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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 05, 1961
I am not going to tell about any heroic or great deeds on the honourable battlefields as many writers have done on the pages of this journal. I would not be able to do this because my front experience was limited to two months due to a tragic incident.
This is the story of an infantry platoon suffering a tragic incident one evening. In one moment my platoon was not more a fighting outfit and many a warrior ended their battles there, some temporarily, others for ever.
As the war broke out in June 1941 I was doing my compulsory military service in Riihimäki but due to illness I found myself in the front line not until end of August having passed through several training and replacement camps. I was posted in JR35, II Battalion, surrounding the Vieljärvi “motti”. They posted me to the 2nd Coy led by Lt. Luukkonen and on to the 4th Platoon. The Platoon CO was 2nd Lt. Erkki Alava. My Squad leader was Cpl. Mattila.
Our outfit comprised mostly reservist and by that date they had experienced several tough battles.
The hard experiences of this warrior outfit is illustrated by the fact that I arrived among the fourth replacement, yet the platoons remained undermanned. For some reason , maybe due to the fluidity of the front there and then, the entire JR35 was a mobile task force that was in a great haste thrown there where there was the greatest need on the front; problems in attack or the advance being delayed by a stubbornly defending “motti” or a well entrenched enemy outfit that had to be annihilated. We were not allowed to stay at Vieljärvi long enough to see the finale of the battle but our Battalion was urgently transported to the Petroskoi road and from there a couple of weeks later to Onkamus.
Finally, after many marches through wilderness, lorry transports and intense battles we arrived at the road to Karhumäki. We were supposed to get three days of R&R but no time for that. We were again needed to fight. We marched through a recently taken burning village. Then we again engaged a well camouflaged enemy and dislocated them in an intense battle. We marched on the road to Karhumäki from Mundjärvi town about 25 km. Then we turned to a forest road and on 12.10. we found ourselves about 11km from the road to a location where we saw a largish river (Suununjoki) and some kind of a hydro-power plant [Actually Kivatsu waterfall]
In the evening dusk we were squatting in the rainy forest without digging in and alert due to the presence of the enemy. Our Platoon had again shrunk to 25 men during the incidents I have described. Having stayed awake all night we were allowed to pull back a little because other Companies had dug in and manned the actual first line. We spent the forenoon in free activities, tea making and eating. We also had a service by the Chaplain and a briefing by the Company CO. This made us all suspect that surely we shall soon find ourselves in a tough spot. Indeed, a short while later the Platoon leaders were being summoned to the Command tent.
2nd Lt. Alava came with his orders: we shall take off at 0100hrs to outflank the enemy in order to chase them on the other side of the river. For this task everyone was to be as lightly equipped as possible, that is without greatcoat and other extra stuff but as well-armed as possible. Our hunches had materialized. Our minds turned serious, some were thinking of their distant home, others were turning to their Creator asking quietly for protection and cover.
At the H hour we set out, carefully advancing toward the enemy in order to surprise them totally and thus fortify our strike. The battle turned hot and heavy, because we had against us young well trained elite outfit. The outcome was lucky to us due to a wonderful chance, although our prayers surely affected the successful result. As we were still advancing in the enemy rear to our surprise we found that the enemy was just attacking our line where the other Companies were in defence. The enemy had left in their positions just a fraction of their troops. Consequently we managed to hit in the enemy partly in their rear and partly in their positions and squeeze them between two fires.
The situation was initially confusing but the enemy was totally confused because our outflanking was a total surprise for them. To add to confusion the Lieut set up 5 men groups who kept running from one place to another, cheering and firing wildly whenever they stopped, even though the enemy should not have been in the vicinity. Our ruse was successful, the enemy started retreating in confusion all along the line to the river, that they crossed, blowing up a bridge after crossing.
The enemy lost a number of men dead, also plenty of material. We had fulfilled our task, and due to the victory we were in a jolly mood. Our satisfaction was increased by the fact none of us had been killed, not even wounded. Battalion CO gave us thanks for a task well fulfilled and as a small reward we were allowed to pull back a little for the night's rest. At the same time, however, we were given the task to secure the Battalion HQ for any enemies straggling in the terrain.
Our Platoon moved at once in the ordered terrain where we hastily started setting up tents in a place selected b the Platoon Leader. The autumn evening was already dark, it was already 17th October. That is why some of our men quite openly used pocket torches although others warned against it. The light users just explained us that we found ourselves in the rear terrain and also in a dense forest, so there was no problem. Using light we would get our tent set up sooner and get some sleep. As the tent was set up we made the usual tea brew in our sooty field kettles and enjoyed it with crispbread as evening snack. Next I and Pvt. Onni Sarlin had to take the first listening sentry stint. Having stood around there for two hours we were relieved and we, too, were to get some desired rest.
As soon as we got to the tent we took off our greatcoats and began to find a place to lie down near the door among our snoring pals. Sarlin managed to push himself on his backpack but despite my efforts I could not find a spot beachside our pals were so tight against each other. I even pushed some sleeping men to create space for myself but tired front fighters were not so easy to wake up. I was about to start shaking them roughly as Lieut Alava who had been watching my attempts called me farther in the tent and told me that there was a good slot left behind by Runner Jokinen who had been sent to the Regiment. I obeyed him and went to the far side of the tent where I stretched down on my back without even taking off my boots.
Sleep would not arrive at once despite exhaustion. My mind was occupied with the heavy fighting of the day and I sent my thanks to the Highest One for protecting me also today so that nothing bad had happened to me despite intense battle. Then my homesick mind wandered home, to distant Turku, to my dear mother and other next of kin. I was thinking would I ever again stride on the streets of my beautiful home town or angle perches at the bays of the sea some summer morning...
My peaceful meditation was interrupted suddenly by a mortar bomb whining over our tent, landing not far away. At the same moment another distant shot was heard followed soon by a louder whine half closer. Then Lieut Alava, lying next to me, got up and while calmly putting on his boots he said:
Boys, I think it is best to get out and disperse in the terrain in case we are in for a strike.
One man got out immediately, the rest were still lying down and thinking whether to go or stay?
Me, too, but then I was just about to get out because it was so ominously silent. We did not hear even another shot.
But soon the silence was broken by a hellish roar, whine and whistling, comparable to the noise of a modern jet flying low overhead. I did not have time to think of anything. There was only a some kind of premonition of death grabbing my chest that felt oddly empty anyway. An idea flashed in my mind: there is no way out, a vehicle of death is landing right on you.
I just managed more by instinct than reason lay as flat on the bottom of the tent as possible. I had no time to do anything else as there was a crash – a crash with such a hellish din and such a clear flash as if the sky and the earth would be one mess. The last thing I saw before the crash our Lieut standing stooped next to me putting on his boots. Then I saw nothing more, neither was our Lieut seen alive ever.
After the explosion there was clanging and crashing. Splinters, rocks, dirt and all our loose gear including our weapons outside the tent were flung about. Then there was a moment of silence and I felt incomprehensibly good and peaceful, as if the war were somewhere far in the past. I must have been for a moment unconscious and somehow stunned by the explosion and the pressure.
Finally I came to and returned to reality as wailing and calls for help could be heard in every direction. When by chance touching my neck and face I felt them covered by a warm moist sticky stuff. It was blood, and more was coming from somewhere. That scared me and I, too, started yelling for help. But there was none coming for the moment. Then my head became clearer and I found that I was not hurting in any part of my upper body even though I was covered with blood, so I could not be wounded after all.
My legs were feeling oddly numb but moving them carefully I found that they were not hurting. To my amazement I found that maybe, despite everything, I had survived and not even wounded. L left the total confusion and ran in the dark forest to find the casualty clearing station and get some help. Being stunned I did not find it, actually I did not have any idea where it was situated. I was erring about in the forest, then I heard scraping, cracking of twigs and grunting. I froze in horror since I did not have my weapon and feared it was an enemy patrol coming to finish off the survivors at our tent. But as then I heard wailing and whining I took courage and sneaked to the direction of the sound. Soon I spotted a creature writhing on the ground, and flashing my pocket torch to the ground I spotted a man crawling there.
I asked him:
-Who are you? How's things with you?
-Leo Salo, my feet are crushed.
I stayed with him to wait for help because I was alone unable to carry him and I did not know in which direction to take him, I was in a way lost myself. Soon a couple of men arrived having heard our voices. They helped Pvt. Salo to the C.C.S . There it was found that his legs were crushed or cut off above ankles. In the tent he had been sleeping on my left side while Lieut Alava had been on my right side. The projectile that hit our from behind landed in it and cut our Lieut in two, death was instantaneous. I who had found myself between him and Pvt Salo who was badly wounded in legs survived unwounded. Although covered in blood all over it was not mine but of my wounded and killed brothers in arms, mostly probably Lieut Alava's.
Having Pvt. Salo taken care of by others I kept erring in the forest. Soon I stumbled on a bundle, believing it was another wounded or killed of our men. Using my pocket torch I however found to my amazement that it was my backpack that I had left at the entrance of the tent. It was now bloodied and pierced by several splinters but it had remained in one piece. I lifted it on my shoulder and went on. Soon I found myself at the path on which the wounded were being carried from our tent to the C.C. Post. I too, joined the carriers having recovered from the daze.
After everyone had been evacuated from the remains of the tent and other confusion it was found that of our 21 man platoon remained just four men and Runner Jokinen who had not been present. 2nd Lt. Erkki Alava and three privates were instantly killed. Badly wounded were Pvts Sarlin, Suomi
and Salo plus someone else. Less seriously wounded were the Platoon backup leader Sr.Sgt. Keskitalo and ten men. I and Pvt. Kettunen had a severe shell shock that affected our muscular nerves so mixed up that we were trembling like old men. The wounded could not be evacuated during the night due to the difficult terrain, a regular forest path. They had to stay in the C.C.P. Tent that night.
Next morning the wounded were transported on horse carts to the ambulances waiting far at the road which then took them to the field hospital in Mundjärvi. The same morning I was examined by a surgeon who ordered a couple of days of R&R, but soon I was sent in a hospital for a couple of weeks. Finally I found myself in a hospital in Mikkeli where I spent six months.
Of our Platoon after that hit in the ranks remained just Cpl. Mattila and one private. The rest who were not killed on the spot or later, were hospitalized. As to my survival I can only thank the incomprehensible divine protection. It could have as well been me, who was not an example of a brave fighter could have been killed in that bomb burst, just as soldiers better than me would have to die.
With my story I wish to honour the memory of the men who fell then and particularly that of 2nd Lt. Alava. I wish to send my regards to the wounded brothers in arms of my outfit who still are there.
According to the database fallen in action in Kivatsu of JR 35, 2nd Company on 16. October 1941:
Alava, Erki Antero 2nd Lt.
Eloranta, Valto/Valdo Johannes Pvt.
Santala, Arvo Aukusti Pvt.
Linnamäki, Onni Johannes Pvt. ( in 17.Sota S)
War diary extract, 2./JR35:
Hand written in a school notebook, some words are hard to read
1st Platoon returned to Coy.
09.20hrs Attack down the road was launched to North.
2nd Coy with 1st Coy subordinated to it continued the attack in the direction of the road.
21.00hrs Jurksoktova (?)village South perimeter reached.
In the vicinity of bivouacking area 16 POWs and their weapons were taken
Coy marched to Konetsevänselkä village for the purpose of the attack to be launched at the Voronotkiva village.
10.35hrs Coy launched an attack to the directin of Voronotkiva village 22-20
16.00hrs reached Pt. 71.9
08.00hrs Coy continued their attack reaching by nightfall the road about 1km W of the objective
2nd Coy with 1st Coy subordinated to it carried out an attack in the rear of the enemy in defence W from Konetseinä (?) village, dispersing the enemy. Enemy losses comprise 150 KIA. Our casualties 1 KIA, 2 WIA.
As Platoon Alava was in a securing task the enemy shelled with artillery and mortars at 2300hrs. Platoon leader Alava was killed and three (other) men. Five wounded.
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One small incident in a great war
Journal "Kansa Taisteli", 06, 1961
My outfit was [25.]Kss.K /10. D. It was mid August 1941 [17th -18th ] at its most beautiful as our advance in the East side of the Carelian Isthmus went on day after day. But now the enemy was putting up a resistance at Räisälä, north of the church village. They had dug in along the road and had no intent to withdraw. Withdrawing is no fun for any soldier of any army. One of the enemy MG s had been placed on a rocky hillock opposite the glen our troops were to traverse. The view from the hillock was excellent and the crew of the MG appeared to be tough indeed. Our smoke mortar team had received orders to cover the glen with a smokescreen to provide support for the attack of JR2. Later I learned it was for diversion only.
So our troops did not attack at the smokescreen but somewhere else. The smokescreen was just to pull the attention of the enemy and it did just that. The enemy MG concentrated its fire just at out smoke mortars. Did I not fear, the diversion smoke created for me a total atmosphere of war. There had been a nominal quantity of warfare. This skirmish was just a continuation of the battle at Unnonkoski on 110 to 12 August to encircle the enemy, we had been subjected to tough counter-strikes and casualties had been mutual. Then a smokescreen to cross Unnonkoski rapids had not been deployed. Now we were trudging with our mortars through blossoming fields of hay to our positions, sweating mercilessly. The outcome of the battles at Unnonkoski could be felt here in smell. The dead could not be so much seen in the high grass but the smell revealed that there was one and another one there. This summer war had disgusting side effects.
2nd Lt Tyrni was not afraid. He beckoned from the top of a hill to his sweating outfit: -This way! This way! There! He was young, supple and excited. I and many other of us who in the civilian life had been doing hard manual labour were dubious and timid. I did bless the farmer who at his time had dug ditches in his summer thoughts and divided his meadow on the top of the hill in three or four strips. We set the mortars in a ditch in a row. We jammed the base-plates in the soft dirt. Elevation and trajectory were adjusted with unstable degree gauges welded on the sides of the tubes near the base-plates Somehow the mortars looked to me like unfinished inventions? The weapon was even discharged by the side of the tube with a trigger and a piece of string. The breech blocks were prone to cause accidents as in the cover of the smokescreen the interrupted screw was soiled by sand and they did not quite go home when turning them in haste; the propellant charge might send the entire breech block through one's palm.
Then the action started – different for each individual according to the state of his nervous system. It was affected by energy, courage, fear, passivity and other human factors. I was the trigger man, on my side in the ditch , all my senses down at the grass and dirt. And there was next to me a youngster who was dropping non-ballistic smoke projectiles in the mortar tube. He was a sturdy man with brown small eyes, calm and quiet. The visor of his field cap had been somehow bent in his hands conspicuously, permanently.
Everyone tried to stay prone in the cover of the ditch because our opponents did not spare cartridges, because they had spotted that we had arrived on the top of our hill. The weapon out there was pouring belt after belt at us. A machine gun really appeared to be a mean invention as the water jacket shrouded barrel was pointing and us and we knew that the gunners were serious with intent to kill us. This was not a war play as in the old days at a military camp. There was some low bush in no-man's-land, willow and alder, there was snapping and snipping as sensitive explosive bullets burst hitting anything. I watched how small nickel fragments kept hitting the embankment dirt.
The mortar in front of me was fired by Vilho Tulkki. I had had some very personal conversations with him, even on lice as we had greedily heated up an abandoned smoke sauna and were having a bath.
-Look, you are saying that it is just fluff but I am telling you that cotton molecules are not creeping on a shirt lapel !
But now his reddened face was smiling under the helmet: never mind...!
He must have sensed that my soul was anxiously jumping against my ribs. The countenance of his face did mean a lot to me, later I think I even admitted that he knew how to smile in a military historically manner...
The mortar behind me was loaded by Einari Susi, a Carelian lad. I had occasionally called him “the hero of Summa” because in the Winter War he had been there. In my eyes he was still a hero, because what was he doing? He was singing! I thought it was most extraordinary in that situation. Jets of enemy bullets were licking the bushes with a crackle. Nastola Artillery Battalion was hating the opposite rock with loudly thundering six inch shells so that ricocheted fragments were whizzing and flopping down among us, like pieces of ax shafts. Moreover there was an enemy escadrille overhead, about eighteen a/c, like a swarm of bluebottles, seeking intently a spot to lay their eggs... But Einari just kept calling out: -Hey, hey!
As my eyes, dimmed by sweat and fear, sought his face below the helmet there was a wide mouth with white teeth laughing and singing a ditty of flowering grave mounds. I could not help laughing even though it was just forced courtesy by me. Fear does not make one cry, either. It just feels sort of nasty. In fear one believes to be only one afraid, the others not. Therefore one puts up a show of not fearing very much.
Even this kind of feeling makes one pull one's belt tighter to control the bowel nerves. I was skinny however and soon my belt was out of holes. It was not the MG bullets that scared me, I was not so stupid because I understood that the ditch embankment would withstand them. What I was afraid was my expectation that as soon as our smokescreen is being laid out we shall be shelled.
There was also a friendly MG busy at work on the slope in front of us. We could not see it but hear we did, because the crew did burn a lot of gunpowder when playing their weapon. Yet they did not manage to spot the enemy weapons nest because it was successfully camouflaged by piling grey stones on a grey rock. No everyone could just squat in the ditch. Sgt. Hemmo liaised with Lieut Tyrni who was observing the deployment of our smoke screen. He also passed ammunition to us and so had to move about in the bushes. I was suddenly frightened as I heard him exclaim next to me: -I am wounded!
Indeed, his cheek was bleeding at several spots. Also his Wärtsilä helmet, just at temple, there was a ding as big as a fingertip. An explosive bullet had hit there, creating a concussion and confusion but the helmet had saved his life. Thank G-d! He did not say it aloud but it was easy to deduce that seeing his varying facial expressions. A FMJ bullet would obviously have gone through the helmet and we would no more have had Hemmo, an amateur actor. Now he was still there. Only the tiny splinters had struck blood oozing wounds in his face like a quick cupping tool.
The smokescreen we had fired in the valley was at its best as our troops attacked. There was some fair yelling and cheering somewhere farther of. I did not understand accurately what they were rushing at but I could hear the said enemy MG staying in its position and shooting continuously still. I am not in the know about the technology of such a weapon but I had heard a lot about feeding problems, cooling water cooking, shortage of ammo but they apparently suffered no problems. As we the smokers had done our duty and sat down by the stone fence nearby bursts started engraving the fence side stones. They must have spotted our movement although we had not really stood upright. But the stones could not be pierced, of course. One of our MG gunners did not care about the fire at all. He had taken a break, leaving his gun and coming to us, he remarked us that it was annoying they were not able to get the enemy MG in their sights. Anyway he had a more pressing task at hand – he was looking for a hog! He had seen a largish runaway hog on top of he hill but just then it was not possible for him to start a search. Now he was at it and he vanished among the bushes with his helmet tilted. He had sighed when leaving that he indeed wanted to make a discovery..
The situation ended by the by. Somewhere ahead of us troops were being surrounded, annihilated, prisoners were being taken...Our Lieut, too, young and supple, headed there but we old-timers, being worn out by work, returned by the by in the rear to our tent through a blossoming field of grass. One of us, a youngish man called Lantta was examining his bread bag more closely. Someone had remarked him that he should go to the quartermaster to get a less broken bag. Indeed, a corner had been neatly cut off and there was in his somewhat loose trousers a small entrance and a large exit hole, a bullet had passed very near his flesh. He muttered some faint curses and his palish face was adorned by an oddly clean smile. Sun was setting. There was some dust rising from the road as a group of POWs was marching for the rear. Two white horses were pulling a short-barreled small calibre regimental gun, somehow resembling ancient weapons, naval guns. It had been silenced for now.
I took a walk to see the enemy MG nest. What a lot of spent cases! There were in the gun nest and a lot of them outside, too. I had a look at the marks the six-inchers had ground in the rock, close to each other around the nest. There was one tall KIA lying on his back on the rock, maybe one of them.
'I shall never forget the humane attitude of my brothers-in-war on my fear of death that obviously was an exaggeration in that situation. I was not able to tell funny stories even though I was known to have the gift of the gab in a less warlike situation at our tent and in the rear. They had to support and encourage me, each of them in their way.
25.Kss.K. War diary (in this case report) is a typed document compliled apparently long afterwards:
...End june/beginning July the Coy received reinforcements, 8 NCOs and men. As to transport material the Coy was quite up to the standard. Horses, all impressed from civilians, were fit, numbering 20 as defined in order of battle. Lorries numbered 9 and cars 2. Lorries were confiscated, most of them old and in bad condition. When relocating the mateial had to be transported in several lots.
III Attack phase
Suddenly the training was interrupted and the smoke platoons were recalled to their Regiments because the Coy as a part of 10.D was ordered to relocate.
26.07.1941 Coy set up their tents at Saimaa lake near Ruokolahti. Thre was a break for a few days for the entire Div. which gave rise to speculation about the future.
02.08.1941 We moved again, now to Tarkkola and then the constant advance startred. (…)
Next there is a list of the places the Coy command post was situated and the dates of relocation.
