Personal Finnish War Stories

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Lotvonen
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 16 Nov 2016 10:56

Yrjö Helkiö
Fighting and panic at Ägläjärvi

Journal "Kansa Taisteli", vol. 03/1958
(The author was a Squad Leader with the rank of Sergeant, also a member of the Civil Guard.)

The surroundings of the small church in Ägläjärvi had been retaken (after Tolvajärvi) by evening of Dec.19, 1939. Er.P 9 was granted a three day break for recuperation, but we had to patrol the surroundings We had to fear shelling and air raids that disturbed even our sauna baths.

Our action restarted on the night of 22 December. We were rallied in our tent camp and we found that since the entire company is here it means that we are going to take the North part of the village.

In my opinion it would have been to inform the squaddies, too, on every relevant fact, that is: “own troops, enemy, terrain and the intentions of the commanders”. Nothing was told us but during the most confused moments of the next night we had to be informed. Then even belated information contributed to success at once. When Winter War is the issue I always would like to remind how important it is to “brief squaddies”.

To-day, after years have passed I have gained the courage to tell about fear and even panic, although when it happened I was so shy that I could not have forced myself to tell about it. Now I confess that as we had reached the takeoff positions in the dark forest some distance from the coastline of lake Kyläjärvi, I was once again visited by abhorrence of night fighting and uncertainty.

My eyes kept an intense lookout to the gully on our right flank, and sure enough, I did spot some kind of movement. It looked like a hundred man strong patrol heading for our rear. Suspecting hallucination I asked Lt Ikonen, who was standing next to me, if any friendly ski patrons were active near us. He said he did not know and it was not likely there were any. I beckoned to the right and asked if he saw any movement over there, distance one hundred or one- and-a-half hundred meters?

Having stared in the gully for a while Lt. Ikonen also was overcome by uncertainty :
- It does look like... I wonder … - he said.
Soon, however, we were ordered to move on, so we let the matter drop.

At this phase it would be interesting to look at the situation from the enemy point of wiew. They knew that sooner or later the Finns are coming again. They are tough and angry men, aware of what they are fighting for, well trained and fearless, feeling home in their dark forests. Fortunately we have an open lake to guard here, and we have the coastline full of machine guns on a front of one kilometer. The Finns will not have it easy if they come. But they will be coming anyway...They will be definitely coming...

I believe the enemy may have been thinking like this while staring at the dusk of the opposite shore. Then, as if cold water would be poured down the back: isn't there something dark between the small island and the forest, something that was not there just a moment ago? There is something, for sure there is something! Now men are advancing behind the island in a great mass, they are coming now!

Panic overcomes the soul of the machine gunner on the edge of the right wing. He would dearly like to open fire but his commanders have ordered: fire is opened when the enemy is in the middle of the ice of the lake. Then their destruction is assured. But they must have misestimated the situation. Once the enemy is in the middle of the lake they shall cover the remaining 300 to 400m really quick and then our destruction is assured .

The Soviet gunner is trembling, his thumbs tighten unwillingly and suddenly a brief burst of tracer bullets escapes from his automatic to the open ice.

The tovarich to the end of the left wing is in the same mental state as the tovarich on the right. He sees the jet of bullets from the righ wing. Ah, comrade commanders have changed their mind, fire at will now! He presses down his thumbs, letting his instrument play. One second later the triangle marked by the two gunners is filled with fire. Thousands of fiery sparks are flying through the air at the small island on the opposite shore. The stream of tracer bullets looks like a kind ofriver in the dark night, a tremendously beautiful sight, but is anybody admiring it? Definitely not behind the small island where the Finns are preparing to cross the lake.

Reminiscing this, one of the gloomiest of myb war experiences I sometmes have wondered why the enemy opened fire so early while the main body of our troops were in the cover of the forest, and the first men were behind the small island.

I had just reached the island and I was prone looking at the opposite shore as the enemy opened fire. None of us was yet on the open ice and nobody left for it after the firing started – not even thinking of it. From my sheltered position I watched the flight of the tracer bullets with surprise mixed with terror while listening the whistling of “dark” bullets flying over us in swarms and hitting the trees in the forest. The tracer bullets landed on the ice mostly before reaching the small island but the ordinary ones hit home with full energy.

We were lying in the snow without talking, flat as bedbugs, waiting for the end of the stream of fire. But it seemed to go on and on. The command to get going seemed to take its' time. The stream of bullets flowed on . As soon as one source cut off another one started at a more intense rate. We waited. Ten minutes or half an hour – half an eternity in any case.

The gray sky far behind our right wing was at times illuminated white, on the opposite shore red flare climbed in the foggy air every now and then. Shells were fired over us from the East, the sky behind us flashed as explosions heralded the landing of the projectiles.

Suddenly our MG on the left side of the island opened up. I saw that tracer bullets did not betray its position. At the same moment an officer came sneaking and said in an intense voice:
- The Battalion has ordered us to start the attack immediately, we are behind the schedule already. Take your squads, all of you, and start crossing as fast as possible!

The order was loud and clear. All the men heard it so I expecte that everyone takes off unhesitatingly.

But the takeoff was odd, comical even. I ran over the small island with a few leaps and arrived on the open ice, the snow on it was dense and supporting. I ran hard for a hundred meters and found that I was the fastest one, seeing nobody next to me. Then another band of tracer bullets made me drop down. I looked on my sides, then behind me, I was surprised to find myself alone on the ice. Did I misunderstand something? I waited for a while, since nobody came I returned to my starting postions. There the men were flying flat, mute, gloomy. The bullet stream from the opposite shore went on, but less intense now.

Some time passed while the enemy fire slackened more. Then we heard sounds on our right wing, clanking of weapons and some command words. I saw dark shapes, oddly large, emerging from the forest, continuing to the open ice as if gliding.

-There they are going now! Now get up, everyone, and get going! -I yelled in a loud voice and again leaped over the island. Judging by rustle and clanking I knew the men were following me, and I spurted. The crossing, just a moment ago looking so terrible, was now proceeding handsomely. The enemy fire was but squeaking – what would happen when we get closer?

Afterwards I have thought that the paralysing panic that held the men down that long was necessary for the success of our attempt. It was divine protection in this disguise. Our nervous enemy was allowed to open fire too soon and continue it insanely until their weapons jammed or whatever, as I think. Then our crossing happened in an instant. Nobody remained on the ice as far as I could see, and soon we had gained a foothold in the coastline held by the enemy.

Our MG kept on firing from the far side of the lake, without using tracers, all the time too near our left wing, making one of us one-armed on the coastline.

This is how I experienced the first phase of battle for Lake Ägläjärvi. It went on until the evening of the following day. The battle was decided at dawn but the end lingered on.

Having gained foothold on the coastline we spread in the cover of the shore bank and started to climb up the slope. I believe I was somewhere in the middle of the line, among unknown men. I had been in the Company just a few days. I may have been among the men of my Platoon , even some enemies may have joined us to be able to rejoin their own who had retreated from the coastline up the slope.

The snow of the slope was full of footprints, hard-trodden paths criss-crossed the terrain and telephone cables were laid all over the place. Right ahead there loomed the edge of the forest, a long building to the left with some bush in front of it. I think every man who was there remember for ever this night of hellish noise as we were fired at from every building, from cellars, saunas, upstairs, foxholes, knolls, bushes, forest. The entire hillside seemed to be full of firing positions and in the darkness of the night we used our rifles, SMGs and hand grenades against every muzzle flame and noise of shooting.

It was this night as I learned many life-saving facts from the noise. I learned to tell which automatic weapon, tank cannon or any gun fired at an angle to me or at me by the sound. Using my hearing I was able to move without risk standing at times, sometimes stooping or on all fours and many a time I had to flop down against the ground, being sure that I shall get a dose of metal unless I get a half a meter of fatherland to cover me.

I do not know how many men got separated from his outfit but I did find myself among unknown men in the very beginning. Experience gained during the last few days should have told me that in practice war is not a smooth interplay of fire and movement, at least as fast as I had imagined. I learned that making haste is not always appropriate even when retaking your own territory.

I made too much hurry and then found myself prone on the hillside without my squad, smelling an obvious foreign smell and hearing strange language just a few meters from me. I was gripped by a terrible fear as I had prayed coming to the front that I should never get in hand-to-hand fighting. Instead I had hoped for chances to use every infantry weapon because I knew I could use all of them with almost excellent skill.

Now there were enemy infantrymen at an arm's length, but I could not understand in what kind of cover they were. The enemy appeared to be ignorant of my presence. They must have found a mole hole under the level of the snow. The focal points of fighting were at the moment on the wings, the major one on the left. We were waiting, keeping ourselves hidden. For a while I did not dare to move at all.

Then something happened. A few dozens of meters to the left, on open snow three dark spots emerged, they were setting up an LMG judging by the sounds. There I had three targets, but I did not feel like shooting in those circumstances. What on earth should I do? The idea that an unwounded Sergeant should idly lie on the snow while the others were having a hard time.

Maybe I should throw a hand grenade at them and then quickly retreat during the moment of confusion?

I decided to try. I pulled a hand grenade from my pocket, removed the brass cap, then secured it supporting it between my boots. Now I jumped up, knocked the grenade against the butt of my rifle, threw it and ran away for my life.

My flight was cut short. As my bomb went off I stumbled in a deep ditch that I had not noticed when coming here. The LMG from the direction of the three spots sent a burst over me at once but the Russian talkers did not react.

It remained a mystery for me who were there and what happened to them. I continued retreating down the ditch to the lake coastline and soon found that I had no more any risk of getting into hand to hand fighting. I headed for the long building near the beach where I saw a multitude of men.

Confused fighting on the slope of the hill went on, but the men at the building just lingered on.

But the situation soon heated up. The enemy had spotted the “rallying spot” from a vantage point and soon small caliber explosive shells were coming in. The first hits on the wall of the building made everyone drop down and the following ones flying overhead caused movement comparable with the one of an anthill.

A stern voice told everyone to move quickly to the left wing and set up a shooting line. The place was vacated soon as the men slipped in the indicated direction. Next a platoon of men came from the left led by Lts Vesterinen and Ikonen. They had probed the enemy positions on the left wing and they had gained valuable information. Lt. Vesterinen gave a quick briefing: we were facing a well held line, plenty of men and automatic weapons, and tanks were on the standby on the road.

We would set up a line and climb up the hill to the enemy line.
- “Making use of the terrain we shall sneak closer and then we shall give the tovariches a hard time everywhere”, Vesterinen told us.

Soon his order was being followed. The center, where I was again, prepared to engage the estimated main point of resistance. Our right wing started pivoting to the left, the left wing that I did not see maybe pivoted to the right. Soon we had formed a half circle around the enemy positions. The enemy harassed our manouver with two machine guns but our line did not fire much at this stage. There was wailing and shouting for help on our right, enemy MG had scored. Paramedics were called for.

I got angry at the firing MGs. Why did not any of our automatics do anything to suppress the enemy fire? Where were our LMGs? Then I realised that a rifleman could suppress the enemy just as well. A single bullet may effectively cause fear and loathing.

I supported my thoroughly familiar m/28-30 rifle on a bulge on the ground and pointed it at the MG farthest off. My aim was half-rady and as soon as the MG opened fire the muzzle frame provided me the light that I needed for accurate aiming. I squeezed the trigger and the enemy weapon fell silent at once. Then the nearer one opened up, almost at me, and got the same treatment from me, falling silent immediately. After two or three “dialogues” the enemy automatics fell totally silent, I considered that my singe shooter had won the competition.

By the by all noises died down in the dark field of death. Silence reigned. Silence, however, may be more dangerous than big noise. It may foster ideas of “foul game” in a man's mind. A hunch breeds a small fear that soon swells up ten times. Then the man may express his hunch with one word, such as “gas” or two, like “getting surrounded”. The man next to him hears that, gets a fright and passes the words up and down the line. The hunch has turned into a fact passing through the line.

