ignited and the sheet of flame produced. The flammable material was mixed with an adhesive which meant it would stick to whatever it hit, flesh included. The nozzle was fitted with a 10-chambered cylinder which contained the ignition cartridges. These could be fired once, each giving the operator 10 bursts of flame.
In practice this gave 10 one-second bursts. It was also possible to spray fuel without igniting it to ensure there was plenty splashed around the target, then fire an ignited burst to light up the whole lot. The flamethrower kit weighed some 64 pounds (29kg) making it somewhat heavy to carry and reducing the agility of the operator considerably. Unlike the flamethrowers of most other countries during World War II, the Maavoimat were perhaps the only ones to consciously camouflage their flamethrowers from the start, with the flamethrower "gun" disguised as a standard issue Mosin Nagant Rifles, and the fuel tanks disguised as a standard infantryman's rucksack, to try to stop snipers from specifically targeting flamethrower operators. The vulnerability of the operator was compounded by the need to close to within pistol range of the enemy to be used effectively, meaning that generally the weapon was used when assaulting formations were up against fortifications such as pillboxes which were otherwise difficult to capture or destroy.
The Maavoimat did not plan to use the man-portable flamethrowers defensively, the range was generally too short, the operator too vulnerable and the weapons had limited fuel. Finnish soldiers fighting on the Karelian Isthmus found them very effective against Red Army positions when the Finns took the offensive, as they often did tactically even when falling back. The Maavoimat used fire as both a casualty weapon and as a psychological weapon. They found that Russian soldiers would abandon positions in which they fought to the death against other weapons. Prisoners of war confirmed that they feared the flame-throwers more than any other weapon utilised against them.
A Finnish Army soldier operating a Flame-Thrower on the Karelian Isthmus during the Spring 1940 counter-offensive
As the pressure from the Soviet Union grew over the course of 1939, the Suomen Maavoimat determined that while units were equipped with these Flamethrowers they were not in numbers that were considered sufficient (only some 400 were in service, with some 1,000 being the goal). While these were on order and were being built at the rate of some 20 per month, with war looming on the horizon there was no time for half-measures. Manufacturing capability was limited, with many different priorities being addressed and in the greater scheme of things the Flamethrowers were low on the list of overall priorities. A decision was therefore made to purchase these weapons. An approach was made to Germany in June 1939, but for reasons that were at the time unclear (but which would later, in August of the same year, become all to clear), the Germans refused to manufacture or sell any to Finland.
On the other hand, the Italians had portable flame-throwers on a large-scale (some 1,500 being used by Italian Army as of 1940) and were quite willing to do business with the Finns. Consequently, the Suomen Maavoimat decided to acquire additional flame-throwers from Italy and ordered 500 portable flame-throwers of the type Lanciaflamme Spalleggiabile Model 35, which the Suomen Maavoimat subsequently named Liekinheitin M/39 (Flame-thrower M/39). These flamethrowers were not delivered prior to the Winter War breaking out, but were delivered as a priority with the first wartime shipments dispatched from Italy, arriving in Norway in December 1939 and being railed to Finland through Sweden where they entered service in January 1940. These flame-throwers were promptly issued to Engineer Battalions of the Suomen Maavoimat and saw extensive combat use. The Italian Liekinheitin M/39’s had a range of 60 feet, weighed 25.5kgs and could fire 20-30 bursts of 1 second each.
“Fire and Ice” - The Lanciaflamme Spalleggiabile Model 35 (which the Suomen Maavoimat subsequently named Liekinheitin M/39) in action on the Karelian Isthmus
Organisationally, each Regimental Combat Group generally had a light Engineering Battalion (Pioneeri Joukkue) attached as part of its combat strength, and among other types of units, the Pioneeri Joukke included a separate Liekinheitin Joukkue (Flame-thrower Platoon) with a strength of 40 men in 3 Sections of 12 with a 4-man Platoon Command group. Two of these Sections had 4 Flame-Thrower Crews (with 3 men in each crew) with 2 Flamethrowers assigned to each Crew for a theoretical total of 16 flame-throwers to a Platoon (although in practice it was usually less than this as even with the Italian order filled the weapons were in short supply. Having two flame-throwers per crew was a standard tactical approach. Once a flame-thrower crew had run out of fuel in their first flame-thrower, they would simply take their second flame-thrower and continue fighting. The third section looked after maintenance, logistics and refueling. The flame-throwers needed to be re-fueled only after the 2nd flame-thrower had run out of fuel. Where necessary, portable flame-throwers were usually repaired in Weapons Depot 1 (located in Helsinki), although the Maintenance Section in practice during the War usually looked after basic repairs. Flamethrower Crews were generally assigned to combat for specific missions, where they fought under the command of the unit to which they were temporarilt attached.
An interesting variation also introduced by the Maavoimat was the “One Shot Flamethrower”. One of the issues the Maavoimat always faced was that where Specialist units were created, the effect was that soldiers were removed from front-line infantry units and placed in units where they might only ocassionally be utilised effectively. To this end, the Maavoimat consciously limited the number of specialised flamethrower units but solved the need to have such a weapon readily available by designing and manufacturing what was in effect a disposable one-shot flamethrower weapon that could be carried and used by ordinary infantry where fortifications or enclosed defensive positions were expected to be encountered. The disposable weapon fired a half-second burst of flame of up to 27 metres (89 ft).