Later shall be described the action of the smoke mortar platoons (created by dividing Gas sanitiaton Platoon in two), desinfection platoons (Gas first aid platoons) and Kss.Tp.
Coy command post locations:
05.08.1941 Miettilä in Rautjärvi
07.08.1941 Ojajärvi rwy station
16.08.1941 Kaukola village
20.08.1941 Humalaistenkylä Räisälä
As soon as the offensive had started an officer of the Coy was posted in each three Inf.Regiment and later in the Battle Group that was set up tasked to follow the advance of the Rgt and to plan to use smokescreen when it was feasible in their opinion. Smokescreen laying was carried out by half-platoons . At the terrain N of Räisälä the entire smoke mortar platoon was employed for a longer time. During the smokescreen laying operation at Timoskala led by wnd Lt. Tyrni the smoke mortar Squad leader Sgt. Hemmo was wounded by a bullet in his head and Pvt. Kankaanpää his hand as the mortar breech block flew in the forest.
At the end of August (Unreadable passage)
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Journal "Kansa Taisteli" 07, 1961
The Russian attack in October - December 1939 at Lieksa – Hatunkylä was a failure despite superior resources. Having taken great casualties and material losses the enemy pulled back to their jump-off positions behind the borderline on 22.- 23.12.1939. About at the same time here arrived one Platoon of SissiP from Kajaani. As the Platoon leader was posted the writer of this account, then Border Guardsman, reserve military rank: Sergeant.
The Battalion [Er.P.12) led by Capt. H. Sarpi advanced about 10km from the national border and set up defence at the Kuotti line. From this line my Sissi Platoon started our action in the Russian rear, launching various destructive and harassing operations. In the morning of 28 December I was issued orders to launch a raid on the road from Lieksa to destroy the road bridge at the junction of the Lentiira-Repola roads. For the task I was to select 11 best skiers of my outfit.
I set out from the today's Inari Guard post to carry out my task on 27.12.1939 at 2300hrs. Actual planning of the route could not be done due to the miserable map available. The map, scale 1:400000 was barely legible and orientation with it was completely haphazard.
Having crossed the national border I directed my patrol to pass between Russian field strongholds in the Verkkolampi-Maitovaara terrain. We crossed the road from Inari to Maitovaara on 28.12. at 0400hrs. I set up an ambush by the side of the road and our telephone bugging patrol hooked up with the telephone wires. As the listening device was just about set up the sentry reported:
-Russian boys are coming.
-Take cover, do not shoot!
Just as the six man Russian patrol was in front of us a shot rang out. It was one of our men. The Russians stopped and tried to escape in the forest. There was nothing else we could do but to exterminate the patrol and take off quickly for our objective. Later it was found out that one man's rifle bolt had not stayed cocked but for some reason the firing pin struck.
Due to an error in orienteering and bad map we found ourselves too far to West of our target. I and my patrol backtracked about half a kilometre, I set securing and started to define a new bearing for the bridge that was our objective. Just as we were about to take off a one Platoon strong Russian outfit bumped at our scouts. Their encounter turned into a vicious skirmish ( our strength 4 against 15) whereby my outfit found themselves in a very unfavourable position.
I ordered my patrol to advance, fighting if necessary, to the ridge in front of us because we could not disengage to the rear where there was a bog that the Russians could have swept with their fire. At the same moment there was a report that there was firing on the far side of the bog. In the collision a Russian skiing outfit came right on our scout squad. A hand to hand fight ensued, in which all weapons and Finnish curses were employed. During the battle the second squad moved a little to the left from the leading squad. I and Cpl. Heikkinen saw that Pvt. Väisänen and two other men were in a tough situation, fighting for their lives.
Those B*s are going to kill Väisänen!
His SMG began to play, I joined the fight to repel the Russians attacking my boys and soon we had got them annihilated. On the battleground some fifteen Russians had fallen, criss-cross in most different postures. One of our Sissis had been killed by enemy fire. Pvt. Väisänen recounted that the first enemies were grabbing at him so that he had been forced to open fire in an extremely short range. His SMG was red all over, and he himself was bloodied all over. When firing he had stumbled and fallen under Russians breathing their last gasps , one of them had grabbed his throat with bare hands, but the melee had ended in Finnish favour. During the melee Väisänen had been soiled with snow and his appearance had turned horrible looking. Having survived the skirmish he found that his faithful SMG had jammed, blood-soaked snow had frozen up the bolt and the weapon was mute. At the very same moment Väisänen's and his pals plight was spotted and they were saved from their predicament.
As soon as this situation had been cleared I headed for the first squad that was heavily engaged in the East tip of the ridge. Having arrived with assisting force to Cpl. Hulamäki's squad I ordered Cpl. Heikkinen to take his squad and outflank the Russians. This operation saved my small outfit. Heikkinen and his squad managed to get in the Russian rear. The Russian CO found that the situation was turning to his disadvantage and ordered his surviving men to disengage. His decision was however a little delayed because Heikkinen's squad opened fire at the very shortest range and felled the enemies attempting to escape.
In the year 1946 during a border line survey of Finland and USSR I met a Russian Captain who told me that he had been serving in the district of Hatunkylä during the Winter War. Our discussion then went on to the events of the war; it turned out that he had been the CO of their outfit in the skirmish. In addition to the Captain five other men had escaped alive from the battleground. I asked him why he had run. He replied: “There was such a huge number of you”. I said: “I see.”
The fought battle was victorious for us but it was a costly one: one man fell in action three were wounded , of which Cpl. Heikkinen seriously. He had a hole in his chest on the right side, his every breath pushed out blood as if by a pump. The lad was brave and tough, a skier from Kainuu district and fit for an example for every Finn. He skied, his chest bandaged and one arm tied tightly at his body until four hours later he succumbed to loss of blood and died at dusk. His body was covered up with fir branches in the forest for future recovery by us. Cpl. Heikkinen's last words are still echoing in my mind as a guideline: “Leave me here, send my greetings home in Sotkamo, stay faithful.” What the brave and faithful defender of the fatherland meant with his words was obvious to every one of us. I believe we have fulfilled his wish.
I decided to return to the Battalion with the wounded because carrying out the task in those circumstances was not feasible.
On our return journey on the evening of 28.12. we again unexpectedly ran into an enemy patrol . They challenged us for password while opening fire maybe at the noise of our skiing. Their fire was inaccurate and fortunately my patrol did not suffer. The fight was intense, every flash of flame was fired at and hand grenades were thrown. Russians left 8 bodies on the battleground, the rest escaped. During the melee three of our men vanished in the darkness, and were not found despite searching.
We headed West from the battleground. Actually we were clueless as to our location. In the small hours of 29.12. I fell into a river up to my armpits, my clothing and skis were soaked and froze, because it was -20 to -25 deg C. On a hill we made campfires and I started drying my gear. As soon as I had some dry to wear, my tunic and shoes being still hung on sticks, the sentry reported that there was sounds of skiing and babbling heard in the direction of our incoming track. I ordered the fires to be put out and quickly set the boys in an ambush position. I remained at the embers without shoes on.
We had not paid attention to the fact that the night had become lighter. Moon had risen yellow on the sky casting its ghostly light in the environment. Among the shadows created by this light was skiing a Russian outfit pursuing us. We had taken positions on the top of a steep ridge, the boys were waiting for my order to fire. As the Russians reached the foot of the slope they split in two and started wading uphill in deep snow in a single file toward their death waiting for them 20m off. As the pursuers found themselves just a few meters from our positions I yelled “Fire!” Our intense fire annihilated almost every enemy seeking the cover of snow. There was a tremendous screaming and wailing on the slope but hand grenades and accurate fire silenced the battleground. After the skirmish we relit our fires and I went on drying my gear. Boys collected as trophies 16 cockades proving the number of enemies KIA, judging by traces three to five men had escaped.
From the battleground I took bearing South on 29.12. at 0400hrs hoping that soon we should reach our soil because we all were exhausted. Men fell asleep when skiing, woke up with a start, taking small snow covered fir trees as enemies. One man actually fired at such an hallucination.
At 0600hrs in the morning we met in the forest a Russian guard path by which I deduced that we were near the national borderline. Crossing the guard path we spotted a four man Russian patrol coming up the path on the bog in front of us. Quickly we took positions once again and waited until the enemies were right in front of us. Then we opened fire and annihilated the entire patrol. The Russians were not able to respond before getting killed by our fire. After the skirmish one lad whose name I forgot, said:
-I wonder where we shall be ambushed and shall we meet the same fate as the enemies chasing us?
My response was:
-If our luck holds we shall not be ambushed
The lad kept asking:
-What if our luck shall turn around?
Someone in darkness responded:
-No way shall our luck turn – let us go.
So we started off again continuing slowly our journey. The last battleground may have been somewhere East of Mustapikisenjoki that flows into Lieksanjoki river. We did not notice when we had entered Finnish territory, because our fatigue was almost intolerable. Every man was swaying and sleeping while skiing. Every now and then there was a SMG burst or rifle shot as if to indicate that again someone had fallen asleep and hallucinated.
At noon of 29.12. I and my patrol arrived at the foot of a hill. We saw houses on the hill, and smoke was rising from them. I was not able to be sure whether we were still beyond the border or on our side. I took along two Sissis and set out to find out. Having climbed on the hill I recognised the place, it was Louhivaara where I had been several times before the war. I rallied my patrol in Nevalainen's farmhouse where the warmth of the house broke us finally down and we fell asleep in full gear.
At some hour in the afternoon I was shaken awake and to my joy I saw our CO, Col. Raappana who had arrived just to debrief the patrol that had been taken as lost. It had happened so that the three Sissis who had gone missing on the evening of 27.12. had returned the same night back to our lines and told about the Russian ambush and suspected that no one else would be coming back.
Defenders of the fatherland, young men thinking of her benefit, may you be guided by the last words of Cpl Heikkinen who faithfully defended his country to the very last: “Be faithful!”. His body was left in the battleground and it had been retrieved from the hiding place by foreign hands.
SissiP war diary does not exist.
Er.P. 12 war diary does not mention this mission.
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Bloodied field at Särkisyrjä
Kansa Taisteli, 07, 1961
Devoted to the heroes who fell in action at Särkisyrjä.
[Note the patriotic tone, as befits a man hailing from Southern Ostrobothnia, reputed to be the most patriotic part of the country. Note also the local patriotism, another feature of the Ostrobothnia, how the author diligently lists the municipalities where each Company hailed from. Tr. Rem.]
Since this is a personal memoir, you, dear reader, may allow me at first tell something about my childhood home in Voitti, Alahärmä. My home was an abode of unflinching Christian and patriotic spirit. My home had once (1915-1917) been one of the central nodes of Jaeger recruiting in Alahärmä. My father, merchant J.E. Hämäläinen, was passionately involved in the Jaeger movement from the very beginning. At his exhortation among the 42 other Alahärmä young men who left for Germany to join the ranks of the Prussian 27th Jaeger Battalion was also my eldest brother Aarne. He had just had his 17th birthday. My mother wept and warned – My father encouraged – the son left.
My late fathers patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for the freedom of our country was expressed in unrewarded risky deeds. He sacrificed his personal property for the freedom of Finland. Never did he regret what he had done. He used to send words of encouragement to his sons in the front during the Winter and the Continuation war. I also remember his letter dated August 1927 as I was doing my compulsory military service, which I received a few days before taking my military oath. He had written me: “ Once you are taking your military oath, devote it to God, Finnish home and Finnish Fatherland. Never abandon the flag that under the eyes of God you have sworn to be faithful to. Take an oath for Freedom!”
South Ostrobothnian 19th Division had set out on the fateful path of the Continuation War led by Jaeger Col. H. E. Hannuksela. The Division comprised three infantry regiments:
JR 16 (Jaeger Col. M. Laurila),
JR 37 (Jaeger Col. I. Salmio)
JR 58 (Col.-Lt. E. Juva).
The battle that was fought at Särkisyrjä in Ruskeala municipality. In the battle participated of 19th D JR 37, the I and III Battalion, subordinated to 7.D, fighting from the start to the very end
but II/JR 37 was in the days of action at Särkisyrjä detached somewhere at Matkaselkä.
l/JR 37 was led by Capt. V. Larko and III/JR 37 by Maj. J. Komonen. May it be mentioned that the men of the "Larko Battalion" then consisted of men hailing from different municipalities:
1st Coy from Alahärmä, 2. Coy from Kortesjärvi and 3. Coy from Evijärvi. AT gun Coy also was manned by men from Alahärmä and the MG Coy and the Mortar outfit from Kauhava. The heavy arms Companies were subordinated to Rifle Companies to reinforce them.
l/JR 37 found themselves on the 17.7.1941 on their way for Särkisyrjä in Ruskeala. There was a break on the Jänisjärvi lake beach road in the middle of a nice summer day. The enemy however saw an opportunity to disturb the well deserved rest of the Battalion. Some heavy shells burst at the side of a rock. The officers thought they knew that the earth shaking projectiles had been fired from a ship at a range of 30 km from lake Ladoga. Our battalion now found themselves in an awkward position. The ground was quivering and shaking, there was crashing and wailing sounds in the air. But the I/JR37 continued their march...
The Battalion was spearheaded by the Alahärmä Company. They were in turn spearheaded by one outfit that had sent scouts in the front, SMG gunners. Dusk fell and the advance slowed down. Riflemen loaded their weapons. Auto weapons, too, were cocked.
But there was a danger lurking in the dusky mist ahead. There, too, weapons were being cocked. There was a tough defender, the fearless enemy that the men of Alahärmä were familiar with since the days of the Winter War at Taipale river .
Hakalahti terrain E of Särkisyrjä in Ruskeala was reached late on the 17 July. The Battalion bivouacked for the night at the edges of small rocky patches of terrain. Ambulant sentries secured each outfit to allow the Battalion to get some rest.
But the inquisitive enemy was sneaking in the July dusk making use of the small hours. They almost run at the bivouac sentries. A SMG gunner of Alahärmä was, however, alert and he had tuned his ears to the extreme. H – PFC O. Välitalo – shouted the first part of the password, and the enemy in the darkness should have been able to respond with the second part - “piru” - to avoid any skirmish. But the foreigners did not know it, and a Finnish SMG buzzed.
One man of the enemy patrol was killed and the surprised intruders withdrew. This incident proved again that it is better to look out than die in repentance.
On the 18 July at 0230 hrs the Battalion CO gave a briefing to Company CO s. The subject matter was the attack to be launched: the intermediate target was Särkisyrjä while the main target was the Ruskeala-Sortavala main road. During the briefing a small enemy patrol had penetrated in the bivouac area through a gap but it was driven away under heavy fire. During the skirmish the 1st Coy suffered the first casualty as PFC Välitalo was wounded.
Two Finnish soldiers found themselves in an isolated position at the side of a cliff. They were Staff Sgt. Ville Pakkala from Ylihärmä, a veteran of many a bloody battle, and the undesigned. To be honest I confess that I had done my compulsory military service and the Winter War as a scribe, and I felt I was a midget compared with my brave brother in arms. In my mind there were two struggling factors: Courage and fear – faith and disbelief, honour and dishonour. As an inexperienced man, would I be able to deal with the pressure that was to fall on me or would I possibly suffer a loss of nerves. I knew that there probably is nothing such as a fearless soldier, and for me it was only a question of whether I was able to fear in the right manner!
My brother in arms, Staff Sgt. Pekkala knew that his flag of unblemished military honour was flying high. This man knew what he was capable of and what he had done. Yet his honour had been insulted twice during a few days. It had happened that the Division CO had personally dissolved a Company (2./Kev.Os.18) made up of Ylihärmä men as “mutinous” At Närsäkkälä crossroads on the evening of 9th July 1941. This happened because the outfit had not been able to fulfil a difficult mission at Haapavaara near the border line.
-You shall be dispersed like chaff in the wind, the CO had said. His decision was executed immediately and the entire Company was dispersed in various outfits of the Division. 1./JR31 received three men of the “garbage” (Staff Sgt. Pakkala, Cpl. Kangas, Pvt. Kujala)
By chance I was there as Staff Sgt. Pakkala reported at Potoskavaara with his “outfit” to Lt. P., our Company CO.
He received the report but said to the Sarge who seemed to have suffered a lot:
So you are one of the Beckman's mutineers. I shall teach you how to mutiny! Unfortunately we did not take any women's skirts along as we left Kauhava.
- I hope I shall soon get a chance to show how I fought at Haapavaara. I have to be allowed to prove your, Sir, if I am a soldier worthy of wearing the trousers of a Finnish soldier!
Carrying this kind of memories and bitter experiences in his soul Sarge Pakkala spent the last evening of his life near Särkisyrjä. An outsider could see that it was a matter of his military honour. The Sarge was burning his letters and other papers just as the Company CO s were on their way back from the briefing. Shreds of burned paper were flying in the early morning wind and smoke was rising from the smouldering campfire that had obliterated his memories. Watching the smoke Pakkala said slowly:
-There burned the bridges to my past. For me it will be a battle in which I shall not take one single step back. Brother! Today for me it is only either death in action or victory. I have to reach the destiny of my journey today. I must meet the heroic death of a Finnish soldier!
It was a terrifying talk to hear as an outsider, but he did not appear to be terrified. He seemed to be the embodiment of calmness.
At the same moment three Company commanders returning from the briefing passed us. I and Pakkala found ourselves in a location unnoticed by the officers. We heard the following discussion:
- The manning of the spearhead platoon was in my opinion to be depending on volunteers, said the Kortesjärvi Company CO Lt. Saarenpää (WIA, then died the same day).
- The spearhead platoon must be sent out but as far as I understood the business with the flag was something to be done voluntarily. Such a target as a flag to reveal my Company I shall not give to any man, it is a modern war now, said the 3rd Coy CO Lt. Karjalainen (KIA the same day)
- I shall order that the leader of the spearhead platoon shall carry a flag: a compass and a flag, said the 1st Coy CO.
- Neither shall I have the flag employed. It may have been there I Breitenfeld [in the year 1631] but not here. If you have to show off with the flag, be humane and let it decided by drawing lots who shall take it, said t. Saarenpää.
- I shall do whatever I please in my house , said the Alahärmä Company CO.
The eavesdroppers failed to hear any other witticisms.
The 18th July 1941 dawned, it was to be a hot and bloody day, the Särkisyrjä Friday, the Good Friday for the Larko Battalion. II Platoon CO 2nd Lt. Vilho Passi had been transferred at Potoskavaara to the II Battalion led by Capt., V.O. Ratia. Pakkala was now leading the II Platoon and the undersigned found himself against his wish as a kind of deputy leader.
Lt. P. came to us at 0500hrs in the morning and said:
- I am ordering II_ Platoon as the spearhead platoon and Cpl. Härmänen to lead the spearhead Squad. Härmänen, here is a compass and a flag for you. Wear the compass on your left wrist, you are to hold the flag with your right hand. We shall start advancing as soon as the order is received, bearing 46-00. The objective of the Platoon is the Ruskeala schoolhouse and the Battalion objective is the main road between Ruskeala and Sortavala. Get ready . -Any questions?
- None. Everything is shipshape as to me, Pakkala responded.
- I wonder if the flagman task could have been decided by drawing lots, the undersigned asked, taking a look at the objects in question
- Are you afraid, you, a soldier from Härmä? The Lieut asked in a malicious tone
- No! and I am not going to, I responded solemnly .
Yet I was not so solemn inside. An invisible force was rumbling there, Lord Fear. Thank God it was only me who felt it. No one could see it.
(End of part 1)
Kev.Os.18 war diary extract:
(This extract is here just for information, actually worth much more attention another time)-
02.00hrs Attack in Haapavaara village. Participated by RajaK in the direction of Lamminmäki, 2./Kev.Os. 18 in the direction of Haapavaara, parts of KKK. 15 wounded that could not be rescued [difficult to read text]
05.00hrs Disorderly retreat.
Company ordered to be disbanded, march to the rear .
New men arrived. Company re-established.
19.30hrs Attack in the direction of Pt. 112,5
1st Coy war diary does not exist, neither do that of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th for the period...
I Battalion war diary extract:
04.00hrs Btn arrived at Pitkänen terrain.
09.20hrs Btn CO issued preparatory order to unit CO s on the continuation of the march.
Btn CO received order by Rgt CO to advance on the road Waulampi – Mursselkä – Lähteenselkä – Harlu tasked to pursue [the enemy] and take Harlu.
Btn started the march. Marching order: 1.K, 2.K. 3.K, 1. KKK, EK + Mortar, frontal vehicles with each unit, baggage train in the rear led by the Logistics Officer.
Rgt Order to send out an officer patrol to the direction of the road Lähteenselkä – Kangaslampi – Rytty, objective: Rytty.
A patrol comprising two squads sent out by 3.K led by Lt. Loiske.
Received Rgt Order : Btn first objective is the terrain at Vatanen, where there will be a halt on the W side of the road to wait for further orders.
