Hosted by Juha Tompuri
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- Location: Helsinki, Finland
He lived in a horse farm in the village of Joutselkä in the county of Kivennapa, a place adjacent to Soviet border and through which the Leningrad-Viipuri-road went. So it was also the place where Soviets began their attack.
He was a volunteer member of 3. Rajakomppania, a company sized independent unit collected from among men living in the border villages.
Their mission was to stop Soviet reconnaissance attempts and to delay the main attack. They were in good positions waiting for the attack when it happened. But they had bad luck: a crucial machine gun position received a direct hit, there was confusion among the totally inexperienced and bewildered Finns, and so they fled from their positions. The squad my grandfather was fighting with hid in a ditch and watched Red Army soldiers run past. Afterwards they were able to reach Finnish troops.
So, the defence of Joutselkä is not one of the more heroic stories of Finnish wars, although it is well documented.
Afterwards, men of 3. Rajakomppania fought in Muolaa, Salmenkaita and Kuparsaari, their war lasted from the first minute of Winter War until the last.
My grandfather claims to have destroyed a tank during the war, but not sure if he was telling the truth. Anyway, the story goes as follows: it happened during the time in the war when Finns were running out of men. The frontline was manned by very few men, others were gaining what little rest they could. Mind you, my grandfather was a volunteer, he had not had military training so he was not the first choice for front line. A single tank approached ("you know, even Russians did not have so many tanks, you did not see many of them at the same time and not every day"), my grandfather let it come very near and ambushed it with a molotov cocktail. When ever he told the story, he used to wonder how easily it caught fire, and how long the fire lasted. His Molotov cocktail hit the outside of the tower of the tank.
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Lot of Finnish men were in front lines on war. Their wifes, mums and sisters were at home doing their work as you in Great Britain too.Philip S. Walker wrote:@patrik.possi & Mika68
Thanks for two great personal war stories, which I find very moving.
It's interesting that we normally see these wars mainly from the fighting mens' point of view, but you both start by telling about your grandmothers. That's a strong human quality, as I see it.
I grew up with two brothers, so it was a man's world. Even our dog (Finnish) was a boy. Now I have three daughters and a granddaughter, so I've started to see things from another angle - seems you're already there.
I've tried to watch films like "The Winter War" and "Ambush" with my wife, and it's very interesting how she reacts. I basically see a lot of tough guys I would like to identify myself with, bravely defending their country. My wife just says: "The poor people of Finland," and cries when she sees the civilians refuges. She also says she admires the Finnish men for being so tough, which I find more worrying
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From the same site this contemporary article about the Finnish Civil War called "Amatørkrigen i Finland" ("The Amateur War in Finland") in Norwegian, very easy to read for Danes and Swedes (and Suomalainen who paid attention during their Swedish lessons at school, of course ):
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Gösta Karlsson, Swedish speaking Finn from Purmo, who was called up at the age of 19 as a soldier and served in the Continuation War, tells about his experiences. Lasts 35 min. Highly recommended:
http://www.yle.fi/elavaarkisto/?s=s&g=7 ... 068&a=8284
A mixture of interviews related to home front issues here, reading from diaries etc. Very clear and beautiful Swedish-Finnish accents:
http://www.yle.fi/elavaarkisto/?s=s&g=7 ... 068&a=1913
A program here about Viborg in the Continuation War.
http://www.yle.fi/elavaarkisto/?s=s&g=7 ... 068&a=7439
More of the same from this index page. Fantastic stuff. Radio rules!
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- Joined: 06 Jan 2011 17:44
http://www.kolumbus.fi/pentti.kurkinen/ ... inland.pdf
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- Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
- Location: Finland
Here is a personal story from "Kansa taisteli". This kind of chaotic and anonymous stories, although less dramatic, could be overheard up to 1970's in public saunas...
Close call at Nietjärvi
ed. Paavo Kalliojärvi
Journal "Kansa Taisteli" vol.8, 1985
(This anonymous account was found in the archives of JR44 in the 1980's. The editor has deduced that this must have happened at Nietjärvi.).
Our withdrawal was over. We had been fighting the enemy for three days in a spot with a road to the rear. Finally we were replaced by recovered troops from the second line.
We were not thinking anything else but sleep. As soon as we had organized ourselves in our new placement everyone found a splinter proof place to sleep in.
I was woken up by heavy shelling. The other two men in the same dugout were awake, too. We exchanged serious looks as we knew that now the enemy in earnest was trying to smash our defensive line and roll up the defence of the entire front section.
One projectile hit the trench just next to our dugout . Some burning matter was splashed in our position and the revetment caught fire in several places. The others left, fearing to be burnt alive. I took a blanket and whipped the flames down with it.
Shelling and bombing went on ever harder. That had made me to put out the fire, I was more afraid of the falling shells than the flames that I could deal with.
I had been alone in the dugout for a while. Shelling decreased but was still so intense that I did not believe the enemy would attack yet.
Just then a Runner rushed along the trench and yelled:
- Get into your position, quick, the field is full of Russkies!
I dashed in my position. I saw that there were about a platoon of Vanyas approaching the wire, the first ones were already trying to cut it. At the same moment a Russian ground attack plane flew overhead, dropping two bombs , one of which exploded just next to the enemy and the other one behind me on the side of the ridge. An enemy AT gun fired this spot, too.
I gave fire with my SMG. The neighbours left our wire alone and took cover in the rye field behind them. There they started lighting smoke flares, intending to get into our trench in the cover of smokescreen.
I looked at my sides and saw a man, I yelled him:
- Keep those Russkies down at the wire as long as I am filling my mag!
I took cover to fill up my SMG magazine
- My rifle is jammed! the fellow said and dashed back and forth, agitated.
I kept filling my mag nevertheless, knowing that it would take some time for the Vanyas to reach our positions. I kept my SMG at hand just to be sure in case any enemies would find their way in the trench.
As I returned to my position I spotted a Vanya ten meters from me. He had a big satchel charge in his hand - just getting ready to throw it at me. But I was faster and the man was out. The same happened to a LMG gunner , equally close to the left.
Having emptied my mag I saw that the terrain up to the wire was cleared. But I saw how the enemy was running over our trench near the road.
I handed over an empty mag to the private that I had seen a while ago, told him where to find the ammo and told him to go and fill it. I saw him nevermore, he had had enough of the war and ran away.
I run to a spot with a good view to the rear. I saw that the Vanyas who had broken through at the road would not find themselves behind me for a while. Since I had one full mag I decided to take my old position.
But Vanyas were already jumping over the trench. I fired some shots at them. Then I looked in the anti-tank trench behind our trench: the neighbours had sat down in it, as if having a break, as soon as they had crossed our trench. There were at least 50 men in the AT trench.
I had just started to shoot at them as I heard someone yelling. I found some enemies had passed me along the bottom of the AT trench. One of them shouted for attention and pointed at me.
Immediately I started running to the left in the trench . There was no time to get even my backpack - it was a matter of seconds. Would I be faster than the enemy or not?
I was about to reach the crossing of the trench and communications trench, turning at a bend as I saw that the enemy was there already. Five pr six of them had climbed out of the AT trench ahead of me, now running in the same direction with me. I had spotted the last one of them.
We saw each other at the same time. The Vanya fumbled at his weapon (SMG) which obviously was not cocked. Instinctively I pulled the trigger but heard only an ominous click.
There was no time to even think of troubleshooting. A couple of steps and I was next to the enemy and managed to beat his gun off his hands.
We grabbed each other and wrestled for a moment totally quiet. None got the upper hand.
I remembered now my sheath knife, I had lost it a few days ago.
But no matter what, I had to beat this fellow by any means possible, more of them may be coming up any moment!
I reached for the throat of my adversary but he resisted my attempt successfully. Then he yelled - as loud as a man in the peril of his life can.
I felt that I was drained of energy. There were enemies around me everywhere and my situation was hopeless.
Then another Vanya was there, trying to shoot me with his SMG in the head or chest. I kept my eyes on his gun and dodged every time he managed to point it at me. He had to take care not to wound the man I was still clinging to.
I was about to give up and wait for the final shot as I sensed that he had hit me in the chest with his weapon - I had been hit in the head earlier, but had not noticed it then.
I flew into a rage. I went at my new adversary and managed to push his SMG aside.
At the same moment my first adversary pulled a dagger under his tunic and tried to stab me. I managed to grab his right wrist while I clung to the SMG with my right hand. The dagger was more terrifying in my mind so I attached all my attention to it. The Vanya managed to stab a small wound in my chest. Finally he yanked his arm free and stabbed me through an armpit.
The game was up now, I had to give up !
I sank down at the feet of my enemies, not due to my wounds but to feign death. They did not hurt me more, but left me alone - to die.
Now more Vanyas came from three directions. There were about ten of them as one of them bent down and began to check my pockets.
I was still panting for the recent effort and I knew the enemy would notice it. It was useless to play dead.
I supported my self on my elbows. The Vanya ripped angrily my compass from my breast pocket
- Don't kill me, take a prisoner! I kept repeating in Finnish - maybe somebody might understand.
One heroic man turned and kicked me in the face.
I found it was not a time of mercy. I decided to accept my fate.
- You got me, all right, but you did not get me for nothing...
My wrestling opponent took my SMG, pointing it at his chest. Then he removed the mag and showed it to me - empty! Now I knew why I had lost this battle.
I could make out and remember one word: "ogon" that the enemies kept repeating. It supposedly means "fire" I found out later.
An enemy NCO shouted something in a loud voice in the front of our trench, then supposedly giving an order at the men around me. They dispersed in the trench.
Then the NCO pulled his revolver, turning at me.
I thought this was my end.
The enemy aimed at my brow and pulled the trigger. All I was waiting was a quick end to this.
Then I heard how the hammer clicked at a dud primer. The man cocked the hammer again and lifted his weapon again.
Suddenly I could make my muscles work again!
I bounced up and jumped out of the trench, across the AT trench on the embankment behind it. I saw that the Vanyas were prone on a dense line at 50 meters their backs at me. Without a moment's hesitation I hid myself under the top of a fallen pine nearby. My pursuers lost my track, I had managed to hide unnoticed by any of them.
I heard a shout nearby:
- Any of our own there?
I put up my head to check the situation. There was a Finn just next to the pine top, he kept shouting in the direction of our rear where the enemy already was, I had seen them.
I did not get one coherent answer to my questions. I became angry and finally asked him:
- Which outfit are you from?
- AT gun..
I strongly forbade him to shout any more. He did not obey but shouted several more times.
Now the enemy spotted him. The nearest man fired a burst with SMG.
- So dies a man, my leg is cut off at thigh, he said and lied there, moaning
The same enemy gave another long burst at the pine top but missed me totally.
- I cannot stay here any longer, I have to leave, I thought.
I got up and began to run to the left in the direction of our lines. I saw some movement in the trench and stopped to see which they were.
I identified them as enemies at one glance. I made a zigzag and ran in the direction of the forest. The Vanyas kept shooting at me but failed to get a hit. So I got rid of them.
Most of all I was worried due to the white bandage around my head. My helmet had been left behind and I did not have the heart to take the cap of the wounded man that was lying on the ground, although I had run past it. I found a grey foot wrap in my pocket and tied it on my head. Then I headed for our own troops.
I already thought that I had reached our lines as I suddenly spotted an enemy about 15m ahead of me.
So they already were here, too!
The Vanya did not notice me although he appeared to peer quite attentively on his sides. I did not, however, dare to pull back but dropped down and sneaked behind another pine top nearby.
I kept watching the activities of the enemy at a pretty close range. A MG team passed me without noticing me. Soon a rifle squad came right at me.
Again I played dead. One of the man came up and kicked me in the side.
I knew now that there is no way out. I shall not beg for mercy, and trying to escape amounts to suicide, let them shoot me if they want to...
But to my amazement the Vanya turned back and joined the others, leaving me alone.
Soon I heard a shrill whistle to my right, which was responded by another to the left. The enemy line started advancing. Soon I could get up without risk and try to get through at another spot.
I managed to advance for some time, then there was another SMG burst.
- So the enemy is there, too, I reasoned wearily. I must try at another spot - once again...
Afterwards I learned that I could have found safety there and then. The shooter was not an enemy but a Finnish leader of a delaying platoon who had taken me for an enemy.
Now I could not afford any more mistakes.
Extremely carefully I advanced ever farther to the left, hoping to find a spot at the seam of the Finnish regiments allowing me to get back to our side.
Then another Vanya was there at 50 meters! There was nothing to do but hide quickly.
- I do not attempt anything more as long as there is daylight, I decided.
