Personal Finnish War Stories

Discussions on the Winter War and Continuation War, the wars between Finland and the USSR.
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 26 Nov 2017 06:14

Fighting in Mallatsaari island in March 1940

Jaakko Kontula
Journal "Kansa Taisteli" vol.11/12, 1958

The war diaries of 6./JR12 and II/JR12 have not survived, so the story cannot be compared with any documents. Map in source p.338

Winter night was turning into morning dusk on the ever memorable day of 5th March 1940 as the remains of the I Platoon of 6./JR12 were withdrawn from the small rocky Neulasaari island to join the Company in Rasalahti where they had been transferred right from Keihäsniemi.

Oh yes , there stood in the morning dusk on the yard of Kärki manor an indefinite group of men of the 6th Coy. The Battalion had issued an order sending the Coy to rest. That implied a chance of desired sleep after the sleep-deprived nights and hard battles during which our Company had frustrated the enemy, superior in manpower and material, that had attempted to break our defence in Keihäsniemi with savage attacks from Turkinsaari island.

The doors of the large manor were wide open and the spacious rooms were as cold as the winter outside for the men entering them. It was not allowed to make any fire in the oven because the area was under painfully meticulous observation by enemy balloons. Despite feeling cold and hungry many a man fell asleep as soon as they had dropped their backpacks down. However, there were a few men who clandestinely made tea in the cow shed to boost their morale.

In the grand hall of the manor there was a big black piano, a mute testimony of its owners' musical talents. The lads passed it quietly until one man stopped at it, looking serious. After some hesitation he opened the keyboard lid and after a few test notes the tune of the ancient waltz “Emma” started echoing in the hall. At first the silence was perfect but someone grumbled angrily in a corner: “Shut that thing and let this old man sleep” The music ended and the lid was slammed shut. The last tunes lingered in the air for a moment. By the by all the bustle died down and after a while even, heavy breathing was heard here and there as the sleeping men were breathing white clouds of frost in the wintry air.

The promised and longed rest turned out to be brief. It was not yet night as the Battalion CO issued an order to the Company to man Mallatsaari island by 0200hrs. The island was supposed to be manned by a Recruit Company of Viipuri garrison.

Having had a meal at the field kitchen that had been hastily brought up to the manor yard we set out on skis, clumsily, sleepy and freezing, through a small forested area and over fields until we descended on the ice of the Gulf of Finland. A freezing blast beat our faces and blew snow in our ski track. I cannot tell how long we had kept going but at the weak dusk of the dawn we finally passed Pamppusaari island. I could see the white painted summer house of our ex-President Lauri Relander as a silhouette against the dimly lit skyline. We passed the Kilpisaaret islands until we found ourselves in our destination on 6.March 1940 at 06.45 hrs. Making use of the last shreds of dusk we relieved the previous manning.

The command post of our Company we set up in a sort of concrete reinforced dugout in the middle of the island that probably had been built by the local Civil Guard to be used in shooting training. It was large enough to house our entire shrunken Company.

The island had been guarded and defended as mentioned above, a Recruit Company sent from the Viipuri Garrison, who had been called up three months ago. So it was not surprising that the sentry system comprised one man standing on the roof of the dugout who was to report if anything out of ordinary would happen.

This neglect of duty, as I considered it to be, had taken place without the knowledge of the CO and against his orders. It would have been fatal for them if the relief would have arrived any time later.
As soon as we had taken over the command post and the charge for the island, our Company CO Lt. Kivijärvi ordered the I Platoon leader Lt Velamo to place four sentries around the island as he considered best.

Not full five minutes later, before we had had time even to drop our backpacks, Lt Velamo returned in a hurry and reported that the entire island, except our direction of arrival and the command post, was occupied by the enemy. Our entire Company had entered the wolf's maw .

The enemy could have placed a MG in the cover of the dusk in front of our dugout entrance and they would have been able to shoot us all there. That this did not happen is obviously due to the fact that the enemy who had bitten into the island was waiting for reinforcements. They did have at least six SMGs and a huge quantity of hand grenades, but the MG s – numbered four according to our observation – were still at that moment in positions on the ice of the sea.

In the beginning we estimated that the enemy comprised just two strong recce patrols that had been surprised by our sentries. So our Platoon CO, Lt. Velamo told the Company CO that the I_ Platoon is going to mop up them in no time.

We climbed up the hill at our command post, led by Lt Velamo who had drawn his Mauser pistol, followed by Cpl Myllylä who was carrying as many hand grenades as he could hold in his arms, the rest of the platoon following in a ragged group.

We did not make more than 30m before we were met by an angry SMG. Lt Velamo retaliated with his Mauser: three enemies dropped on the side of a boulder, one of them groping with his fingers for support on the side of the boulder before he flopped down on his face.

But also Velamo took a bullet in his side. I heard how he shouted, his blood colouring the snow red, to Myllylä who was following him: “ Throw a grenade, one devil slipped behind that boulder, I cannot “. Myllylä struck the hand grenade stud on the butt of his SMG and accurately threw it in the indicated spot, followed by a second and a third. They did the job, there were three explosions behind the boulder followed by loud moaning.

But the third throw was fateful for Myllylä, too. The life of this young, glad and always ready soldier was ended. I saw his arm rise against the brightening morning sky and the hand grenade released from his hand to do its job. But I also heard MG s opening up at some distance and saw their bullets beat our surroundings, giving no quarter to anybody on their way. Sgt Myllylä was hit, and also Pvt Hautala next to him.

During the night the enemy had placed and camouflaged two MG only about 400m from the shoreline on the ice. The enemy gunners had observed the situation on the island, and having heard the SMGs rattling and hand grenades popping they had opened fire to support their comrades on the island.

In the meanwhile fighting had spread all over the island, and it went on until the night with varying success. The Company CO, Lt. Kivijärvi, having found that it was snot a case of enemy patrols doing recce, but the island was totally occupied by the enemy, ordered the entire company to sweep the island. The ensuing battle shall never be forgotten by the participants. SMGs burned your fingers like a piece of hot iron right from a forge, and your sweating and shaking hands were throwing hand grenades which were flying like sparks from a fireplace. Curses and jokes were suppressed, there was a hard task at hand, human lives were on stake. Without thinking apparently, sweat drenching your shirt, there was just one idea in your mind: if you do not kill you shall be killed!

The battle wound down by the by and making use of the falling evening dusk the enemy pulled back to their base, evacuating their lightly wounded. My adventures, however, were not over yet. I and Sgts Brusila and Kittelä crept out to the sea ice in the dusk of the evening, intending to capture the MG s that had been such a nuisance to us, if they should have been left behind. Kittelä was leading, his new Lapland boots squeaked ominously on the hard snow crust. I remember his boots because they were about to be fateful to everyone of us. We did not take into account the possibility that the enemy might have mined “their” side of our island. So, when we entered the ice the tip of Kittelä's boot got stuck on a trigger wire. Down! We spent one long minute with our heads pushed in the snow but nothing happened. The wires hidden in the snow probably had frozen solid with the snow. We sneaked on no faster than slugs and finally reached an enemy MG position. It was empty. The MG we had desired was not there for us to take. Instead we collected weapons and other material scattered among the dead enemies, as much as we were able to carry, and left the rest to be picked up in daylight.

Our casualties included four men killed, three hailing from Pukkila and one from Kerava. Ten more men were wounded, some lightly, some seriously, among others Lt. Velamo was demobilised after a long and difficult hospital stay. Thinking about it now it is next to incomprehensible that we made it with such small losses when we take into consideration that on the island we counted 43 enemy corpses, and as to those on the ice we did not bother to count them.

That night I was unable to sleep, I climbed to the top of the island that also was a sentry post of ours. There was a flat moss covered stone surrounded by seven fallen enemies, some of which were moaning although obviously unconscious. I bent down at the nearest one who already was stiff. At an incomprehensible whim I put my hand in his breast-pocket, but it was full of half congealed blood. Hastily I pulled back my hand, and remained staring at it. Coming to I saw he was holding something in his bare left hand, the mitt had fallen on the snow. I again bent down and to my amazement I saw he was holding a photo in his hand. A woman about 30yrs in age and three small children, probably the man's wife and children. The dying man's last thoughts were his home and his nearest and dearest. I put the photo in my pocket as a souvenir and also the dead man's ID . It was just a bit of paper in a small tin, partly rusty at edges. I did not understand any of its Russian text except the figure “1909” which may have been his year of birth.

I stood there in that lone sentry post for a long time with the ID of the killed enemy in my hand, watching the cruel flames destroying Viipuri some 3km off. In vain I tried to find an answer to my question: is it indeed the will and intention of G-d that this country and its peace loving people should be destroyed to guarantee the safety of the great Eastern invader power?

(1956 words)

Posts: 704
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Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 17 Dec 2017 06:24

Arvo Seppinen
Wrestling with desants
Journal “Kansa Taisteli", vol. 11/12, 1959

Remark to the story: Capt. Wolf Halsti complained in his “Talvisodan päiväkirja” about how easily men were exempted from mobilization in 1939. Here we have a prime example: a bunch of pilots in the war zone waiting for ships that everyone knew would never come through the ice.

I had been serving some years as “pilot cub” at the Virtaniemi pilot base in Koivisto. AS the Winter War broke out I was still in service there, so I was exempted from mobilization. I was employed in my civilian occupation even though I was a reservist.

Virtaniemi pilot base was situated 7 to 8 km from the famous forts of Koivisto: Saarenpää, Humaljoki and Tiuri. Although these forts were at times engaging the units of Soviet navy our base did not have to experience the fire of Soviet naval guns, but due to the vicinity of the harbour, aerial bombardment. One of our pilots was killed in an air raid.

Virtaniemi pilot base, some distance off from the town where the HQ s and other military installations were, was situated on a cape sticking into the strait of Koivisto, and as a tall and prominent building a good landmark and target for bombers. In the early days of the war the raids were daytime raids only but later night raids occurred. Especially moonlit nights were favoured by the enemy airmen.

At the full moon days in January 1940 Mr. A. Roti, the leader of the base with whom I was on lookout duty, suggested that we should move to a sauna nearby. It was situated in a dense patch of forest near the coastline. We heated the sauna enough to spend a night there, and at night we went there to sleep.

Being a little aside Koivisto town we were not informed of everything. So we were ignorant of the fact that in Makslahti and about the town a desant hunt had been going on for a few days already, and both sides had taken losses. Later we learned that the Desant outfit had comprised 5 to 6 men initially. Tonight two or three were left of them.

Ignorant of the risk and having only the risk of an air raid in our thoughts we stripped our outer garments and shoes. The night was calm as to air raids, because I fell asleep at once.

At noon I was woken up by my pal poking at my ribs and telling me to listen. I was wide awake at once, and heard quiet talk that I at once recognized Russian.

Enemies! We both stood up at once but we were unarmed. It came to my mind that the sauna could be surrounded by a landed enemy patrol. We had no time to make up a war plan as the door was yanked open at the very next moment. The sauna was dark, I could see next to nothing . I more sensed than saw that my pal, the pilot leader rushed at the intruder to grab at him. Roti was
nearly 50 years in age but still a strong man. A wrestling match ensued in the small sauna porch. His Russian adversary was a young strong man but being surprised in the dark he found himself as the underdog. He shouted in Russian to his comrade nearby : “Trälsii, trälsii. (strelai ?) Shoot, shoot!”

In the dark porch it was easier to say than do this, nobody fired because he may have hit any of the two wrestlers. Roti managed to throw his adversary down on the hard concrete floor and immediately lunged at the legs of the other Desant who was lingering there waiting for a chance to shoot, throwing him over, too, then dashing out.

The incident took but a few seconds. I was not able to participate due to darkness and lacking weapons, and was desperately trying to think what to do next. I understood that I better not try to get out via the porch. Maybe we should use the window? I kicked the window out and shouted to my pal, advising him to get out through the window. I jumped out of it myself, at the same time hearing how the other Desant fell down.

Consequently we both were out at the same time, and rushed in the cover of the forest in our undergarments only. On my way I found that two pairs of strange skis and ski poles had been set up against the sauna wall. Contrary to our expectations no shots were fired after us. The two men were obviously still sorting out their situation.

We found a sentry about one kilometre down the road and gave alert with his help. Due to the thick smoke that suddenly drifted from the sea the pursuit was delayed and without results. The tracks of the desants vanished on the ice of Koivisto strait.

But the desants did not escape finally. Fort Humaljoki had been alerted and they were on the lookout there. The pier sentries reported that in the night they had heard talk on the foggy ice, but they had thought it was Swedish, because some ethnic Swedes were included in the personnel of the fort. The desant alert and this report were found to have a connection. Tracks were sought and found but curiously they led to the fort, almost under a Canet battery.

The desants were no beginners in this game. They had made a perfect foiling ring and then camped in a covered spot to wait for any pursuers. They had made a small fire to warm up and rest, obviosly ignorant of the fact that they found themselves in the middle of the fort.

As the pursuers approached one of the desants threw a hand grenade at the unsuspecting Finnish patrol, but the grenade hit a birch tree and just alerted the patrol. A firefight ensued. One of the Russians was almost at once wounded. The other one continued his fight, shouting the name of his pal and telling him to follow. Due to his wounds he was immobilised and surrendered.

Dashing and shooting the second man made it to the beach line, and without surrendering he fought to his death. When the dead man was frisked the documents of a killed Finnish man and a watch were found.

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 23 Dec 2017 06:25

Olavi Niinikoski
Celebrating Christmas at Salla in 1939

Journal “Kansa Taisteli” vol. 11/12 1958

The author was a Platoon leader of IX/Kt-Pr., also a part-time author. No relevant war diaries of Kt-Pr. have survived for this period.

Our thermometer that had been tied on the trunk of a pine had swayed on both sides of -30deg C for a few days already. The cold that occasionally made the trunks of the sparse forest crack had caused a number of false alarms, even patrol missions. We were in the reserve of the Battalion waiting for Christmas of 1939 far in the North, in Salla, front section Joutsijärvi. Our Battalion, IX/KT-Pr, was different from every other outfit which comprised locals whereas ours was made up of men hailing from different circumstances, from Satakunta province. Very few of us had ever been North of the Polar Circle.

Our Battalion was set up in Pori, we had been shipped by rail to Kemijärvi railhead and from there with lorries right in battle. We were adequately armed and trained but our gear was not good enough for the cold Lapland weather. Most of us were wearing their civilian gear, the only military insignia being a cockade and a belt

Our Company had taken their positions in the night and at dawn the CO could have a look at the sad terrain, flat sparse taiga forest, and at his men crouching in their positions, suffering from cold in their motley clothing.
Half joking he said to one of his Platoon leaders:
Well. I think is this kind of fatherland really worth defending.

The same man later fought every battle showing unique resilience and at the end sacrificed his life for this barren and poor fatherland.

Fortunately we could have a couple days of rest if existence in a wintry Lapland forest within the range of enemy mortars can be called resting. During those days we did receive supplementary gear that was adapted to the circumstances. The reindeer fur overcoats that had been tailored for much shorter local men made the southerners appear a little comical and the men in reindeer fur boots were often flipped over by the unaccustomed slippery footwear. Snow would shake down from the branches as curses were uttered in true Pori district dialect. The main thing was however that the frost was no more able to incapacitate the fighting men.

Even a little rest produced some humour. Two resourceful fellows would walk in their reindeer fur boots one after the other and keeping their legs wide, producing a trail of huge footprints in the fresh snow. Next they went to the tents and woke up a Corporal known as an eager hunter.
Come and have a look, that may be a bear's trail over there.

In one second the Corporal was up and about. His eyes shining with anticipation he grabbed his prize-winning personal accuracy rifle and followed his guides into the bush. Soon they found the clear and huge track.
Definitely a bear, the Corporal said having examined the trail for a moment and finding some grey hair in them.
It is a bear for sure. Do you want to join me?
The guides were unarmed. They wished good luck and the Corporal started skiing for the first time in his life to hunt a bear, the king of the forest. His cheeks were glowing with thrill as he turned and promised his guides a pack of Työmies cigarettes in case he got the Lapland bear shot.

But the trail ended at his own tent where the helpful guides with the other men were waiting for the big game hunter, alive with malicious joy.