Btn arrived at Vatanen, stopping there.
Rgt order: Btn task has been amended.
Rgt order: Btn is to set out as the spearhead at 1800hrs and shall advance via the Hietalahti – Hiijärvi isthmus for the objective which is the SE tip of Hakolahti bay.
Btn set out in the same order as before.
Managed to liaise with Maj. Hirvelä who informed that the Hietalahti – Hiijärvi isthmus and Koljonen are free from enemies.
Btn spearhead reached the objective (Hakolahti)
Firefight with an enemy patrol.
Rgt order: Btn is to bivouac at the objective
Rgt order: Send a patrol to the direction Särkisyrjä – Kokkomäki – Kintturinne bridges and another one to the direction Keyriläinen – Puhkomäki – Ilolat – Kallitsa; both patrols are tasked to engage the enemy.
Both patrols set out. The Särkisyrjä patrol was led by 2nd Lt. Pihlajamäki, patrol strength 1 squad, and the Keyriläinen patrol was led by Sgt. Keri, strength 1 squad.
2nd Lt Pihlajamäki patrol returned having spotted that about one enemy Platoon had taken positions at the perimeter of an open ground about 1km off.
Rgt order to attack received via telephone.
Btn attack order issued to units.
Subordinated outfits reported: Pioneer Platoon 46: Lt. Lehti; AT Platoon 29: 2nd Lt. Rintala and heavy artillery Btn F.O.O. 2nd Lt. Paltama.
Btn rallied in the jump-off positions.
(to be continued)
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Bloodied field at Särkisyrjä
Journal “Kansa Taisteli", 08, 1961
Devoted to the heroes who fell in action at Särkisyrjä.
l/JR 37 had received orders at 0530 to prepare to attack and at 06.11 the Battalion rallied in the jumpoff positions. The H hour was at 0630 . That was the start of the bloody "Via Dolorosa" for our Company. It did not end until early September as we reached Northern Ingria.
In the front line was attacking l/JR 37 the objective being the Jänissaari – Särkisyrjä road. III/JR37 was staggered on the left. Our line was slowly advancing in the forest terrain. Being the sole flag-bearer of the Battalion I must have been an extraordinary sight. I stumbled on dry twigs
-Raise that flag – now! It was Lt. P's familiar voice.
Again I stumbled – the flag fell.
-Raise the flag, I shall find the road either to victory or death ! That was another voice that I recognized, it was my younger brother Lauri who was to make the supreme sacrifice one hour later.
We were chatting quietly.
-Devil is going to get the Russkies in Särkisyrjä soon, an optimist opined.
-Shut up, first you should prove something “ Sarge Pakkala admonished him.
1st Coy arrived at the perimeter of a stretch of open ground. The view from the edge of the forest was like this: the open ground was abt. 600 to 700 m wide. At the edge of the forest on the left side of the open ground was a white schoolhouse. There was a narrow road meandering across the area leading to the said main road. Ahead and to the right in the middle of the open ground there seemed to be a 40 to 50 m stretch of old stone fence. I remember how Pakkala was scanning the stone fence with his binoculars. Probably he was planning to take the low fence as an intermediate objecive for us. That is what was to happen, by necessity.
The Battalion was waiting on the eastern edge of the forest for ten minutes for an artillery preparation that never happened. At least for us, now, as it would have been needed. Instead the II Platoon was ordered to move ahead as a guide about 100 to 150m ahead of the rest of the Company. Sarge Pakkala swung his P08 pistol in the air without a word. It was the signal to get going. The entire platoon was creeping in a line. It was laborious to drag the flag and an auto rifle that had been captured and brought back from Taipaleenjoki river during the Winter War. Pakkala was walking upright along a shallowish ditch. Grass and rye stalks were being flattened under advancing men. Just then Pakkala signalled: “Halt”.
An enemy soldier suddenly jumped down from the stairs of the schoolhouse and vanished. At the same moment another enemy appeared on the path from the school to the sauna. He was jumpimng and waving his arms. Our Platoon must have been coming just as the enemy had expected. I glanced in the rear and saw that just then the rest of the company emerged from the Eastern forest edge.
The advance of the Company was so fast that a few seconds before the enemy launched their welcoming greeting the man ordered to liaise between the II and I Platoons, Pvt. Alaviitala was already there. The very same moment on the Western edge of the forest the muzzle flames of AT guns started flashing.
-Take cover! Pakkala shouted in a loud voice. Yet he did not heed to his own advise. The battle of Särkisyrja had started – unfortunately for the infantrymen – without our artillery preparation. The enemy artillery opened up, their F.O.O. was up to his task.
Ta-ta-ta-ta- Enemy MG s were hammering at a low rate but constantly.
Pa-pa-pa-pa- Enemy SMGs were rotating their magazines.
Trr-trr-trr- Enemy SMG bursts were flying overhead.
Now the enemy had their entire machinery up and running. But the opposing side was not silent, Tampella mortars opened up.
Our platoon in the lead took the hardest fire from the stone fence in the middle of the open ground. Pakkala ordered the entire platoon to concentrate their firepower at the fence. The fence was fired upon and it fired back. The entire fence was a mass of muzzle flames and sparks of hitting bullets.
-Help me – help – for God's sake come and help – where are the medics – get the Chaplain here – Christ have mercy on us – these shouts could be heard from the left, on the sector of the 1st and 2nd Coys. Closer to us there were sounds of loud singing of psalms and prayers of like men drowning.
-Back to jumpoff positions, someone was shouting in the rear to the left. The tree other platoons of the Coy crept back, uttering curses and prayers. Pakkala, too, allowed his Platoon to retreat but he himself refused to leave. He sat down by the ditch and the last time I saw him he was loading the magazines of his two pistols. As our Platoon had retreated a few dozen meters a murderous barrage hit the ground at the forest edge, traversing which would be a vain attemt if one wanted to survive. The Platoon remained there, lying prone.
There the Finnish soldier came to recall the ancient Christian traditions. With his hands crossed and whispering apparently his last “Father our” begged mercy for his soul from the Redeemer. He was feeling that he was close to the point where the Devil was no more a suitable guide for a sinful man.
The enemy barrage died down. Under the dirt Finnish life started emerging. Life in physical form was after all still existing. The rest of the Company had made it as far as trhe edge of the forest, to the jumpoff positions. But just then the enemy artillery fired a terrible barrage just at the positions of the rallying Battalion. Oir ii Platoon had not yet made it so far and again we stayed right there where we found ourselves. Columns of fire were flashing over there at the edge of the forest. A total panic appeared to reign over there. Cursing, prayers, wailing could be heaard. A shell-shocked man was weeping hysterically. All this noise was accompanied by collumns of fire and smoke with falling and burning tree trunks.
Finally the shelling cesed. The wounded were evacuated. As to the fallen men no one had counted them yet so far. The Battalion rallied to another attack. We were advancin on the same belly path as before. Our Platoon was interestied finding out the fate of Sarge Pakkala. Rye and grass was growing tall, hampering the field of vision for creeping men. But having proceeded a little we spotted Pakkala sitting on the edge of the ditch. He presented us his plan which included:
-The enemy still find themselves behind the stone fence. I have some stick grenades and with them I shall send those unschooled ones to the schoolhouse. After my signal, concentrate your fire at the both flanks of the fence, the entire platoon of you. Leave the center part for me to pass. Any questions ?
-No! Was the answer.
It was a terrible plan to think of but the man was just carrying out his promise. Pakkala started and a moment later the entire stone fence was a blaze of green-blue flame created by the crazy force of Finnish firing except a gap in the middle. We were not being fired at from the fence wings, not a single shot. The reason was that no enemies could show up and survive to shoot. Pekkala's first grenade flew in a magnificeien arc, landing near the fence. It landed short because he had thrown it standing on his knees. Having found the idleness of the enemy Pakkala stood up and threw the remaining five stick grenades in succession in flat arcs. They hit home. The enemy abandoned the stone fence with loud wailing. The fleeing survivours were dealt with the severe law of the war: kill or die.
Srge Pakkala ordered to end shooting and rallied the platoon at the stone fence. Soon the entire Platoon was there. Pakkala had an intent to continue advancing to the Schoolhouse hill. For some reason it was not allowed. At the same moment the enemy had recovered. A firefight broke out at the entire width of the Platoon line, participated by all weapons of war invented and available. Pakkala fanned out his platoon behind the stone fence and on its sides. We were sure that the enemy would attack soon. That is what happened on the sector of our Platoon. Enemy kept advancing toward the stone fence. Enemy artillery directed their tremendous firepower at it. Piece by piece the fence was cut shorter at each end. Some of my brothers in arms abandoned this “inn”. I preferred to stay put and fear just where I found myself. A couple of enemie were killed just in front of us by a hand grenade thrown by Pakkala. At this moment he was standing upright in the road ditch. We were not able to shoot over the fence a single shot. Our situation was the same as that of the enemy a little ago.
Suddenly we heard a loud yell from the rear left:
-Leading squad, where are you? If the flag-bearer is alive, put up the flag!
I recognized the voice: it was our Company CO issuing a clear order to me!
I was lying prone on the flag and my weapon. The Lieut's voice was ringing in my ears; but my reason was rebelling against it, telling me that it was sheer lunacy to put up the flag for the enemy to see it in this situation. I was struggling in my mind; should I listen to the sound of my reason or obey the order of my commander as I had sworn to do when taking the military oath.
My feeling got the better of my reason. Praying for succes for my brothers-in-arms I turned over on my back, assessing with my eyes the height of the stone fence. The small flag was attached to a 90cm long stick. I took hold of the stick in a spot that would not result in the loss of a hand. Once again my reason warned me, but was countermanded by Sarge Pakkala who shouted from the edge of the road:
-Put up the flag, it's the Lieut's order!
Lying on my back I put up the flag. A pressure wave and pain pushed my arm back. A SMG burst had hit exactly and shreds of the flag were falling on me.
The enemy was concentrating the entire power of their war equipment at that fence. Sad news arrived from the right wing: Kriikki, the young Carelian boy had fallen, and I was informed by two wounded men that my brother Lauri had just fallen in the same area. Groaning wounded were retreating from the same direction and more news about fallen men were coming in. I was terrified. For the first time in my life I started contemplating suicide.
But it was Pakkala's brilliant battle on the left wing that made one gasp. He fired with two pistols at the same time while occasionally throwing hand grenades from a big stockpile. Suddenly he fell on his knees and said in a loud voice these words:
Then Pakkala fell bleeding in the middle of the road. Someone tried to resckue him behind the stone fence but was mortally wounded. Pekkala's body was acrtually burning and smoking due to bursts of explosive bullets. Suddenly the firefight died down almost everywhere on the open ground!
Then it could be heard how one mortally wounded soldier – Valtter Autio – lying on his stretcher was shouting in a loud voice begging mercy of the crucificed Christ. From the same quarter there was another shout:
-Get support to the left, the IV platoon is totally encicled! Help them, quick!
-But there was no help coming. Every squad and platoon was under more pressure than they were able to take.
Finally the bloody Friday had worn down to evening. Särkisyrjä schoolhouse was in Finnish hands. A terrible night ensued. Troops and passwords were mixed up. That night in the open ground and the forest at Särkisyrjä it was indeed a everyone's war against everyone. In the darkness friends, too, were enemies.
The surviving soldiers had to endure yet the Saturday 19th July. This day turned out to be as bloody as the previous one that was never to return. All the experiences during these two days do not fit in any records, the undersigned, too, was able to fit a fraction of his in this account. The enemy defending Särkisyrjä did not have field fortifications or bunkers; just stone fences, basements of buildings and cellars. Yet taking them without artillery support was a next to hopeless task. One week and a few days later the same Laikko battalion was facing the Leppäselkä schoolhouse hill. There the enemy had really excellent positions. But now the Finnish forces included a strong artillery that was ruthlessly employed. Although we stayed at Leppäselkä for more than a week, the casualties there were but a fraction of those of the short Särkisyrjä battle
The attack at Särkisyrjä cost I/JR 37 many times more casualties than every other battle combined during the entire Continuation war. The battle essentially was ended in Saturday evening having lasted about 37 hours in one stretch. The defenders lost the schoolhouse already on Friday at 1300hrs. In the attic were found two enemy F.O.O.s wo were taken POW. They had had an excellent view in the open valley where thje Finnish trooops were doing their attempts. The targets had been on a platter for the F.O.O.s.
Even by the first night of the battle the ranks had been badly thinned. I and II Platoon leaders had fallen on the 18th, II Platoon leader was wounded the same day and IV Platoon leader and his platoon were encircled in the initial phases of the battle. Despite several attempts that encirclement was not dealt with until in the last violent Finnish attack on Saturday night when reinforcements were provided by III/JR 10:lta. In Saturday evening the other rifle companies of the Battalion appeared to be lacking officers. There was a screaming need of replemements.
I remember how on Saturday evening the Alahärmä company tried to rally their forces to take the schoolhouse hill, our Company then included 27 men. There were men wandering around who had got lost, wounded or shell-shocked were being rounded up to be administered first aid. According to the POWs the enemy also suffered considerably. In the Särkisyrjä battle they lost in threee days at les 600 men.
(end of part II)
Särkisyrjä battle was fought on 18.-22.7.1941. Ladogan Carelia was being retaken, JR 37 was advancing from East via south of Vahvajärvi lake heading for the Värtsilä-Sortavala road but the troops of the Regiment met at Särkisyrjä village the enemy that had entrenched themselves in a big stone cowhouse and house basements. The Regiments suffered heavy casualties; more than 100 men fallen in action. After several days of fighting the enemy was forced to abandon Särkisyrjä and the road was cut off. KIA by municipality: Ylistaro 44 men, Kurikka 30, Alahärmä 24, Evijärvi 13, Kortesjärvi 11 and Kauhava 7. 375 more men were WIA. The enemy left behind at Särkisyrjä more than 500 KIA. (Suomen Sotahistoriallinen Seura)
I Battalion war diary extract:
Btn started advancing.
1.K reached the perimeter of the Auvila open ground where the advance was checked by the strong enemy fire from the houses and cow houses etc. plus shelling.'
2.K and 3.K had erred too much to the left during advance losing liaison with 1.K and were left behind.
Btn CO was following 1.K
1.K continued after mortar and artillery preparation the attack forcing the enemy pull back.
1.K reached the Särkisyrjä schoolhouse hill, took the Mölsä hill and secured to the Rantala direction.
2.K reached their first objective and managed to liaise with the Btn.
3 Platoons of 3.K managed to liaise with the Btn.
Order to continue the attack.
In the glen SW of the schoolhouse the Btn was reorganised in attack formation, in the first line from the left 1.K, 2.K; the 3.K parts present were in the 2nd line behind 1.K.
Attack was launched, the objective being the crossroads Ruskeala-Suuri Rytty, after artillery and mortar preparation.
The attack petered out on the ridge in the middle of the open ground.
All PM strong mutual mortar and artillery fire.
Btn CO set out to report to the Regiment, having ordered Lt Matti Passi as his deputy.
Enemy launched a strong artillery preparation.
Capt. Lehto arrived at the Btn with orders to be the acting CO as Capt. Larko was absent.
Enemy launched an infantry attack against the Btn .
The attack was repelled.
Capt. Larko returned from Regiment and reassumed the command.
Capt. Lehto returned to Rgt.
Firefighting until 1700hrs.
Rgt issued order by telephone: The attack is to be continued to the direction of the Särkisyrjä – Kokkomäki road, first objective is the Aluslampi – Tillinlahti isthmus, the second objective is the road Ruskeala-Suuri Rytty. On the right is advancing Btn Komonki, the limit being Osinen – Särkisyrjä “ä” - N tip of Uuslampi – Somerikko “o” - Haukilampi (along the brook).
Btn CO issued the attack order.
Btn rallied for attack, from the right 3.K, 2.K, and 1.K
Artillery preparation launched.
First objective, Aluslampi terrain, reached.
2nd Lt. Vihavainen who had been stuck in front of the enemy positions yesterday at 1300hrs managed to return to our troops.
2nd Lt. Narkaus posted as 2.K CO as Lt. Saarenpää was wounded.
In front of Kokkomäki, strongly fortified by the enemy, the attack stalled.
CO issued orders to take Kokkomäki.
Mortar preparation started.
Attack against Kokkomäki was launched. The attack petered out due to heavy enemy firing from well entrenched positions.
Briefing for unit CO s. Since the road Ruskeala-Suuri Rytty could not be occupied it was to be cut by fire.
3.K CO Lt Karjalainen was severely wounded, CO posted 2nd Lt. O. Sipilä as the 3.K CO. The Ruskeala-Suuri Rytty road was under fire all day by artillery, mortars, AT rifles, MG s.
2nd Lt P. Orrenmaa was posted as the 3.K CO and 2nd Lt. Sipilä returned to the Btn in the duty of the Anti-Gas officer.
Coy Kotilainen was subordinated to the Btn, tasked to attack in the direction Issakanvaara- Kintturinne bridges.
Rgt issued order by telephone: The attack is to be continued .
AM: Patrolling in the direction of the road, small enemy outfits were detected near the road.
An attack order was sent to Capt. Kotilainen ; he was to advance to reach the Kokkomäki crossroads and launch his attack at 1400hrs.
Btn attacked. In the first line 1.K, in the second line 3.K., the objective was the Ruskeala – Suuri Rytty road S of Kintturinne bridges.
2.K was securing to the direction of the Kokkomäki crossroads. Btn Castren to the left.
1.K reached the objective, securing the terrain between the road and the Kokkomäki crossroads.
Coy Kotilainen reached their objective.
Sapper Platoon led by 2nd Lt. Hakola reported, they built an abatis and mined the road with 1.K.
Coy Kotilainen continued their advance for the Kintturinne bridges.
AS the Btn objective had been reached, Coy Kotilainen was securing on the right from Tohmajoki to the Kokkomäki road, 1.K from the Kokkomäki road to the Ruskeala – Suuri Rytty road (incl.) and 3.K W of the road up to Tohmajoki.
After midnight the enemy launched an counterstrike against Btn Castren to the left of the Btn, managing to send a strong patrol near the supply outfit of our Btn, but was repelled after a firefight.
Maj. Castren with his Adjutant arrived at the Command Tent and stayed overnight.
Rgt reported that the enemy is retreating from Issakanvaara toward the ford at Tohmajoki to the North.
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Field Hospital no.39
Journal Kansa Taisteli 07, 1961
As the attack of the 18.D was launched on early August 1941 [actually 31 July 1941] on the Eastern part of the Carelian Isthmus the advance was rapid. One could easily deduce where fighting was going on if one took a look at the statistics of wounded in the casualty clearing stations. Places included at first Ilmee [4.Aug.], then soon Inkilä and Hiitola [8.Aug.], Sairala [10.Aug], Antrea [14.Aug] and Vuoksenranta [18.Aug].
The boys were coming from CCS s and received in our field hospital (39.KS) every possible treatment available in those circumstances. As the trauma required or as the condition of the patient allowed it they were evacuated to military hospitals. As soon as during an evacuation a patient had taken out of his bed by stretcher bearers the Lottas were there already, cleaning up and making up the bed and soon it was occupied by a new patient with a new trauma.
Among all necessary medical procedures the boys needed small favours. They were often just as useful as caring for physical damage. That included for example writing letters to the patient's next of kin. Most boys hospitalized in our field hospital were in such a state that they were not able to hold a pen. Their thoughts sought their way to their relatives and worrying about them could be a heavy burden in their mind. That is why every nurse, despite the haste, was ready to be a secretary if anyone requested it. I still remember vividly a young boy, still almost a child- His father had been a Border Guardsman and fallen in action in the very beginning of the war. The boy had seen that happen and now he was in a hurry to send a word of consolation to his mother. He would speak out a sentence clearly, then took a rest and thought of the next one. The last sentence I wrote was: “ Never mind, Mother, as long as Finland shall survive!”. Waiting for more, I was looking at his childish face. His eyes were closed and his countenance was as if relieved by the thoughts of consolation for his mother. I did not hurry him up but waited. Finally I saw that he had left on the last command of a soldier. I ripped out the sheet from the block and on a fresh sheet I wrote my greeting. With a heavy mind I sent the letter to find its way to the addressee somewhere in the crooked path of war refugees, a mother who had given her sacrifice on the altar of war.
Letters to sweethearts were another matter. Usually the boys would in military detail describe their wounding . They employed the white lie that their hand was hurting enough to prevent the from writing themselves. That used to be the end of dictating. One had to know what to write to a woman. Every woman of course does know what. I wrote up things that I would have wished to learn on a letter from the front line. The boys were happy with that.