- It seems to be quite impossible to get through
- It is best to find a good hiding place and try again in the dusk of the night.
Seeking a hiding place I remembered the numerous animals of the forest that I had given the same fate. Most of all I suffered from thirst but I did not dare to drink because I feared it would just sap my strength.
I spent a couple of hours in a good hideout waiting for dusk. Then I felt I was losing my strength in such a way that I might not be able to proceed in the night.
I had to leave now if I wanted to save myself! Never mind the Vanyas...There is no other chance!
Luck favoured me again. The enemies were gone and only Finns were there to be met.
But one risk remained: They could shoot me as a Russian.
I sneaked as near as possible. From my hideout I called the sentries. They shouted back at me so I stood up and began to walk at them.'
Yet they took me for an enemy after all.
- Ruuki verh!
The familiar call was repeated by several mouths.
At first I did not want to put up my arms because the wound in my armpit would have started bleeding again. The men insisted, however, and finally I had to "put them up".
- Don't shoot, I am a Finn! I kept shouting.
So I made it among friends. There was a common joy as I was met by a platoon of my Company and by men I knew. I soon found myself in a field dressing station and my hospital journey started.
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- Location: Finland
Operation "Moose meat"
Journal "Kansa taisteli" vol.10, 1959
(The author was a rifleman Pfc. in JR34. Moose hunt turned into partisan hunt in Olonets August 1941.)
JR39, our regiment, had marched late in the day to a place somewhere about Kiimuselkä (Kimuselga) - Puskuselkä (most likely villages in Kuksumäki/Kukshegory, coordinates 61-13-14-N,32-42-57E, tr. rem.). It was late August in 1941 and we were assigned for road building work because a wilderness campaign in the direction Saarimäki (Sarimjagi) and Koivumäki (in Kotkutjärvi/Kotkozero) was being prepared.
Frankly the work task failed to please me. I said it aloud to the lads as we were relieving us behind the tent, and really I was not the only one grumbling. We had developed a habit to grumble about anything. Of course that did not mean that we should not have obeyed orders. Nobody even thought of that.
While I was mouthing off my friend Pvt. Oiva Karonen, hailing from Vuosalmi, had an idea: he said he knew how to skip the unpleasant task. He pointed out to me some recent spots where moose had been lying down among the fir trees, and pondered about a chance for moose hunt.
I was elated. Moose hunt was just what I was longing for. I never had shot a living creature except in this war as I had to do it to survive, but now my hunter's instinct was animated. Moose hunt would mean a chance to dodge unpleasant toil and more food, not a small incitement itself.
So a few minutes later we were standing to attention in front of our Battalion Commander (Carl) von Haartman reporting about the situation. Of course we had broken the rules when bypassing our Company Commander but we had a reason for disobedience. Major von Haartman was known as a gourmand and in matters of food one could be sure that he had a favourable attitude. This time too. Immediately he assigned us to hunt moose and we never were more obedient and inclined to fulfil the orders of our officer. Less than half an hour later we were hiking in the forest equipped with maps and rifles, happy as two larks.
We headed for West a couple of kilometers, then we arrived at a river flowing in the direction we were going. As luck would have it there was a raft made of three logs and two pieces of plank, anchored to the bottom with a pole pushed down between two logs. We embarked the raft, pushed out and began to drift downstream.
It was a lovely morning. Sun shone, the river banks were high and evenly sloping. Dew-drenched grass, gleaming in sun, covered the banks from the waterfront to the top. There was such a heavy dew that the river bank in shadow appeared to be grey. We could not see what was beyond the river bank but there must have been grassland since we did not see any treetops in several places.
We enjoyed tremendously. We drifted about two more kilometers, the river banks drifted by while each of us was watching his side. Suddenly I spotted a path in the grass, from the top of the bank to the waterfront, trodden by several beasts. I said to Oiva:
- Hey, a small herd of moose have gone that way and crossed the river.
He looked and remarked dryly:
- And they used the raft over there.
The raft was similar to ours, its logs were still wet and it was anchored like ours had been. A path trodden by many boots led up the river bank.
We looked at each other. Friends or enemies? Without saying a word we pushed our poles in the bottom and landed next to the other draft. We had to investigate, we were hunters and for us men, too, were fair game. At the top of the river bank we saw that the path continued in the dewy grass across a wide meadow. We continued on the path, Oiva behind me, watching the forest edge. In the middle of the meadow Oiva suddenly grabbed my shoulder, yanking me back. He said in an agitated tone:
- Mined! Look out!
Indeed, there was a cleverly camouflaged hand grenade hidden in the grass, tied to a supporting peg, equipped with a trigger wire across the path. If I had completed my step I would not be here writing this. Vuosalmi lad with his eagle eye had spotted the wire, heavy with dew.
- These are a hell of a kind of moose, I'm telling you, Oiva said as we marked the trap with the sticks we had been carrying. Goddamn moose, in fact!
We abandoned the path but turned to follow the river and half an hour later arrived at an abandoned camp consisting of barracks, it was not marked on our map. Having thoroughly checked the buildings we spotted a herd of dairy cows on pasture behind the camp. We counted sixteen heads, udders full of milk. but they ran as soon as they saw us.
We did not catch as much as a glimpse of moose that day, but having returned to our camp we did not neglect to report to the Major about the cattle with full udders, and about the mine, too, because we thought it was very important. We estimated that our observations would earn us another hunting day but we were only half wrong. The Major ordered me to lead a task force tomorrow, Pvt. Ketonen was needed elsewhere. My outfit would comprise five Corporals who had played truant at road building work and were punished by being ordered in a patrol to be led by a Pfc. Finally I asked the Major if we, in case we could not "rope in" the cows, shoot one heifer. The Major frowned and sternly told me:
- No, the GHQ has issued express orders not to destroy cattle.
I turned to leave but the Major added in a lower voice:
- I forbid you to shoot a single beast, but should you do it anyway, do bring me a nice round.
Having been thus instructed, next morning I headed right for the barrack camp.
The crew of my patrol was reluctant from the very beginning. Marching behind me they grumbled aloud and implied about certain war maniacs who had ingratiated the officers with Lord knows what means. Once in the camp they mutinied openly, lied down and told me to go to Hell.
I looked around the camp alone and found tracks proving tat the cattle had crossed a bridge to the other side of the river and out of sight along a river bank. After demanding in vain that we continue our recce task I left the NCOs the map because I was going out of the mapped area. I ordered them to find twenty mess tins for milk and about one kilometer of rope to lasso and constraint the cows for milking. Having ridden myself of my grumbling and recalcitrant squad I set off to trace the cattle.
I proceeded about three kilometers on a dreary road, dotted by turds, next to the river, until the terrain changed into a plain. Suddenly I found myself in a big timber yard that had been set up next to the river. There were logs and smaller timber in big heaps and also a stretch of wooden railway between the timber heaps and a main line leading in straight line to a huge clear cutting.
I crossed the timber yard and on the other side I found a half burned bridge. I just could cross the river on it, there was another barrack on the other side of the river.
This camp was a copy of the previous one. Two barracks, a sauna and sad looking clear cut yard. I checked the buildings, watched and listened, I did not see neither men nor beasts, it was as silent as in the middle of a forest.
Just as I was about to leave the sauna I spotted two wider cracks in the floor: they were free of dust. I stuck my sheath knife in one crack and twisted for experiment's sake. The plank tilted at once and I was able to peek under the floor. There were between the floor joists sixteen bed places covered by filthy mattress covers and pillows. I replaced the plank and withdrew in good order, deciding to return with some of my friends.
I recrossed the bridge and walked on along the wooden railway. Suddenly, among the timber piles, I bumped into a man wearing a Finnish greatcoat and boat cap. We stood immobile staring at each other, the smile on his face disappeared in a wink, then he opened his mouth as if to shout. Instead he whirled round and in a flash disappeared behind a timber pile. I was dumbstruck. What was the matter with him? Even though he did look slightly, how to put it, foreign - I had spotted a nicked tooth in his mouth - there was nothing suspicious in me except that I was wearing a genuine Finnish uniform and was armed.
The man was suspect, he was not genuine: despite the hot day he had been wearing a greatcoat and judging by the lumps some sort of belt under it.
I dashed at the corner of the log pile with my SMG in readiness and saw the man run away as fast as he could. He was now more than 100m ahead of me.
I yelled "seis!" (Finnish, = Halt!), but the man just improved his trot. I yelled again: "Stoi!" (Russian = Halt!) with the same result. Then I fired. At first off my hip, carelessly, but as the range increased fast, aiming carefully. SMG Suomi was an unfamiliar weapon for me, I was used to the rifle and LMG Lahti-Saloranta, with any of them I would have dropped the man at 400m. Now I just made him sprint. He bolted to the left from the wooden railway and vanished behind a knoll. I did not feel any special desire to trace him.
I returned to our camp in the evening downhearted. I did not have any practical results to present. Just my story that the Major apparently did not wholly believe. He scratched his jaw in such a manner that would mean the end of hunting for me, and I was right. Having pondered for a while and looking at me with a suspicious look he said:
- Don't you think it would be best to take up the road work? There we would have better success than in hunting.
Later I told Oiva about my day and we planned to go and check the second camp with some trusted friends. Oiva did not suspect my story and it consoled my slighted heart. We had turned in in our tent listening to the noise of the poker game and grumbled about tomorrow that relentlessly threatened us with heavy shovel work. Suddenly our names were yelled at the direction of the command post tent. It was the company scribe roaring:
- Karonen and Pasanen, Karonen and Pasanen, get damn quick to the Regiment command post.
We ran to the scribe who informed us that we had been sent for by a phone call from the Regiment. No reason for this had been given. We set out at good pace.
Major Perksalo, CO of JR 34 took an inquisitive look at us as we entered his tent, panting, and reported to him.
- Which compass bearing were you going to when leaving the camp today and yesterday? he asked.
I reported the bearing and Oiva confirmed it. The CO spread a big map on a table and asked us to show the route we had taken yesterday. I showed him the place we had been in yesterday and then today's places where I had been, then showed the place of the two camps and the timber yard which were not found on this map. The CO appeared to know all about our trips. He thought for a while, drumming the map with his fingers, then announced in a brief military manner:
- Tomorrow at 0400 hrs you shall guide a Jaeger platoon to these camps. Assembly at your Company command post. There is a largish enemy long range patrol or a band of partisans.
Back in our Company we heard news. The Kev.Os. (Light Detachment) camping nearby was missing two men who had been ordered to heat a sauna. They had been picked by an unknown man wearing Finnish Second Lieutenant uniform. One of the men was called Karlsted or Carlstedt, hailing from Latokartano in Perniö (SW Finland).
Now the information we had provided had become valuable.
It was pouring rain next morning. The Jaegers did not turn up, of course, neither did the road workers go to work. All day the men in their (half -platoon) tents played poker, retold their ancient lies for umpteenth time or just slept as I and Oiva did. The rain ended in the evening and we guessed we would set off next morning. That is what happened. Some thirty Jaegers arrived, led by their officer and from our outfit the third man was Sr.Sgt. Kalle Karppinen, an ancient Foreign Legionnaire, nicknamed "Terror of Morocco Junior".
I took the leading position, being familiar with the terrain, and we set off in a file in soaking wet environment. Every straw of grass carried at least one liter of water, and my garments sucked all the water from the straws bent over the path until I was soaking wet down from my belt.
The camp sauna was seen as we came along the path. The short wall of the building was windowless and the path approached it just in the direction of that wall, so it was understandable that I was surprised to meet eye to eye a man in Finnish uniform, tying the straps of his boots as I turned the corner of the sauna. We stared at each other while I slowly turned my rifle in a better position, then the man suddenly turned around and escaped in the sauna, pulling the door shut behind him.
There you stay, I thought and blocked the door with my boot while waiting for the Jaegers. I had been about 30m ahead of them at the bend of the path and it took some time before Sgt. Karppinen, the first man, came up. At the same moment the sauna window was smashed with a tinkle on the other side of the building.
I shouted behind me:
- Watch the window, they are in there!
Then I heard a buzz of a SMG and knew that everything was under control.
The Lieutenant came with his P/08 drawn. Leaving the door I saw through two opposite windows that the sauna was full of men.
- Check the other buildings, the Lieutenant ordered, I and Oiva obeyed.
Having walked through one barrack, exiting from the second door I met the same man that I had shot at some days ago. He had come along a path, carrying four mess tins full of water and wet to the waist. Having seen me, he set the mess tins to the ground, quickly adjusted his boat cap and said in good Finnish:
- I am a friend.