Soon there was again no joke any more because on the night of the bear hunt, the day before Christmas, we had to move back to our old positions W of the Joutsijärvi-Salla road. Shells from both sides were occasionally flying overhead as we at dusk manned the familiar positions on a narrow low ridge growing sparse forest.
The tent of our Platoon was set up just behind the ridge providing cover against direct enemy fire. The nearest foxholes were just some twenty meters from the tent. In the night we would have just some men in the positions while the rest were sleeping in the warm tent, which now was even more pleasant as we had found fragrant hay in a barn nearby on top of the fir boughs on the tent floor. Due to risk of fire we could not place them near the tent stove.

It was uncommon peaceful. The night was cold, wind blew some snow and an occasional shot or burst of SMG or LMG could be heard. Obviously the shooters were making sure that their weapons would work despite the cold.

A liaison patrol from the neighbouring front section visited our tent in the evening. The men recounted wild rumours. They told us that they had heard over the wireless that Romania and Hungary have joined the war, supported by Italy. In Suomussalmi, it was said, some 17000 Russians were surrounded and partly taken POW. In Pelkosenniemi, they told us, some twenty lorries laden with ammunition had been taken. This information was taken with a grain of salt although everyone would have loved to believe them.

The quiet period of meditation was ended by laughter as someone poked at his half-asleep pal saying:
Get up to mind your field kettle on the stove, you could lose the aroma.
The kettle had been filled with snow that had turned into boiling water.

Change of sentry duty every two hours disturbed the sleep for some men a little. Else the night was quiet. The Christmas Eve was dawning quietly, too. There was some snow falling. Memories of Christmas at home flooded one's mind as one in the morning stepped, or rather crawled, out of the small door of the tent.

Since there had not been a single sound from the opposing side I decided to investigate with a patrol this odd situation. They normally did not care if they made noise, whereas on our side we tried to do everything as quietly as possible.

To begin with I sent runners to the Coy CO and to the outfits on our wings to report on us to avoid being shot at accidentally by our own men. As soon as they had returned and it was certain that my report had been received I took one NCO and five men with me. We descended on the thick ice of a frozen over brook that was situated in the no-man's land. There we kept listening for a while for any sounds on the enemy side. Since nothing was heard we sneaked carefully among low tree saplings for about one hundred meters.

We reached the first badly built weapons nests of the enemy stronghold. They were abandoned, but cartridges and other stuff had been left here and there. A little farther on we met some frozen men in most extraordinary poses. All of them were wearing a brownish overcoat, peaked cap and felt boots. Cockades and other small items quickly changed owners.

The stronghold was found totally empty. Judging by the evidence it had been hurriedly abandoned the day before, due to a bullseye by mortar or artillery barrage. It could have as well theirs as our.
Our side, being short of ammo, had shelled rather sparingly lately, but it is always possible to score a bullseye with just a few shells.

Since it did not make sense for us to occupy the enemy stronghold due to its location we returned immediately. We had war booty with us: a LMG, an autoloading rifle, a lot of cartridges, a food container etc.

At home we found that two AT guns had been brought up. It was expected that as the ground was frozen hard the enemy could use their tanks not only on the road.where they had deployed them so far.

In the afternoon there was a loud noise of bantering and some kind of clanking that we were not able to make out, however we tried to guess. Somebody opined that the enemy is issuing orders to retake their abandoned stronghold. This was confirmed unexpectedly soon.

Soon shells started landing at our positions. Some of the men hurried into their foxholes without being ordered but the more hardy ones had become so used to daily artillery and mortar harassment fire that they did not care about it, as long as there were no real casualties. So about one squad worth of men continued their game of cards in a tent.

We were lucky this time, too, because as if by miracle the shells were landing in front of our positions and behind them but none hit the ridge that we manned. The smokestack of our tent was rattled by a splinter, one ski was broken and a rifle butt scratched. As the shelling ended we found that the estimate that the enemy would re-occupy their stronghold was true. To counter that we had to keep more men in our own positions

The night at Christmastime in the North is long and dark. The dusk seemed to settle even earlier today, Christmas Eve. It was warm and cosy, too, in our tent. Some candles were burning and small Christmas tree was hanging from the roof. It was not too crowded, either, because all the time a reinforced squad worth of men was in the positions. Also the Platoon did not have full complement any more. Some of our brothers had left the ranks, fallen, some wounded, and a couple of men had frozen their feet. We remembered our dead that night, and as to the wounded, we almost envied them, because they could spend their Christmas in well lit hospitals.

We had plenty of food. We had by now learned how to make reindeer stew. Some of it was brewing in the field kettle lids on the stove all night. The dessert consisted of American canned fruit that had been sent from Kemijärvi. Some gluttonous men were able to eat the army soup, too, but this night most left it untouched.

In the afternoon liquor rations had been distributed, one half-liter bottle for five men. The oddly melancholic mood was such that just some men enjoyed the small ration. Most men decided to save the drink for the time when we at some time would be pulled in the rear for rest and recuperation.

WE had great expectations as to the Christmas presents, almost like when we were children. We had heard that quite a lot of them had been received here in the Northern front. (Traditionally in Finland Christmas presents are distributed at Christmas Eve. Tr.rem.) For some reason the load of presents could not be shipped to our positions this night; yet we were not very disappointed because we had become used to the fact that in war not everything runs in schedule.

The squads were regularly rotated in the positions. The men in tents had a deep, calm sleep. Many a man must have dreamt of a happier Christmas at home.

At 01.30 the idyllic peace of the Christmas night was ended. A huge crash was heard: a strong artillery barrage shook the surroundings. Sleep vanished from our eyes. Shells kept raining at us. In the light of the flashes of explosions the men ran in their foxholes with their weapons in hand. Someone fired his rifle, another one joined him and soon the entire line was alive with fire. The enemy fired green flares, and soon a rain of bullets started streaming at us. Fortunately the aim was one or two meters too high. Bullets were whacking branches above us and they were falling on us together with snow. Infantry fire decreased fast and finally ended totally. On both sides it was found that the neighbour does not have any serious purpose. Shells were landing at us constantly, so we considered it advisable to stay in our foxholes for now.

We could not be sure about the plans of the enemy. We did not underestimate our adversaries anyhmore after their patrol had one night on our right wing wiped out a weapons nest where the men were asleep.

Our positions were fairly comfortable. Foxholes had been dug well and equipped in the sandy soil of the ridge. Soft hay had been brought from the nearby barns for insulation. As the shooting kept winding down in the small hours many a man was falling asleep in his foxhole. I and my deputy made tours to wake up the sleepers so that they should not freeze their faces in the biting cold.

By morning the weather turned quite nice. Moon was blinking between clouds and a star was twinkling friendly here and there. From the enemy side there was a monotonous clanking of tank tracks in the direction of the Salla- Joutsijärvi road, sometimes a distant shot rang out. It was the oddest Christmas of my life!

Even though a great part of the shell rain of last night had hit the ridge with our positions we still had a wonderful providence on this memorable Christmas night. Only two men had been slightly wounded by splinters. Our neighbouring outfits were not as lucky. They had several wounded.

At 07.00 a sled loaded with Christmas packages managed to arrive at our tent. We left our positions having left behind a weak securing. There were indeed a lot of yearned packets, in addition to private packets two packets for “unknown soldier” could be distributed to everyone who did not get more than one private packet. The leftover packet was handed over to me. It had been sent from Kristiinankaupunki. It contained not only warm socks, tobacco and sweets also a Christmas card that had been written with a strong and beautiful female pen:
“Respected soldier of the brave Finnish Army!
May long live Finland and the brave defenders of Finland!
I am wishing you luck in battle and hoping for final victory!
May my small present prove you my good wishes.
Merry Christmas and perfect success,
Mrs. X”

When the packets were being opened someone started the Christmas Hymn in the tent and the men outside joined in . I never heard such a special rendition of that hymn.

The Christmas Day passed slowly. A tremendous number of thank-you letters were written to the donators by very grateful men.

A lone aircraft was circling high above us. It may have been checking the results of the shelling last night but a slight snow had covered the shell holes, making them invisible. An enemy mortar fired some bombs from the NE, one of them was such a near miss of a foxhole that the man in it was almost totally buried. However, he was soon extricated form his tricky condition.

The short day soon turned into dusk at “Antti” that our front sector was named according to the first name of our Company CO. The battle-weary men turned in early.

This is how the War Christmas of 1939 was celebrated by a Platoon of men from the South, far from their homes, in extraordinary circumstances North of the Polar Circle.

Some time later JR40 relieved IX/Kt-Pr from the front duty.
Author Pentti Haanpää, then a rifleman on the ranks of JR40 , describes the Salla front section:

Finally, in the cover of the night, they marched to the front lines. Then it was very quiet. Artillery was silent. They arrived at a village green where the houses were standing abandoned, gloomy looking, with black window openings. Even the snow was black. At the wall of a stone cow barn there were dark bundles, bodies. Yesterday the cow barn had taken a square hit and about ten men had fallen. The front line had stayed here for weeks now. There was a narrow lake in front of the positions.

A guide in his reindeer fur coat arrived. Relief started. Information was given in a low voice. -Here is the LMG nest. - Here we have a SMG. - Here is a rifleman. - Down at the lake shore we have placed a hearing post for the night-time...

Here they had dug down on both sides. Out of weapons nest and open foxholes sleepy creatures crept out, looking numb, in their hairy garbs they made one think of dangerous beasts. They shake off their furs and hand them over to the new men. Relief goes on, the queue of men is getting constantly shorter. At times no one is getting out of a foxhole. The guide pokes in it with the butt of his rifle, and finally a man emerges. He may have fallen asleep as the silent night fell. The men to be relieved have been here long, for days.

A new man dives in the reindeer fur coat. It still retains the body warmth of the previous holder. He started to familiarize himself with his surroundings. The hole was quite cramped. There was some hay and a reindeer hide on the bottom. In the beginning it was quite cosy after a long march: Sitting in there in furs was quite all right. There a couple of hand grenades, here was a pile of spent cases as one felt with one's fingers. So here the music had been playing as the adversary had tried to emerge from the edge of the forest over there that loomed in the darkness. There was an open area ahead, the width of which could not be estimated in the darkness. It is the ice of a lake. It is cloudy and it is snowing. The rifleman peeked over the parapet and tried to estimate how he could spot it if a man in felt boots would sneak from there, surrounded by darkness and the black forest edge behind him. He might close in undetected... He was feeling a little abandoned and lonely, he nearly felt that he had been left alone in the world, in this shallow hole. It was hard to believe that his pals were there to the right and to the left, each in his hole. It would feel better if he even could see the location where they found themselves. This uncommon total silence, too, was oppressive and ominous. This was a premonition, something was about to happen...

The lonely rifleman leaned ever more over the parapet, trying to turn the darkness into light with his eyes. He kept lookout so hard that his eyes started to hurt.. What is that shape? Well, it is a bush, probably. Was that a flash of flame over there? Maybe it was just a flash in his eyeball.

The time was very slow in passing. How long does a man have to squat in a hole in the middle of darkness? Some of dawn began to appear. Finally the Company CO arrived, on his inspection tour. He said that in daytime any relief or other movement is out of question. The enemy has a good vantage point on the opposite hill. If they detect anything, shells shall be coming in. Each man has to stay in his position until the night darkness. Only then some kind of rest may be available.

The CO vanished in the darkness, it was again quiet and very lonely. Slowly it dawned.

Then it thundered for the first time. The earth was shaking, snow and dirt was billowing. Now the enemy was giving fire at full rate. They seemed to have plenty of them. It was thundering and crashing constantly, and splinters were howling over the foxhole. There were crashes in the buildings of the village, grey shingles were flying in the air like flocks of hooded crows. The lone rifleman in his hole was filled with anguish. All the forces of Hell appeared to be loose in that abandoned village. Surely no living creature could survive there? How on earth did this foxhole survive? Yet another one! Even closer... Many kinds of thunder. Shells were exploding in the air, too, shrapnels, whatever. The sharp angry sound of a small gun firing somewhere near could be discerned among the general noise. It was emerging of a tank on the ice of the lake. At times the barrage increased into a solid mighty rumble of thunder, at times it died down. Then the lone rifleman peeked over the parapet. They could be coming to check what they had managed to create! Cautiously he peeked at both sides but nothing was to be seen, not a sign of the others, his pals. Maybe they did not exist any more! All that could be seen was snow, all the time turning blacker, shell holes, and the shapes of buildings nearby. It was odd to think that at one time, just recently, people had been living there, they had left to work and returned from work, they had had their meals and lit their pipes, they had slept. Just a little time ago, yet it was very far back!

The barrage intensified again and the rifleman sank back in his hole. He hardly dared to peek up. It was as if the enemy would see his head glancing around and would start shelling ever more busily. The lake was very narrow at that point and judging by circumstances mortars were at work there. Yet he had to peek out of his foxhole. The enemy could be coming at him...

That day appeared to be as long as eternity, the first day under shelling, a short mid-winter day with long morning and evening dusk. All day it was rumbling, thundering, exploding, shuddering. And there was no sign of life, no info about the others, his pals. It was as if the lone rifleman in his foxhole would have been the only living creature among the roar. At noon a bird, a great tit, flew at the wall of a building near his hole. It was even making energetic and happy sounds.. It warmed the heart of the rifleman: there indeed was another living creature, albeit no larger than a pipe-bowl, and on top of everything it was apparently carefree and busy in its peaceful business, seeking its food ignorant of the fact that great powers were struggling over the domination of lands and seas... But the bird flew away, and it was again the awful loneliness and shelling. Cold, too, was harassing despite the reindeer furs and the foxhole had long ago proved to be cramped. His limbs were getting numb in uncomfortable poses. Miserable war! Just squat in a foxhole and wait for a shell to hit and tear you into shreds! Squat, squat and peek, keep a lookout. You do not even have a pal with whom to have a word of all this. I might be easier then. Hell itself may not be a more dreary place than this cramped foxhole, when a village is being bombarded, as the teeth of war appear to gnaw it into nothingness, smash the buildings and blow the topsoil off the fields into the winds, the fields that have been for a long time plown and fertilized for growing bread.

Slowly the dusk fell and then the darkness came as a blessing. It was a blessing because the shelling ceased. But feeling of relief was but for a while. One could not see far in the darkness, and all kinds of dangers may have been lurking there. A nasty idea: now they are coming...This has been something that the war news called artillery preparation.

But now, anyway, it is possible to stand up and stretch the numb and cold stiffened members. Behold, there is another shape, like a miracle, a ghost, in dirty white frock. He did survive, that one! The rifleman was delighted:
- Hello, neighbour! Did you think today that all flesh is like grass …

The traces of the shelling turmoil were unexpectedly small. It looked like an incomprehensible miracle. All day everyone had been thinking that there must be effects, by force. Nothing, actually! It was not destined to be, it was deduced. Those paltry foxholes were now found worth respect. They protect. A projectile must be a square hit, enter the hole before it becomes destructive. There may be explosions in the front and in the rear, on both sides and that does not mean anything.

In the cover of darkness sentry duty rotation could be set up. Accommodation was provided in a cow shed kitchen spared by shells, that was tremendously draughty due to door openings covered by felts only. The floor was ice-cold and the fireplace that had been constructed of big lumps of rock would not get warm easily. But a cheerful fire was already flickering in it, mere seeing it relaxed a man's mind and even warmed the one sitting closest to it. The fire had to be kept low, however, to prevent sparks from flying out of the chimney which would provoke the strangers on the far side of the lake to give their fire. In every respect the lodgings were very miserable. No decent rest was available, sleeping was something unthinkable.

(Extract from “Korpisotaa” (Wilderness war) by Pentti Haanpää, 1940 Translated in French by Mr. Aurelien Sauvageot as « Guerre dans le désert blanc » (Gallimard 1942) , a bibliographic rarity now.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 25 Dec 2017 05:52

Lauri Lanamäki

Kansa Taisteli vol.11/12, 1958

A memoir of Winter War at Suomussalmi. The war diary of Er.P15 has not survived for the period.

The Winter War had broken out. Er.P 15 had been given the task to delay in the direction of Suomussalmi to delay the enemy invading from the east.
Our outfit was Krh.Os./Er.P15 (=Mortar detachment, Detached Battalion 15) We were at it from the very first moment. At Raate we stood our ground with good success, but the Russian advanced from Juntusranta with such a force, assisted by Finnish traitors, that we considered ourselves lucky to make it on the West shore of Haukiperä.