The Maavoimat’s One-Shot Disposable Flamethrower
But as always, the Maavoimat’s soldiers found more useful ways to utilise the weapon…officially known as the Kertakäyttöinen Liekinheittäjä (One-Shot Disposable Flamethrower) but unofficially referred to as the “Liekki” (slang for cigarette lighter)
The Kertakäyttöinen Liekinheittäjä was designed and trialled in 1939 and began to be manufactured and stockpiled late in the same year. It was not used during the defensive phase of the Winter War, but as the Maavoimat moved over to the offensive on the Karelian Isthmus in Spring 1940, it was widely issued. It proved particularly useful to the troops as they whittled the Red Army out of their defensive positions and came to be a much-loved weapon. Small and relatively light, it was heavily used although later in WW2 it was considered more useful as a cigarette lighter or as a fire-starter.
A third version, which was a larger and less portable version of the infantry flame-thrower, was used in defensive positions and to defend bunkers on the Mannerheim Line. These flame-throwers were usually carried into position on sleds or carts and had both a greater range and a far larger fuel capacity, with a 30 liter fuel tank. They were normally mixed in with other mines or emplaced behind barbed wire and could be command detonated or triggered by tripwires or other devices. The mine consisted of a large fuel cylinder 53 centimetres (21 in) high and 30 centimetres (12 in) with a capacity of 29.5 litres containing a black viscous liquid made up of a mix of light, medium, and heavy oils. A second, smaller cylinder, 67 millimetres (2.6 in) in diameter and 25 centimetres (9.8 in) high, was mounted on top of the fuel cylinder. This contained the propellent powder which was normally either black powder or a mixture of nitrocellulose and diethylene glycol dinitrate. A 50 millimetres (2.0 in) flame tube was fixed centrally on top of the fuel cylinder, risimg from the centre of the fuel cylinder and curved to extend horizontally approximately 50 centimetres (20 in).
A photo of a US soldier in Finland posing with a Suomen Maavoimat static flamethrower / flamemine. US Soldiers in Finland received some cross-training on Finnish weapons and this was likely taken at such a course sometime in 1943, after the first American and British units began arriving in Finland.
When the mine was triggered, a squib charge ignited the propellant, creating a burst of hot gas which forced the fuel from the main cylinder and out of the flame tube. A second squib ignited the fuel as it passed out of the end of the flame tube. The projected stream of burning fuel was 4.5 metres (15 ft) wide and 2.7 metres (8 ft 10 in) high with a range of about 27 metres (89 ft), and lasted about 1.5 seconds. The mines were large and fairly heavy. They could not be moved rapidly but could be pre-positioned and used with the fixed direction discharge tube which could be dug-in and integrated with conventional mines and barbed wire in defensive works. When the mine was buried, normally only the flame tube was above ground and generally this too was well conceled, leaving only an inch or so of the muzzle exposed. In winter, this could be blocked by snow and ice and care therfore had to be taken to position the devices where they could be kept clear. This limited their effectiveness somewhat in winter. However, where a number of them were used together as part of a pre-prepared and integrated defensive position they proved to be highly effective. The Maavoimat had limited numbers of these devices and used them only in conjunction with critical defensive positions on the Mannerheim Line. They came as a most unwelcome surprise to the Red Army infantry attacking these positions.
Conversely, the Red Army’s flamethrower tanks were not welcomed by the Maavoimat soldiers who faced them. In the 1930's the Soviets had developed a series of flame tanks based on the T-26 light tank. Aware of the threat, the Maavoimat anti-tank gunners tended to target these as soon as they were identified. Early in the Winter War, the Maavoimat captured a number of these tanks from the Red Army. The Maavoimat itself did not however develop a Flamethrower Tank. Tanks within the Maavoimat were in short supply and it was felt that the tanks that were in service were better used as standard tanks equipped with high-velocity guns.
However, enough Red Army Flamethrower Tanks were captured to allow for the creation of a small number of Flame-thrower Tank Platoons (Liekinheitinpanssarijoukkue), each of which was assigned to an Armoured Battalion (Panssaripataljoona) as a specialist unit. The only modification made by the Maavoimat before these tanks entered service in the Maavoimat was to repaint and to fit a Radio. Generally each of these Platoons was equipped with four of the captured Flamethrower Tanks and a strength of 23 men (one officer, eight non-commissioned officers and 14 men). Generally, the direction given to the use of these tanks was that they should only be used for specialist tasks which would benefit from their use in combat in offensive actions. In the Spring 1940 Karelian Isthmus, these Liekinheitinpanssarijoukkue were used with a high degree of effectiveness against Russian soldiers dug in in bunkers and strongpoints.
Knocked out Soviet OT-130 flame tank. The knocked out tank in the background is a Soviet BT-5. (Photo source Pala Suomen Historiaa website) Notice the "bulges" on top of the hull next to turret - these are the tops of the flame-thrower fuel tanks.
The OT-130 (the Soviet "OT" is an abbreviation for Ognemetniy Tank = Flame-throwing Tank and is supposedly post-war but mentioned in war-time Finnish documents) had a Crew of 3, weighed 10 tons, had a length of 4.65 meters, width of 2.44 meters and a height of 2.08 meters. The engine was a 90hp GAZ T-26 4-cylinder gasoline engine. Front Armour was 15mm, deck and turret top was 10mm, Ground clearance was 38cm and ground pressure was 0.61kg/square cm. The tank’s range was 170kms on road and 110 km off-road.
Advancing Suomen Maavoimat troops pass a knocked out Soviet OT-133 flame tank during the 1940 Spring Offensive on the Karelian Isthmus. Notice the rear turret machinegun and typical Soviet flame tank markings (0 in a box on side of the turret) on this particular tank.