Something like this must have happened on our righ wing. We who were in the center saw some unexpected movement on our right. Men stood up and ran to the rear first one by one, then in groups and finally a crowd ran for the lake beach as fast as they could. The panic infected our entire line in a second. Men on the right and on the left of me jumped up and dashed double quick in the wrond direction. My position was so good that I would not have wanted to abandon it. Also I did not understand why we abandoned our advantageous positions that we had gained, abandoning half a victory in fact, at a moment when we had no problems compared with what we had experienced the same night

- Where are you going? -What is going on ? - Why are you leaving your positions? - I shouted after the men.
No one had any time to answer me. The fastest ones had reached the lake, the ice was covered with men running for “home” at top speed. Oh my, what a manouver! And I had to join them!

I met other stragglers who cursed at the panic but we, too, had to start trotting, and we could hear terrified voices shouting “gas!”.

The lake shoreline was indeed shrouded in gray, gassy cloud that normally would have been called fog. For the first time that night I felt like laughing, and happily I groped for the symbolic "Selinsky-Gummant" on my side. There it was, interfering with my running. I ripped it off and dumped.

I wondered what the enemy was thinking now? Certainly we had been watched and with relief they found that now fighting had taken a much more pleasant turn. Terror stricken mouths opened up for loud laughing and maybe vodka bottles were passed around, and in their “vsyo rovno” mood the Finns were allowed to run as far as they wanted.

Our men wanted to run up to the opposite side of the lake. As we the stragglers joined the others Lt Vesterinen was just making a speech . He did neither scold nor abuse the men, he just wondered at their behaviour and then said with emphasis that Finns do not run like this never, especially in a situation like this when our victory was within reach. By sunrise we shall gain the upper hand. Our entire Battalion is attacking, two companies are here and the third is surrounding the enemy from the North. Now we shall get back in an orderly fashion. Every man returns to the spot they had abandoned, and at dawn we shall get cracking.

The Lieutenant said nothing more. The men recrossed the lake. The enemy had had a respite of half an hour at the most.

I can imagine the mood of the enemies who had orders to fight to death. As they saw that the ice of the lake was again darkened they must have thought that Finns exchanged their troops: a fresh Regiment is coming... Our game is up!

During recrossing no shots were fired from either side. It did indeed look like the outcome had been decided. Without any hesitation we took our old positions, I , too, walked upright where I had left from. It is a wonder the enemy did nothing to prevent us from coming. It was still dark but against snow cover they could have spotted our movements. Our ragged white camo suits did not mean anything.

Again we had a quiet period. We lied in our positions, suffering from cold, waiting for dawn and our attack from the North. Someone had a brief sleep, and I was about to do the same. Yet my sniper instinct urged me to do something. So I kept watching the brush that was about 70m off. I suspected that the enemy MG s were in their old positions still. At dawn they would be taken into use again which would impair our situation considerably. The brush that had looked like forest became better visible. My instinct told me that someone is moving there. I kept my rifle pointed there and my finger on the trigger.

At the same moment I spotted someone moving. A man in white stood up, feeling sure that his snow camo suit makes him invisible. But he did not take into account that against the dark background of bushes and tree branches he was a well visible white silhouette. A man heading for the MG! I pressed the rifle butt against my cheek, placed the shape between the “ears” of the front sight and fired through the silhouette in the middle of it. Number fourteen at Ägläjärvi, I counted in my mind.

One shot in the long lasting silence did not attach much attention in our line. Pfc. Jeskanen, a quiet man, next to me, asked in his Carelian dialect:
- Was it you who shot, Sarge? Did you see someone?

I told Jeskanen to observe the brush and let me know if he spots someone.
But it was me who spotted first another white silhouette.
- Do you see him, Jeskanen?
- Sure I do. Let him have it!

Another lone shot rang out, Jeskanen sighed:
- As if struck by lightning he dropped.
- Let us keep watching, I said him.
- More of them are bound to come. There are two MGs somewhere there, they try to use them.

Two more men tried to get to their weapon during the following minutes, and their fate was the same. I wonder what the enemies in their trench were thinking? At this very moment as the psychological pressure was at its most intense it must have been shocking to see that four shots rang out and four of their men were killed.

On both sides of the front the men intuitively felt that the decisive fighting is going to start any moment. The enemy would have preferred to hear the sound of MG fire during their last stand but no one dared to try to get to them. The most timid of the enemies began to think of running.

As soon as the fourth one had fallen two men in brown coats climbed up from the ground on the snow attempting to flee. Third, fourth and more followed, the were spotted by our men. Rifles and LMGs opened up, the shrubbery was swept by intense rain of bullets

In the meanwhile the dawn became ever more bright. Our fire became more accurate, fleeing enemies kept dropping. It was the moment for the final charge.

We stood up and dashed running and shouting loudly for the enemy trench where hand grenades were thrown at us on the no-man's-land.

I had left my rifle in my previous position and ran ahead with my P/08 pistol drawn. Reaching the trench I saw the face of an enemy, a hirsute head resembling that of a gorilla, who flung a hissing grenade at us. A tough spot if the grenade had not flown overhead far from me, and the man did not have time to throw another. At a distance of three meters I fired twice at his face. One of our SMG gunners had found a flanking position and swept the trench emptying an entire magazine.

Our enemies at Ägläjärvi were tough men, prepared to fight to death, they neither cried nor wailed. No one surrendered, but many “dead” fired or threw hand grenades when found out. Hours later as some careless men walked over covered trench sections, bursts were fired among the dead men in the trench so that dirt and moss flew around.

At least four of our Company were evacuated badly wounded by this kind of snipers. Our sweeping action took a brutal turn. We advanced along the trench and secured every suspect spot with hand grenades and SMG bursts.

The Company that had been sent to surround the enemy from the North reached the scene and opened a lively fire on us who had already taken the hill top. We had to take cover in the trench on top of abandoned rifles, hand grnades and dead enemies.

It was not until in the afternoon that the village was felt to be safe and the front to the East was secured. The companies who had been in the “night shift” were allowed to return to the tents. I had got cold some time during the night and felt like havingf fever I had sought shield from the wind in a house and therefore I was left behind from the Companies that had chosen to return to the camp over the open Kyläjärvi ice, the same spot where we had attacked and run back and forth.

I regretted being a straggler but not for long. Once more terror overcame me, this time for the others. As our “peace loving” Companies were crossing the lake in a dense crowd and were reaching the mid way I suddenly heard a terrible chorus of Russian machine guns. At least fifty instruments were playing, I thought, and I could imagine how vindictive the “musicians” were when pushing the trigger. Fortunately the distance was too great and the tired Finns had divine protection. As the firestorm broke out this oufit, numbering hundreds, “fell to the last man” but soon got up, ran, fell, got up, ran and fell a number of times for some terrifying moments. By the by they dragged themselves for the opposite shore and safety that everyone reached as far as I could see.

My own return route was not direct but not riskless. At first an insolent enemy rifleman who was lingering in the lake shoreline fired at me and then I received shelling all through my journey, which I thought was too grandiose for a single man. I was tired, fever-ridden and in every respect numb. I trudged on and decided that I shall not take cover, even if I should be attacked by aircraft.

After Ägläjärvi was retaken Er.P 9 was allowed to rest and recuperate in the familiar pine forest south of the lake. I was admitted with a fever in the Luutalahti field hospital for the Christmas beween white sheets. I recovered just in time to join our Battalion in Viitavaara, later called the hill of terrors.

(4514 words)

Lotvonen
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories, Ravansaari 1940

Post by Lotvonen » 23 Nov 2016 09:32

Aarre Merilä
Ravansaaren päiviä ja öitä
Journal “Kansa Taisteli” vol 08, 1958

Nights and days in Ravansaari

It is a wintry March day in Ravansaari island (about 12 km SW from Viipuri, lost on 8 March 1940, tr.rem.) in 1940. Street fighting rages on among flames and smoke in the yards and alleys of the village. We are no more able to tell how many days this has gone on. Days and nights are linked by continuous firefights.

Bursts of auto weapons fire are echoing from the walls of houses which are beaten by constant streams of bullets. Under the lead-gray sky of the winter's day the theatre of street fighting is wrapped in fog of smoke as yellowish or blackish clouds of smoke billow from houses in flames.

We are in positions along the main street having taken taken cover behind the stone fundaments of houses. An enemy MG again opens up down the main street with its slow cadence. Another MG is in the middle of the street on the no-man's-land, manned by dead Russians, a bare headed dead gunner is prone on the gun shield.

The sleeve of a white fabric hanging in a birch is hanging over the corpse whose overcoat is steaming in the glow of the cracking and burning building next to him.

- Throw your hand grenades, someone in the enemy side shouts in a wailing accent in Finnish.
- Bring them on, one of us shouts in retaliation, a SMG gunner in sooty white camo suit on the other side of the street. He bounces up behind the trunk of a birch and fires a long burst at the noise of coughing behind a half burned down shack .

An enemy MG opens up the same moment from the remparts of Uuras. The burst cuts a bare top of a birch, steaming with heat, that falls on the slush on the street.

Russians are again shouting in the grey winter's day at the blazing zone across the island, and immediately firing ist intensified to constant cracking. Sudden encounters are taking place in the yards, small gardens and narrow alleys, some turning into desperate hand-to
-hand fighting to death. We have to yield to the overwhelming pressure and we are torching up more houses to cover us, but at dusk the fighting dies down all through the front line. The sound of fire and flames is in our stunned ears almost cosy.

Dog-tired men with sooty faces and dirty white overalls are shuffling for a moment's rest in a dugout situated at the main street, but not for long. As night falls over the ravaged village of Ravansaari the yelling and MG rattling starts again.

Shooting rages for a moment intensely but suddenly dies down. A huge column of sparks sprouts to the sky as a flaming house collapses with a crash.

- Reserve Lieutenant Selinheimo's company is in a hot spot, said Lt. S. O. Lindgren to me as goodbye when I was transferred to Selinheimo's company after we had abandoned Uuras. (Lt. Lindgren, a professional officer, wanted to keep a distinct limit between himself and a Reserve officer! Tr.rem.)

That was definitely the fact during the days of nights of street fighting raging in Ravansaari . In the small hours I dropped in the dugout where Res.Lt. Selinheimo was just reading the message carried by a runner from the fort.

The men keep watching intensely at their officer.
- We have to endure until next night, then our task ends, Selinheimo told me as I sat down at the table.

The fort, too, is engaged in heavy fighting. Wounded men are constantly carried in, they are quiet, tired, sooty and bloodied.

At dawn the Russian artillery starts thundering somewhere in the direction of Uuras. Most of the shells are hissing over us to the mainland. In the day three Russian fighters lay a smokescreen a few meters above us for us to marvel at. At noon the noise of fighting breaks out again on the entire front line. In the late afternoon a SMG gunner reports from the Northern shoreline that Russians are pouring on the ice from Kuurinsaari heading for Hietasaari.

Their leading men are already on the supply road from Hietasaari to Ravansaari as we start shooting with LMGs at the enemies trudging on the open ice far away. At nightfall we are informed that the enemies have retreated from Hietasaari

Are we surrounded or not? Nobody cares about it, while fighting you do not have time to think about it. Our “front line” is at times in total confusion where hand-to-hand fighting with cold weapons rages. In narrow alleys Finnish and Russian dead are lying side by side.

In the darkening nights the houses in front of us are burning in bright flames, one of our MG s has been pulled back next to the dugout where it keeps firing. We have taken our positions in the slushy snow melted by fires in the gardens, ditches, behind tree stems, house fundaments, fences.

Hordes of enemies are moving about in the smoke covered terrain and behind the flaming houses, suddenly at nightfall they pull back a little. We keep watching at the terrain ahead of us, a menacing unnatural silence is reigning for now. Every man has instinctively grasped that something crucial is about to happen.

The dugout is filled with wounded men, some of them are lying on the floor. The order to disengage has just been received and the evacuation of the wounded starts immediately. We are just studying the map to plan our route to Hapenensaari island, our objective, as the door of the dugout is opened and two men in blood tattered white camo overalls drag in a wounded man, placing him on a narrow bench opposite to us. The field surgeon strips the man´s upper body bare: a bullet has pierced his chest. The pale man is breathing with difficulty, keeping his eyes shut. The man is bandaged and placed carefully on the bench.