The man appeared sincere, his face expressed nothing´, he was even smiling if I can recollect, looking me in the eye and stooping, as I believed, to pick up the mess tins.
So I failed to be on my guard as the man suddenly bolted to the right in the bushes that were taller than a man. I did not shoot after him as I heard that the Jaegers were surrounding the camp starting from the right. Being familiar with the terrain and knowing that the river made a bend around the camp area I shouted my friend, Jaeger Cpl. Reino Manninen, a brave lad from Heinjoki:
- Manninen, get to the river bend double quick!
Cpl. Manninen asked no questions but I heard how men started running, then water splashed behind the thicket, a few seconds more and a SMG buzzed. Manninen's voice called out:
- He's down.
Karonen had checked the other barrack and came out. I told him what had happened, he returned to the sauna while I ran to the bridge and crossed the river where a man was prone on the side of the path, with his fingertips dug in the sod. The burst had cut him at the hips, he was dead, something leaked our from the canteen on his belt. Kalle Rouhiainen smelled at the leaking fluid, then straightened the pierced canteen and said:
- Dammit, if it is not rum my name is not Kalle!
It was rum.
There was a loud noise at the sauna but we examined the things the man had left behind, everything must be taken care of, naturally. I found a new FN pistol in his pocket which I nicked. Two nickel plated P/08s that he also carried belonged to the command post but I decided not to report the 7,65 pistol. In additions to guns the man had a small black purse that Finnish boys used to carry. It contained a brand new 500 Finnmark bank note, a certificate of employment issued in 1939 by Kone and Silta in Helsinki to metal worker Aarne Leppänen. His uniform from the days of the Winter War had been labelled by JP2. The man himself was a full blooded enemy with his metal tooth.
In the meanwhile the situation at the sauna had taken a dramatic turn. The Jaegers had surrounded it and the Lieutenant had ordered the occupants to come out one at a time. The first one to come out appeared to be a Finnish Second Lieutenant who immediately began to chastise the Jaeger Lieutenant for misunderstanding. They were, he said, another patrol chasing the same enemy and so on. The man had behaved absolutely convincingly, as there was a SMG burst at the other side of the camp the officer from the sauna began to curse and demanded that the Jaeger Lieutenant join him to clear this misunderstanding. He disregarded the pistol pointed at him, pushing it aside and agitatedly heading for the scene of shooting past the buildings. Our officer was cheated, he did order that the men emerging from the sauna must be disarmed, but he let the fake Lieutenant get too far. Then he ran to the corner of a barrack where he saw the man escape in full run over the bridge.
I saw a man running on the bridge and heard shouting from the camp side of the river. I also heard some shots and I would have been well able to get the man with my rifle but I could not tell if he was the pursuer or the pursued one. The actual scene was behind a thicket, so this cool-headed enemy escaped. He was taken prisoner next day but to our regret it was another outfit that took him.
The men in the sauna had come out one at a time with their hands up. They were disarmed and relieved of any other stuff they would not need. The sauna appeared to be empty, Karonen approached the door to check. Suddenly he heard the snap of a hand grenade fuse and the building was shaken by an explosion. The door had been blown open, Karonen jumped in and saw on the floor a corpse blown in two parts. This was the Politruk of the enemy outfit, who did not want to surrender but set off a hand grenade between his legs.
Smoke was billowing in the sauna and soot dropping from the ceiling as Karonen heard odd noises from the sauna benches. It was so dark that he could not see anything so he backed to the door and yelled, pointing his SMG at the benches:
- Get out or get shot!
Two men emerged from the benches, the two missing Kev.Os. men that the enemy had captured to carry the radio equipment. The lads were stunned but extremely happy. They told they had come in the sauna just one minute ahead of us. Seeking comfort cost the enemy their freedom and later life. Being dressed in Finnish uniforms they were considered spies instead of POWs by the laws of the war.
In this incident a Russian Army Corps lost one of their best long range patrols. This very patrol that had raided an proviant supply post near Suurimaki village had been sought by our Regiment for one entire day.
Manninen's squad and I hurried to the second camp but we did not find anybody there. As we returned the prisoners had been marched to our camp to be delivered on.
I witnessed an amusing incident as the lads started another poker game. Someone wagered a 500 FIM banknote but it was refused by the gamblers. Every man of the enemy patrol had had those and although this soldier tried to convince the others that his banknote had been sent from Finland he was refused all the same. For a long time the men considered smooth 500FIM banknotes suspect.
Next day I and Karonen were sent for by the Regiment HQ to be interviewed by a Propaganda Company reporter. This gentleman met us in front of the Command Post tent and wrote up the story that we told him. When we returned to the camp we met Maj. von Haartman in his usual military gear: a monocle, a binocular on his chest, polished boots and a whip under his arm, a gentleman from head to heel. He asked us if we had received any of the canned food that had been left behind by the enemy patrol. We had to tell him we had only seen them in a tent at the Regiment command post. The Major was annoyed and he said:
- Go and get some with my permission. If you get caught, tell them that the stuff belongs to you instead of the HQ.
We did not need no further orders. We returned to the command post and lingered near the tent until we saw that the Adjutant came out to join the reporter. At once Oiva sat down next to the tent, cut a hole in the tent with his sheath knife and filled the breast of his tunic with tins of condensed milk and meat while I was engaging in diversion by walking around, whistling and coughing. As soon as Oiva got up I sat down next to the "hatch" and likewise filled my tunic with tins.
Retreating to our camp in haste the Major happened to come across us once more. He could see that our raid had been successful and he smiled at us in an angry manner. Oiva offered him his share but he refused, shaking his head.
- The stuff belongs to you. Thanks to you, boys. You have done a good day's job.
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Journal "Kansa taisteli" vol.10, 1959
(The author was a 45mm AT gun leader in an AT company of JR7)
On 12 June 1944 we just barely avoided getting surrounded together with the other AT platoons subjected to the III Battalion (/JR7). IV Platoon whose Leader I was despite my lowly rank had to abandon their second AT gun when leaving Ronnunkylä village in the evening of the same day.
Just before midnight with our last energies we dashed through the gap left in the AT hindrances of Siiranmäki. The situation was so critical that the men tasked to close the gap just dropped the "dragon's teeth" in their holes behind us as the road from Kekrola was filled with enemy troops.
We were promised that we would get some rest as JR6 men would take over the defence but our rest was cut short as the very same night we had to occupy the bunker line and turn our mugs to our "uninvited guests". I was ordered to join Cpl. Lusenius' AT squad in a position determined by our officer, Capt. Laamanen. It was West of the Siiranmäki crossroads at the edge of a field by the Ahijärvi road. To the left we had a good view of the Siiranmäki hill top and the crossroads.
The bunker line failed to meet our expectations. The shelter was good and strong, I admit, but the battle positions were not. The shooting sectors were not completely cleared. The enemy would be able to reach the wire unnoticed in the thick bushes. We did not feel any safer that at Ohta during the trench war phase.
The peak of deficiencies in my opinion consisted of missing communications trench from firing positions to the shelter. Our AT gun position was situated next to the road near the concrete dugout. In front of us on the far side of the road was a stretch of trench where I went with some men to secure our safety, because it appeared that the stronghold was left in our hands.
Constant noise of movement emerged from the enemy side. Rumbling of heavy vehicles and all sort of noise due to dragging of all sorts of material.
- We shall find ourselves in a hot spot sooner or later, I tell you lads, said Cpl. Lusenius. I trusted this tall AT gun leader because I had known him for years.
At noon (13.July) we were still squatting in the muddy trench on the safer side of the wire. From the right flank appeared about five elderly privates walking along the trench.
- Which outfit are you from?
- JR6. We got lost.
- Why don't you stay here, you are needed in this spot, too.
They agreed to stay with us. They told us that they did not know where to find food, and we could not help them in that respect.
- Are you familiar with this task?
- This is the first time for us, they said.
I gave them some advise and guided them in the firing bays.
- Keep your eyeballs peeled, because that forest is teeming with enemies - we don't know what they have in mind.
- If you keep shooting from one spot, the enemy is going to kill you right here but if you move to another position after each shot the enemy is tricked to believe there are more of us, I told him.
We kept peering in the bushes beyond the wire, the enemy was attacking our front line at other spots already. Suddenly I saw a bush move, although there was no wind and something green was there. Enemies! They did get close although we were keeping watch. Damn those bushes! I aimed at the bush and let go a burst of my SMG. That revealed more enemy scouts who abandoned their attempts having seen that we were alert.
To the right of us there appeared to be heavy enemy pressure because we heard "uraa" yelling. But our lads were not asleep, long bursts of automatic fire met the attackers.
- Ivans are having a tough time, they are not coming at us like wolves, we said.
I went back to our AT gun while the lost old men were left in the trench and that was the last time I saw them.
To the left, at the crossroads, the enemy kept rushing at the wire and the "dragon's teeth". The noise of battle increased by the moment engulfing the entire Siiranmäki hill in a hellish din. We turned our AT gun to the left, placed our Molotov's cocktails and satchel charges at hand. If there would be a breach at the crossroads and those ugly tanks would head at us it was our duty as AT men to try to knock them out.
The enemy launched a terrible artillery strike at the entire Siiranmäki section. Ground attack planes strafed our positions and made our existence almost unbearable. The enemy tried to take Siiranmäki supported by tanks, some thirty were counted. Some of them were destroyed and the enemy suffered other heavy losses, too. JR7 stood their ground.
We were left pretty much alone on the night 13 to 14 July. Yet we kept good lookout and listened to the movement of the enemy. The ground under us shook gently as heavy enemy tanks kept moving around at Kekrola road.
- They are hauling in new weapons to get us - we shall see if there is going to be another storm in the morning.
- Those dugouts would be safe but when the situation is on we cannot be there.
In the silence of the night our bellies started clamouring for bread, but we did not find even crumbs in the bottoms of our bread bags however hard we tried. We had to acknowledge the demands of our guts with a sigh - we were not gourmands.
The gates of Hell were thrown wide open next morning (14 June). The enemy launched such an artillery barrage that hardly has seen an equal, supported by air force. The cursed ground attack planes came in waves at a low altitude, pouring shells and bullets at our positions. We were by terror. This was something never before seen even by us, men with long experience of war. We crouched in our gun position always on the side opposite to the each oncoming wave of murderous air attack. It was so bad that a songbird landed next to me without showing any signs of fear, considering me the smaller of two evils.
Then our own artillery joined in the combat, their shells howled above us then struck the massed enemy; we also experienced tremendous joy as our bombers came and dropped their loads at the enemy attack formations. It was time for the Ivans to taste some steel indeed, they were not left unpunished.
The close range AT men were busy with their Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks knocking out enemy tanks but the enemy was always able to replace their losses.
The enemy artillery kept pounding us and the shelling extended deep in our rear. Forest was crashing behind us and the ground was shaking, there was no cover to be found anywhere. The salvoes of rocket launchers hit our positions with terrible howling. The slope of Siiranmäki hill appeared to have become the focal point of all action. The enemy wanted to take the important hill by every means possible.
The battle was raging out of control. Siiranmäki was covered with fire all over, the houses at the crossroads were in flames and the ground itself was burning due to enemy phosphor ammunition. In the dusk of the evening the sight in front of us was terrible, the smell of death was drifting at us right from Hades. Wounded men came in a stream to seek help and shell shocked men were guided out of our eyes. They were not from a second rate outfit but from Maj. Kalaja's battalion, the men of which had so far been considered as most reliable. But the number of enemy troops - thousands - dozens of heavy tanks, tremendous number of aircraft and on top of everything constant fire of artillery and rocket launchers - all this in combination was enough to break a man with the strongest nerves.
The enemy managed to take over the main part of the hill. Now the biggest danger threatened us from there. Our position on open ground was becoming untenable because the works were not designed for defence against attack from the rear. We found ourselves exposed to direct fire. On top of everything we heard how the noise of battles on the right were shifting in our rear: we considered we found ourselves in a wedge.
Suddenly six big tanks began to roll down the ridge in from of us right at our positions. They came majestically downhill, in a single file like the wagons of a train, turning and twisting along the road. I thought my hair were supporting the top of my helmet - my G*d - now it is the hour of doom for us because our peashooters did not have any effect on those beasts. There was a platoon of men following each tank. We were expecting a quick blow, mesmerized like a mouse by a snake. I allowed the men to seek cover behind our dugout but I and Lusenius stayed to see what was going to happen. It might have looked like a death wish in the eyes of an outsider.
Our artillery was pounding at the breach and enemy aircraft were milling about like ravens at a carrion. I would not like to watch this scene in the dusk of the night another time ever. It made my blood run cold, I was not able to feel fear anymore. It was with curiosity and almost admiration that I watched the camouflage painted rounded turrets and huge cannon barrels that seemed to draw figures in the air, predicting inevitable death.