But once I was writing on behalf of a 2nd Lt. Koskinen. I often would write a letter to his old aunt who was his guardian. I told her how he was recovering, waiting to be evacuated to a military hospital, with good luck to Helsinki. The aunt must have been so shocked by this case that she failed to notice my handwriting, even though it must have been much different from Koskinen's penmanship. Once, however, she must have noticed something as she wrote: “Finally I am believing you are recovering a little since your handwriting, too, is much better”. There we were. Koskinen sent for his map case containing text written by himself. I looked at it and tried to imitate his handwriting, because it was preferable to keep the aunt in her belief and consequently I would have to improve my style. We succeeded in doing that but as finally Koskinen was admitted in the military hospital he had been yearning , he had another thing to worry about. Where would he find another secretary to imitate his handwriting ? The main interest of the boys was to calm their next of kin, secondly nothing and thirdly worry about themselves.
When the front line had progressed too far from our hospital another field hospital was moved to the front. This enabled us to evacuate our patients and have a breath. Then in the relocation day it was all hustle and bustle from the very morning. We were thrilled because we would be crossing the old national border. The new hospital location was rumoured to be less than favourable. It was situated in Hovikorpi village in Antrea, and had served last as a kolkhoz cow house, therefore we were dreading – not the cleaning up but the general messiness. We thronged on lorries and soon we were driving through the Carelian Ishtmus. Crossing the border did not give rise to any kind of special feelings. Everyone, though, tried to peep around as much as possible because this was the terrain that the war had just passed through. Plenty of Russian war material could be seen: Field guns, tanks; lorries, intact or shot up. Someone spotted a dead horse and made us all to gawk at the wonder. The war had preceded us and every one wanted to see the traces in reality.
We arrived at Vuoksi river and crossed it on a pontoon bridge. It was the river that made our patriotic feelings flourish, crossing it we sung a patriotic song. A grand feeling of gratefulness filled my mind. Gratefulness ? To whom? The war maybe?
We kept going on. There were on the both sides of the road, I would like to say, boys trudging on. They were tired looking and earnest. They definitely did not feel gratitude for anyone or anything. Maybe not even for the fact of being still alive. They always faced the same task when in the spearhead: to break through to chase the enemy out of the Isthmus. It felt wrong to be riding on a bus in moderate comfort while the ones who had to bear the brunt of the war had to trudge on foot all distances and marches in rain and wind. Seeing the men march one felt how little one as a woman could contribute to the national task. One felt that as a man one would have been better able to redeem my civil rights the way Finnish men did.
As the lorries arrived at Hovikorpi it was fund that the advance information had been factual. Fortunately there is water in this world. With water, soap and brisk women, wonders can be created in the field of cleanliness. But there was something worse than the dirt on the walls and floors. The place was infested with a million of flies. That million-strong army was constantly awake and finding its way into every nook and cranny despite every precaution. So it was no wonder that everyone's nerves got tighter every day we spent in the Hovikorpi kolkhoz. Everything was as complicated as it could be. Lottas were living upstairs, and since the flies kept bothering us even for the period dedicated for rest, everyone was irritable and tired. The period in Hovikorpi took most of us close to the limit of their endurance. We were next to hysterics. We would laugh when we should have wept and the other way round. I also was ordered to get 24 hours of sleep upstairs. I did not get any, it was a rainy weather and it was too cold there.
Fortunately Muolaa had finally been liberated [23.-27. Aug.] and a new location for our hospital had been found. At first five Lottas and one POW were sent there to clean up. Actually only the Lottas were to go but we asked for Antti to join us; the POW Alexandr serving in our hospital was called Antti.
The lorry that dropped us off at Kuusaanhovi manor continued to the Division HQ and it was to return soon and the driver would stay with us for security as we were doing the clean-up job. We were heading for the main building and wondered how it was possible that it was still standing [War having passed it twice, tr.rem.] That old manor house could have told a lot of stories if it had been able to. It was surrounded by a nice dense park but the garden revealed that the latest owner had had negligible interest in that kind of matters. [The manor was neglected since 1944 and was burnt down in 2006. Tr.rem.]
We arrived at the stairs adorned by columns. What were we seeing just then? There on the stairs was a dead enemy, but not an ordinary man. He was so big that one had seen likes in a circus only. Looking at the deceased we deduced that he must have died the same day, judging by his looks. We showed with gestures to Antti what he was to do with the dead man, and entered the building very timidly and insecure.
We had been told when we set off that the sappers had checked the house but we had a feeling that after them another set of inspectors had been here. Else that dead man would not have been there. Usually we very seldom had a chance to see men KIA. They were quickly taken away, to be buried or shipped to the nearest KEK [KIA clearing station]. Well, to our great relief we found the house to be unoccupied. There were just some big rusty beds. We started cleaning up the place and our brisk work was accompanied by every kind of sound of war. At times we thought those sounds could be heard from every quarter. Someone suggested that we should think of a plan to escape from surroundment we found ourselves in. The lorry had not yet come, either. It was getting dark and every one of us started feeling insecure. Someone suggested that we should make fire in one of the heating ovens and warm up. That is what we did but we kept the oven doors just a little open to prevent the fire being visible outside. Since singing also nicely dispels fear, we also resorted to it. We had just remembered “Marusha”, [originally Russian romantic tune] and were singing it, including Antti albeit in his own language. We were in a sombre mood, and Antti was actually in tears. The international choir was brilliant until we suddenly heard a command in Finnish: “Hands up whoever you are!”
Antti was the only one to obey. We the Lottas were incapacitated by fear. It was a Finnish patrol who had seen a shimmering of light in a window and cautiously arrived to catch a potential enemy. They intended to continue their “sweep” and hand us over to Antti but we were asking for their protection. Two boys with one SMG were left behind with us, oh how safe we felt now that we had Finnish soldiers with a Finnish SMG to protect us.
Our choir thus received considerable reinforcement as to male voices; the newcomers demanded though that we should sing every song in “ pianissimo”. Every now and then we used to listen if the lorry would we coming and finally it did. The driver-Sergeant was very reticent as we enquired the reason for his delay. He just said that he had thought he would never see us again. The reason may have been that the spearhead of the attacking formation had been surrounded, including the Division HQ? And the Sergeant, too. That is why he was not able to pick us up before the road had been reopened. This is what was told as “front rumour” .
We were in Kuusaanhovi for a long time rather satisfied – as far as one can be satisfied in war and its consequences. Soon we had a male visitor in our bedroom where ten Lottas were sleeping. “Goodnight” had been said implying that no more talking was allowed. Some had fallen asleep while others were about to. It was totally dark in the room but suddenly three torches were turned on as if by order. They shone on an enemy, standing in the middle of the floor, wounded and babbling loudly. His face was distorted with pain and his one arm was bleeding profusely. None of us screamed or tried to escape. By now we had seen enough many enemy wounded to make it clear to ourselves that a wounded enemy was no more an enemy. He was just a wounded soldier, for us almost of no consequence on which side of the chess board this pawn had been removed.
As this Tovarich was loudly talking about surgery, our eldest Lotta got up, found her greatcoat and took the man to the first aid post. There he was bandaged and sent to sleep. I can remember another WIA POW, who had been operated but found to be a hopeless case as his gut was totally in pieces. As he had recovered from sedation he was insisting for something that I heard as “holotna lati”. [Holodnaya voda] I was nightly familiar with “holotna” [= cold in Russian], that is why I thought the comrade was cold so I gave him an extra blanket. He got angry and failing to understand him I thought it best to send for Antti to interpret for me. I thought it would comfort a dying man to talk to someone sharing the same language. Antti came and again the comrade was using the same expression. I was watching Antti to see what he would do. He fetched a big mug full of water. Only then I understood what the man had requested. I told Antti that the man should not be given water as he was wounded in stomach. Antti understood what I said but kept on. Once more I denied him explaining that the man would die, rolling my eyes to make my message clear. Antti looked at me and said: “soromnoo” [=vsyo rovno]. I, too, understood that. The last wish of a dying man had been fulfilled anyway. In my mind I was thinking if a similar case would have happened on the enemy side with Finnish POWs . They would have said not just “soromnoo”.
The war diary of 39.KS is not available or has not survived.
Terttu Vartiainen (nee Roiha ?) has published a memoir of B/39.KS in 1988.
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Baptism by fire on Corpse Hill
Journal “Kansa Taisteli “, 07, 1961
The author appears to have served as a rifleman in the III Battalion of JR 47, but he does not indicate which Company. Anyway, the Companies war diaries for 1941 are not there.
It was a July AM in the shadows of a small forest at Nuijamaa in the year 1941. The morning did not bode anything out of ordinary for the outfits of JR47 resting in the forest. It was just another day. Shells were whining in the air...the ground appeared to be torn up somewhere. There was banging and cracking emerging from the front line but it did not disturb the Vallila (suburb of Helsinki) men in their rest.
I had arrived together with a couple of others a few days ago as replacement. During those few days I had learned to know the men of our outfit fairly well. They were all veterans of the Winter War, experienced fighters. Compared to them I was totally green. I had neither participated in the Winter War neither had I received my baptism by fire. But now I found myself near the front line. In the beginning I had a terrible fear at the passing 50mm mortar bombs and the crashing and rattling emerging from the front line kept my skin either painfully clammy or shaking with cold. But the apparent nonchalance and easy-going manner of my buddies encouraged me, too. What was the problem actually when being far from the first line.
That July day happened what I had dreaded...We were to be posted in the front line soon! We were packing up our backpacks. Sweat of pain was flowing down my face. Was it due to fear? Why was I not able to be as calm and relaxed as the others around me? Their speech was accentuated by wise-cracking and jokes while they were packing. My respect for them increased, and specially I felt it for our Squad Leader Cpl. Varisuo. In every situation he was calm as the surface of a pond in forest. He was no different now at the moment of departure for the first line.
Our Platoon Leader was Lt. Härkönen who was to make the supreme sacrifice during our advance at Summa.
Our target was to occupy a patch of forest beyond large grain-fields So to begin with we were to traverse a wide area of open ground. As the grain stems had already grown tall, the enemy hopefully might not spot our movement when we were crossing the field.
-Boys! Do not lose from your sight the man ahead of you. One by one – sparse intervals – follow me! Cpl. Varisuo's calm voice shook me off from my thoughts.
“Follow me” was an order to be obeyed. There was no alternative. The other squads were already advancing a good way ahead of us. Squad Varisuo was the last one to leave. One after the other we followed our leader. We were sneaking along a ditch like lynxes for our target.
We found ourselves scarcely in the middle of the open ground as suddenly there was a nasty whining overhead...Bang, bang! The enemy had detected our movement and started pouring shells on the field...I was lying on the bottom of the ditch, immobile. Good G-d, is this the end of my life? I read the prayer I had learned as a child, either a morning or evening prayer...The barrage went on. I felt someone poking at me in the soles of my boots with some object. I had a start. I tried to shout but was not able to produce any sound out of my mouth.
-Hey you!. Get going! You are not in a nursing home! It was the fellow behind me, wise-cracking. -Forward!
Finally we made it in the protective forest on the far side of the open ground.
-Were they going to singe your beard, sonny? Lt. Härkönen asked me joking after we had joined the others in the forest. We took a breathing break before going on. I sat down, panting, in the cover of a rock. Fear was ripping into my entrails. Tension was mulling in the pit of my stomach. I was fumbling at my pockets...where the heck are the fags? Right there in my breast pocket, in the tin box, the accessory to the gas mask. Nerve smoke! How relaxing! Two fags in a row!
Cpl. Varisuo sat down next to me. I treated him with a cig. Frankly I told him about my fear.
-Every one of us here is afraid. You just do not allow the fear to take over enough to make you unable to act as the situation demands. All of us are here like...One's turn may come any time...Such is the war. Cpl. Varisuo's calm appearance injected some courage in me, too.
We were there. Then we were relieved. The sector was now in our responsibility. We had orders to get closer to the enemy defence line. We were to take positions on a hill that was to be called “Corpse hill”. That is the name the Vallila boys knew the hill ever after, and still do.
We advanced in a line from the present line to the Corpse hill a few hundred meters ahead, and started digging. Scarcely had I managed to sink my field spade in a turf as there was a whine at my ears . Trrrr.! The enemy had spotted our arrival and was welcoming us in his own manner. I threw myself flat down, took my rifle and crawled in the cover of a big rock. Shooting ended as soon as it had started.
Cpl. Varisuo came to me.
-The first days are the meanest in the front line. But you shall get used to this! The good Corporal assured me.
-Anybody wounded ? I asked.
-A couple of boys...just slightly, Varisuo responded, all the time observing the terrain ahead of us.
A couple of days passed without any actual skirmishing. There were just single rifle shots, brief auto weapons bursts, whine of mortar bombs. I found myself now in the front line, but this was not real war yet. Even though the days in a front line foxholes comprised guarding and watching, I still was not able to get rid of the feeling wallowing inside. Whose turn is it going to be today? A mortar bomb may drop next to you! A stray bullet may hit your head!
Quiet time lasted a few days. Then one morning...it was dawning. Sun was rising in the East as a red globe. I and Pvt. Heine were sentries in a LMG nest. Another half an hour and we would get some rest in a hole in the ground. The calm of a summer's morning permeated the place. It was like a Sunday morning in the countryside. Actually it was too quiet for front line. It was usually just at this hour as the Neighbours used to send over a few 50mm mortar rounds as if to find out if we still were there and to suggest that it would be time to start firing. -Quiet! -Cpl. Varisuo came to see us and then left to visit the other boys. But then it happened! The silence was smashed by sudden noise of light arms. Then mortars joined in! The air was full of hissing, banging, crashing...
Finally the battle ended. The surprise enemy forced recon attempt had been beaten back. But...what a horrible sight there was in our line! During the battle no one had paid any attention to the mortar rounds whining in the air and where could one find cover, anyway. One round with an eight fin tail had fallen among our fighting boys... There was wailing...there was blood...There hand not been any time to check what had happened to the pal next to you...You had to fight on...And now...after the battle had ended. Good G-d, whose turn had it been?
There was prone Runner Hakala, with his belly ripped up...and there...there...There was our good Squad Leader, Cpl. Varisuo, mutilated shapeless...It was nauseating. I sat down on a turf. I lit up a fag and greedily sucked in the soothing smoke. I kept thinking about the fate of Cpl. Varisuo. Last night he had made coffee for his “squaddies” and treated us with buns his wife had sent. And now he found himself...in eternity! I remembered his words:
-One's turn may come any time. Such is the war.
Such is the war! It takes its victims...Whose turn? That very moment I sensed that something was extinguished in me. An odd numbness filled my mind. I understood that a change had taken place. I had received my baptism by fire. Feel no pity! Kill or get killed!
We left the “Corpse hill” as soon as other men had relieved us. We had to get in the rear for replacements in our Platoon. As we again were crossing the open grain-field it was as if I had woken up from a nightmare. How wonderful it was now to sneak in the ditch in the opposite direction from that a few days ago when we were attacking. Then deadly music was playing. Now it was like dancing to a joyful polka tune. I was alive! I was almost overjoyed. It had not yet been my turn!
Nothing that happened in the war since could not conjure up such fear, such subjugation in me, neither the feeling of joy and love of life as those very first days in the front line at the “Corpse hill” in Nuijamaa.
III/JR47 war diary extract (a bit long):
Our artillery and mortars have been shelling the schoolhouse group of buildings.
40 men have arrived as replacement.
Div. CO visited the Rgt CO at the Rgt Command Post.
Artillery fire during the night.
Terrain fires on the Russki side.
Aerial activities minimal just as during the last few days. -Warm weather.
The terrain in front of Pt.80 manned by 2nd Lt. Bärlund up to the Viipuri main road without fighting. The Russki observation pylon to the right of the schoolhouse collapsed, hit by mortar.
Russki has been firing at the terrain yesterday manned all night.
No enemy a/c spotted.
Div. CO accompanied by Rgt CO arrived at the Btn Command Post and visited the front line
Sunday. Very calm all day.
Observers have found that the Russki is continuing f.f. work on top of Raatokukkula [Corpse hill), illuminating the road with flares in the night.
In the evening an entertainment show on the field next to the Btn command post.
2nd Lt. Varstala discovered that the Nurkka-Matikkakangas isthmus was free from enemies, the isthmus was manned up to the road.
Patrol Varstala has found that the Onnela houses are abandoned; the Onnela isthmus is being entrenched.
The Russki MG nest at Nurkka was fired at with an AT rifle and mortars; despite that the nest has been firing. Our artillery has destroyed at the Nurkka terrain some twenty Russkies.
-Afternoon was quiet.
Still beautiful weather. In the terrain beyond the schoolhouse open ground, in the patch of forest, all the day totally quiet.
Russki mortars have fired incendiary bombs, the fires have been put out at once.
Russki tried to break into our positions at Lt. Härkönen's strong-point with a force of about one Platoon. The attack was repulsed. One wounded Russki was taken POW, he belongs to the Recon Detachment of IR147. He was taken to the Btn HQ and forwarded to the CCS.
Russki is firing from Ränämäki with a direct fire cannon.
Warm. No Russki a/c seen.
In the night Patrol Varstalo was examining the manning of the Nurkka weapons nest.
Discoveries: The nest is manned at least with more than ten men, armed at least with one LMG. One SMG, one auto rifle and rifle mortar, possibly also one MG.
-Russki is using a lot of explosive bullets.
-Silent in the course of the day.
PM: Cpl. Hindsby, PFC Kataja and Armour Jaeger Bister annihilated the Nurkka weapons nest, it caught fire.
AM:Clear weather, PM: Rain
Btn CO decorated at the Btn command post the men who had annihilated the Nurkka Weapons nest with Liberty Medal, 2nd Class.
In the night MG s at Onnela and Raatomäki hill were firing cross-fire in the direction of the road. A LMG fired frontal fire from a nest at the road.
-Quiet during the day.
Last night at 21-2400hrs a patrol from Lt. Nurmi's strong-point set off to recon between Pt.2 and Raatomäki.
-About 40m from our lines there is a Russki listening post with a telephone line.
-No Russkies present.
AM one Squad of Lt. Pirkko's platoon manned the patch of forest SW of Matikka farm.
A Company of Kev.Os.1 took over the front at the sector of 9.K. (Code: 1334)
PM: Rain all the time.
The night was quiet on our sector.
Lively exchange of shots, MG and LMG bursts at our left wing, fired from the sector of JR26. JR26 was liaised and it was found that Russkies had tried to break through but failed. Russkies were men of older age groups, clad in wadded jackets, so there has been a relief, possibly also on our sector.
Our observation is active.
Btn CO visited the front line up to 1700hrs.
PM Some spotter planes seen.
Btn CO briefing the outfit CO s.
In the small hours 1334 (KevOs.1) extended manning about 500m from Pt.80 to SE up to the enemy side of the patch of alder bushes , that is about 100 to 200m ahead of the previous line.
AM : Variable cloudiness.
Btn CO and one officer from each outfit set off to the AC for a demonstration of smoke mortars in Marttila. Btn CO returned at 1800.
No Russki flying activities during the day.
At night patrolling.
Btn CO set off for no-man's-land returning at 1730.
In the night Russkies were extremely alert and several of the weapons nests were manned. A patrol led by Sgt. Susi attacked the road weapons nest, throwing a satchel charge and hand grenades at the nest and the communications trench. The nest was not destroyed.
Russki continuing alertness. In the night they kept firing flares, illuminating no-man's-land. Entrenchment work going on.
Snipers have appeared at Ränämäki and Raatomäki, and in the ruins of Onnela.
Btn CO and Intel officer were during the day familiarizing themselves with Russki entrenchments in the direction of the planned new offensive at Ilmee, Ylä-Kumpu etc.
Hiitola, Kirvu, Sariola and Kaukola have been returned to Finnish territory.
Thunderous rain all day.
Movement in Russki weapons nest detected also in daytime. Our artillery and mortars are harassing. Enemy movement and entrenching work harassed by rifle fire.
Lotta canteen visited the CP, a nice change in this “trench war”.
PM: Cpl. Heimberg, decorated with Liberty medal 2nd Cl. And who as a master rifleman had taken out some thirty Russkies, took an explosive bullets in his chest and died of his wounds in a military hospital.
At night Jaeger platoon patrols were out on the Kontu open ground, gaining important data on enemy manning at the schoolhouse terrain.
Pt.2 change: 3.K /Kev.Os.1 relieved by 2.K.
Raining all day.
PM: Btn CO liaising with Kev.Os.1.
“Rainy season” over .
PM: Btn CO inspecting the positions
16.00-16.30hrs: Some 6” shells landed next to the CP tent. One sentry KIA, one Signals man WIA.
In the evening CO moved in the recently completed command dugout.
At night Cpl. Kaijärvi patrol annihilated the LMG nest in the _Onnela ruins, some Russkies, too.
Rgt CO arrived to inspect the first line.
Last night as a Kev.Os.1 patrol attempted to destroy the Onnela weapons nest, Kev.Os.1 Chaplain Lt. Elovaara was KIA.
During the day 9.K again took over Pt.80 including no-man's-land and Kev.Os.1 Coy Huotari returned from their familiarization journey.
Russki manned the Onnela weapons nest and trench with about 100 men.