Someone wraps his overcoat into a bundle an places it under the wounded man's head as a pillow. At the very moment the man opens his eyes, shining out on his pale face in the light of a hurricane lamp. The face is marked by death but his eyes are still oddly alive.
- Could someone take off my shoes, they are hurting my feet ? - the wounded man says in a quet and discontinuous voice.
A sooty faced paramedic pulls of the man's skiing boots and worn out socks. The Company Commander finds a pair of thick woollen socks in his rucksack and a rifleman pulls them on the feet of the wounded man.

He turns his face slowly to the light of a hurricane lamp.
- I believe I am about to leave you. That is all right, it is the will of God. Now I am feeling good.
- I have a wife and a son at home. The boy looks just like me. Tell my regards to them.

Selinheimo has stood up and is now next to the dying man who is saying:
- I am leaving this fine Company. Do not let yourselves be discouraged, boys. God is about to take me...

The dying man's words are cut off as he stops breathing. Another Finnish soldier has passed the boundary to a place without blood, soot, cold, flames. Our eyes are blurred and a wounded man on the floor starts weeping bitterly

I am leaving the quieted down dugout and creep up the entrance tunnel to the smoke shrouded street. A queue of sleds is there. Dark shapes are loading ammunition crates in them. On top of the crates dead men, frozen stiff, are tied with ropes. Wounded men on stretchers are being carried on the sides of the street. The lightly wounded are carrying their skis under their arms.

The first sleds are moving on and the squeal of runners disappears to the direction of the shoreline. I am lying prone behind a fence keeping my finger on the trigger of my SMG.

I am staring at the no-man's-land between the boards of the fence. Something threatening is approaching behind the dying down flames. A LMG burst is heard from the left.

Then it started. Hissing flares are fired by the Russians. The ruined village is for a moment in an eerie and flapping phosphoric light. The entire front line erupts into tremendous shouting, approaching noise and rattle of auto weapons. Shrill blasts of whistel are cutting the air and jets of tracers are flying over us. I am still behind the fence and I am emptying the magazine in brief bursts on the streel lit up by greenish light where the familiar Russian battle cry (=uraaa!) is sounding out.

Our left wing is yielding, the men are pulling back to the shore street, crouching while firing their weapons.

- There is a hell of lot of them coming, a SMG gunner pants out as he flops down next to me. Immediately he fires at the storming enemies stumbling in the ruins ahead of us, my ears are ringing.

- Surrender, a metallic voice calls out in Finnish on our left, a hand grenade flies over us and explodes behind us

We run crouching to the shore street and jump in a ditch as an enemy MG opens up from the roof of our dugout. Flares are illuminating the open ice in front of us where our men are skiing in small groups in the direction of Hapenensaari island. The beaches of Kuurinsaari and Ravansaari islands are dotted with the muzzle flames of countless machine guns as shining strings of tracers are flashing across the sky. In the direction of Viipuri the sky is red and artillery muzzle flames are blazing on the Carelian Isthmus.

As the MG bursts sweep the ice around us we take cover under the snow, the ice is flooded with sea water that soaks our shoes and snow overalls. On the white snow plain I catch up with an unknown soldier, trudging on with his last shreds of strength. A jet of bullets has smashed up his arm.
- Do not leave me here, the wounded man is panting.
- We don't!

We continue for Hapenensaari island. Once more I stop on the ice and look behind. There is Ravansaari, The Ravansaari of the Winter War. Battles fought on its blood soaked soil testify on the honourable suffering of Finnish soldiers.

Our Company that had shrunk into a Platoon withstood on the island the days and nights it was ordered to, but we the survivors shall never forget it. We continue our journey and reach our target. All we know is that our battle shall go on tomorrow, nothing else is certain.

(1799 words)

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Juha Tompuri » 25 Nov 2016 20:40

Lotvonen wrote:Yrjö Helkiö
Fighting and panic at Ägläjärvi

Journal "Kansa Taisteli", vol. 03/1958
(The author was a Squad Leader with the rank of Sergeant, also a member of the Civil Guard.)
Yrjö Helkiö got wounded later during the Winter War (wrote about it at "Kansa Taisteli" later 1958 ?) and served during the Continuation War at AAA at the same unit as my grandpa.
His civil profession was a cantor.
At Myllykoski.

Regards, Juha
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Lotvonen
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 26 Nov 2016 06:57

Juha Tompuri wrote:
Yrjö Helkiö got wounded later during the Winter War (wrote about it at "Kansa Taisteli" later 1958 ?) and...

Here is Helkiö's own story translated:

Yrjö Helkiö
Practical shooting at Viitavaara

Journal “Kansa taisteli”, vol. 10, 1959

Er.P 9 (Detached Battalion 9) had been resting and recuperating in the pine forest south of lake Ägläjärvi, and left for new battles on the night of January 3/4, 1940, if I remember correctly.

Our destination was Viitavaara hills at Aittojoki river. Having withstood a hard time at Ägläjärvi many of us may have thought that nothing worse can happen, but Viitavaara made us change opinion.

At dawn (Jan4, 1940) we joined the troops at Western Viitavaara and at once made contact with the enemy. An enemy patrol of 20 to 30 men was just roaming the tent camp. It was a case of rather violent recce and few of them made it back to their own side.

But only one man could give valuable information, maybe even a piece of news that new Finnish troops were just coming on the forest road to reinforce the defenders. The outpost companies would most likely be switched so the enemy artillery was ordered to harass this action. Our arrival at Eastern Viitavaara was anything but pleasant.

Had I not read the book ”Tolvajärveltä Kollaanjoelle” by Lauri Leikkonen I would be quite ignorant about the “strategic significance” of the Viitavaara hills. In my opinion Viitavaara was just a tough spot, a defence line that was hard to hold and Eastern Viitavaara a real deadly trap, a thorn in the side of the enemy that they did not forget. At times I suspected that holding the positions obstinately and at a great loss was just a case of pig-headedness and a matter of principle holding taken positions whatever the cost.

I was the second in command of Lt. Ikonen's Platoon (rank: Sergeant, tr.rem.) that comprised lads from Suojärvi, whose dialect alone was fairly strange to Finns from the Western parts of the country. An “esprit de corps” that I hoped for did not emerge. It would have been beneficial if I had known about their home district and their life more, also I should have been better acquainted with the officers and men of the Battalion, but being a recent replacement I had not had any time for that.

The only thing I felt I mastered was the use of infantry weapons; my main intention, created in the merciless final fighting at Ägläjärvi, was to maximise my score by using my rifle.

I had been an active competition shooter for one and a half years. Having reached the master level I specialized in practical shooting. I would not leave my skill unused for one second and would not hesitate to use any ruthless sniper tricck, however unsportsmanlike. Our country and her defence were at stake, every enemy casualty would help us in our heavy struggle against the overwhelming enemy.

These were my thoughts as our Company marched a couple of kilometers from Western to Eastern Viitavaara, while exploding shells accompanied us. Er.P 10 had been holding the front line before us, and they had done their duty with experience and hard-handed. At dusk they attacked violently a few times and expelled the enemy that had suffered heavy losses from their positions for the night.

At nightfall the troops were exchanaged. Noises of fighting died down everywhere and our Company, led by Lt. Vesterinen could take our positons without any problems.

The focal point of our forepost was on the top of the low Eastern Viitavaara hill, a stone foundation, the ruin of the torched forest guard house. Our left wing was positioned between two fences and our right wing behind a stretch of stone fence.

I was assigned to the right wing with five riflemen and a LMG, quite few taking into account the width of our front. I think our commanders thought that the enemy had been taken such a beating the same evening that they would not renew their attacks immediately.

Our Platoon had been reorganized. I knew only two of the six men in our line. My best man, Cpl. Pesonen, had been transferred to another Platoon and replaced by Cpl. Beljuskin or Putilin - I cannot remember his name – who could not be compared with Pesonen in any respect.

The lads lied down at once in the foxholes vacated by the men we had replaced, and they were so quiet that I feared they could freeze. The temperature was just sinking to the well known Winter War -40deg C that lasted for a long time. I poked my men and talked to them to make them stay awake.

Our sleepy situation was suddenly refreshed. We started hearing noise in the dark forest ahead of our line. The noise became louder and soon we could see that a quite large and very talkative enemy formation was coming at us. Expecting an attack my men fumbled their rifles and were already in a full state of nervousness. However, soon we deduced that it was an disoriented enemy unit that did not know where it was going.

We were in the standby just in case. I took over the LMG and told the lads:
- We'll let them get close, do not shoot until I start.

But things did not turn out as I had planned. As the number of the talkative enemy group began to feel too overwhelming the lads were not able to wait for the optimal range. Six shots rang out almost as soon as a dark mass emerged, and I had to join in with my auto weapon.

- If only you had done as I told you, not one would have escaped, but this is OK, too, I told my men.
- This is good, very good ! Letting those felt boot men too close, we would have been overrun, someone in the shooting line opined

It was night. Some cracks were held in the frosty forest, but beyound it my ears picked up noises of feverish activity: tank tracks clanking, buzzing engines, noises of hammers and axes, and every now and then a low note of a signal horn. What is going on? They are making haste, getting equipped and prepared... With a depressed and bitter mood I listened to the noises of the night. There the enemy is tramping on Finnish ground, preparing night and day, digging in the Finnish soil and making crafty schemes to destroy us. They did not even think of pulling back in their own country, the largest and widest in the world. No wonder that bitterness and hope to revenge filled the mind of a Finn...These were my thoughts in the hours of the night, and looking at the stars above I sent a childish prayer in the highest and holiest HQ for an aircraft equipped with a death ray to create justice in this world of injustice.

Our first turn was shorter than expected. Another unit replaced us and we were allowed to return to Western Viitavaara and to get some sleep in tents.

But, our rest was cut short. At dawn we were alerted violently and now found ourselves marching to East double quick. Lt.Ikonen had advised us: “Tough situation!” Lt Vesterinen in turn praised the nice weather.

This time my Platoon was posted in the abovementioned gap between two brushwood fences to the left of the house ruin. It was not too tough there at the moment of our arrival since we were able to man our positions walking right past the house ruin on an open slope without any harassment. Waking up the hill I could see that the entire slope tilting to West was like a system of fortifications, full of double foxholes and all kinds of other diggings. Taking the hill must have been a hard fight for our men. Now we held it entirely. There was a MG in the house ruin, with a wide shooting sector in every direction. Right ahead there was quite a wide opening, looking like a (frozen over) swamp; to the right and ahead forest up to the stone fence, and to the right open field just as in the direction we had come from.

I numbered the sectors starting ours to the left:
1. Lt Ikonen's sector
2. 2. MG position in the house ruin
3. Stone fence in contact with forest
4. “Second line” behind and to the left
5. Road to Western Viitavaara, including the tent camp

Our sector, no.1, joined that of the MG position: quite wide open field with some fir trees growing on it. It would be an easy task to hold it with a Platoon.

However, there was a bungle that day that increased my sniping score from eighteen to almost fifty.

Expecting enemy attack I explained my men what to do, shooting sectors etc. that actually were self evident. Then the company runner came with order for me to return to the tents where Lt Ikonen wanted to get information and give instructions, as the runner explained.

I left the platoon in charge of Cpl. B. and ran to the ravine. There I told that nothing worth mentioning had happened in our sector. Lt. Ikonen was sure that something was up and told us to be prepared for the worst. I cannot tell where the Lieut got his premonition but he was right.

I had stopped at the tents to grab a bite, while eating Lt. Ikonen returned from the hill where he had been checking the situation. At the very moment an intense cracking started on our entire right wing. Our MG in the house ruin joined in – with long bursts indeed. The tough situation was on quite suddenly.

On the 3rd sector the enemy got so close in the cover of the forest that our line had to move to the positions on the 4th. The enemy advance between sectors 3 and 4 and started shooting from the forest using numerous automatic weapons at the house ruin that must have been their first objective. The ruckus had escalated in a matter of minutes.