The first tank had proceeded almost up to the Vuottaa road as there was a lightning like flash in its side. The shot came from the direction of Vuottaa. Hurray! The tank caught fire. So there was a larger caliber AT gun that the sides of a T-34 were not able to withstand. The men behind the tank had disappeared like chaff in wind and the others turned around, heading for the dead corner in the dale. But they started rolling at the AT gun, firing their huge cannons, managing to suppress it.
- Boys, here is our chance! Let us try if our light one is able to have any effect on Russian armour! Let's start with the first one...keep firing...they really are thick skinned...just sparks flying from the side...no effect at all...let's aim lower...we might break a track! They keep rolling, they don't care about us - Just like shooting peas at them.
-Hey! There are men coming down the ridge in masses! Let's load with fragmentation shells. We shall give them a reception...
Now our 45mm gun could show what she was good for, fragmentation shells had an destructive effect at the attacking enemy, they cut like knives along the glen, dozens of running men in brownish green uniforms were cut down but more kept coming. Oh that contempt of death, they did not care even though our fire cut them like hay but kept pressing ahead. Now the enemy had spotted us because steel started raining at us from the hillside opposite.
We were not able to take out the entire mass of attackers, a number of them was able to pass us and get in our rear, we did not know how deep but getting surrounded was threatening us. What was the situation - there was not a sign of ours at the crossroads, neither on our right flank - we may have been trapped but we had not received orders to withdraw so we had to wait.
Now the enemy tanks had stopped behind a strip of woodland in our rear, we could fear a surprise from there, too. Sgt. Juva of our Company tried to take out tanks that had parked in a circle on the field but could not get to the effective range of the Panzerfaust, and there were no ammunition for the Panzerschreck. The tanks were being repaired all night , we heard clanking and hiss of welding. Our 45mm must have caused some damage to their tracks.
During the night a 75mm AT gun of German origin was brought in our stronghold from Capt. Hassinen's AT company. Now the tanks would surely see their shell pierced.
The enemy had been stopped at Kylmäoja and our counterstrike detachments scattered the enemy, pushing it back to the hill.(15 July) One of the tanks in our sector was disbled by mine and the remaining four rolled back the same route they had used when coming. After a while they reappeared coming behind the strip of woodland, without any haste.
I ran in our dugout to alert the men of the 75mm gun. Lusenius stayed at the gun, examining it because it was useless to try to use our own.
- Hey boys, there are good targets for you, hurry up!
- We are not going to get ourselves killed, shells are coming in, said the temporary gun team leader, a Corporal.
But war is such, for us at least.
- We are not coming, do it yourself!
- Come on, p*r*k*l*, at least one of you to advise us, I shall try!
One man got up and joined me. We ran crouching the twenty meters to the gun camouflaged in a bush over open terrain.
It was time for me to try my luck! I set the sighting scope values - the loader shoved a shell in the breech - I pushed the trigger - the gun was shaken by a tremendous bang - the "Klim" I had aimed at caught fire - there, see, wasn't it worth trying?
But immediately there was a duel between our gun and a T-34 which rolled in front of the burning tank to cover it. It was green as grass and difficult to distinguish from the surroundings. I was just aiming as I saw the flash of the tank cannon and ducked in a foxhole, as did my loader. The shell almost scraped the shield of our gun, the pressure wave blocked our ears, then exploded somewhere behind us. In a flash I jumped up, aimed at the hull of the tank and fired. Our shell exploded in front of the tank - The T34 fired in turn - we ducked - a shell explosion in front of us threw dirt on us - I got up, swept dirt off the scope lens - fire - the T-34 caught fire! We won! The second T-34 took off for the ridge and the third left for the crossroads.
On the ridge to the left of us in alder bushes there was a huge big tank, as large as a hay barn, its side was covered with logs, and the gun appeared to be a six-incher at least. It was better for us to hold our fire because the shooting distance was too long and there were direct fire cannons aimed at us on the ridge. In this war business one had to learn to fear when it was time for it, if you wanted to live for another day.
The enemy opened a murderous fire at the edge of the field from the ridge. We almost flew over the open terrain and dashed in the entrance corridor of the bunker. The enemy had obviously made up a death sentence for us, all they needed was a muzzle flash from our gun to get a fixed point. The big tank in the alder bushes turned its large gun at us, the shells dropped just next to us. Bushes were shredded and the earth shook under us.
We did not dare to stay in the bunker any longer, we had to be prepared for the worst. We ran in the open position of our 45mm gun while the enemy kept shooting at us. We took shots at the enemy on the ridge to show that we were still in fighting trim. A Maxim MG without tripod had been abandoned in our position. I managed to sort of clean it. I fired one belt at the hill and then it jammed again.
Now the enemy just fired at us from the ridge with tank cannons - the turrets only were visible. They did not dare to drive their tanks on the slope as they had seen what had happened in the morning.
JR7 held their defensive positions at Siiranmäki except the contained small break-in. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. I cannot claim that we had any fighting spirit but our will to defend ourselves remained.
We were living between death and survival, dull and stunned by fatigue and hunger, tattered, lips chafed, faces emaciated and cheeks covered with stubble, eyes sunk deep in their sockets and indifferent countenance, the eyes wandering in the terrain. We were scarecrows set to frighten the mighty Red Army, compared to them we admitted our inferiority. Personal courage sometimes mattered in a single incident but in the big picture it was just like spitting in an ocean.
The enemy rushed every now and then to break through but our defence held. The battle report does not mention our action. It is just written that the AT company of JR49 repelled tanks which means that we had been forgotten, and that was the reason we were not replaced. We had to stand as long as we could and then - ! We , an AT gun team of the 14th AT company of JR4 fought in the defence of Siiranmäki from the beginning to the end. We disengaged as ordered 16 June in the evening.
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Journal "Kansa taisteli" vol.12, 1963
(The author was fighting in Summa in the ranks of JR15 in the Winter War as a Signals Private.)
A military transport train comprising freight wagons left Forssa for Hämeenlinna on 10 October 1939. I was a soldier in the III Battalion of JR15 commanded by Col. I. Karhu. The Battalion was completely made up of men from Häme province, and Tammela parish was amply represented.
A war was suspected to be coming and we were equipped with well oiled rifles and blue-and-white cockades for our civilian caps. Spades, hoes, steel stakes were included in our equipment, they were familiar tools for us, mostly farmers. War-like atmosphere was boosted by machine guns mounted on the wagon roofs.
- Are they going to blaze at pigeons or what, a clueless traveller joked, unaware of the fact that our commanders were better able to sense a coming war than ordinary rank and file.
In Hämeenlinna the equipment of our Regiment was upgraded with horses, field kitchens and other war material. The disguised mobilization continued, we were transferred to the Carelian Isthmus and marched from Kämärä railhead to Summa village.
The border had to be secured, so we started hastily reinforcing all defensive structures: Dugouts, weapons nests, antitank hindrances and trenches. Time passed until the last of November the war broke out.
From the direction of Kaukjärvi and Perkjärvi we started to hear the sounds of battle and explosions, and fires loomed. The delaying action of our troops was ended on 6 December and enemy troops supported by tanks attacked our positions. In the small hours of 7 December the enemy managed to take by surprise the forward defences of Summa.
From the very beginning of the battles we had to fight the enemy tanks. They had the advantage because our troops were lacking actual anti-tank weapons. What we had, petrol bottles and satchel charges, were, however, so efficient that we were able to destroy several enemy tanks using them from the first day on.
We were also shelled by various calibers of enemy artillery so intensely that by 19 December the trees had lost all their branches like the proverbial shoemaker's Christmas tree.
Telephone connections were cut off constantly. The cables were damaged by men treading on them, shell splinters or bull's-eye hits of artillery. I and Pfc. Viljo Hakala left for a troubleshooting patrol on 19 December and just then the enemy attacked Summa supported by one hundred tanks.
We were running up the communications trench for the main trench as we saw that several tanks had run over our first line and passed them. To our left one of them was burning in bright flames. Three enemy tankers were seen trying to get back to their lines but they did not make it, being under fire from several sides.
I spotted a damaged spot in a cable and started fixing it. Pfc. Hakala shouted a warning:
- Look out, a tank is coming!
There indeed was a tank, a big greasy metal beetle heading right at us. I saw hoc Hakala jumped in a shell hole. I abandoned the cable repair and dropped in the communications trench as the enemy was just about to run on me.
The trench was narrow with well revetted sides, and frozen solid, so it withstood the weight of the tank instead of collapsing on me. However I was covered with a mass of frozen earth and snow pushed by the tank in the trench. The bolt handle of my rifle leaned against my chest, I tried to get free and managed to put my head up.
To my horror I found that the tank had stopped there, bridging the communications trench and I had been trapped under that bridge, unable to move anywhere.
The tank started shooting. It shook in the rhythm of its firing and more sand flowed on me.
I did not know what had happened to my pal Pfc. Hakala. I feared for the worst and was prepared to read myself the last rites as a man lost in action. The rifle bolt handle pressed on my chest, I was nearly suffocated by panic as my lungs gasped for oil soaked air.
I was sure that I would not survive. My panic was increased by fear that my pals would throw a petrol bomb on the tank that kept firing above me. It would be my death, getting scorched by burning oil flowing on me.
I tried to pull myself free. There was a tremendous weight on my legs and I could move only my left arm. I swept sand off my eyes and heard how the tank fired with its machine guns.
I cannot say how long I had been lying under the monster. Time had stopped for me. I heard shouting and shooting. There were alternately silence and tremendous noise. I may have passed out every now and then. Although it was very cold I was sweating due to pain and fear. I struggled with my left leg and felt how my foot slid out of the boot. My situation was absolutely hopeless.
Then the tank moved, its tracks ground the frozen soil and the steel bridge above me was gone. When leaving it dropped another mass of frozen earth and snow on me.
I was completely ignorant of the situation. Did the enemy hold the trench or had it been beaten back? I found out after recovering from another blackout. I felt how I was being dug out of my grave and someone pulled me up by my belt. I sensed how I was free from pressure but did not dare to open my eyes because I could not tell if I had been found by friend or foe.
It was not until I heard the dialect of my home that I knew I was safe. Someone said:
-Nikula boy keeps on living although he is dead already!
I opened my eyes. I saw familiar faces, bearded but smiling, men from Forssa and Tammela. I sat up and asked:
- Is it gone--the tank ?
- It is gone, the lads told me - There are several of them burning now. They won't try again for many days.
We were being shelled but we were used to it. I was led to Dugout no.6. I was told that Pfc. Hakala had been wounded slightly and I had been run over by a tank. As the situation had been cleared the lads had been looking for my remains. I had been found after I had been buried for half an hour. There was a bruise on my chest caused by the knob of the rifle bolt handle. Else I was all right and the rest of my war was normal fighting at Summa that is not worth telling about, I think.
(...) (1160 words)
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Journal "Kansa taisteli" vol.6, 1975
(The author was a NCO in the Sapper company of JR45 that was fighting”retrograde action” withdrawing from the Svir. )
During a break on our march I stooped to drink from Nurmoila river at the edge of Nurmoila airfield. A SMG magazine slipped from my belt and fell in the water. I snatched it up at once and opened it - the inside appeared to be dry, I put it back on my belt. The break over, we continued shifting one boot ahead of the other. Our outfit, a Sapper Platoon of JR45 continued their journey, hard new boots chafing our feet. At midsummer we had swapped our old boots for new ones and that was a mistake. New stiff boots chafe your feet into a mess quite soon, the old, softened and broken in boots would have spared our feet for a long time.
25 June 1944 we arrived at a crossroads near Nurmoila (Nurmolitsy) and planned to stay overnight there. We set up our tents and were just waiting for our field kitchen as we were ordered on the move. We were commanded to reconnoitre Silmijärvi village and contact our scattered II Battalion if possible. Our Sapper platoon was strengthened with a Jaeger platoon of the Regiment and the Jaegers of II Battalion led by Sec. Lt. Pesonen. Our volunteer Commander was a sharp Sapper Lieutenant "Alvari". Klockars. He was an experienced man, the backbone of our outfit.
Having crossed the Torajärvi (Torozero) bridge we continued along a cart road in the terrain. When near Silmijärvi we stopped on a hillock and two squads were sent to scout. Lt. Klockars led us as we started again. At the edge of a field we saw two haystacks on a hillside, something was moving behind the other one. We guessed it was a foe sentry post. We began to plan how to catch them as tremendous shooting broke out in the camp area. Did the enemy engage our men? Continuous shooting went on for one minute, then abruptly stopped. What on earth was going on?