At dawn-break they tried to pull back whereby at least some 20 got shot.
Russki has started radio (sic) propaganda at our neighbour to the left, babbling 0500 to 0700hrs.
Style á la Tiltu [Female Soviet radio propagandist in Finnish]
At night artillery activities.
AM: Btn CO, Arty CO and Int Off. Examining the chances of attacking Raatomäki.
Member of Parliament J.Tuominen lecturing in the Coys.
2nd Lt. Bärlund WIA PM.
After 0400hrs next night our MG fired at the AT gun position at Raatomäki, at the barn in front of Pt.88 and the Onnela cow house. After the shooting 10.K. Patrol set out and blew up the weapons nest in the ruin and took out a couple of Russkies with a SMG.
PM: Calm. Lt. Nirvi WIA.
Night was calm as well as this Sunday. Russki MG set on fire some outhouses of Hyväri farm.
In the night lively movement on Russki side at Löytsijärvi and Kiviaronmäki (?)
In the day Lt. Härkönen set out to investigate the so called Road Weapons nests, and there a Squad of Russkies started throwing hand grenades at him. Having thrown back those hand grenades among the Russkies and his own, too, and having shot one Ivan, Lt. Härkönen returned slightly wounded.
Jaeger platoon patrol set out to familiarize themselves with the weapons nest at the schoolhouse, unnoticed by Russki.
AM: CO and unit CO s were familiarizing themselves with the jump-off positions for the offensive.
PM: CO visited the Group HQ.
At night mutual artillery activities.
During the day the entire Btn was transferred to R&R while I Btn took over the sector. Relief was completed by 2400hrs.
(end of quote)
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Hunting for a vole
Journal “Kansa Taisteli “ 08, 1961
In the II AC Winter War code word list “vole” was a synonym for an enemy.
Gen. H. Öhqvist mentions in his book "Talvisota minun näkökulmastani" p. 156 on the day of 2. Jan.1940:
"Polttila's Regiment (JR 14) had yesterday taken two POWs in a clever manner: a patrol had sneaked over to the Russian side and found a telephone cable. They cut it and set up an ambush, waiting for “troubleshooters” to fix the fault. As they came, the patrol nabbed them (two artillerymen).”
No doubt about that, this happened, but the cable-cut innovation with all patent and other rights belongs to another outfit. As the Extra Repetition had started and the troops concentrated to work on the “Mannerheim Line”, III/JR13, comprising men hailing from Loimaa area, reinforced with a Mortar Company etc., was posted at Lumpeistenoja in Summa, situated in forest behind Munasuo bog at Lähde area, later known as “Merkki sector”. The Commander was Jaeger Capt. Viljo August Laakso (later Col. Lt., holder of the Mannerheim Cross). It was a wilderness where the outfit arrived, there were just 421 ravens counted by a horse driver and two moose, which were under the custom protection of Gen. Öhqvist. Later the moose “got tangled in wire” which gave rise to a terrible process (not discussed here).
With hard work some field fortifications were completed in the forest so that even there the men were ready to receive the enemy as they started charging. After the first battles at Lähde and Lumpeistenoja on December 7-13 there was a “creative lull”. The enemy kept reminding daily of their presence by sending thousands of shells and rushing with the force of a few companies. However, there were whispers that on the opposite side they are rallying their forces and preparing for another forceful attempt, so reconnoitring had to be stepped up.
The Battalion Intelligence officer was Res. 2nd Lt. Veikko Kunnas, a cool-headed and exceptionally lucky man. He used to spend almost all his time in no-man's-land studying what the neighbour was up to. He also informed on major “rallying points” that he had detected at night, then the artillery supporting the Battalion directly , heavy Battalion Spåre or light Battalion Harviainen, took a shot at them spending some of their scarce shells.
Reconnoitring was not considered to be sufficient in the upper echelons since on the 16. Dec 1939 at 0900hrs a telephone message was received from the 5.D HQ: (The Battalion was directly subordinated to them at the time)
-Get a live “vole” today.
All right, order is order and Capt. Laakso was known both to his subordinates and his superiors as a man who would fulfil orders. In daylight “vole catching” was a bit of a problem, but since time was scarce an attempt had to be made the same day. There indeed were “voles” sneaking around wearing their felt boots in any numbers beyond the Finnish front line, it was just a matter of catching one.
Intel officer Kunnas had not yet returned from his night mission so the task had to be assigned to other me. The obvious choice was Res. Cornet Pellonperä, the leader of the platoon fighting at the meadows of Lounatkorpi.
This man, Kalle Zakeus Pellonperä, student in civilian life (KIA 21.2.1940 at Honkaniemi) was an imposing man in old cavalry style: short in stature, his legs bowing just to conform to the ribs of a horse, always ready to help and taking the humorist view of everything. He was well familiar with the terrain at his own line, down to every hole, bush and tree stump, so that he did not hesitate to move around there in daytime. He took with him a squad and set out to do his task.
They kept sneaking for hours but “voles” were not seen, alive, that is. There were dead ones in any quantity specially in the Mustaoja valley, but those were good for nothing. Zakeus began to consider their task a less promising one. Time passed, they were getting hungry as it was lunchtime by now, but of course they could not return without a “vole”. Then the officer had an idea. There was an enemy telephone cable strung up on trees. He rallied his men in a bush providing cover and explained his plan:
-Look at that phone cable. When our cable is cut off the signals apes proceed to fix them in any kind of weather or fire. Let us find out if they have the same habit here. Let us cut that cable and since our signals men are constantly short of it, let us coil up as much of it as we can. The we shall wait for the reaction!
That is what was done. They did not have to wait for much longer since just half an hour later they heard sounds of walking and babbling among the pine trees of the bog. A three man patrol led by an officer emerged. Pellonperä managed to whisper to his men:
- We'll take the officer! before the action started.
The Officer had been walking a few meters ahead of his men as good manners oblige, and spotted the ambush not until he found himself between two of Pellonperä's men. The Finns charged at him violently. One grabbed the enemy by his legs and the other one yanked his Nagan away. At the same time brief SMG bursts eliminated the rest.
However, the caught “vole” was totally savage. He was yelling, screaming, biting , kicking, even scoring a hit in the “weak spot” of the other man, making him pull back, wailing. Immediately the Russian attacked the man who had grabbed his Nagan, getting hold of the Finn's throat with his big hands and squeezing. The man ran out of air, his vision was blurring, but with the last of his forces he turned the Nagan at the head of the strangler and discharged the weapon. The squeeze ended – there was a silence. The incident had taken less than one minute.
Then there was a conundrum. Pellonperä began to employ powerfully all the prime expressions he had learned in his Cavalry regiment, the forest was echoing with curses and scoldings . It was a live “vole” that they were after, and now some pervert had killed the last one! It was advisable not to linger on there, because everyone could guess that the yelling of the enemy officer and Pellonperä's curses had been heard widely in the windless frosty air, and the locality would soon be crowded. The enemy weapons were collected to be taken along. Pellonperä remarked, having seen two reels of cable and a field telephone set, :
-Get at least those along, so that the Signals Officer shall thank you.
Indeed he did. Those two reels saved the day several times during the following days as the communications were broken every now and then. As to to other praise – well... Capt. Laakso listened with a serious grin the report by embarrassed Pellonperä, but being a discreet man he refrained from any criticism. He just slammed his hand on the telephone message on his table in the dugout and said:
-This is a request for a live “vole”!
Then he turned to his adjutant:
-Go and get one!
The Adjutant, Re. 2nd Lt. Kaino Gunnar Laatio was and excellent Adjutant, even though he did not posses the soul of and adjutant. Being a short man, he failed to command the respect from other officers he felt he deserved, he would remark:
-I shall be a mining engineer, I am studying in the Royal Mining Academy in Stockholm ! ( He did become one with great success).
As his CO during the heaviest battles preferred to stay in the front line trench providing an example for his men, the Adjutant had to assume quite large a responsibility, deciding on the deployment of reserves and so on, but he always carried out his duty in the best manner. Never lacking initiative, now, too, he said:
-All right, Captain, Sir, we shall do that!
Laatio asked 2nd Lt. Hämälainen, who was lodged in the HQ to join him. Hämälainen had graduated from the Cadet School just before the war broke out and he had been posted as the CO of a Mortar Company. They took only two reliable men of the Light Detachment along. Capt. Laakso helped in making up the capture plan. He advised the boys this time to avoid the Lounatkorpi meadow and head for the terrain in front of strong-point Koivikko at the edge of Munasuo bog. The spot was manned by 2nd Lt. Kunnas' men who might provide assistance in case of any emergency.
Darkness was falling as the patrol finally passed the listening post horseshoe shaped hindrance. Kunnas had not been there but his trace lead in the patch of forest in front of the front line, and the boys followed it. In a no time at all they beheld a charming sight: on the ground there was a recently installed telephone cable! Laatio estimated that it was for artillery F.O.O., and since the enemy artillery in their usual habit was sparsely “pounding” the hindrance lines and the trench lines he deduced that the line was being maintained. Without delay they cut the cable and went in hiding.
A troubleshooting patrol arrived quite soon. It comprised four men who were carrying cable and loudly cursing their bad luck having to go out to troubleshooting duty in the dark. Fire was briefly opened at them; two enemies had fallen silent, one escaped and one sat down on the snow, holding his heel. He had to hand over his “vintofka” to the patrol and come along in “forced marching” to the front line dugout where his lightly wounded heel was bandaged. The journey continued to the Command Dugout.
-Boys, there is a live “vole” in the command dugout!
The sentry in duty alerted the entire dugout village and every idle man hurried to the Command dugout to see this “nonesuch”, the first one for the outfit. He indeed deserved being seen: the man was small, with dark eyes and a round baby face, gesticulating lively when talking. He was dressed in a standard wadded uniform, instead of underwear he was wearing a blue civilian suit. He was wearing a helmet with a baby cap underneath, to the disappointment of cockade hunters, provided with a paint cockade. His entire clothing including the felt boots were very soiled. His face was totally blackened by campfire smoke, only the whites of his eyes were flashing clean, else he totally looked like a n*o. Initially he was a little scared. He found himself in unfamiliar surroundings, and the men in the dugout, clad in white, were strangers.
At the beginning of the interrogation he hesitated a little but soon his tension relieved and he started talking. He hailed from Moscow, he was serving in the artillery of an elite division. There were plenty of them in the front, there were also a lot of tanks, and tomorrow they were to launch an attack that would sweep the “Finski” aside in a flash beyond Viipuri. Their men were ones that would act as ordered without tarrying unlike the outfits that had been attacking here up to now! So it made sense to treat him with due care, else the Comrades would take revenge!
The men listening to the boasting may have turned a bit hostile, someone even grumbled that maybe they should deal with us before heading for Viipuri. The man was frightened by this and asked, out of breath:
-Shall I be shot now?
As his questions had been translated to the men in the dugout they burst in laughter. He appeared to be surprised by the reaction to the question that was of vital importance to him, no doubt emerging from the depths of his soul.
Not until he was explained that in these parts it is not the habit to shoot prisoners at all, he calmed down and sighed loudly. When asked if they used to shoot their prisoners, he answered with the pride of an artilleryman:
-Maybe the infantry sometimes, but us artillerymen never!
After quick interrogation the Surgeon Löfgren re-bandaged the “vole” heel in the best manner and the man was treated with thick slices of sausage and cheese. During a brief waiting period the CO phoned the Division operative office chief, Capt. Kurenmaa:
-We were issued orders to get a “live vole”, and now we have one here.
He received a polite “thank you” - the trouble with the moose was forgotten by now – and was informed that the POW shall be picked up.
So the little “vole” was riding in a car for the rear before midnight. He appeared to be greatly relieved having ended his war with this little pain. The “vole” had been right as to the future action of his outfit. The following day and those after that in our sector we had a hard time keeping his pals on their own side. At Lähde the situation turned so bad that the local CO, Jaeger Capt. A. Kuiri had to request for referees from the Division CO Gen. Isakson.
[The enemy was out-flanking Kuiri, an operation that had been unacceptable in peace time war games.]
Kalle Sakeus Pellonperä
Born 15.03.191913 in Pöytyä
Lieutenant of JR 13, III Btn, 9th Coy
Wounded on 19.Feb.1940 at Viipuri Rural Municipality
Died on 21.02.1940 in 43.SotaS
Buried in Pöytyä.
III/JR13 diary ends on 6.12.1939. 9.K./JR13 war diary ends on 4.12.1939.
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My life at the tip of bayonet
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, 08, 1961
It is the evening of 25th Aug 1941. It is raining in a drizzle. A file of men is snaking through wilderness, soaked and quiet. At times a tired foot slips on a wet turf and the man keels over, yet scrambles up cursing softly.
7th Coy of JR29 is on their way to cut off the road E from Somba village. Frontal attacks have been launched for several days but without avail. The only alternative is to surround the enemy. Finally we have reached the road and it is now in our hands without major trouble. Our platoon crosses the road and we set up our line up to the shore of lake Sotjärvi nearby. Then we start advancing to the direction of the fields of a village. Darkness and intense infantry arms fire catch us and we have to take positions at the edge of the fields among alder bushes.
At the road the enemy is trying to break through with great effort but fails. After a moment an outfit of some 40 Vanyas marching in closed order appears, the first man carrying a white flag on his rifle barrel. Our men believe they are surrendering, and stand up to receive them. However, suddenly the enemies drop down and open fire. One of our men gets a bullet through his chest and drops down without a sound. Next our MG s on both sides of the road open up and the men in their foxholes join the shooting with their entire fire power. The “cheaters” are now pinned down on the slope that hardly anyone is able to escape. Night falls and wild mutual firing is continuing.
Single men are trying to get across our line but in vain. I cut a hole in the dense hedge in front of me and creep through in a depression in front of the hedge. It is a really dark autumn midnight as I hear sounds of movement in the alder bushes in front of me. Soon I detect a dark shadow just a few meters off. I let go burst at it with my SMG. Just a thump is heard as the shadow falls down. I am standing on my knees, my weapon ready, waiting. Soon the fallen man says “nyet ponimaim nyet ponimai” and suddenly there is a flash of muzzle flame. I fell the bullet score my cap. In retaliation I give him another burst, and the man falls silent.
It dawns and we are ordered to proceed. All we have to do is to sweep the surrounded terrain. We find piles of corpses, we take just a few POWs.
Having had our meal and a cigarette we again receive orders to advance. We proceed a couple of kilometre and stop at a brook. Our tent is set up with routine and the men are getting the rest they well deserve. Only sentries are posted and Cpl. Sydänmetsä shall take care of relieving them in due time.
Since I am the no.1 man of our squad, a SMG gunner, I have to take the first stint at the post about one hundred meters from our tent. It appears to be quiet. I drop a couple of pieces of wood under a big birch and sit down, leaning against the birch trunk. I keep observing the terrain in front of me, the SMG slung over my shoulder.
My one hour stint is soon completed and all I am waiting for is relief as suddenly I hear a crunch behind me. I glance there. The horror! A big tall Vanya, an ugly man, is rushing at me with a diabolic and self-assured smile on his lips. All I manage to do is to jump up and partly turn at him before his bayonet hits my breast. Immediately I seize it with my left hand so that the thrust aimed at my heart misses it, instead piercing my chest on the lift, just ripping the lung sack. Having seen that he did not get me with his first attempt the fellow yanks his bayonet out of my chest and tries again.
A wild fight starts between us two. Each one is aware that the loser shall die. Life is precious for everyone. I felt I was the underdog holding a rifle at the wrong end, and I also in a flash realised that if his rifle might be loaded. If the enemy has a chance to pull the trigger my fingers would be blown off and it would be game over for me. So I am trying to keep moving and take the rifle. Once more he manages to yank the bayonet out of my hand and lands one thrust through my shoulder badge and another in my collar without hitting my neck, however. I am trying to yell because it occurs to me that he may manage to kill me. If there are more enemies nearby and I am not able to alert the men sleeping in the tent, the Vanyas might dump a satchel charge in the tent and wipe out our entire outfit.
Terrible seconds are passing, I feel my strength is ebbing, my chest is sticking and my breathing is difficult. There is no chance for me to use the SMG, so now I rush at the man and do manage to get a grip, this time on the wood of the rifle. With my one hand I am still gripping the SMG barrel,
trashing and trying to kick him in stomach, but he glances the kick by bowing. I try to hit him on the head with the SMG butt. He parries it, too, and my blow hits only his shoulder, but now one of his hands slips from his rifle. Now I have a chance to drop the SMG and take hold of his rifle with both hands. I wrench the rifle hard, his grip is lost and the gun is mine. I take a quick bounce back and shove the bayonet in his chest. The man falls with a scream, I give him another thrust. The rifle is left sticking out of his shoulders, and our accounts are balanced. Also I am at the end of my tether.
Blood is flowing down my side and foaming out of my mouth. I pick up my SMG and head for the tent. My pals, alarmed by my yell, are coming to me. They had seen our struggle from a distance but they did not dare to shoot because we were moving about so fast that they might have hit me, too.
Our Platoon Leader 2nd Lt. Sorjonen and his deputy, Sgt. Tokola bandage my wounds at once and as soon as the medics with their stretcher have arrived my painful journey to the field hospital starts. I am carried for the first couple of kilometre, then some ten kilometre on a cart on a very poor road that appears to be never-ending. I remember only the start of the journey by automobile, but then I pass out.
As I came to I find myself in the field hospital in Hyrsylä on a table, there is a surgeon and two nurses next to me. I realise that I am still alive and in existence. Then my hospital tour starts, ending 4th February 1942 as I rejoin my outfit at Svir and serve undamaged to the very end of the war.
7th Coy war diary has not survived.
III Btn war diary extract:
“Pekka” phone report: According to information gained from POWs the enemy troops facing our Battalion have been replaced with convicts and we are to try to gain a bridgehead on the far side of the river.
Btn CO issued orders to unit CO s for attack in the afternoon.
One 9.K platoon, reinforced by an AT gun and AT rifle shall cross the river at the mill.
8.K shall launch at the same time a fake attack and may cross the river later.
Btn CO moved to Gutselkä village and from there to the river shore at the mill to lead the action.
Artillery preparation started.
9.K Platoon carried out the crossing that was successful . Immediately another Platoon were sent across. As the platoons were advancing it was found that the enemy had intensely mined and trapped the forest perimeter on the opposite shore, preventing the platoon from advancing on. At the same time the enemy launched a strong counterstrike supported by mortars and one tank.
Btn CO issued orders to pull back to previous defensive positions to avoid casualties. 8.K stays in their previous positions.
Casualties in this fight: 1 KIA, 23 WIA.
-”Pekka” was informed on the situation by phone.
A JR60 patrol liaised reporting that an aout 30 man enemy patrol had been seen about 2km NE of Peninselkä village. Their Jaeger Platoon had engaged the said patrol and the outfit had been eliminated, the survivors had seen to head for Lamminselkä village.
Btn CO ordered Anti-Gas squad to patrol on the road Lamminselkä – Peninselkä, up to the brook South of Keskiselkä village. Patrol strength 1+3, sent out every four hours.
(end of day)
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Journal "Kansa Taisteli" 08, 1961
The author has omitted the date and the mention of his outfit, usually an ominous sign as to the factual content. JR55 was responsible for the Finnish front against the Soviet base “Gangut” in Hanko peninsula during 1941. The date must be about August deduced by the mention of night darkness.
Silence fell so unexpectedly suddenly that it was hard to believe. The aircraft rumbling in the dark sky had vanished somewhere to the direction of Paldiski. Crashes had stopped shaking the rocky ground. AA guns fell silent, and the beams of searchlights no more swept the low clouds. From the direction of Hanko could be heard faint rattle of infantry weapons, else it was very quiet. Dark, too.
In the head of a cape sticking in the sea was a breastworks made up of shore stones. Three men were sitting in it. Moon briefly lit the men bivouacking there, each one with a two week stubble sprouting on their chin. Then moon again pulled back behind her shroud of clouds leaving everything in darkness. It was as if she had wanted to have a brief look at what the recent visit of enemy aircraft had accomplished. Having found that everything was the same she went on on her orbit.
The men were listening. There was a rattle of light weapons coming from far away, in their nearest environment there was the quiet hiss of wind in the needles of the stunted pines. Else the silence was total. One of the men crept out of the chest-high breastworks' narrow door and stopped standing there, the SMG was slung across his neck and a couple of spare mags were hanging from his belt. The other two were sitting in their cramped space talking in a low voice. The same moment the field telephone rang.
-F.O.O. Post “Närhi” hearing you, one of the men responded while staring in the darkness.
-”Patti” here. Anything special?
-No hits anywhere near.
-Very well. We may be able to relieve you next morning. Over and off.