I was hurrying to get to my sector as Lt. Ikonen met me and told me panting a piece of bad news:
- The runner told me that our Platoon have abandoned their positomns, there is no one on the left wing. Find the platoon at once and take them in the positons, else we may get in real trouble. Our MG appears to be fully occupied.

I had wondered why the left flank had not been firing at all, but deduced that they had nothing to fire at. I could not even think that they would have left and abandoned the sector just like that. What could have been the reason...?

First I run on the path in the gorge and then climbed up the hill at the house ruin. Pvt. Rämä, the runner hailing from Sippola, appeared from he left and he confirmed the Lt.'s message. He joined me, we followed the track in the snow up the hill. Soon we found that the hilltop was under quite serious fire. We ducked and went on unti we were 20m from the house ruin. I could see at once that it was not possible to get to my sector this way. I had to continue to the left where the hill top started sloping. Our MG in the house ruin had started shooting brief bursts, as if economizing. I shouted at them and enquired about their situation. I saw nobody but I heard their shout: - We are badly off, trwo wounded and we shall be out of ammo soon. Get help and soon.
- The ones on the left have run! -the voice from the ruin added.

Just then I took a stunning blow on my head, the world went black but I saw clear sparks in my eyes. I dropped on the path and dimly realised that a hard object had slammed on my head above my right temple, then there was a moment of total silence. I cannot tell whether I had been unconscious or just KO, but coming to I did not feel pain neither did I see blood. I estimated I was OK.

Then I remembered that the MG men had asked for help and my Platoon had deserted according to the same MG man. Pvt. Rämä shall return to inform about the MG situation and I shall find my men at once. I turned around.

Pvt. Rämä was right there, lying on the snow on his back, with cheeks red like a boy – immobile. It took me a moment to realize that he was dead. Another man from my home parish Sippola had ended his journey.

As a gesture of goodbye I touched his brow and and hurried down the slope as fast as possible. Fortunately I met another runner whom I relayed my information about the situation of the MG and told him to hurry up. He ran like a moose for the gorge.

Soon I found my platoon. They had retreated about 100m to the rear, now they found themselves in a dale in good cover. Almost thirty men were there in the dale, thinking of their own safety while the others were fighting and shedding their blood and the situation was getting ever worse every moment! Incredible!
- What are you doing here ? - I shouted angrily at a distance.
Nobody answered.
-Why did you abandon your posts?
Now I got some answers. The Cpl spoke slurring oddly with shaking jaw that so many wadded jackets came on the field that they could not stay there. There was no time to waste to discuss their doings and omissions, I could scold them later. Now we had to act at once.

I told them that the situation on the hill had become serious and we had to return to our positions, which would turn the tables.
- Follow me !
No one did. Several voices asserted in unison that the enemy already was in our positions and we could not go there.
- Nonsense! We can go there and we have to, there are no enemies in our positions yet but they are coming! Let's go now!

Our discussion had been quick and then I left to lead the platoon up the hill. In vain, no one followed me. The Cpl. mumbled something like “well if you want to go so you go...”

Climbing up the slope I regretted not having taken the LMG. Now I however think that my 28/30 rifle was better, that I could use undetected in the noise of the battle unlike a loud auto weapon

On top of the hill I glanced back to see if anyone had regretted, but no. Example had been ineffective now as many times before. I was ashamed for the thirty men – I do not know what they did.

At the brushwood fence I dropped down. I crawled in the space between the two fences through a gap and took a completed rifleman's foxhole. Coming there I had seen enemies moving on the field but only now I saw the complete picture.

As the enemy launched their attack on the entire front section a large enemy unit came to the edge of the forest on our right, to probe our line. Our MG in the house ruin must have engaged them but soon they had to shift their aim much closer to the right where the forest reached up to the 3rd sector. The men there had to pull back to the 4th and our MG had more than enough to do there. Soon they had spent their ammunition as I found out.

What about our “bunglers”? Later someone told melancholically that as soon as a large number of enemies were seen to emerge from the forest far away the Cpl. had left at once, taking the LMG with him. “We believed we had been told to leave...”

The enemy on the edge of the forest soon found that the situation had become favourable. No more MG fire from the house ruin, and our right wing could not fire there at all. The enemy scouts came out, then more men. No problems. The first ones pressed on and more came from the forest. Soon about half a hundred men were almost at the stone fence, quite high at the house ruin. There also was a small sauna blocking the MG firing sector. The enemy had nothing to worry about when planning their next move.

This was the situation I found when taking my position behind the fence. I got excited realising that now I had to do the practical shooting of my lifetime, more important than any during the peacetime. I got ready quickly but completely.

I selected a good gap in the fence to shoot from, placed all my ammo to the right, pushed the barrel of my rifle through the gap, pulled the rear sight back to its lowest setting, finally adjusted my elbows comfortably. Then I drew the bead on the first one and started.

Of the nearest men five dropped with an interval of a couple of seconds, like pieces of fabric while nobody understood what they were doing. Another set of five I could fire at standing targets, but as the third started many a man was aware of being fired at, and the need to get cover. But there was none. Someone tried to climb over the stone fence but he did not make it. About ten men squatted down a little farther off but as men began to roll over like hen from their roost the rest dropped in the snow, flat as bedbugs.

Systematically I fired at the largest available target, first “dashing targets”, next “bust targets” and finally “head targets” one of which required two bullets. As the enemies found that their situation was pernicious, the ones near the forest edge understood that they better withdraw there, and many a man on the field made it, too. I could not divert my attention at them as soon I had targets closer at hand. About half of the ones on the field got away but 28 cases were left there getting stiff.

Thinking back I should have started with the ones farther off but safe is safe. Using an auto gun with care would have brought a better score. I am sure, however, that if there had been an auto weapon in position, no enemies would have entered the open field, at least not this many.

The situation was over in a matter of minutes. Someone shouted from the house ruin in Tampere dialect:
- You sure did a good job! Such a number of felt boots mowed down!

It was a MG man who had spent his ammo expressing his sympathy.

Now my men came one by one. Everyone was a little depressed but also curious.
- You kept shooting, we heard. - How far had they come? - Look, there they are lying... - Did you get them all by yourself?

Questions came fast accompanied by profanities in Carelian dialect.

Suddenly I felt nausea and headache. I took off my thick fur cap. One of the lads said:
- Oh P*e, you have grown a horn. Did the Vanya do it ?

It was only now that I found that the recent blow had resulted in a huge swelling over my ear. Death had swiped at me but my time had not yet been up...

At this hour the situation had changed to our favour. A Company of Er.P10 arrived to help us, attacking the flank of the enemy on our right. A lot of shouting and shooting, then the enemy had to withdraw quickly.

The pressure on us was relieved for a moment.

But the next morning the situation was tough again. The enemy appeared to have widened their programme. It started with a six hour artillery strafing including harassment fire here and there, and barrages at certain points. Infantry arms fire from every direction was intense, and we believed our hill was shot at with some kind of new weapons. Projectiles with disgusting buzz flew among the trees, we felt they were cruising as if to find their victim. The noise was unprecedented as the artillery fire sounds were reflected from the sides of the high hills and the sky due to clear weather

The enemy infantry did not apply any major pressure on our lines, we were able to hold them with normal resistance. Weapons went quiet in the evening once more. Silence in war feels sometimes good and safe, sometimes ominous, as now. Our instinct told us that something “unfriendly” was going on.

At the very moment a runner arrived from the Vegarus road with a message, among the most unpleasant ones: we were surrounded. We had to abandon our positions and pull back to the tents at the road (position 5).

We followed the order. At the moment of leaving we fired intensely with all weapons at an enemy MG hiding in the bush on the top of a small hillock. We had kept it under observation all day.

Then we jogged for position 5. The road and the tent camp were densely populated. Darkness fell in a few minutes. It was Epiphany time and festive mood. Nobody had any worries, rather the contrary. One MG had been set in position in middle of the road but unmanned.

The men milled around, smoking, talking, trying to stay warm. There was no sign of discipline. The tents were crowded and some were making tea on the tent stove to wash down their dry rations.

Since nobody appeared to be coming after our Platoon from the hill I ordered one squad to secure with me the direction we had come from. It was dark and I contacted the nearest men with whispered questions but soon found myself talking alone. The lads had become fed up with stirring at the dark hillside and left to join the party.

What a situation! If the Vanya had known about it, a flood of men would have washed also over the open field. They were approaching in the cover of the forest along the ridge, too.

Usually a party is at its best when music plays but now the opposite happened. It all ended abruptly as intense enemy MG fire began to drop branches on us. The ensuing situation and chain of events showed that the men were patient and also reckless when needed

As it was found that the jets of enemy MG bullets did not sweep nowhere near the ground level, the men did not care much about being fired at. Some fired demonstratively in the direction of the ridge as if to inform that here we are and you better not come here unless you want to be fired at. The officers did something better: they organized firing lines, set the MG in position and other relevant matters. I, too, stood up and fired my rifle at a blinking muzzle next to a tree, the action was indeed lively. Someone said “I don't think there is a lot of them” while another commented “it is quite a cracking anyway”.

Suddenly a double file of ghosts in white emerged from the darkness up the hill from West. They were led by a stout old man who immediately pushed his way in the middle of the confusion and took the situation over while beating the ground with his ski pole. He was the Battalion commander, Jaska Malkamäki, who had assembled a strike force from the men of the Battalion HQ that had broken up the encirclement at the road and continued right here, the place of trouble.
- All right, let's set up the fighting lines, the old man said briskly.
- From here to the left and from here to the right, then we'll go ahead and beat the “tavaritchi” back .

The Major whispered something to the men next to him and immediately there was a loud chorus yelling “ Regiment, attack!” Our counterattack succeeded as if carried out by an entire regiment, it must have been one of the worst setbacks for the enemy at Viitavaara. Finnish forest fighting skill proved itself in the darkness. The enemy had deployed about one hundred of their best men, five MGs and other hardware, and nearly all of it – men and material – were left on the ridge. We had no losses, and we started the new day feeling hopeful and in high spirits.

But our ordeal at Viitavaara had but began. We had lost the most important positions on the top of the hill which we had to retake. Our attempts to retake them were

The enemy pressure increased day by day, night by night, risk of being surrounded likewise, the overwhelming enemy weaponry kept the defender's nerves tight all the time with noise. Outpost service was just waiting for death. Only a few men of the last outpost company survived.

I heard about the bitter final fighting in Eastern Viitavaara only in the military hospital. My own paricipation ended – if I have the correct date – in the night of 7 to 8 January during the third attempt to take the hilltop. We tried to advance right up the open slope to the house ruin that was secured by several MG . Our snow overalls had a long time ago decomposed on us, and we were well visible dark dots creeping slowly up the hill until half-way up. The enemy was watching our movement, sweeping the entire sector with MG fire every now and then to demonstrate their firepower. The slow flying tracer bullets illuminated the battlefield brighrt each time. The only way to get results would have been to combine fire and movement in a ruthless way.

I felt oddly calm as I crept up the hill. When death is the most likely of your chances one abandons oneself to the will of the Highest one. I was mentally prepared for anything that would happen to me. As we set off I made haste and encouraged others to do the same. Hovever the firing line lagged far behind. Every now and then I stopped and fired a few shots at the enemy MG position. But then I dropped my rifle in the snow and the bolt froze immobile. I stuck my “faithful comrade” in the snow and pulled my Parqabellum (=Luger).

Finally I estimated I was close enough to use my hand grenades. Lying flat on my belly I could not put my hand in the pocket of my greatcoat, so I had to turn on my side and straighten my legs. At the very moment a jet of fire flew just in front of my face and someone gave me a tremendous blow on my thigh.

This was my final experience in the horrors of Viitavaara, yet I survived.

Having taken the blow I was quiet as a mouse. My leg went numb at once, so I had no reason to wail. It took me a long time to return as I pulled myself with my elbows down the hill by the by.

