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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 06, 1960
The author was a Platoon leader of JR 4 in Salla in August 1941.
We had behind us the bitter attacks at Killuntaivaara, Polkuvaara, and Vuorikylä, as the I/JR4 was knocking on 21-22.8.1941 the gates of Alakurtti. The active CO, Maj. Salonmies, sent early skirmishers, recce patrols and strike outfits to test the chances to find a spot to press ahead and decide the fate of Alakurtti soonest.
I was a cloudless and clear late summer day as the Platoon was advancing in open double file on both sides of the road heading for Tuorevaara. The CO of the 1. Company had given them the task to proceed to the said target and there liaise with Maj. Korri's battalion that at the moment was involved in heavy fighting at Tuorevaara. The rest of our Company was attacking at the direction of Alakurtti.
It was ominously silent everywhere. At times someone's weapon hit a tree, a tree branch snapped despite careful treading, sometimes the silence was broken by a moan or muffled curse as someone stumbled or was slapped in the face by a branch released by the man ahead of him
The poor road was squirming like a dying snake, sometimes it climbed up on dry ground growing sparse forest, next it dived into boggy ground, passing ponds and soft bogs. A tit was chirping somewhere, a squirrel could be spotted peeking from the top of a pine, and a Siberian jay, omen of good fortune, would fly from one dead tree to another, accompanying the men passing by with his monotonous song.
Having trudged on for one hour mute as monks in prayer the guides ahead of the Platoon stopped, kneeled down and signalled order to stop. The entire platoon took cover. I sneaked to the guide, Pvt. Kantola pointed at a narrow brook ahead of us and a weapons nest on the far side of it. A campfire was smouldering in front of it, surrounded by seven or eight brown-clad enemies sitting around. On the right there was a pond visible between trees but on the left there was nothing but forest.
Stay here and keep a lookout – they must not spot you, we are trying to surprise them, I said and crawled back to the Platoon.
I signalled the squad leaders to join me and briefed them. I ordered the platoon to stay hidden and wait, and accompanied by my Runner I set out to the pond on the right. Hiding in the bushes of the shoreline we looked in every direction. I found that the brook we had seen flowed in the pond some 50m from us. There were three dead tree trunks at the shoreline, brought by the wind. I whispered to my Runner. Pvt. Mönkkönen:
Do you see, the shore of the pond is in dead corner. We can use the dead trees to pass the mouth of the brook and get at the flank of the enemy nest. We can surprise the garrison and send them to knock at the gates of Manala.
My Runner nodded approvingly and I saw how he sported a grim smile. It was the grin of a blood thirsty wolf, but I knew it implied a sign of energy and action.
Yes, we'll do that – heh- the gate of Manala shall soon be crowded!
We sneaked back to my Platoon, and after a whisper with my Squad leaders the ruse of war was soon decided on. There were volunteers aplenty but I estimated four would be enough. We took action at once. The backpacks were left there, bread pouches were filled with hand grenades. Our both LMG gunners were told to find firing positions in case we would be spotted. Everything had to be carried out silently and clandestinely.
So the rope was knotted into a noose and the noose was being laid around the necks of the men in the weapons nest. We just had to pull the noose tight and the enemy men securing the road would soon find themselves on the dark waters of the Tuonela river.
For a while I watched how the LMGs were put in positions, it was done OK. A pair of curious Siberian jays were flying from one tree stump to another, following my lads who were creeping in positions, hoping for a titbit.
I returned to the pond with my Runner and two selected men. We estimated in the bush which of the dead tree trunks would be the most suitable and with the best buoyancy. Mönkkönen sneaked at the selected timber and tried to roll it in the water. There was a tiny cracking but the piece of timber stayed put on the sand. Having struggled for a while Mönkkönen came to us and scoffed:
-Can't move it, the branch stumps are deep in the sand, all of us are needed.
We decided to try to launch the log all together. We lashed our weapons and bread pouches on our backs and grabbed the timber. There was some noise of heavy breathing and grunting but the sound of water masked it, soon the log was afloat. We sat on it, astride, more than an arm's length from each other. We tested the buoyancy, improved our posture until we were ready to leave.
The log was finally pushed afloat, we paddled with our hands and legs somehow. At times the log was totally submerged, at times snagged in the shallow water. The beach embankment covered us from the view from the weapons nest, that is what we believed. We slid on one meter at a time at a slow rate. We kept proceeding and the mouth of the brook was ever closer, like a mirage, and the sound of running water was like the thunder of a rapid for us, being in a super agitated state. Why did we ever start this mad enterprise? Maybe we should just have stormed with the entire platoon and take out the obstacle, but in that case a messenger could have escaped. In any case I had risked myself and my men! However the old body obey the orders of the brain and we kept pushing ourselves on. Maybe the sweetness of life spurred us to try even though the fear of death was a troll trying to extinguish the spark of life with all kinds of its ideas.
Finally we found ourselves at the mouth of the river and I could not have had a better view of the entire weapons nest. There was no dead angle there, but we were as if on a platter. _Is this the end for us, finally, I thought to myself. The distance to the weapons nest was some forty meters. There we were floating like a wood shaving on the water. We would be goners if the log should get snagged now.
I kept intensely pushing the log on with my feet, hands could not be used, it might have betrayed us. Slowly we floated past the danger and were pleased to find that we had not been spotted by the enemy. We continued about twenty or thirty meters, now in cover from view, and soundlessly we hit the beach. In the cover of the embankment we one at a time “disembarked” and for a time lied prone. I felt tension rising up to my scalp.
Avoiding any noisy movement we unlashed our SMGs and bread pouches. I could only hear minimal rustling and weak clicks indicating that we had turned off the safety of our weapons almost simultaneously. Now we were ready to full power action. I had a glance at my watch that had been safe from getting wet in the fold of my field cap. I saw that we had spent almost one hour now. Too much of the precious time had been lost, and the real action had not even started.
Cautiously I looked over the beach embankment and saw the weapons nest right in front of us. Four men were sitting at their smouldering fire, carefree. Maybe there were more of them in the weapons nest that had been constructed of turfs and rocks? I deduced that we had no more than a squad to engage. I lowered my head as cautiously as I had put it up. The distance was about thirty meters, we decided on tactics and defined tasks for each of us.
Then four heads rose over the bank while our feet were seeking support on the ground for a quick start. The enemy in front of us was as unworried as there were no war for them.
A quiet whisper:
At the same moment we jumped on the low beach embankment and rushed at the weapons nest side by side. Our SMG fire that we opened up at fifteen meters surprised the enemy – I wonder if they even realised it before four souls had started their journey to the dark abode of Manala. A fifth man dashed out of the weapons nest brandishing his “vintofka” but Mönkkönen's SMG mowed him down.
Our action had taken less than twenty blinks of an eye and now everything was quiet again. A couple of field kettles were dangling over the smouldering fire, one of them was leaking dark blueberry soup in the fire through a bullet hole. Next my platoon rushed in from beyond the brooks and in a moment a securing was set up to keep us from being surprised.
Mönkkönen took his spoon and tasted the blueberry soup but he immediately spat it out:
- Shit – onion!
We continued our march. Water was churning in my boots, the backpack was heavy and the straps were nastily chafing at my dirty and wet body.
While we were trudging on I though about the recent incident.
-Did we really have to slaughter them – were they not poor people created by the same Creator as we are? Should I pray for their souls? But, does the enemy have a soul – if yes, did it not say anything to them? Did it not tell them that they had committed bitter violence on us when setting up a stronghold inside our ancient borders – as a result of the severe piece ending the Winter War. Aye, war is war, another time it may be my turn. Maybe their souls shall be saved even though their old physical bodies are left behind to be consumed by foxes.
Tuorevaara hill was already in front of our eyes. We stopped at its side, I set up securing and sent a squad size patrol to liaise with Maj. Korri. The Battalion was engaged in a fierce battle on that hill, but the patrol managed to liaise it after several adventures. At the evening of 22 August 1941 a direct route from Tuorevaara to the Vuorikylä road was opened and the next day we returned using the same road for Alakurtti. We found our Company at the Tuntsajoki river fighting in a battle.
The tension of my mission is still itching the ends of my nerves and with the eyes of my mind I can see it piece by piece – the dead log – the weapons nest – the smouldering campfire and the blueberry soup. I can also recall Pvt. Mönkkönen's dragging steps, unbuttoned tunic and his relaxed countenance.
( 1915 words)
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“ Kansa Taisteli” 06, 1944
The incidents in summer 1944 on the Carelian Isthmus have surely been indelibly etched in the mind of every veteran there, specially front line fighters and men having had in action near the firing line. However, it is not my idea to introduce any miraculous or totally new points of view or experiences on the war or of the front line because war is as to its purpose and results the same everywhere. It is only the personal experiences that are very different from each other, in war as well as in ordinary life.
I just want to describe the views of an ordinary man of the other ranks on that memorable summer. Specially the Midsummer 1944 is memorable for many a Finnish man due to the suffering, terror, heroism and ordeals that often called for superhuman ability to withstand. I do not want to boast, just to make sure that the truth should not be forgotten.
It was the fairest summer on the days before the Midsummer as our outfit took the positions as ordered at Tali, East of Lake Leitimojärvi. I was serving as a medic in the 1. Company of Er.P.28 led by Capt. Similä. We were to defend a stretch of the VKT line and we were to stop the invasion of the enemy there as the Marshal said in his order of the day some days after we had arrived at the line. The conditions to carry out the order to the letter was anything but good.
The VKT-line was at least at our sector totally unprepared with the exception of a stretch of trench. Our moral was not at the time for widely known reasons optimal. We started immediately to entrench, each of us began to dig a foxhole for himself. Our Company took positions at the perimeter of a wide field and the open ground continued as a tongue of meadow sticking to the left .
My actual outfit was the Division medical company from where we were subjected to the fighting units as the situation became critical or when needed. So I had participated in the war path of the Division in the front line since the start of the war, except the trench war period that for me was serving in my outfit or in other less warlike missions.
I want to mention that two other medics were commanded with me to the said outfit, so there were three of us in one Battalion, one medic NCO and two medics. One of us was evacuated early on and another was lethally wounded in the head on the 24th. Taking into account that I was involved in this outfit just for a brief period I can remember only some of my comrades by their name. That is why some well deserving names shall unfortunately be omitted from my yarn.
As to the incidents, they survive in my mind very clearly. So there we were fortifying our positions as we best could for the future but our chances were not good. Soon after our arrival the “neighbour” soon had his artillery placed and they immediately started registering in an ever increasing tempo
During the following nights and days there was almost constantly iron of all calibres flying in the air and in such quantities that it was hard to find a man sized slot. Also the air force joined the fray, we could not complain about monotony
The Fatherland was dear and beloved to everybody, disregarding their ideologies. Casualties began to mount due to the rocky terrain and the medics had a job at hand all the time. Our task was also complicated by the fact that the connection to the rear was getting worse by the day. Consequently the most difficult cases that would have needed immediate care could be evacuated only too late. The deep reaching heavy shelling made the delivery of supplies very difficult and communications to the rear were constantly interrupted.
Our artillery was unable to relieve the pressure in any considerable manner. We did receive some consolation as the (Luftwaffe) Stukas operating in the area at times dropped their loads at the neighbour. The bombing targets were situated behind the half a kilometre wide field in front of our line. It was a macabre and solemn vision as some thirty Stukas appeared overhead from the clouds, like thirty gigantic birds of prey at their victim. They dived at their target with a terrifying scream in a perfect order that was not in the least affected by the terrible AA fire thrown at them. Huge explosions shook the ground as the squadron pulled up in the dense AA fire and turned back to the base.
Pressure waves and quaking ground was felt in our trench, too. In our predicament we felt an understandable enjoyment and malicious joy as the neighbour, too, got a taste of their own medicine. We would like to have those visits more often to relieve the pressure at us more. Yet we thought that the relief action had an adverse effect because the quantity of metal directed at our positions kept increasing.
Finally every possible and impossible weapon was firing. Heavy and light shells were ploughing our positions and our rear, accompanied by the salvoes of rocket artillery and whacks of AT guns. We saw with our bare eyes how the enemy was dragging direct fire guns in position some 300meters in front of us at a hamlet on the field and was allowed to complete the manoeuvrer unpunished, because our artillery did not provide any assistance just then.
These very guns were to be fateful to at least one of our MGs that they managed to destroy even before the start of the actual attack, and the other main weapons nests of ours that they kept harassing by constant shelling. The enemy also launched minor probing attacks at our positions but was repulsed. Their purpose was most likely to make us reveal our line for a major attack.
The enemy was rallying for an attack in a patch of forest on the fields of Tali. Among the other noise we heard angry shouts and orders that one of us, knowing the language, tried to interpret. It seems they were not willing to head to an open field, to be killed, that was the reason for the indignant noise.
WE requested for artillery to help to disperse the grouping and after a while we got some. At first it fell short, some of the first shells hit our lines, which made us too curse. Yet the correct address was soon found and the enemy attack petered out that time on the field. IT was launched again, beaten back again, leaving on the field dead and wounded who all the evening and next night were crying in the ditches of the field, loud and heartbreaking, but went silent by the next morning.
Food delivery to the front line was very irregular, it was no wonder that a soup transport had problems in finding our line as heavy shelling was constantly lashing at the sort of supply road to the rear. For instance, once a soup driver with his horse was so panicky that having reached the front line he immediately turned back before any of the front line men waiting for their rations did get one spoonful in their field kettles. Loud curses accompanied by threats to shoot calmed the man enough to enable him to distribute the soup in our field kettles but he did it in such a haste that most of the food was spilled to the ground. Finally the driver beat his horse and headed back to the supply point. As a matter of fact his haste was nothing to wonder about, because during the entire distribution process a good number of shells was landing within a radius of a few dozen meters from the spot.
It was also troublesome to evacuate the wounded because of the shortage of vehicles and men to fetch them from the front line, and stretcher bearers could not be recruited from the firing line as our ranks kept getting thinner all the time.
One medic per platoon could not be in several places at the same time and it was a fact that the field dressing station could not help because their task was overwhelming, and they, too, were harassed by the shelling reaching deep in the rear. Bandages, too, were running low because several packets could have to be applied in one single man, for example a man who had been mauled up by a shell bursting on a tree near his foxhole. One of his legs had almost been cut off above the knee by a large splinter. I applied a tourniquet and a splint. Otherwise the man was full of holes all over, so he had to be bandaged from top to toe. A stretcher had to be constructed of stakes and belts because we had nothing else at the moment. We managed to get him to the field dressing station, but I do not know if he survived. He was conscious all the time despite his terrible wounds. His comrade, a Senior Sergeant who was in the same foxhole, kneeling and observing the direction of no-man's land, did not respond to my question. It was found that his eyes did not perceive anything earthly even though he appeared to be busy at it.
The rainy weather in those days also caused the foxholes in low lying areas to be half filled with water. So it was not pleasant to stay in that kind of holes for days and nights in stretch.
It was like that on 24 June at Tali. The following night passed in relative calm. Yet judging by every circumstance something special was going on at the enemy lines. All the night we hear loud engine noises, sounds of engines starting and continuous chain track clanking, and other noises implying at an attack. Shelling did not however intensify but was mostly harassment. It enabled us to catch some sleep and it was not difficult for most of us, being tired after staying awake several nights and being subjected to mental pressure and physical strain. The body took his despite the circumstances.
As the dawn had broken and it was 0700 o'clock it was as if the rainy grey sky would be torn up and a chaos made up of all the furies of Hell were leashed upon unhappy men. Under this storm of steel a man was no more a human but a creature, limp with fear, deepest conscious of his smallness, every moment waiting for a coup de grace, and soonest, if it was to be. The landslide of fire, burying everything, did not leave any quarter of the terrain untouched and from the first moments reached one kilometre deep in the rear. It was an impossible task to evacuate the wounded, specially the worst cases, as the communications to the rear were finally broken.
After more than one hour of constant shelling of our positions the enemy infantry supported by tanks attacked over the open ground at us in several successive waves. Shelling went on but now more at the rear. The enemy was met with fierce fire of our weapons in several points but the tremendous barrage we had been subjected to had dulled our resolve. Our artillery aided the defence effectively by knocking out some tanks in front of our lines. The tanks were also engaged by our freshly issued Panzerscherck gunners who managed to disable one of the tanks not until at our trench. This one tank was the fate of our Platoon Runner with whom I was running side by side for the Company command post as fighting was going on in our trench and the enemy had broken through on our left.
This same tank was to be fateful to the Runner of our Platoon. I was running with him for the Company command post while the battle was raging already in our positions and the enemy had penetrated on the left in our rear. When running to take this information to the Company commander suddenly we found ourselves in front of a tank some 20m from us. A MG burst of the tank hit my pal squarely. I do not know how I made it into the ditch wit the sprays of bullets whipping at my heels but everything must have happened instinctively fast, because even today I cannot understand how I avoided a certain death.
I went on and informed the Company Commander of the situation. A part of the Company had disengaged their positions in which the enemy managed to break in despite heavy resistance. Through the breakthrough spots they went on deeper in the rear. It was evident that we would be surrounded, so our Company Commander considered it wisest to disengage while fighting with the remains of the Company.
This was the last moment to do it and in my view the only chance in this situation because by staying put the Company would have been wiped out to the last man despite brave resistance as the positions had been broken. The enemy was so overwhelmingly superior in force that we could not have affected the course of events with the force at hand, especially as there was no support to be had. The remains of our Company, some thirty men at that moment I think, withdrew through forest to the directions of Kilpeenjoki and Ihantala. Later some our surviving men joined us having escaped through the forest, so our number increased some.
Our role in the great battle of Tali was finished and we were transferred to another front section. In the circumstances, subjected to tremendous pressure our outfit did everything a man and a Finnish soldier was able to do.
For comparison, 2./Er.P. 28 War diary , midsummer 1944
ER.P. 8 battalion diary and the 1.Coy diary have not survived, but here is an extract of a surviving war diary on the days around Midsummer. It gives an idea of the battle, the 1. and 2. companies were fighting side by side at the same stretch of front
06.00hrs The Company set out again, the objective being Tali-(Seito) Leitimojärvi terrain. On our way there Lt. Bärlund from the 1st Coy was posted as the Coy CO. Having arrived at the objective there was a meal.
The Company was ordered to take over the line at the left wing, assigned to secure the I/JR48 that was holding the front line. The Company was placed in the sector and entrenching work was started.
Entrenching work continued. The enemy attacked at the JR48 positions supported by artillery and air force, but they stood thei ground.
The Battalion was given the responsibility for the front as JR48 was pulled back and was ordered to keep the positions. Our Company manned the positions from the left seam of the Battalion to the right, at the Northern perimeter of the Tali fields in the terrain of Aniskala.
The sector of the Battalion comprised E of Leitimojärvi a part of Repola sector. On our left III/JR25, on our right I/Er.P.28 (sic!)
(Platoons and sectors listed, left out as not relevant here)
Enemy kept all day firing with field artillery and mortars and Hectar guns (=rocket launchers) The Company casualties include KIA Pvt E Silvennoinen and Toivo Valuri and 2 horses and 1 cart.
The Company was still in their positions while the enemy constantly shelled our positions 24 hours. The enemy was concentrating their troops for attack while our artillery fired harassment. Nothing worth mentioning has not happened on our sector.
Company casualties include wounded Pvts. V.Tienaho and P. Nyman.
I/JR25 CO liaised with our Coy CO.
The day dawned rainy and the enemy kept shelling intensely at our positions and the rear with artillery and mortars.