We approached our camp at a quick rate, yet carefully, then our ears picked up loud exited talking. It was like a boiling pot of beans. We quickened our steps and the noise became louder. Certainly it is heard from a long way as one hundred men explained each other the incident and speculated on its cause.
When we finally reached the camp the riddle had been solved. One paramedic NCO in our outfit had lost his nerve and he had attacked the man in front of him, reaching for his weapon and shouting "Russki-russki-russki" The man had taken him for an enemy and he, too shouted "Russki! -Russki! Russki!" Somebody had shot the suspect shadow over the shoulder of this man, the other squad had responded to firing which in turn the first squad opened fire until everyone was shooting as if in a circus tent. The result was nothing to be proud of, the only victim was the poor paramedic. He was a KIA. This incident could have attracted the enemy at us, then it would be advisable to shoot better.
We continued our mission, scouting the terrain. Even more carefully we approached the field with its haystacks and sentry post. We curved in the forest from the road aiming to approach the haystacks from behind. We arrived on a small but steep mound next to a road with a view to Silmijärvi village half a kilometer farther. A huge bonfire had been made there and "tavaritshi" were dancing there with "matushki" dressed in white. Accordion music and singing could be heard. We thought that they were happy people, and musical, too. I stayed there with Pvt. Alila to watch the Russian folk dance while the others left to find the haystack sentries.
As soon as they had vanished in the forest a procession left the village marching on the road in our direction. Both of us left to find our lads because the Vanyas would be passing our mound at thirty meters, and we could shoot downhill. For our co-operation the Lieutenant berated us, one of us should have stayed there to observe and only the other one should have left to seek help. We, however, had been so elated that it did not occur to us to think of such an obvious thing.
We forgot all about the enemy sentries as we returned to set up an ambush. We lied down in a line while Lt. Klockars advised each of us to select the personally nearest target. The caravan, talking loudly, came up on the road: a couple of squads of Vanyas and two horses, each pulling a 45mm AT gun. At the suitable moment the Lieutenant shouted "Fire!" and pulled the trigger. We joined him.
My magazine was emptied in a moment and I replaced it. What the -! Weapon malfunction! I had to cock for each shot even though the selector was on auto fire. I swore because it was the magazine that had got wet, and the gunpowder in the cartridges had become damp and powerless.
The comrades on the road keeled over and the horses reared up, throwing the AT guns upside down. The Vanyas in the village must have been prepared for a surprise because soon 50mm mortar shells were coming in. They must have had their mortars aimed and ready, else they could not have been able to hit our hill so quickly.
We beat it on the double. A fallen birch trunk swept off my cap, I tried to find it but it had disappeared in the knee high grass. I had to continue looking like a "chicken thief". With my sore feet I was not able to keep up the pace with the others and was left behind. I found myself alone in a covered glen on a field. The foe was firing with a MG at the field, but I reached the forest and glanced back.
Our Lieutenant was walking under MG fire´, standing up and carrying a greatcoat that had been forgotten by one of us under his arm. He was walking as if he had been taking an evening strolling the Esplanade in Helsinki. He continued on a calm pace until he fell. Dammit, the Lieut became a casualty! But no, he had stumbled on a turf, he got up, dusted his knees and continued. I shouted him, begging him to run but he did not heed. The MG kept firing from the village and bullets whined. A tough one! I shouted him that he should follow me as I was going to find the rest of our outfit, then ran in the forest.
After a while I reached the road half-way between the hillside and the field with the sentry post. I did not see any movement and was convinced that the Vanyas had left having heard how we rampaged in their rear. I stepped on the road, but I had taken but a few steps until shooting started and bullets whined about my ears. Indeed they were there but they aimed too high. If somebody had clocked the 50 to 60 meters that I had to run to reach safety behind a bend in the road, it would certainly have been an excellent world record. You see, I did not have the wit to jump in the forest, instead I ran along the road like a fool.
Having successfully escaped out of sight I sat down and had a break because I was totally tired. It would be my death if they would pursue me and my SMG was useless. But they did not come!
After a while I got up and began to limp on to find my outfit. I did find them and I was happy but grumpy. They asked me if I knew anything about Lt. Klockars. I snarled "He's coming but he takes his time", then I sat down under a pine, opened the SMG magazine and dumped the cartridges on the moss. I asked for new ammunition, then loaded both of my drums and was ready for another round. The lads watched my chore with a surprised mien but refrained from any questions.
The summer night was cold and Capt. Torvinen had ordered his men to make a fire, quite a bonfire actually, to warm up. I intruded at the fire and said:
- Here's a fine lighthouse to direct the Vanyas for a revenge. They do not have to comb the forest to find us, they just need to head for the fire and shoot the lads like birds at decoy.
Before anybody could say anything Lt. Klockars came , looked at the fire and mentioned something about us being followed. Then the Captain said that he "had the right to withdraw along this road. Let's go!"
Some scouting Russkies had approached because Pvt. Reiska Ilonen was ambushed. He had been washing his feet and had to fight barefoot. He spent several ammo clips before he could get to safety with us. The "rightful withdrawal" was speeded up. I asked for horse transport and got it, too, because my damaged feet were really bad. I sat in the cart on top of the Paramedic NCO who had found such a dreary death.
Undisturbed we returned to Torasjärvi isthmus but there an unpleasant surprise was in store for us. The Vanya had cut the road during the night about one kilometer North from the bridges. We were ordered to help there. In traditional Finnish style we grumbled, because we felt ourselves hungry, tired, we were low in ammunition and - er - we did not wholly trust our Commander. He began to yell things like "mutiny" and so on. He was not aware of the fact that a Finn always grumbles a little before getting up and obeying orders. Our platoon was also unhappy because Lt. Klockars told he was going to attend to his own duties in the Regiment although Capt Torvinen would not approve. He said just "'bye" and was gone.
We began to plough the road open. We advanced on the right side of the road and felt quite smug as our adversary was missing two squads and two AT guns. As we reached a line cut in the forest for a power line, Cpl. Sven Lydman, my school friend and volunteer, a clever but absent-minded fellow, suggested that we should stick together for mutual aid if anything should happen to any of us. I promised, but as it often happens in war, our ways were parted. He found himself on the right wing of our chain, and I on the left.
I was tired, oh, how tired I was! The forest was about thirty meters off from us. Sec.Lt. Pesonen later told me, and several witnesses confirmed, that I had suddenly fired a burst with my SMG in a bush. They checked and two dead Vanyas were found. One of them had been swapping the magazine of his "sheet-metal gun" (PPS) while the other one had obviously intended to run. I do not remember anything about it. I must have fallen asleep and as sleepwalker shot the "comrades"
I remember, though, how we a little later met some lads from a signals or a Sapper Battalion in the forest. Sapper Alila fired his rifle and shouted that he had shot a Russki. Our job started.
We made it to the top of a hillock on a clearing but no farther. Cpl Ryysy, a fair-haired man with clenching a pipe in his mouth came from the right wing and told that our line had been broken. There was a gap of 200 meters through which enemies were coming in the encirclement. He also told that Cpl Lydman had been shouting in a bush of bracken, as tall as a man, that he had been hit. Cpl. Ryysy had looked for him but in vain. We planned to look for him but once again the war overthrew our plans. Mortar bombs began to rain on our hillock, they exploded in the trees and on the ground. The noise of war had effected my hearing so that I did not know about an explosion before seeing it. The sound of my own weapon was just like tapping a pencil on a desk. Surprisingly I could hear human talk.
So I could hear that Sapper Blom was asking for targets. He was lying prone in a shallow hole and fired. Due to tiredness I did not dare to lie down and that is why Blom, a calm man, used me as his spotter. I told him to keep an eye at a pile of firewood etc. We proceeded another ten meters with Cpl Ryysy but no farther. There was no way to get forward except by turning into an angel and flying. We who were supposed to break the encirclement were encircled ourselves.
Another 50mm mortar bomb flashed among us. Lt Kukko was mortally wounded, Sapper Alila was seriously wounded and a signals Major took a nasty hole in his arm. As I was cutting up his sleeve and a Paramedic prepared to bandage it the Major told us that 9th Company, Capt. Savola's outfit, is coming to deal with this situation. I was ordered to inform him about the state of things here. The Major was evacuated together with Alila who was supported by two lads. Cpl. Latva-Mäntilä, a blacksmith by trade, lifted Alila on his shoulder although Alila was not a lightweight like me. By a small miracle they had made it to the road and found a lorry.
Lt. Kukko was there, 10 meters from us prone on an anthill, he had dropped his pistol from his hand. I was sure he was a fallen hero, there was no way to get to him. Facing us was a fence of lead plated with nickel. Some of his men had tried to rescue him but failed. They, too were convinced that their Lieutenant was dead.
There was a rumour - I cannot understand where they emerge from - that Capt. Savola was wounded and his Company had quit their attempt. Moreover, it was true. There were three of us as we retreated from the hillock, Sec. Lt. Lahti, Cpl Joni Ryysy and me. Then we heard somebody shouting, it was Lt. Klockars.
- Oh man ! It's Alvari with gang, now we are going to take the hillock, find Kukko and press on maybe!
We were tensely waiting, and they came! Lt. Klockars did not have the heart to leave us. There were - two men. Soon Sapper Luomio took a bullet through his arm, he asked for permission to retreat and it was granted. He did get to the first aid post - having walked for two days.
There were four of us and hundreds of enemies. Klockars, who had found a rifle, saw something and was about to shoot but I had time to warn him:
- Don't shoot, it's Joni !
He shifted his aim and fired at an enemy peeking behind a tree. Missed! Another shot just as the Comrade was going to change his position, but he died.
We had a brief palaver and decided to get out of there if only possible. But now there were only two of us, Lahti and Ryysy had vanished somehow. Klockars and me managed to get to the road and crossed it. A lorry packed with men drove up, they, too, were getting out. They gave us a Degtarjev LMG. Lt Klockars took it and said:
- Sippola, now we are going to get Kukko out of there!
I explained him the situation that he completely ignored, I said that we absolutely would not be able to get to the hillock and Lt. Kukko. He insisted, then I lost my temper and shouted:
- Look over the road - there are Vanyas all over, and behind us, too. We are lucky if we get out of here ourselves, and so on. Finally I told him, almost in tears, that now we are getting out of here, I at least. Klockars told me that he is going to fire at least one magazine.
I ran about ten meters and looked back. There was a rock on the roadside, the Lieutenant had placed the LMG on it and he fired. I ran a little farther, then looked again. The Lieutenant was now whacking the LMG in bits against the rock, then he followed me. When he came to me there was a squad of men running ahead of us.
He shouted at them, asking them to wait for us. I told him that they probably were not our men, they were wearing helmets, greatcoats and backpacks - Russkies for sure. The Vanyas kept running, we followed them for a while, then turned back to the road. We could not fire on them because we did not get close enough.
When we reached the road we found ourselves near the bridges. Lt. Klockars went to the Battalion HQ to report. They sent a detachment to cover the retreat of the Battalion. There we found Lt.Lahti and Cpl.Ryysy, we all climbed up a hill where we found Lahti's platoon in position. The Vanya had already arrived from Silmijärvi to the isthmus and began to shoot at us from the edge of the forest.
We were the last men to cross the bridge on foot. After us came two lorries and a motor cycle with sidecar. The Sapper Battalion and their commanders had to swim across.
After some more little adventures we joined our outfit, where we were received as reportedly killed. There was a rumour that we are no more to be included in the roll call.
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L. M. Kauppi
Journal "Kansa taisteli" vol.11/12, 1959
(In the early phases of the Continuation war Brigade K was operating in the wilderness area of Kuntamalahti, the objective was to capture Porajärvi village. It was not possible to create a single front line but both sides had to use strong and active battle and recce patrols to gain tactical advanrtage and to deceive and disrupt the enemy. The following account describes a patrol strike in the HQ of Soviet Army Major Valli East of Porajärvi/Porosozero. Map available in Kansa Taisteli website. [Maj. Valter Valli, born in Finland, had somehow avoided getting shot during the Soviet purges in 1937/1938])
Our Company had been allowed to rest for a few days and the men had been able to enjoy the warm sun of early August in nice weather. It was as if there was no war at all. True enough, the war had lasted already longer than the “fortnight” estimated by many a man, but maybe we would soon be sent home. The mail had just been delivered here in Sikovaara and we read our letters on the grass of the sunny meadow. Some were writing letters, others were reading newspapers. There were also men interested in making surrogate coffee.