(All information on Soviet Flamethrower Tanks and Photos is courtesy of, the Jaeger Platoon Website - http://www.jaegerplatoon.net – context and date of photos has been altered for this ATL – thx once again, Jarkko - and any mistakes are mine....)
During the 1940 Spring Offensive down the Karelian Isthmus additional large numbers of Red Army tanks and vehicles were captured (in addition to those that were destroyed). As one Suomen Maavoimat Regimental Combat Group commander was quoted in a British newspaper as saying in response to a question as to what the British could do to help further: “Ask Stalin to send more Red Army tank units, we’d like to add more tanks to our Armoured Divisions.” Overall though, the Suomen Maavoimat wasn't overly impressed with the Soviet flamethrower tanks. Their flame-throwers were unreliable and somewhat ineffective and were also considered wasteful in their use of fuel and the gun-tanks were considered more useful and versatile. As a result, after the Karelian Isthmus was recaptured, the Maavoimat decided to convert the ex-Soviet flamethrower tanks into gun-tanks, a task which was carried out by the Armour Centre (Panssarikeskus) and Lokomo Works (Lokomon Konepaja).
The main effort involved in this conversion was replacing the flame-thrower with the usual captured Soviet 45-mm tank gun. In addition to this the conversion work consisted of:
• Removal of flame-thrower fuel tanks, pressurised air tanks and their tubes.
• Installing seats for crew (the seating arrangement in the Flamethrower Tanks was bit different from the standard gun-tank and an extra seat for the 4th crewmember was fitted in most of these converted tanks) and adding ammunition racks (for main gun ammunition and for magazines of the DT-machineguns).
• Adding necessary optics (gun sights and periscopes).
• Removal of rear turret machinegun, if the tank had previously been equipped with one.
Most of the converted tanks were also equipped with an additional hull-machinegun and a fourth crew member (hull machinegunner) was added to the crew. After Finland entered WW2 against Germany, these older captured Soviet Tanks were retained for training purposes only.
Next Post…. The Development of Fire Watching and it’s military applications within Finland
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Originally Posted by Karelian
The way you have "borrowed" my text and pictures to the last letter without asking permission (which I had gladly granted had you been polite enough to ask ) while presenting them as your own work is just plain rude and outright intellectual theft. Shame on you.
An example: http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/sho ... st10041695
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As I noted on Paradox forum, you're free to use those pictures and my text as long as you don't represent it as your own. Keep up the good work and apology accepted.
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Just one little quip regarding the heading. As the French (Canadians) say: tout est relatif. Compared to most other small nations around this time, Finland was actually quite well prepared for war, be it in winter or any other season. Why, these fellows even had one or two tanks, a few airplanes etc.
More than that, Finland was morally well-constituted for war due to the huge membership of the Civil Guard and its massive importance and influence on Finnish society. Also on the moral front, a remarkable amount of work had been carried out to give the Finnish people a hostile image of their historical relationship with the Russians, plus a pie-in-the-sky romantic idea that there was a "Fennic" population in East Karelia just dreaming night and day for the Finnish army to come and attach them to the Finnish state.
This went hand in hand with a very true factual knowledge of conditions in the Soviet Union, which due to the geographical proximity was considerably bigger than in the other Nordic states that Finland is traditionally compared with. So among the well-informed as well as those who just believed in the basic "folkskola" version of events there was a high level of motivation.
As there was a huge international crisis in the Western World during the 1930s, most small nations had chosen to spend their meagre state budgets on social improvements rather than military investment. This was emphasised by the experiences from WWI, which showed that small countries were better off keeping a low profile and sticking with neutrality when the bigger nations clashed. However, it is my impression that the crises hit Finland to a lesser degree than many other countries, which again benefited the military - again: relatively speaking. Also, the Finnish experience in WWI was unique in that it showed it was practically possible to seek military help from Germany and still - even though Germany lost the war - keep up good relations with the Allied nations. (Which all reminds me of my old teacher at college who always claimed the Second World War was just as poor carbon copy of the first one.)
All in all, I'm not trying to argue that Finland had a top notch army in 1939 - at least not materially. I'm only trying to see things a little bit in a larger perspective.
Please carry on the good work, Nigel. It is very much appreciated.
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Still, it is indeed interesting the way my little WHAT IF thread has bounced around the forums. I guess Andy H has decided this thread is far to real for the What If Forum - we did briefly touch on this last time it was moved. That said, I am not unhappy to see it here - but I ask forgiveness from the history purists who may be offended
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Sustainability has been the guideline for Finnish forest use even before the modern concept of “sustainable development” was coined. Forests were carefully managed and measures taken to prevent or reduce the impact of forest fires. Prior to the twentieth century however, such containment measures were localized and where they did occur, were on a small scale. Forest fires occurred on a regular basis and little could be done to identify and contain them barring efforts by local farmers, villagers and farm-labourers – efforts which were both manual and limited in the resources available to the immediate locality. As a result of the work by forest professionals, from the turn of the century on there was a greater understanding of the economic impact of forest fires, and more and more in the way of national and private resources dedicated to reducing the effects. Early efforts generally focused on basic measures such as firebreaks and controlled or prescribed burning (burning off during the cooller months to reduce the amount of flammable material available for major forest fires, thereby decreasing the likeliehood of more serious and hotter fires). Deliberate controlled burns early in the fire season substantially reduces the risks of stronger late summer forest fires.