The enemy was moving about in the Tali hamlet that was burning. Enemy troop concentrations were spotted in front of the stronghold on the left in a patch of forest and in the middle in the terrain of Ahola farmhouse ruin.
On our right in front of the I Coy (sic!) a major enemy troop concentration was spotted . Enemy probing sort of attack at the I Coy positions, that was repulsed.
Stukas raided the terrain of the Tali rwy station and enemy troop concentrations, also the enemy air activity is lively.
18.00hrs The enemy started a heavy barrage at the Coy positions that lasted 1/2hrs, then stepping in the rear. During the shelling the enemy advanced using the ditches close to our positions. The barrage of all our weapons stopped the enemy at the so called main ditch in front of our positions.
On the sector of the II Platoon the enemy advanced at the positions of the Platoon whereby it was ordered to pull back the Platoon due to our shelling. At the same time also the III Platoon due to misunderstanding abandoned their positions while the II Platoon manned the isthmus at the level of the Command post.
During the shelling the Coy CO Lt. L.Bärlund was wounded as well as the leader of the III Platoon 2nd Lt. Vuoristo. AS to the IV Platoon Pvt Lumikangas was killed and Sr.Sgt. A Vuolle was wounded .
The enemy managed to bite in at the sector of the II Platoon.
From the reserve a Jaeger platoon was expected to arrive for counterstrike but Lt. Honkasalo fell at the Command post and the counterstrike did not take place.
During the battle our Company suffered losses: KIA Pvts. U Kuivanen, WIA of III Platoon (Cpl.) Pvt. J.Korsumäki Pvts.E.Mäkinen and A. Nokelainen and of II Platoon Pvt. V.Mikkola and Pvt. Varis.
Help was provided by the 2./III/JR48 led by Capt. Kuljula who took the command. The counterstrike was carried out by Lt. Piispa's platoon, destroying about 20 men of the enemy in our positions and took 2 prisoners while the other enemies escaped.
After this Capt. Kuljula's Company manned our positions and loaned 12 men to the _IV Platoon.
After the situation had calmed down, rumbling of tanks and other noise was heard on the enemy side. The night was calm.
05.30hrs Enemy heavy howitzer battery started a heavy fire at Pirunsaari (Devil's island)
06.05-08.30hrs A massive enemy fire preparation started on the entire width of the Company sector, with smaller weapons at the front line and with larger weapons at the rear. For half an hour the enemy fired with so called Stalin's organs at the sector of the Battalion.
The enemy advanced during the shelling over the open field to assault range.
07.30hrs The enemy managed to break in the positions on the two sides of Capt. Kuljula's Company whereby a great number of the Kuljula Coy abandoned their positions.
08.30hrs Our IV Platoon disengaged as their left flank had been occupied by the enemy. Our withdrawal was signalled as agreed to the right wing (=1.Coy, tr.rem.)
Our platoon was scattered by the enemy barrage as Sr.Sgt. Peuhu (MG) was separated from us with his men.
The scraps of the IV Plartoon withdrew abreast with the advancing enemies to the Battalion Command post and from there they found their way through the forest to the Vakkila crossroads, because they could not use the road after the enemy had occupied the Tali mill bridge head.
From Vakkila Lt. Toivanen reported the situation to the Division while the rest of the Platoon was marching to the Battalion command post to Kilpeenjoki for rallying.
During the barrage the following men, withdrawn to the Command post, were wounded the previous night:( … 4 NCO, 2 other ranks)
The Battalion was assembled and marched to Sydänmaa hamlet where they stayed overnight
Today Maj. Larinen ordered Lt Paivonen to act as the CO of the III Company.
The Company was reorganized. Lt. Lemmetty was transferred to the Btn HQ. Three Platoons were set up and the leaders posted:
I Platoon Sgt. Päiväranta
II Platoon Sgt. Tuhkanen
III Platoon Sr.Sgt. Pöysti
AT Platoon Sgt. Leivo.
Battle strength 75 men.
Equipment and weapons maintenance, ammunition replenishment.
22.30hrs Order from Btn to be in 10min standby for marching.
06.00hrs In the morning the Btn issued orders to be moved for the disposal of the III Division. The Company was ferried to Ora-Noskua with trucks where they were subjected to JR11 for flank securing.
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli” copy 6, Vol. 1960
Map of the battlefield in source p. 06
"Kev.Os. 9 proceeded on the 30 . August 1941 in the morning to Hörkkö hamlet. There they were involved in a battle against a multiply superior enemy force retreating from the direction of Porlammi. In the hard battle the main body of the detachment was forced to retreat about five kilometres to the terrain of Kolmikesälä. Later in the afternoon and in the night they were almost completely surrounded. Fighting constantly Kev.Os.9 managed to break through to Kuolemajärvi.”
That quote is taken from the account on the Viipuri surrounding battles (in August 1941) by A. Kurenmaa published in the 6th copy of volume 1958 of this journal.
With your leave I shall recount here how this breakthrough fighting went on for one (Maxim) MG squad of Kev.Os.9. As mentioned already our outfit was in position at the perimeter of Hörkkö hamlet on 30 Aug 1941. There was a strong enemy outfit in front of us that would not give in one inch. On the contrary they tried to dislodge us by attacking several times
At the same time another enemy outfit had cut off the road in our rear, apparently trying to surround us. After nightfall we were ordered to set up defence against the enemy from the front and also from the rear.
The night was quite pitch-dark. One had to use a compass to find one's way to a sentry post and back to the tents in order not to lose one's way despite the distance being but a few hundred meters.
At dawn our CO, Maj. Alfthan, ordered our detachment to quickly get ready to leave, and our task was to be to open the road up to Kuolemajärvi. I was ordered to reinforce the scouts with my MG squad and act according to my consideration. Next we loaded our gear on our bikes and off we went. My regular gunner, L. the farmer, had been given a custom task to take care of a captured riding horse. That is why I had to fight both as a Squad leader and a gunner.
We managed to ride in peace for a few kilometres. SMG gunners were riding in the front, their weapons slung across their chest, ready to act as soon as the enemy was contacted. We made it as far as one kilometre from Piironiemi ( the boys of the “Ässä” Regiment surely remember this spot from the days of the Winter War) until we took fire from both sides of the road. Lt. Honkala, the CO of our rifle platoon, ordered the boys quickly to the sides of the road and immediately forward. Our appearance may after all surprised the neighbours because after a brief firefight began to retreat in the forest, leaving behind their AT gun and some killed men.
The quick retreat of the enemy emboldened our boys and yelling loudly they pursued the enemy to complete their work. This had happened so fast that my MG had not been able to shoot at all. Yet I followed Honkala's boys carrying the disconnected MG on my shoulder.
After the road had been opened the main part of our outfit continued to Kuolemajärvi on their bikes. This was a piece of cake for me, I thought, because I did not have to use my weapon at all. But it had been too early for me to form an opinion, because the tables were turned the following moment. Having recovered from the initial confusion the enemy launched a counter-attack. The yelling of our boys was subdued and replaced by the neighbour's “uraa” at a constant rate. It was nothing pleasant to listen, but actually spine chilling. Bullets were nastily whining past our ears and SMGs were rattling about me. Both sides were firing with hot barrels.
Our boys began to pull back.
- Get the MG in position, quick! Lt Honkala yelled me.
My assistant dropped the tripod on the ground and I slammed the weapon on it. I inserted the belt lightning-fast and next my weapon was delivering death at the enemy rushing at us. The first attackers were scarcely farther than fifty meters. It was like mowing with a scythe. Soon there was no one standing in front of us. The survivors started creeping for the cover of the forest. Since loud bantering could be heard there I turned the gun in that direction and fired brief bursts in the forest.
There apparently were still enemies behind a small knoll because some hand grenades were thrown at us. They were short, however, obviously the thrower did not have enough power. Our second MG had also been set up and they eliminated the enemy behind the knoll. While Cpl. Haarasilta's MG kept firing I inserted another belt and went on firing.
The enemy men seemed to have their appetite for attack. Our entire firefight had lasted just some twenty minutes. Now the firepower of our two Mgs in position was great enough to prevent the enemy from cutting off the road in this spot.
As soon as most of our Kev.Os. Had passed the battlefield there was a yell from the road:
- M – G -s disengage!
I detached the gun from the tripod and shouldered it. I yelled at the boys at Haarasilta's gun:
-We are getting out of here!
My assistant took the tripod and the other lads took the ammo cans, and we started running. We could not any more head for the road because the enemy had spotted that we had disengaged and opened up a lively fire. My assistant, a young recruit, was hit and fell to the ground. Likewise the leader of the second MG, Cpl. Haarasilta shared his fate. The journey of this boy of Sysmä ended as he tried to rejoin our outfit with his squad. Probably we had stayed in the positions too long and that was fateful for us.
We changed our direction and ran to a glen on our left. We might get to the road from there and find safety. It was just a little longer road. But the route was not clear: we were met by the wire of the Winter war. There was no time to find a gap in it because the enemy was running behind us, firing and yelling “uraa”. I threw the MG on the wire and followed it. The rusty wire spikes tore nastily up my hands, and also my trousers were shredded in the haste. There were but four of us because two of our squad fell as soon as we had disengaged.
Jumping off the wire one of us, Pvt. Vuorinen, took a SMG bullet in his back but he was able to hang on nevertheless. We ran as fast as we could but to our great disappointment there was another wire ahead of us. It was hopeless to try to run carrying the heavy MG, so I dumped it. The tripod had been abandoned already. Another wire crossing resulted in more wounds.
The enemy continued chase, firing at us over the wire. They did not attempt to cross it but ran along the wire apparently trying to surround us. Thus we managed to get a little ahead but a little only. We were like hares pursued by hounds. My steel helmet was tilting on my head and it fell off as I jumped down from the wire. There was no time to pick it up, and it had been a ballast anyway. Running was getting heavier and breathing was almost cut off. I removed my belt with the ammo pouches because they were useless without a rifle. All unnecessary ballast was dumped because it was a running race of life or death.
To our right we began to see Hatjalahti. We would no more be able to rejoin our troops. The isthmus that connects Kuolemajärvi and Hatjalahti was far behind us, and later we heard that our troops had withdrawn through it and set up defence at the other end of the bridge. Now we thought we finally had got rid of the pursuers. Shooting died down and no pursuers were seen any more. We stopped for a while to catch our breath because our hearts were beating as if to burst. Next we had a quick powwow. We would not dare to stay in that patch of forest because any moment the cursed pursuers might come to sweep the forest, and we would be trapped. We decided to continue soonest for Mutalahti.
The comrade that had taken a bullet in his back was in a surprisingly good condition and was able to follow us. Jogging slowly we arrived at a meadow growing high grass. Would we dare to cross it? What if there are neighbour men on the far side? We did sneak along the meadow with tense minds. On our right a few dozen meters off there was gleaming the waters of Hatjalahti. We had been running in the grass for some time as we were fired at from the road on the left side of the meadow. The jet of a LMG was mowing the hay just next to us, other weapons joined up. I had a fleeting hope that the gunners are friends coming from Mutalahti and take us for enemies.
I shouted while running:
-Don't shoot at friends!
However shooting went on ever intensely. It was a clear case, and the nationality of the shooters confirmed.
Pvt. Kärpänen, running next to me, was hit in the head and collapsed. Death had claimed another one of us. We could not stay with our dying pal because we had to try to the utmost to survive. There was still another one hundred meters of open meadow to cover. I tried an old trick: I threw myself suddenly on the ground to deceive the shooters that they had got another one. I crept for a few meters in the cover of the grass, then dashed on again.
So we finally made it in the cover of the bush at the beach that felt more safe than the open meadow.
The beach of Hatjalahti, along which we were running, formed a bay at this spot. I jumped in the lake, with my clothes on, and tried to swim across the bay. The distance was not long, maybe fifty meters. All the time the enemy kept shooting, yet they did not hit us. My two pals preferred not to swim but decided to creep around the bay . With slow and strong strokes I made it to the opposite beach. I stayed in the water for a while to find out if there was anybody on the beach. There were some bushes just at the edge of the water, the branches drooping over the water. I swam under one of them for cover, just my head was sticking out of the water.
I was quiet as a mouse, waiting for the enemy to appear. They would not find me at once, because the drooping branches provided excellent cover. Shooting on the meadow had ended. There were some sounds of weapons at the spot where Kuolemajärvi and Hatjalahti were merged.
Finally my ears caught some quiet talking nearby, and I sighed with relief,because I recognised the speakers. It was my pals who had crept up to here. I got out of the water from the cover of the bush, water flowing off me. They were startled but they immediately recognised me. On the far side of the water on the meadow we saw enemies. They had just found the body of our killed comrade because they were crowding thereabouts.
We stayed in the cover of the bushes for a moment to consider our situation. Our troops by our estimate were now in safety on the far side of the lake. How could we get there? It was too far to swim there. We could not return either. We could but push on and hope to meet friends. Should we fail to find them we could go around the lake over Mutalahti. But it was unknown if our route would be free of enemy. We set out.
My state was nothing to boast of, missing cap, tunic and boots. I was following the lads just with socks on my feet. I was still alive which was the main thing.
We proceeded cautiously among the bushes of the beach, every now and then stopping to listen. Soon we spotted a small shack, and we entered it with care to see if we could find anything to eat. We were by now hungry. But nothing edible had been left there by the enemy fishermen. We did find something: a pair of worn out shoes had been abandoned there, and they were really useful for me. Unfortunately they were a couple of sizes too small. I cut the seams at the heel with my sheath knife and just managed to squeeze in my feet. I undressed and squeezed off most of the water of them. We continued our journey and came to a small group of houses, and seeing no inhabitants on the yard we sneaked in the nearest one. It was warm I there, the neighbour's men must have been cantonned there. Ten minutes later one of us spotted on the yard two men wearing pointed caps and carrying rifles on their shoulders.
It was not a pleasant sight. We did have one rifle but we did not dare to use it in this situation. We would have got one man killed but what would have happened next, it was a tricky question. We quietly sneaked to the door and then out to the cover of the bushes on the beach. So there were at least some enemies in the hamlet but we hoped that they had not spotted us yet. We could not continue neither could we return. One hour passed, then another while we did not dare to budge. There were two boats half pulled on the beach a few meters from us. We should have the courage to use them to get across to our side. We just had to wait for the evening and nightfall.
We were sitting side by side but still we were terribly cold. Pvt. Vuorinen, who had taken a bullet in his back, said that he felt pain as he was breathing. Who knows how deep the bullet had penetrated. It sprang to my mind that what would the lads of the platoon think as us, the men of the first squad, failed to turn up with the others. They must have thought that we would be struck from the rolls.
The day certainly felt long when squatting in the bushes. There was a continuous noise of battle emerging from the South tip of the lake, from Pinoniemi. As the night got darker the tracer bullet trajectories could be seen and they showed where the front line was situated. There was smoke coming out of the chimneys of the village we had visited during the day. The neighbour's men were still residing there. From the other end of the Hatjalahdenjärvi banging of rifles began to emerge. The enemy was being engaged there, too.
It must have been about 2200 hrs as we started sneaking at the boats with stiff legs. It was dark enough to shelter us from the enemies in the houses. The rope holding the boat was cut with a slash of a knife. Now to push the boat out cautiously. Fortunately the oars were there. I grabbed the oars quickly, avoiding any noises. Pvt. Laine took care of the steering and navigation. Vuorinen the wounded man lied down in the boat. We decided to head for the middle of the lake and then steer for the friendly shore where we expected to find friendly troops. That was our plan.
Grey damp fog had descended on the lake, impairing visibility yet protecting us from the observation of the neighbours on the beach. Having proceeded far enough on the lake we accurately took a bearing for the friendly shore, where the outline of forest was seen as a dim silhouette. Flares rose on the sky every now and then providing illumination on the terrain. We could not say who was launching them, because they appeared to emerge from an odd quarter.
It was not easy to stay in course on a lake in dark and fog. Surprises may happen. We had been afloat maybe for half an hour as the shoreline began to approach. There is a cove to land, I thought as I was observing the beach, someone has had his boat here and there is still one on the beach. What the -! The cove seemed oddly familiar and for a good reason. We had returned to the spot where we had started from. I had cold shivers. Again we found ourselves in the enemy terrain. What would have happened if we had strayed away from our point of departure. We would have unwittingly headed for the enemy and death. We turned our boat around and tried again, hoping for better luck. We replaced the rower, Pvt. Laine took over.
The darkness was almost total. Barely could we see the outline of the forest on the far shore but I did not for a second shift my gaze from the fixed point that I had selected. We could not afford to stray off course another time.
Finally the shore emerged and we set our boots on dry land. With stiff members we set out to find friendly troops to get some food and warmth. There was a road near the beach , the same road that we had riding on for Kolmikesälä. Having walked for a while we spotted the ruins of a house on our left. Maybe we, the rovers suffering from cold, would find some shelter. Approaching it we found that it was a burned down house. There was a cellar below the building and it would have to be our accommodation for the rest of the night. We found dry twigs and other scrap that we placed on the floor of the cellar. Fortunately Pvt. Vuorinen had some matches. Soon a nice campfire was warming our tired limbs. If we only had had something to eat, there would not have been anything to complain of. It was a day and a night since we had put crispbread in our mouths. Why did we leave out the breadbag? Warmth began to return in our bodies by the by, one of us would in turn guard the fire while the two others were sleeping in its warmth.
At dawn we got out of our accommodation to the road to wait for any passers-by. We could not be sure if our troops were holding this side of the lake. At the roadside we found some sugar cubes that a passing by column had spilled. Hunger made us eat them, and we found berries in bushes growing near the ruin of a house.
Finally the sound of a motorbike emerged from the directions of Uusikirkko. We hid behind the bushes to wait and see what nationality the man would represent. As he got close we stopped him, recognising him as a friend. We asked him if he knew where Kev.Os.9 found themselves at the moment. He did not know, he was a despatch rider of the Division looking for the same outfit. He went his way while we sat down by the roadside. Half an hour later there was another passer by. It was a lorry of our outfit driven by Ville Koski, and he picked us up on the platform of his lorry. Koski was a little surprised to meet us at the roadside, because it was believed that we had remained in the site of the recent hostilities, and we had been struck off from the rolls.
Having made it to our outfit we indeed felt that we were among friends. The Company CO, Lt. Salo, personally shook our hand wishing us welcome back.
It was only the CO of the Kev.Os.9 who was not fully satisfied with the result of our run of the gauntlet, because it was rumoured that learning of our return he had commented:
- Why the H* did they have to abandon the new MG there, to the enemy?
Oh well, it was his “sense of military humour” and we had to suffer it. Loans are not for ever, it is said , and in our case also. Some days later my MG was returned by me by our boys, and the wasted time was made good with the weapon many times over during the later stages of the war.
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli” 07, 1960
The author appears to have been a Platoon leader in JR50 (which he does not identify in his story, neither does he mention the name of his Regt. CO, Martti Aho). Also the date of this incident is left out by the author.
The rosy or thorny journey of our Regiment (JR50), as you like it, had passed from Korpiselkä to Äänislinna, and for some to Jalguba. From there the outfit was transferred to the mouth of the Svir river in early autumn 1941 as the stationary war phase started.
Our regiment had marched from victory to victory to Äänislinna . Our Commander (Col.Lt. Martti Aho) had been decorated with the Mannerheim Cross (#52), and later another time, which implies that even his men may have accomplished something.
Our Regiment was considered as one of the elite regiments, but our victories had not been easy ones. We had had to expend a lot of blood and sweat. To our fortune the stationary war phase started. We were standing or lying prone face to face with the “neighbour”, river Svir comprising the no-man's land.