- Indeed, the traitors! They must not have been few in number since after the war in trials in one day sentences were dealt out worth of 168 years. And it is a notorious fact that here in Finland a “seller of one's country” does not get any tougher sentence than a pickpocket. One of the crowd was later decorated with the Cross of White Rose of Finland !

Having reached the W shore of Haukiperä (about 8.Dec 1939, tr. Rem) we took positions on both sides of the road to Kajaani. Suomussalmi village was in flames. The fire illuminated our positions and made our entrenchment work easier, at the same time delaying the Russian advance through the burning village. Our first task was to find a firing position and a fire control position. The mortars could not be placed far from the shore because the lake at Haukiperä is about 600m wide and the range of our mortars less than 200m. They were so called “short-barreled” ones, that had been scrubbed with steel brushes out of calibre during peacetime training. Our entire army did not have decent weapons except some rebuilt rifles.

The mortars had one good feature: the moral effect at least on the undersigned, since I had never even seen neither a field gun nor a tank. We were convinced that our weapons have lethal effect on the enemy if we only manage to hit them. The experience gained at the Purasjoki line proved that.

Cpl. Väinö Karjalainen and me selected a small potato cellar next to the road as our fire control post. It had good and bad sides for the purpose. The good side was that it was already covered and entering it from the fire positions was easy, not having to wade in the snow all the way. The downside was that it was situated in a slope and on the wrong side of the road in relation to the fire position. Nevertheless we set up the fire control post there because we were in a hurry to do targeting. As soon as we had defined the barrages a constant duty was started.

One F.O.O . and one Signals man at a time were there and the others were having a rest at the fire positions. My pair was Pvt. Tauno Leskinen, who was a Signals man. We shared a common background. Our homes had been in the same street, our families had been large. We had lost our fathers when we were very young. We had done our military duty in the same squad. Together we had suffered the punitive extra training and duty meted out to us, together we suffered from lack of smokes when confined in the guardhouse. We were indeed a nuisance to our military commanders and next of kin. Those were the reasons that made us stick together when the war broke out in earnest.

Tauno was a lively man. He never run of of gags even after the war started, and his antics made the others forget the seriousness of our situation. He was nevertheless doing his duty very conscientious, much better than anyone in our outfit.

:I cannot remember for sure, it may have been 9.Dec. 1939. In the evening we were on duty in the fire control post as Russians launched a forced reconnoitring mission. Three mounted officers rode at full gallop over the ice and right into our minefield. Their war ended then and there. The nigh was quiet and I and Tauno spent it in the firing position.

In the morning at 0600hrs was the time to change sentries for the . Since we were very tired I told Tauno to stay in the firing position and sleep, and join me only in case there would be a “brawl”.

I had been in the fire control post about for one hour as three cannons started firing from the opposite shore. They were situated just at one of our planned barrages. The light of muzzle flames revealed that dark shapes in a line were approaching our side. The rifleman on my left opened fire, I think also one LMG joined in. I picked up the field phone to the firing position and ordered a barrage at the target. I started watching but to my surprise our mortars did not fire at all. I called again and enquired. The Detachment CO told me that he is not allowed to fire. I explained the situation and said that I found mysellf among the enemies already . The same squeaking voice explained something and then the line went dead. ( The politicians had been so stupid that they had not granted enough funds for weapons and gear; moreover, men for officer training had been selected basing on their education level and not leadership skills)

I was armed with a “fashionable” pistol which jammed. I found myself 30 m in the rear of the enemy line. Commands in a foreign language could be heard in every direction. I had to hurry luop. I bounced on the road and started running for the firing position. After a few steps I was joined by “international” company, represented by three “Eastern wilds”. Together we ran for some 250m in a queue. For the first time I wanted to keep the leading position in a race. My lead was not considerable, just 2 to 3 meters but it was enough for me. Having reached the crossing of the path to our firing position I jumped over the ditch. Suddenly on the path someone in a snow suit passed me in the opposite direction, our sleeves just touched each other. A loud bantering in Russian broke out behind me.

I continued to the firing position where the mortars had been loaded on vehicles and the “gang” was about to retreat. We made a futile three kilometre “operation” in the rear, oh what stupidity!

Neither were the Russians able to exploit their initial success, but started setting up a kind of beachhead position. Lt. U.Leskinen, the CO of the Puolanka battalion, noticed that and organised a quick counterstrike with two platoons. The Russians had to retreat.

As the leading men were about 40 to 60 m from the shoreline, they heard that the password for the day, “ryökäle” ( a hard word to pronounce for a natural Russian speaker, tr.rem.) was being called out at the sauna on the shoreline. It was shouted out continuously and it was causing confusion on both sides. The Russians began to head for the ice as soon as possible. Finns did not dare to shoot to that direction because there were friends. Squaddie Cpi. Hemmi Huusko shouted his orders in such a loud volume that the man calling out “ryökäle” recognized him by his voice.

The man shouted to the Squaddie:
- Hemmi, come here, I have got three prisoners!

In front of the open door of the sauna there stood Pvt. Tauno Leskinen, holding a sniper rifle in his hands, pointing it at the door. Inside there were sitting three men in peaked caps, holding their hands up, rather frightened-looking. Squad Huusko took positions at the sauna and Tauno set out to take his Russians to the command post.

Having returned to our firing positions I enquired about Tauno and I was told that the had left for the fire control post as soon as the infighting had broken out. I understood that it was he who had passed me in the morning. He must be a prisoner now, having run right in the arms of the enemy.

I returned to the fire control post, and after a while Tauno appeared there, too. He recounted me his adventure.
The mo,ent he jumped from the forest to the road he bumped into a Russian . Both of them had keeled over and before he was able to get up two enemies had laid their hands on him. He had not recognized me in the dark but now he understood whom he had passed.

Three Russians took him into the sauna. Tauno's rifle and two Russian rifles were left in the porch. All four sat down in the sauna, and a sniper rifle was pointed at Tauno. As he estimated by the sounds of firing that there was a counterstrike in process he pulled out his cigarette box and treated his guards. His offer was accepted. Now Tauno had a chance to get up because a slave cannot serve his masters sitting down, he explained. The man with the sniper rifle also reached for a cigarette with one hand giving Tauno a chance to test how hard the man was holding the rifle with one hand. His grip was not tight, in a moment the rifle was turned to point at the guards. Tauno took a couple of steps back and he kept waiting and watching until Squad Huusko arrived.

Tauno told that after being taken prisoner he had been sure he would never be taken alive over the lake. Initially he had planned to attempt to escape on the ice, being a quick man, because in his opinion death was preferable to being a POW. It was a pleasant surprise for him to be taken in the sauna,it was to be his road to freedom.

We did not fight long in those foxholes. A couple of days later we were transferred to Hulkonniemi where we tried to find out about the enemy by night attacks. We spent the Christmas in Vuonaniemi. Turjanlinna and the island in front of it were our targets. They were still manned by Finns. A “fifth column” man (Author Ilmari Kianto .,65 yrs at the time, tr.rem.) had tried to inform the Russians with a note on a piece of paper, but fortunately our patrol found it. There might have been serious consequences if the note had reached the intended recipients. (A famous case. Kianto was tried and sentenced to six months jail, then pardoned. He had tried to save his house from Russians but it was torched by Finns anyway. Tr.rem.)

The next day after the Christmas we set out to cut the road from Suomussalmi to Kuusamo. The temperature was extremely low. We did not need any mercury thermometers but each one felt it in his body. We were assigned to support the attack of 2./JP15. The terrain was sloping in the direction of the attack and covered by sparse old pine forest which was anything but advantageous to us. The Russians had dug in on both sides of the road . Tanks were cruising back and forth on the road and they joined in as soon as our attack had started. At once we saw that it was serious, we were taking casualties. The Russians had built a heated bunker with two MG s. With the help of the MGs they were able to keep the ground in front of the bunker clean of our men. Every attack was stopped by the Mgs. Our mortar bombs were fitted with sensitive fuzes which meant that they did not have any significant effect on the frozen bunker.

Just as everything seemed to fail there was one man who said that soon we shall make it. Pvt. Tauno Leskinen collected the hand grenades of the both fire control squads.. He started creeping to the bunker from the right wing, staying out of the firing sector of the MG. We were thrilled observing his attempt, waiting what would happen. He managed to creep next to the bunker. Tauno rose on his knees – he struck a hand grenade at the butt of the sniper rifle that he had captured. Then it happened. He he put his hand at his chest, took a couple of steps and collapsed in the snow. There was an observation slit in the roof of the bunker where the bullet was fired from. Immediately we launched another attack attempt. It, too, failed, this time due to the Russian tanks.

As the situation calmed down a little, Cpl. Väinö Karjalainen and Pfc. Eelis Kettunen crept to Tauno. Together they managed to bring him to the firing line of the rifle company. Then Tauno was put in a sled and taken to the firing position (of the mortars). As we were lifting him in a horse sled for further evacuation he said he was sure that he would not live long. He did not feel sorry for that any more but his main concern was the salvation of his soul. His last words before the horse left were his question “Shall I go to Heaven and shall Jesus forgive me my sins ?” I said him that “certainly you shall and your sins shall be forgiven”- what else could I, another sinner, say. I was not able to console him any better.

This case depressed our entire mortar outfit. And there was more to come. Soon Cpl. Tauno Huotari was wounded. Väinö Karjalainen who had just been helping a wounded man was told that his brothers Eljas, a 2nd Lt, and Reino, an Aspirant had fallen. One can think where is the edge of the human mental endurance?

Fighting continued and we were victorious. It was early January as we learned that one of the most courageous sons of Finland, Pvt. Tauno Leskinen, had died in the military hospital of Puolanka. Honour to his memory !
(2352 words)

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 31 Dec 2017 07:19

Martti Harvio
Defenders of Viipuri
Journal Kansa Taisteli, vol. 02, 1960

A Platoon leader in action during the Winter War.
There is no diary in the archive left behind by “Company Salomaa” .

Detached Company Salomaa was set up of the men in Viipuri Sentry Battalion for first line duty. The Company proceeded from Summa and Ylä-Sommee to the Bay of Viipuri. The tasks of a detached company were usually tough. The outfit used to be shifted fo critical positions to provide support. I shall provide next some memoirs on the Company and its men to give an idea what we experienced as defenders of Viipuri in the Winter War.

We were transferred to the front at Summa as it was broken, with other troops to counter-attack to retake the lost terrain. (14 Feb 1940 or later, tr.rem.)

Our way there was most complicated due to the good weather favouring the enemy air force. Ghostly was also the whine overhead emanating from the shells of the long-range cannons the enemy was employing to harass Viipuri.

The enemy air dominance and superiority in artillery delayed our movement, so our accomplishments at Summa were rather minimal.

A personal memoir that stays in my mind was an air raid at a mass dressing station. Having heard the whine of falling bombs each of us sought any cover. I happened to find myself next to a foxhole, unoccupied, that was adjacent to a tarp-covered pile. I jumped in the hole and squatted in it. As the raid was over and the dust cloud kicked up by it was dispersing I tried to get up. I could not because somebody's leg was on top of my foxhole. I shouted him to find out if he had been hit. Getting no answer I shifted the legs aside. Then I discovered to my horror that I found myself next to a pile of dead bodies that had been covered by a tarp. A blast had thrown a solid frozen dead hero on me. I was glad to be able to get out of there instead of joining the pile.

On our march for Ylä-Sommee we had to witness a shocking sight. A long pile of killed men had been collected on the roadside. In my mind I cursed the supply men who had solved this matter in such an uncomplicated manner. Was it really not possible to find a less conspicuous place for these dead men than the side of a busy road where troops were marching? We were young men, most of us still doing our compulsory military service, were really shocked. Our battle spirit was not roused by this sight, and we were going to engage the enemy at the front line. Surely most of us in their mind turned to their Creator, appealing for a better fate than the frozen heroes that had been piled in most amazing positions on the side of the road.

One of our battle tasks was to prevent the enemy from advancing along a village road at Ylä-Sommee. The enemy launched a night attack. This was something new for us and also our actual baptism by fire. Our mood was cheerful. Everyone had something thrilling and positive to tell the others. We were actually laughing as we after the battle were able to check the enemy ski gear. It was really something primitive and simple. We also wondered at the membership cards that some of our adversaries had carried, identifying the holder as atheists, and the registration numbers of the cards were high, moreover. Now we considered ourselves as fighters and front veterans. The victory in the night battle formed the basis to cope physically and mentally with the demanding tasks that were waiting for us in the future.

Having been shifted to the Bay of Viipuri (early March 1940, tr.rem.) we at first had securing and patrol duties until we were assigned to defend the Kilpisaaret islands in front of Viipuri. The enemy was advancing over the ice of a bay from Lihaniemi to our island. We soon found that it was the farthest, rockiest and stoniest part of the island, Mallatsaari, that was the key position the enemy tried to take over.

Soon the main force of our Company had to be concentrated to defend this rocky island. One of our four Platoons had been in reserve but they were taken away from us to the mainland, staying there up to the end of the war.

Each morning in the dusk the enemy unhurriedly grouped on the ice in front of Lihaniemi to advance. They headed for Mallatsaari but due to our fire was not able to gain a foothold on the island. They stayed at the coastline, giving lazy rifle fire at us; but their artillery was blasting at us the more. We were shelled every day all the time, there were also barrages even at times.

Fortunately there was an old ammunition storage that had been cut in the rock to provide shelter for us. Another smaller cellar had been destroyed by enemy direct fire cannons at the very beginning of the battle. The shells were fitted with sensitive fuses so that they exploded in the trees and at the very surface of the soil. The splinter effect was great, and we kept taking heavy losses despite holding out just a minimal manning. We guessed that the enemy kept their men lying in front of our positions to entice us out of shelter to be blasted in our firing line. We did not take that bait but played hazard. We had just some men out only as sentries at auto weapons. We estimated that the crossfire of our auto weapons would delay the enemy long enough to allow us to man our positions in case of alert.

We accomplished that perfectly, thus minimizing our casualties to the continuous shelling.

For me this time in Mallatsaari turned hard after 2nd Lt. Toiviainen was wounded one night in his back by a splinter in a shallow communications trench. We had been able to help and support each other in our problems and woes, but now I was practically alone responsible for the defence of our rocky island.

We had other problems, not just the enemy lying days to end in front of our line and heavy shelling. The islands we were defending were situated about two kilometres from the mainland on open sea. The distance to the mainland could not be crossed during daytime due to threat from the air. We could be supplied only at night, then we got our food and the necessary supplies. Also our wounded could be evacuated at night only. The worst problem was that we had no other place for them but our dugout in the rock. It was depressing to listen every day the demented lamentation of the wounded. Some of them were calling the names of their relatives, some in desperation were praying quietly, some even were cursing violently in their semi-conscious state.

I was constantly stressed by being responsible for this problem: Would be be able to man our positions effectively in case the enemy, lying in a semi-circle on the coastline of our island, would be able to persuade their men to a surprise attack. During sleepless nights I often pinched myself to find out if this all would not be just a nightmare. Sadly, it wasn't. It could be proven by getting out of our dugout just a few steps. There I was able to watch how Viipuri, my hometown, was being consumed by the flames of war four kilometres away. For several days I had seen flames in the location where my home was situated. I had learned that my home had been damaged in an air raid but now it was obvious that it was or was being destroyed totally.

All this ordeal and shocks at the same time were at times beyond my forces, being a 22 years old youngster. We had to get some support from somewhere, else we might collapse mentally. One evening, after another hard day, I received orders from the AC. The positions were ordered to be taken over by new troops and we were sent to rest and recuperation. The relief had absolutely to be carried out so that we would be able to get out in the cover of darkness. Yet there were problems in carrying out the relief, and the day had broken before we were able to set out. Fortunately it was bad weather for flying and we relied on it to cross the open ice on foot.

(By coincidence, if you want to know what happened in Mallatsaari next refer to Jaakko Kontula, “Fighting in Mallatsaari island in March 1940” published in this topic.
Journal "Kansa Taisteli" vol.11/12, 1958, map sketch p.338)

We were to be disappointed. Trudging in a single file we found ourselves in the middle of the open ice as suddenly two fighter aircraft appeared overhead. What now?