1928: Kulotus käynnissä metsässä. Kuva liittyy metsäylioppilaiden harjoitteluun Hyytiälän metsäasemalla. "Samoin" (alkuperäinen teksti), viittaa tekstiin "Metsä palaa!" / Prescribed burning under way in a forest by Forestry Students training at the Hyytiälä Forest Station. "Similarly," (original text), the text refers to "the forest on fire!"
Kulotusta / Prescribed Burning
Männikön läpi kulkeva osastoraja, joka samalla toimi palokatuna / A Firebreak in the Pine Forest, which at the same time was the Border (with the USSR)
Risk reduction is one thing, but while controlled burns reduced the risk and firebreaks helped to contain fires once started, the single best way to stop a forest fire once it has started is to spot it early and attack it at the source before it has the chance to spread. On a hot, dry, windy day a fire can be up and rolling within minutes after the first spark. On days like this, a fire needs to be sighted almost as soon as it starts and its location reported by the fastest means available. The race to beat a fire before it grows too big was the impetus behind the drive to find better, faster methods of detection. As managed forestry grew in importance, and reforestation programs took place, fires multiplied. Land clearing, farming, lumbering, railroad construction, mining, prospecting, even hunting and fishing all added to the fire hazard. The State Forest Service and the large forestry companies took the first initiatives in the late nineteenth century, with regular forest fire patrols in managed forests. Fire rangers traveled alone or in pairs and were continually on the move, patrolling the forests for signs of fire. Terrain dictated the method of travel.
Fire rangers patrolled on foot through the bush, blazing and clearing their own trails. They scrambled up hills and climbed trees to get a better view. Sometimes they built a small platform or 'crow's nest' in a tall tree to survey the area. When river or lake systems wound through the patrol area as they often did, rangers patrolled by boat - negotiating wind, weather, current, and portages. Small steamboats were utilized for fire patrol on large bodies of water. Later, rangers patrolled in motorboats. Fire rangers also patrolled in horse-drawn buggies or on bicycles, if roads or trails or trail systems were good enough. Later as roads and technology improved, horseless carriages - cars, trucks, or motorcycles - were used to patrol, meaning the fire rangers could cover considerably more distance with a fraction of the effort. But no matter how a ranger patrolled his territory, one thing is certain. He knew his territory inside out. A fire ranger had to know the location of:
- High-value, high-risk areas: the places ready to explode into fire with one careless spark;
- Quickest routes to a fire: all the roads, trails, railroads and communication lines;
- Closest bodies of water: lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds and their proximity to timber stands, communities and other important areas;
- Fire fighters and equipment.
The grueling day-to-day patrols provided the ranger with the practical information he needed to find, fight, and prevent fire.
With the expansion of the Rail Systen, fire rangers were hired to detect and put out fires caused by sparks from the stack and the ash pans of steam locomotives. By 1900, these rangers were stationed at intervals of some eight miles along the Finnish State Railway’s rail tracks. Their equipment consisted of a shovel, canvas pail and axe. Most of the patrolling was done on foot along the tracks by the railroad, but they could ride any train when necesary.
Railway Fire Patrol: As a rule, patrollers would ride one way and walk back. In addition to detecting and putting out fire, rangers worked to prevent fires through posters and public education.
State Forest Service fire patroller on his trusty "leg powered" speeder
Rail patrols began well over one hundred years ago. The early steam locomotives were coal-fired. They spewed embers from the boiler, and sparks from the smokestack, igniting numerous fires along the right-of-ways. At first rangers patrolled sections of track on foot, equipped with a water pail and shovel. Later velocipedes and motorized speeders replaced foot patrols.
When a fire was found, the rangers job was to either put it out (if small) or report it (if too large to be dealt with single-handedly). In putting out fires, the early forest rangers faced major obstacles. If the fire was still small, the fire ranger's crude tools - shovel, axe, hoe and canvas water pail - might be enough to put it out. Hand tools had almost no impact on large fires and in these cases, getting fire fighting teams onto the fire to control it was the most urgent priority. When the fire moved too fast for one man to handle, the ranger had to dash back to base, report the fire, round up a fire crew, and get back to the fire site. No matter how he traveled - on foot, by canoe, on horseback, or even by rail car - precious time was lost. Rangers on rail patrol had it easier. They patrolled the right-of-way along either side of the track, looking for fires caused by sparks from steam locomotives. The chances of catching fire in the early stages were better, but the fire ranger still had to hustle to beat the fire.
Fire patrols were tests of strength and endurance. Rangers trudged over rugged terrain shouldering heavy packs, rowed and portaged boats, rode horseback over narrow forest trails, hand pumped railcars over miles of track, dug out fire break trenches, and hauled pail after pail of water to put out a fire. They coped with bugs, bad weather, accidents and wild animals. A fire ranger had to keep his bearings in the forest. He had to be able to use an axe to clear trails, set up camp, cook over an open fire, keep warm and dry, and treat any injuries he might suffer. And he might be required to handle a boat, or ride horseback. Loggers and trappers were ideal candidates for fire ranging because they had the necessary forest skills - but rangers did not always fit the mould and “city-boys” sometimes took on the job quite successfully. In the late 1920’s, major changes in technology and in communications began to transform the role of the Forest Service’s fire rangers. When telephone lines were built into the forested areas, rangers could report a fire quickly if a phone line was located in the area. Or they could carry a portable phone, and tap into a telephone line if one was available. Telephone lines also led to a new source of detection - public reporting of forest fires.