We were not idle all the time, we were building dugouts and paying visits to the Neighbour.
The visits were not of the friendliest sort, leaving behind people in sorrow over there as well as over here. Patrolling was impeded by the open Svir, yet both parties managed quite often to do it. It was the Neighbour who developed a superior prisoner catching tactics and often would nab a man from our lines.
On the opposite shore the enemy was constructing strong stone bunkers that we would call “million bunkers” . One of them was situated opposite to Cape Sekesa (sic!). Using it the Neighbour terrorized our lines as they liked. To suppress it one of my fellow officers had raided across the river but with the explosives they had at their disposal nothing could be accomplished. I was assigned the task to accomplish what had been left unaccomplished with a custom outfit. I remember the mission specially because I dared to express my opinion to my CO concerning the inopportune moment of launching the operation. Anyone who has participated in a war understands well that it is a suicide to try to advance over an open expanse of ice, in moonlight and hard crusted snow at dug in trenches.
Having expressed my opinion I was given a brief and concise answer:
- This is an order!
- Yes, Colonel Lieutenant, Sir, I replied, being a soldier.
Usually volunteers were selected for this sort of operations, this time, too, as the rank and file, but I was ordered in it. I was a suitable man, or an unsuitable one? I should think that I had the Commander's trust.
The task was to open the route and take to the bunker the task force to carry out the demolition of the bunker. Next the main body of the outfit had to continue advancing up to the cantonment area behind the trenches and wipe it out. Artillery and mortars were ordered to support the penetration of the lines.
At the ordered date in the evening (Maybe 10.Feb.1942, tr.rem.) we were ferried with slelds to Sekesanniemi and a fire plan with the artillery and mortar F.O.O.s was drawn up how to shell the breakthrough point and later the flanks.
I set out with an outfit comprising 40 Jaegers and a bunker busting team of 1+4 and two medics with ahkio sleds. When some 50 men were crossing the Svir tremendous scraping was heard on the crusted snow. The fire of the artillery and specially the heavy mortars was accurate and helped the attack so that crossing the enemy trench was not a problem.
Having crossed the enemy trench I left the bunker busting team to carry out their task and continued my advance for the cantonment area. Just then I heard thumps behind us, believing it to be caused by the bunker busters because the direction was right, but it was not as it should have been. For the busting the team had dozens of kilos of explosives in two boxes. It would have been enough to blow up multi-storey houses if the charges could have been put in place and detonated electrically as it was planned-
Soon it was found how the bunker attack had proceeded. The Neighbour had anticipated our visit and mined the surroundings of the bunker after our last visit, and it was that minefield that got our bunker busters. That was the noise that I heard behind me. The busting had not been attempted and four badly wounded men of the team had been left behind while the rest retreated across the river. Ignorant of this I continued with the main force for the cantonment area.
A battle was going on at the frozen Svir. If the initial advance had been easy for the main force, now we hit a wall. We had stirred a wasps' nest, the air was so full of lead and nickel, that our ears were ringing. It was nothing short of a miracle in my opinion that there was some space for my men there. Maybe the strong SMG fire of our outfit kept the neighbours so low that they fired without aiming above us in the sky. A ring of fire was forming around us, for which I led my outfit out of the encirclement through the weakest point for the Svir. We got out and made it over the trenches back to the river ice.
While securing with some SMG gunners the retreat of my outfit we heard cries for help at the enemy side. I was suspecting a trap, yet decided to return with the sled men to check, and afterwards I was pleased at my decision. The shouts of help emerged from the vicinity of the bunker, and we found our four men badly wounded. We picked up two men in each sled, but in the haste we left something behind – a blown off leg at the bunker embrasure.
The neighbour accompanied our withdrawal, not with a brass band but by a rain of shells. Under it I administered first help to the wounded. With my belt I applied a tourniquet at the stump of a man's leg.
Soon horses were brought up and the wounded were loaded on the sleds. Next some of my men took the reins and headed for the field dressing station in full trot. I am ignorant of the fate of the wounded but at least two of them were said to have been alive when evacuated from the field dressing station.
Having returned to my stronghold my Company Commander, Capt. T. Markkula, said that it was actually a miracle when I got back from that wasps' nest alive. He had considered us all goners, the firing had been so intense when seen from our beach. The view over the open ice had been excellent.
In my opinion the Neighbour defences were so deep that they reached beyond the trenches and bunkers in the first line. That is what checked our advance any deeper. We were able to secure the bunker busting outfit work even though they did not succeed due to the minefield. The Neighbour had saved their bunker with mines. In clear weather and hard snow we were unable to conceal our action but were enemy targets from the very beginning on.
Comparing with the war diaries of JR50 the closest matches include the following extracts:
Regimental. War diary
5th February 1942:
04.00hrs I/JR50 reported that the Battalion had sent a 40 man patrol led by Capt. Hetemäki to the enemy side. The patrol managed to advance up to the pond 9.2 where they observed enemy dugouts. It was found that the enemy was preparing an ambush so the patrol returned without losses.
10th February 1942:
03.30hrs III/JR50 reported that two patrols set by the Battalion, one from the S tip of Pikänsaari island, the other one from the middle of Pitkänsaari island, tried to get in the enemy side but had to withdraw having received intense infantry fire. At the same time it was reported that yesterday at 23.00hrs a 10 man enemy patrol tied to approach our positions E of Korteniittu,but they were repelled by our inf. fire.
03.50hrs II/JR50 reported that a 10 man enemy patrol tried to penetrate in our positions E of Gorka, at “Kaalimaa” (“Cabbage patch”) but were repelled by our inf. Fire. The enemy patrol left behind in front of our positions leaflets in German
16.00hrs Situation report to the 163.Inf.Div., appendix 465
21.00hrs Situation report to the 163.Inf.Div., appendix 466
21.00hrs A road map with cover names was received from the 163.Inf.Div., appendix 467
23.00hrs III/JR50 reported that a patrol sent by the Battalion led by 2ndLt. Laitinen had at Uusi-Segese crossed the Svir bearing 22-00, advanced up to the brook situated about 600m from the shoreline, then continued up the brookside to North, cutting enemy telephone cables and checking enemy communications trenches. As the patrol was preparing to attack an enemy bunker situated on the beach at the S tip of the Pitkänsaari island the enemy suddenly opened fire. In the ensuing skirmish the patrol leader and one man were killed and one man wounded. The patrol had to withdraw to the own lines due to enemy pressure without being able to evacuate the bodies.
III Battalion war diary:
02.35hrs Enemy fired with a 50mm mortar some rounds at Segesa
08.30hrs Enemy 82mm mortar fired about 10 rds at Segesa
11.55hrs Our AT gun fired at the enemy weapons nest opposite of Segesa cape
12.15hrs Enemy artillery shelled several times Segesa, Gorka and the middle sector of 8./JR50
18.30- 2100hrs A patrol (1+6) of 8./JR50 divided in two parts advanced west of the little island across the Svir about 150m from the Saarentaka-Konkkula road. “Little island” and shoreline free of enemies about 200m from the shoreline, where the patrol saw a Russki double sentry post. The patrol was met with lively fire from the cover of the taller forest from at least partly covered positions. The patrol withdrew and when returning spoted two loudspeakers right on the shoreline.
18.30-20.00hrs A patrol (Lt. Airanne + two men) of 9./JR50 proceeded across the Svir from the tip of the Segesha cape and continued to a brook bed about 300m from the shoreline, where they turned back, heading for an enemy bunker. The patrol made it until 50m from the bunker that they found to be about 40m long reaching to the mainland. The patrol spotted a horse cart on rubber wheels or something at a distance from the bunker. The enemy spotted the patrol and opened fire, whereby the patrol withdrew to the own lines.
24.00hrs Train to South (enemy)
(...)During the day sparse mutual infantry arms and artillery harassing fire.
In the middle of the river 55cm, at the shore 60cm
There is 30cm snow on the ice, there is a layer of water within the ice.
Our casualties: 1 man WIA. (…)
06.30-10.30hrs Enemy artillery fired about 75 shells at Segesa cape.
12.30hrs Our AT gun fired at enemy weapons nests on the opposite shore of the Svir.
20.00hrs Patrol Laitinen (1 Officer + 7 men) crossed the Svir from the Segesa cape, bearing 22-00, successfully reaching the far shore where they proceeded to the East for some 400m, turning then to the North. After skiing for about one km the patrol turned, heading for the Svir, and reached the Russki shore positions some 200m N of the bunker, at the mouth of a brook.
Here 2nd Lt Laitinen pulled his patrol back so fae that they found themselves right to East from the bunker. Next the patrol headed right at the bunker, 2nd Lt. Laitinen being the first man. As the patrol was 60 to 70m from the bunker, the Russki open3d fire, first with a SMG then also with a MG. 2nd Lt. Laitinen and Pvt. Lylymäki were killed immediately. When dying 2nd Lt. Laitinen had briefly ordered: “ I'm hit, get out of here”. Another two men of the patrol were wounded but they managed to return
23.00hrs to our side.
23.00-23.15hrs Enemy artillery fired about 100 shells at the Segesa cape to prevent the patrol from returning.
Our losses KIA 1 offier, 1 man, WIA 3 men.
I, the translator, am left scratching my head. Is a good story ruined by fact-checking ?
More about JR50:
JR50 website http://184.108.40.206/jr50/english.php
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 07, vol.1960
In spring 1944 the military activities were down in a/b Onttola, which many airmen considered lull before storm. Only the recce planes were almost constantly active getting information on the enemy movement behind the front line, much needed by the GHQ. Specially the enemy air bases were under constant surveillance because the changes in the number of aircraft could provide valuable hints about the situation.
The First Flight of PLeLv48 (Bomber Squadron) was in its entirety subordinated to intelligence services. The equipment of the outfit suited in an excellent manner to photo and long range recon missions, because there were some war booty Russian PE-2 type dive bombers, the fastest bi-motor planes of the FAF at the time. These planes had been equipped with the best available aerial photography cameras which were able to provide large enough scale photos from high altitudes. Photo missions had at the time to be carried out without fighter escort, and they extended up to hundreds of kilometres in the enemy rear.
In the early spring 1944 the GHQ was in the need of information about the air field of Sorokka (Belomorsk) and other airfields of the area. The planes of the First flight had already carried out several photo missions to the area but they were failed or only partly successful. The reason of failures was the very strong enemy fighter force based in the enemy airfields. Mostly they were able to intercept a lonely recce plane even before it had reached the objective.
At the order of the CO of the 1. Flight, Capt. Ranta, the PE-211 was in constant take-off readiness to photograph the Sorokka airfield. The crew for this mission comprised the pilot, Sr. Sgt. Lehtonen, the observer, 2nd Lt Rantala and the air gunner/camera operator, Sgt. Hynninen. After two failed attempts the photographing of the Sorokka airfield was such a high priority that the mentioned three men were in constant standby whenever the weather was even slightly favourable for aerial photography. Together with their Flight leader they several times pondered which route would enable the access to the objective. After careful consideration they decided to take a route that never before had been tried.
It would indeed involve a longer time to be spent in enemy airspace but because there was uninhabited wilderness there, with fewer air surveillance points as at the regular routes, there was a better chance to reach the objective before the enemy fighters would interfere.
One spring evening there was finally the long awaited weather forecast that an anticyclone would move to the White Sea area. This piece of news activated the men responsible for the projected mission. Mechanics and armourers once again checked each system of the plane so that the mission should not fail due to technical problems, as far as humanly possible. As to Ranta, Lehtonen and Hynninen, the crew prepared their flying gear already the previous evening. Hynninen made sure that the camera was operational and ready, because any problem or user error might render an else successful mission a complete failure.
Finally Hynninen produced from the rear part of the plane his personal secret weapon, that had often amused his airmen pals: a rucksack full of Army dry crispbread. The rucksack had accompanied him already during several missions over the wilderness of East Carelia, and the dust flying on the airstrips had penetrated so deep in the bread that chewing them was unpleasant. That is why Hynninen exchanged the bread for a fresh set, then replaced the rucksack in the plane.
Hynninen had carried this bread store since the time he had returned from a mission from the Archangelsk-Moscow rail line on a plane flying with a single engine. Then he had thought, watching the endless wilderness below, that if he had to trudge home for hundreds of kilometres through the swamps, a standard food belt would soon be consumed. Local restaurants would hardly admit a Finn, whether he was wearing a necktie or not. In that case a rucksack full of crispbread would be useful, it would enable many a kilometres march.
The tension of wait did not affect the boys' sleep. After a refreshing rest they were woken up by the duty officer shaking them. Downing their morning substitute coffee they had to endure for goodbyes the usual morbid banter of their pals. Somebody asked for a pair of good boots, another wanted to lend the girlfriend in Joensuu at least for the time it would take to walk from Sorokka to home.
Having once more quickly checked that everything necessary was at hand, the aircrew walked briskly to the airstrip where the warmed-run plane was waiting. The take-off was as usual by an experienced pilot, and soon the PE-211 was but a speck in the sky, vanishing in the North-eastern horizon, in the eyes of the mechanics
Sgt. Hynninen omitted the usual take-off radio report to the base because the transmission could have been intercepted by the enemy listening stations, resulting in a reception committee too early, and the modest photographers did not want any festivities.
Lehtonen directs the nose of his plane for Tiiksjärvi (Tiksha) and starts gaining height. The metal bird is climbing up kilometre by kilometre At four thousand the oxygen masks are worn since the air becomes so deficient in oxygen that one cannot survive for long breathing it. An attempt would result in gradual and almost imperceptible loss of consciousness. Even the mildest case low oxygen would result in slowed down thought processes which would be fatal in a risky mission like this one.
As the altimeter reading was 7000m, the ordered photographing altitude, Sr. Sgt Levels the plane. Finnish a/b Tiiksjärvi is passed on schedule and now they are heading N. The plan is to continue N until the Sorokka A/B would be right in the East, and not until then would a new course be taken and the town approached from West. The enemy never saw Finns attempting to approach their a/b from West. The weather is still totally clear, not a shred of cloud within sight. The thrilling waiting is keeping the men alert and checking their banter. Talking is quite unnecessary because every detail has been carefully pre-planned and everyone knows his duty.
Suddenly the silence is broken by a report by Sgt. Hynninen, accompanied by gloomy curses, from the tailplane, that does not delight the two men in the nose:
-Oh brothers, we are leaving a tail!
Hynninen is implying at the two contrails left by the engine exhaust gas makes the subcooled water mist condense into visible fog. This tail – in addition to enemy fighters – is the least welcome phenomenon behind their aircraft for a recce plane crew. This mighty white contrail on a cloudless sky reveals to the enemy air surveillance that there is an aircraft and also its heading.
After receiving Hynninen's report 2nd Lt Rantala advised Lehtonen to lower the altitude until the tail would vanish.
As the aircraft is pushed into a shallow descent the speed increases but still at 650kmh airspeed the tail keeps hanging there. Not until at 5000m the companion vanishes totally, and Lehtonen returns to level flight.
-They can only hope that the enemy air surveillance would not have been alert enough. Shaking off the tail their journey has proceeded so far that they can head right to the East for Sorokka and the White sea. Altitude remains at 5000m, they do not dare to climb any higher, because the tail would now be more dangerous than before, pointing right at the objective. The enemy air defence would not have to think very much when deciding where to set the reception for the visitors if a white arrow pointing at Sorokka would appear on the sky. (Apparently the enemy did not have radar, or the Finns were ignorant of it, tr.rem.)
PE-211 keeps flying evenly ever deeper in the enemy country. Hynninen's head is swivelling as if on ball bearings as he is scanning the airspace both above and below to make sure that the enemy would not catch them napping. The pilot and the observer are waiting to catch a glimpse of the White sea shore on the Eastern horizon. At the same time they are pondering if they should do two photo runs instead of one because now the photography must be carried out at a lower than planned altitude. To make sure that all the target area is covered they agree on two runs in case it does not get too hot before that. - All three men are fully aware that prudence is more useful than brash courage. They know that they make a service to their country by taking home an incomplete set of photos instead of diving in flames with a complete set of photos in the White Sea Carelian bogs.
The men's nerves are being stretched the more the closer the objective they are coming. Rantala tries to get the Sorokka town in his binoculars but the haze in the Eastern horizons hides everything from his eyes. Hynninen is pushing his upper body out of the aircraft top hatch also trying to find the objective with his binoculars despite the merciless frosty blast of air, while still observing the airspace
Judging by flight time the Sorokka airfield should appear in their view any moment now if only their bearing was correct.
- There is the airfield! The observer suddenly yells and starts giving brief direction corrections to the pilot. At the very same moment the gunner spots below, against a patch of snow covered ground, two quickly moving dots that immediately vanish against the background of forest. That blink of an eye is enough to inform Hynninen that the enemy is aware of their arrival and the receivers are climbing to the same altitude.
The PE-211 is now flying straight and even above the Sorokka air field along the direction of the main runway. Hynninen does not consider it necessary to inform the others about the fighters as not to disturb their photography work for the moment that is still available.
- Camera, ready! The observer's calm voice sounds in Hynninen's earphones.
- Ready, OK, the gunner responds.
- Expose! It is the observer again
- Exposing, Hynninen responds, keeping an ever more vigilant lookout because the enemy fighters could be any moment attacking them.
The very next moment they catch his eye, now much larger.
- Camera stop! The observer orders
- Camera stop, the gunner repeats and adds:
- Two fighters to the left, about one thousand meters below!
By now it is certain that at least one minute later there shall be tracers flying at the photo plane. The first photo run is completed, there is no time for the other one.
- Photo operation ended, direction Kesä airfield, Rantala's calm voice informs.
Lehtonen shoves the power levers to the extreme position to squeeze out of the aircraft all the speed she is capable of and turns the nose of the plane for the Kesä airfield. This Russian airfield is conveniently situated at their return route and their task is to photograph it, too, unless the enemy is able to prevent their attempt.
Hynninen keeps watching the manoeuvrers of the enemy aircraft, keeping the pilot and the observer up to date. -The distance to the Kesä airfield is not long but gives faster enemy fighters enough time to climb to the same level as their prospective prey. The very moment the Kesä a/b is in the view of the Finns and Rantala is preparing to instruct the pilot for the photo run, the gunner reports from the rear:
- Fighters turning right behind us, distance about 300 meters
- Mission aborted, let's head for Tiiksjärvi! Rantala orders without any more thinking.
Lehtonen pushes the plane nose slightly down to gain the maximal speed without losing too much altitude because having to descend to the treetops here deep in the enemy rear would not be very pleasant.
The approaching fighter is increasing in size in Hynninen's eyes. Apparently he is trying to get so close that he would take out the Finns with the very first burst . -Hynninen is not going to wait for the enemy to open fire but as soon as the fighter is within his range he is sending fiery greetings at the pursuer. Well recognizing his slim chances in a firefight against a strongly armed fighter plane he yells to the pilot:
Hit the deck and quick!
Lehtonen is aware of the situation without any more explanation and pushes the plane into a vertical dive. For a moment the force of gravity inside the aircraft vanishes, so Hynninen who due to his duties cannot keep his seat belts on, is floating freely inside the fuselage here and there with the rest of the movables. After a few seconds he manages to haul himself to his machine guns, and hanging on he fires random bursts along the aircraft fuselage hoping that the enemy following them would be hit, by chance, at a spot that would decrease his ability to fight.
No such luck, however, but the Tomahawk adorned with red stars is following close by, as if fastened by an elastic band, vibrating oddly. The photo plane, too, is vibrating in the same manner because the continuing vertical dive has exceeded the red line. The speedometer needle is closing the 900kmh mark. The rapid increase of atmospheric pressure is causing almost intolerable pain in the ears of the men, it is as if waxed paper would be crumpling in their ear canals.