We had an idea and let an order to pass through the Company:
- Keep going, no one is to take cover! Disregard them! They believe we are friends!

The planes turned away and vanished, but immediately returned, flying even lower. They were so low that we could see the pilots through their canopies as they were checking us. They did not fire at us but vanished to the direction of the mainland.

Our trick had been successful. We did not have skis any more and we were haggard looking in our ragged and dirty snow suits, some of us did not have any of them, because we had been forced to tear them up for bandages for the wounded . It was no wonder that the pilots had misidentified us.

How sweet it felt to stretch oneself straight on a platform in a dugout, and wait for the tea water in the field kettle to boil on the stove, and be aside from the racket of the war. We had been transferred to a supply point to rest. However our joy was cut short. We had not yet finished our tea as an order was issued to us:
- Company must be in standby for marching immediately ! Lorries are on the way.

Late the same night we found ourselves in Suonionsaari island where the situation was confused. We had received orders to march along the road on the island up to a spot where a supply road to the front line joined the main road, and guides would be there to direct us to our destination.

At midnight we arrived at the spot but no guides were found. Waiting for them, we had a break. My Company CO wanted to have a word with me, he drew me a little to the side so that no one should overhear us. He was worried about our fate and told me his opinion: we would not survive the task. I tried to console him as well as I was able to.

- Surely you can see that many of our man are falling asleep while standing and wake up not until they have fallen on their knees, he said

That was true, indeed. We could not remain there and wait for the guides. Our task would have been delayed, and the CO estimated that our only chance was to place ourselves in the point of our company and pull the exhausted men in our wake with the force of our example. Along the supply road there would surely be our troops who would guide us to our destination. We two men, initially strangers, had in the course of heavy weeks become best of friends. I sensed that my CO trusted me and I decided to do all I was able to to be worth of his trust

Our journey to the front line started without any problems. We heard no sounds from the sleeping front. Our dragging march to the front line continued with every possible caution, including stops to listen, and it was about to dawn.

As we found ourselves on a downhill stretch in fairly open terrain we suddenly took in lively rifle fire from a short range. My CO, walking a few steps ahead of me, groaned and fell down. Just next to us there was a shallow shell hole. I dashed in it with the runner of the Admin squad and a paramedic. I yelled orders to the Company to take a defensive position on the hillside and open fire to cover us to save our CO.

We managed to crawl to our CO and drag him into our shell hole. An explosive rifle bullet had hit his thigh so badly that the leg was almost cut off and he was bleeding profusely. He asked us to try to evacuate him because he was feeling so bad. Looking at his pale face told me that his pain would not last much longer. We made up a plan: I would creep ahead and plough a track through the snow and the runner and the paramedic would utilise it to drag the officer. It was a hard job to make the track with bullets whining overhead. Finally I managed to make it to the top of the hill, I started widening our defence line and set up flank securing. Soon the runner and the paramedic followed me.

They were shocked and their clothing was in tatters, pierced by several bullets and the field kettle of one of them had been shot up in the bag he had carried in his back. Certainly they had done their best and been lucky to survive with scratches only. They told me that soon after I had left our CO had lost his consciousness and they had been unable to drag him to us due to heavy enemy fire, although they had made several attempts.

Thus our Company CO, Lt. Salomaa had made the supreme sacrifice for the fatherland.
His fate was one of the heavier ones because he had to die in a shell-hole in no-man's-land under enemy fire, the noise of battle in his ears. A slight consolation is the fact that he was sedated by his state of unconsciousness.

(to be continued: 1/3)

Posts: 704
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 07 Jan 2018 06:34

Martti Harvio
Defenders of Viipuri, 2nd instalment
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 3, 1960

7.3. Suonionsaari, enemy is breaking trough. For a map of the area kindly google “Suonionsaari” and check the images.

Checking our hill we spotted telephone cables. Following them we found under the branches of a large fallen fir one middle aged Lieutenant with his two runners, all half dazed with exhaustion.

Talking with them it was found that this was the Coy CO command post of this section. So we had passed our front line smack into the enemy. I explained him what had happened to us. To my amazement the phone connection to their Battalion was working and the Battalion CO ordered the Lieut to take our Company in his command and set up defence.

Our flanks seemed to be mystically quiet. The liaison patrols we had sent to the left and to the right were received with fire. That was a definite clue that we were about to get surrendered. The phone connection died out; we sent a runner to the Battalion to report our situation and request orders he did not return. We did not have any major problems in our defensive task but was it of any use? We would definitely be needed in the new defence line to receive the enemy.

Consequently we decided on our initiative to withdraw through the apparently open route behind us. But only one third of our troop managed to get through somehow,taking losses. Enemy fire increased so much that we decided, to avoid taking large losses, to return to our hill in the forest. Then we regrouped with the intent to attempt again a breakout in the darkness of the next night.

Our hill was easy to defend, and the enemy did not apply any considerable pressure on us. Apparently we were considered a secondary target that could be left to be softened up by the course of the time.

During the day we planned a tactic to get out of encirclement. We assembled the wounded in a hay barn at the side of the hill. Our mission would be so arduous that we could not take but the walking wounded. It was hard indeed to have to leave behind wounded men.

We had been given, when coming to Suonionsaari, about ten inexperienced virtually untrained replacements. I pitied most of all some of them who had not been mentally able to cope with the hardship we had to experience. They were apathetic and their stomachs were totally upset. They were unable to do anything, suffering from repeated stomach cramps.

We did what we could for them. We pooled our crispbread and tea, and every piece of clothing we were able to spare. We instructed them to make a fire after we had left, to reveal themselves to the enemy to be taken care of by them.

Then it was night and the time for us to take action. Making use of low lying points of terrain and ditches we advanced in the opposite direction of our attempt that day morning. We expected that this direction would be badly guarded and we managed to leave our hill undetected by the enemy.

Our outfit comprised some 40 men, and our progress through the deep snow of the forest was heavy trudging for tired men. We had to dodge several artillery batteries and cantonments. In one of them there was a vodka drinking party going on judging by the singing and merrymaking. IF the entire manning of the island had been equally merry, we would have had a lot less trouble.
To ease our passage we at one point advanced on a trodden path. Then we had a break, hiding in the bushes on both sides of the path. A lone enemy, wearing a fur coat, skied past us. We preferred not to knock him down. He was lucky although he never knew.

Our many attempts to get out of the island failed. The enemy started shooting indiscriminately in the direction of the open ice as soon as they hear our rustle, expecting attack from that direction. Finally at the break of dawn we managed to reach the coastline at an unguarded spot. Our CO said he knew the terrain and began to follow a winter road, while telling me to turn our company to follow him.

When we caught up with him we found ourselves face to face with a couple of enemy officers, and more enemies were coming out of the houses nearby. A shoot-out followed. Our CO fell on his face and I did not see him move any more.

We found ourselves on an open flat beach, like on a platter to be shot and the sound of shooting alerted ever more men out of the houses .

What to do now? It was a matter of seconds. Behind us there was open ice where I spotted a single barge about 400m off. That was our only direction of retreat. I shouted an order to run and rally at the barge while shooting quick shots behind us.

Just more than ten of us made it to the barge. It is easy to guess that it was a panicked crowd out of breath. Someone opined that we should not shoot so that we would not be shot at. It was a wrong guess; because a company worth of enemies had surprisingly quickly managed to set up a line that began to advance at us. On the right wing of the chain there was a MG that occasionally fired at us, though far too high.

I knew that it was my duty to try to save my outfit and also to encourage them. On the opposite coast of the strait there was a timber yard and some houses about 300 m off, on Esisaari island. I explained the men that our situation was not hopeless. As long as there is life, there is hope. I said that we would run to the opposite shore, that obviously was already in the hands of the enemy. While running we should split up in several patrols to confound the enemy and attempt to land at different spots. We would hide for the day among the timber stacks and buildings, then after nightfall we would try to rally and continue together. The faster we would run the bigger would be our chances to succeed.

The enemy line kept getting closer. Receiving it and taking it on at our wooden barge would amount to suicide. All the time I had been fearing that the enemy could use AT guns against us, and it would have been fatal. We had also no time to lose. Without any more ado I stepped on the gunwale of the barge, jumped on the ice and shouted: Off we go, boys!

When running I could not guess that the next 24 hours on this last week of the Winter War would become my most thrilling war experience. I slowed down to allow the rest of the outfit to catch up with me. To my joy I found that everyone had left the barge and they were dividing up into patrols as I had hoped for.

I kept watching the opposite shore of Esisaari island while running. A little to the left I saw a large storage building next to a sawn timber yard. Being in civilian life in timber trade I expected the building would be a storage for dried timber. In that case this building would provide plenty of good hiding places and would shelter us from wind.

I turned back at the men running behind me to suggest that we should head for this building even though it would add to our run. I was disappointed to see that there was only one man following me. The others were lagging behind considerably and they seemed to be heading right for the coastline to the right of us. This slight looking man whose steps I had heard behind me all the time was Guardsman Ahonen (Carelian Guards Regiment, Tr.rem.).

We made it to the ware house and I had guessed right. There was a narrow gauge rail line through the house and on both sides stapled timber so that the even end was pointing in and the uneven end up to the walls. In the middle of the house we climbed on the stacks and then advanced to one of the walls where we found a nice hole. We pulled some planks above us and to the sides boards to conceal us. Now we would be well able to defend ourselves against searchers if they would climb on top of the stacks or would advance in the narrow pass between the timber and the wall.

My weaponry comprised of a Spanish 7,65mm pistol. My comrade had a cavalry carbine and a civilian 6,35mm pistol. We placed our weapons with safety off so that each of us had his pistol at hand and the carbine between us on a plank, so that any of us could use if if necessary.

Our preparations were complete now and we were waiting what would happen next. After a while there were sounds of footsteps on the corridor and buzz of speech. We were able to make out Finnish words. Were we mistaken or were they our brothers looking for a hideout?

- Civil guardsmen, get out of your hideout, said a voice in Finnish from the corridor.
- We know that there are two of you hiding here. Surrender! All the others that ran over the ice have been taken prisoner. Surrender at once and we shall not hurt you!

The terrible fact was evident to us now. It was Finns there, but they were fighting on the side of our enemy against us. They were traitors, apostate Finns. They finally left having sought us for a long time. We had now quite enough to think about, sitting there in our hole quiet as mice. Our future did not appear to be rosy in any respect.

Surrender now? This flashed in my mind but soon I was ashamed of my own thought. Would I surrender, I who just one hour ago had been uttering words about life and the hope it implied. No surrender! It would be a far too easy a solution. I told my comrade that I intended to exact a heavy price of my scalp. I would not surrender without fighting. To my great pleasure my young comrade, who had entered compulsory military service just five months ago and had received a deficient military training interrupted by sentry duty, told me that he would fight it out on my side.

After a while the search for us was restarted.
- You F*ing butchers, get out, your are going to die anyway ! (Butcher= White soldier of the 1918 civil war, showing the mindset of these bolshie Finns that somehow had survived the purge of 1937-1938. Tr.rem.)
- We are going to torch this timber yard and fry your flesh!

The searchers kept uttering vile and crude taunts flavouring them with curses. They were frustrated by their futile efforts. Feeling their might, they fired their rifles indiscriminately here and there at suspected hideouts. We certainly had fine company to entertain us! Now we knew with certainty that getting caught by these searchers would not benefit us. I was not affected by the threat of fire, because the yard was full of valuable export goods. They would not burn their precious war booty to catch miserable two hiding men.

The enemy had abandoned their search for us but we were being guarded still. We deduced it by the fact that a lone rifleman had been posted at the ware house. There was a winter road past the storage wall on our side, and the guard was walking on it. His tour took about ten minutes. He passed us, proceeded to the short wall of the storage on the sea side and returned, probably back to the houses. We were able to verify his passage between the cracks of the wall about five meters off. I was worried only by the potential presence of a listening post inside the storage.
That is why we had to be constantly quiet in order not to betray our hideout.

Although left alone by searchers for a long time we had personal problems to defeat. I was suffering from cough. The weather was very cold, we were suffering from it and my wet boots froze. This just stoked my cough. I could but put my hand in my mouth and bite it during a fit our coughing. This dampened the sound enough. We were able to chat by whispers as long as the guard was not in the vicinity. Also we had no chance to get anything to drink, not even snow in our dry mouths. We had altogether a couple of plates of crispbread. We divided it into smaller pieces and shared it between us. We kept chewing it during the day to still the worst of our hunger. I also had one full and one opened box of Saimaa fags. Although not a smoker I had started smoking strong tobacco to quell hunger. Having two means of fighting hunger I offered a part of my bread ration to my comrade because he did not smoke. He absolutely refused. During the day I could light up and blow the smoke in the cracks of the pile.

What was going on now? Side doors of the ware house were being opened and a man was peeking at the uneven end of the stacks. Finally the enemy had found out that the best hideout was there between the far end of the stack and the wall. There were sliding loading doors on the wall at regular intervals. To our horror we saw that there was one just at our hideout. If that door would be opened we would be exposed like two sparrows on a bare branch, and it was too late to move out because we suspected that there might have been an ambush inside the storage.

The searchers kept going from door to door. We had agreed that if there is a man at the open door we both shall fire at him, but in case of two men each of us would shoot at the man on his side. We had taken good steady postures and aimed at the spot that would be created by the opening of the door. Now the door was being yanked. Looking along my pistol barrel it occurred to me that the war is a simple matter. Kill or get killed!

Despite good effort and to our good fortune the door did not open. It must have been blocked by frozen snow. It was also the fortune of the enemies that they could not open the door. Cursing, they passed us, failing to open any of the other doors

The traffic on the winter road passing us was minimal, so we had not much to see except the guard passing us regularly. There was plenty of time to think about our problems.

Could there be a chance to help our comrades taken prisoner? Hardly. They had certainly been taken away in the course of the day. I was thinking more about our escape plans. I had thought up several alternatives, then ended up with two route variants: a long and a short one that I presented to my comrade.

The short route plan included getting under the ware house floor, then run to the ice of the sound. In the morning we had seen two fallen enemies. We would strip them of their greatcoats and peaked caps and put them on. We would in cold blood infiltrate among the traffic on the supply road and head for the front line and through it. In no-man's land we would leave behind the loaned pieces of clothing and continue to our own side. This would be the shortest route and we would avoid wading in deep snow.

When talking about the clothing of dead men my pal became serious. He said that he would not be able to put on one of the greatcoats because it was so bloodied. Of course he had counted on me taking the better coat by the right of seniority in rank. Actually I was not pleased with the idea of the worse coat. A bloodied greatcoat, moreover, would attract attention to us, and create problems. If we were caught we would be treated as spies and our days would soon be numbered. We rejected this plan and decided trying the long road plan.

According to this plan we had to make our way to the middle of the strait ice and cross the wave-breaker closing the end of the strait in the middle. Should we find it guarded we would go around the island, then through forest to avoid the wave-breaker, then back to ice. To save time we would walk on open ice only, dodging the islands so far that we could not be accurately fired upon. It was unlikely that any enemy on the island would set out in the night to pursue just two men out on the ice.

Our problems would be to avoid the enemy supply roads and possible riding patrols in securing task. We would be underdogs taking them on. I had neither map nor compass. I had had to hand them over to our orientation patrol as we broke out of our “motti”.

We had to trust our instincts and listen to the sounds of the front.

(tbc, 2/3)

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 14 Jan 2018 05:58

Martti Harvio
Defenders of Viipuri, 3rd instalment
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 4, 1960

On Esisaari island, 2nd Lt Harvio and his pal, Guardsman Ahonen, trying to avoid getting taken prisoner, about 8 March 1940

In due course it was night and our time to act. Although it appeared to be quite light outside, in our hideout in a Esisaari timber warehouse the dusk was deepening. When we expected that the eventual listening post would have been withdrawn from the inside of the building, we got going.

In pitch dark we had to climb on top of the timber pile, descend to the corridor, get under the floor near the short wall of the building and there observe the strait to determine the optimal moment of departure. As soon as the sentry had passed us on his way to the houses we got going silently and carefully. This was initially difficult as we were stiff with cold and our members numb. We had to avoid dropping any plank. That is why we proceeded in all fours, moving one hand and leg at a time, probing to ensure that there was a solid footing. Descending down the steep face of the stack of timber was the hardest part since falling would have been fatal. It took a long time before we were under the floor at the short side of the warehouse.