Lt . Vesterinen saw me coming and helped me in the sled of the paramedics. He returned to his hopeless task and was soon killed on the same slope.

(4583 words)

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Juha Tompuri
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Juha Tompuri » 26 Nov 2016 20:40

Lotvonen wrote:Juha Tompuri wrote:
Yrjö Helkiö got wounded later during the Winter War (wrote about it at "Kansa Taisteli" later 1958 ?) and...

Here is Helkiö's own story translated:

Yrjö Helkiö
Practical shooting at Viitavaara

Journal “Kansa taisteli”, vol. 10, 1959
Thanks Lotvonen!

Regards, Juha

Lotvonen
Member
Posts: 752
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 01 Dec 2016 06:40

The story of a Squaddie fighting in Siiranmäki in June 1944

Niiranen, Olli
Journal “Kansa Taisteli” vols. 3 & 4, 1960

Siiranmäki

In the night of 11 to 12 June 1944 we were on the fields of Hartonen village waiting for the storm to break out at dawn. The ones with the strongest nerves may have been dozing but those with any sleeping problems were listening to the approaching rumble of Red Army engines. Who would survive the battles of the next day?

Since 9 June 1944 as the enemy had launched their offensive many a man was no more there to seen another day in our Regiment JR7, several in the 14th Coy which my AT squad was a part of. The Soviet force with its unlimited access to men and steel was about to roll on us.

At midnight the runner of our Company Commander emerged from the forest with orders to our Platoon Commander, Lt. Uuno Kaksonen. He ordered me to rally my squad :
“We shall be transported to Siiranmäki by lorry.”

We felt a kind of relief of tension. We were heading for the main defense line with its concrete dugouts and bunkers and who knows what else. But none of us knew how to secure a cocked Panzerfaust.

We had hardly any time at all to think about it, we had to get on board with our weapons' safeties off. This shows our level of skill. Our express training on the Panzerfaust had omitted the safety totally.

We were not getting off at the main defence line but we headed for Suurselkä village where we were lodged in a house opposite to Siiranmäki hill.

We stretched ourselves on the floors and fell into sleep that did not last long. There were no beds, not even for our Company Commander. The family owning the house had been evacuated just a few moments earlier and they had taken their chattel along. As soon as we had woken up we began to examine our Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks in detail. We asked for permission to fire a test shot but our Captain Aaro Laamanen did not let us. Ammunition was so scarce that every shell was numbered and accounted for. He knew it would not have been waste, but since there was no ammo, what could you do?

The evacuated families had had to abandon some of their livestock. Cows and horses were no more ther but calves, sheep, pigs and hens that had been left behind were roaming about. We were allowed to slaughter them to prevent them possiby falling in the hands of the advancing enemy.

Some of us, including my previous Lieutenant from Lampijärvi , were roasting a piglet in the sauna of the farm, hoping for a nice hot bath soon. We were talking about the general state of matters. We knew that the enemy had taken Kivennapa and was now pushing to West. It was rumoured that four to five Finnish divisions, spearheaded by the Armoured Division was to attack the enemy flank.

I do not know where this information came from but our confidence in our chances had increased. We believed that the invader would be beaten back in due time.

Our cooking and other activities were suddenly interrupted.
A Corporal rushed in the yard, shouting:
- Torch the buildings and get behind the main defence line double quick!

We saw some houses already in flames, it was a hasty goodbye. We could just grab our weapons. The Corporal was lighting up the sauna by pulling the embers from the oven without regard to our pork roast. The Vanya was said to be in Kekrola village on the far side of the Suurselkä ridge.

Everything went smoothly. Our outfit was firmly in the hands of our commanders without panic or fuss. Guided by Sappers we traversed the minefields. Platoons and companies marched in coherent files. At crossroads guides pointed the right way. I shall remember this action as a proof of the professionalism of our Regimental officers. I do not think any outfit was mixed up despite the sudden departure. It was about 1900hrs (12 June)

My Squad was posted in the major crossroads at Siiranmäki where North-South and East-West roads intersected, the Russian was rushing at us from the South.

A yellow building that had last been used as a canteen was situated in the corner of Vehmainen-Vuottaa road, and unit after unit passed it heading for Vuottaa. A big excavator, abandoned by the fortification troops, stood behind the building with its boom outstretched as if in salute, receiving the march-past of the retreating troops.

I lingered in front of the canteen and watched the men marching past. I saw several familiar faces with whom I managed to exchange a few words. Everyone had the same message: “Ivan's force is just diabolic!”

The atmosphere began to get tighter at a fast rate, as if in the eve of an important game. The tension was noticeable in every one of us. It was easiest to see it in the braggart of our outfit, recently full of sound and fury, but now he was the most silent one, a man plagued by many sorts of ailments

Several times I caught myself thinking: “To survive this somehow once more!” I believe most of shared my thoughts.

Often a front line fighter had had the idea that the toughest spot of life was at hand now. Now we did not just think so, but we knew it was a fact. As old soldiers we knew that we would be fighting in these positions to the very end. There was not another fortified line behind us as everyone knew. The Red Army, in turn, had proven that they did not aim for limited targets.

Due to the depth of the trench it occurred me to carry lemonade crates from the canteen in the trench bottom to stand on. An unknown Second Lieutenant interrupted me, telling I was doing something futile.
Where are we going to shoot from, then? -I asked him.
- From the fire bunker, I was told

I and Cpl. Naukkarinen went to check the bunker. Instinctively I felt horror entering in it. The bunker featured a concrete roof that would withstand who knows how large caliber projectiles, and strong walls but the uncamouflaged embrasure, pointing at the enemy, was asking: please shoot here. I would not be persuaded to show myself at it.

We unloaded our gear in a strong concrete dugout, situated ten meters from the road to Kekrola. An infantry platoon was having their meal there. Their leader was a young, short and brisk Aspirant, I almost felt envy while looking at him. My own mind was filled with heavy thoughts but this young man appeared to be unaffected by needless ideas.

I returned to the canteen building to have a word with the last delaying troops flowing through the line. By chance I met my brother Saku serving in III/JR49. We had not seen each other for several weeks. We exchanged our personal news and after sharing our fags we parted. His outfit was in a hurry.

In the side of Vehmainen village the trench climbed up the side of Siiranmäki hill. The crossroads was situated at the foot of the hill and seen from there the men on the hillside were just grey flecks in the falling dusk. I recognized Capt. J. Kiiskinen mainly by his voice. So there was 1./JR 7.

He conversed with his men in a loud voice, dropping a joke since loud laughter rolled down the hill. Their nerves appeared to be in order.

Midnight hour was at hand as we saw the approaching Russians. It was not an insignificant probing outfit. A shapeless marching unit, hundreds in strength, emerged from behind the Suurselkä ridge and began to descend the hillside.

We let them approach. They were about two hundred meters off as an annoying bungle happened. A stupid Lieutenant ran across the road, allegedly to find a better firing position. ( The trench line was discontinued at the road, and there were no spades to complete it. Tr.rem.)

It was enough to stop the leading outfit. They appeared to hesitate, maybe they were apprehensive, in the dark night Siiranmäki was a gloomy place. They may have spotted some of our fortifications. We opened intnse fire. Enemy formation dispersed, dozens were left there, the rest disappeared. Soon our artillery shelled them with some well aimed bursts. We had sent a clear message: do not come this way, you shall be fired at.

Just past midnight we heard the rumble of aircraft from Northt. 12 bombers in nice formation, quite high. There were shouts “they are ours”, but oh my what a shooting the enemy AA started. We wondered how they had been able to bring up such a lot of guns. I did not see the aircraft evading anything, but they changed their formation into a single file and soon there was crashing beyond the Suurselkä ridge at the road to Kekrola.

We had made ourselves cosy in the dugout as a Runner brought me an order to hand over my Squad to Lt. Kaksonen and report in company comand post for a special assignment. I lost my composure. A squadful of men had been scraped together who were to be the close range AT reserve for Capt. Laamanen.

I knew all too well what that implied. This was a bad decision because I was not cut to be a man for this kind of assignment. Having been removed from my pals I was not able to sleep for the rest of the night. I just imagined running hither and thither where men were needed. I tried to rest in an abandoned storage hut but got just more tired accompanied by my thoughts.

After a calm forenoon on 13. June we loitered at the Company command post, situated near Kylmäoja

Enemy artillery opened up at noon. They were grinding up our front line but we did not take one single shell yet. We heard that our own artillery responded intensely. The front line must have had a hard time.

At a little past one pm we spotted some ominous movement at the command post. We guessed that our turn would be coming, and soon it did.

We were orderd to proceed to the road to Vehmainen to join the Company of Lt. Lauri Walden. Runner, Pvt. Aleksi Hattunen, hailing from Hattuvaara in Ilomantsi was our guide. He was familiar with the terrain having been with Capt. Laamanen as he reconnoitred the area.

We took off briskly following Aleksi. We saw a Sergeant walking along the edge of the road to Vuottaa with his pistol drawn. Another man with hard luck, obviously he was just returning from furlough.

I cannot tell what each of us was thinking but my brain was occupied by one idea: What will it be like at the Vehmainen road?

We climbed the slope to Walden's command post on Siiranmäki hill without problems. I reported to Lt. Walden and we went on immediately. The distance to our objective was about 250 to 300 m on a totally bare hilltop, the expected communications trench had been left undug. The enemy flew into a fury just then, shells were landing in a most intense rate. Some shells had been fired with extremely large caliber batteries, we could spot their stunning blows among the din of smaller shells, and they sapped our spirit with every blow.

We were creeping on all fours, then using our elbows, finally crawling prone, trying to advance. One of us, an older man, rose on his knees and shouted like a madman: “You are crazy, we all shall die” and he turned back. We told him to pipe down but he did not pay heed. Someone grabbed his leg and the men started a wrestling match, rolling around and blindly ripping at each others' clothing. Soon there were three or four men in the melee. We were not able to get through, I had to admit as much, several others had turned back, too. Also I did not have the courage to take eight men through this kind of barrage, and told the Squad return to the dugout.

At this moment I would have preferred to abandon my leader task at once. I did not dare to report my failure to Lt. Walden who had the reputation of being an exceptionally tough and unswerwing Company Commander. There however was a man who dared to do it:it was our guide, Pvt. Hattunen, who would have had the guts to enter an even worse situation. He brought a relieving message to us who were shivering in the entrance tunnel of the dugout: we were allowed to enter a dugout to wait for a break in enemy barrage. We sat in the empty dugout and listened for the thumping of shells for half an hour. Finally the shelling decreased as it was shifted to some other spot, and we tried again. The man who had panicked recently was like a new man now. You may wonder abou it, but he was one of the seniors of his Company and he had distinguished himself many times. We did not talk about this later, because we understood him. It was not pleasant to creep in the open terrain but we finally slid in the trench near the bunker.

This stronghold was situated on the Eastern slope of Siiranmäki. A MG bunker was situated in the extreme right wing, the trench extended downhill, turning sharply to the North at the foot of the hill. A line of dragon's teeth had been planted at the foot of the slope and the wire was some distance from it. The road to Vehmainen was between the trench and the hindrances.

To South and East the terrain was rolling open field, but there was a patch of deciduous forestr to SE, abut 100m from the trench at the foot of the hill. A concrete lodging dugout was situated half-way up the hill, about 20m from the trench.

We had hardly stretched ourselves down and lit up as we were alerted. The loud shouting must have been heard in the trench, too.

We climbed on the parapet which was plain sand, and saw attackers running in a scattered crowd from the right. There must have been at least one Company of men. I cannot tell what was the purpose of this “offensive” as they did not even try to enter into our trench but just jogged to the left, past us, in an easy pace. The machine gunner fired from the embrasure of the bunker without sparing ammo, and we followed his example.

Some of this odd lot vanished in the fores, some were left on the field as green bundles, but some jumped over the Vehmaine road, continuing on the field until they died to the last man, having no shelter whatever. It was now about 1700hrs.