Each man was left alone in his private thoughts, and the man who had answered the phone was now staring to the dark sea through the periscope binoculars. The man outside took a step to the left and listened. The tension created by the recent air raid was relieved and the relief promised by the CP made the spirits rise. Dead reeds were rustling in the shallow water and the heavy leaves of alders were quietly moving. The path had been trodden during many a night. Nine steps to the shoreline, an about turn at the alder bush and another nine steps to the breastwork. Movement kept a man awake. You just had to stop to listen every now and then. Now everything was calm. Even the searchlights were asleep.
-What is the time?
The sentry had stopped and asked the observer.
-Oh-two and thirty, the answer came from the inside of the rock structure.
-Soon we shall see the dawn.
The sentry continued his slow stroll. Walking kept his blood in circulation and a sudden feeling of being at ease took over the man. He stopped and took a look at the sea. It was his field. His father and paternal grandfather had been fishermen – and soldiers. They had been familiar with the sea. It had been that way since time immemorial.
It was war now again. There in the horizon was he enemy, and it was as if the sea would have been sighing under a special ballast. Now it was the sea of battles, ploughed by heavy warships and twelve inch steel barrels were thundering at the coastlines. It was a sea of dangerous minefields, a sea of submarines and torpedo boats. It was the cemetery for thousands of soldiers.
The clouds in the direction of the dawn were getting a more pale countenance. Soon the relief would come and the three men would be getting a well deserved rest, even a sauna bath.
Wind was rustling the sticky leaves of alders. A bird chirped there. The man turned: the bird had heard something. He knew that the small birds of the coastline were irritated by the smallest unfamiliar sound. Even the popping of a motor boat engine was heard by them far before a human ear was able to detect anything. Again the bird chirped before flying away.
What had agitated it?
The man tried to pierce with his eyes the black shadow of the alder bushes. No one was moving there. The only sound emerging from the sea was the distant rattle of infantry arms. It was not that noise that had disturbed the bird, it was already accustomed to it. A new sound must have alerted it. An odd premonition took the sentry over. He felt as if someone was watching his movement. No- it must be due to lack of sleep, he deduced and went on strolling.
What is that? The man was staring amazed at a bush looming in the dusk. That bush – it definitely had not been there a moment ago. The bush had moved!
The sentry felt flushed. He was standing about six meters from the bush...now he knew someone was inside that bush...a desant maybe?
If that desant could guess that he had been detected, a shot would be fired from the bush and the sentry would find himself at the end of the road. The sentry realised that in a blink of an eye. Should he attempt a slightest movement to adjust his SMG in a shooting position , it would be the last deed of his life.
In a second he perceived this, too. Also he was aware that the man in the bush was not alone. Several of them must have been parachuted during the recent visit of aircraft, with the task of taking out this F.O.O. Post, followed by a landing attempt.
The brow of the sentry turned damp as he turned his back to the “bush” . He could not let the enemy guess that he had been detected. Humming an old school tune he care-freely strolled away while shifting the SMG across his chest. That happened smoothly and now also the safety was switched off. A sentry humming a song could not be dangerous. Then he turned again.
The bush had again moved! Now it was standing at the end of the sentry path. Should he go there and do the usual about turn the “bush” would crush his skull, without any sound or problem.
The “bush” obviously spotted that the sentry had repositioned his SMG. There was a movement in the darkness but at the same moment the sentry's SMG chattered and the “bush” collapsed. A volley emerged from the alder bushed and a flare was cutting the darkness. The enemy was signalling their side.
The sentry threw himself in the breastwork.
They kept firing at the alder bushes to keep the enemies away. From the sea the howling of landing craft engines could be heard, but the phone line to the C.P. Was already open. The targets were given and soon there was rumbling on the right as well on the left. The pre-determined targets did not need much adjustment.
The artillery barrages had done their task so fast that a moment later the order to cease fire was given. Not a single boat could be heard. They were either destroyed or they preferred to retreat
But there was life in the alder bushes, but not for long. As it had been surrounded, three POWs were taken. Another three KIA were found, including the “bush”. That was examined. One of the men said:
-All kinds of devilish tricks do they have. That one is like a kind of ghost.
The man in the bush indeed had an odd garment. A kind of cloak had been sewn of sack fabric, with pine and juniper boughs sewn on. It had been fashioned so that the wearer could fire from an opening in the front. The man was indeed clutching an unsecured Colt in his hand, and his pockets were bursting with hand grenades. It was an odd military uniform. It was sent to the C.P. To be examined, and certainly there was no one there who had seen such a garment.
The POWs told that they had been parachuted last night tasked to destroy the nasty F.O.O. Post and create a bridgehead for future missions. The sentries were to be eliminated soundlessly and then fire a flare to signal to the landing craft waiting out on the sea for a chance to attack.
The situational awareness of the sentry saved the day, and the bird that made him suspicious, also contributed. When in deserved R&R the sentry recounted his pals his experience.
-I did get cold shivers as I saw that the bush had changed place. If I were superstitious I may have believed witchcraft was at play.
-We heard how you were humming just before the melee started, had you already spotted the danger?
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Fire without smoke
Journal "Kansa Taisteli", 09 1961
Story of a hopeless raid. The bunker is actually the infamous “Ojanen's bunker” that was a pain in the a* for the entire war, rebuilt by the enemy each time.
JR48, led by Col. Lt. Sora found themselves after the Carelian Isthmus had been re-taken at the perimeter of Ohta village in Lempaala. I was serving in the Jaeger Platoon of the I Battalion.
On 23 September 1941 a Runner came to our dugout and handed over an order to our Platoon CO 2nd Lt. Puttonen to report to the Battalion CO. The boys were hoping that finally they would get some furlough but soon the matter was made clear.
2md Lt. Puttonen came and informed us that our platoon had been assigned the task to take the enemy concrete bunker about 800m down the Leningrad main road. The Platoon was to be ready for action at 1300hrs. The boys were muttering that the mission would be a failure if carried out in daytime, Puttonen agreed with them but an order is an order. The unwillingness of the boys was also partly due to fatigue because we had just at 0800hrs returned from a night patrol mission.
The H hour approached slowly and finally we could shift to the terrain next to the jump-off position. Then we were waiting at the edge of the forest as our artillery “softened up” the enemy front line. For the attack the platoon was divided in two outfits, one to secure the advance and the other to destroy the bunker. Securing outfit was subordinated to Sr. Sgt. Halttunen and the demolition outfit to 2nd Lt. Puttonen. Final orders were issued so that every man should be aware of his task. Two men were tasked to dump in the bunker through the embrasure. Finally a smokescreen was fired and we were ordered to take off. It was 1440hrs.
At first we advanced in a single file half way up to the target, then we fanned out into a line. The terrain was quite open but we did have the smokescreen. Everything had gone fine up to now but now the enemy opened up. After we had advanced some more the liaison between men was broken because some were drifting too much to the left and others to the right. May it be mentioned that already in this stage Sgt. Korhonen was wounded by a bullet in his neck.
Soon the liaison was re-established and our advance continued. We found us quite near the enemy bunker, on the far side of the road seen from our direction of advance. Then happened what we had feared. Wind pushed the smokescreen away and no new smokescreen was fired. We were left exposed in front of the enemy bunker and the enemy by no means stopped shooting, instead they increased their rate of fire.
I did not know what should have been done actually. I kept calling the boys but there was no response. Then I started thinking that they all might have been hit. Finally I heard a low voice, as if from underground, saying that the latest command had been “get back”. Maybe this order had been issued long time ago but it did not pass through the line to the leading men.
The fact is that the bunker was not taken. I, too, turned back, creeping on my belly . I could not put up my head at all, the fire was that intense. I had managed to proceed one meter in the direction of our line as a bullet whacked into my thigh. I tried to pull back as fast as I could but I did not manage to do but a few meters because the bleeding was intense and my entire body was getting stiff. I shouted as loud as I could that I was hit and unable to get out of there. I heard someone shouting from our trench, mentioning my name and my wounding.
There was just one man behind me, he was pushing his way on , abreast of me and then past me. I implored him to help me and not to abandon me in the hands of the enemy, adding:
-Let us die together if it is our fate.
Yet he went his way. As he found himself some 3 m ahead of me he took one single hit, yelled loud and stayed there prone and immobile.
My situation was quite hopeless. I was just waiting what would happen, all the time fearing that the enemy would come and get me, being so close to their line. I also decided not to be taken alive, because I had one hand grenade left on my belt. It is very hard to describe the ideas rolling in a man's head in a situation like this. I was praying from the bottom of my heart that I would get back to our lines alive. Although I was a young man, I did trust praying in the greatest emergency.
Having been waiting for some time an incredible miracle happened. I saw a man creeping in my direction. He kept coming closer by the by and finally our distance was but five meters. He told me to come to him but since I could not, he dashed to me. Then the man started dragging me toward our line. It was a slow process, since the enemy was still firing and the man got tired, he had to take a rest every now and then.
A little later another man came to help me. Now the men turned me on my back and started pulling me by my arms, then they carried me, I was dangling on one man's shoulders while the other one was pushing. Finally we reached our trench. Medics brought up a stretcher and soon I was administered first aid and then being bandaged at the C.C.S.
One hour later I was evacuated to the field hospital in Kivennapa; there were four men of the same squad who had been wounded in the same skirmish. Of us Pvt. Äijö died the same night of bullet wounds in his stomach and Pvt. Rutanen was left there with bad lung wounds. I and Sgt. Korhonen were evacuated the next day to the war hospital in Punkaharju.
The men who helped me, if you are still alive, may the Highest One reward your aid.
I Btn/JR48 war diary extract:
Two Russkies surrendered in the forward strong-point led by Lt. Koppinen. They had with them one SMG and one rifle.
The night was calm, nothing special.
The POWs taken last night were interrogated and they told the following:
Their outfit was IR255, I Btn, 2nd Coy, with positions near the road about 4km from the spot they surrendered. They had been called up, one of them 01.Aug 1941 and the other one10.Aug 1941 and the rallying point had been about 100km SW of “Piter”. They had been stationed in Viipuri and since 4.9. in Ohta village.
Company strength is 100 to 120 men, Platoon CO a Lieut. Armament: One rifle and three hand grenades per man. The bunker is equipped with one cannon + one MG. Manning comprises 1 officer + Politruk + 3 men (special troops). The Russki has 5 mortars in position at the new bridge on our side of the brook S of the road. The mortars are placed about 100 to 150m from the road in positions 5 to 6 m from each other. The bridge is mined but it can be used for traffic. The road is not mined. They had heard our radio (sic!) message and surrendered. The Radio (sic) had been heard well and there are men willing to surrender but the Politruks and officers are preventing them.
In front of their line there are petrol bottle traps, when the trigger wire is hit the bottles are ignited and illuminate the place.
Btn CO set out to inspect the sectors of 1st and 10th Coy.
II Btn CO Capt. T: Hyttinen with his Coy CO familiarized himself with the 2nd Coy sector.
The mortars of Lt. Paasikoski fired at the recently discovered enemy mortar positions (POW information)
Our artillery and Paasikoski, too, fired again at the enemy mortar positions. F.O.O. Reported that the strike went home.
Capt. Snekall (?) returned from the terrain, nothing special.
Yellow smokes were spotted billowing in front of the recently discovered mortar position. Probably broken petrol trap bottles.
Jaeger Platoon CO and NCOs were summoned to the Btn CO. Jaeger Platoon was split up in 4 patrols (leaders: 2nd Lt. Puttonen, Sgts Halttunen, Matikainen and Korhonen).
Patrol Puttonen is to set out at Kuhlberg right ahead until they meet the (enemy) front line. (proceeding in parallel with the road).
Patrol Halttunen shall have the same task but they shall set out from the middle of Koppinen's sector.
Patrol Korhonen shall set out from Ruhanen's sector along the brook glen,
Patrol Matikainen shall set out from Hartimo's sector via the forest tip to the direction of Ohta village.
The task is to get in contact with the enemy front line and spot the weapons. The starting hour is the same for every patrol and our artillery and mortars shall not fire at no-man's-land. The distance from our line to the enemy line is to be measured with “passus”. Rifle Coys have been ordered to observe to spot the enemy weapons.
Btn received free coffee and bun as a greeting from Jyväskylä Lottas. Thank you.
Rgt Anti-Gas Officer and the Div. Smokescreen gentlemen arrived to reconnoitre on the chances of smoke-screening on our sector. Btn CO joined their tour of the terrain,
Capt. Nuortimo arrived to reconnoitre on the possibility to employ an direct-fire AT gun when engaging Russki bunkers.
Rgt CO announced that II Btn shall take over the front section S of Oha river and III Btn the section N of the river. Written orders shall be forthcoming.
It was announced that a loudspeaker van shall arrive at our sector in 1 ½ to 2 hrs. One Russki who surrendered this morning wants to talk to his comrades.
2nd Lt. Santala reported that 4 Russkies had crept below the wire into our side. A patrol was sent out to catch the men, also an order was issued to 2nd Lt. Holmström to send a patrol to find out about the situation and eventual POWs.
Rgt CO reported that this morning Russkies had designs to attack with a force of four Coys and take the commanding hill next to the road, and ordered to stay alert. Also Capt. Bnokek (?) shall order 6th Coy to man and secure the section between 3rd Coy and Santala KY (?) as early as next night. Three MGs shall be sent as reinforcement.
The heavy gun (8”) that had been brought to our sector fired the first shot at the bunker.
Col. Lt. Juva announced that their patrol had detected a Russki weapons nest at the E shore of Suur-Harvaniemi, 500m NNW of Pt. 109.00 on the map elevation symbol at a coniferous bush. The nest is able to fire in the directions N, E and SE . There had been incoming LMG fire from the terrain at pt. 109.0 (Map 1:20000)
2nd Lt Holmström reported that Russkies had succeeded in slipping to their own side, but one hand grenade and spent cases were found on the spot.
Being asked about the matter the Battalion reported that they had received decorations :
VR = 4 pcs
Liberty Medal I class = 11pcs
Liberty Medal II class = 55pcs
Russki sent some “heavy packets” at the direction of the road.
The loudspeaker van was set up at the old command post place S of the road.
-AA gun position reconnoitred and the smokescreen spot agreed on.
Loudspeaker program over. The POW taken this morning had pointed the C.P. Of his Btn CO ( the same bunker that had fired a direct fire cannon). The officer dugout is situated seen from here on the right side of the road between the road and the house.
2nd Coy is in position at the level of the bunker ?
He pointed out with greater accuracy the positions of the mortar.
The POW also spoke in the loudspeaker, saying his name and the names of his comrades, exhorting them to surrender.
II Btn, 6th Coy has taken over the sector assigned to them and secured it.
Russki started loudspeaker propaganda , explaining that the war was hopeless for us.
The speaker said he had come from our side.
Russki propaganda over. Our artillery disturbed it at times.
The night was calm.
Btn CO set out to the F.O.O. Post (on 2nd Coy sector) to observe how the patrols were advancing in parallel with the front line.
Ruhanen reported that a Russki patrol had been about on his right flank resulting in exchange of shots. The matter has been reported to Kuhlberg, too.
Patrols Puttonen and Halttunen returned, no casualties.
Our artillery shelled at the Russki mortar positrons, where Russkies appear to be congregating.
Patrol Puttonen had been received with hand grenades about 400m this side of Pharmacokinetic hill.
Patrol Halttunen that set out from the F.O.O. Post, bearing 18-00, managed to reach undisturbed on the line right South from Ohtajoki “i” until they met a minefield.
Patrol Korhonen advanced along the brook about 500m where they spotted in front at a distance of some 75m a camouflaged bunker or a dugout. They spotted no movement.
Patrol Matikainen had reached about the same line as Patrol Halttunen, just a little more to South.
There they received hand grenades thrown at them.
None of the patrols had any casualties.
2nd Lt. Häkkinen was issued orders to patrol (1+10) from Ruhanen along the brook line and then at the bifurcation to proceed S and check the dugout reported by Korhonen. Also to be verified that the map corresponds with the terrain.
2nd Lt. Åhman (heavy arty F.O.O.) reported that yesterday he had landed a bullseye on one bunker and now he was to straddle the “greenhill bunker”.
Btn CO set out to the F.O.O. Post to observe the heavy gun doing straddling.
The heavy gun did not manage to land a hit on the bunker although there were near misses.
Btn CO returned from the terrain, nothing special.
Patrol Häkkinen set out to their mission.
Plan to take the “Ojanen's bunker” at 1330hrs:
By Btn CO order One Platoon of 2nd Coy shall attack on the S side of the road, defeating the enemy securing and then securing the perimeter of the open ground SE from Ohajoki “i” (map 1:20000).
The Jaeger platoon shall follow immediately behind the platoon , equipped with hand grenades and they shall dash across the road, taking the bunker.
Our troops on the left shall be supporting with their fire all the time.
As soon as the bunker is taken it shall be manned by the men of the foremost strong-point
At H-30hrs the heavy gun shall start straddling the bunker.
At H Hour the entire Arty Btn shall fire a strike for 5 min (with 2 batteries) at the rear of the bunker.
At H+5 a five minute strike (2 batteries) at Harvakivikkomäki hill.
At H+10 a five minute mortar barrage between the old road and the brook.
Heavy mortars of the Mortar Coy shall fire at H+10 and the light ones starting at H for 5 min right S and N of the bunker.
Btn mortars shall fire at H+5 for 10 min at the target x=8624 y=0874.
-Also the AA gun shall fire all the time at the Harvakivikkomäki bunkers and the smoke mortars shall fire at the bunker terrain.
Propaganda company men shall be present with their radio and film cameras.
H hour delayed to 14.00hrs.
Rgt relief order:
II Btn shall relieve on 24.9.41 the 2nd and 3rd Coy sectors by 2400hrs.
III Btn on 25.9.41 the 1st and 10th Coy sectors by 2400hrs.
1st Coy shall remain subordinated to III Btn, also one MG platoon shall be subordinated to II Btn.
I Btn - 1st Coy and a MG Platoon shall be transferred to Rgt reserve on the present II Btn camp area they are to secure dugouts as soon as possible in case any are needed.
14.00hrs – 15.30hrs
Bunker operation started.
Arty and mortar fire appeared to hit well, also smokescreen laying was successful.
AA gun also landed several hits on the dugouts of Harvakivikkomäki.
Russki retaliated with some artillery and mortar fire.
At 1400hrs Lt. Hetemäki's platoon started advancing and reached their objective at 1420hrs without meeting resistance.
Jaeger Platoon made it successfully up to the road but then started taking heavy rifle and also LMG fire both from the surroundings of the bunker and from the hill beyond the brook. The firing from the last mentioned source was quite accurate.
Both the Jaeger Platoon and the securing platoon had to pull back.
1 KIA + 4 WIA, all of the Jaeger Platoon.
Also Rgt CO Col. Lt. Sora was wounded on the back of his right hand by a shell splinter ricocheting from a rock.
Patrol Häkkinen returned. The patrol managed to get near the brook bifurcation, which was secured. When observing from a tree 2nd Lt. Häkkinen found that the bunker line is manned and in the rear at the terrain of Pt. 128 (map 1:50000) there is a big accommodation dugout.
The bunkers are camouflaged with coniferous tree branches or logs.
Lt. Rauhanen reported that he has taken a POW who in the Btn HQ told the following:
Outfit 2./I/IR255 had heard our loudspeaker propaganda and then today at1500hrs as the others left for their meal he left for our side. His rank was Pvt. But now he was an acting Squad leader. Yesterday they had been taken to the front line. The Coy is in positions on the river shore N of the bridge. The Coy is armed with 2 MG s 4 LMG s and rifles. The Rgt HQ is situated in Harvakivikkomäki.
On the 21st at 0200hrs the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Coys were to attack but the attack did not happen for some reason.
They believed we would attack today at 0600hrs, he did not know where this piece of news had come from, but that was being said.
There are communications trenches between the bunkers, no-man's-land is mined. Recently an outfit was transferred with a duty to shoot withdrawing men and deserters. Our artillery and mortars have been shooting about 100 to 150 m over and about 100m to the right.
- Posts: 676
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- Location: Finland
Duel at Ylä-Sommee
Journal “Kansa Taisteli” 09, 1961
Surely you remember the battles at Ylä-Sommee during the Winter War? Freezingly cold, shelling, little sleep, and constantly aircraft overhead. The surroundings were changing daily, so that even an old hunter had problems finding his way.
I was serving in the 166. Anti-Tank Platoon which was express trained in Hämeenlinna, then subordinated to II/JR15. Our armament consisted of two French 25 mm “Marianne” AT guns. They were rather light to manoeuvrer, but frighteningly lacking in penetration capability. Accuracy, however, was phenomenal due to the good quality sighting scope.
We arrived at the front line at Ylä-Sommee on 21 February 1940. AT guns had been eagerly expected because tanks had been rolling continuously about our line despite the stone hindrance. Immediately we saw real action because daily as targets we could spot several tanks, mostly light “Vickers” [=T-26] and artillery tractors [T-20] with LMG armament only. The light tanks had grown tame due to lack of AT capability and were terrorising the infantry.