Now we had a good view down the beach bank to the ice of the strait. There was a fire farther off and dim moonlight illuminating the ice, we had no business there for a long time. Convoys of horse drawn sleds were criss-crossing the ice.

We time to make up a detailed plan for our escape. We would start as the guard would be in the middle of his round heading for the houses. Should he spot us then, he would have to decide whether to head for the houses to raise alert or would he run down to the beach to fire at us. If he would run after us to fire, he would be out of breath and unable to fire accurately.

When setting out, we would start at a slow pace in order not to strain our legs stiffened by cold. We would run side by side three to four meters from each other to avoid being on the same aiming line. Should we be fired at we would not take cover but run in an irregular zigzag. In the dusk it would be hard for a guard to draw a bead on a man running zigzag. After six shots (Lt. Harvio expected that the enemy would carry a cartridge in chamber in addition to the five in the Mosin rifle magazine, tr.rem) we could run straight for a while. The guard would have emptied the magazine of his rifle and he would have to reload his magazine to be able to shoot again.

We also agreed that in case one of us would be wounded the other one would continue alone. An even lightly wounded man would not withstand the strain of the journey ahead of us. I estimated that we would have to proceed far more than ten kilometres during the time of darkness.

The guard regularly passed us during his tour and he, too, was watching the traffic on the ice for pastime. Now what? Had we got too close to the wall of the building and been spotted by the man as he slowly was walking right to us to the wall of the building, and was now standing with his legs spread less than five meters from us? I had cold shivers down my spine.

It appeared that he was getting ready to throw a hand grenade.

Would this be the end of our escape? A couple of well aimed hand grenades would soon finish us off in our cramped spot under the building. The only hope was that the man would be inexperienced in using hand grenades and would throw it immediately after igniting it. As the fuse of a hand grenade burns about five seconds before explosion, we might have time to throw it back if we only would catch it in time.

We were listening for the sound of pulling a grenade pin. The next five seconds could be the last ones in our life. There was no click, our nerves were tense. The man must be inexperienced or his fingers were stiff with cold. Now there was a sound – of falling liquid.

So it was just that! I breathed out with relief . As soon as the guard had finished his business he slowly continued his tour.

The night kept getting darker as the fires were dying down. To our good fortune the moon was overcast almost all the time. The traffic on the ice was minimal. Soon it was time for us to act.
Since we had for a long time not spotted any other movement but the regular passing of the guard we decided to continue our escape.

There were no sound from the guard after he had passed us. We thought he would be in the middle of his tour at the timber yard. The two of us were like sprinters in their starting positions waiting for the start signal. Was death squatting next to us, too? We would soon find out.

In the beginning we ran cautiously, but accelerating. We had not made more than sixty meters as there was a loud yell behind us – probably a demand to stop. We had miscalculated as to the guard, after all. Fortunately he was alone.

- Zigzag, I called out to Ahonen.
Soon we were encouraged to spurt by bullets. One – two - three at a rapid rate, whining past at a nastily short distance. I was satisfied to note that the rate was so fast. It implied that the guard was nervous and did not aim properly. Four – five – six.

We kept running for our lives. The worst was over. The guard was now ramming a new cartridge tie in his rifle. We were gaining distance all the time. The guard's shots were next inaccurate and passed overhead.

Finally we had to slow down due to becoming breathless. Seeing that we were not pursued immediately we slowed from running to brisk walk in the middle of the ice of the strait. We had to conserve energy for a new spurt.

The wave-breaker was soon looming ahead of us. This was one of the tricky parts of our plan. There seemed to be no guards on the wave-breaker but it could be under fire from the shore. We increased our speed. We went over the wave-breaker bridge that was built of big boulders.

Now we found ourselves on open ice and it seemed that we were not being pursued. The tragic incidents on the islands of Suonionsaari and Esisaari were now in the past for us, two lone wanderers on the open ice. We had made detours of the islands keeping so far from them that we could not be fired at. We had not heard neither seen anything special. Finally we had picked up a continuous sound of artillery from afar, on a limited area. Muzzle flashes could be clearly seen. I estimated that this shelling must emanate from the mainland. The enemy must have gained foothold on the mainland and now supported by furious shelling tried to spread the breakthrough.

We were facing a new dilemma. To the left from us and the enemy breakthrough there was wide-open ice. We did not dare to start crossing it. We should have a chance to land on an island in case of something unpleasant. Would we make it to the mainland before the enemy would occupy this part of the coastline? I was confident, however, that our troops would hold these islands as long as possible to threaten the enemy flanks. The artillery fire at the breach was for us a point of reference to steer our passage.

It was heavy trudging. Fortunately there was just some twenty centimetres of snow on the ice but on the ice there was a layer of slush. We had heard that water had been flushed from the Saimaa canal on the ice of Viipurinlahti to hamper the advance of the enemy. We now had to suffer the consequences. If we only had had skis! To save energy we were walking in a queue, and taking turns in leading. The man in the rear would step in the footprints ahead of him. We did not have any food but water was freely available. It was easy to punch a hole in the thin ice (covering the slush) and suck water.

Finally we slowed down as we heard the noise of an tractor engine and clatter of tracks. It was emanating from a supply road that appeared to be going to the direction of the breach. We had to cross this enemy supply road on the ice. There seemed to be constant traffic to the direction of the mainland. We crept in the snow until we were some 30 m from the road, intending to run between a gap between the transport columns. The traffic was constant and there was no gap long enough to enable us to slip through.

While waiting Ahonen fell asleep on the ice. He had been tired to the bone for some time already. A brief sleep would refresh him. But both of us could not fall asleep on the open ice at the supply road. I rolled myself in uncomfortable positions and pinched myself to stay awake. I failed, however, and we both slept who knows how long?

As we woke up the traffic on the supply road was much decreased. A brief sleep had refreshed us considerably and it did not take long before we could run across the road between transport columns and went on with our march.

How we wished to hear other cues of the front line, not just sounds of artillery fire. Once we saw a hint: when we were passing between two islands we saw on the ice at regular intervals small arc-shaped walls of snow.

A well trained outfit has attacked at the island here, I thought. The marks on the ice were like a lesson on the interaction of fire and movement on open ground. We steered our passage farther from the island. We did not wish to make contact for one with that enemy outfit. Later I learned that an enemy officer school company had attacked there, sent to attack to gain front experience as one outfit.

Our journey was slowing down due to the exhaustion of my pal. I had taken his rifle to carry and was trudging on in the lead. Despite that we had to stop and rest in the snow every two hundred steps . My comrade was staring ahead, mute and dumb looking. He was near the end of his tether. I reckoned that if I somehow would be able to help him stay mentally balanced his body would stay functional. I started chattering all kinds of nonsense things. I asked him all kinds of questions and forced him to answer me. Thus I kept his thoughts away from our trouble and we managed to continue our dragging journey somehow.

The dawn was breaking as there was a narrow strait in front of us. Behind the strait there was a long cape sticking to the left. I decided that we shall go round this cape on ice and then land on the island. That implied one more kilometre more in the slush but my instinct told me that we had to endure that. Anyway, soon we had to find a solution, whatever it was to be. It was not only being in enemy territory but we were running out of time. It was only the cover of darkness that enabled us to proceed over the open ice. We had to find help, else we certainly would freeze to death. I remembered that I had read somewhere that dying in cold was an easy death. We however had no wish to experience it personally and that is why we had to endure some more.

My comrade was visible refreshed as we began to head for the island having gone around the cape. Finally we found ourselves on the coastline and we were not shot at, neither did we hear anything. Now we could discern single trees at the edge of a forest. The snow cover kept getting thicker as we climbed up the beach. There was a trodden path along the fringe of the forest. This did not imply anything good, not being a track of a Finnish skiing securing patrol. We followed the track. Soon there was a fork and another trodden path led in the forest, which we followed.

After a while we came across a winter road. It appeared to lead to the middle of the island. Walking on the hard surface of the road was difficult. It was only now that I found that my boots had been soaked shapeless while walking in the slush of the open ice. The heel of my boot had slipped in the middle of my foot. I had to walk on my toes, wobbling like a duck. My feet were hurting badly.

We saw some movement in the bend of the road ahead of us. There were men! Friends or enemies? We could still hide in the cover of the forest, they may not have spotted us. No, we are not going to run any more, what ever would happen. We decided to risk it all. I told Ahonen that we would walk nonchalantly to the men coming our waý. Thus they would take us as friends, whether they were friends or foes. Not until we are at an arm's length we shall act according to the situation. I hid my pistol that was in my hand, unsecured, under my snowsuit. I ordered Ahonen to carry his rifle on his shoulder by its strap so that it would be easily available, and walk right behind me.

Soon we saw that there were two men coming our way in dark greatcoats without snow camo. They were not wearing peaked caps but yesterday the enemy officers we had met on the shore of Suonionsaari had been wearing peak caps that had confounded us initially. I was whistling and humming a tune as if on a carefree Sunday stroll, my arm in a fold of my coat, and my heart was racing due to excitement.

The distance to the oncoming men was now just some twenty meters. There was as far as I could see something blue on their fur caps. The Finnish cockade maybe? They did not seem to care anything about us. Their rifles were slung over their back and they kept their hands in the pockets of their coats.

Now I knew for sure that we had the initiative. Couple of shots with my pistols in this short a range would be a matter of just a few seconds. Ahonen would support me with his rifle if necessary. I was now sure about myself. I had gained the upper hand in a similar case yesterday morning when we met the enemy in Suonionsaari.

We had almost passed each other as I said abruptly:
- Boys, where are you going ?
- Sentry duty.
That was the sweetest music in my ears!

When talking with the men we found out that the last strait we had avoided was no-man's land. We had not noticed that because the front was quiet and it was very early in the morning. If we had taken a shortcut across the strait we most likely would have been fired at from both sides. We had been lucky indeed and my instinct had been right.

The men took us to their tent. I was unable to pull off my boots due to severe cramp, I had to ask for help from the men. The occupants of the tent had had their morning tea but some of it was left in their field kettles. We were given the tea with crispbread. What a wonderful taste did the victory crispbread dunked in tepid stewed tea have, after everything we had been through. It was royal gluttony, actually.

The tent stove was no more heated due to air threat. Despite that I lied down next to the stove that was radiating the last of its heat. I felt indescribably good. Letting my legs relax limp I did not experience any cramps. My feel-good state was not at all bothered by the noise of rifle fire from the front line. Neither did I mind that the men were packing up their gear. I heard them talk about the order to abandon the positions during forenoon due to flank threat . They may have been ordered to take down the tent but they did not do that for our sake. My toes were hurting but I did not care. They must have been slightly frostbitten . I just enjoyed having survived, and relived in my mind the last twenty four hours.

What was it that made us, the fighters of the Winter War, to endure physical and mental efforts more than humanly possible ? In my opinion it was the plain consciousness that Finland had been forced to fight for her life and existence as a free nation and country. We accepted that no sacrifice was too high in our uneven struggle to gain our noble target.


Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 17 Jan 2018 06:30

Murmansk rail line blown up
E. Leppänen
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 04, 1960

GHQ long range patrol in action. However, the story is questionable in several respects. The operating area was that of Os. Marttina but I could not find a patrol report fitting in the details in the said time, late autumn 1941.

It was one autumn day in 1941 getting night. There had been an order from the top to carry out an important mission in the enemy rear. Every man sensed the presence of the great unknown. Duty was calling us and we were to carry out the task or fail.

WE set out from Lake Lentua in Kuhmo in a German biplane transport (He-59, tr.rem.). Twelve men in field gray and full equipment emerged from the forest to embark the hydroplane. Our CO delivered the final order to the patrol leader and wished us brave spirits. The plane engines were started to take us in the air and there where we were needed. The plane started about at 17.00hrs and our journey to the unknown wilderness lake 520km off in White Sea Carelia started.

The driver (sic!) increased our altitude to 1500m above a wilderness village. There was a heavy thunder and it was raining up in the air, probably also on the ground.

Having been airborne for about two hours the driver informed that the destination lake was below us. The tension of the crew peaked. We were prepared to disembark without showing our tickets. Then the driver announced that we could not land on the lake, it was too shallow. We flew on in the dusk and fog to another lake with an excellent landing spot but we spotted some log floating men at the mouth of a river in the N end of the lake. A quick decision had to be made to enable us to start our mission. The plane would land immediately aiming to disembark us at a bay in the S end of the lake.

It was like a scene from the movie “Heroes of the Wild West”. We landed on the lake and the plane headed for the said bay, but bad luck hit us immediately. The floats of the plane were stuck on a rock 50m from the shoreline and the plane could not be refloated due to the weight of the load until the men had disembarked, wading armpit deep in the cold autumn kingdom of perches. We carried our gear on our heads. It was not the first time for us.

Now we found ourselves landed and the plane took off immediately to the sky, heading for the distant base. We took our gear and weapons in our backs and headed for the unknown wilderness. The patrol leader gave us the bearing and our arduous journey started. After we had proceeded 7 or 8 km the CO told that it was dinnertime. There was a sheltered spot with a small brook to provide refreshment for us.

We selected a spot for campfire and sleeping places, and set up sentry positions to avoid getting surprised. Then it was time to cook some dinner , because this inn had nothing else but cold brook water to provide us. We made our beds of fir boughs and anthills that backwoodsmen consider as the best bedding . Since we had nothing but oilcloth to cover us, we had to make our bed covers out of fir boughs. Having eaten we turned in like pigs in straw. Only a sentry stayed awake to guard our sleep.

I was sleeping next to a pal and woke up freezing in the morning. I felt there was something wet at my feet. Peeking out I saw that it had been snowing, the ground was white with slush. I had left my boots standing in the open and now they were half-full of slush. I woke up my pal and wished him good morning. He responded: “It must have been a summer night”. The other men had already got up and were making coffee on a campfire.

Now it did not make sense to set out, because if an enemy patrol would detect our track we would be trapped. The temperature rose in the course of the day and in the afternoon the snow had vanished without trace and we could continue our journey. The target area was 10km from us and we had to be there by the evening.

WE set out in high spirits, walking through swamps and forest. At 2100hrs we found ourselves in a spot 10km south of Kem town at the Murmansk railway. Our task was to blow up the rail line here and plant another charge at another place, with a nine day delay fuse.

First we planted the time delayed charge and then another charge equipped with a strike fuse. When the charges had been planted we pulled a 50 m string in the forest to blow up the charge when a train would be there.

We had been waiting for about 15 min as an enemy soldier appeared on the scene, together with a train arriving from the North. The man began to signal with a red light. He must have seen that we planted the charge, he had not dared to show up and now thought we had left. Since the train had been coming in a high speed, it did not manage to stop before we pulled the string. 35 kg of TNT announced that it was the end of the line for the train. At the same time we fired out SMGs and the rattle was interspersed with cries of pain by the dying enemy soldiers.

We had completed our task and headed for home. There was an enemy plane flying over the forest seeking a chance to revenge but the night hid us in her lap. Being old soldiers we knew how to make use of the terrain.
After we had hiked up to 0400hrs it was time for the morning coffee. We had made some 20km and since the terrain was favourable and the spot well covered, we decided to have a rest until noon. We mined our incoming trail to avoid surprises, because there will be mutual harm if enemies should meet each other on a path in forest.

After our rest our patrol leader woke up the wireless operator and told him to report to our CO in Finland. The operator contacted him and reported. The CO ordered that we should stay where we were if no one was bothering us and re-contact a couple of hours later.

We were waiting, glancing at our watches and counting minutes. I started thinking of my home, my wife and the possibility of becoming a casualty. Would any of our patrol not return from this mission? A long two hours had passed before the radio operator began to tap his key. The received order was: “Head for bearing 45-00 to Lake V. distance 15km. A plane shall pick you up at 2200hrs. Set up signals, agreed (pattern) no.3. Paukka”

Now we were delighted and hurried. We were striding with light steps because we had done a good day's work for our own benefit. We arrived at the shore of the said lake at 21.30hrs. Then we heard from the opposite shore of the lake, some 2km in distance, banter of men and sounds of wood being chopped. We guessed that there was an enemy field stronghold. We were quiet as house mice and set up the radio antenna immediately, because we were supposed to contact the plane that was approaching. The radio operator established contact with the plane who asked at once: ”Is the landing spot good and free?”