The Russians had not fired one shot at us. Nobody had ever seen this kind of courage – or punishment - ever before. We were trying to think of an explanation to their behaviour. Were they sent away from the crossroads or were they reconnoitring for minefields or bunkers?

We got acquainted with the men of the stronghold. The bunker was manned by a Squad of older men from Maj. Guster's fortification battalion. I and the vice Squaddie, Pfe. Väinö Kinnunen (from Keitele) togerther with our Panzerschreck gunner Pvt. Eero Peuranen checked the sentry posts and shooting positions. Peuranen was but 150cm tall but he was strong and he had guts.

It was the nigh of 13 to 14 June, I was a sentry at Siiranmäki front line. Thin fog had risen in the low ground. Looking in the direction of Vehmainen I saw red houses and a field where we had been lodged in autumn 1941 for rest and training, which we intensely disliked as something useless. Oh how willingly I would have exchanged my present situation with the one back then.

Observing the alder bushes beyond the road I spotted a couple of men creeping in the ditch. Suddenly one of them dashed over the road some 20 m to a soldier lying on the ground, either dead or badly wounded. Quckly he tied a rope around the man and sprinted back. Then the man on the ground was pulled to cover. I did not harass them, feeling sympathy for these courageous men. Some humanity could yet be found in this insanity.

Tension ruined another night's sleep for me. Desperately I tried to persuade my thoughts toward sleep but in vain. There was room enough for me in the dugout and there were double sentries. I rolled right and left but remained awake. A couple of hours' decent sleep would have released my tension but a man with weak nerves was deprived of it, too. We were sitting and smoking, I was not the only sleepless one. - There were too few of us, taking into account the hordes about to attack. The battelfield was quiet which made us deduce that the enemy would attack early in the morning which caused our tension to increase by the hour.

However, “Comrade Commander” had not made a hasty decision to launch his attack but he was doing a thorough preparation. His aim was to break through and it could not be accomplished by half measures. His artillery, tanks, ground attack aircraft and selected infantry units were well maintained and fed before were ordered in action.

We were sitting in the trench, leaning on the side where the brown sand had been warmed up by the friendly sun. I felt sleepy, a fly was buzzing around.

At 0800hrs (14 June) it started. The greatest asset of the Red Army, their artillery, started raging, pouring thousands upon thousands shells on our front line. The first shells flew over us and smashed the forest behind us. Direct fire cannons shelled with surprising accuracy the embankments of our trench while bursts of auto weapons cut the parapets like a barber's scissors.

I moved up the trench while the hell created by shelling reached its maximum. I curled up in a foxhole and tried to make myself as small as I ever could. The buffeting was intense and I believed my ears were bleeding. I was like a lump of matter, to which death would have been a favour. My rifle had been buried in sand. Yet there was an idea resonating in the bottom of my concsiousness: - your are still alive, this is the worst, it cannot get any worse!

We had retreated in the dugout – but not all of us, death had claimed several men already.
Our movements had suddenly become jerking and restless. We lit up with trembling fingers, trying to suck courage from nicotine. We spoke with hoarse voices, our mouths felt dry but no one touched the water container.

I wonder if he is going to rush soon, Eero opined, his lips pursed as he used to look like when playing poker.

One hour has passed, even more, the enemy keeps firing. I and Eero get out of the dugout to check how the men hunkering at the corner of the dugout were doing; we replaced them every now and then.

I was prone on the bank of the communication trench as the T-34s parked at Suurselkä started moving, they approached in two parallel files.

The long gun barrels rocked amusingly on the uneven field, there were puffs of smoke around them.
Smokescreen, someone shouted, but it was our artillery barrage.

Eero was preparing his Panzerschreck in the trench and said with tight lips:
From the parapet!

There was a man, there are few like him.

As the first pair of tanks was approaching at 150m Eero launched his first rocket propelled grenade. It fell short, his second shot was too high. One of the tanks was aready on the meadow on the side of Vehmainen village, firing rapidly its main gun in the direction of the garage bulding. Eero pulled the trigger once more, his rocket puffed in the bow of the steel monster, breaking its track.

A volley ot tank guns straddled the Panzerschreck man and Eero Pauranen was no more on the parapet.

A Pfc. crept to me and told me an extraordinary story: there is a spy in the dugout, a m an who refuses to speak. The Pfc. appeared to be sane

Indeed, there was in the farthest corner of the dugout a crouching eldery soldier who had an odd look in his eyes. I told him to get out, saying that the dugout will be the very first thing that the enemy is going to blow up and him with it. He did not speak, neither did he move. I pointed my weapon at him but in vain. I left him alone: a case of shell shock.

A circus of ground attack planes was swarming above our trench as I ran to the MG bunker. They swept over almost touching the bushes, intense crackling and banging filled the air.

Abomination of desolation reigned in the MG bunker. The MG and the gunner had been blown off from the embrasure and the calot had been smashed down.

Yesterday a Pfc had taught us a new military term: Calot mounted MG.

Now a tough lad of Walden's company had set his LMG in the opening and given the Vanyas in the alder bushes some magazines until a bullseye had dropped him on the floor. Pieces of weapons were lying on the floor, the dead had been pulled out. The dugout was soaked with blood. The feeling was quite low. I was a squaddie without a squad. Pfc Väinö Kinnunen was the last of my men whom I saw climbing the hill, bleeding seriously. He had shouted something but I could not make out his words.

Down on the field a crippled tank was unable to move but its turret was working. It kept firing at the corner of our trench. I did not see any other tanks, they must have been somewhere behind a knoll. No man could have survived in the trench corner, it was smashed and ploughed up.

Four or five of us Finns were standing in the dugout entrance tunnel. The world was full of sounds and steel, splinters and bullets were raining in showers on the parapet. Hell was loose here, no one could withstand this for any longer time.

A Corporal of Walden's company dashed from behind the dugout to us:
- Hey, they are sneaking in the pit, get the hand grenades and quick!
There was a SMG on his shoulder but he could not use it because the enemies were covered by the slope.

There were no hand grenades, maybe none had ever been brought here.
The Corporal yelled:
- Dear Lord, where are they?
He left with a couple of men of his outfit.

Then I pulled a SMG from the hands of a man next to me and started climbing in the turret. Two older man stayed back and they promised to pass magazines to me.

The sight from the embrasure made me almost soil my trousers.

At least eight tanks were crowded in the bottom of the dale. Everyone of them was shelling our positions at the trench corner and the garage farther off. LMG gunners were shooting at least from the decks of four tanks. There was a lively bustling about the tanks. There were vanyas in green tight trousers, vanyas in black and vanyas in blue overalls. I did not waste time in finding out what they were doing. A hatch in the stern of a tank was opened and bundles were thrown out, then dragged to the line of the dragon's teeth.

They had chosen the spot wisely. They could not be spotted from the hill, being in cover. Firing from the roof of either dugouts would have been possible but our Panzerschreck was smashed up. Shooting from the lip of the pit would also have been possible but there was not a man among us – or anywhere else - to do it. The distance was too long for the Panzerfaust. Our situation was miserable.

There had been a mistake in planning the defense system, there were no normal gun nests but they had relied on MG bunkers. We would have needed fresh manpower at once, with Panzerschreks. One man crasy enough to engage the enemy would be wiped out immediately by the tanks: nine tank cannons and other guns can do a lot of damage. But how could we get any help, there were no communication trenches. Neither did we have neither phone line nor wireless communication to ask for help...

I supported the SMG tightly and aiming carefully spent a mag in three or four bursts, and the Vanyas who were able to do it vanished behind their tanks. The nearest LMG gunner was hanging with his head pointing down, stuck in some hook by his pants.

I received another magazine. It was only now that I saw that the entire line of dragon's teeth was swarming with enemies. The entire area I was able to see was occupied by enemies ready to storm. There must have been dozens of men. I swept the creeping men with my bursts and made several of them give up their plans to attack any more. The turret of the bunker was high above the attackers and the range was just a stone's throw. One of them stood up when hit and fell dead on a stone.

That was the last thing I saw before falling down from the turret.

I cannot say how long I was unconscious but as I came to I heard:
- We should bandage him with something, he seems to be bleeding dry?
- Shirt, men, take a shirt!

An emergency makes you think clearly even if your skull would be struck by dozens of splinters. My right arm was black. Bloodied and numb. A shirt was wrapped around my head and without wasting any time I spurted up the hill from the foxhole.

Disregarding the pain of my head I ran on in the cover of bushes. I happened to come across a long barreled AT gun whose team was keeping a lookout in the direction of Vehmainen road and meadow. I pointed the direction to them and told them to push the gun ahead some 50m, they would find at least nine tanks, but they did not listen.

I stumbled a few times, there was a beating pain in my head, blood oozed in my eyes and mouth but somehow I managed to proceed even though the hillside was as if boiling by shell explosions.

There was no more much of a man in me as I opened the door of Lt. Walden's command post dugout, but I was refreshed by a mug of water generously passed to me.
I told him that the AT squad was present.

My head was being bandaged while Lt. Walden was enquiring about the situation in the front line. I passed on my information, all of it. I told him in detail what the Russians had done and about our troubles. There was a 60 to 80m breach in the front line where there was not a single living Finn, except the bloke in the dugout corner. I believed the few men had left the bunker for the hillside. In my opinion the positions on our right were still manned sparsely. I did not forget to mention about the missing hand grenades and the position of the AT gun I had seen. I assured that my observations were valid.

Walden nodded to indicate he believed me. He gave me an impression that he had been informed somehow already.

Walden took three or four strides back and forth, then he took his Sam Browne belt and started putting it on. A slim blonde Lieutenant who I think was called Pietarinen, stepped in front of him and asked:
- What are you going to do now ?
- I have to go there, what else is there to be done

Morose silence reigned in the dugout for a while, just the constant thunder outside coul be heard. I shall never forget this moment.

The silence was broken by Lt.Pietarinen who asked:
- Who is going to join you ?
Walden answered briefly:
- I am going alone !

I understood I had witnessed a great moment. I had seen what a true Finnish Company Commander is like. I can but guess what was the core of Lt. Walden´s decision: He and his company were entrusted the defence of a stronghold. As the Company was about to break under the overwhelming pressure of the enemy, he did not hesitate to exploit the last resource: his own personal example, until help would be available.

Just a few men were available anyway: a horse driver who had distributed food, the paramedic who had bandaged me and Lt. Pietarinen. All the meager reserves had been used already. Having talked with Pietarinen, Walden came to me and asked me to forward the request for immediate help and artillery strike in front of the stronghold and in the patch of forest to Maj. Eino Kuvaja. However he remarked :
- They are saying that we are finished now.

I thought that he sounded a little fed up.

Walden set off up the hill with his pistol drawn in the shellfire. He pardoned us with his gesture but sense of responsibility did not pardon him. Russian artillery fire was now out of all bounds. Maybe their strike battalion was about to pierce at the very moment, June 14, 1944, 13.00 – 14.00 hrs

I descended down the hill in the shell ravaged forest firmly committed to deliver Lt. Walden's request even with my last energy. Soon I bumped into the firing position of a mortar platoon. The surroundings were a complete chaos, smashed up tree trunks standigng up and lying down, upturned horse cart, a dead horse and ploughed up soil everywhere. “Comrade artilleryman” had tried hard but had not been able to suppress the mortar fire. I hurried to point to a Corporal sitting under a spruce the “tank dale”, I found out they did not have any F.O.O. They had just fired at old pre-defined targets. Soon the mortars were dropping more fin stabilized bombs to bother the enemy.

I was in a sorry condition striving for my target. My skull was hurting at every step and the world dimmed up every now and then, I also vomited whatever I had eaten. “Farming implements” were strafing the Vuottaa road that I had to traverse. Ten meters high columns of mud were spouting about as I crossed a swamp.

In the field dressing station a Chaplain was kind enough to guide me to Kylmäoja where the Battalion command post was situated. He held me by the arm although this messenger was nothing pleasant to look at. My head and one arm were swathed in bloodied bandages and my tunic was half unbuttoned, in tatters, and the right sleeve had been torn off totally. The Command post was just being shelled. I wandered back and forth, the Chaplain had left me. I saw the perplexed face of my Company Commander as he beckoned to me. I did not understand what he meant, I had a message to deliver and no officer could stop me. Finallly I realised – take cover!