The use of motor vehicles meant patrols could cover far larger areas and also that fires could be responded to by teams of fire-fighters far more rapidly than in the past. The mid-1920's also brought additions and improvements to fire fighting equipment. Previously only hand tools were available. Axes, shovels, brooms, crosscut saws and canvas pails were commonly used. Equipment to transport and utilize water was not yet invented or adapted to forest fire fighting. Gasoline powered pumps were one of the biggest changes during the period. There were several types purchased and used, but improvements were continuous, reliability was constantly improving and over the years the pumps themselves could move much larger volumes of water. The pumps themselves were used all year round – generally reserved for fire-fighting service over the summer months, they were used to pump water for ice roads in the winter logging season.
Gasoline-powered water pump – 1920’s
Introduced in 1925 was a rather unique pump being demonstrated here that had no connected power source. Instead, this pump, operated by means of a belt drive off the wheel of a vehicle or motorcycle as shown here.
In 1924 the State Forest Service added the first piece of mechanized fire fighting equipment to its inventory. It was simply a heavy framed Ford truck with a gasoline-powered pump, four large barrels of water and several hundred feet of hose. The unit was in a rather loose sense self-contained. It was the forerunner of the modern day "slip-on unit" that would be developed years later.
The early fire rangers moved to higher ground whenever possible to increase their range of vision, scrambling up hilltops, mountaintops, and trees. Yet ground patrols were not good enough. Wildfires continued to inflict terrible economic losses and Fire lookouts evolved to meet the need for speedier, more effective fire detection. The first fire lookouts were generally used on a temporary basis. Fire Rangers might stay for a few days looking for fire. Then they moved on to continue their patrol.
The first fire lookouts evolved from whatever was at hand and could sometimes be quite ingenious, such as this old boat that had been grounded on the shore of a lake.
The late 1920’s saw the setting up of permament Fire Watchtower systems which were built and then manned throughout the fire season. The first fire tower lookouts were wooden and erected at the turn of the century and after WW1. Most of these were about 35 ft. high. As the forest trees grew in height many of these were abandoned and 80 ft. towers were put up in their place in the 1920's and 1930's. The towers over time were grouped into Fire Districts. Towers were arranged over the years in specific spots to get the best view possible between each tower. Usually the best bet was to put a watch tower on top of a naturally high elevation like a sloping hill. State Forest Service or Forestry Company employees would then erect each in the span of two-three weeks. This was not a job for the faint-hearted or those afraid of heights.
Metsähallitus rakennuttaa palotornia, urakoitsija Aukusti Häyrynen. Kiiminki.; Aukusti Häyrynen / Metsähallitus (the State Forest Service) is building a fire tower. The contractor is Aukusti Häyrynen - I
Metsähallitus rakennuttaa palotornia, urakoitsija Aukusti Häyrynen. Kiiminki.; Aukusti Häyrynen / Metsähallitus (the State Forest Service) is building a fire tower. The contractor is Aukusti Häyrynen – II
Towers were erected by State Forest Service or Forestry Company workers or contractors hired to do the job. Some pieces were were brought in by horse in the spring and often timber was cut on-site. It would take about 2 weeks to assemble from the ground up, starting at the cement block base. The top cabin or cupola was hoisted up piece-by-piece and bolted at the joints. The towers were certainly well engineered considering the fact that during high winds they would never shift although the odd one that wasn't put together properly blew over, fortunately never with anyone inside.
Metsähallituksen rakennuttama 25 metriä korkea palotorni Yli-Kiimingin Patsaalassa Kuusamontien varressa.; Aukusti Häyrynen / Metsähallitus (the State Forest Service) building a 25 meters high fire tower - Kiiminki Patsaalassa Kuusamo road.; contractor Aukusti Häyrynen
The completed Fire Tower
This photo gives a relative idea of the size and height of the towers
A sharp eye, an alert attitude, and a detailed knowledge of the lookout area were the lookout observer's most important tools - just as they are today. Once a smoke is spotted, the observer has to make very sure it is a fire. The smoke could be from an industrial smokestack - or it could be dust kicked up from behind a speeding truck along a gravel road. Back in the days of steam locomotives it might have come from the smoke-stacks of the train itself. All lookouts were equipped with fire finders, maps, binoculars to spot fire, and telephones to report fires. The fire finder, or alidade, is fitted over a map, to help the observer pinpoint the location of the fire. If two or three fire lookouts report bearings for the same fire, the fire can be located accurately at the point where the bearings intersect. Binoculars are useful for scanning the horizon, although they are limited by their narrow field of vision. Most scanning is done with the naked eye. The observer reports the fire by telephone (in the early days lookouts were equipped with telephones only but Radios replaced the telephone when it proved to be a more reliable form of communication). In hilly areas, the towers were placed on the tops of hills but where the terrain was flat, toweres up to 30 meters (100 feet) in height literally “towered” above the trees.
The view from the Fire Tower – accommodation can be seen below
Being a towerman was seasonal work starting May 1st and ending Oct. 1st depending on weather conditions. They worked long daylight hours, especially in the summer months when there was a high fire risk – when lookouts were staffed all day, every day. All lookouts were equipped with fire finders, maps, binoculars to spot fire, and telephones to report a fire. Most fires were located by using two towers giving the location of a fire on their map based on a 360 degree radius and with several towers pinpointing the direction to get the exact location of a fire. The tool they used to spot a smoke was called an alidade. It was mounted on a circular table with a map of the area and a degree ring to plot fire direction. The tower was plotted exactly in the centre of this map. The observer reported the compass direction, distance and size of the fire to headquarters by 'bush phone lines' in the early years and by two-way radio in later years. If other towers reported the fire then a 'fix' could be plotted on the map at headquarters. At headquarters there was a larger map of their assigned area and every tower was marked by a point which was circled by a larger compass index.