The patrol leader's pulse rose now. The enemy was close, our food had been consumed and we did not know of any other place. He told the radio operator: “Report: Come on, signal fires shall be lit as soon as we hear the sound of the plane”.

We had been waiting for some 20 minutes as the awaited sound emerged. Quickly we set the men in their places and they ignited the fire bomb sticks. The plane made a turn above the spot where the enemy stronghold was. We could not suppress a brief curse for fear that the plane crew had committed an error but at the same moment they saw our signal and landed at the shore next to us. Immediately we boarded the plane and the pilot applied full power waving his hand to the direction of the enemy. I went next to the pilot and asked if there was anything special in that direction. He said:
damn you fellows, you called a pickup from the front yard of the enemy, but I am picking up my fare wherever I am told to .
He was laughing as the coup had been successful, and added:
There was a field stronghold there, because I saw light in the windows of a cabin and that went out as soon as I started landing. Then I made a quick estimate and decided that they do not make it on the far side of the cape until we shall be airborne.

I did not confess him that we knew of the field stronghold until next year.

We were flying above the enemy lines as AA shells began to fly right at us.
Over, short, over, over the boys commented as shells were exploding above and below.
The pilot increased altitude to 2000m and tried to turn this way and that but it did not make much of a difference due to the large size of the plane. Finally we managed to leave behind the angry enemy AA fire.

Having been airborne for two and a half hours we caught sight of the same lake that we had left, then hoping to return all together, as cheery and happy as when setting out. We landed at the shore where our CO was waiting to welcome us, he said:
You indeed are brave warriors! I am heart-deep happy as you all are coming home.

He also told us that a message had been intercepted, the enemy had proved that our mission had been a success. One engine and nine wagons full of troops and ammunition had been destroyed and the Murmansk railroad, a vital enemy artery to North, had been cut.

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 21 Jan 2018 06:49

Broken shafts
Niilo Rajaharju
Journal "Kansa Taisteli", Vol. 5, 1960

Winter War, Carelian isthmus. Task force Muolaa, comprising detached Battalions and Border Guard companies, was tasked to delay the enemy invasion from the border to the Main defence line. Er.P.4 was the author's Battalion.

It was 2nd Dec 1939, the Winter War had started. Maj. Kaarlo Pöyry's Battalion had retreated from the border and was delaying the enemy at the side of Aliskanmäki hill in Ahijärvi hamlet of Kivennapa. There the 2nd Company led by Lt. Allan Gummerus had taken positions on top of the hill, in the direction of the forest from the Ahijärvi-Valkjärvi road, facing the Viipuri-Kivennapa road. The enemy was attacking on both of these roads.

I was the driver of the weapons and ammunition sled supplying the 2nd Coy. Armourer Sgt. Tuominen ordered me to remain at the foot of the hill some 80m from the road to resupply the men on the crest of the slope in case they would need any. My load contained everything that should be there, weaponry-wise. When leaving me Sgt. Tuominen said that in case there would be a retreat he would come and tell me, adding that I would not be allowed to move from my place. In fact I was shielded from the rifle bullets by the hill on the front side and a threshing barn on the road side. But mortar bombs were exploding all over the place, reminding me of death.

A while later the ammo carriers from the front line came to get supply. They returned empty magazines and were given full ones. Now I was employed in refilling magazines to give for the following carriers. Being busy with the job I forgot to fear the mortar bombs because I had other matters to think of. I asked the men who came to me what was the situation in the firing line, and they told me that the enemy is falling in crowds but ever more troops keep replacing the casualties. I hurried up with my job so that I should not run out of full magazines.

The fighting continued until no more cartridge carriers were coming for resupply. I began to wonder what was going on. I did remember that Sgt. Tuominen would come to tell me in case we had to pull back. There was a sound of intense firing on the road and a lot of fires in the village. I went to the threshing barn and peeked behind a corner at the road. There was an enemy tank, far beyond our positions, and a lot of infantry following it. The tank was firing rapidly along the road. Returning to my sled I spotted some of our men on their way from the hill into the forest. I ran closer and enquired about the situation, they told me that there had been an order to retreat and the positions had been abandoned already.

No more did I wait for further orders from Sgt. Tuominen but in shellfire started driving in the same direction as I had seen our men go, and there was a narrow forest road that I could use. There were no other horsemen to be seen.

Hardly had I started my journey as I found myself in shellfire. Shells were exploding next to me and my horse. Although I thought I was holding the reins steadily, the horse bounced off f rom the road into the forest, and as there was a tree there one shaft was broken with a crack, and the second shaft was broken by the runner of the sled as the horse bounced.

The situation was not a pleasant one as the accident happened just during retreat and under shelling. Some soldiers, ahead of me, saw what had happened and told me “leave the sled there, you cannot help it” before leaving. I think those men were no horsemen because they did not know what a horse driver must do when he has lost the shafts in a forest.

I looked behind where the shed was but since I did not spot any enemies pursuing me, the last man of our Company, it did not occur to me to abandon my load. I tied the horse at a tree, took the axe from the sled and began to look for timber for new shafts. It was all pine forest, but pinewood is good enough for shafts. I cut two shafts but did not remove the rind, because I had spent enough time already. I had to remove and remount the ferrules at the shafts, and shelling disturbed at first my work.

Repairing the shaft damage a heavy sleet rain started and the autumn day began to turn into a dusky evening as the shelling ceased. I was able to harness the horse undisturbed and look for my mitts that I had left on the snow, but I did not find them. My hands were wet and cold, but I could not help it.

The matter was that I had been left behind by the retreating Company and this is what annoyed me the most. Looking behind me when setting out there was an enemy soldier driving a field kitchen to the shed. I emptied one SMG magazine at him and I think, despite the dusk, that it was not him who would distribute the cabbage soup. I jerked at the reins and my journey was restarted. The terrain was unknown to me except the roads on both sides.

I kept driving on the forest roads, there were a couple of roads forking to another direction but I was not able to navigate better. Having driven quite far I began to suspect that it was not the right direction, I might find myself on the Viipuri-Kivennapa road that was in enemy hands. I turned the horse back and began to backtrack. It was now totally dark and I was hoping that I should not meet any major enemy outfit. I was not unarmed, having a load of them, but I was alone.

I had a torch but how to use it as I found myself near the enemy? I put a handkerchief over the lens and began to examine the snow of the roads. On one of them I spotted the hoof prints of a Finnish horse and the road appeared to lead in the correct direction. Having followed it for a distance there was a wider road and the roads forking from it had been in busy use. I deduced that the Company had retired on one of the roads, maybe even some of the Battalion. The direction was correct now and I could observe the firing at the road. The enemy was far ahead of me on the Valkjärvi-Ahijärvi road on my flank. The road soon became poor, with lots of stones and very steep hills. The load, too, was heavy but having a good horse I made it .

Finally the dawn broke and I saw I was approaching a hamlet. I recognized it as Kukonmäki and there I met some men of our Battalion but none of my Company. I estimated I had journeyed some 11 km in the forest from my point of departure. Next I headed for the Viipuri road.

Since I had not slept one single minute since the start of the war while our Company had been delaying the enemy all the time, and now being in secure area I quit thinking about dangerous surprises and relaxed on my sled, that is I had a bit of rest.

Suddenly the horse stopped. What is the matter? There was something at the hooves of the horse, I got up to investigate and saw an unopened bag of rice. I hauled it in my sled, it would make a nice porridge for the boys as soon as I would find the company.

Finally, 6 km from Väärämäki I met my Company but I saw Sgt. Tuominen not until in Kyyrölä. He was surprised seeing me again, because they had considered that the weapons load had been lost , he also explained that he was not able to inform me because the withdrawal had been so sudden. I learned that several loads and horses of the Battalion had been left behind in the hands of the enemy.

One week later I was giving a ride to our CO, Lt. Allan Gummerus. He told me that Sgt. Tuominen had said that the shafts of the weapons load had been broken and I had made new ones virtually facing the enemy, then he asked for details. I told him that since both the horse and the driver were terrified by the shells, the results were to be expected. He answered that all of us fear, some more and some less. Also his good riding horse had fallen in the hands of the enemy because his batman had tied it on a tree at the moment of the retreat. He also mentioned the bag of rice, so I deduced he, too, had enjoyed the porridge.

(1486 words)

The war diary of 2./Er.P.4 begins on 1 december 1939, i.e. the second day of the war. Maybe the CO did not consider it necessary to keep a diary starting from the day of mobilization unlike e.g.1./Er.P.4 ? The Battalion war diary is missing the period 29.10. - 4.12.1939

1st day of December
02.30hrs The platoons set out. Sgt. Pusa's squad sent as as replacements in the platoon of Res. 2nd Lt. Seppänen
I and IV Platoons fighting at Palvojärvi until 17.00-18.00
All through the evening sporadic artillery fire .

2nd day of Dec.
At 15.00hrs an attack against Russians launched, whereby our Company suffered casualties. Lt Haahti fell by an enemy bullet and Cpl. Suokas, Juho was wounded.
17.30hrs the Company retreated via Hupimaa to Kyyrölä.

3rd day of Dec.
06.00hrs Reveille in Kyyrölä. The Company marched from Kyyrölä to Paakeli where we set up camp.
14.20hrs The Baggage train arrived at the camping area.

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Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 24 Jan 2018 07:27

Tiikanen, V.
A miracle in Winter War
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 5, 1960

In the early days of the Winter war in 1939 one Squadron of Kev.Os.2 had been placed in delaying positions in the terrain of Sahasilta (A bridge on the Kivennapa-Valkjärvi road in the Carelian Isthmus, tr.rem.) The previous night the first snow had fallen and the nature had a pristine and untouched look. Soon it was to be broken and soiled by men who turned it into a battlefield.

Fighting was already going on at Kivennapa. The atmosphere was tense. The men's faces were showing fear and uncertainty. But also decisive battle spirit was visible – they had to prove the invader what kind of men they were and what kind of fighters Finnish men are

I was following our CO. Lt. “Ekotti” Aapro checking our positions. I was the Squadron armourer, and since I very much wanted to be in the firing line, I stayed there to participate in the approaching firefight. I had played cards with the Squadron horse maintenance NCO Topi Pirhonen to decide which of us would stay in the rear and which in the front line – and I had won.

The other lads, too, reorganised their “vacancies” with a game of cards and every winner wanted to go to the firing line.

Kev.Os.2, CO maj. Breitholtz also turned up and he ordered us to man a bridgehead position on the far side of the bridge because our troops would use the bridge to withdraw in our rear. 2nd Lt. Ville Harju began to set up the position which was a tricky business because the men had to be placed in a dense forest with very bad field of vision. There was no time for anything else but to clear some shooting field because the sound of fighting kept approaching.

We were waiting and tense. The first shells flew overhead, the first ones in our lives, and soon loud clanking was heard from the direction of the road – a tank! It appeared behind the bend of the road and started firing at the roadsides. I had cold shivers and there was a void in my guts. I looked at Ville (=Lt. Harju) and he looked back at me: we must have shared the one thought. To cross the bridge, and as soon as possible, while we could. But the tank veered in the forest, and we could abandon our idea. If the tank had just kept driving on, we would have been done for, but the enemy, too, was a beginner and acting in the corresponding manner.

Single enemy bullets were soon hitting the trees and soon we were exchanging fire. The lads shot back without seeing the enemy and the noise of battle kept increasing.

-Help, I am hit now, help! The screaming came from the left where Topi Kivistö was with his LMG. I crept to him and found that he had taken a burst from a MG.
- Help, do not leave me, take me with you, help me! It was a prayer by a distressed man fearing death, he was fearing that he would be abandoned to die in the hands of the enemy.
- Hey, Kivistö, it's me – where are you hit? Harju is just coming here and we shall take you on the other side, do not worry, we shall not abandon you.

Probably he did not hear the last part of my words because the death was already there.

Harju and I found that the lad had been shot through like a sieve, even his backbone was broken. WE managed to drag him over the bridge and left him at the hands of the stretcher bearers. Kivistö was the first man who had sacrificed himself for our dear fatherland – peace to the memory of a honest and brave hero!

We returned to the front line, meeting lads that had been “winged”, walking cases, and Harju took a rifle from one of them, because “ a toy gun like this is no good for anything”, as he judged his pistol. We found the positions we had left and heard the tank in the old spot somewhere at the bend of the road.

Kourula and Mikkonen had taken positions in the ditch, but as the tank appeared on the road,
Kourula jumped out of the road. Mikkonen stayed and it was his end. Immediatelyhe was hit by a MG burst and without uttering a sound he fell on the bottom of the ditch. The MG kept shooting, targeting Mikkonen, and his short riding fur coat was literally peeled off. Several times we tried to pull Mikkonen out of the ditch but apparently the tank did not have any other task but to keep an eye at Mikkonen, devoting him a burst every now and then.

Not until we were pulling back did we manage to retrieve Mikkonen, who by this time was but a shapeless soft lump of flesh. It was stupid for the enemy to use the MG at the already died boy of ours but this saved many men from the destructive fire of the same MG.

- Look, neighbours, I'll give them some lead! Harju yelled and aimed at the men running on the bank of the river
- Don't shoot, dammiot, they are our men, I shouted, pushing up the muzzle of his rifle.

Ville did not shoot at them, neither at anything else – with that rifle. Only now we found that the barrel had been bent and the sights smashed. It was good only shooting beyond a corner.

Harju's platoon was hard pressed by the enemy also crowded in a small patch of forest, a few dozen meters wide at the end of the bridge. To our good fortune the tank did not dare to get closer, probably fearing mines, instead it kept firing from the same old bend of the road. When we then were permitted to withdraw , we ran and fast. We were ordered not to use the bridge, but we would not have wanted there, because bullets were raining on it. Crossing the river was easy, and we made it almost without getting wet.

Then there was an explosion! The bridge was blown in the air with such a blast that for a long time we did not hear or see anything, timber and earth was raining down from the sky. The bridge had vanished save one timber, by miracle, that had survived, providing a path across the river. This path was to be the scene of an miraculous show.

Stragglers kept coming across the river, some singles, others with a pal, wounded, some panicked, all of them dead tired. All of them managed at this spot return to their own.

What the heck is that, there are two of ours, walking on the open road, are they totally crazy – one ot them is surely wounded, he is walking with trouble like that, dammit, just look at them! It was 2nd Lt. “Haamu” Paukkonen yelling.

There we saw a miracle that we kept watching, shaking with horror and thrill. The two lads were walking steadily, without haste on the road to the end of the bridge, then to the surviving timber of the bridge and on it across the river. They proceeded steadily and calmly, just like that. The enemy kept firing and we opened up, too. It was as if the enemy had aimed all their weapons at these heroes – there was a constant hum in our ears. Since the distance to the enemy firing line was at the most fifty meters, one cannot talk about chance and luck, because without the grace of the Lord not a squirrel would have been able to get across. The fact that one timber survived the demolition of the bridge was something provided by G*d for the benefit of the tired heroes soon to arrive. The timber alone was a miracle, but seeing the crossing on it cannot be described by words. It appeared that the men were wearing haloes.

We welcomed the lads with tears in our eyes, repeating to ourselves that it cannot be true, they did not have any chance. But it was, checking them we found the other one unscathed. The other one had taken a rifle bullet through the chest and his right lung. We wanted to bandage it but the hero stated:
- Oh, that hole, I got it at Kivennapa already, leave it alone, it is so well congealed by now. Just give me some water and crispbread, that's all I need.

The story cannot be verified because the war diary of KevOs 11/KevOs 2 is not there for the mentioned period. The author btw seems to have had a very informal relationship with his CO.

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 28 Jan 2018 07:17

Toivo Vuorela
Haukiperä battle in Suomussalmi

Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, Vol. 4/1960

The author was a Platoon leader of Er.P1 at Suomussalmi. Map in the source, p.111. Haukiperä is a narrow body of water.

Raate and the Raate road had been abandoned to the enemy. The evening of the Independence day was gloomy and desperate. We were approaching the village of Suomussalmi. It unnecessary to mention the year: 1039.

Finnish men have had a hard time often, these men, too, who were the first to meet the invading enemy with gun in hand the last morning of of November. War was something new for most of them. Er.P1 did not include many veterans schooled by the War of Liberation (1918).