I told him the sad news about my AT squad.
He directed me to the foxhole of the Platoon Commander. I had been desperate for not getting any sleep but he had not had any chance to get any rest. His eyes were bloodshot and his unshaven face dirty, telling about the stress he had been constantly subjected to.

There was also Maj. Olanterä but I had a message to deliver to Maj. Kuvaja.
- Walden is requesting for help and artillery barrage !
- Help, the Major echoed my words, and muttered something that sounded to me: - where from?
Tired and a little annoyed Maj. Kuvaja beckoned me to leave. It was only years later that I understood : The Russian was already on the hilltop.
(Lt. Walden, son of Gen. Walden the Defence Minister, became a MIA the same day.)


For comparison, a modern news item (Tr.rem.):

“Misdirected field artillery shells fired at Rovajärvi Artillery Range in May 2013 caused the government to pay about 15000 euros worth of damages to conscripts by court order.

Due to error in gun laying one shell landed only about 20m from conscripts in a fire control post. More than 20 men were at risk.

The conscript nearest the shell explosion was afflicted by a strong trauma based stress reaction and medium severe depression. His hearing, too, was affected. The young man was granted indemnities for 11500 euros, and an option to claim for more should his symptoms persist...” Source: Turun Sanomat 2nd March 2016

Lotvonen
Member
Posts: 752
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 04 Dec 2016 05:47

Aarre Merilä
Journal “Kansa Taisteli” vol 08, 1958

Nights and days in Ravansaari

It is a wintry March day in Ravansaari island (about 12 km SW from Viipuri, lost on 8 March 1940, tr.rem.) in 1940. Street fighting rages on among flames and smoke in the yards and alleys of the village. We are no more able to tell how many days this has gone on. Days and nights are linked by continuous firefights.

Bursts of auto weapons fire are echoing from the walls of houses which are beaten by constant streams of bullets. Under the lead-gray sky of the winter's day the theatre of street fighting is wrapped in fog of smoke as yellowish or blackish clouds of smoke billow from houses in flames.

We are in positions along the main street having taken taken cover behind the stone fundaments of houses. An enemy MG again opens up down the main street with its slow cadence. Another MG is in the middle of the street on the no-man's-land, manned by dead Russians, a bare headed dead gunner is prone on the gun shield.

The sleeve of a white fabric hanging in a birch is hanging over the corpse whose overcoat is steaming in the glow of the cracking and burning building next to him.

- Throw your hand grenades, someone in the enemy side shouts in a wailing accent in Finnish.
- Bring them on, one of us shouts in retaliation, a SMG gunner in sooty white camo suit on the other side of the street. He bounces up behind the trunk of a birch and fires a long burst at the noise of coughing behind a half burned down shack .

An enemy MG opens up the same moment from the remparts of Uuras. The burst cuts a bare top of a birch, steaming with heat, that falls on the slush on the street.

Russians are again shouting in the grey winter's day at the blazing zone across the island, and immediately firing ist intensified to constant cracking. Sudden encounters are taking place in the yards, small gardens and narrow alleys, some turning into desperate hand-to
-hand fighting to death. We have to yield to the overwhelming pressure and we are torching up more houses to cover us, but at dusk the fighting dies down all through the front line. The sound of fire and flames is in our stunned ears almost cosy.

Dog-tired men with sooty faces and dirty white overalls are shuffling for a moment's rest in a dugout situated at the main street, but not for long. As night falls over the ravaged village of Ravansaari the yelling and MG rattling starts again.

Shooting rages for a moment intensely but suddenly dies down. A huge column of sparks sprouts to the sky as a flaming house collapses with a crash.

- Reserve Lieutenant Selinheimo's company is in a hot spot, said Lt. S. O. Lindgren to me as goodbye when I was transferred to Selinheimo's company after we had abandoned Uuras. (Lt. Lindgren, later a notorius professional officer, wanted to keep a distinct limit between himself and a Reserve officer! Tr.rem.)

That was definitely the fact during the days of nights of street fighting raging in Ravansaari
In the small hours I dropped in the dugout where Res.Lt. Selinheimo was just reading the message carried by a runner from the fort.

The men keep watching intensely at their officer.
We have to endure until next night, then our task ends, Selinheimo told me as I sat down at the table.

The fort, too, is engaged in heavy fighting. Wounded men are constantly carried in, they are quiet, tired, sooty and bloodied.

At dawn the Russian artillery starts thundering somewhere in the direction of Uuras. Most of the shells are hissing over us to the mainland. In the day three Russian fighters lay a smokescreen a few meters above us for us to marvel at. At noon the noise of fighting breaks out again on the entire front line. In the late afternoon a SMG gunner reports from the Northern shoreline that Russians are pouring on the ice from Kuurinsaari heading for Hietasaari.

Their leading men are already on the supply road from Hietasaari to Ravansaari as we start shooting with LMGs at the enemies trudging on the open ice far away. At nightfall we are informed that the enemies have retreated from Hietasaari

Are we surrounded or not? Nobody cares about it, while fighting you do not have time to think about it. Our “front line” is at times in total confusion where hand-to-hand fighting with cold weapons rages. In narrow alleys Finnish and Russian dead are lying side by side.

In the darkening nights the houses in front of us are burning in bright flames, one of our MG s has been pulled back next to the dugout where it keeps firing. We have taken our positions in the slushy snow melted by fires in the gardens, ditches, behind tree stems, house fundaments, fences.

Hordes of enemies are moving about in the smoke covered terrain and behind the flaming houses, suddenly at nightfall they pull back a little. We keep watching at the terrain ahead of us, a menacing unnatural silence is reigning for now. Every man has instinctively grasped that something crucial is about to happen.

The dugout is filled with wounded men, some of them are lying on the floor. The order to disengage has just been received and the evacuation of the wounded starts immediately. We are just studying the map to plan our route to Hapenensaari island, our objective, as the door of the dugout is opened and two men in blood tattered white camo overalls drag in a wounded man, placing him on a narrow bench opposite to us. The field surgeon strips the man´s upper body bare: a bullet has pierced his chest. The pale man is breathing with difficulty, keeping his eyes shut. The man is bandaged and placed carefully on the bench.

Someone wraps his overcoat into a bundle an places it under the wounded man's head as a pillow. At the very moment the man opens his eyes, shining out on his pale face in the light of a hurricane lamp. The face is marked by death but his eyes are still oddly alive.
- Could someone take off my shoes, they are hurting my feet ? - the wounded man says in a quet and discontinuous voice.
A sooty faced paramedic pulls of the man's skiing boots and worn out socks. The Company Commander finds a pair of thick woollen socks in his rucksack and a rifleman pulls them on the feet of the wounded man.

He turns his face slowly to the light of a hurricane lamp.
- I believe I am about to leave you. That is all right, it is the will of God. Now I am feeling good.
- I have a wife and a son at home. The boy looks just like me. Tell my regards to them.

Selinheimo has stood up and is now next to the dying man who is saying:
- I am leaving this fine Company. Do not let yourselves be discouraged, boys. God is about to take me...

The dying man's words are cut off as he stops breathing. Another Finnish soldier has passed the boundary to a place without blood, soot, cold, flames. Our eyes are blurred and a wounded man on the floor starts weeping bitterly.

I am leaving the quieted down dugout and creep up the entrance tunnel to the smoke shrouded street. A queue of sleds is there. Dark shapes are loading ammunition crates in them. On top of the crates dead men, frozen stiff, are tied with ropes. Wounded men on stretchers are being carried on the sides of the street. The lightly wounded are carrying their skis under their arms.

The first sleds are moving on and the squeal of runners disappears to the direction of the shoreline. I am lying prone behind a fence keeping my finger on the trigger of my SMG.

I am staring at the no-man's-land between the boards of the fence. Something threatening is approaching behind the dying down flames. A LMG burst is heard from the left.

Then it started. Hissing flares are fired by the Russians. The ruined village is for a moment in an eerie and flapping phosphoric light. The entire front line erupts into tremendous shouting, approaching noise and rattle of auto weapons. Shrill blasts of whistel are cutting the air and jets of tracers are flying over us. I am still behind the fence and I am emptying the magazine in brief bursts on the streel lit up by greenish light where the familiar Russian battle cry (=uraaa! Tr.rem.) is sounding out.

Our left wing is yielding, the men are pulling back to the shore street, crouching while firing their weapons.

- There is a hell of lot of them coming, a SMG gunner pants out as he flops down next to me. Immediately he fires at the storming enemies stumbling in the ruins ahead of us, my ears are ringing.

- Surrender, a metallic voice calls out (In Finnish) on our left, a hand grenade flies over us and explodes behind us

We run crouching to the shore street and jump in a ditch as an enemy MG opens up from the roof of our dugout. Flares are illuminating the open ice in front of us where our men are skiing in small groups in the direction of Hapenensaari island. The beaches of Kuurinsaari and Ravansaari islands are dotted with the muzzle flames of countless machine guns as shining strings of tracers are flashing across the sky. In the direction of Viipuri the sky is red and artillery muzzle flames are blazing on the Carelian Isthmus.

As the MG bursts sweep the ice around us we take cover under the snow, the ice is flooded with sea water that soaks our shoes and snow overalls. On the white snow plain I catch up with an unknown soldier, trudging on with his last shreds of strength. A jet of bullets has smashed up his arm.
Do not leave me here, the wounded man is panting.
We don't!

We continue for Hapenensaari island. Once more I stop on the ice and look behind. There is Ravansaari, The Ravansaari of the Winter War. Battles fought on its blood soaked soil testify on the honourable suffering of Finnish soldiers.

Our Company that had shrunk into a Platoon withstood on the island the days and nights it was ordered to, but we the survivors shall never forget it. We continue our journey and reach our target. All we know is that our battle shall go on tomorrow, nothing else is certain.

(1799 words)

Lotvonen
Member
Posts: 752
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 11 Dec 2016 05:55

Here is an unpleasant story featuring carelessness, neglect of duty and cruelty.
FYI:
Kuuttivaara is situated in the Eastern, ceded part of Ilomantsi (lat. 62 deg.37”, long. 31 deg 37”). The front line was about 40km from Kuuttivaara and 21. Brigade was under heavy attack from the flank at the date of the story.
The enemy unit commander was Comrade Maj. Jorma Kukkonen, born in Suonenjoki, Finland.

Niilo Kentakka

Battle behind the front line

Kansa Taisteli vol. 04, 1958

Platoon Laakkonen of Unit 9294 (926. Is.K. - Air raid protection Coy., Tr.rem.) was stationed in Kuuttivaara farm in Ilomantsi parish. The farm was alone in the wilderness, on a hill with a square of fields surrounded by forest. It was as if on platter for the enemy, and the distance to the nearest neighbour was more than ten kilometers.

On July 10 1944 the Platoon had received a radio message: a 60 man strong enemy patrol had been seen coming from Liusvaara, heading SW. Lt. Veijo Elias Laakkonen sent a 10 man patrol to meet the enemy and was informed that Lt. Filppu with his Platoon is leaving Kuolismaa for Laakkonen's stronghold in Kuuttivaara.

Laakkonen's Platoon comprised thirty men who were lodged as follows: Lt. Laakkonen and 14 men in the threshing barn, Cpl. Lehto and seven men in the sauna, and the eight man radio operator team in the farmhouse. Laakkonen had also made his men to dig good defense positions to secure his stronghold. There was a good hillock at the cluster of spruces, there were positions for a LMG and a squad of riflemen. Behind the threshing barn there was another position for a Squad and at the sauna Lehto's squad had positions to secure to the left. The right wing was secured by the men in the threshing barn. So they had prepared to receive an eventual enemy attack.

The men were in the positions but it started raining in the night 10/11 July, and it went on. Laakkonen told his men to move from the positions in the buildings. Sentries were left at the cluster of spruces. It was about 0800hrs.