It was a restless period for us AT men because the guns had to be manned all the time. Our Platoon leader was 2nd Lt. Jussila from Vaasa and our Gun leader was PFC Faarinen from Tornio, else an excellent gun leader. Thinking about it, it was mainly due to him that we did so well in the fighting. Our other gun led by PFC Kyllönen took a square hit on the fourth day on the front line, and we lost some good men.
We the survivors brought back our gun from the Winter War undamaged, and she had an honourable kill list: 26 confirmed tanks and a number of unconfirmed. Faarinen was constantly in the firing line spotting targets and tirelessly seeking new firing positions. He warned us with his finger in the air, like Antti Rokka, against keeping the gun in one position for any long time. We didn't, because as soon as the target was found to be knocked out we hauled the gun in the cover that we had set up a little to the rear. She was never subjected to enemy observation but as the gun was needed it was easy to shift, being mounted on runners.
As the enemy found that we had acquired AT capability and their losses increased, ever heavier tanks were seen in front of our line. Then the day arrived as our gun had no effect on a giant tank that we estimated to be a 30-ton one, and we just had to withdraw that time.
As far as I remember it was the last day of February 1940 as there was a skirmish that I cannot forget, and I think my pals remember it, too, in case they should still be striding on earth.
We had been accommodated in a MG men dugout and that afternoon there rushed in a panting man urgently explaining that the devil was loose on the right wing.
-A heavy tank has broken through the hindrances, and it is going to kill us all, the Runner spluttered.
-But Jussila had during a day been slightly wounded in a cheek and was being bandaged in the C.C.S and Faarinen was somewhere in his usual recon job. Anyway, this was an alert and we the AT men run up the hill in our cover position where the gun was. Hastily we hauled the gun down to the dugout and then on along a narrow trodden path to the right where noises of battle were emerging. The gun was equipped with runners, still it was troublesome to haul it in snow, and we were sweating before we reached the road leading up to the neighbouring strong-point
Indeed, a full scale action was going on and there were men coming our way, telling us to get back.
-You are not going to live long there, said a panting man, carrying a MG on his shoulder.
-There were also wounded men being carried away and the entire situation appeared to be hopeless as the February evening was turning to dusk. Yet we kept struggling up the hill, soon we caught sight of a snow wall and covered up foxholes.
The enemy tank was somewhere behind the crest of the hill and kept shooting, judging by the bangs accompanied by a sound like a whip lash. We stopped to catch our breath. There were six of us: Eskola the gun layer, Mäntylä, Aulo, Nyytäjä, Siltala and the undesigned. We had a quick war council on how to proceed because the tank was just near by. We had just turned the gun around and spread the carriage legs to be able to push it forward as the tank suddenly emerged next to a big boulder. The distance was about 80m and the tank opened up immediately. The first shell swooshed past just barely above our heads and burst at a tree. We stayed flat like bed-bugs when setting up our gun, in the meanwhile the tank fired five times above us and we felt a hot blast on our faces each time.
Finally the Marianne was ready to fire, and Eskola opened up while Mäntylä kept shoving rounds in the breech and we passed them to him. A brief but intense duel ensued. If I remember correctly our gun fired 12 times, the enemy tank quit earlier because Eskola was doing a diligent job. I remember how Aulo told Eskola as we were passing the ammunition:
-Now shoot accurately, our life does not cost one penny in this place.
You see, tank shells were bursting at the trees behind us and our clothes were full of tree splinters, amazingly no one was hit by the splinters.
As soon as the enemy tank had fallen silent black smoke started emerging from it. We stood up, wondering how every one of us was still alive. I think even some infantry men got out of their foxholes to shake hands with us, and someone had a tear glimmering in the corner of his eye. Our “kill” was white painted and a kind of “streamlined”, quite a big brute but Marianne had been able to hit him where he hurt.
Our duel had provided for every man nearby an unforgettable and thrilling show. They had expected us to be hit any moment but they had kept their thumbs up for us. So there was great rejoicing as the tank had been successfully knocked out. Soon another man came from the top of the hill, shouting that there is another tank trying to escape. We set out uphill at once, pushing the gun ahead of us while a MG er was guiding us to a swathe cut in the forest for MG shooting sector, across which the tank appeared to be heading. Treetops were swaying on the route of the tank revealing it. We managed to get to the shooting sector a little ahead of the tank and set up our gun in a hurry. Mäntylä shoved a round in the breech just the moment as the tank bow came rumbling on the line.
But we were out of luck now, because the round did not chamber properly and the breech block did not close. There was some ice on the brass of the round and that saved the tank, which vanished in the pine forest. We were a bit disappointed, as any hunter, but on the other hand we felt good having “bagged” something. We returned to our booty, a “Christie” [=BT-7] that was burning with high flames, illuminating the darkening dirty battleground. We wanted to find out the miraculous reason why the tank had not been able to hit us from such a range. We deduced that the tank had been going uphill, the barrels in extreme depression and it did not dare to manoeuvrer in a better position but opened up anyway to scare us. Had we hesitated we would have drawn the short straw. The shells of the tank had passed 30 to 40 cm above the shield of our gun. At the same time it had been firing its MG s so at the moment we indeed had found ourselves under a vault of fire.
“Under a vault of fire” is an allusion to a Finnish book title “Tuliholvin alla” (Eino Hosia, 1940).
Only two diaries of the numerous Detached AT Platoons have been archived, none by the 166th.
Instead, an extract of II/JR15 war diary of the same period to give an idea what was going on:
Several lines over-struck and others added.
Enemy arty and mortar fire going on intensely.
Enemy [“Russki” over-struck ] managed to get in the patch of forest in front of us but was evicted. War booty included one MG. The patch of forest on the left was abandoned by our securing about at the same time.
Weather cloudy, windy, -10 deg C
Enemy is charging from every which quarter. They are digging in at the W edge of the patch of forest. Supported by several tanks at Yläsommee they have pushed on from Paakkanen towards N.
Enemy is exerting pressure from the direction of Myllymäki and possibly also from Arosuo bog.
There are enemies n the terrain between the securing provided by 5.K and the main defence line.
Tanks are coming down the road.
5.K securing withdrew to the main defence line.
Enemy is in Ylä-Sommee on the level of Paakkonen. In front of 6.K there are 2 tanks and behind them infantry. Nothing special at 4.K
Enemy is pushing on in the direction of the main road.
On the isthmus between us and 6.K enemies are on the move. Tanks (2pcs) are firing at the positions of 6.K.
5.K set a patrol to ski on the open ground between the forest edge and Korpelanjoki river N of the tank hindrance line. II/JR15 shall do the same.
Enemy moving about on no-man's-land. They have not yet tried to attack our positions.
On the right the enemy has penetrated to the S tip of Arosuo.
Shelling all day.
The night was relatively calm.
The enemy lodged in the S tip of Arosuo is to be pushed back with an attempt by III/JR8.
Weather cloudy, mild.
Shells are landing near the C.P. And on the open ground at the supply road and at a patch of forest some 300m from that spot.
Nothing special on our sector except that there are tanks in front of our positions firing point blank, and lots of ricochets reflected by rocks. Their infantry is digging in.
Instead on the II/JR8 sector there is lively action, details in the said outfit war diary. The main matter is: by noon Arosuo was gradually lost totally. Securing set on the isthmus between it and Susisaari.
Btn Essen arrived to assist in securing.
Radio message: A new Battalion shall be coming to relieve II/JR8
II/JR67 CO arrived, late the entire Btn + mortar platoon. Situation calmed down.
5./JR15 divided by Btn CO to 4.K and 6.K
In the margin:
The Btn now comprises two rifle Coys. The battle strength of the Companies is too low, enemy artillery and tank fire destructive.
Enemy artillery and tanks in lively action.
Arosuo retaken by II/JR67. There were just a Platoon of enemies there.
Weather cloudy, mild.
Enemy retook Arosuo. Pressure at Maida (?) . The new Battalion in panic.
II/JR8 starting to move their baggage train to the rear.
II/JR67 is getting their men rallied, but a great number is missing.
Lt. Lampo reported that enemy in force of 2 platoons has been beaten back , no casualties for us.
Still tanks in front of our positions, firing at point blank range.
5./JR67 again occupied Arosuo.
Sappers set out to mine the strong-point on the Western sector.
Report by our neighbour on the right that they shall be fixing their positions in the small hours.
Maito reporting that the cape sticking NW has been cleared of enemies.
Weather mild, cloudy.
II/JR8 CO has left the sector.
In the margin:
II/JR15 CO transferred to command Susisaari sector.
Enemy is constantly attempting to break down the hindrance with tanks. Infantry is covering the tanks so that satchel charges cannot be used actually.
Our artillery is aiding us constantly. Most lively action on the E sector. Communications broken off almost all the time.
Due to unadvantageous positions the enemy is able to get just a few meters from us but the infantry does not attack.
At strong-point Maito 4 tanks have been taken out of action and 2 more damaged. These two were burnt down.
6./JR 15 report, another 2 MG s taken as war booty.
Even pressure going on at the entire Susisaari sector. Enemy artillery in ceaseless action.
An accident while Sapper Platoon mining at Maito strong-point: 5 dead, 4 wounded.
Weather clearing, stormy.
From Uunisoppi 1 km W, a little SE of the intersection of the road and the electric line flare gun signalling was spotted, immediately afterwards an artillery strike at the said point in terrain. Pvt. Mure was assigned to examine the case.
Average aerial activities all day, also enemy artillery activities which is increasing by the day.
Weather clear, -8 deg C.
Pvt. Murre reported that the flare signal sender was not found.
The night was relatively calm.
Since yesterday the focal point appears to have been shifted to our left wing. Strong-point Maito and Arosuo have been left relatively alone.
Increasing pressure on the left wing.
Pressure continuing. Our artillery in busy action that has been successful. Due to enemy bombardment communications are almost constantly broken.
(Over-struck: The situation report (1-12) describes the difficulty of our position.)
One of the two AT guns has been damaged during the day, also during two days three mortars have become unusable.
Calm at strong-point Maito and Arosuo.
Our artillery still in successful action but the situation is becoming difficult due to deficient positions and heavy shelling.
The situation has been relieved. Enemy is constantly busy a the tank hindrance and make breaches in it supported by tanks. Sappers have been again setting traps last and this night.
Mild cloudy weather.
Small hour relatively calm except the enemy is busy with the hindrance. Tanks have pulled back some. AT gun destroyed two.
Pressure restarted and heavier sill during AM.
In the margin: Enemy attacked against 4./JR15 but was repulsed.
Enemy managed to penetrate in our positions at places on the left at the seam of companies but was pushed back.
Our artillery is almost constantly shooting barrages. The situation appears to be difficult.
5.D_HQ order no 312/III/61 basing on which the CO started planning disengagement. Preliminary orders to the supply officer on the baggage train, Anti-Gas squad on torching the Korpela manor etc.
5.D_HQ telephone message on disengagement, the plan by the CO is this:
II/JR67 reserve shall take down their tents and send them away, relieving the front line (including II/JR15)
The relieved front line troops shall in turn take down their tents and send them to the rear, pulling back to the NE side of Korpelanjoki river to the edge of the open ground and in the patches of forest, taking positions there.
II/JR15 shall man the terrain between Korpela manor and Susisaari and II/JR67, reinforced with two Mortar Platoons, from this spot to SE up to Peltola. Transport Column II led by Supply officer shall be sent to a location to be determined later and Transport Column I led by Admin officer.
A more detailed order on disengagement is to arrive during the next few hours.
This place has been for III/JR15 “the second Lyly” (strong-point at Suokanta sector). II/JR8 was stationed at Suokanta as we arrived there, in such a state that it was only with our support that the line could be held until the order to them to disengage was issued. Our Battalion suffered considerable casualties.
Here again we were subordinated to II/JR8 that is, we had to bear all the responsibility. As the said Btn was relieved and a new II/JR67 taking charge the situation was not changed in any significant manner , because the men of the new outfit were seeing action for the first time and it was difficult to keep them organized. (blacked out line follows).
After II/JR8 had departed, II/JR15 CO was posted as the Susisaari sector CO. (Struck over: Capt. Jansson)
2)_II/JR67 *(reinforced with a mortar platoon)
3)_1 AT gun (replaced with a AT platoon (two guns)
4)_Mortar platoon of Anti-Gas Coy, One Coy/Er.P3, two Sapper platoons (later one), one Artillery Battalion KTR5.
Enemy attempting to break through at 6.K sector.
Order issued to II/JR67 reserve Coy and Coy/Er.P3 ( has been in R&R at the Satulakangas terrain after II/JR8 left) to go to help.
The situation was sorted out about in one hour.
Supply officer set out from Korpela manor with baggage train II heading for Käärmekallio terrain NW of Viipuri. (In the margin: Order by JR15 Supply CO)
Communications officer had been issued orders to rally baggage train I next to the road (…) and direct it to the Papula sports field terrain and reconnoitre for bivouacking area. Field kitchens and backpack vehicles remained so far at the Korpela terrain.
5.D_HQ order no. 314/III/60/40 was received and Coy CO s were issued orders accordingly, relief and disengagement started.
Added line: It must be attempted to hold the Korpela-Peltola line until 28.02.evening )
The elements of II/JR67 that had relieved the front line were to disengage at the dusk of dawn at 0500hrs.
(Over-struck: and withdraw from Susisaari and man with II/JR15 the earlier mentioned Korpelanjoki river NE side open ground and hold the positions unit 28.02.evening.)
The Korpela line was the so called first delay line. After this phase detachment Jansson was to retreat through two other delay lines and the main resistance line to the terrain of Papula sports field.
Baggage train II and most of I were at this stage in the Käärmekallio terrain.
Signals officer was simultaneously issued orders to dismantle communications and to man telephone exchange “Satula”.
Sappers had prepared the demolitions and removed extra mines, wire etc. to the rear. (Siimota manor?)
Adjutant set out via the C.S.S. To Korpela terrain to wait for the CO (+parts of admin squad). Surgeons received at the same time their orders: Rgt medical service is to be divided in two stages so that the present one shall be transferred to the old C.P. And II/JR67 shall organise a C.S.S. At the present place. This constitutes the first stage.
The second stage consists of a C.S.S: to be set up by II/JR15 in the Kivisilta house and the SHs (horse first aid post?) to Satulakangas at the four roads crossing.
The first stage shall retreat with the first line.
Relief of the first line was executed unnoticed by the enemy although it took longer than anticipated. (6.JR67 was late.)
Everything went on calmly and without confusion.
CO arrived together with Coy CO s at Korpela terrain to have a meal
(Over-struck: and to organise meal for the men and the field kitchens to move to the rear.)
CO reported to 5.D HQ on the situation. He was told that according to 5.DHQ order 314/III/60/40
II/JR67 was to shift to the Karjala sector of the main resistance line (This detail was expressed quite unclearly in the said order).
Adjutant phoned again 5.DHQ on the said order and was issued an order that II/JR67 is to shift no matter what to the Karjala sector as soon as possible.
(In the margin:
If II/JR67 had shifted directly to the Karjala sector in Susivaara, II/JR15 (160 men) would not have been able to disengage at all. (An effective screen (?) had to be left in the previous positions.)
Adjutant set out to take the report to II/JR67 CO whose 4.K and one MG platoon already found themselves at the Satulakangas terrain. At the same time artillery was reported on the change of the situation at Satulakangas.
II/JR67 CO made it in the ordered location with the troops he had with him. The outfits on the main defence line were ordered to follow as soon as having retreated from Susisaari.
Now the remains of II/JR15 had to man the entire Satulakangas terrain (about 4 ½ km from Korpela manor up to Peltola ) with 160 tired men ! And hold it until evening.
(In the margin: There were no positions and moreover the left flank was open, because on the left II/J67 found themselves on Asikkalanmäki hill, that is 3 km behind the Btn.)
One Er.P3 Coy should have been present here but later it was found that they had followed II/JR67 and on to Käärmekallio terrain.
Our “Battalion” manned before the dawn the terrain between Korpela and Peltola:
-4.K + 1 ½ Mg platoon on the left
-6.K + 1 MG platoon on the right,
the limit between them the cape of forest (...defined on map..)
5.K was still subordinated to 4.K and 6. K.
CO with Adjutant + part of Admin squad in the Artillery dugout some 300m N of the four roads crossing.)
(Blacked out lines)
The elements of II/JR67 left in the front line disengaged behind the positions and were issued orders to continue to the Karjala sector.
Weather cloudy, above zero, at times actually rain
Adjutant set out to seek the “Satula” tel.exchange to call 5.D HQ but the house stood in flames.
(blacked out lines)
(Blacked out, then) Not yet contact with enemy. 6.K has sent patrols.
5.D_liaison officer arrived to find out about the situation. Report: no contact, calm except enemy shelling.
4.K_is allowed to disengage at 1730hrs, 6.K at 1745hrs.
(In the margin: Btn shall rally at the terrain N of Kollaanluuhuhta (?)
Order to 4.K and 6.K on disengaging.
New order from 5.D telling us that the positions were to be held and communications to be set up.
Yet the previous order did stipulate that the positions should be held if possible up to this evening.
(Struck out line: already exhausted men have been out of doors all night. And )
With this force, taking their number alone into account, it is not possible to hold such a wide sector. Also the nearest telephone is in Viipuri.
6.K report: Enemy being engaged.
Despatch Rider sent with report to 5.D that the situation as in the new order is untenable.
4.K CO came to report that about one enemy Battalion is advancing against them from Susisaari (+against 6.K). The CO immediately issued an order to disengage.
The Runner sent to 5.D was also relaying order to the Admin officer to send two field kitchens to Alasäiniö village, N perimeter.
The remains of the Battalion arrived by the by to the rallying point and the march to Viipuri started (Transparent drawing no.3)
(Blacked out lines)
Disengagement was admittedly against the Div. Order but it was the only reasonable solution in the actual situation. Staying put would have resulted in just annihilation of the rest of the Battalion without any gain in time.
The march to the bivouac (Papula sports field terrain) was to happen through the town over the Papula bridge but due to the raging fires
(End of diary)
29.2.1940, new diary, new handwriting
Patrol sent out to liaise with III/JR67 returned, reporting that at 1600hrs on 28.2. was the terrain E of Uunisoppi open ground full of enemies. The patrol had to lie for several hours in thick fir forest while the enemy was passing at a distance of about 1 (one) meter, they had to go around the town by the E side. At the radio station they met a Despatch rider.
After the Baggage train II had rallied at the sports field terrain, an artillery strike hit there wounding a couple of horses.
The Battalion was to be bivouacked in the said sports field terrain, the baggage train alone at Käärmekallio, but due to a minor confusion (Ref. Report b 2nd Lt. Koskinen), the bivouac was set up at Käärmekallio.
The Btn arrived there after midnight. 6.K and one MG platoon arrived through the town a little later. Tents had been set up already and in general the job was well done.
Clear weather, temp -10deg C. Some enemy aerial activities.
Some reorganization, 5.K was set up again, nothing special.
The Battalion is allowed to stay there for now
One Coy of Er.P3 was released from being subordinated to us. The status of the mortar platoon is still unclear, they are for now accommodated in Taistelukoulu .
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Forced reconnoitring at Porajärvi
Journal “Kansa Taisteli” 09, 1961
During the Continuation War I was serving in Brigade K in the 5th Coy of AHSP (Aunuksen
Heirrnosoturipataljoona) led by Lt. U. E. Alatalo. I was the CO of the I Platoon. The Brigade participated in action in Eastern Carelia at he direction of Porajärvi-Juustjärvi .
It was the evening of 11th September 1941 as our Company CO arrived from briefing by our Btn CO, Maj. M. Olsoni and he told us tat the Company was to at once shift to be subordinated to II/JPR 10 CO Maj. V. Partinen, whose outfit in turn was subordinated to the Brigade.
The distance to the target was about 5km as a bird flies but on the road it was 21 km. The road was recently broken in the terrain, it was soft and uneven, as half-completed roads usually tend to be. Moreover it was raining in torrents which made our progress most difficult, the horses pulling heavy loads had to be assisted so that they should not be exhausted at once. In this kind of circumstances in the darkness of the nigh we had proceeded only about 4 km in 3 hours. We had arrived at a brook where we were to continue on lorries.
The Battalion trucks were indeed there. Two days' dry rations were distributed to the men and then they embarked on lorries. The baggage train continued at their own pace under the command of the Coy Staff Sergeant. The road was still so bad that the lorries had problems in getting ahead. Finally we reached our objective, there we had a chance to eat and get some rest, too. Having been more than three days in the front line engaging the enemy, a few hours of sleep was much appreciated.