By now we had one week worth of experience on the dreariness of war. We arrived at Haukiperä. The weather was getting harsher. The great broom of the sky swept clean, the snowfall ended. The sky was high and clear as “General Winter” took over and did not give up his positions until spring. He was a cruel and merciless commander.

Between the 6th and 7th December the mercury fell below minus 30 centigrade. The mild temperature of the previous day had made our leather boots wet, and now they froze – some even froze their feet in them. Victims were specially men who had to ski in securing patrols along the Western shores of lake Kiantajärvi, or stand in sentry duty in the cold.

Lots of things happened that night. Suomussalmi village was burning. Huge flames rose to the sky. Work of decades, even centuries, was destroyed in a few moments. The flames illuminated the dark Northern night and warmed the tired invader soldiers just for a few moments.

Our Company, led by Lt. Eino Lehto, was shivering at Haukiperä on the W shore of Kiantajärvi lake. We were suffering and bitter in our minds. Many of the Border Guard men swore that they would stay there, whatever the officers would order. In our opinion our retreat had been unnecessary.

- We should take them on, the Border guards assured each other. Maybe this would be the desired point where we would stop giving in . A place where to fight and defend instead of talking about delaying that had began to seed suspicion to our commanders.

The next morning dawned as a real winter´s day. It was almost minus forty degrees frost. There were black chips of soot on the white snow – witnessing the destruction of Suomussalmi by fire. It was as silent as in a grave. War and bloodshed appeared to be just hate speech. It was as if everyone would be repenting his bad deeds. The only one gloating his achievements was the old man Winter. He had frozen the feet of several poor men during the night and he kept squeezing his grip. He had no pity, he was equally merciless with the defender as the invader. Silence continued for the day and the next night. Beating a clogged stovepipe in this silence was like committing a crime.

But then it started! Before the sun was colouring the Eastern sky re it was as if the earth would have been torn up and the end of the world started. The banging noise tearing up the frosty air was artillery fire. Compared with later experience it was nothing specially intense. But at the moment it was terrible, terrorising with its novelty.

We dashed at the positions carved in the snow of the shore embankment. We were lying in them in very cold frost, which we indeed did not feel. The crashing of shells warmed us up, together with – fear.

Finally the crashing died down. We started improving our positions. I managed to pierce the frozen crust of the soil and dig brown sand on the white snow. I stood up on the parapet. Something incredible happened: There were rifle shots from our flank. The brown sand at my feet billowed. I was perplexed. Who was firing from our positions? It should have been 2nd Lt. Pentikäinen´s platoon next to us. Being convinced that it had to be a mistake I calmed down a little. This was too crude a joke for anyone to do. Soon the sand billowed again and the shot was heard in the previous direction.

I yelled in a loud voice:
- Do not fire at your own!
I remembered how Jaeger Staff Sgt. Lahti had told a story how in the Eastern Front of the Great War a missed shot was indicated by waving a spade. The morning dusk prevented me from doing this, moreover I was not in a jocular mood.

My yell had no effect. Shooting went on. It was impossible to believe that there were enemies on our flank. How could they have managed to cross a well guarded half a kilometre wide strait ? Yet this had happened on the 8 December 1939. How? It has not been cleared yet, today.

(We know now that there were no sentries in their posts as the enemy came, the sentries were warming up in a building and the officers, too, had neglected their duty. Tr.rem.)

Many of the men fighting at Haukiperä that cold December morning were killed in action that day or in later battles. The few survivors today with their memories of the war say that we were so surprised by shelling that we did not notice in the confusion and the darkness of the night what was going on.

The winter's day was dawning. Small arms fire was lively in the dusk. Bullets were whining and shelling increased again. I found that our platoon had been dispersed. There was one man there, another here. There was no battle grouping any more, and the men kept asking where the enemy was ?

As the deputy platoon leader I started organising the men who seemed to be frightened and insecure into a sort of firing line. Finally it was found how deep the enemy had penetrated. At last we found out how deep the enemy had penetrated. At the ferry warden's house about 60 to 70m from us a group of creatures in white cloaks was swarming – enemies.

I had managed to assemble eleven men for a counterstrike. We started advancing in a line for the house. The enterprise and the purpose were noble but the result personally considered sad. Two of these eleven men fell and seven were wounded.

In this battle I saw the enemy eye to eye for the first time. Battle descriptions are generally written from the point of view of an outfit but I have retained such a lively memory of my case that I must recount it here.

The dusk that had been dimming our vision was lifting as we dashed ahead. We were pushing on with such a fervour in ankle-deep snow that we did not spot the enemies until we found ourselves nose to nose with them.

I threw myself down in the snow next to a wrist thick birch. At the same time I felt a sting in my left upper arm, and the arm began to turn limp. I spotted an enemy pair of eyes next to a snow covered rock in front of me. The man was loading his rifle. At the very moment I managed to think a lot. Should I run, I was wounded? No! I would certainly get killed if I should try anything like that. Another shot – actually I could no more tell single shots, the Western shore of Haukiperä was a sea of firing. Snow puffed in front of me. Missed! Now it was my turn. I managed to lift my rifle just enough to be able to aim – with better luck. I had won the race with death that time.

I still remember that man. He had a yellow round face with round eyes, emanating spiteful courage. He did not try to escape. He was a soldier – or did he think as I ha done: retreat means death.

At Haukiperä the great and terrible death caught more than two hundred enemies. Almost everyone of them who had managed to cross the Kiantajärvi lake in the silence of the night or during the shelling stayed for ever on the Western shore.
Haukiperä was again ours, since 9 December 1939 Finnish soldiers were guarding the Western shore of the Kiantajärvi lake. Siilasvuo came with his troops, and decisive battles were started in the wilderness of Suomussalmi. Our counterstrike at Haukiperä was that blow in the face of the enemy that stunned them for the moment that our troops needed to group for the decisive attack.

Teemu S
Posts: 17
Joined: 04 Mar 2016 13:25
Location: Varkaus, Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Teemu S » 28 Jan 2018 21:56

Lotvonen wrote:Murmansk rail line blown up
E. Leppänen
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 04, 1960

GHQ long range patrol in action. However, the story is questionable in several respects. The operating area was that of Os. Marttina but I could not find a patrol report fitting in the details in the said time, late autumn 1941.

This patrol appears to be Marttina's patrol N:o 18, lasting from September 18. to September 27.

Source: "Sissisotaa kaukopartiossa: Osasto Marttinan partiokertomukset 1941-1942" (pg.267)

-Teemu S.

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 04 Feb 2018 08:07

Slide at Yläsommee

P. Manninen
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 5, 1960

JR67 was set up in Kuopio and they embarked the train to the front on 9 February 1940, so the regiment was made up of “porcelain battalions”, deficiently trained and equipped units. The II Battalion engaged the enemy on 23 February 1940.

It was February in the year 1940. How well do I recall those days twenty years ago! Temperature minus forty C and sometimes even colder, soiled snow suits, forest slashed by shells and blood stained snow. Hastily built dugouts, crowded half platoon tents, frozen sausage, black coffee. Bombers rumbling in the sky, fire-spitting tanks, howling shells. Frost, woollen neck covers, frost covered horses, squeaking sleighs. Soldiers in civilian attire, the only reference to militarism being a cockade in the wool of the fur hat.

JR67 was stationed at Yläsommee. I was serving in a company led by Lt. Halonen, in II Btn of the Regiment. My Platoon leader was 2nd Lt. Jansson from Vaasa. As to me I was entrusted the important task of a Squad leader. It is difficult to remember today the details of the deployment of our Regiment on our front section, and it is not necessary for a Squad leader to know everything.

We had been spread over a wide defence line, each of us in our focal point. Us, that is 2nd Lt. Jansson's Platoon, was tasked with the defence of a stronghold in the middle of an open field. My story is concerned with this spot and it is a memorial for my comrades who sacrificed themselves for our cause, among them 2nd Lt. Jansson.

- Wake up – down the slide with you! Relief, quick!
I opened my eyes. It was dark but the stove was glowing heat. I was sleepy. I would so willingly have gone on sleeping. There was a rumble and cracking outside. The tent fabric overhead was vibrating by pressure waves. There were tiny holes in it, burned by sparks, and through one I spotted a bright star. I came to, and sat up.

2nd Lt Jansson was lighting a stub of a candle. Its dim light showed bearded faces of sleep drunk men, with lacklustre and tired mien. Field kettles were boiling on the stove, spreading homely smell of coffee in our crowded tent. I poured some hot liquid in the lid of my field kettle and grumbled:
- They have still not quit, eh?
- I don't think they have, 2nd LT. Jansson responded with a laughter.

We drank our coffee sunken in thoughts. Fifteen men, bearded and thoroughly tired ones. Relief, oh yes, just that – how many of us shall return after 24 hours. Slide next! We were ready.
They won't quit unless we go and make them quit, Pfc. Toppila said and slipped out of the tent in the dark evening.
We followed him. The earth was vibrating and the air was torn by constant rattle. The war was in full swing. 2nd Lt Jansson took the lead and said:
- Follow me.

The temperature was close to minus forty, at times maybe colder. It congealed all existence into one word: Winter war. It indeed was at times so cold that we did not recognise it as cold, instead it was burning.

We followed a path trodden in the snow to the firing line. Bullets were flying overhead. When a bullet hit a tree trunk there was a snap that we in the beginning had believed to be created by explosive bullets. By now we were used to them, and also proceeding crouching, as if expecting a blow from some quarter.

So we arrived at the trenches that had been dug in the frozen earth and the snow. There was an open field in front of us, the enemy on the far side. We proceeded in the narrow trench until we reached our slide.

Every man of the 4. and 5. /II/JR67 surely remembers the slide. It was a groove in the snow, ending at the tip of a tongue of forest where our stronghold was. The groove had been frozen slippery with water, like log skidding roads in the North. It sped up our movement so that the distance of 150 to 200 m could be accomplished in a matter of a few minutes. Sliding prone and pushing for speed with their hands the men slid to their destination like eels and relieved the garrison. It had to happen in the cover of darkness because there was an enemy observation post at the edge of the field in the loft of a large stone cow shed. We knew it and our weak artillery had even managed to hit the North wall of the shed but it did not stop the enemy from making use of the sturdy building.

There was a farmhouse some distance off. There also was a hay barn between us and the said buildings, a nuisance for us because the enemy tried to make use of it to destroy our stronghold in the tongue of forest. The view from our positions, the buildings and the forest to the left, has been indelibly etched in my mind. We spent long frost-bitten hours and hundreds of moments facing the view. Days and nights, vivid, dismal, violent, sometimes hopeful minutes we would stand on the logs on the bottom of the trench, staring in front of us, shooting, taking cover. It would take a thick book to describe all that happened during the fortnight on that stronghold in the field.

Next night the relief came. We evacuated our fallen comrades. The wounded had to be evacuated even if it was daylight, which often resulted in more casualties for us. We held our positions until we had to abandon them due to general shortening of the front lines. That happened on the last day of February.

Once three ugly tanks appeared between the houses and the forest on our left. Oh how we hated them...and feared ! They stayed put for a whole until they turned their bows at us and began to crawl toward our positions. Our armament comprised four LMGs, one SMG and ten rifles, peashooters against those steel lumps. The first one was spitting fire at us, which revealed their intent. We could do nothing except wait with bated breath. We knew that eight mines had been “smuggled” in no-man's land, they should save us. The mines had been well placed and a little while later the leading tank rumbling our way happened to hit one of them with its track. It was enough. The tank stopped with a jolt. The others withdrew and vanished safely. We yelled with hoarse throats, we felt like winners of the war having destroyed the monster.

Staring at the enemy monster we saw that one of the passengers attempted to get out of the turret hatch. The man dropped into his tank quickly as we gave him a volley. The bottom exit of the tank must have been blocked by the explosion. At least it did not appear that anybody would have tried to get into the open air by that route. We were waiting. Again the hatch opened and a head was stuck out. We made him disappear again. Next the tank ran on the working track in a circle and we were annoyed to find out that now the opened turret hatch provided a shield for the escaping men as they slipped out

The destroyed tank was not left there for long to delight us. The next night the enemy dragged it away using another tank. Yet they did not attempt another tank attack but were satisfied by taking a shot with them at our trench.

Another memorable case was the anglers.

We had found that bullets were hitting the parados at the level of our heads. It was as if they had been fired from above. The upstairs of the cow shed did not suit the trajectory. The shooter had to be higher. We were pondering about it, Pfc. Toppila was sure:
-They are shooting from those trees, believe me.

We tried to spy something. Jansson had a small opera glasses, that magnified a little the observed object, but we were not able to spot anything. The suspicious trees were dense spruces that provided good cover for observers and snipers, too. We fired some bursts at random in that direction hoping to scare off the poachers.

Yet a little later bullets kept snapping again and one of us was wounded. Our life became tricky, being forced to stay in cover which hampered our action. We again fired angry bursts in all possible directions but still in vain

How I wish all of us would have a MG to fire with, then I think they would disappear, Pfc. Toppila opined. Unfortunately we did not have any.

Then I made a discovery. At dinner time one day I was observing the terrain with 2nd Lt. Jansson's operatic device. There was always something zipping, peaked caps, rifle muzzles, even bayonets. We were used to that. Suddenly I froze. What on earth was that? I glued my eyes on the glass and stared. It was true! A field kettle was rising up the trunk of a spruce. Someone was hauling it up with a string. I noted the target and informed the others. 2nd Lt Jansson ordered:
- Now boys, aim at that tree. One of us shall fire at the spot where the branches start sprouting out and the next one above that and so on.

As everyone had aimed their weapons we let loose. The tree was as if shaken by a gust of wind by our fire. I grabbed the glass. At first the recently hauled field kettle landed with a splash of soup, a second later a man dashed down from the branches and a brief while late another poacher in brown greatcoat fell on the snow under the tree.

I wonder if we got rid of them? Pfc. Toppila scratched his hair and fired some LMG bursts at the other trees. Certainly they were free of anything now, as well as the first one. After this incident we were left alone by snipers.

For comparison, here is an extract of the war diary of II/JR67, the companies' diaries have not survived.

Date 22.2.1940
19.15hrs The Btn CO set out in the CP of Suvisaari sector to report to the sector CO, Capt. Kuntsi at 2000hrs. The Btn was subordinated to him.
20.15hrs 4th Coy arrived at the crossing of four roads where they stayed to wait for more orders and had a meal and a four hour break,
22.00hrs The Btn was tasked with retaking the Arosuo stronghold that the enemy had taken the same day and garrison the Maito stronghold.

(23.2.1940 01.00hrs)
The plan to take Arosuo after a brief artillery preparation was drawn up. Ready for action in the jump-off positions.
04.00hrs H hour 04.00hrs. The task was given to 5.Coy and II Platoon of 2.MGCoy and the task was secured by 1./Er.P20. ( Appx. 6, a transparent)
04.00-07.00hrs Task completed. Arosuo is taken and partially fortified. By the morning exchange of positions 6/JR8 and in the Maito stronghold 4th Coy + I platoon /2. MGCoy. Of 6./JR8, led by LT Teräskallio MG gunners and Platoon leaders were left in the positions to induct the newcomers with the terrain and the enemy routines.
6.Coy was cantoned in the Satulakangas terrain about 800m E of the four road crossroads and III Platoon and Admin platoon of the 2. MG Coy about 500m E of the said crossroads.
Admin Coy was cantoned 200m E of the four road crossroads N of the road.
09.00hrs the enemy started a heavy firing at the Maida stronghold, tanks were firing direct fire which unnerved the men who were completely inexperienced and partly very tired. The troop was dispersed and the leaders were not able to rally their outfits. The S tip of the Arosuo stronghold was subjected to intense barrages whereby the I, II, and III Platoons of the 5.Coy were scattered, abandoning the stronghold at 11.00hrs. Yet 2nd Lt Koistinen and Staff Sgt Salminen retook it with some twenty men from a small enemy patrol. But due to new barrages and the men fleeing and due to the nervousness and wounding of the CO they gave it up again at 15.00hrs.
At 16.00hrs the 5th Coy was ordered to retake it again and keep it. The 5th carried out the order by 19.00hrs.
On the Maito sector in the forest tongue that sticks to SW the I Platoon of 4th Coy broke out of the control of their leaders and did not stay in their positions when under fire by the cannons of two tanks but fled in the forest tongue. Also the III Platoon was taken over by panic, but the IV Platoon partly managed to restrain the men by helping them to set up a firing line. On the Arosuo sector the MG Coy did not make it to the positions but fled.
Likewise on the Maito sector the MG platoon was not acting securely but part of them fled .
By 24.00hrs the Battalion casualties included KIA 2 +2+7, WIA 3+4+27, and also of I MGCoy and I Platoon 2 horses KIA and 3 WIA.
The Mortar platoon that was supposed to take positions on the NE slope of Point 20deg, fled, abandoning the mortars at the position.
Several men fled from the Coys, cowards to the field kitchen in Satulakangas and the Command Dugout, where they were returned to their Coys.
17.00hrs 6.Coy, IV Platoon of 2./MGCoy and Admin platoons received orders to set up camp in the ridge terrain some 200m W of the Mäkeläinen farmhouse.
23.30hrs 4th Coy received orders to retake the forest tongue assisted by the II Platoon of 6th Coy led by 2nd Lt Jutila and half of III Platoon of 2. MG Coy led by Sgt. Holopainen.