This waiting was ended as on 14 Aug 1941 at noon I was summoned to the Battalion Commander. I guessed at once what was going on, because our Company Commander, Lt. Alatalo had already had a meeting with the Battalion Commander. There was to be a long patrol mission in the enemy rear. The patrol was to be transported by lorries and then by boat to Himola village and from there they would proceed through the forests to the rear of Porajärvi village. I would be the commander, I was ordered to select thirty reliable men,who would be supplemented by three Sappers trained to use explosives. We would pack enough ammunition, explosives and food. Our main task was to disrupt the enemy, the Battalion Commander gave me explicit instructions. I was specially instructed to avoid engaging the enemy. We were given seven days to do the task, departure next night.
We completed our preparations and I had a discussion with the Battalion and Company Commanders on the details of our mission. Both officers considered we were embarking on a dangerous task, the Company Commander appeared to be really worried.
At 1630 hrs there was a lorry at the Battalion HQ at our disposal. We said goodbye and climbed on the lorry that slowly headed for Himolanjärvi lake. We were ferried over the 5km wide lake by a motor boat and soon we found ourselves in Himola village. We slept the next night there to be ready for the actual mission. The village had been taken by our Brigade and combed for any enemy stragglers, then a stronghold had been set up, mannded by our Company.
In the morning of 15 Aug we completed our last preparations and I explained the men the details to be taken into account during the mission. We scrutinized the map that indicated that the distance to the objective from Himola village was 50km. The terrain was soggy and tangled taiga forest alternating with marshland. We would have to cross several small rivers. A war reporter. Lt. Mikko Rossi was watching our preparations together with the off-duty men.
There were good reasons to plan in advance; although we had made several patrol missions during the Continuation War already, this one would be the most exacting and taxing our strength. We had to see to it that all that was needed was packed in and the loads would be evenly distributed among the men. Before we set off I gave the final instructions on advancing, fire discipline and disengaging in case of eventual firefight etc.
At 14.30 hrs we headed off from Himola to South while the lads who stayed behind wished us luck.
A 100 km journey was now in front of us, if we had been able to march straight. Although anything unexpected could happen I told that we would be back at 1500 hrs next Saturday 20 August ( five days later). I also asked them to heat up the sauna for us. My statement of exact time amused the men.
At first our progress was not as planned because the terrain was unexpecteldy difficult to pass, mostly soft marshland. Combined with a minor error in orientation we did not make more than 20km that day. Evening came and darkness fell, we had to set up camp and wait for morning.
Soon we heard three rifle shots, which remained an enigma to us. Did the enemy spot our track and they had fired signal shots? Should we get ready for a firefight?
We could not sleep because the weather was chilly and our clothing and boots soaking wet. We did not dare to make fire to dry them. We just set up a small fire in a covered spot to make surrogate coffee and eat.
Early next morning (16 Aug) our mess tins were again steaming. We ate and had some real black refreshing coffee. Then we continued our journey and made 30km although we had a break at noon, resting in warm sunshine. I also sent Pvt. Huurinainen and Koivunen to take a message to Huumola to be delivered to our Battalion Commander. There was no trace of the enemy. But it would not have been impossible that the enemy would have been waiting for us or would be pursuing us with any strenght, by ambushing us they would have made much trouble for us.
Again it was night and we had to camp. The following day would be one of action as we would have to reach an enemy supply road. We would have to regain as much of our strenght as possible. Since we had started at 0500hrs everybody willingly lied down even for a few hours.
After another passage through taiga forest it was 1800 hrs as we found ourselves close to our objective. Since it would not be dark for many hours the men were pleased to get some rest. The older, experienced men slept but the young ones, most of which had never been in a long patrol journey were nervous and unable to sleep.
Everything had gone well so far. Our journey had been tough and hard but we had reached our objective as planned. We had had to wade bogs, one softer than the other, go through thickets and crossed rivers and brooks, at times bridging them by falling trees, at times by wading. Some of the brooks and rivers were deep and fast flowing. We had to be very careful not falling in and getting wet, because then it would be even more tough to continue.
I paid special attention to securing both during rest and march. I set sentries in four directions to make it impossible for the enemy to surprise us. It was a sound practice both in the day and in the night.
As the night fell the men woke up, cleaned their weapons and ate. Some of the men hid their backpacks in the bushes, intending to take them when we would set off for return. Others, however, held the opinion that our departure would be so urgent that we would not find them and kept their packs on their shoulders. Indeed, we did not find all the backpacks in the dark forest as we retreated and 12 of them were left behind in Porajärvi.
I reconnoitred with Sgt. Pikkala and the Sapper Sgt, we stepped on the road and advanced in the direction of Porajärvi village. Silence reigned all over, there was not one motor vehicle in sight neither other vehicles or passers-by on the road from Porajärvi to Soutjärvi.
Also the sentries I had posted in the evening had not spotted any movement on the road that they had been watching. We kept advancing carefully, because we could be fired at by the enemy any moment. There was a bridge across a small brook, we reached it, but we did not detect any movement or any other sign of the enemy. Indeed it was so dark that one could not actually see anything but we listened so carefully that we would have heard the smallest sound or cracking.
We found out that there was an enemy camp North of the road, consisting of 30 to 40 closely spaced huts made of fir branches. It was really amazing that the enemy had not posted any sentries neither on the bridge or on the camp area. Did they think that the Finns would not be able to advance across the wilderness in their rear or why else had they been so careless? I set my men in positions 100m from the huts.
The men of our patrol were now prone in a line on a hillock. I checked their positiond and then went to the road with Sgt. Pikkala and the Sapper Sgt. The bridge was too insignificant to be blown up, instead we dug some holes in the road with our sheath knives and placed strong mines in them. Then we set some more mines around the enemy camp, finally we mined a telephone pole in the roadside.
The men had been told that as soon as a Sapper sets off the mine at the telephone pole they can start shooting. When the mines had been placed we left the road and began to wait for the H hour. Everything had been done without any disturbance. The enemy was not showing any signs of life. One hour passed, nothing happened. No transport column turned up although we were really hoping for one. The enemies slept peacefully in their huts, unaware of impending death lurking nearby.
The night of 17/18 Aug was cloudy and dark. The men were tense, waiting. They knew what to do when the signal for action would be given. Midnight was approaching and exactly at 2400 hrs I allowed the Sapper to pull the string. The mine went off and pieces of telephone pole flew in the air like wood shavings. At the same moment the SMGs, rifles and Pfc. Aavamaa's LMG opened up spraying bullets at the fir branch huts. It was in a way terrible vision in the dark because it looked like the entire environment would have burst in flames. The LMG emitted long bursts, SMGs buzzed angrily in a dry tone. Riflemen contributed their share to this concert that went on only a few minutes. There was a noise emerging from the fir branch huts, at first masked by the sound of shooting but increased in volume all the time. Firing had ceased abruptly as ordered and the patrol disengaged soundlessly and quickly at the agreed signal.
There was shouting and noise emerging from Porajärvi village center on the Western side of Suunujoki river. Engines were started and dogs were barking. We could hear it clearly as the distance was less than two kilometers. The stupefied enemy did not shoot, it is not likely that they knew where to fire, because the patrol had acted quickly and decisively. It had struck and vanished.
Having proceeded for some time in our return direction after climbing a hill we stopped for a while to listen. It was also necessary to catch our breath and observe the enemy action. The buzz of lorry engines was approaching the mined point of the road. Soon there were two loud explosions. The lorries must have struck the mines we had planted. Then random shooting was heard in the forest, soon more explosions: one, a second, a third...Obiously the enemy had stepped on or driven on the mines on the roadside.
The men were all smiles. Our task had been fulfilled and the journey home started. We had to hurry up anyway, just in case. We did push on at a fast rate. It was dark and the terrain was full of thickets so we had to advance in a queue sticking to each other, there was no other way to proceed. At dawn we were already far from our objective but not yet safe. We had been marching from midnight to 0800 hrs but had not progressed more than 20 km. We had been hampered by complete darkness, rain, soaking wet marshland and almost impassable thickets.
Now we had made it to a dry sandy forested hillside. We were surrounded by tall pines and the ground was red with lingonberries. It was a nice spot for a bit of rest. I set the sentries in every direction and Pfc. Mäkinen was as usually busy with making fire, soon our surrogate coffee was ready. It did taste good with heavy sissi food rations after a hard day's work. We pulled off our boots and socks, setting them to dry in the sunshine, then the men fell in deep sleep on the shrub. I warned the sentries to stay alert, because neglect in vigilance could be our doom.
At 1600 hrs we broke off, and continued until 2000 hrs. It had been constant rain and our clothing was soaking wet. We cut fir branches and made a big hut since it seemed that the rain was intensifying. When the hut had been completed we made a big fire in the middle of it, it was good to dry our gear in its heat. It may have been foolhardy to make the fire but we trusted on our luck. The night was pitch-dark and sentries were set in all four directions of the compass. The circumstances were not enviable but somehow also this night passed in the smoky hut.
It dawned and it was 19 August, and I ordered reveille at 0500 hrs. Since we had stated when leaving Himola the time of our return we had to take care of getting there in time. The last leg of our journey was ahead of us. We took a different route for our return to deceive the enemy. During the day we had to cross the same waterways as during our incoming journey. The terrain was so wet that every now and then water flowed in the shafts of our boots. But we pressed on, sweating, our feet were chafed or even bloody. There were some beautiful small lakes or ponds along our route. The wilderness can be beautiful indeed! We saw two big swans on a lake, they were not far and the riflemen would have liked to test the sights of their weapons. I could not allow it because it was not sensible to risk the safety of the patrol. Everything had gone well so far, why should we now become careless?
At 1100 hrs we were approaching Himola but we had a break because we would have arrived too early. Everyone liked to have some rest now that the worst was over. We stayed there for one and a half hours, then we set off and arrived at our place of departure at 1300 hrs. That was one hour earlier than scheduled, but the food had been cooked and the sauna heated for us.
The men had withstood the five day ordeal surprisingly well. Pfc. Aavamaa, for one, had carried his LMG alone the whole time, which in those circumstances calls for excellent stamina. But we were tired, our feet were covered in blisters and our bodies like beaten up. Many a time during the mission we had been strained to the extreme but nobody had complained at all. Every man knew that complaining did not make any difference, and a tired man could not become a straggler in the wilderness, he would certainly have died.
We could eat our fill, then take a good sauna bath and dry our clothing. We had a few more hours of rest, and what better could a tired soldier wish for. After our rest we were interviewed by Army Reporter Lt. Rossi who had returned to witness our return.
Our losses were limited to 12 backpacks, six of which were found later in October as Porajärvi had been taken. The men had hid their gear so well that the enemy did not find all of them.
At 1800hrs the stronghold motor boat was ready for us and we were shipped across the lake. A lorry was supposed to be there to pick us up but it wasn't, which was annoying for tired men. We had to march on foot to the Battalion HQ, we arrived at 2400hrs.
I reported briefly to our Company Commander who relayed my account to the Battalion Commander. I slept soundly again and woke up no sooner than noon to eat. Capt. Olsoni, our Battalion Commander, had given orders to allow the patrolmen to sleep as long as they wished.
Next I reported to the Battalion Commander about our journey, and he was satisfied with our performance. It was very pleasant to discuss with him since he always stood for his men and did his best to spare them. Our mission had been a difficult one, but it had been decided by the higher-ups and now it had been carried out. A Finnish patrol had for the first time advanced through the wide wilderness as far as Porajärvi. We discussed for two hours, and finally the Captain asked me to make a suggestion for granting Liberty Medals.
We kept talking about this mission for weeks because everyone wanted to hear about it from us. Our excellent “esprit de corps” was proven during the mission that had called for stamina, courage, guts and patience. It was my pleasure to thank the men for good teamwork after the mission. We had fulfilled the task ordered to us according to our best ability.
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“Kansa Taisteli” vol 5, 1958
(Cpl. Kivimäki was serving in Winter War in Field Artillery Regiment KTR5 as a radioman. At the end of the Continuation War he was a Lieutenant.)
I was a radio-NCO in a howitzer battery (of KTR5). Our battery had withdrawn to new positions on 16 Febryary 1940, next to the road from Kämärä railway station to Kämärä village at the edge of a clearing.
We were waiting for our breakfast from our logistics who were deeper in the rear. I got out of our tent to get my skis that I had left near the road previous night. As I reached the road there were unknown own men escaping to the other side of the road.
I looked for the reason for this panic and spotted a big enemy tank on the road to Kämärä station, firing its cannon along the road. There was a wounded man lying on the road, too. Quickly I headed for the gun position to get satchel charges, shouting for them when coming. The lads brought me some but without detonators – which later were found in the pocket of the armourer.