The details of the terrain are appearing in frightening size, so now is the time to pull out of the dive. Lehtonen is pulling the stick with all his force but the terrible speed keeps the elevators as if nailed on, the stick does not budge at all . Since human arms are not enough, the pilot engages the automate and a moment later the aircraft is recovering from the dive almost with a rip, while shaking as if to protest. At the moment of the recovery the three men are blacked out as their brain is not supplied with enough blood, but fortunately only for a moment, because now quick thinking is called for.
The Russian seems not to have born yesterday as a pilot because he, too, has managed to recover his plane from the dive and keeps following the Finns at a close range. The other enemy fighter is fortunately out of sight, he must have got separated from his pair in the long dive.
So the PE-211 and the Tomahawk are playing cat and mouse above the Pieninkä wilderness, the tops of pines almost scraping the belly of the aircraft. The fighters is trying to get the Finn squarely in his gunsight while Hynninen, advising Lehtonen on appropriate evasive action, is making sure that the pursuer would have to fire from as inopportune angles as possible.
Although Lehtonen is continuously wringing out the maximal power out of the engines, the fighter, due to his faster speed, is easily able to stay some 30 to 40m from the Finnish aircraft while staying out of the firing sector of Hynninen's MG s . From the bomber's top hatch Hynninen is able to see clearly how the neighbour is positioning his Tomahawk for the coup de grace. The men in both planes are at this moment obviously sharing the idea of the result of the battle, but although death appears to be inevitable the Finnish airmen cannot give up without a fight, struggling to the very last.
Seeing that the decisive moment is at hand Hynninen clenches his teeth and grabs his MG ever harder, deciding to play his instrument as long as his ears are able to sense the music.
As the fighter turns at the bomber Hynninen presses the MG trigger plate with the toe of his boot – although being aware of the vanity of it -, while shouting an instruction to the pilot to veer right. Every weapon of the Tomahawk are spitting fire, the jets of tracer bullets sweep past the PE so densely that she seems to be in a gigantic First-of-May whisk pulled straight by the slipstream. Fortunately one second earlier Lehtonen has managed to kick the vertical rudder hard right, and the aircraft is sliding to one side while still staying in straight course. The odd manoeuvrer is so unexpected for the pursuer that most of his burst misses.
This dangerous manoeuvrer at treetops was such that if Lehtonen had done it during his pilot training course he would never have been approved in a front line unit except as a cook's assistant. Now his purposeful erroneous manoeuvrer managed to save the life of three men, but it is too early to say how long. Anyway the three airmen are regaining their hope as they have survived the first attack quite well and alive.
The boys are not granted an any longer respite, because the Tomahawk is coming back after backtracking a little, and tries again, time and again. Hynninen keeps explaining the view from the rear sector to the pilot like a radio reporter on a thrilling soccer match, while Lehtonen is employing all of his pilot's skills. He is making use of every trick he has learned in the hard school of the war during the years, of vital importance for the entire crew. He is reacting to every manoeuvrer of the enemy with a little more skilful manoeuvrer Several of the Tomahawk's projectiles hit the wing and the fuselage of the bomber with a snap but fortunately no vital parts are hit, the engines and the controls are still operational.
The nightmarish struggle of life or death, seemingly endless, lasts until Ontajärvi. There it suddenly ends as the enemy has spent all his ammunition. Apparently the Red pilot has during the struggle developed some sort of respect for the skill of the Finns since he before turning back flies at the wing of the bomber, as if to say goodbye. At a distance less than 10m the Russian pilot and the Finnish bomber crew are looking at each other. Hynninen lifts his dog fur mitt and the dark son of the steppes rocks his plane as if to congratulate the Finns for their miraculous survival. Then he pulls a steep turn, heading for East and home.
Having been left alone the Finns are now seeking the shortest route to a/b Onttola. The compass was totally neglected during the recent dance with the death, so now they have to study the map and orientate themselves. Compared with the encounter with the fighter it is a piece of cake, and the correct course is soon defined. After the tension has relaxed the men, disregarding the standing order of no smoking, light up the well deserved fags.
In spite of her damages the PE-211makes it with honours back to Onttola. After a successful landing the crew climbs down on the airstrip and hand over the aircraft to the mechanics to be patched up and maintained for future adventures.
Striding along the perimeter of the runway to debriefing the airmen once again how pleasant and safe the hard ground feels, at least for a while.
PLeLv 48 war diary:
10.25-12.35hrs A/Bs Sorokka and Sunnovetsa have been photographed with the PE. Exchange of shots with a TH. Mission report 30/44, Appendix 55/44
PLENTOLAIVUE 48 (Bomber Squadron48) Appendix 55/Sp44 dd 7.4.1944.
Mission report no 30/44.
Map: Russian 1:500,000
Pilot: Sr.Sgt. Lehtonen, P.
Observer: 2nd Lt. Rantala, Y.
Machine gunner: Sgt. Hynninen, R.
Takeoff: 7.4.44 10.25hrs Return: 12.35.
Route: Onttola – Tungutjärvi- Sorokka- Sosnovetsa-Onttola
Mission: Photo recce of the railway Sorokka-Tunkua, and photographing the airfields of Sorokka, Sosnovetsa and Kesä.
Equipment: Camera Afa 13-50
A. Photography: At 11.25hrs Sorokka a/b photographed, altitude 6800 (m)
At 11.30hrs Sosnovetsa a/b, altitude 6000. Enemy fighters interrupted the rest of the mission.
B: Reconnoitering: Not done
C: Enemy aerial activities: At 11.22 four fighters took off at Sorokka that followed our a/c, gaining altitude. At Sosnovetsa one TH below us at abt. 4000m. There was another enemy fighter behind us to the right at about 3km, about 1/2km above us but he did not spot our a/c.
About 20km S of Lehto village behind us to the left at the same altitude (4500m) there was one TH some 3km from us, he started to pursue us.
We dived to the deck but the TH caught on us, following us until Pulg lake, firing at us more than ten times at distances 50 to 100m. Due to dffective evasive action the a/c took only one heavy MG hit in the horizontal stabilizer.
D: Enemy AA: At 11.25hrs heavy AA from Sorokka. About 100 puffs to the sides and the rear. Fire was not very accurate.
E: Weather: Clear at the target. Temperature -50dec C at 7000m according to the thermometer of the a/c. Strong thick contrail was developing above 5500m.
F: Other observations None.
Observer : 2nd Lt Y. RANTALA
Copy witnessed by : Lt A. Koskinen, (Signed)
PE-211 was a lucky plane, the first to be received as German war booty in July 1942, and the sole survivor of the eight Pe-2 s that the FAF had, to the very end of the war.
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, issue 07, vol.1960
I was serving in the Carelian Isthmus as a catering Lotta, having seven field kitchens under my control. We had recently been relieved from the reserve in Vammelsuu to Valkeasaari where the enemy was far more active than during our old place in Lempaala. The dugout where we Lottas were housed was in our opinion a grand one comprising two rooms and a narrow kitchen with a baking oven. Compared with our old dugout made up of one room, heated with a bad stove, that had to be ventilated through the door however cold it was, this present abode of ours was the most pleasant at first sight.
Our dugout was situated on the slope of Öljymäki hill (“Olive grove”) and the idea was to house there the Lottas of two of the JR1 battalions. Since our number had been halved from the original head count we had plenty of room and we felt cosy. The terrain around was sand, and there was a tremendous population of fleas that we had to remove from our legs during our free nights. Our life was nonetheless quite tolerable.
Yet this quiet did not last for long, but on the small hours of the 9th June 1944 we jumped out of our beds. The enemy had launched an attack the like of which I never had seen. The window glass and sand had been flung on my face. Having got rid of the sand and the shock of the wake-up I was no more able to lie down to sleep. I took my writing kit from my rucksack and among the din started writing a letter to my sister. I was waiting for the shelling to end but it just kept increasing and the letter I wrote never arrived.
Entire Valkeasaari was like the Devil's cauldron. Every weapon appeared to be active. We were unable to distinguish the sound of smaller arms because everything was a unison rattle. Shells were whining ominously. As a shell landed near our dugout it was as if the entire Öljymäki would have been rocking. Our plates and mugs were falling down from the shelf. We were clutching hard at the door posts. One of us was wailing aloud while the rest of us tried to stay calm, clenching our teeth. We fixed our gaze at one point, the dugout door, staring it yet seeing nothing. Our hearing was stretched to the utmost while shells were bursting nearby. Everyone was thinking of one thing: does our dugout collapse on us, burying us alive or shall we take a square hit which would mean the end in a blink of an eye. Our wristwatches were ticking but we felt that the time stood still. Why, oh why could the time not pass faster? Why did that nerve wrecking shelling not end already? The noise around us increased, aircraft were dropping bombs, our own cannons were firing nearby, shells were bursting and the ground shaking.
In that chaos I started to fear for our fighting boys, thoughts were criss-crossing in my mind: do we have enough men, is there enough ammunition to repel the hard enemy attack and tune down this devil's cauldron? Indeed, could there be one single man alive in that hell? There may be enemies next to our dugout, about to throw a satchel charge in the door? During the entire barrage we had not received any messages from outside. We were trapped and unarmed. Should the enemy come we would be totally at their mercy. My thoughts ran away in my past life. My life had not been long, but included three wars. In my very early childhood I had tasted the curse of the border. I had been born near the national border and the War of Liberation had been fought also next to our home. I had just reached adulthood as our Winter War broke out. Now I was experiencing the Continuation War in its hottest form. Would this end my life that would have been nothing but war and only war ?
Then I thought of my next of kin, I remembered my only brother, now in hospital having been wounded, each of my sisters, and finally my mother, specially of her. Did she give me birth for this, to be destroyed by war? She had spent sleepless nights for me, and shall her reward be a message of grief? You had to leave behind your home, bury your husband, and maybe your daughter, too? Then my thoughts moved to our dead. It was as if the gates of death would be opening for me, I felt chilly, cold shivers were running down my back.
Again an explosion in the vicinity, the dugout was rocking. One of the Lottas was moaning. I closed my eyes and screamed in pain in my mind, soundlessly. Good God, good God, I do not want to die! Why do you not end this slaughter of humans? Where is the God who was expected to protect men?
Just then the door of our dugout began to open slowly. We were paralysed by terror – is that the enemy, we would be under their power. Consumed by a distressing pain I prayed in my mind: Dear God, help and save us!
The comers were our Canteen sisters who had escaped from their canteen in the immediate vicinity of the trenches, creeping in a cable ditch and managed to reach our dugout. They were soiled all over by dirt and worse, shocked, but undamaged. Their arrival calmed us, too. My nervosity was gone the same moment and my calm returned.
I knew the men would need their food rations. I got two volunteer Lottas to join me and we got out heading for the field kitchens. Running from tree to tree, clutching to the tree trunks every now and then we went on. Enemy ground attack aircraft let their weapons play even when getting one single Lotta in their gunsights. When passing the horse drivers' dugout the men warned us but conscious of our duty we continued, finally reaching our kitchens.
When mixing a juice soup a force threw me at a wall and I had to stay there until the Neighbour shifted his aim. I found on the table behind me a ten centimetre long splinter that had ricocheted from a wall. Its velocity had been so low that it was unable to pierce my back. The enemy was harassing my cooking so that the food I had managed to cook could not be taken to the men, despite several attempts. The men had to fall back on dry food, some were left totally without.
Due to the situation I decided to liaise with the supply to get instructions for our work. On my way I met the Staff Sgt. of the Admin Company, Staff Sgt. Hirvonen who invited us to have a sauna bath in the night. Willingly we accepted the invitation, and were not bothered during the bath, but the return to the dugout was more difficult. Put in military terms, it was : Duck, get up, march double quick, duck...
During our sauna visit I was briefed on the situation. Of our men in the front line just a few were left, some of them shell-shocked. There was aid to come before the night, a small Reserve battalion. Should they be unable to stay their ground and stop the enemy we would have to withdraw to Rajajoki. I was advised to observe the development of the situation. Should I spot that general retreating was going on or I was given a message, the Lottas should immediately set out and try to save themselves. I relayed the order and instructions to the Lottas of the 2nd Battalion but since they had not received any orders from their supply, hey decided to stay overnight in a dugout on the far side of the hill, yet they left in our dugout all their belongings and money, too.
As soon as they had left we received an urgent message to leave, then a guide took us to a side road. We had set out without delay but were not able to alert the Lottas of the 2nd Battalion. A car had been sent to get us. This was the first car ride during the entire war for me, excluding furlough transport. During the offensive phase of the war we had to march with the men through the entire Carelian Isthmus.
The car took us to the yard of the Mainila hospital. We were received by a calm-looking Staff Sergeant. Here I met the two canteen sisters that I mentioned, one of them was down with fever. She became the first patient of my new career: my catering job was replaced by that of a nurse.
Mainila was still out of reach for artillery, but aircraft reminded of the war, firing machine-guns at anyone moving out of doors. The patients were taken in the cellar in case of aerial bombardment. As my patient refused to be taken in the shelter; I, too, stayed indoors, trusting my luck.
The next day, 10th June 1944 had scarcely dawned as the jam of patients kept increasing. Soon every corner was full of wounded. There was a shortage of hospital personnel, so I started bandaging patients, a job I never had done yet. We were tired but there was no time to think about it, it was just help, bandage, console. Finally we could not take in more wounded, we bandaged only ambulant cases. Many of them were killed on the yard of the hospital.
In the forenoon we received orders to evacuate the hospital. But soon another lorry arrived from the front line. I was ordered to send it on. Even though my legs hardly carried me I slouched to the lorry to inform the driver. I stopped dead as I saw his load: the lorry platform was packed full of dirty,ragged and mauled men. There were faces twisted by pain, eyes begging for help and wandering eyes. One of them was holding his belly and I heard him complain:'
-Couldn't you at least bandage my stomach, because my guts are spilling out?
I was not able to send them away, yet I had orders to do just that. Despite everything – I heard my own voice say: - Just a moment.
I ran in and took fag packets from my backpack. Pain was tearing me in the inside and I could not hold back my tears, yet I had to control myself. I returned to the lorry and gave the cigarettes to the men. I was rewarded with grateful looks and with a lightened mind I could send them on for the field hospital.
Then I slipped in my room where I could be alone for a moment and relieve my pain unseen by anyone. Finally I “pulled up my socks”, assumed a carefree mien and continued assisting in the evacuation of the hospital. The last patients had been loaded on the vehicles as we received orders from the Battalion to leave. A young officer of the Battalion came, looking for something to drink, and he wondered?
- Still here. Lottas, although the enemy is on the far side of Mainila fields and advancing all the time?
Sunshine was hot and aircraft were circling overhead as we joined the troops in the race for Rajajoki river. Someone took my rucksack, I understood that he wanted to help me. My overcoat was weighing on me and too much in the hot weather. I loosened the belt and tried to hang on. A familiar voice next to me asked:
Well, Lotta, do you still say that you do not fear?
No answer was expected, he was my previous CO.
I made it to the objective with the troops. We halted, there were the rest of our men, a handful of dirty, tired, oddly glancing men. Someone was sitting on a rock, the whites of his eyes were flashing while tears were running down his cheeks but I do not think he was aware of it.
There were two of us, two Lottas among the men. We were ordered to get in the CO's car so that we would not remain underfoot for the fighting troops. It was painful to leave the tired and familiar soldiers. I shook hands with each, trying to smile, but I felt that the corners of my mouth were twitching and there was a lump in my throat, my smile must have been just a grin twisted by pain.
When getting in the car I heard the order that the CO issued to the boys:
-If you are Finns, so get in position and the enemy is stopped here!
I retained in my mind an image of a Platoon of tired men led by a young Lieutenant marching to the direction of the enemy, where we had come from. I wonder if Mainila was the end of their journey?
When the car set out I spotted a civilian house, with a surprised looking young mother with a baby on her arm and another grabbing at her skirt. After all the atrocities I had experienced this was something picturesque.
The next thing that I am aware of is a group of 'Lottas and military in lively discussion on a yard between houses. We were in the bivouac of the Division and the posting of Lottas was being decided. Soon the grey sisters were loaded on a lorry. Our journey started – we did not know where. There I met also the Lottas that had left us at Öljymäki. I crouched in a corner of the platform. I did not know where we were being taken, and I did not care to know, everything was unimportant. Now I could cry unbothered, nobody tried to control or console me, because each one of us had her own problems. The lorry stopped, we were ordered to climb down and the lorry left. Looking around we found ourselves next to the fence of a cemetery.
This time I did not find my grave there, but my life continued. I was holding in my hands something else again, white and light – gauze. The same evening I started enthusiastically to care for the wounded. I was not discouraged as we were waiting in a corridor for the head nurse's orders and one doctor remarked to his colleague:
- Those are the Lottas of that infamous outfit! (Infamous for allowing the enemy break through...)
After all the pain and agony I had seen and experienced those words wounded me deeply and upset me. I put my head up. I was not ashamed of being a Lotta in the outfit, most of the men of which made the supreme sacrifice . I am not ashamed of admitting that even today...
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 5, 1960
It was the very first days of the winter war that I received a task that demanded from me and my men real stamina and calculated daring action. We could not fear but we had to be careful.
We had been forced to pull back from our positions about 10km E of Kollaa, on a narrow road to Kivijärvi. We were parts of JR36 and we had to withdraw through quite deep snow over marshy forested terrain to Kollaa on 3 December 1939. The men were unable to carry the heavy (Maxim) machine guns and the related equipment. We had to hurry up because the enemy was advancing on the road and we did not want to be overrun. For ever shall I remember the Battalion commander Maj. Ruusuvuori who trudged ahead of us in his high Lapland boots. Next we had a 24 hour rest in the rear of Kollaa, then I was ordered to retrieve the MGs with a 50 man patrol. The enemy had already deployed in front of Kollaanjoki.
I selected the fittest men of our Company, every man was given a good light weapon, enough food and we set out with five ahkio sleds for the MGs.
Following our own retreat track we advanced in the rear of the enemy. We has set out at evening dusk, it was good to advance in the cover of the night. We had a constant risk of meeting an enemy garrison at some path crossing. The main road, in enemy hands, was so close to the South of us that we could even hear them talk. They were making quite a noise, really! The noisiness of the enemy calmed us down, the less they would be able to hear the noise of our movement.
All of us were totally inexperienced as to war. Fifty silent men were proceeding just next to the enemy, we had a mission to carry out. The weather on our outbound journey was relatively mild, the snow was wet and skiing was heavy. There was one benefit: our skis and sleds did not make any considerable noise in the soft snow.
There was a brook we had to cross, a little beyond the halfway mark. The first of our machine guns was on the far side, that far had the toughest of the men been able to haul it. I ordered six men to take over the MG and then ski half a kilometre upstream where they would construct some kind of a bridge over the brook. My idea was to cross the brook at another place. I also thought that it would be safer to select a new route for our passage with heavy loads, because one could not be sure that we would not be detected.
It was 02.00hrs until the last of the five machine guns was loaded in a sled. Col. Sainio, the Regiment CO, had ordered me to observe the enemy activities. It was not a difficult task because the last of our guns was no farther than 150m from the road that the enemy held. We could hear well how field guns were hauled in positions and the first volley fired. Tanks were moving on the road and there was a lot of banter. The “audio” was excellent because the weather was getting colder.