When the ever-watchful eye of the lookout discovers a spiral of smoke, he locates the fire by means of an alidade and protractor. Other lookouts do likewise. From the directions sighted, the watchman can locate the fire and dispatch forest fire fighters to the scene.
This is how the Alidade Fire Finder looked before it was placed on the towerman’s round map table.
A fire guard reporting fire to headquarters by means of telephone. May 1931. The installation of “forest phone-lines” and telephones meant a vast improvement in the efficiency and coordination of responses to fires.
Most towermen were supplied with live-in bunkhouses where they lived all summer. The towers were often so far back in the forest that commuting wasn't an option. It goes without saying that being married or raising a family was not always a part of a towerman's life during their tower tenures. Very occassionally however, wives and families accompanied the towerman. According to one wife of a towerman, "As far as I know I was the only wife who got to spend the summer at a fire tower. I cooked on a little wood stove and met visitors to the tower. We raised our son there in the summer and he climbed the 85 ft. tower by the age of one. We only got to go into town for food and pay once a month during a rainfall." To “city-folks” it could seem like a romantic life, spending months at a time on the deep forests but paradoxically, the two most difficult aspects of the job were isolation and the height of the lookout towers.
Isolation was the most difficult aspect of the observer's life - or paradoxically - the best part. It all depended on the person concerned. Frequently the fire observers lived and worked alone from May to October (with the exception of occasional visitors). Local trappers or loggers were considered ideal candidates for the job. They were used to the country, and accustomed to being alone. Quiet, introverted people who enjoyed months of solitude in the wilderness, were a natural fit - yet quite a variety of people took on the job and thrived - men and women - young and old, introverted and sociable. The fear of height was also a major difficulty for untried lookout observers. In forested country, the tower observer had to climb straight up a vertical ladder every morning, and down every evening. The prospect of climbing a 30-meter (100-foot) ladder could strike fear into the boldest heart. So can one look at the ground below before descending.
Towermen were expected to keep logbooks of their daily activities, and they also had guestbooks available for any adventurous folks who decided to climb to the top for the views. These were handed in to the head office in Helsinki at the end of the season. Men and women could climb up the tower if they wished, even when the towerman was on duty. It wasn't an easy climb though. Going up was the easy part, but when one came to the opening of the cupola (the tower's top housing) things weren't so easy when one tried to manoeuver through the bottom opening. For many, the hardest part was the fear of going back down. The towerman would sometimes have to use a long rope to tie around the person's waist to lower them back down to the ground.
And of course, not all lookout personnel were men.
As with so many events in the 1930’s, there was a certain amount of serendipity in the hiring of a small number of women to work as forest fire lookouts. Even in the late 1920’s, the Lotta Svärd organisation already trained some members in Aerial Surveillance and it was perhaps pure chance that a small number of these were hired as forest fire lookouts. What was not chance was the proposal that resulted from one such member for the Lotta Svärd organisation to take on the responsibility for Aerial Surveillance for the entire country and train Lotta Svärd personnel to take on this role. The Fire Watch system provided a backbone on which this organisation could be built, utilizing the existing Fire Watchtowers and communications system and expanding this into areas not covered under the guise of improving forest fire monitoring.
Following the decision to adopt this proposal, Finland was divided into 52 Air Surveillance Areas, with each are having numerous air-surveillance posts (Ilmavalonta-Asema) and an Area Air Defence Centre (Ilmapuolustusaluekeskus or IPAK for short). All Ilmavalonta-Asema were to be manned by trained Lotta Svärd air-surveillance personnel, as were the area IPAK’s. Provision was made in the event of war for the rapid construction and linking in to the network of additional air-surveillance posts and sites were chosen and in many cases prepared and maintained through the last half of the 1930’s. This was a popular role for young women members of the Lotta Svärd, giving them an independent and important role in the country’s air defence and the air surveillance units were fully-staffed from the very start.
Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta members on exercise, Summer 1938
Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta members on exercise, Summer 1938
An improvised Observation Post high in a tree, together with the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team responsible for manning the position, Summer 1938
The mood turns more serious - Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta members on exercise following mobilization, Summer 1939
The Lotta Svärd Aerial Surveillance Badge – worn by all members who had passed the air surveillance course. This was no sinecure, training was tough and Observers were expected to identify all types of aircraft accurately, as well as being able to determine speed, height and direction.
Accurate, concise and rapid reporting was emphasized. Aircraft recognition was a highly prized skill, with accurate identification of the wide range of aircraft in Finnish service as well as those used by the USSR being of crucial importance. Lotta Svärd Ilmavolonta personnel realised that there existed in this field a chronic skills deficiency, and the profile of aircraft recognition was raised within the ranks of the organisation. Aircraft recognition training material, consisting of aircraft silhouettes and other data, was introduced almost entirely under the auspices of the Lotta Svärd Ilmavolonta organisation and as this skill obtained official recognition, both the Maavoimat and Merivoimat requested training courses for their reservist personnel be conducted by the organisation. With the outbreak of war, trained Ilmavolonta personnel were in high demand as it was realized that despite such courses for Reservists, a shortage of well-trained personnel was leading to too many “friendly fire” instances where AA guns opened up on Ilmavoimat aircraft. Many Ilmavolonta volunteers were accordingly detached from rear-area posts and assigned to units near (and even in some cases on) the front-lines. These volunteers were generally replaced at the rear with teenage Lotta Svärd Ilmavolonta members who carried out the job with admirable dedication.