I hurried back to the road where I had seen a lorry loaded with two AT guns. The crews, who had vanished in the woods, were fresh replacements from the AT training center in Parola on their way to the front, we were told.
Now the tank was about 40m from the lorry, firing constantly. Close range AT men of my battery had followed me from the gun positions to the road to see the tank. I yelled wildly: “Lads, get those guns down or I shall shoot!” . It was a ridiculous command, thinking about it now.
I dropped my rifle and was the first one at the AT gun. Gunners Malminen, Hellgren, Virtanen and a few others helped me. The tank kept firing its cannon. We managed to set one of the AT guns in position in the ditch of the road. We had found ammunition and succeeded in shoving a round in the chamber. I gave instructions to lay the gun and then ordered: “Fire!”
One of the men mentioned above had occupied the gunner's seat and he pushed the trigger.
It was one of the miracles of the Winter War as our shot hit the tank squarely and made it stop its firing.
A hatch on the tank was opened and two men jumped out and hid under the tank. I got my rifle and rushed at the tank, firing a quick shot off the hip. The tankers escaped in the forest in the cover of their tank, shooting at us with a SMG.
Having run after the tankers I was able to see behind it. There was a lot of stuff: an entire tank column was coming at us. Two tanks were already quite close at the one we had knocked out. The last tanks were pulling back, seeing their advance blocked.
I hurried to our small gun and I shouted orders to fire at the third tank. Knocking it out would have trapped the second one. We did our best, we were able to fire the gun but being unused to it did not score.
In the meanwhile the trained gunners had returned and manned the second gun which they had placed on the other side of the road. They opened fire. In the confusion, disregarding my yells, they did not see or care about the rearmost tank that we were shooting at. They also were ignoranty of the situation because the first thing they did was to shoot a bullseye in the disabled tank. It burst into flames. Then they cheered.
The two tanks escaped in the cover of the knocked out one. I managed to persuade Gunner Hellgren to join me to follow them. We proceeded some 50 to 70 m to the edge of the kilometer wide clearing, where we saw a long column of tanks. The hatches were open and tankers were out of them up to their waist as if in parade. We found a hole and fired our rifles once. Then we had to hit the ground because the tankers responded with their cannons quite accurately.
Unfortunately our Battery was just in the shooting line of the tanks, some shells meant for us hit the battery positions exploding there. I managed to creep back to the battery and by chance of war found one of our men wounded. Pfc. Sorjamäki of my radio squad had been wounded in stomach by a splinter, and he died in hospital. Fate enabled the enemy to revenge to an outsider the loss that we had caused.
We understood that if the first tank had not been knocked out the entire column could have rolled in our rear. Probably our battery with its equipment of would have been lost.
Reminiscing this incident still makes me happy. I am happy because somehow I had found the strenght that made a plain Field Artillery Radio Corporal to do at least one significant deed during the war.
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Journal Kansa Taisteli vol.4, 1960
(The author was a AT platoon leader with the rank of Second Lieutenant in JR28, holding a stretch of front in the Eastern edge Carelian Isthmus.)
-They must have served me a real power potion last night, I told Sgt. Grönroos who was sitting on his bunk next to mine. I was just in the process of waking up as I heard the first cannon shots of the Winter War (30 Nov 1939). Previous night I had participated in the get-together for the officers of our Regiment and among others I had made the aquaintance of an elixir known as Spiritus Fortis, for the first time in my life. It had been hidden behind a treacherous code name “Café á la Mlle Umpilampi”. No wonder that I mistook the source of thumping in my head.
Grönroos was serious as he said:
- It seems to have started for real because a couple of shells just exploded at the shoreline of Umpilampi pond.
I was instantly fully awake and muddled ideas for action to be taken were racing in my mind. On the other hand I was happy to be able to test what our new and for our Army scarce AT guns were good for. The extra refresher period had been an adventure for me, I had already heard rumours of alleged demobilization and felt deceived. Suckers do not need to be plown and sown, they emerge spontaneously among the under-twenties!
Quicky I dressed while shells exploded here and there, I thought any action was called for. Many a man with war experience can say that the first things to do in a situation like this are self-evident. But I dare to say that with the Reserve Officer training of the date there were few who had a clear idea about the conditions of war, not to mention the co-operation of different units and branches of military. My second-in-command, Sgr. Grönroos was some twenty years my senior, an engineer in the civilian, and he said unconspicuously:
- It might be best to take our positions, the road we can leave as it now is.
Our Platoon had been assigned to build a supply road to the rear from our delaying positions. Of course Grönroos was right, and we started this routine operation.
My Platoon comprised men from the parishes around Tampere and we had been trained to use the new 37 mm Bofors AT guns made by Tampella in a two week crash course. Then we had been sent to Viipuri with two guns. In the railway station of Viipuri with another AT platoon we had tossed a coin and now found ourselves in the Taipale front section.
During the extra refresher period the section was held by JR28 (later renamed JR19) and its commander assigned us to Metsäpirtti parish, Eevala village for the AT force. We built an post for one of our guns in our left flank just at the shore of Ladoga and for the other one a post in the Eevala village, on the side closer to the lake near Umpilampi pond. The distance between our guns was about four kilometers. The III Battalion of JR28 had been recently transferred to Metsäpirtti and they had just started building their positions. Barbed wire installation had proceeded in a good rate led by a civilian construction engineer, but the wire had been laid more for farming than fighting since it avoided farmed land.
The result was that the fighting positions had to be built in the forest, leaving a big dead angle in front of the wire. Also our gun position was surrounded by wire posts. The problem was that if an armour piercing 37mm shell touched a wire post or the wire, its soft lead tip would be damaged, resulting in deteriorated accuracy and lack of penetration. We only had twenty shells at our disposal without any promises of resupply. Finally, the gun post had been placed in front of the infantry trench and protected by low sand walls only, to provide some kind of shooting sector. (...)
The enemy shelled at times Metsäpirtti village, Viisjoki bridge was hit and several civilians were killed or wounded.
Battalion Lagerlöf had manned their positions and an infantry platoon reinforced with a MG had their stronghold next to our gun. The MG gunners did not accept the gun nest built for them. It was made in accordance with standing instructions of wrist-thick pieces of wood, to conserve forest. They placed their weapon in the open field to see and hear something. Later I saw that in heavy shelling the men preferred the trench or foxholes to weak dugouts.
In the evening I visited our gun on the Ladoga shore and was about to get fired at by the 20mm AT gun of the battalion, because the road was parallel with the first line and the silencer of my motor cycle had been lost in the rough terrain.
The first wounded were evacuated through our positions and some men of Detachment Metsäpirtti passed us as the first delaying positions had been abandoned. Metsäpirtti village was torched at the same time, it provided a grand sight in the darkness. There was a shroud of smoke in front of the houses, lit by flames, resembling a billowing red curtain. We should have torched the Eevala village, but we thought it would have been more of a disadvantage than an advantage as the fighting would be starting soon. We also were horrified at the idea of committing such a large-scale act of arson, because we were not able to admit ourselves that these parts would have to be seceded to the enemy.
The night passed peacefully, we kept sentries, and the 1st of December dawned. Fires kept burning and there was smoke everywhere. The terrain was covered with a thin layer of snow. We needed snowsuits but none were available, the rest of our gear was more or less “Model Cajander” standard. We had, however, received greatcoats, so we were not bothered by cold.
While busying ourselves with morning chores we detected an odd smell in the smoke. There was a shout “gas!” and that was all that was needed, everyone quickly donned their gas masks. This is understandable taking into account how great importance was paid to gas warfare in training in the 30's, carried over from the Great War. Consequently the “ monoxide mug” was one of the most essential pieces of personal equipment, and if a conscript had learned anything during training it was to be aware of risk of gas. (…)
Having fooled around for a few hours wearing gas masks, sweating and annoyed finally a
Sapper came from Metsäpirtti, informing us that the pharmacy of the village was still burning. So that was the source of the odour. The gas mask exercise had the benefit that the tension of expectation did not rise too much and the laughter after our error had been detected served to relieve tension.
The gun team comprised Cpl. V. Salmi: gun commander, Pfc. S. Nykänen: gun layer, Pvt. Lehtelä, loader, they were were busy with their gun, and I had found a place in the trench on the left side of the gun emplacement. My runner, Pvt. Järvinen had made tea and served it in the trench in a teapot he had found in a house.
It was about 1100 hrs as we heard odd clanking noise, shouting and whistles from the direction of the enemy while having our tea. Every man in the stronghold took their positions. The noise increased in volume and we detected movement in the far end of the fields near Ladoga, it was approaching us. A moment later we could see it was a marching column consisting of at least five tanks and about a company of infantry in snowsuits. The whistles were obviously some kind of signals.
As the enemy scouts reached the wire they spread in front of us and to the left of us. We opened fire with our weapons, I joined in with my Spanish sidearm as well as I could, but I cannot say anything of the results. The enemy automatic weapons opened up, too, and bullets whined nastily in the branches above us. Fortunately they aimed too high.
Cpl. Salmi spotted the first tank and ordered fire. Judging by the tracer it was a good hit, the tank was immobilized. The second tank was also knocked out but as the third one was being aimed at it was faster to fire, and our gun took a square hit. The gun barrel was bent, the shield on the side of the gun layer was wrecked, the sighting scope was broken and the lock stuck. Pfc. Nykänen was hit in the head, his brain was blown out. Pvt. Lehtelä was flung on the bottom of the gun emplacement but by miracle he survived as well as Cpl. Salmi.
Having seen the destruction I shouted the men to leave the position that was an easy target for the enemy now that they had been detected. Atth same time I noticed that the enemy had broken through the wire to the left, and men in snowsuits were running in our rear. Just the moment we had detected enemy moving in front of us Sec.Lt. Metsälä, the commander of the rifle platoon, reported that he had received orders to disengage. Neither the MG nor my AT gun were under his orders. I was very much surprised, but since we had not received the order to withdraw, I just thought the higher-ups know what they are doing and the Umpilampi line is going to be defended with heavy weapons. After some hesitation the MG'ers decided to stay, too. (...)
We could not even think that this would be a case of misunderstanding that called for spontaneity. If this had happened a few weeks later, my gun would quicky have joined the infantry if they had not stayed with us.
But the situation was on: we were there alone. I began to creep up the shallow communication trench as I saw a faint small column of smoke rising behind a bend. I stopped to wait for an explosion, squatting in the bottom of the trench. But there was no explosion despite the smoke, I peeked behind the trench elbow. It was our tea-pot that we had abandoned, steaming.
We rallied behind a barn in our rear. It seemed that our retreat route had been cut, therefore I decided that we should try to cross the meadow between Umpilampi pond and Eevala village for the forest opposite to us. I knew that the 9th Border Guards Company held it. The machine gunners had disappeared in time having detected the risk of getting encircled. There was no time to waste.
Cpl. Salmi and his team set out running along a road to the left of us. To prevent bunching I and my runner Järvinen crossed the meadow wishing to get some cover from the barn behind us.
That was the sprint of our lifetime, about 200 meters. The lapels of our greatcoats were constantly hampering our movements and the gas mask and the map case would turn to beat my knees. A LMG behind us fired long bursts and bullets were spraying snow around us. Suddenly I spotted flashes of muzzle fire in front of us and realised that the Border Guards took us for attacking enemies. I tried to shout but was not able to, and I do not think anybody could have heard me in the din. I remembered the tactical sign: white handkerchief at your belt, or flashlight at the belt height. I took my handkerchief but it was no whiter than my coat. Then I tried my flashlight but shooting just continued.
Järvinen panted on my side:
- I cannot run any more.
He was now behind me. I urged him to try to continue but he said:
- I'm going to drop down now.
I just had time to shout: - Don't! - But he was down already.
Finally I managed to reach the shooting line at the edge of the forest, pass it and drop down on the moss. I was shaking all over and my lungs were gasping for air. The Commander of the Border Guards came and began to berate me for abandoning our positions. My hate was incited and I also would have to express myself aloud but being out of breath, was not able to. Then I remembered Pvt. Järvinen and was told that he had taken a bullet through his chest and the Border Guards had dragged him to safety. Later I learned he had been shot at from ahead.
Cpl. Salmi had been lost from my view but I met him later. They had made it without losses, but the Border Guard sentries had tried to arrest them, suspected as spies.
Having caught my breath I headed for the ferry of Taipale river. On my way I met Sec.Lt. Kaskinen with his AT gun. His platoon had withdrawn as ordered. I was ferried over the river with his men. We had orders to rally at Terenttilä school but having no map I went to Vilakkala schoolhouse. I was so tired that I fell asleep in the first bed I found.