On our return journey the accident happened, the sad incident that enabled the enemy to spot us. A fully loaded sled started rolling down a hillside, was keeled over with a tremendous noise. I guessed that we had been revealed now. I felt an unimaginable pain in my chest. I was deeply conscious of my responsibility, for the mission and for the men. What kind of a battle would ensue, would we survive?
We returned as I had planned, on a different route – farther from the road. Having crossed an open bog we saw the pursuers, or in fact we heard the noises: sloshing of men treading in the bog. Judging from the noise there were not many of them. We however could not start shooting because we wanted to avoid attracting attention of the enemy on the road – ahead of us. I feared that they might cut our return route, which would mean we would be finished.
A bridge had been constructed over the brook and it was easy to pull the sleds over. We were hurrying up. Having proceeded another kilometre something still incomprehensible happened. One of us was nabbed. The “kidnapping” was so skilfully done that no one of us noticed.
Thinking about it I remember that I was standing in the dark face to face with a very black man. I believed he was one of my outfit. Enquiring about it it was found that no one of us was there at the moment. The mystery man was unable to catch me, I was too alert and well armed. Pvt. Jyrkinen's fate was different. He, the tallest man of us, was taken almost among us. At the moment we were having a rest. Maybe he had fallen asleep, I cannot tell.
We brought the machine guns home, although hauling them in the undulating terrain was difficult. On the other hand we were a large outfit. Col. Sainio was grateful and happy of our return. He already had feared the worst.
I am not able to shake off that “black man” from my mind. I am also surprised why such a small number of enemies was sent to pursue us. Jyrkinen's fate is a pity, but it could not be helped. Anyway, this operation right under the nose of the enemy is remembered as a thrilling adventure.
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A miracle of the Independence Day
Journal “Kansa Taisteli” issue no.8, vol. 1960
Heavy masses of cloud were rolling overhead at Onttola a/b near Joensuu town.
We could not see them well yet because at half past seven in the morning of 6th December it was still dark, we just sensed their oppressive and damp presence. During this autumn of 1941, the first autumn of the Continuation war, the weather at Onttola had been very capricious and disturbing the action of our Bomber squadron, LeLv44.
Our plane, old shortnose Bristol Blenheim (mk. I) alias “Pelti-Heikki” (Tin Henry = Model T) was standing at the end of the runway ready to take off. The pilot, Lt. Jouko Saarinen, had just test run both engines and found they were running just fine. Then this young Flight leader, a man of few words, announced:
- Right, lads, let's take off to conquer Poventsa (Povenets), Is your gear and equipment OK?
The throat microphone distorted his voice very low, kind of low bass.
- OK they are. Can you hear me there in the front? It was the gunner, Sgt. Vine in his glass turret in the rear.
We, the pilot and I, answered his question. I was occupying the seat of the observer. For some reason this task was not in my taste this time, but since I had been trained both as a pilot and an observer, I had to do missions in both duties. It may have been a lesson for me this time because I was to be able to observe how a pilot with more experience than I, would act in an unusually difficult situation
Our old warhorse was dashing down the runway with howling engines. These take-offs at the break of the dawn had been the usual for us already in the Winter War. In the cover of the twilight we were able to approach the target without major disturbance by the enemy. The task was mostly carried out just at sunrise time when visibility was good enough. The short runway, unreliable old engines and a heavy bomb load just would make our early take-offs risky.
Up...No...Up...No.. I would predict as the plane was bouncing heavily down the runway. What was to happen? The runway would end soon although the edge of the forest ahead could not be discerned due to the darkness.
- Up we go and now, the pilot uttered with a decisive tone and pulled the resisting plane off the ground. She took off heavily, wobbling like an old crow.
This kind of forced take-off could end in an accident if the plane would lose her controllability due to insufficient speed. Several destructive take-off accidents had happened in our squadron. Some three weeks ago one of our planes had crashed in the forest right after take-off It burned down, the bomb load exploded. The pilot and the observer could be saved in the very last moment. The gunner, however, a young star javelin thrower, Antti Mikkola, was stuck in the plane and was killed.
After a few thrilling moments we found ourselves airborne safely. The light chain of the runway was left behind, also the white (frozen over) expanses of lakes Pyhäselkä and Höytiäinen. Suddenly we lost the land out of our sight: we were I a cloud at an altitude of 200m. The pilot decreased the altitude and we were back in visual flying mode.
- The clouds are indeed hanging low. This does not bode well, he grumbled.
- According to the weather report there is clear weather in the East, I commented.
- Well, that is fine. At least we shall be able to accomplish our mission. But then we should return to West and Europe. We shall see how we shall cope, he chatted while synchronizing the gyro compass with the magnetic one.
In addition to these two navigation instruments we also had a sort of radio direction finding device but due to its unreliability it was not used. It was by using compass that Columbus discovered America, so why would we not find the town of Poventsa, situated at the N tip of Lake Onega?
After half an hour of flying we passed the old national border, a wide swath cut in the forest, at Megrijärvi in Ilomantsi. The cloud cover had risen up to almost 1000m and the Eastern horizon was a little pink, predicting dawn. The terrain was better visible already. The long leg over the wilderness had started. A sea of forest, stretching beyond the horizon, was undulating below, at times rising into hills, then descending into vales. We were flying over the Southern part of the widest forest in Northern Europe. We were flying very low, in order to attract as little attention as possible. It was fun. At times we spotted a lone capercaillie in the top of a pine, throwing a glance at the apparition disturbing his peace.
We had climbed to 800m as the open frozen expanse of lake Onega appeared in the Eastern horizon. Soon we would be in a hot spot. Lately we had often been introduced to the rather effective enemy AA artillery, and they had been also equipped with new, fast and well armed fighter aircraft.
The dusk turned into day. The low cloud had dissipated and there was a thin, scraggly cloud high above. The weather was favourable for our mission. Our troops were approaching Poventsa that we were to hammer with bombs. When returning we were to reconnoitre the traffic on the Murmansk railroad, if possible up to Sekehe (Segezha) station. We emphasized in our thoughts the expression “if possible” because we suspected that the new fast fighters were operating from the a/b in Sekehe
- Now boys, keep your eyes open ! The pilot wanted to keep us alert. We had arrived over the snow covered bay of Poventsa, and our plane was easy to spot, it was as if we had been flying across a movie screen. I knew that the gunner and the pilot were observing the airspace where a danger could be lurking. I had turned my eyes at the blocks of the Poventsa town right ahead. The community appeared to be quite lifeless, I estimated that the enemy was cantoned in the houses. So I selected as my bombing target a row of houses just in the direction of our course and began dictating instructions to the pilot to keep the target running against the hair of the bomb sight.
- Keep right...some more... too much, take a bit back... some more to the left...a little bit more...good so...soon going...gone! There they went, like the greetings of Uncle Markus ( a Finnish radio show for children)
Having applied the bomb trigger I kept watching at the bombs that turned into small black specks while falling. There were eight of them and they exploded with brief intervals with tremendous flashes. I saw that at least three houses were hit, and that made me laugh with joy. It was a mad laughter in a mad activity. I was cut short as the gunner called out:
-AA fire, smoke puffs ahead.
The plane shook at first strongly twice, followed by a number of sharp pushes throwing us around. I glanced around: grey puffs of AA shells were developing densely around the plane. Two minor holes appeared in the tip of the right wing. We had been totally surprised. The enemy AA had allowed us to arrive to a suitable position and now they were going to blow us apart just as we had a moment ago blown up some straw roofed shacks in Poventsa.
Now it was up to the pilot to act quickly and considerately. Lt Saarinen was able to do that. He set up an aerial circus above Poventsa for a moment. The old BL was forced in his hands to perform a series of quick dodging manouvers including turns, dives, recoveries. It was a death dance in three dimensions during which I was flung around in the narrow nose of the plane. I had not had time to buckle up. The AA gunners lost their aim as the target kept changing bearing, speed and altitude. They must have thought that the pilot of the lone Finnish bomber had gone mad. When the ordeal finally was over and I was able to climb on my seat we were out of the range of the AA battery.
We had survived a quite dangerous situation. The pilot's face was red and he laughed a little, like a boy who has managed to survive unscathed a brawl with bigger boys.
- Hey fellows, are you all right? He inquired joyously.
I and the gunner admitted as much . Next I gave the pilot a new bearing, and soon the Murmansk railway, a wide swath cutting through uninhabited wilderness, was in front of us. We decided to carry out our recon task by flying W of the line and give enough berth for the stations. Those were defended by quite strong AA.
- Maanselkä-Nopsa-Juka-Sumeri, I listed by heart each of the stations as we passed them. I had become familiar wit them up to the White sea coast.
- You could become a train conductor for the Murmansk line after the war, the pilot commented.
- Why not, if this railway is ours by then or any more, I responded ambiguously.
Some wagons were standing at the Urasjärvi station rail yard. We were fired at, too, but due to the long range the firing was not accurate. Finally we had the long, narrow Lintujärvi ahead of us, the railway had been built along its Eastern shore for more than ten kilometres. At the Northern tip of the lake was Sekehe station, the turning point of our mission. There also was situated the dreaded fighter air base.
Our tension kept rising as we were heading North above the open lake. Our insecurity was increased by the fact that we found ourselves quite deep in the enemy territory.
- Now keep your eyes open or the devil shall take us, the pilot told us seriously.
There was a shroud of cloud covering the North and East sky, without providing any cover for us, but in the West, although far, there was a dark grey thick low cloud layer.
- We shall try to get there if we should be pursued, the pilot said, indicating the direction.
- Let me know at once if you spot any fighters, he added.
- Nothing here behind the tail, the gunner reported.
It was his duty to observe the dangerous rear sector, the most likely attack direction for fighters.
We were heading for the N tip of Lintujärvi in an altitude of 1000m. We were keenly observing our surroundings, and tension sharpened our tenses. One painful minute more, indeed just more than one minute, and we could turn our backs to this trap that the railway line was.
- Fire from the right! The gunner's voice was nastily raspy in my earphones. I cringed and had a look on my right. There were puffs of AA shells far off.
- It is inaccurate fire from Lintujärvi station. The battery is far off. No danger, the gunner went on.
Thank G-d, I was fearing for something much worse. I took a glance at the pilot. His countenance expressed tension. There were small drops of sweat were on his brow and on his upper lip in the dark short war moustache. Everything was so intolerably quiet and lifeless, both the terrain below us and the airspace around us. If the blasted fighters would be coming, so they should be here soon! His oppressive mute wait was getting on my nerves.
Then they came.
- Two fighters right behind. They are still far, the gunner reported.
The pilot reacted at once: he made a tight left turn and dived briskly to the deck. According to the standing instructions we had to attempt to disengage from fighters that were superior to our plane as to speed and armament. Our depleted bomber force had to be spared as much as possible.
The step dive and quick recovery squeezed me on my seat, and the centrifugal force made my body heavy as lead. I was feeling dizzy and I was seeing sparks in my eyes. Soon we found ourselves above the wide forest West of lake Lintujärvi. The engines of our plane were screaming at full rate. The race against death had started.
-They are approaching, the gunner reported calmly.
The pilot pushed the plane so close to the treetops that the prop wash, I believe, shook snow out of them. Yet that probably was just my imagination. We were flying so low that the plane followed the contour of the terrain in detail. We were indeed “sweeping” the ground. We knew by experience that for some reason the fighters did not fly as low as we did, but would stay a few dozen meters higher. The result was that their fire was more inaccurate than if they had been flying at the same altitude and been able to fire at us right from behind. Also the target squirming along the terrain decreased the accuracy of shooting. Our hope of survival based also this time on these slim chances. We hung on to them like a drowning man to a straw.
-They keep getting closer all the time – they are fast – really unknown types to me – now they are 200m behind – now they are shooting. The gunner commented in his calm manner while giving them a few brief bursts. Tracers were flashing past our plane. The fighters had opened fire at a far too long range and hurriedly. But they still had time! I was worried, waiting for a new burst.
There was a thick mass of low cloud ahead of us, in other circumstances it would have been quite unpleasant but now was attracting us like paradise. If we only could slip in the cover it provided before the fighters would finish us off! The edge of the cloud kept approaching but it was still hopelessly far.
-Now they are pretty near. The voice of the gunner sounded worried. The sweat on the face of the pilot had increased into great drops that were flowing through his moustache on his lips. He had nailed his eyes on the cloud wall looming ahead. He must have been thinking only: -faster, faster!. The next moment a jet of tracers barely missed the fuselage of our plane. Just one good hit and we would be at the end of our journey. The pilot did something unexpected: he applied the rudder to the left without tilting the plane. With a huge swish the plane slid to the left and the tracers missed us on the right side. This kind of manouver is technically a quite dangerous pilot error. At this low altitude it was as frightening as the enemy fighter fire but as a feint it was effective. “Necessity has no law”, and surely our old appreciated flying instructor Antti Kopra would have admitted that Lt Saarinen did a good job of such a grave faulty manouver.
The fighters quit firing for a moment but soon there again were tracers dancing past the glazed nose of our plane. Again the pilot made a slide, this time to the right whereby the burst missed us on our left side. I was clutching at the arms rests of my seat with white knuckles. How is this going to end? The pilot did not yield but applied left and right rudder pedal as if he had been treading an old harmonium. The bursts fired by the fighters missed us each time.
Our good Lieutenant was now smiling, and he said with a glee:
-They must be vexed, what do you think?
- I guess so, I responded grumbling. I would like to have said some words of appreciation to this man who in the moment of the greatest danger was able to act with cold deliberation, yet being happy for his tricks like a brat. But this was not the place nor the time to voice such ideas. As a matter of fact the danger was still lurking.
Suddenly the horizon vanished, and thick fog surrounded us. Imperceptibly we had reached the edge of the cloud. We had been saved !
- They are out of sight, the gunner reported reassuringly.
About time, too, the pilot responded, wiping his face with the sleeve of his fur jacket sleeve.
We had got rid of one nightmare but another was facing us now: the long journey home in unknown weather.
We better try to climb through the cloud, the pilot opined and pulled the plane into a good climb. I gave him as good a bearing as I was able to under the circumstances.
It was to be a long climb. At times the engines would cough as the carburator intakes were icing. The altimeter was showing 1500m as we popped out of the cloud, finally. We were flying just at the top of the cloud cover ready to slip in if attacked by fighters.
- I wonder what make those fighters were? Our gunner was still preoccupied by the recent skirmish.
- Go tell, probably some lend-lease, I should say. You must have been in a tight spot in that turret of yours'? The pilot responded.
- One gets used to this, was the modest reply.
Maybe, I thought, but it is a rough deal anyway. The first duty of a fighter pilot, when attacking a bomber, is to eliminate the gunner, the only defender of the rear sector alone in his glass turret unable to defend himself but with one weak gun while being targeted with several efficient fighter guns. Yet Sgt. Vine with whom I had shared several missions felt at home in his cramped turret. In a calm and clear manner he would report what was going on behind the tail.
Our flight went on without problems. As according to my calculations a/b Onttola was just five minutes away we started seriously estimating our chances to land there.
-Let us try to land. The fuel is quite low.
We started gliding lower. I kept watching the altimeter: 1000m – 500m, -300m,- 200m, -150m.. Worried I called out to the pilot:
- Eh, Jouko, why don't you stay level for a while?
I tried to get view of the ground. He did as requested. I kept staring down without seeing a flash of the ground through the grey fog. I told to lower the altitude to 100m. I pushed my nose at the windscreen, seeing but fog. We decreased our altitude down to 60m. We did not dare to go below that due to terrain obstacles. But we saw no ground, actually we had not seen any for one hour now. We were getting really worried. Where is the base? Where are we actually? Navigating with deficient instruments is often not accurate. We would soon be out of fuel, and we would not stay airborne. What would follow? Forced landing? _Impossible in this kind of fog! This blind flying was about to rob us of trust and hope. Just a little flash of ground...
- Pull up now! As soon as I had shouted these hasty words the pilot pulled the yoke hard. I had seen ground but frighteningly close. A high hill appeared in front of us but the pilot jockeyed the plane over it, and again we found ourselves in a cloud.
I was however able to provide one piece of consolation:
- It was the Höytiäinen ski jumping hill, so the base is some four km South from here.
We turned for South and in spite of it all the pilot decreased altitude, but none of us saw anything of the base.
-How much fuel do we have? I enquired from the pilot
-Hard to say exactly, but the gauge is approaching zero.
I knew that when the gauge drops to zero there is some fuel left but for how long, was hard to tell. The gauges were not fully accurate.
- Let us try to get to the base in Värtsilä. Heading 131, I told the pilot. A/B Värtsilä was our spare base. It was some 80k from Onttola.
- Let us indeed, but it would be a miracle if we should make it so far, he muttered.
Is that so? In that case we must believe in miracles, I responded, overcome by totally unbased optimism.
To conserve fuel we did not climb through the cloud but flew by instruments at 200m. As I calculated that we would find ourselves at Värtsilä the pilot decreased the altitude to 50m. We did not dare to go lower than that. We found ourselves still in a thick shroud of fog. There was no land in sight. We had to admit the stark fact: we had lost our last chance of normal landing. Forced landing in these circumstances would have been a suicide. There was just one chance left. The pilot informed us in a steady voice:
- Now I shall climb until the fuel is out and then we shall bail out.
This revolting means was something we had to accept. The plane was in any case already doomed to destruction.
I opened slightly the cockpit hood top. Damp fog penetrated in. Pieces of ice peeled off from the prop blades were hitting the aluminium cladding of the fuselage with nasty thuds. Suddenly a thick layer of ice covered the leading edge and the top of the wings, and the plane started wobbling. She was struggling on and was hard to control decently. It was time to bail out now but we stayed in the plane. Why? Mainly because the idea of bailing out without seeing ground, ignorant of where you would land, was terrifying. We also probably believed that soon a miracle would appear and rescue us. We were gazing ahead mutely. Something had to happen, soon - but what would that be?
At the very moment a small piece of ice was loosened from the leading edge of the wing, then another, a larger one. Finally the ice started peeling off in wide plates off the wing top and at the same moment we dashed out of the cloud in clear daylight. This refreshing change in environment made us re-estimate the situation. We decided to fly over the cloud to South-East as long as the engines would run.
Was it my tired eyes or was there a minor gap in the even cloud cover far ahead? The pilot was looking at the same direction and said hesitantly:
- It looks like ground over there ahead.
- I think so too, I responded excitedly.
- Let us see if we shall make it so far, he continued.
Our observation proved to be correct and we were really overcome with joy as we spotted through the gap in the cloud cover the clear ice covering lake Suistamonjärvi. We would be able to make a forced landing there if only we would make it up to there. Painful moments of waiting followed. The happy end for our mission was just within reach but still shrouded in twilight. Would there be enough fuel? Would the ice carry our heavy plane? Those were the questions pouncing in our tired brain.
Engines started to run roughly: a clear symptom of the last drops of fuel being consumed. The props would rotate now only in intervals. Would our plane be able to glide up to the lake or would it be crushed on the uneven rocky shoreline? That would be settled soon. Thrilled, I was observing the pilot in action. He lowered the undercarriage, lowered the flaps and turned the plane to the direction of the shoreline. Clearly he believed we would make it to the lake, and he was right. We made it over the beach embankment and a second later the dark ice was going past under us. The final pull followed at once and the wheels touched the surface of the ice. Then I pulled open the cockpit top so that we would be able to exit in case the plane would start sinking. The tough early winter ice held, however. We climbed out with stiff members.