Observation Tower built in late-1939. Unlike the Fire Watchtowers, an attempt has been made to camoflauge this tower by constructing it around and through an existing tree.
A direction circle used by Finnish air surveillance observers at air raid warning posts during the Winter War and World War II. Photograph from the "Winter War - 70 years" exhibition in the Military Museum of Finland.
Mobilization and War – mid-November 1939: A Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team about to leave for their Observation Post deep in the forests of Eastern Karelia. As the Maavoimat advanced into Soviet territory, more such teams would be dispersed through the occupied areas to build and staff isolated observation posts. All such Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Teams were at risk from Soviet partisan activity and Red Army stragglers who had been cut-off by the Maavoimat’s advance and were thus heavily armed. Such teams in the occupied areas were usually larger for security purposes than the spotter teams within Finland itself.
Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team member on duty during the Winter War. She stands next to the directin finder.
At the height of the Winter War, January 1940: a Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team on watch. Very little moved in Finnish air space without the Ilmavalonta Spotter Teams identifying, reporting and tracking them.
In 1932, following a Lotta Svärd proposal to the Ilmavoimat and an Air Defence Working Group initiative undertaken as a result, the formation of a Lotta Svärd Unit under Ilmavoimat command responsible for the visual detection, identification, tracking and reporting of aircraft over Finland was approved. Thus unit would be come known as the Air Surveillance Corps. Finland had no real experience in such an organisation, and a number of small study teams were sent abroad to investigate and report on the experience of other countries in WWI – primarily Britain, France and Germany. In the event, most was learnt from the British, who had to a certain extent maintained the experience and skills of the WWI Metropolitan Observation Service with their networks of observations posts and associated anti-aircraft hardware (although much of this had been decommissioned in 1920, by 1932 efforts were underway to resurrect the Observer Corps, it’s experience and expertise).
The British were cooperative in sharing their knowledge and expertise in this area with the Finns, and a great deal of useful information, both current and historical, was made available, together with numerous suggestion as to applicability for Finland. On the various teams returning to Finland, information was pooled and a working group rapidly set up an effective Air Surveillance infrastructure that would remain largely unchanged up until the end of the Second World War.
Each Observation Post was to be manned by a Lotta Svärd Sergeant and six other personnel. Through the 1930’s the number of air surveillance posts continually increased until by 1936 there was a continuous thick belt of observation posts along the southern borders, along the coast of the Gulf of Finland and throughout the coastal archipelago. A rather thinner belt stretched northwards long the Gulf of Bothnia. The interior of the country was also well-covered in the south but thinned somewhat in the North, with only scattered coverage in Lapland. At the end of September 1938 the political crisis which culminated in the Munich Agreement had led to the Air Surveillance Corps being mobilised for a period of one week. This single act proved to be invaluable as it highlighted a number of organisational and technical shortcomings, and provided the impetus for the development of solutions to resolve these. A series of exercises held throughout 1939 provided opportunities for the fine tuning of improvements made to command and control functions.
Operational procedures would continue to evolve throughout the war, a process facilitated by the enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism which Lotta Svärd volunteer members, coming from every walk of life, brought with them to the Corps. High quality Merivoimat-issue binoculars were issued to observers, whose observation posts in the country areas usually consisted of nothing more than a wooden tower or a platform hidden in the top of a tree, with a telecommunications link with a control centre, often via a manual switchboard at local telephone exchange. In urban areas, observation posts were usually located on the rooftops of public buildings and factories and were often substantial brick built structures, protected by sandbags, which due to their often having being constructed by Air Surveillance Corps personnel themselves meant that no two posts were identical.
Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team on the job – Summer 1940
A young Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team on the job – August 1940: as the war continued and demands on manpower increased, large numbers of teenage-girl members of the Lotta Svärd were called on to fill Svärd Ilmavalonta Spotter Team positions – a role they filled capably and with superb dedication. Over 1939 and 1940, Finland brought a whole new meaning to the term “Total War” with the largest proportion of her population under arms of any country in WW2.
A “Press Photo” of a Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta observer taken for release to the foreign press, sometime in Summer 1940. Finland played the propaganda war with great effectiveness throughout the Winter War, and opportunities for “photogenic” shots were not passed up on…..
And Observers were not without other “protection.” Trained war-dogs often accompanied Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta Teams into isolated positions. Friendly to their “pack,” they provided an excellent early-warning system and were also trained to fight.
An Area Air Defence Centre (Ilmapuolustusaluekeskus): Tellers on the balcony overlook the plotting table and vertical long-range handover board. At the end of the balcony a Leading Observer acts as Post Controller. Note that Area Air Defence Centre’s included a small number of Ilmavoimat personnel.
The headquarters of each Ilmapuolustusaluekeskus operated from a Control Centre, responsible for and controlling between 30 and 40 observation Posts each of which would be some 10 km to 20 km from its neighbour. In 1935, as mentioned previously, there were 52 Ilmapuolustusaluekeskus covering Finland, controlling in total some 1,920 posts – and with each post manned on average by some 8 Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta personnel, the entire organisation had a strength of approximately 20,000 personnel.