Next morning the process to sort out the mess was started. To begin with I was accused of abandoning my AT gun, then Lt. Metsälä was threatened with court-martial. Finally it was decided that we two with our platoons were sent to recover our AT gun, but the enemy had occupied the far shore of Taipaleenjoki before we could even start.
What was the actual reason for the confusion and why, in the first place, Lt. Metsälä's platoon had left their positions too early? It was found that the runner taking the order to disengage to the 9th Border Guards Company had presented it to the 9th Company of the III Battalion: “9th Company to disengage”. This shared number confused the co-operation, also the unclear paths of command forced the MG squad and the AT team to fight their own private wars.
It was a true baptism of fire. The embarrassing fact is that most of the baptism was provided by friends, but on the other hand we had two godfathers: friends and enemies.
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Extracts from the diary of a Sergeant
Journal Kansa Taisteli vol. 03, 1957
(The autor appears to have been a Platoon Leader in 3.Pr. )
21 February 1940 in Intermediate line positions
Our dugout is on the side of Peronjoki river. It has been constructed as a MG bunker but its embrasure is frontal and shooting field limited. That is why we placed our MG behind the dugout in the trench. The river is 10m wide and frozen over. The ice is so thick that tanks can drive on it. To prove it there are marks of tank tracks next to our dugout after a tank visit in Maantie stronghold a couple of days ago.
The leader of the M G platoon Sgt. Ovaska resides in our dugout. This morning he left to visit the Maantie stronghold but soon returned with news. He had checked in passing a stretch of the anti-tank trench that we could not observe from our positions. The trench had been full of Russians. In his opinion they could be eliminated with a simple surprise raid. We woke up some off-duty men and led by Sgt. Ovaska we sneaked to the AT trench in the cover of darkness. Soon our hand grenades exploded in the trench and a SMG completed our job. The enemy lost twenty two men including a Lieutenant. We rescued a watch, a pair of binoculars, a map case, a TT pistol, a sniper rifle and several autoloading and standard rifles.
Our Company Commander had acquired anti-tank mines to be placed in the tank tracks passing our dugout in case the Russians wanted to come again using their old route. Our Staff Sergeant and his scribe hauled five of them on a ahkio sled and I was assigned to place them. I and Jaeger Lappalainen set to work. I dug holes for the mines and placed them there, then crept back. Lappalainen then left to activate the mines and cover them. Something went wrong: there was a loud explosion. No more mines, no more Lappalainen. He hailed from Lapinlahti in Sakkola parish, I had been with him in sauna at his home farm during the mobilization period.
At evening dusk Soviet private Pyotr Sergei Shuvalov tried to pay a visit to us but the sentry at our dugout door happened to be such a rash man that he shot the visitor in the head. The friendly intentions of our visitor should have been obvious since he dragged his rifle on the ground while crooning a sad tune. In the other hand he had a corked vodka bottle and another uncorked one in his pocket. It is a riddle how he was able to get in our trench without being spotted by our sentries. Someone who knew Russian read his documents: he hailed from Kiev, age 24 years, profession mechanic technician. He must have been aladies' man because he had a number of photographs of beautiful women in his pocket. We pitied the girls, but the vodka was good.
23 February 1940
Yesterday the Russians attacked in the direction of the road and their artillery was active from dawn to dusk. The trench of our company was only fired at with tank and AT guns, probably because their men were too close to our positions, less than one hundred meters from us. But the forest behind our trench was cut down totally. Another Company had held the Maantie stronghold regardless their losses. Last night they were relieved and a Company of Uusimaa Regiment took over the stronghold.
Our Company had a bad day, not due to enemy but we had eaten fermented pea soup in the morning. Undressing for relieving oneself while wearing several layers of clothing and webbing is such a time consuming operation that it is successful only if one's stomach is in normal order. While fermented pea soup churned our stomachs nobody was successful, not a single one. By afternoon we quit trying. We had sunk to the level of animals. But the animals have it easier since they do not wear trousers. We had to keep in our pants what the animals can leave behind. The lads begged to be allowed to visit the doctor due to diarrhea but we could not leave our positions unoccupied. A paramedic NCO distributed carbon pills by kilograms.
24 February 1940
Our dugout is aligned to a line cut in the forest enabling us to observe one kilometer over Perojoki river and behind the road. On our very first night we built an observation and sniping post on top of our dugout. As long as there is enough light someone is always lurking with the sniper rifle that we took from the Rusians. We had aligned the scope in the rear positons before using the rifle.
The Russians may not have any idea what kills their men behind the road some 500 to 600 m from our dugout. Their communications path must be there, because it is busy all day. The most enthusiastic stalkers boast of twenty kills a day, but who knows, all claims cannot be verified. The ones that the enemies drag away in our sight are certain cases. It has happened that they have had to send four men in succession, as each of them had turned into a casualty. We can see that they believe their losses are caused by fire from the opposing trench and they are trying to find cover accordingly
Today the Russians again applied their tanks in the direction of the road. Not on the road but in the forest parallel to the road some hundred meters off. They had bad luck. Uusimaa regiment boys torched eight of them with petrol bottles.
Our diarrhea continues, less severe than yesterday. But it has sapped our strenght. Fortunately we shall get a couple of days' rest soon, another company shall relieve us next night.
26 February 1940
We are lodging in dugouts near the Brigade HQ. It is the second day of our rest, and we have slept off the worst of our tiredness. Washing up, shaving and changing underwear are in normal life boring chores. Now they mean something festive. Although one field tin full of water melted from snow is not much after two week of unwashing, we feel that we are turning into humans again. The reasons for joy and happiness are very much relative and depending on the circumstances.
We have received replacements: recruits who have been in training camp for two months. Our Company was reorganized today. Old replacement men were transferred to the logistics platoon to replace young men who were placed into rifle platoons. The men assigned as drivers seemed to be satisfied. They believe that in that position they have better chances of keeping their lives than in the trenches.
But company horse drivers are not much better off that riflemen as to safety . They believe, however, and the truth is what one believes.
27 February 1940
Last night we relieved the 3rd Company defence positions. The enemy is attacking heavily at Näykkijärvi and Honkaniemi railway stop, and managed to make a small break. One Jaeger Battalion has been ordered to repulse the enemy.
The lads of the 3rd Coy. have shared a water hole on the ice of Perojoki river. Water has been hauled in turns and water carriers have not been fired at. In the morning dusk a rash recruit happened to be in sentry duty. He could not resist the temptation of shooting at a Russian water carrier at the water hole who was 40m from him. From now on it is advisable to melt water for coffee from snow. Unfortunately there is for some reason just black snow around here.
A more serious mishap happened a little later. A platoon of Sappers came to mine the no-man's land. The mines and the rest of their gear was transported in a sled that they drove in the vicinity of the front line. I was assigned to guide them. I and their commander agreed about the procedure, then I left to open a passage in the wire. The Sappers started to unload their mines from the sled into a ahkio sled. A single mortar shot was heard from the enemy side, the bomb swished above – and hit the sled. The pressure wave threw me down. Three Sappers were evacuated to the first aid post – there was nothing left from the others to be evacuated anywhere.
The enemy launched a tremendous artillery fire in the morning, it went on for two hours, then died down by the by. We were expecting an attack which did not take place. The whole day we have heard sounds from the No-man's land – like plainitive wailing – and single enemies have been seen creeping here and there. As the moon rose we gave “area fire” in front our trenches, even our artillery participated with a few shells as well as the Battalion mortar platoon. The sounds quieted down.
Then a lone Russian began to yell repeatedly: Stalin! Stalin! Stalin! Stalin!
The night was else silent so this yell was almost grisly. It was found that the yeller was a wounded Russian stuck in our wire. We decided that if any Russians are coming to rescue their man we shall leave them alone. Nobody came, and yelling went on. Since we did not want to risk any of our men to the Russian fire, we gave a burst with a LMG. Yelling was ended
Last night two patrols checked the No-man's land. They found the terrain in front of our trench full of killed Russians. Not a single living one was found anywhere. At dawn we got wiser. Another patrol went out and returned half an hour later. They confirmed the report of the night patrols.
The Company Commander and some of us left to investigate. Beyond the river there is a 200m wide strip of forest comprising tall firs, then a mostly open swamp with spots of stunted pines. A tragedy had met the Russians in the forest strip. An area of four or five hectars was covered with Russian dead, almost touching each other. We did not even bother to count their number, but judging by the area there must have been almost four hundred of them. Several of them were still clutching a piece of bread that they had been eating as the Grim Reaper came.
The Russians had in the night of February 28 positioned a strengthened battalion about 200m from our positions. Their intention was to swamp our trench and then continue turning to the East to the road, thus threatening our three Companies to the West of the road with encirclement and cutting their supply road.
This had been the enemy plan but the man who planned the preliminary artillery strike foiled it. He had miscalculated his coordinates by one kilometer which proved fatal in this case. The shells meant for us landed right on their exposed battalion that was in combat readiness.
We found their FOO with his map in front of him and a phone handset in his stiffened hand. He must have copped it at once because he had not been able to stop the shelling. It had been heavy onaes because 16 to 18 inch thick fir trunks had keeled over like matchsticks. One fir trunk had been cut in the middle and the top had fallen on the man below, and remained upright supported by its branches.
The Colonel-Lieutenant had his opened map case in front of him. There was some wheat bread, tinned meat and a bottle of vodka, part of which had been consumed. He, too, had met his Maker during his last supper.
This battalion had not been another “pekhota” battalion but a NCO school from Leningrad. They had been shipped right from their camp and disembarked at Kämärä. Two days ago they may have had been spending their night in a night spot of their city. They all were 22 to 25 years in age, sporty-looking young men. They were wearing new padded uniforms made of some silky fabric, and under it a standard new summer uniform, and finally two sets of new flannel underwear. Their faces were not chafed by cold winter wind nor soiled by campfire soot, but they had left for the war with washed faces and well shaven, as if to a party.
Among the dead there were not only the Col.Lt., but also a number of other officers ranking from Captain to Sub-Lieutenant, and even more NCOs. Their map cases were full of maps and documents. We found it most amazing that their maps had been delivered with our incompleted Intermediate Position printed on it: dugouts, nests, hindrances. Thick arrows had been drawin with colour pens to indicate their projected attack route.
It was snowing that day, the enemy remained calm. Just a single shell whistled overhead from time to time. We opened a passage in our wire and tread a sled road to the field of carnage. One horse at a time was driven there and the sleigh filled with war booty. Our every Company horse and some of the Battalion horses were employed in hauling a load of booty. The very first sleds were loaded with twelve brand new machine guns that were painted white and still in storage grease. The Russians would not have been able to use them as they were but they must have imagined that their artillery would sweep so clean that the machine guns would not be needed at all. We found 50mm mortars, LMGs, SMGs, autoloading rifles and other stuff the battalion had been burdened with. No pistols were seen in our sleds but the lads had bulging pockets.
The lads were allowed to go out a platoon at a time to loot. Everyone pocketed a trophy for himself. The dead had a surprising quantity of cash in their pockets. Banknotes, coins, pins of all kinds. In the afternoon our trench was virtually lined with roubles as the lads of my Platoon dumped the contents of the wallets they had taken from the pockets of the dead. I had an idea: If I filled a backpack or two with that cash, who knows, I might live as a rich man. But where to get packpacks just there and then? The banknotes were left to be trampled in the dirt of the trench.
The values had been profoundly changed. Men work their entire lives to accumulate money, they commit the greatest crimes and felonies to acquire it, but now nobody bothered to pocket more than a couple of banknotes – just as souvenirs only.
Although we had had an easy day the enemy has increased their efforts at Honkaniemi train stop and managed to make a breakthrough. The Intermediate line has to be abandoned, and a few hours from now another delaying action shall be started. The transport columns are already withdrawing behind the Valkjärvi rail line. Our Company shall put up delaying positions in the terrain S of the Piilola railway stop at Kämäräjärvi lake.
Uusimaa Regiment shall leave patrols behind in the Intermediate line to keep contact with the enemy.
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He never told anything else except the time when he and his buddy were picking up supplies with a horse. The Russians were waiting for them and soon an ambush followed, his buddy and horse got shredded to bits by a machine gun. My great-uncle simply took off and ran as fast as he could, rolling down a slope and swimming across a river to safety. To my understanding there were more men, but he was one of the only to survive that. I haven't found any mention of this in his units war diaries, so the exact time and location of it remains a mystery. The war was extremely hard for him and thus this was the only story he ever told.