Having lit up we had a look at the sky, the hole in the cloud cover through which we had managed to land. People began to gather on the ice but we kept staring up, with stiff necks. Something that captivated our eyes was happening. That is, the hole in the cloud cover was shrinking at a good rate. As we sucked the last greedy smokes out of our cigarettes the heavy cloud was hanging low over the entire lake. The sky had just for a moment opened a crack in his curtain after a thrilling show to enable us to slip out of the scene. Even during the most hopeless phase of our mission we had believed in a miracle. And it did happen – the miracle of the Independence day.
LeLv44 diary: (had written grid paper notebook)
0n 6.12 at 02.00 tel.message, Air Force order, as to LeLv 44:
LeLv44. The Squadron shall launch at daybreak a bomb raid at Poventsa simultaneously with LeLv42. The Squadron leaders shall agree on liaison.
To be reconnoitred:
a:rail traffic on the area of action
b:traffic fron the the NW shore of lake Seesjärvi along the river of Sekehe.
Reconnaisance mission shall include bombing as on 5.12.41.
3. Reconnaisance results shall urgently be forwarded to the Air Cdr of KarA.
4. In case of inopportune weather (low cloud cover) the raid shall not be launched.
Air Force Commander
Gen.Lt. J.F. Lundqvist
6.30hrs Squadron order no.31
07.50hrs BL-104 took off (2nd Lt. Lamminpää).
Due to bad weather the patrol did not take off except BL-104
11.05hrs BL-104 made a forced landing on Lake Suistamonjärvi due to the bad weather reigning in Joensuu.
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli,” 08, 1960
As the radio telegraphist of a F.O.O.team of the Artillery Battalion Siltanen (=I/KTR10 =>I/KTR7, tr.rem.) I had to spend the Winter War as a piece of mobile equipment. Starting at Viisjoki where we were the first to receive the Neighbour, then at Metsäpirtti, Umpilampi, Linnakangas, finally Mustaoja that was my last theatre of action. There are many incidents that I do remember but the foremost one is the situation as the communications had ceased. It was a total impossibility to maintain the telephone cables functional and the messenger dogs refused to obey their handlers, hiding instead.
Communications stayed cut there where everything that was alive prepared to die and where helping your friend had no limits. A man wounded in stomach, having admitted that he had no chances of surviving, asked that his greetings would be sent home, and his watch to his son. He also asked his friends to lift him in the stack of the dead already, to free the sleigh to those wounded that had some chances of surviving
No man that was conscious did moan. The men were acting like machines, without the least idea of getting cover for themselves in the rain of bullets. The only idea was, since the others have been here, so shall I be. This was how it was there where no tree to fasten a radio antenna was standing. This was how it was in the Signalling dugout that had no source of heating and the only light provided by a lantern made of a small bottle and a spent rifle cartridge case. Even the air was so heavy to breathe that one's brow was sweating when in there.
This is how the struggle at Taipale went on in another morning in March. On the opposing side a propagandist played a few records through his loudspeakers and then started his show: “ Surrender, brave warriors, else this shall be your last day alive! We shall launch so many aircraft and artillery shells that you shall be killed, everyone of you. Turn your weapons against Mannerheim's gang and join us! Here you shall get the 8-hour working day, summer leave ...[both implemented in Finland already, tr.rem.] (He did even promise dried fruit soup for dinner). Turn your rifles pointing down to the ground and come over here in larger or smaller groups ! Remember, this is your last day alive!”
-This was followed by international music. While the music was still playing a tremendous shelling started and aircraft in groups of nine appeared overhead, all with their bomb doors open. Our dugout was rocking, swaying as if on water, and there was crashing and banging around us in the manner we had got used to. More than two hundred aircraft were seen over us that day.
-At night the infantrymen are relieved. They have been in the front 3 to 4 days at a stretch and everyone is in a hurry. Sappers are laying mines, stretcher bearers are evacuating the wounded and all available horses are shipping off the pile of dead for the day, a terrible task. We the telegraphists are already used to this. Command Dugout Kanto, the centre of all action, is in vain trying to get more troops, ammunition, hand grenades – but everything is spent and communications are cut off.
The dugout door is opened with a crash. A man enters – a Runner – fainting on the floor of the dugout. I lift up his head and treat him with coffee. He comes to and manages to deliver his message to the Commander:
-The enemy is now there where you left just a while ago (Strongholds Four and Five).
He faints again, a splinter has torn his knee. I wonder how he managed his way here?
A Platoon leader, just returning from furlough, beaming with happiness and joy, keeps presenting his wedding picture, sets out to the front line to his lads – and lives but three hours. A cruel fate!
A big German Shepherd dog that has been brought here as a messenger, is lying, terror-struck, under one of the dugout sleeping platforms and refuses obstinately to get out once he had been in the front and seen the dead men and the rest of it.
There is an enemy artillery spotter plane buzzing overhead and I intercepted with my radio how he is yelling: “ A vot harasho!” It is extremely troublesome to get water. The snow is bloodied black mass churned by projectiles. The only well in the neighbourhood is almost dry and for the hope of sometimes catching a field kettle of water there is a ladder pushed down the well, but many a man has paid for the drop of water with his life. The well is under constant enemy observation and he is shooting at every water fetching man climbing up with an AT gun aimed at the spot. [Poet Yrjö Jylhä, a Company CO at Taipale just then, later wrote a well known poem about this, “Kaivo”. Tr.rem.]
In the Signals Dugout the tune of a psalm “ Dearest Jesus, why are you still tarrying”. A speaker, in the civil life a sectarian preacher, is making a preparatory speech on moving to the eternity... and soon the dugout is filled with another * psalm “ There, to your eternal wedding party, I am hankering”. The Signals men set out in twos to troubleshoot the lines, making test calls as often as possible. - Time is crawling, it is ten minutes since they left and no test call yet. Another troubleshooting patrol sets out. At first the test calls come in regularly, then silence... This is hopeless, we cannot establish contact with the Battery. The third pair is ready. They are sent out according to the list of the Signals Officer, in pairs, without grumbling, to fix the telephone connection.
I am still trying to contact the Battalion with my C-class transceiver with the urgent message “Barrage at stronghold 4-i" . I keep listening and I believe I heard the call sign of my counterpart and their confirmation. Then a shell lands next to the dugout, resulting in antenna breakage. When I get outside to fix it there are bullets whining around, but I am confident that they shall miss me. Having repositioned the antenna I repeat my call. I am listening for the response – no- I am not able to hear anything, there is an uninterrupted din going on outside. -I wonder if my message was received? - I feel I am in a sinking ship, tip-tapping distress calls, unsure if anyone is receiving...
Once again I repeat my call sign and my message – a thump – I check the gauge and find that the antenna has been cut off once again. A rapid rumbling starts...I am happy to understand that it is our guns firing now. The Signals officer is still sitting at the telephone set, weeping and talking over non-existent cable to non-existent officers, and to his Platoon, no more alive. He has lost his mind.
At 02.00hrs we receive a message: “Enemy 300m in your rear” . There we were, about a dozen men, clueless and helpless: what to do? Finally a platoon that had been in rest returns. During their return they have eliminated the enemy outfit. One of my pals brought a telegram for me: “Hooray it is a boy! All OK. Your Tyyne”. The message, three weeks in transit, was a small sign of life from another world here among corpses.
Such were the days at Taipale. In the course of he time we were unable to hold the positions. We retreated half a kilometre. In the darkness of the night we, two Corporals, were walking slowly. One of us was pulling a small sled and the other one held it steady. The sled was loaded with our radio transceiver. Our journey was accompanied by shells, projector beams and jets of MGs. We reached our destination: a small dugout equipped with a stove – what a luxury. We had a chance to eat and make coffee.
The next morning (12.March) I was posted to the radio station in the Commander's dugout. In the evening we listened to the news but there was “nothing new”. Swedish news promised an extra piece of news. We listened to other stations in the meanwhile – we were waiting – and finally at 03.15hrs German news informed us that the peace had been concluded and would be in effect at 1100hrs. There was a lot of static and we could not hear very much. Then more speech, did we hear right, something about the new border? So the war would end today, another eight hours until...I was trying to get some sleep but in vain...
The day broke accompanied by tremendous artillery fire. It was as if boulders would have been rolling. Finally the big brass ordered that firing must cease at 1100hrs. Then it was 1055hrs and we were listening out of doors. The din was just increasing – 4 minutes – 3 – 2 – and the din began to decrease. At 11hrs it was quiet. Peace!
The silence is something terribly odd. My ears are still ringing and I am started by the slightest crack . We listened to the news. The conditions were terrible, our thoughts freeze up hearing them. Each of us is packing his gear, there is a long retreat ahead.
The next night the radio transmits at first the festive Finlandia hymn followed by a speech by Mannerheim: “our Army still stands unconquered before an enemy ...”
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 07, 1960
I was lying flat as a leech. I was groping for any fixed points on the ground to pull my partly paralysed tail end ahead. Warm blood was squishing in my boot. The wound on my side was minor but leaking blood on my belly side, gluing my hair at my garments.
I was in the enemy rear – alone – badly wounded. No more was I a commander. The cupolas of the Svir monastery could be seen silhouetted against the dark sky. There was an abandoned, old moss-covered tsasovna next to me, appearing to be sighing sadly. I saw a small island on the lake next to the monastery. On the island there was the ruin of a very modest cabin. An hermit monk had lived there alone, praying to his dying day.
5.Division – in which I was serving as the KTR3 8. Battery CO – had been since early morning on 21. June 1944 been involved at the Svir monastery in a defensive battle against overwhelming enemy. As the main F.O.O. Of the artillery battalion I was well informed about the situation in our front section. All our our batteries had disengaged and my last task was to lead the fire of heavy mortars. I knew that Päiviö's Company had been in positions to the right of us on the Tank Ridge a couple of hours before. With my F.O.O. Team I was humanly seen free to continue withdrawing to the rear. From our rear, on the road to Aunus (Olonez) some single shots could be heard, from Uutujärvi, some kilometres off. Our left flank had abandoned their positions already in the forenoon but it was my understanding that the forest covered isthmus between the Aunus road and Saarimäensuo bog would provide a retreating route to Enemajoki river where our delaying positions were situated.
I saw behind us on the road a company of enemies marching in closed order toward the previous command post of the Division, “Karhunpesä” This implied that there must be at least one Battalion of enemies behind our back, and we would have to act fast. There was one problem, however. One of my F.O.O. Squads had been subordinated to II/KTR3 and this squad found themselves on our open left wing where enemies kept pushing on in large flocks. The said squad was led by Jouko Siipi (nowadays Dr., Pol. sc. Although wounded and blind)
I knew that saving Siipi's squad could be accomplished only by quick and unscrupulous action. I set my men in defensive position on the isthmus between Pitkänjärvi and Luostarinjärvi lakes until I would get the Siipi squad out or I would be reported on a situation threatening the Päivö Company
To lead the men on the lake isthmus I set a F.O.O who was exhausted and shocked by the action during the day. He also had abandoned his radio operator Veijo Kerola at the observation post. Therefore Kerola had to suffer all the physical and mental pain of a POW. Unfortunately I could not replace the F.O.O. Officer with Eino Valtonen, the army patrol skiing champion because I had sent him the day before to the fire battery. I took three men with me, all armed with SMGs. _In case of hand to hand fighting there was a master wrestler, Matti Simanainen. My Runner Vijam Ovaska, another patrol skiing champion, was at the moment forwarding mortally wounded Lt. Mikkola in the rear. The second man was Esko Hono, who was a good soldier. I cannot recall the name of the third man.
We were proceeding in an open file. I spotted a small unit advancing in the opposite direction. The terrain was hilly and covered with bushes so in the night it was difficult to tell a friend from a foe. I decided to check whether that marching outfit was by chance the Siipi FOO squad. The outfit at the tsasovna could have supported us with their fire in case we would have bumped on the enemy.
I asked who they were but there was no response. We were ready to fire. As the outfit went on they must have left behind a detachment to support them with auto weapons at the edge of the open ground, but fire was opened suddenly from another direction. I was keeping the marching detachment in my eyes so well that I am sure they did not open fire.
I felt how my right leg was hit. It was like a whack with a log. A LMG burst ripped into my calf muscle and pierced the nerves between the lower leg bones. On top of it I was tired after being in action several days and nights. A F.O.O. Post must be in complete battle standby. I had not eaten anything during the last 24 hrs. I did not receive any packets from home, I had forbidden sending them. My boots had chafed my heels raw. I did not have any socks. I felt uncomfortable. A moment ago I had decided to die standing up but now I was lying on the ground and I found my hand was shaking. Fear or nervous reaction to wounds? My armament was next to nothing, because a pistol in modern war is but a cap gun. Yet I did not even think of suicide.
Directed by my instinct I kept creeping for a hillock. I heard whispering but I was not sure of it. Maybe it was Simanainen who wanted to make sure if I had fallen or not. Like a seal I dragged myself on with my arms and my rear end followed. I used my teeth at times because I felt I had to hurry to get to the top of the hillock to see anything. Then I saw next to me a dark lump that was being shaken by merciless SMG fire. It was a fallen Finn who had dropped his SMG. It was a welcome present for me. I decided to remove the spare mag from the belt of the fallen man despite the firing. Just as I had it in my hand firing started again, and I was sprayed in the face by a jet of liquid from the gut of the dead man, the smell was not the very best. My face would definitely have been worth of being a model for a war artist, it was so bloodied, soiled and grinning .
A man who has actively participated in every required shooting match of officer and NCO shooting clubs and societies can trust his shooting skill acquired in the course of 20 years enough not to get nervous for trifles. I took a firing position to cover the area the enemy was moving about and where they had fired from. I aimed for test and rested my weapon. I set the spare mag next to me. I did not have any hand grenades.
My firing position was unparalleled. The sparse dead yesteryear grass provided good cover against being seen. There was a half-rotten fallen birch with the colour of my clothing. The birch trunk and my face merged into one in the twilight of the night. A small saucer shaped dell on top of the hillock provided me a protected firing position. Craftiness is a military virtue. I selected the position next to the dead man because he, being visible, would attract enemy fire. Being aware that in twilight the muzzle flame of a burst would betray my position, and knowing that no ammunition resupply would be coming, I decided to fire single shots.
At this stage I still believed that the F.O.O. Next to the tsasovna would act, because he had more than ten good men in his command. Later I learned that the said officer, having learned of my outfit engaging the enemy, again ran.
Finally I was forced to open fire, although I had avoided it, because the enemy seemed to be moving about haphazardly here and there. Most likely they were sweeping the battleground, but there was one man heading right for the fallen man. I let him approach to a distance of about 20m before firing one well aimed shot. In the twilight of the night I remembered how I often in a shooting match had missed the target due to a small twitch. My battle, if it can be called with the name, was fought at a range of 10 to 50m. No wonder that every bullet of the SMG was lethal. I could only wonder why the enemies were so careless. Finally they began to wonder where their comrades kept disappearing. Single SMG shots were easy to ignore. Maybe they started checking why a man who had dropped did not get up any more.
Now another stage of my action started. Every enemy disappeared from my sight. I, too, had to improve my lookout. The enemies, however, did not have the presence of mind being quiet but kept shouting at each other. I was badly scared as a man suddenly got up and kept walking right at the fallen man and me. Quickly I turned by shooting direction and pulled the trigger but my side was hurting and the shot was a summary one. The man fell and yelled, but another man stood up from a bush and began to drag the wounded man in the cover of the bushes. Of course I shot him first.
Apparently the enemy had now received a real leader because I heard sharp command words and clicking of auto weapon bolts. Fire was opened in a volley and once more I felt the bite of bullets. A birch next to me was hit by a burst of which one ricocheted at my cheek, penetrating into my mouth and knocking out one tooth. I spat out a tooth and the bullet, and so I am able to answer the question: is a fired bullet hot? It is burning hot! In a blink of an eye my tongue was burnt.
My wounds were not such as to incapacitate me. I had forgotten my every hope of getting help. There was one target, so powerful that I forgot everything else. This was the last match of my life, not on victory but on score. This thought of mine was followed by a surprise. Suddenly I started feeling sleepy. I tried to watch but I did not spot any movement nearby. It may have been the Beelzebub himself who whispered in my ear: Put up the SMG butt to signal surrender. But another factor reacted: it was my military training, I recalled beyond decades like a telegram: the military oath: once I had sworn by G-d to do my duty to the very end.
I admit that I did not remember the oath such as it actually is but the essence of it. I was handed a helping hand to be able to withstand even more. I am telling this because it has as a memento been indelibly etched on my soul because it proves that military training is basing on science. It cannot be modified by bookish quackery at will. I would not have believed it without personal experience. I wish to add that I am not at all a brave man. I have feared a lot but already as a small boy I learned to hide my fear, sometimes successfully. Also military training has helped me greatly in this respect.
Uneven firing went on. I did not fire many more shots any more. I knew for certain that the end of the arc of my life was there. I felt very tired. The idea of honour was strange to me then. I had to fight against exhaustion which I had learned in sport, practising cross country running.
I had reached the point where something had to happen. Now I was being fired at instead of my fallen mute comrade. I felt blood rushing in my mouth. Yet I managed roll on the bottom of the dell. I was not able to breath. My head was twitchingly sinking in a turf. I was about to choke. This time a bullet had entered my right shoulder above the collarbone, pierced my lung lengthwise and exited next to the spine. My ears started ringing violently. The painful feeling of suffocation vanished. I was just existing, for now. I could not tell if I was breathing or if my heart was beating. I was expecting the last blow on my head from a SMG butt. I heard sounds of a foreign language at a distance but the enemy did not yet find out about the mysterious foe.
I had now a chance to account on my life. Actually I did not feel as much pain as recently. I felt very drowsy, and having squeezed everything out of myself I had an internal feeling of satisfaction, which is a great reward for accomplished work, and in this case the only one.
I heard the clanking of tank tracks on the road. I guessed that tanks had started rolling toward Finland. I heard a signal bugle call. Maybe the blood red flag was run up the flagpole of the monastery. It may have been just then as I heard somebody say in Finnish that there are four corpses there. It may have been Siipi's F.O.O. Squad running for the tsasovna lake isthmus. I tried to express my existence by crooking a finger – but the finger did not obey. If I had succeeded, I would of course have received an off-hand burst of SMG fire through my body.
I heard distant artillery fire. I tried to guess if it was the registration of Enema delaying position targets. Even some very distant small arms fire could be heard.
Then I recalled my sons, three of which were already serving as boy-soldiers in their military districts, as Runners. The two youngest helpless ones had been evacuated to Sweden. From this it may have occurred me to pray.
- Master, the lord of fate. If you are merciful, please stop the enemy hordes latest at the national border, because surely you cannot allow them to rape Finland. Let my sons live in a free and independent Finland and grow up to decent men. If you shall put my sons in this same situation, help them withstand their lot in a manly fashion. Please hear this last prayer of a dying warrior!
I started feeling better. My senses were dimming fast. I could clearly hear a hallucination, a poem on death by Aleksis Kivi. My consciousness dimmed out or then I sunk into a deep sleep caused by loss of blood and mental and physical exhaustion.
I learned later that I had been lying on the field for over a day and a night. The enemies found me in a state of shock when they were assembling the dead. It was not my military training that helped me to survive. It was due to decades of sport and regular habits of life. According to the doctors my heart was so strong that it was able to go on while the rest of my machinery had partly stalled already.
I felt sun warming my back that was soaking wet by a heavy rain. I was shivering with cold – I felt I was alive. I realised I was a POW in trouble. JI heard sound of speaking just next to me.