Date 24.2.1940
01.20hrs 4th Coy was supported by our artillery and they occupied with the help of the supporting troops the forest tongue.
In the Maito stronghold the day was calmer. The men started getting used to the fire even though the stronghold took artillery barrages. The AT gun of the stronghold knocked out four tanks and damaged two more.
The day was likewise calmer at the Arosuo sector even though enemy MGs and tank cannons would fire from the houses at the S side of Yläsommee village that were partly fortified and above Arosuo. The men were already partly used to shelling.
12.00hrs 2nd Lt Jutila received orders to withdraw his Platoon from the forest tongue while the 4th Coy would garrison it but Sgt Holopainen and his MG half platoon would stay in the positions. 2nd Lt Jutila's platoon returned to their Coy.
Arosuo stronghold was supported by our artillery and held their positions.
The day was foggy and mild.
17.45hrs Casualties: KIA 5 men, WIA 14 men and 1 horse KIA and 2 WIA. (Ref.Report by Lt. Viita, Appx.7, not available)

Date 25.2.1940
The night was clear. The enemy artillery action and infantry weapons fire were rather light.
During the night by 06,00hrs Sappers mined the terrain in front of Arosuo stronghold.
01.10hrs JR67 informed that to replace the mortar platoon with a badly wounded leader and half platoon of which had been transferred, 2nd Lt Jormalainens´s Mortar platoon of the JR 67 Mortar Coy would arrive. (
07.00hrs The Mortar Platoon arrived and took positions on the NE slope of point 20 deg.
The weather was clear and temperature about -10C.
During the night the men were fortifying their positions by digging trenches and in the Arosuo stronghold they reinforced them with sandbags (, not available) .
12.00hrs Enemy tank attacked the Maito stronghold but the attacks were repulsed.
13.00hrs Capt. Kumlin set out to hand over the command of the Suvisaari stronghold to Capt. Jansson. The enemy shelled the supply road several times.
14.00hrs Enemy 9 plane bomber squadron bombed the Satulakangas terrain. At the camp area of Admin Coy 5 horses died and 2 were wounded.
15.00hrs Enemy attacked again with tanks against the stronghold Maito. Lt . Viita requested help but he did not receive any, instead he was told to keep his positions which he did even though his men were tired (Appx. 9a)
The rest of the day was calm. There were however several enemy artillery barrages.
18.30hrs 3.D HQ reported that our tanks shall be about tonight and tomorrow, identified by a blue-white roundel on the turret . (Appx. no.10.)

Date 26.2.1940
The night was calm, minor artillery activity. Our artillery harassed the terrain in front of the strongholds Arosuo and Maito. ( 11)
Yesterday's casualties:
KIA 0+2+2, WIA 0+3+15.
Clear day, Temperature -12 C
From the very morning the enemy artillery was active.
11.00hrs Enemy barrage at the Mortar platoon positions in Pt. 20Deg and the 5th Coy camp area N of it took a heavy enemy barrage.
Arosuo stronghold took just a few bouts of shelling.
11.50hrs 2nd Lt Jutila of 6th Coy was ordered to relieve with his Platoon the positions of 4th Coy I Platoon and at nightfall the remains of the I Platoon shall return to the camp area of the 6th Coy . 2nd Lt. Björkestam shall relieve 2nd LT Antson's platoon so that 2nd Antson's most suffered MG shall return and 2nd LT Antson shall leave 2 Mgs to 2nd Lt Björkestam's command, and 2nd Lt Antson shall return not until next morning.
14.00hrs Intense barrages at the Maito stronghold, and fire by tank cannons. (Appx. 12 and 13.)
14.10hrs Our AT gun was damaged.
14.30hrs 6th Coy was ordered to be in alert readiness, possible directions of action S of the 6th Coy camp area to the stronghold of II/JR15.
15.00hrs In Maito the enemy barrages were intense, the defence was slightly wavering as tank cannons were shooting direct fire and trying to break in although four tanks had been destroyed already.
15.15hrs Lt. Viita requested aid to hold his defensive positions .
16.05hrs Platoon Jutila set out to Maito to relieve the positions and to help because 4th Coy was wavering a little.
17.00hrs 2nd Lt Björkestam with his Platoon headed for the Stronghold Maito to relieve Antson's platoon.
18.00hrs Enemy activity at Maito decreased.
18,00-20.00hrs Intense large calibre barrages at the supply road and in the terrain at the command dugout.

Date 27.2.1940
The night was calm. Enemy artillery activity low.
Weather was clear with a little frost.
06.00hrs Enemy started with intense barrages, Appx. 15. Stronghold Maito all AM under intense barrages and direct fire from tank cannons.
11.30hrs 5.D HQ informed about possible change of positions.
12.00hrs Enemy pressure ceased.
12.15hrs 4th Coy received orders on the evacuation of extra weapons, appx. No. 18 (Hoarded war booty? tr.rem.)
12.00hrs Heavy barrages at the strongholds of Maito and Arosuo, moving to the left at the Järvi stronghold that took heavy barrages and II/JR15, 6th Coy and 5th Coy began to waver and pulled back a little at 15.30hrs. (Appx. no. 16 and 17.)
14.30hrs 5.D HQ sent orders to disengage from the positions starting at 19.00hrs, leaving behind some troops until daybreak of 28.2.40 in the front line positions.
Battle Cmdr II shall move into the terrain of Liimatta manor, from there on through Viipuri city via the Papula bridge to the terrain of Taistelukoulu.
17.00hrs Withdrawing plan completed.

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 11 Feb 2018 06:41

Risto Vidgren
Uneven battle with a tank

Unpublished manuscript 117/72, marked as publishable by the board of editors. The author is a farmer from Vieremä, his present rank was Reserve Staff Sergeant.

I was serving in 1./II/JR39 NE of lake Ladoga 1939-1940.

We were doing flank strikes all January after the front line had stopped at the Syskyjärvi defense line. We would strike at Mitro, Ruhtinaanmäki, Lemetti, Yläjärvi and Lavajärvi, and we often managed to chase out the Russian infantry, but it was the tanks that made it difficult for us to hold the taken positions. We had no decent AT equipment but had to fight them almost with bare hands.

What I am going to tell next happened in Lemetti mid-January (1940) as we had launched a flank attack at the crack of dawn. We took a stretch of road that the Sappers immediately mined. To the right of our positions there were several tanks, and on our left there was one tank on top of a hill that was constantly firing at our positions all forenoon, creating casualties among us. In the afternoon firing ceased. I and Cpl. Emppu became curious to find out why it was not shooting any more.

It was to become a fateful journey. We managed to approach not seen up to 10m from the tank. Since there were no signs of life, we went up to the tank. I grabbed the (turret) MG barrel and climbed on the tank. But this woke up the neigbour from their day nap: the turret started traversing and the MG started shooting. Since we did not have any means of destroying the tank we had to run. Emppu remained on the far side, and I jumped on the opposite side. Emppu kept watching the MG barrel, and when it was pointing the other way he dashed to the direction we had come from.

We had to wade back to our positons because our skis had been left behind. The first round to the tank.

I went right to the Company command post to report. The CO phoned Col. Autti, the Regimental CO who sent one Sapper who brought with him one 3 kg satchel charge.

The Sapper came with his satchel charge and started to lecture us on how it works and how to use it. Since he was unwilling to volunteer to such a dangerous undertaking, I set out on skis that I had borrowed, alone. On my way I met the young 2nd Lt. Karesvuo who had just graduated from the Reserve Officer School. He asked where I was going, seeing the satchel charge I was carrying. I told him and he asked if he could join me. Of course I said that he can come if he wants.

Together we skied on the old track and as we got at the point 10m from the tank we kept a war counsel. We left our skis there, I dashed first, Karesvuo followed me and so we found ourselves undetected next to the tank whose cannon and MG were pointing to another direction.

The Lieut advised me: Put the satchel charge on that even spot next to the turret while I am sneaking to the other side of the tank, then pull the cord and join me. I did that. Karesvuo knocked with his fist on the top of the tank, saying that it is the death knocking here, and at the same time the satchel charge went off, creating a 20 to 30cm hole in the turret. The odd explosion attracted the attention of the tank on the right, it began to fire with its cannon at the hill where we found ourselves. Karesuo said: get our skis, we shall be out of here, whereby I was fired at from the recently created hole in the tank twice with a Nagan but I was not hit. Karasvuo retaliated with his pistol and I threw a hand grenade in the same hole. After it had exploded we took our skis and left. The second round was our victory.

Next morning I was summoned to Col. Autti and he told that the Sappers had broken into the tank last night. It was found to be a Commander's tank and very valuable documents had been found there. An officer with a rank corresponding to a Major was there but he had been so badly wounded that he could not be interrogated.

The Colonel thanked me for bravery and announced that I am promoted to the rank of Sergeant and I have been granted the Liberty Cross of 4.class for bravery and resourcefulness for our Fatherland.

Posts: 704
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 14 Feb 2018 06:42

Long day when making hay

Henrik J. Vuokkola
Journal "Kansa Taisteli", vol.11/12, 1959

When reminiscing the war often the most thrilling and dangerous incidents are told. This is understandable. Men were fighting – they had experiences.

Yet both the Winter War and the Continuation War prove that the entire nation was a participant. Everyone had to experience the total war. We remember the destruction caused by air raids. City inhabitants had to suffer from this. The peaceful people of the border zone had to live under constant threat posed by partisans. When writing the history of the war we must remember incidents that took place there

It was a Saturday on 25 July 1942 in Pirttivaara village in Suomussalmi. Paavo Juntunen, the farmer of Piilola farm arrived at the Kallosuo hayfield with his 11 year old daughter Vilma and his son Ilmari who was some years younger, to make hay. Kallosuo was so far from the farm that they had to take food for the day with them. The hay had been cut already and it had been drying there, spread on the ground. It was a beautiful day and the target was to rake the hay and carry it in the barn. They started working.

Quite soon three men in Finnish uniforms arrived to the meadow. Without ado one of them asked in Finnish – albeit using odd dialect – to see their passports! This question and odd dialect revealed the haymakers what kind of men the patrol comprised. The farmer said that they do not have any passports and they have never been needed. Then the men ordered the people to follow them. Ilmari said that he would have to get his jacket that was at the campfire, darting in a willow bush nearby. But since there was no sign of any campfire anywhere one of the soldiers guessed what the boy was doing and fired several shots after him with his pistols. Fortunately the men did not start a chase, but apparently believed that the bullets had hit. But no, Ilmari had escaped.

As the partisans repeated their order to follow them, the farmer and his daughter looked at the pistol pointed at them and considered it best to follow the men. They shouldered their rucksacks and followed the men. To deceive they at first headed West – to gain distance from the Vuonninen supply road – then they turned East for the national border. The men followed the direction of the supply road for a while then headed for NE.

In the beginning the terrain was known to the farmer but later it was all unknown. Being wilderness people the farmer and the daughter kept observing the surrounding terrain. They were able to estimate the bearing by sun, as long as it was visible, lakes and hills were good fixed points. It was important to read the terrain because the daughter was planning to escape. She had to think of something. In the afternoon she complained about chafing meet. The partisan's response was chilling: if you cannot walk we shall shoot you and leave you there. Then the partisan patted his pistol holster. The daughter well remembered how his brother had been shot at...

The march continued with brief stops until midnight. Then there was a meal. Both sides ate of their own proviant. The partisans had bread loaves, lumps of sugar and “Chai” (tea). No butter.

Having eaten two of them turned in under a piece of oilcloth. One man stayed awake as sentry, leaning firmly against a tree trunk with his SMG between his knees. The daughter was not able to get sleep, and his father was just dozing, both looking for a chance to escape. But the sentry was staying awake with annoying tenacity.

The next day the march continued still for NE. They crossed the Vuokkiniemi road and went on to NW. They spent the second night just like the previous one.

The same men slept under the oilcloth and the third man guarded, holding his gun between his legs. Could there be a chance to escape? The sentry should be getting tired due to lack of sleep? He had to fall asleep some time – even for a while. The daughter kept observing the man who seemed to be of tough stock. He may have closed his eyes for a while, but the observer did likewise and by the morning they were in a tie. The march went on in rainy weather .

The farmer estimated that they were still in Finnish territory but when would they cross the border?
He was worried about this, then their chances to escape would decrease.

How would they able to get across the wilderness even if they should succeed in shaking the partisans off? Did they have the energy since they were out of food now? The father could not know that it was the wilderness that was to save them. Neither did he know that Ilmari had informed the nearest military outfit, and Rj.P.8 has sent two platoons to patrol in the area.

The daughter was planning to escape with the enthusiasm of her young age. At some time the attentiveness of the partisans had to lag, and then they would run.

They had not yet crossed the border as the partisans at the end of the ever more rainy day turned in as they used to. Now they shared the food, the men fed their prisoners, hungry people would not be able to follow them. It was the same old routine else. The same man leaned against a tree to guard but now he appeared to be much more tired than previously.

Now,now, the daughter was thinking. Even though she was tired she must not yield now. She was sitting alert, watching the guard. She made up a ruse that she whispered to her father: she is going to say that she is going to drink from the brook nearby, the forest would there be just a few steps off. If the sentry shall not react, the father shall follow, if the partisan should wake up and spot the daughter at the brook, she would say that she had been there for a drink. They had to trust their luck.

Patiently they were sitting and watching the partisan nodding. Tension was repelling their tiredness and kept the sleep off.

The man kept getting ever slacker, his head was nodding against his chest, but he kept the weapon between his legs. But the sleep overcame him in the end. The daughter estimated now that the man was so deeply asleep that he would not be aroused by a slight rustling sound. She decided that it was time to act and calmly started walking to the brook. His father hesitated and kept watching the man, but he was asleep and nothing happened.

The daughter kept beckoning the old man who was dragging his feet when taking his rucksack and heading for the brook. If anybody should wake up now, everything would be lost, they would not be spared. The father crossed the brook calmly but extremely nervous, his daughter was waiting on the other side.

It was a tense moment, they did not talk but they sensed how they mutually felt safer, although they found themselves in an unknown piece of wilderness. They had managed to survive so far, and as soon as they would get rid of the partisans the father would find the way home. A few steps took them in the cover of the forest and a few hurried steps more took them out of range of any bullets.

The return route was easy. There was a line in the forest that they had followed when coming, there is the river that they had crossed with the partisans. Now the wide wilderness area gave them security: the partisans would never find them. Finally they reached a road and soon met a lorry that was patrolling there just for them.

The soaking wet refugees were taken to Vuokkiniemi where they were kept as guests for one week.

The pursuing Platoons were delighted in receiving the good news; many a man was thinking – it could be my dad or my sister. Border guards were aware of the dangers threatening their homes.

The tenacity of the young girl were universally admired. She had been able to hike a trek of almost 70km without eating, she was able to keep a cool head and fulfil her pan, even to persuade his hesitant dad. That haymaking was a long journey for all the participants, they shall never forget it. The result of a failed escape, is easy to guess.

(1453 words)

Rj.P.8 war diary on this period is of no help, and the available war diaries of the companies do not cover the period.

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