The CO and other officers reported to Maj. Partinen on a hillock in the middle of a bog. It was a forward strong-point at Mägrijoki river. We familiarized ourselves all together with the terrain and learned that an attack with all available troops would be launched the same day. Outfits participating in it would include 5./II/JR10, so far manning a strong-point, and parts of an AT company. At the last moment the attack plan was amended so that it would be preceded by a forced recon at the enemy positions, distance 250 to 300m from our line
Maj. Partinen assigned our Coy CO Lt. Alatalo to carry out the mission and he in turn “delegated” me to lead it. Alatalo told me to take may own platoon and after preparations launch the mission. I selected a half platoon for the mission and my CO approved my plan. I briefed the men on the situation and issued exact instructions on action. When everything was ready we started our advance at 13.35hrs
The squads advanced carefully in a loose line and the more carefully the farther we got. Some men had a SMG, most had rifles, only PFC Aavamaa had a LMG. We sneaked on, tense, and I do not think anyone would have denied that there was a feeling of fear in our minds. It was amazingly silent everywhere, there was not the smallest noise emerging from the enemy side. The ground was dry sandy brush covered soil, descending gently to the direction of the enemy. The closer to the enemy positions we arrived the more open the terrain was. There was a good visibility in the direction of the enemy but it would be difficult to take cover against enemy fire.
I had positioned myself in the middle of the line to be able to lead as well as possible. We had advanced about 100m as we spotted on the ground a Finnish uniform cap and other gear items. There had yesterday been killed one of JR10 men trying to carry out with his brothers in arms the same kind of forced mission in the same enemy position that we were enterprising.
We had advanced about 200m and found ourselves quite near the enemy positions as ahead of us two men, listening post sentries, jumped up and started running toward their positions. Sgt. Pikkala's quick shot cut short the journey of the other man but the other one made it to his own.
This incident served the enemy well to alert them, and they did not wait for anything. Their MG s and LMG s started angrily throwing fire at us, their concert accompanied by rifle shots. Our line was prone on the ground some 60 to 70m from the enemy line. Lively firing went on about 5 mins, my men retaliating as they best could. Then it was more silent, shooting dried up almost entirely. Now I sent my Runner, PFC Mäkinen to the strong-point with a message about engaging the enemy although they must have been aware of it already. The strong-point itself was also under heavy enemy fire. Yet we had to get further instructions .
Soon my plucky Runner came with orders to continue advance. We had to try to find out the location of the enemy positions and their auto weapons for our artillery to strike at them. Taking this enemy hill appeared to be important.
I signalled the squad leaders to me and informed them on continuing our task. We did not want to give up although it appeared to be very difficult to accomplish our mission.
The men started advancing with brief dashes while others supported them in turn with intense fire. We had hardly managed to dash one or two times before an even more intense noise broke out. The enemy opened such an intense fire that it was as if everything was being ripped up in one go. My men, too, kept firing hard since we found ourselves on an even almost totally open ground, with only dead grass stalks, rotten tree stumps and juniper bushes providing some cover. It was indeed a matter of life and death, everyone of us was aware of that.
I did not shoot because I felt I was sufficiently occupied in leading my half platoon in this perilous situation. I crawled about one meter ahead, staying low, placing myself behind a rotten tree stump where I had a fairly good chance to observe no-man's-land and make observations. I found out the position of the enemy line and the location of their auto weapons. We could now pull back but it appeared to be impossible to move. We found ourselves in a line about 40 to 50m from the enemy positions and the enemy fire continued strong. Even my own position began to feel even more awkward and insecure. An enemy MG ahead on the right had for some time been sending angry bursts about half a meter ahead of me. Obviously I had been detected by the enemy although I tried to stay immobile.
After a while my situation took a turn for the worse, because an enemy LMG right opposite to me began spraying bullets just past my right ear. The slightest movement of my head in this kind of crossfire would have been the end. Collapsed at the rotten stump I experienced the most thrilling moments of my life and most likely all my men shared my feelings. Intense firing went on. I was sure that I would not survive, and my comrades would share my fate. Hardly ever had I so humbly and alarmed sent my prayer to the Highest One. Lying there at the stump I was again convinced that human fates are controlled from above, and enemy bullets shall not hit unless it was to be so.
How to disengage? I was wondering. That was a problem worth pondering. On my right, a few meters away, PFC Valtonen, lying on the line, just put up his head too high and an enemy LMG burst at once hit his forehead. There he was, collapsed and twisted on his back and having released his grip on his SMG was that brave East Carelian man who had volunteered for this war.
To be able to disengage I let pass through the line my order for every man to shoot as much as they could, and when I would shout my war cry everyone would join it, then pulling back with a dash. Luck favoured us: we were able to run 20 to 30 m to the rear before the enemy managed to fire one single shot. But then we started taking fire as much as we ever wanted. Yet the bullets kept hitting trees above our heads, so that we did not suffer at all. Hearing our war cry the enemy may have have expected us to assault their positions, but I cannot be sure. Anyway, we managed to confound the enemy with our ruse and thus get away unmolested.
Having arrived at the command dugout I entered to report on my superiors on the battle we fought and on the enemy positions and the auto weapons placement there. No one was able to fathom that we had been able to extricate ourselves from such a trouble with so few casualties. All men were in a subdued meed after the battle, not only the participants but also the men watching it in the strong-point One 2nd Lieut remarked that now the attack plans would surely be altered as it had been found out what the enemy positions were like. He was right, the plan to attack at Mägrijoki was abandoned, and these strong enemy positions fell by themselves as soon as Porajärvi was taken via Nurmasjärvi. Everyone was not as lucky as we were. AT Coy men were sweeping the terrain at Mägrijoki river that the enemy had not shelled, but mined. Three men hit a mine and two of them were mortally wounded
After our artillery had shelled the terrain ahead of us the next day we had to find out if the attack that had been cancelled yesterday could now be carried out. The enemy had been so quiet that it was assumed they had abandoned their positions. This mission, too, was assigned to me. I took with me the 3rd and 4th squads of my platoon, that had not been with me the previous time. Since I had heard that some men of other platoons had been dissatisfied for not being allowed to join patrols, forced reconnoitring and other more demanding duties, I promised that I would accept volunteers. Yet only Sgt. Pikkala, PFC Ranta and Pvt. Hannu, all of whom had been there yesterday, wanted to volunteer.
Our advance took place again in a line and although we had advanced to 100m from the enemy positions it was totally silent everywhere. Could the enemy have escaped after all ? Maybe they tried to get us as close as possible to be better able to annihilate us ? I ordered my men to take positions and after my pistol shot to fire the terrain at maximal rate. I was sure that the enemy, having taken a fire-strike, would not remain idle but would reveal their positions – which actually happened. The ruse was a perfect success, and we could return to our jump-off point.
We could report that our artillery had not accomplished anything significant, because the enemy was still in their well built positions and their auto weapons kept spraying fire at the same points as yesterday. Several weeks later we had a chance to check how well fortified these positions were. It had been organised by a Finnish man, [Red Army] Maj. Valli, who was the CO of IR126 comprising Russians and ethnic Finns , opponent of Brigade K
To finish off my story I want to tell about my Runner, PFC Mäkinen, whose action in every phase of the battle was most plucky. During our withdrawal from the last battle to our jump-off positions he did not at all care about the intense enemy fire, instead he was running almost standing up and several times he turned to the enemy and fired his rifle. He may have wanted to avenge the enemy for PFC Valtonen who had died at his side. PFC Mäkinen was a fearless man without nerves who several times distinguished himself also during patrol missions and in other demanding tasks. He was promoted to Sr. Sgt. And decorated several times. The war could not kill him but tuberculosis broke his life after the war.
5./AHSP war diary extract (a school notebook with lots of ink blots)
Coy at road building work on the Porajärvi – Hingisvaara road.
Coy was transferred to Battalion Partinen.
Coy set out.
Coy arrived at the destination , 15 km from Porajärvi and was issued orders to move on to the front line subordinated to Partinen's 5th Coy.
Coy arrived at the front line.
I Platoon received orders to carry out forced reconnoitring.
Pvt. Valtonen of the reconnoitring patrol was KIA. The corpse was left in front of the enemy positions, and also his SMG that the Russkies took as it was later found out.
II Platoon manned the line for the night
Hard artillery and mortar fire.
IV Platoon manning the line
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A dog taken POW
"Journal “Kansa Taisteli", 10, 1961
A different kind of war memoir, a canine one.
I was serving in the Signal Corps of the 6.D led by Col. Vikla as the Continuation war started. On the 1st July we attacked from the Northern parts of Kuusamo over the border . We advanced across difficult terrain to Oulankajoki river, crossing it and continued North to Tuulikylä village.
Since crossing the border we had skirmished with enemy outfits securing their side of the border. Beating the Russian Border Guards back was not a major deal, also we were spared casualties completely, surviving the wilderness crossing in good health. I remember a minor incident that may be of interest to dog lovers.
When we attacked there was enough metal flying in the air to make the Soviet border guards to leave hurriedly. Therefore they had left behind at one of their guard camps a pig and a dog, tethered to a tree with a leather strap. The pig deserves no more attention although it was a welcome sight in the wilderness. But making friends with the dog was not an easy affair.
The dog was an Alsatian, larger than average, with a black back, maybe with some Laika blood. This canine POW was given a Finnish name “Koski”. The dog proved to be tremendously hostile to his new masters. Yet we tried to make him earn his living doing guard duty. So “Koski” served as a field kitchen guard until we had advanced East of Vuorijärvi.
We tried to mitigate “Koski's” hostility with friendly treatment but he responded to kindness with ever greater anger. Maybe the previous masters had controlled his mind by applying liberal beatings? Anyway, a dog knows his master, even his character and habits. The new soft mannered masters did not appear to gain his favour. Despite that I tried to create a bond with “Koski” and once I visited the field canteen about one kilometre away with him. This trip, too, was troublesome for one reason.
On our route there were foxholes dug by the Russians, most of them containing a Russian soldier KIA. “Koski” would rush at each foxhole on our way while displaying hostility at me simultaneously. It appeared he was angry for the dead men in the foxholes – he may have sensed the smell of his previous masters in them. Since the dog struggled so hard to get to the foxholes that I feared the leash might break, I thought it wise to pull my pistol for the case that our differences would escalate even more.
Finally we had to admit that there was no one in our Company who would have been able to tame this dog. So our medic Yrjö Forsell was honoured with the task of taking this dog to Kemijärvi, to be forwarded to the Army dog training facility for proper canine education. Any POW must be treated correctly.
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Ravanmäki as I experienced it
Journal ”Kansa Taisteli” 10, 1961
The author, a Platoon leader with a philosophic strain, was serving in the ranks of Jääk.K./1.D. The outfit is famous due to two men: the CO, Lt. Lauri Törni (alias Larry Thorne, U.S. Army) and a LMG gunner, Pvt. Mauno Koivisto (later, 1982-1994, the President of the Republic of Finland).
It was the 9th July 1944 and the location was Ravanmäki village at the N tip of Säämäjärvi lake. There was this young Jaeger Platoon Second Lt. , shortish in stature - the one telling this story. In the early hours of the day as it was dawning I sunk in my thoughts while looking at a man KIA who had been carried to the roadside
The dead man was unknown to me. He was an infantryman of II/JR33, the battalion that we had been sent to support. Our outfit was the Jaeger Company of 1.D, led by Lt. Lauri Törni. The gradual relaxation of rigor mortis caused his limbs to twitch and occasional rasping sound from his throat attached my attention to the fallen man. A bullet had hit him in the middle of the forehead and ripped a gap, as large as a man's palm, in the rear of his skull. Now, with his head neatly bandaged hiding the cause of his death it was easy to imagine the man could be alive. That much natural the twitching of his limbs looked like.
There, by the fallen man. I recalled an incident a the beginning of the war including a premonition while in sleep. The front line had stopped at Kirvesjärvi. Constant rains had rendered me dull as I was dozing under a shelter of fir branches as the night was falling trying to get some rest. In my daze I was dreaming about a hospital train, nurses and myself on a stretcher. Then I woke up and stood up. Firing had broken out just nearby and at the very same moment there was an aerial burst almost overhead. When I came to I found I had been hit and started my laborious journey to the first aid post. This is how my dream came true at once.
I forced myself to return to the reality. My platoon, in reserve, were in cover in a glen nearby. I returned to my men and sat down. I chewed up a piece of crispbread and checked that the magazine mounted on my SMG was full as well as the spare ones on my belt – precautions that by now had become a mechanical routine. I lied down and let my thoughts wander. It had been yesterday as we had woken up in our tents far South from here, on the Säämäjärvi – Sotjärvi isthmus where the main elements of our Division had been assembled.
Then orders to get ready were issued: lorry ride to Tsalkki and by bicycles from there on. Leave the backpacks in the baggage train. Dry rations for two days, and a lot of ammunition. I was holding my helmet in my hand. Take or leave? It was a standing order to wear helmet. My gut feeling was that we would find ourselves in forest. My experience told me that in forest hearing a faint crack would be a matter of life or death. Wearing a helmet impaired your hearing. I left the helmet behind. Better hear than die due to not hearing.
We rode our bikes on the road to Ravanmäki on the 4th July 1944. We had been told that our infantry was having a hard time, being engaged by a superior enemy. As the map told us that the distance to the village was but a couple of kilometre we dismounted. The village was built on a hill and there was a wide bog before it. Having reached it we spread out in a line. My II Platoon was placed on the left wing, then I and III Platoons, the heavy platoon was behind the I Platoon. Lt. Törni himself followed the I Platoon.
We found ourselves on the bog and were approaching the edge of the forest, consisting of stunted pines and small firs in a dense thicket as we spotted movement ahead. I signalled with my arm and the Platoon ducked for cover, after a moment of observation I sent a report to the right along the line:
-Enemies in front of II Platoon.
Simultaneously I gave a command to my left:
-Second Squad, fire!
Ten SMGs opened up in a volley.
As bullets began to whistle our way I turned my head to the right:
-First Squad, Fire!
Another ten SMGs started chattering.
I had not quite spent one drum magazine as there were no more whistles at my ears. I ordered fire to be ceased . Running crouching and constantly watching the thicket we reached the edge of the forest at the same moment and advanced among the trees. In the thicket we found the body of a killed enemy and another one up the slope. We continued our advance that turned into a prowling sneak. The forest turned less dense and the undergrowth told us that we were about to enter the village clearing.
Soon we were facing a narrow open meadow with a vision blocking willow thicket on the far side. The terrain was descending slightly. At the same moment we realised that our line to the right had been interrupted. The axis of advance of my 2nd Squad and myself when climbing uphill had deviated from the direction the Company had taken, and we had lost liaison. The boys asked would we continue or seek to liaise with the Company. After a moment of thinking I decided that we would check what there would be behind the willows on the far side of the meadow.
With our fingers on trigger we sneaked over the open ground and soundlessly slithered betwe4en the willows. There was another similar piece of open ground ahead of us. On the far side of the meadow a group of a few enemies was staring at us, totally surprised. Since we had our weapons ready and our fingers on trigger, we were quicker. Two of the enemies were left there and the bushes were swaying as the rest vanished. We sent a few shots after them before rushing to check the dead men. Both were officers, one was wearing the insignia of a Captain and the other one that of a Lieutenant. Both had been carrying fat map cases on their sides: documents and data!
The lucky release of tension turned into excited exclamations and retelling the skirmish. As to me, I had trouble in sweeping off my mind the is-this-the-end countenance, mingled with silent surprise and submission that was lingering in the glazing eyes of a man whose last shred of the life leaving him, before the final twitch.
Shooting had informed the Company where we were and Lt. Törni's runner arrived to guide us to the Company. I reported to Lt. Törni, accompanying the Battalion CO of the outfit defending Ravanmäki, and explained what had happened. The map cases were a source of joy.
The Battalion had been about to pull back as our Company arrived. Now the defence line was reorganized, and our Platoons were distributed to various locations. My Platoon was ordered to constitute the reserve at the Battalion Command Post next to the road on the top of the hill, on the left side of which I had arrived a moment ago. My deputy and my First Squad were already waiting for me .
Seen from the Command Post the NW tip of the large Säämäjärvi lake was seen ahead and to the right. The winding road led to the lake through open village grounds. There were but a few buildings, turned gray due to their age. Generations of men had toiled to create a narrow strip of farmed ground between two elements of nature, forest and lake. Yet the nature had started claiming back her own and willow and alder had penetrated in dense patches all over the ground, leaving just narrow strips of grass between them.
Roads, however narrow, constitute the arteries and nerves of war. The forest around the roads is the space for brains. For attackers forest provides a chance to grab a stranglehold on the defender and for the defender the possibility to evade the stranglehold. The small number of troops available for defence did not allow much chance for brainwork this time. The brave infantry Battalion had been fighting delaying action all the long way from Kar.humäki on, and now they were nearing the end of their tether due to the strain of battle. By their combat strength the Battalion was but a shadow, but it was expected to fight and perform as one.
Our Jaeger Company was not an ordinary Company. It consisted of three Platoons, two Squads in each, and a Sapper and a Radio Squad, nothing more. Yet we had striking force and were mobile. The distribution of tasks was clear. The Battalion manned the line from the edge of the forest on the left side of the road, down to the right up to the lake. The Jaeger Company platoons were distributed as counterstrike reserve in the most important directions. One Platoon was patrolling on the road to the rear [in case the enemy tried an enveloping action]. The left flank to the forest was open.
The overall situation was a severe one. The enemy was pushing to enter with the force of one Division (Soviet 386th) via the road at the N tip of Säämäjärvi lake supported by light tanks. North of the lake there were some of our troops still one day's march off in the East and to the South the withdrawal from Syväri river was still going on. Should the enemy succeed in occupying the terrain W of Säämäjärvi there would be a threat of surrounding for the troops North of it and a threat in the rear for the troops withdrawing from Syväri. It was essential to gain time.
To be continued.
The surviving War diary of the Jaeger Coy/1.D only starts 15. July 1944
Instead, the diary of II/JR 33 is available.
Ravanmäki = Rapavaara (synonymous meaning)
05.05hrs Btn CO order: 7th Coy to disengage and pull back to the Alkoila terrain.
07.20hrs 2nd Lt. Valtonen's platoon withdrew, delaying and annihilating about 40 enemies.
09.50hrs Col.Lt. Wahren's order to transfer 7th Coy to Onkamus.
10.00hrs Btn CO moved his C.P. to a new location.
15.00hrs An about 10 man enemy patrol approached at the direction of the road the line of 6th Coy. MG s opened fire at a range of some 20m whereby several enemies fell. Capt. Suonio and 2nd Lt. Niemi ran after the last enemy and took him POW. War booty: 1 LMG and 2 magazies. Our mortar fired at the retreating enemy.
17.00-18.00hrs At times lively enemy AT and Regimental Gun fire. Our mortar retaliated.
23.00-24.00hrs Intense enemy artillery and mortar strafe (about 1000 shells) at the Suonio line and far in the rear. At the same time the enemy was advancing in the direction of the road with a small force. They were beaten back.
Every liaison broken both to the front and to the rear. 5th Coy in the standby.
10.20hrs Col.Lt. Wahren issued orders by phone:
5th Coy to get ready immediately to move to the Onkamus road crossing. Simultaneously Maj. Tuomainen is to take the command at Rapavaara and move there. Capt. Suonio shall take the command at Kenjoki river and the II/JR33 troops there shall be subordinated to him: 6th Coy, Jaeger Platoon, Mortar Platoon, 8th Coy less one Platoon.
11.00hrs Order by Detahcment Wahren:
Mat. Tuomainen and 5th Coy to transfer at once by lorries to Rapavaara.
15.30-16.00hrs Intense enemy arty and mortar strafe at the front line and in the rear up to 5km from the line, among others “organ guns” were in action, a total of 2000 to 3000 shells.
17.20hrs Det. W. order to Capt. Suonio on disengaging.
18.50hrs Mortar platoon disengaged.
19.30hrs 6th Coy and 5 MG s disengaged. Jaeger Platoon stayed to delay.
5.Coy and Btn CO arrived at Rapavaara. With the last lorry the CO sent a report to Det.W on his arrival and asked for immediate building of communications connection in the direction of the Onkamus – Rapavaara road. He also reported that he shall set up defences at the terrain of Rapavaara village, and requested securing on the Kivatsu road.
15.40hrs Btn CO briefing for Coy CO s and 5th Coy Platoon leaders on the setup of the defence.
15.55hrs An enemy outfit attacked from the right wing and cut the Onkamus road. 5th Coy set up defence on both sides of the road. 2 Platoons to the North and 2 platoons to the South. A lively firefight.
17.15hrs Order by Btn CO: A detachment of 5th Coy to envelope the enemy from the left (seen from Onkamus) while the rest of the Coy shall attack frontally on the two sides of the road. 7th Coy to disengage after receiving orders and pull back, delaying. The Btn shall set up defences on the isthmus between the lake and the river at the S edge of Onkamus village.
19.10hrs Russki disengaged.
20.00hrs 5th Coy set out to march for Onkamus.
7th Coy ordered to disengage.
21.30hrs 7th Coy sent a Runner with information that in Rapavaara had arrived Jääk.K/1.D having cleared the Kivatsu roadsides. The Coy had returned to their positons and the Jaeger Coy participates in the defence.
(to be continued)