My attempts to move were spotted at once. I was turned on my back and an interrogation, by some kind of formula and through interpreter, started immediately. I passed easily because my tongue and cheeks were swollen, impeding my speech. I blabbered incomprehensible words. One of the interrogators was a HQ level officer. He came to me, and while feeling the quality of the fabric of my trousers he asked me in Russian if I speak Russian. I shook my head. Next he started, gesticulating in the Russian manner, to explain to the other officers and beckoned to the battlefield where I had been found. They called me a high commander, the purpose of which I could not find out. UI understood better the regards of the officers. There was no hate in them. This time the interrogation was humane. I was handed over to the GPU. I saw in the regards of everyone that they were sympathetic. I wanted to imagine that the officers would have liked to see me off by shouting: -Bravo Wickstöm - do not give up!
I remembered a poem and sage guidance for life by Omar Khayyam ...
Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.
Having been recovered enough in a POW hospital in Tserepovets, Wikström/Seitavuori was transferred to a POW camp. Officers were better treated in imprisonment than the rank and file, they even had some privileges. There however was no means to communicate with home.
Seitavuori did not believe he would survive the imprisonment. The camp was ridden with diseases that ended the life of many a POW. Finally, late in the autumn, there was news that they would be set free.
Having returned from his seven month war imprisonment he found himself an officially dead man at Christmas in 1944. The Lieutenant who was receiving returning POWs was greatly surprised as Seitavuori identified himself. The same Lieutenant had attended to Seitavuori's burial, actually.
At the Svir three men had seen Seitavuori on the battlefield seriously wounded. Consequently he was declared dead and a military burial ceremony had been carried out. The surprise return of the Captain from the dead was a shock to his family. Seitavuori also had to receive sad news, as one of his sons evacuated to Sweden had died in a car accident.
Returning from the dead proved to be complicated. When visiting the vicarage he was asked for a doctor's certificate to return him to the rolls of the living. The doctor, however, demanded a certificate from his parish to begin with. Finally the problem was solved and Seitavuori was paid his salary for his POW period.
Later the veteran decided to abandon his family and moved to Inari to live as a hermit. Seitavuori lived as one for more than 20 years, living off the land by hunting and fishing. He stated that he needed the loneliness to care for his mental health. He sent his pension to his sons.
(Also he had changed his surname from Wikström to Seitavuori. (“Sami sacred hill”)
https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2015/08/2 ... kuolleista
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- Location: Finland
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 08, 1960
Winter war breaks out at Kivennapa, Carelian Isthmus. The author was a JP2 Platoon leader.
The morning of 30 Nov 1939 was dawning. The reveille had just happened and we were drinking the morning tea in our tent in a sturdy fir forest. It was pitch black outside, being just 0700hrs as there were two explosions in our positions.
-The stone breakers sure are...someone said, obviously he would have continued “starting early” but he was interrupted. Shell whining was heard, splinters were whistling about and snapping at trees. It was a plain message. Tea mugs stopped at our lips, we looked each other in the eye, an odd feeling grabbed us in the chest, thoughts were criss-crossing in our brains, all centering on one terrible word – WAR!
The only idea expressed aloud, calmly, was by Lt. Verho.
-That's it !
We were in a happy position when having to enter the reality of war without being informed on its breakout. We did not have to wait in fear, instead the very first shells declared us war. They energized our every muscle, hardened our gaze and tensioned our minds, not to fear but to tough, unflinching resolution. They made us soldiers. It was a tremendous experience!
We donned our helmets and shouldered straps. The belt with its cartridge pockets, the bread bag with iron rations and field kettles, portfolio with maps, gas mask and flare pistol were soon being carried. I got out, took my rifle and I was ready to rally my platoon. The boys were just getting out of the tents, they took their rifles, SMGs or LMGs from the racks. There was no fuss, there was no pushing, instead everyone was preparing to get going calmly and quickly.
Well boys, let us go then, it was my first war command. It was just a piece of information, and the platoon was following me in a sparse file.
It was still dark, muzzle flames were flashing in the East, shells were screaming in the air, bursting on the ground and splinters were whining. They appeared to whine so nastily close that we ducked every now and then. Often it was in vain because we were not yet able to estimate the range by hearing, we were unfamiliar with the music of the war.
We were met by the Lipola villagers, women and children, bare-headed, half-dressed, who had just got up from their beds. Terrified, they were heading West trying to get away from the action. WE made it successfully in our trenches, liaised with our neighbours and reported to the Company CO: Platoon Erola has manned the positions.
There was a grand sight in front of us. Almost every house of the Lipola village was in flames. A huge red bonfire rose to the sky, illuminating the surroundings, and the Eastern sky was alive with muzzle flames.
In front of our lines, on the opposite edge of forest there were large piles of pit props. I had assembled an incendiary team made up of Cpl. Tahvanainen and Jaegers Remes, Pulkkinen and Aro and I sent them to torch the pit props using petrol bottles. They however were not able to ignite the snow covered piles but returned with task unaccomplished.
-Lieutenant, Sir, I shall torch them, Jaeger Paassila volunteered, took a couple of bottles and left. And behold, the piles caught fire, Paassila returned with a broad smile and said in his native SW dialect: -Surely a man can make wood burn as long as he has a bottle of petrol.
The boy pulled a hand grenade out of his pocket and said:
I inserted the detonator on my way. It was a bit tight but it went home as I gave it a push.
I had erroneously given him a stick grenade detonator which is a bit too big for a hand grenade
We degreased the barrels of our guns with swabs, without allowing the shells disturb us. We just were listening to their scream and explosion, if there was one, because there were plenty of duds among them. Artillery and mortars were active on both sides, and there was an enemy artillery spotter plane with red stars hovering overhead . Masa Seppälä of Er.P5 visited us, reconnoitring the route to our positions.
- Should you need any help some time, so we find ourselves behind you.
-noise of minor exchange of shot was heard. We spotted a man teetering toward our trench. I guessed he must be from the field stronghold and I went over the top to meet him. Yes, he was Jaeger Tossavainen from the Vilola field stronghold. The boy was tired, he had defended himself against eight men and finally got lost from his outfit. The rest of Vilola's men had retreated via the Luokkanen stronghold as they had been ordered to do.
The enemy shelling stepped in the rear, and rifle fire could be heard at the Tulli field stronghold, combined with LMG shooting. It was Uki and his men engaging. The din increased on both sides, our artillery and mortars were sending their packets but the field stronghold was not able to resist the superior enemy, their fire started slackening. Why did Uki not retreat? Soon there were enemies swarming in the forest behind the burning pit prop pile. A LMG was there, he kept firing like h*ll but at what, they could not see us? Oh, they were chasing two men creeping in a ditch. Cpl. Paavola took out the LMG and those two men made it to my stronghold. They were a Border guard sergeant and Jaeger Kuokkanen, Uki's men from the Tulli stronghold. Kuokkanen was unarmed, he had had to leave behind the LMG. They had been in a tough spot. The men told us that no one shall return from Tulli any more. 2nd Lt Salonen had fallen in a burst of MG fire and Cpl. Päälä's squad had been totally wiped out. Uki had been killed! It was a piece of news hitting me harder than a shell landing near by. My best pal had fallen in the very first morning of the war! But no one can avoid one's fate. It was your fate, Uki, to make the supreme sacrifice as the first man in the first line, to die as a sentinel of the border. It was a beautiful death.
The field stronghold had completed its role in the tragedy of war and now it was our duty to enter
the scene. Paavola had fired the first shots that had killed the crew of the Russian LMG but ever more men kept appearing in the forest behind the burning pile of pit props. One rider dared to ride to the road but was dropped from the saddle by one accurate shot of Paavola's rifle. The man may have been a Commissar because stretcher bearers hurried to him at once. LMGs were rattling like angry dogs, bullets were making sounds in the fir trees, dropping branches on us, but the enemy was aiming too high. We did not yet reveal our LMG but we just fired our accurate rifles at targets of opportunity. The Russians appeared to head for the Luokkanen stronghold and soon vanished from our sight. I reported my observation to our CO and Luokkanen so that they should be prepared.
The enemy seemed to be preparing an attack, and since there was less open ground in front of Luokkanen's stronghold they apparently were going to storm there. By now it was afternoon and just four hours to darkness. What if they attack not until it is dark ? I could not care less, the huge pit prop piles of Enso-Gutzeit forestry company were burning, maybe all through the night, but the flames did not provide light in front of my neighbour.
Enemy mortars fired a barrage. It was a brief one and as soon as it ended a tremendous shooting broke out. What a quantity of auto weapons the enemy had! Their attack was launched at once. Every weapon was active on both sides, enemies were mown down like hay. Cpl. Tahvanainen's boys kept up intense firing, and I set out to greet them. I watched how Jaeger Remes, a logger from the North, took a new target in his sights. Bullets were splattering at the fir trees but he was not disturbed, the shot rang out and another man dropped. “Take it easy” I had told the boys but my Jaegers did not need any advise on that, it was more than that. The man did not blink an eyelid even when a shell burst next to him and bullets were stripping branches off the trees, instead he aimed calmly and when he had hit his target he would smile contentedly.
The fire from Luokkanen's stronghold suddenly ceased, not a single shot more was heard. No matter! Even though there were men like ants streaming from the forest to the open bog, they were allowed to advance right in front of our positions and it was not until then as the MG s opened fire. They were firing entire belts in one go, mowing down the attackers on the snow. There the battles of the first day ended. The first attack of the foe had been repelled in a bloody manner.
Before midnight we received snow camo suits which we did not have yet, and food, too, although cold as we had to fetch it with field kettles from a distance of several kilometres, but it did taste good. We also received ammo replenishment during the night. But the cold began to harass us, since our boots had got wet because in the boggy terrain there was water even at the bottom of the communications trenches. Then the temperature began to turn to freeze. If only our dugouts would be complete instead of the open pits they now were, then we could have some rest. But where there is a will there is a way. We carried hay from some barn in our positions. We laid down on each other with some hay in between like canned herrings. I found myself at the bottom of the pile and it was warm, but at times I had to get up and stretch my numb members.
In the small hours I decided to get some sleep in a barn nearby with my Runner, Jaeger Eglantine. Just as we had managed to reach some kind of torpor, Paavola arrived to report that enemy tanks were on the move. We could indeed hear clanking of tracks in the Tulli dale, and our artillery was shooting there.
Dammit, tanks had crossed he Saijanjoki river and they surely would be rolling in our positions in the morning! Then there would be another tune in the music.
The night between November and December 1939 was long indeed.
It was early morning on the first of December. Before sunrise we had to torch the Harsia cabin that was still standing. It was a dangerous task because the enemy was right behind the cabin. Jaegers Pesonen and Sotkasiira set out for an attempt, they made it there and managed to ignite a fire.
- Let's go , Sotkasiira said but Pesonen did not agree.
- Let's see first if the fire will spread.
At the same moment the Russians spotted what the boys were up to and opened fire .
Now the Jaegers started their return journey and made it right in front of our trench where Pesonen was hit by a burst. He stumbled and fell on the snow, rising up no more. In that way the lad from Kuusamo sacrificed his life on the altar of war while doing his duty.
Soon thereafter the enemy artillery launched a strafe. The main intent appeared to be to make a breach in the tank hindrance line, and shelling went on until daybreak. In the meanwhile there was a Politruk making an agitation speech in the prop pit forest, and every now and then we could hear a chorus yelling “uraa”. Yesterday we had agreed with artillery on support requests and now all that was needed was to fire red flares with my flare gun to make shells fall upon the podium of the Politruk.
What a miss ensued! My flare gun had revealed to the enemy that there was a “high commander” in the tip of the tongue of forest and they started pouring in fire accordingly to take me out. Shells began to rain in our positions in such a rate that we had to pull back the men 150m to another trench line. Only the sentries were left to observe. As the shelling ended we returned to the front line.
The enemy was approaching my stronghold but they were suffering heavy casualties because our fire was accurate. I was also there with the rifle butt against my cheek, waiting for a target to appear. There was a man, getting up to dash and at the same moment I pulled the trigger. The enemy dropped! I felt like having dropped a heavy burden. It was the first enemy that I personally had scored. Now I would not die not having sent a single enemy to West.
The Company CO informed that Cadet Turtola was going to attack the Leivonmäki hill and warned against shooting there. The enemy had surprised our AT gun at Leivonmäki. It was rumoured that the Russians had been wearing JP2 tunics so that our boys had misidentified them. Now Turtola was trying to assist them with a handful of men picked from various platoons, I contributed with a half squad led by Pfc. Kupela. It was in vain to attack with such a small force. Turtola had to return having lost one man killed and a couple of wounded
Kupela's men hurried back to their positions that were under a heavy enemy onslaught. Six tanks were attempting to break through between the weapons nests of Teräväinen and Keskitalo, but they were not able to cross the two row stone hindrance. One tank climbed on the hindrances, rocked there for a moment but then fell back. Kupela's half-squad, Officer Trainee Oksanen and Jaegers Vilkki and Pietiläinen, four men, took out one and a half enemy platoons. After the battle each of them was decorated with a stripe on their shoulder lapel. We also took the first POW, a sixteen years old Lieutenant or Sub-Lieutenant. While being evacuated to the first aid post he bled to death, however.
Pfc. Vuorinen, the deputy of Keskitalo's squad, ran to me, out of breath:
-Lieutenant, Sir, they are shooting from somewhere at the bottom of the trench.
I hurried there to see. The boys were bewildered, then Jaeger Kaitasuo's helmet rang as a bullet swept it. Indeed, bullets were sweeping the trench lengthwise. It was emerging from an enemy MG spotted in the attic window of the Paavilainen house, untorched so far. After a while mortar bombs were hitting the house which caught fire.
I had to admire the skill of Lt. Pokkinen, the bombs hit squarely and not almost. The enemy retaliated by starting a barrage at the stone hindrance line and all the environment was ploughed black. There was an enemy direct fire cannon firing across our tongue of forest and great fir tees were cut like matches. When I had spotted it firing from the hill NW of Kivisilta I sent Lehtinen to inform the mortar outfit. They started responding the fire at once and oh man how they knew how to shoot. The direct firing cannon fell silent at once but the barrage at the hindrances went on without interruption.
At 14.00hrs Lt. Verho's runner, Pfc. Halonen arrived with a message, he pushed in my hand a piece of paper: “The Company shall disengage at 1400hrs, rallying at the campsite” I felt foolish and asked why this, and Halonen told me that the enemy had broken through on our left. Well, there was nothing to do but to quit and run fast, because it was already past 1400hrs. Russians did not detect our withdrawal, their barrage at the hindrances went on, undiminished. Lt. Verho was already waiting for his Platoon leaders at the campsite. It seemed he had a bloody scratch on his cheek. We received new orders: “New positions at Valkjärvi”.
WE had not been issued skis, instead we had to trudge in soft snow and our progress was slow, and the darkness caught up with us. We had marched out of the Lipola map leaf and I did not have the next one. I was familiar with the district but it was difficult to orientate in dark forest. Wading in the snow was a hard task, and we had to rest every now and then. I was swaying like a drunken man, and seeing it Jaeger Remes wanted to carry my rifle. My self-esteem did not allow that, I kept carrying it. Finally we reached the next line at Nirkkola. The men carrying ammunition were totally exhausted and we had still six kilometres to go, on road, but it was too much for tired out men.
We were so lucky that Er.P1 HQ provided us with a lorry. Before embarking I downed a glass of hot tea that was provided for me by Tauno Talikainen, a Valkjärvi lad who had been my teammate in the Finnish baseball club Valkjärven Vauhti. Didn't it taste good! Next the entire platoon hopped on the lorry platform and we set out.
Having arrived at the terrain where we had been ordered to in Lipola I met Cadet Turtola. He told me that the Battalion is to rally at the Saarijärvi road. The lorry turned back, we rode almost to our old peacetime camp and then started the march for Saarijärvi. The road was familiar but looking totally different from what it had been. It had been beaten up by shellfire, because the enemy had been able to fire this deep with their heavy artillery.
In the forest warden hut I reported Capt. Mäntylä, the Battalion CO, that my Platoon had returned from Lipola, and then we had a meal, and it was a solid one. W did not remain there but having received bikes from the baggage train we rode the snow covered road to Pasurinkangas. There we set up our cap and fell in deep sleep. All of the fighters of Lipola were asleep, some for ever on the snow in Lipola, the rest dead tired in their tents at Pasurinkangas, ignorant of their future fate.
JP 2, 1.Coy war diary
06.00hrs Reveille and morning tea
07.00hrs Alert as the Russian artillery started firing
07.00hrs Battle, separate battle report. (none found) Withdrawal order on 1.12. at 1400hrs
03.00hrs Coy bivouacked in the terrain W of Väärämäki shooting range
Company had rest and gear maintenance all day. Casualty list sent, and order to replace lost equipment. Cartridge resupply. Weapons cleaned.
JP2 war diary: (hand written in a grid paper notebook) 30 Nov-1 Dec 1939:
07.00hrs Russ.artillery started bombardment with artillery. Bomb.target Lipola and the surroundings of Valkjärvi.
8.45hrs Bombardment continuing.
JP2 HQ was loaded for departure readiness to move to another command post
Radio stations were set up
9.18hrs 2700 reported from Uusikirkko
Direction Viipuri:plenty of aircraft. At Kivennapa uninterrupted artillery fire.
9.30hrs 3./JP3 was issued order to send patrols from Sgt. Parola's platoon to the sites of previous field strongholds.
9.35hrs Report: Coy Hyttinen disengaged at 08.45hrs. Ready to disengage at Korpikylä, they torched the houses covering shooting field. At Haukanmaa 3 aircraft have made a low level attack at Lipola.
9.40hrs (Btn) CO issued order to Coy Hyttinen to send out patrols and liaise with the previous ones (?)
9.40hrs Order to Lt. Valkonen (?) to man (illegible) positions.
9.35hrs 424 orders to report to 573 that 1065 has three ammunition rations for Keihäs .
9.43hrs 511 forwarded the abovementioned message.
9.45hrs 2700 reported: 4 single engine enemy a/c E of Viipuri.
9.50hrs Air raid alert from “Hakku”
9.52hrs 27 reports 6 single engine enemy a/c at Perkjärvi, heading East
9.57hrs JP2 CO order to “Leka”: fire over the border can be opened but they must shoot as soon as the enemy has crossed the border
“Leka” reports that a rifle battle is starting in Lipola
10.07hrs Report: rifle fire at Lipola is not intense, most likely patrol fighting.
10.10hrs 1 single engine enemy a/c overhead at “Moukari” passing to the direction of Lipola.
Report that the Battalion is able to pass via “Vasara2”
10.15hrs “Leka” reports: At the hindrance line from Vaittila to Papinmäki a major number of enemies have been spotted.
Report: The bridges at the Vaittila mill have been blown up.
10.20hrs Enemy artillery restarted bombardment, they had stopped for a whine. Ended at 10.30hrs.
10.30hrs Mäntylä reported: the enemy is advancing from the border to the direction of Riitakanges SE of Höltänjärvi lake, strength about one battalion.
10.35hrs JP2 CO forwarded the above report to the Group CO.
10.-40hrs Hakala reports: the enemy, about one battalion, is advancing from Papinmäki to the direction of Ritakangas
10.55hrs Vila field stronghold has withdrawn without casualties.
10.58hrs Mäki reports: still in the previous positions.
11.07hrs Lt.Valkonen reports:
Map 1:20000. 3./Er.P5 has manned the Vaittila- Ratsjärvi line at 10.05hrs with 4 platoons. Liaison patrols sent to contact Lts. Häkkinen and Lindholm. There is a telephone in the old bivouac providing connection to Peura .
11.10hrs At Riihiö about one Coy of enemies advancing supported by mortar fire to the direction of the Riihiö field stronghold. The stronghold has withdrawn to the direction of Vehmainen
Vehmainen and Kaukjärvi are burning since 07 hrs.