In order to monitor aircraft, observers used a simple but effective mechanical tracking device. Where the approximate height of an aircraft is known it becomes possible, by using a horizontal bearing and a vertical angle taken from a known point, to calculate the approximate position of that aircraft. Posts were equipped with a mechanical sighting device positioned over a post instrument plotter consisting of a map grid. After setting the instrument with the aircraft's approximate height, the observer would align a sighting bar with the aircraft. This bar was mechanically connected to a vertical pointer which would indicate the approximate position of the aircraft on the map grid. Observers would report the map coordinates, height, time, sector clock code and number of aircraft for each sighting to the aircraft Plotters located at the Ilmapuolustusaluekeskus. Positioned around a large table map, plotters would wear headsets to enable a constant communications link to be maintained with their allocated Cluster of posts, usually three in number.
The plotting table consisted of a large map with grid squares and posts being marked. Counters were placed on the map at the reported aircraft's position, each counter indicating the height and number of aircraft, and a colour-coded system was used to indicated the time of observation in 5 minute segments. The table was surrounded by plotters, responsible for communicating with their allocated cluster of posts. Over time the track of aircraft could be traced, with the system of colour coding enabling the extrapolation of tracks and the removal of time expired (historical) data. From 1942, long-range boards were introduced into centre operations rooms, with Tellers communicating with neighbouring Ilmapuolustusaluekeskus groups in order to handover details of inbound and outbound aircraft tracks as they were plotted on this map.
Specific duties in the centre operations room included those undertaken by:
• Plotters - responsible for updating the plotting table and long range board
• Tellers - responsible for communicating with neighbouring ROC groups, Fighter Command Group and Sector controls, anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight units
• Alarm Controllers - responsible for liaising with the Police, the National Alert System, the Väestön Siviilisuojelu (or Civil Defence of Citizens) and with local industrial facilities
• Interrogator - responsible for liaising with ground controlled interception (GCI) radar units
• Duty Controller - together with an Assistant Duty Controller and Post Controller, responsible for supervising both the centre plotters and group observation posts .
While the early Finnish radar defence system was able to warn of enemy aircraft approaching some areas of southern Finland and the Gulf of Finland coast, once having crossed the coastline the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation provided the only means of tracking their position. Throughout the Winter War and the remainder of the Second World War, the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation continued to complement and at times replace the defensive radar system by undertaking all inland aircraft tracking and reporting functions, while the radar and radio-monitoring systems provided a predominantly coastal and southern border-oriented, long-range tracking and reporting system.
On 1 October 1939 Mobilisation Notices were issued to all members of the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation. From 3 October 1939, observation posts and area control centres would be manned continuously until 12 May 1945, four days after VE Day and the network itself would be continually expanded so that by VE Day it covered Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Finnish-Polish controlled zones of Poland and Germany. During this period, the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation was at full stretch operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, plotting enemy aircraft and passing this essential information to Ilmavoimat Fighter Command Groups and Air Defence Sector Controls. The organisation provided vital information which enabled timely air-raid warnings to be issued, thereby saving countless lives and forming a cornerstone of Major-General Somersalo’s air defence system. In December 1940, Somersalo would write: "It is important to note that at this time they (the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation) constituted the whole means of tracking enemy raids once they had crossed the coastline or the border. Their work throughout was quite invaluable. Without it the air-raid warning systems could not have been operated and inland interceptions would rarely have been made."
In 1943 and 1944, during preparations for the invasion of Estonia, a request for volunteers from within the ranks of the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation produced 1,094 highly qualified candidates, from which 796 were selected to perform aircraft recognition duties as Seaborne Observers. These Seaborne Observers undertook specialist training prior to being temporarily seconded to the Meroivimat. The Seaborne Observers continued to wear their Lotta Svärd uniform, but in addition wore a "SEABORNE" shoulder flash and Merivoimat brassard. During the E-day landings, two Seaborne Observers were allocated to all participating Meroivoimat vessels and Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships. The Seaborne Observers assumed control of each ship's anti aircraft batteries with the intention of reducing the incidence of friendly fire between Merivoimat vessels and allied aircraft. The success of the Seaborne Observers in undertaking this role can be measured by a signal sent by Major-General Somersalo after the landings had been successfully accomplished, who stated that:
"The general impression amongst the Fighter wings, covering our land and naval forces over and off the beach-head, appears to be that in the majority of cases the fire has come from allied forces on shore and not from our ships. Indeed I personally have yet to hear a single pilot report that a Merivoimat or merchant vessel had opened fire on him"
During the landings a total of two Seaborne Observers lost their lives, several more were injured and twenty two survived their ships being sunk. The deployment of Seaborne Observers was regarded as an unqualified success and in recognition for their contribution to the success of the landings, Marshal Mannerheim approved the permanent wearing of the SEABORNE shoulder flash on the uniforms of those individuals who had taken part. Following the invasion, the head of Ilmavoimat Fighter Command wrote a message which was circulated to all Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta personnel:
"I have read reports from both pilots and naval officers regarding the Seaborne volunteers on board naval and merchant vessels during recent operations. All reports agree that the Seaborne Ilmavolonta volunteers have more than fulfilled their duties and have undoubtedly saved many of our aircraft from being engaged by our ships guns. I should be grateful if you would please convey to all ranks of the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation, and in particular to the Seaborne observers themselves, how grateful I, and all pilots in the Expeditionary Air Force, are for their assistance, which has contributed in no small measure to the safety of our own aircraft, and also to the efficient protection of the ships at sea.
The work of the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation is quite often unjustly overlooked, and receives little recognition, and I therefore wish that the service they rendered on this occasion be as widely advertised as possible, and all units of the Air Defence of Finland are therefore to be informed of the success of this latest venture of the Lotta Svärd Ilmavalonta organisation."