Calm at the Härkäjärvi line.
11.15hrs “Leka 1” Reports: The hindrance line from Vaittilanjärvi to P-niemi crossed at 8.30hrs.
At 10.hrs enemy crossed the road form Lipola to Arjanniemi. The strength of the advancing outfit probably less than one Btn.(Unverified information)
11.20hrs report: the enemy has shot up one of 1./JP2 lorries. Replaced by one of the Sappers' (?) lorries .
11.22hrs Lepola Tulli being attacked by enemy about 15min ago. Stronghold men withdrawing to the main defence line of 1./JP2.
11.25hrs report : Connection from “Vasara1” to “Lieka” cut off. Troubleshooting patrol sent out.
11.30hrs Contact with “Loka” established.
11.35hrs “Loka” reports: At Levonmäki, an enemy outfit of one or two Platoons is advancing.
11.40hrs The same forwarded to Capt. Väinölä of the Group.
11.50hrs report from “Leka” At Kivisilta enemy strenght is unknown.
11.55hrs The same reported to the Group as well as to Lt.Hyttinen
12.00hrs Lt. Rönkkö reports: Sending a strong patrol to the direction of Kivisilta.
12.05hrs Group HQ reporting: At Raassuli an outfit of 2 Platoons has struck, enemy losses 10 KIA, our casualties: none
12.05hrs Lapio reports: Enemies from the direction of Tulli to the direction of Lapio. They are grouping. Less than one Coy.
12.33hrs Lt. Väänänen liaised with Runner to JP2 HQ Coy.
12.40hrs “Hakku” reports: They are hearing sparse exchange of rifle shots in the front, recently they took an artillery strafe.
13.10hrs “Leka” reports: 6 tanks have arrived at Lipola.
Coy A* set out to launch a counterstrike against the enemy outfit that has broken in our lines.
13.15hrs Report to the Group on the tanks.
13.40hrs 2700 reports: air raid alert over.
14.05hrs Air raid alert from the East
14.25hrs Capt. Mäntylä reports: on the isthmus Vaittila-Höltänjärvi there is a rifle battle.
14.40hrs Korpikylä is in the hands of the enemy, enemy strength about 1 Coy.
15.15hrs 2700 reports: Air raid alert over. 7 a/c have left.
15.18hrs Capt. Mäntylä (reports): The lines at Yläntölä being bombarded by enemy artillery.
15.20hrs Lt. Valkonen's recon report, Appx.2
15.45hrs Capt Ranttila (reports): At Kolkkala the enemy has rallied on the road, about 3 platoons.
Reported the above mentioned to “Leka” and “Mäki”.
17.25hrs “Hakku1” reports to “Leka” that the enemy has withdrawn. He has sent patrols in the
18.30hrs 12 horses from Er.P2, 4 of which to b sent to Capt. Mäntylä. The CO managed to contact Capt. Mäntylä. (Manning of Kukkula /the hill).
04.05hrs Strong artillery fire in the South and South-East.
7.55hrs Enemy artillery strafe at Valkjärvi, our battery retaliated.
7.55hrs Artillery fire ceased.
8.05hrs Telephone connections cut off to Lipola
8.36hrs Radio contact to Lipola for information.
8.40hrs Mäntylä. About 6 or 7 tanks arrived at the stone hindrance and they are firing at it, but they are not able to cross it. Rifle battle going on. At times fire strikes. Nothing special from Coy Häkkinen.
At Yläntölä and Höltänjärvi it is calm.
8.40hrs Tel. Connection to Lipola established.
8.50hrs “Leka” reports: The connection between Leka and their artillery firing position has been cut off.
9.10hrs 1 enemy tanks at the forward stronghold of 2./JP2.
9.45hrs Lt. Rönkkö reports: 3 a/c without national emblems flown at Rampela, speed 300km/h, altitude 150m.
9.43hrs Commandant reports: 6 to 8 enemy a/c W of Kiviniemi.
10.00hrs 2700 reports:4 enemy a/c E of Äyräpää.
Calm in Orjansaari.
10.02hrs “Leka” reports: nothing special
10.04hrs Air raid alert still on
10.05hrs 3 enemy tanks heading for the front stronghold of 2./JP2, not there yet
(Entries 10.02-10.05 may be overstruck)
10.35hrs “Kirves” reports: Infantry battle going on at Lipola, heavy artillery is firing
10.40hrs Rasma's (?) battery is ordering ammunition.
10.40hrs Vuottaa in the hands of the enemy.
10.50hrs “Between Raasuli and Maaselkä this morning a heavy enemy attack but it was beaten back. Palkeala has been abandoned. Nothing special in Orjansaari.” Info bulletin by R Group.
11.07hrs”Basaari2” reports: tel.(?) connection cut off. (Working at 13.05hrs)
11.55hrs Kiviniemi voluntary fire brigade hall burning(?). Air raid alert called off
12.25hrs Air raid alert from Kiviniemi.
12.43hrs Radio message from Capt. Mäntylä, Appendix 4
13.05hrs Capt. Mäntylä reports: Enemy tanks, four of which have been knocked out. Heavy artillery firing. Asking for 150 shells for the 5. Battery. Ordered.
13.10hrs Äyräpää reports: 6 enemy A/C flying, direction to the border
-”- 5 a/c passed the command post
13.15hrs 3 enemy a/c flew over Valkjärvi .
13.19hrs 6 enemy a/c attacking SE of Oravaniemi.
13.33hrs Capt. Mäntylä reports: At Lipola plenty of tanks and a lot of enemies rallied, our troops are not able to hold their positions but they are retreating.
13.37hrs JP2 CO order to Capt. Mäntylä: You are allowed to withdraw when you consider it necessary. Report to JP2 CO when leaving.
13.28hrs Enemy artillery bombarding. No information on casualties. Communications cut off. One AT gun left. (radio message) Not mentioned by whom. Tr.rem.
13.40hrs Report to Er.P5 on the situation in Lipola. (Disengaging started)
13.43hrs Contact with “Vasara2” cut off.
-”- Report to Maj. Vieska on the situation in Lipola.
13.50hrs Report. JP2 field kitchens are situated on the roadside at Kuoppalampi
13.55hrs Report to Sihvo that the disengagement to Sipola (?) starts.
14.00hrs. The Commander issued an order to the Liaison officer to go and set up the staff in the old command post. The needed number of NCOs and men shall join him.
14.10hrs Alert: 14 enemy a/c E of Heinjoki
14.15hrs The Commander issued orders to the various leaders of the staff sections on moving to the new command post . (In the margin: Move started about 14.50hrs)
-”- Tel. connection cut off to Vasara2 and Leka.
14.50-55hrs JP2 CO informed the Group CO on the disengagement and the phases of the withdrawal.
14.57hrs The Valkonen Coy, subordinated to JP2, has been transferred back to Er.P5.
15.04hrs Order to JP2: The Battalion shall rally N of the Nurmijärvi road
15.10hrs 2700 reports: One friendly a/C shall take off about after one hour. The route shall be Vuottaa-, Tali – Suur-Merijoki.
15.15hrs Contact with Capt. Mäntylä established. Order to him to arrive at Hännilä.
15.15hrs The Supplies Officer etc. set out for the new command post.
15.20hrs To Staff Sgt. Martimo: Take the horses to Korpioja to receive the sleds sent there.
15.30hrs At Könnilä arrived the 1.Coy CO, JP2 Adjutant and a little later Mäntylä. They reported the CO the situation.
16.00hrs The Commander left the command post in Könnilä
16.15-18hrs JP2 CO reported to the L Group CO on the situation in the Group command post at Iso-Pappila.
18.15hrs The Commander arrive at the new command post.
18.40hrs – The Commander visited the Companies
19.50hrs and issued an order to the arrived Companies to to move with their bikes to Pasurinkangas. Häkkinen's and Pakkainen's Companies had not yet arrived in totality.
23.40hrs “Ilves 5” reports: Patrols have swept the area from the Ratsjoki mill up to the height of Pitkäjärvi. One patrol brought along 9 men of JP3 when returning and now they are at Hiekkalanmäki. No information on Lt Häkkinen and Pokkinen.
- Posts: 685
- Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
- Location: Finland
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 07, 1960
Map in original, page 194.
The ocean harbour of Liinahamari was during the interim peace in 1940-1941 the breathing hole of Finland to the direction of the world. Ships were being unladen and laden 24/7 at the skilfully constructed quays of the harbour. Dozens of ships were waiting for a quay slot at the anchorage while thousands of lorries kept rolling on the 550 km hilly route Liinahamari-Rovaniemi fully laden in both directions. The stevedores, hired from the South, were housed in barracks, cardboard shacks or in tents on the slopes of the fells next to the harbour. They had been followed here in the “Finnish Klondike” by card sharks, bootleggers and prostitutes.
Money was earned in Liinahamari, by hard work, and then lost in a moment in card tables or mesmerized by the eyes of some shady female. It was war that had breathed the life in Petsamo and the Arctic coastline, a feverish day at a time life, but it was war that turned this life restless and dangerous.
The Russian batteries in Kalastajasaarento (Rybatchi peninsula) had opened fire at a Finnish trawler on the 22 June 1941 at 13.00hrs at the mouth of Petsamonvuono fjord, marking the start of the Continuation War. Immediately the evacuation of civilians in Liinahamari started. Finnish Navy at the Arctic coast was represented by the “Suursaari”, an inspection vessel of the Board of Navigation, the “Ruija”, a trawler of the Suomen Kalastus fishing company, the “Turja”, a coast guard vessel plus a 20 to 30 man outfit with a small fishing vessel. After the coast guard duty was taken over by the Germans our “Navy” was subjected to the German harbour commandant in Liinahamari. [The front line from the Petsamo coastline to Kuusamo was held by German troops. Liinahamari was the vitally important nickel ore shipping point. Tr.rem.]
The task of our vessels was to supply the observation posts at the coastline because it was simpler that way than on the bad roads on the difficult terrain. We carried out many a thrilling missions from the Maattivuono fjord, close to the enemy, up to the Heinäsaaret islands. Numerous smaller and larger guns on Kalastajasaarento saw to it that every mission was running a gauntlet.
Inspection ship “Suursaari” and the trawler “Ruija” were mostly employed in towing barges from Liinahamari to the German batteries in Nurmenätti and Paitahamina, thereby having to expose themselves to a Hell at the inlet of the Petsamonvuono fjord. Considering it afterwards it is nearly incredible that those unflinching small vessels survived because the barges in tow prevented any quick turn or zigzagging that provide a vessel under fire a chance to survive. At the inlet of the fjord and in the vicinity several German vessels had been damaged or totally destroyed, among them large freights ships and warships, but our small vessels completed their runs day after day, without losses, week after week, in summer and in winter, at night in the beams of the projectors of Kalastajasaarento, bracketed by shells.
It was in the autumn of 1942 as the coast guard vessel “Turja”, under the command of the author, was ordered to set out for major repairs in Harstad, Norway. Harstad is situated South of Tromsö, at the time a German naval supply and maintenance base. The outward leg of the voyage from Liinahamari to Kirkkoniemi (Kirkenes), Vardö, Honningsvaag and Tromsö was OK except an friendly fire incident off Kirkkoniemi. German coastal battery opened fire at the “Turja” although she had identified herself with signal flags and Morse signals. The shells were unpleasantly falling ever closer to the “Turja” and just as I intended to turn the ship away from the shore, only about four miles off, the shelling ceased and the fort signalled “pass on”
Kirkkoniemi explained me later that the silhouette of the “Turja” had deceptively resembled the conning tower of a submarine, indeed, when deep in water and without masts that was true. The masts had been removed at the beginning of the war and there was just a brief flagstaff behind the wheelhouse. Also the German Kommandant of Liinahamari had sent his message on our voyage delayed so the battery was unaware of our voyage, anyway the battery was unaware of the existence of any Finnish vessels on the Arctic ocean.
After a repair work of six weeks the "Turja" had been rebuilt inside and out. After fuel and food replenishment she sailed to Tromsö where she was issued orders to join as escort a convoy to Kirkkoniemi that was being assembled in Tromsö. On the 25. November 1942 the convoy was ready to depart. It consisted of fifteen freighters, the largest one of 10.000 dw. tons, three German destroyers, six fast guard vessels and the “Turja” . The voyage among the islands from Tromsö to Honningsvaag passed in a single row, the “Turja” being the last vessel.
AS the convoy arrived at Honningsvaag a storm broke out. The wind veered from W to NE and was soon blowing at full force from the Arctic to the Norwegian coast. The convoy was anchored in a lee position and the ship captains were rallied for a briefing in the parlour of a freighter. I remember lively this “powwow”. The subject was the continuation of the voyage, and which ships would try to make it in the circumstances.
The convoy commander ordered the fast boats and the “Turja” to remain in the anchorage to wait for a more favourable weather, but having described the capacity of the “Turja” to withstand heavy sea equally well as larger vessels, I was allowed to join them. While I was standing on the deck of the German freighter waiting to be rowed to the “Turja” the German skippers gave me pitying glances, and one Destroyer Captain advised me to stay in cover. I assured them that the “Turja” shall make it.
The next night and the next day, with a wind force of 9 to 10 beauf., the “Turja” proved to be the best ocean going vessel of the convoy. Regularly and evenly she would push her bows in a raging mountain of water, spilling white foam that swept her deck from bow to stern. While the other ships were struggling to make any headway at all the “Turja” kept advancing. Three times was I forced to turn her back to the convoy, and after the third time I requested permission from the convoy commander to proceed alone to Vardö. I received the permission and was instructed to join the convoy the next day.
We spent a calm night moored at the quay in Vardö, we had a decent hot meal and slept off our fatigue. As the day dawned the next morning the”Turja” again pushed her bows in the waves of the Barents sea, and the slow convoy was easily found.
After the convoy had sailed at bearing 75 deg for some 10 miles past Vardö it veered tightly to the South, for Kirkkoniemi. The wind and heavy sea were now coming from the side and the ships were rolling hard. The short day of the early winter was turning into a dark Polar night. The ships were preparing to arrive at the harbour, some 8 miles remained. Then six enemy bombers appeared on the Eastern horizon in a low altitude.
The convoy AA artillery opened fire but due to the roll of the sea it was inefficient. The last bomber attacked the 8000dwt s/s “Gruender” that was running in front of the “Turja” and hit her with bombs. The “Gruender” started to sink. At first she listed to the left (sic!) and finally started sinking bows first. The right (sic!) side lifeboats were stuck due to the listing but the crew managed to undo the left (sic!) side lifeboats and launch them. The rest of the convoy had continued their voyage in accordance wit the orders while one Destroyer and the “Turja” stayed behind. The “Gruender” sunk fifteen minutes after being bombarded, taking with her the freight: foodstuffs, a great number of Christmas packages and some 4000 kegs of beer.
The “Turja” took the lifeboats in tow, heading for Kirkkoniemi. Despite the heavy sea the lifeboats were in Kirkkoniemi and safe after a two hour struggle. In the bombardment two sailors had been killed and ten wounded, including the Captain of the vessel.
Six of the freighters departed at the small hours of the next day escorted by the German escort vats and the “Turja” for Liinahamari. The wind had died down and a light fog initially appeared to favour us but as the convoy reached the vicinity of Peuravuono fjord the weather suddenly cleared and the searchlights of the Kalastajasaarento batteries were switched on.
The inlet of the Petsamo fjord is only 9 to 12 km from the batteries of Kalastajasaarento, and they were able to make the run to the fjord a steel hell. After a brief search the projector beams found our convoy and the music started playing. The German escort boats headed for the inlet of the fjord at the maximum speed and layed a smokescreen at Pikku-Maattivuono fjord to the North some 4 to 6 miles away . Now the convoy had some cover from observation but the firing continued without respite nevertheless.
I steered the "Turja" farther from the shore. The task of the "Turja" was to stay at the Petsamo fjord inlet and make sure that the merchant vessels would not stray past the fjord to the enemy side. The escort boats had returned having layed the smokescreen and now were zigzagging, securing against submarines. The enemy batteries of Kalastajasaarento were heavilyl shelling the area Peuravuono fjord- Petsamo fjord. The German batteries at Nurmensätti and. Paitahamina retaliated
The ship captains had been ordered when leaving Kirkkoniemi that when approaching Nurmensätti it is no more necessary to keep the ordered convoy speed but every ship must head for the Petsamo fjord at full speed. Most of the vessels had a Finnish pilot on board to aid the Captain, knowing the lie of the land
One ship after the other approached Nurmensätti, turning to the direction of Paitahamina to the cover of the East coast of the fjord. The fifth ship was just entering the Fjord and I was scanning for the sixth, wondering where she had strayed as there was a tremendous explosion followed by a flash of fire, indicating that she had been hit.
But the location of the ship proved that before aiming for the fjord she had been running away from the coastline and now found herself about one and a half miles from the shore. Afterwards it was found that the ship captain had at Kirkkoniemi reported that he had been several times to Liinahamari and he could do without a pilot.
I turned the "Turja" at the burning vessel, her hay and fodder freight was totally in flames all over the ship. The projectors from the enemy side tried to intervene but they soon quit as our smokescreen, slowly drifting the the East, hampered them. As we approached the scene of the accident I saw two lifeboats leaving the ship.
I approached them intending to take them in tow. A German escort vessel came and the Captain told me that the “Turja” can immediately leave for Liinahamari. I followed the order because he was the flotilla commander of the escort vessels, turning the bows of the “Turja” for Petsamo fjord.
The order issued to the “Turja” was fateful to the crew of the German freighter. The escort boat had ordered the lifeboats to row or Nurmensätti, and abandoned them. The shipwrecked sailors had rowed in the right direction but approaching the coastline they began to suspect that they found themselves at the enemy coast, and changed their course to West. Finally they landed at the Western shore of Petsamo fjord and continued to Western direction on foot. Badly dressed and hungry sailors were trudging on the treeless slopes of rocky fells without any cover against the cold of the early winter. Finally they reached Vuoremi where the local German field stronghold provided them refuge. But of the 28 men nine had died during the march.
This incident I described is just one of the several voyages that we made in our narrow territorial waters. During the war every voyage was a throw of dice. Often the enemy artillery at Kalastajasaarento allowed our ships leave the fjord unmolested, just to shell us at double rate as we returned. Our vessels were badly armed, the “Turja” was equipped with one small AA gun and a machine gun, providing moral support.
Note to names: During the 19th century thousands of Finns had emigrated to the Norwegian Finnmark, places populated by Finns had parallel Finnish names.
BTW the “Turja” is still in active use under another name:
Guard Vessel “Turja” was built in 1928 by Sandvikens Skeppsdocka & Mek. Verkstad AB, Helsinki, for the Government of Finland and she served at Petsamo for more than 10 years, During the Winter War she was scuttled in the Liinahamari harbour to prevent capture by enemy. In 1940 she was salvaged and repaired at Trifona. At the end of the Continuation war she sailed to Turku, serving the Coast guard and the Customs for a long time. She was decommissioned in 1976 and sold to private interests one year later, to be used as a yacht. Bought in 1985 by Mr. H E Sea-green, Berserker, Sweden who announced in 1986 that he had renamed the vessel to PETSAMO. Resold 1993 to Kart Skepp Stocksund AB, Stockholm and rebuilt as a passenger vessel. At some stage the original glow plug motor has been replaced by a Volvo Penta TAMD 120 på 300 Hp .
Dimensions 22,73 x 4,60 x 2,70 m - 46 / 14 (Sweref -96)
( Bengt Westin)