Raindrops drummed the roofs, the tired men made ersatz coffee having now shelter from rain and turned in. Time passed, the mood was low, maybe due to the grey day, maybe due to premonition.
Lt. Filppu's Platoon should be at the destination about now, it was past 1300 hrs. The lads in the threshing barn were sleeping, only the four liveliest were awake. They had climbed up on the beams on which sheafs were suspended and sat down near the open wall hatch which provided some light, to have a game of cards to spend time.

How quiet it is! Laakkonen is awake, restless. Why is Filppu not yet here? Maybe the rain has delayed him? “- I don't think the enemy is moving about in a rain like this” he comments to his men.

In the sauna the lads are asleep, just the squaddie Lehto is awake. He has climbed on the sauna benches having grabbed a book to read it. His commander duties keep him, too, awake.

The radio team of eight men has climbed up the stairs in the house where they have set up their station. Two of them are on duty at it while the rest are either cooking or dozing off or reading old magazines.

Sentries have been changed and it is still raining. The sentries have sought cover from rain, one under a big spruce, the other one under the eaves of the threshing barn.,

At 15.41 a nasty burst of LMG fire bursts out behind the threshing barn and intense auto weapons fire breaks the oppressive silence. Sneak attack, everyone realises that. The enemy starts with the sentries and they are immediately dispatched. Next intense fire penetrates threshing barn walls and the sauna. The farm house, too, is getting its share. There are a lot of enemies. It must be the sixty man patrol! Where is Lt. Filppu, he should have been here by 1400 hrs.

The men sleeping on the threshing barn floor are hit, they are wailing. The poker party up on the beams have not been shot at. One of them jumps down to get his SMG but he just grunts and drops, grabbing his stomach, wounded. The three surviving gamblers head for the hatch, big enough to pass through. The drop to the ground is rather high, but what can you do, they drop themselves with feet first without weapons and backpack. Once on the ground they creep on all fours to the alder bushes.

In the sauna Cpl. Lehto jumps down, grabs his rifle and shouts: “get up and follow me!” Pvt. Kiuru is standing at the door, he is the first one to get out. The door is thrown open and Kiuru dashes out but immediately drops down, Lehto follows him and jumps over the man in the long grass, looking back. Kiuru is lying on his back, still moving himself. Wounded? Three of Lehto's men are already standing at the sauna door with their hands up. A couple of enemy patrolmen are peeking out of the sauna window with their SMGs in readiness. Hurry up now, Lehto tells himself, and quickly
the man dashes for the alder bushes. Bullets are whistling overhead. Ahead and to the left there is open bog over which a LMG is playing its music. I am down again, a LMG is shooting from behind and to the right, but its target is the LMG beyond the bog! I am creeping as flat as a man ever is able to. There are the alder bushes, I creep through them in the pine forest. I shall soon find safety, the enemy error saved me. The trees cover me, shooting from behind ends and I am getting up. My feet are ever so light. The shrubs of the swamp are crashing as I am running away. Yes, I confess, I am fleeing, but my dear old life is so precious, and no kind of bravery would help now.

What happened in the threshing barn? It was a tragedy.

The enemy had meticulously planned their attack. They had been hiding in the alder bushes, observing. They knew that our main force was in the threshing barn. It was under tremendous fire and it was soon shot up. The three lads who came out stepped right into bursts of LMG and SMG. They did not make it in the rye field nest to the building but all of them died on the yard in front of the barn. The rest did not dare to get out but hid behind the threshing barn oven. It did not take long before the enemies with their SMGs were standing at the door and calling out in clear Finnish: “surrender, and put your hands up, all of you!”

That must be a Finn, everyone thought to himself, a Finn in enemy service! Everyone felt a flash of disgust but also a weak hope that maybe a Finn after all might have some pity and allow us to live. Due to the rainy day it was dark behind the barn oven, and since the enemy had not yet dared to enter, wounded Cpl. Sven Torsten Johansson who had been hiding behind the oven climbed with difficulty up on the sooty beams. He had to witness the tragedy raging below.

About 16 enemies entered the barn. They were dressed in brown summer tunics and light caps, one man was wearing a greatcoat. The men were wet to the skin but well armed. The group of enemies were brandishing their weapons threateningly while someone asked harshly in Finnish: “which of you is the officer?” Lt. Laakkone, lying wounded on the floor, tried to push up his upper body with his arms and said: “I am”. “Are you Lieutenant Laakkonen?” “Yes”, the wounded man responded . His face was contorted, blood had smeared his arms, his thigh had been shot through. An artery must have been pierced because the few straws under him were already red with blood. Johansson is able to see between the sooty beams how a burly enemy wearing a greatcoat approaches the Lieut. Laakkonen pleads in agony “Please do not shoot me” and something like “leave me or let me go”. But a harsh voice comands in Russian: “Streljat!” (=shoot)

The man hiding in the beams deduces from the raw tone of the voices that the outfit that overrun them does not give any quarter. Turning his wounded head Johansson can see how the coat wearing man points his weapon at Laakkonen's head that he is holding up with difficulty and an angry SMG burst sounds out in the threshing barn. The body of the helpless wounded Finnish Lieutenant slups with a twitch and blood turns red the floor and the straws on it.

Commands are issued in rough tones, in Russian and in Finnish. Five Finns are lying on the floor wounded, three have been able to get out with their hands up. After a while a terrible tragedy takes place outside as SMGs open fire in the barn. The brutes are attacking the wounded men. All of them are still conscious when they take a burst of bullets in their heads. Johansson is squatting on the beams, still as a mouse. His heart is beating as he waits for his fate. The beams cover just one half of the barn, they are black with soot and they shelter him from the view of the brutes below.

Finally everyone goes out. Five bodies shot through the head are left in the barn, Lt. Laakkonen among them. “Have I survived?” Johansson is wondering to himself but soon he loses his hope smelling burning straw. He gets up, his right temple and ear are in tatters . Pressing his cap on the right temple he is spitting soot and blood, he is a little dizzy. But he climbs down, he cannot stay on the beams. Smoke is billowin in through the hatch and the open door. Now the wounded man is on the floor. It feels nasty to creep among his dead pals but soon he is prone on the pile of bodies slippery with blood. There is no telling what the foe is up to. He is waiting. The foe may withdraw, who knows.

Smoke is now suffocating. The man creeps below the door, fresh air is still coming in there. One of his friends is there, shot dead. Johansson recognizes him: it is Laakkonen. His head has been smashed up and he is prone. Johansson crawls next to him, his legs pointing to the darkness inside the barn.

Heat becomes more intense, the beams on which he recently was are being swept by flames. The sounds outside are receding, but the steps of one man can be heard approaching. Johansson gets up and retreats in the darkness behind the oven, terror of death in his heart. Smoke is terribly thick but he puts his blood soaked cap against his mouth and is feeling better for a moment. Then there is a tremendous bang, pressure wave is throwing burning straws at him. One brute was not sure of the completion of his deeds, he had returned and thrown a hand grenade at the corpses. Now the footsteps are receding and vanishing in the rain.

The threshing barn is in flames, and the man is still inside. Johansson dashes from behind the oven to the door, under it where there is still air, but the heat is tremendous. He cannot but get over the threshold, to the yard. He sacks on the gray stepping stone, rolls down by the gray log wall. He is immobile, his gray tunic and gray trousers provide camouflage. His nerves are tight with tension, has he been spotted? No, there is not a burst of fire, he is not nicked by a bullet as happened in the barn. There is a crash behind him, flames are flickering in the door opening, he was about to burn, fortunately his clothes had been damp due to rain.

He is almost safe now. Shooting has ended. The farmhouse shares the fate of the threshing barn, it is in flames already. Another act of horror has taken place there.

The eight men of the Radio squad were in the attic. As shooting started four went down the stairs, two hiding in the cellar outside and two remaining in the main room. They had grabbed their weapons. Soon bursts of bullets were piercing the walls, the lads were in danger but remained unhurt, then a group of enemies rushed in and took the lads prisoner. The two in the cellar opened fire at the enemies on the stairs, the enemies got out taking their prisoners along. The lads in the cellar were doomed, a couple of enemies were already sneaking at the side of the cellar and one on top of it. Soon a couple of hand grenades were thrown through the cellar door and the two lads inside were dispatched.

The four radio men in the farmhouse attic were not left alone. The enemy torched the house and smoke penetrated soon in the attic. The men have to climb down, into the other downstairs room which is less smoky. The window is in the side of the rye field, the men are soon in it,chased by a burst of bullets. Firing was not intense any more. In the cover of the ryefield the lads soon enter the forest: four men have saved themselves by fleeing. Their radio set and equipment were left behind but they managed to grab their weapons.

The spectacle in Kuuttivaara was sudden and ended soon. Three smoke columns were rising in the rainy sky: the farmhouse, the threshing barn and the sauna. The cowshed remained. The enemy knew there was no one in it. The enemy was well informed, they knew that Lt. Laakkonen was the Platoon leader. We do not know where they got the information: maybe an intercepted radio message, maybe a prisoner had been made to tell.

The sounds of intense firefight could be heard two kilometers through the rain. Lt. Fillppu's platoon was just approaching Kuuttivaara, and they hurried up and arrived 20 min later. They could just find three burning buildings, the sauna had burned down already. At the threshing barn there were three of our dead lads, their heads had been smashed up. One man was found in the forest under brackens, it was Kiuru, unconscious but still alive. He had been able to creep there to avoid the heat of the burning sauna. Two more dead men were found next to the sauna and the shredded remains of two men in the cellar. After the threshing barn had finally burned down Lt.Filppu found five scorched cinders, human bodies.

Johansson identified Laakkonen's scorched body nearest to the threshold and the remains were sent to Mrs. Laakkonen.
( 2446 words)

Lotvonen
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 11 Dec 2016 14:21

B.Laurila
Heavy Artillery Battalion 5 in Olonets
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol.10, 1958

The author, a Lieutenant in 1941, describes the action of an artillery outfit in 1941 as the Finnish Army advanced in Olonets. Heavy Artillery Battalion 5 (Rs.Psto 5) was nicknamed “Jermu” (“ dictionary definition “experienced and tough warrior” who dislikes formal discipline, Tr. Rem.)

As we were advancing in September 1941 from Prääsä to Petroskoi we noticed the enemy artillery characteristics: mobility, rapid and flexible deployment. Its strength must have been smaller than ours and it decreased continuously. Yet its fire stung us effectively. It was led by men who knew the terrain and were able to anticipate things. Roadsides, by-roads, road crossings, dales, sides of rivers and brooks were subjected to brief but intense firing and seldom without disturbing us.

Our measurement battery was equipped with outdated and slow equipment which hampered our counterbattery activities. Often the actual enemy firing positions were found to be different from the one defined by their previous firing. This proved how mobile and agile the enemy was, they must have had a good advance plan. It seemed that until 22 Sept 1941 the enemy artillery had the mental upper hand. The tables were reversed, however, after that date.

It was specially our 3. Battery that had the misfortune of being in the receiving end of the enemy artillery. On 22. Sept. they were surprised by heavy shelling, resulting in one KIA and three wounded, also part of their shells were damaged and the stored “gargousses” (bagged propellant charges) caught fire. Thanks to the battery officer the discipline was maintained and the threatening gargousse fire was put out. 3. Battery changed their position immediately due to this.

Immediately after Äänislinna (Petrozavodsk) had been taken the Battalion was ordered to proceed to Suoltusmäki in order to support the attack to Solomanni. As I got out of the car at the foot of Suollusmäki hill someone shouted from the top, enquiring about eventual artillerymen. Having admitted I was immediately asked to get to the top of the hill. There sat Col.Lt. Susitaival with his binoculars, pointing to me the bridges of Suoju, which were teeming with enemy troops retreating to North. He asked if anything could be done to prevent the enemy from retreating, because soon we would have to fight the same troops sooner or later. A quick glance at the map showed that the range was sufficient, but as I enquired about the position of our troops in the terrain he could not give me any definite answers. I ordered our fire batteries to take positions at the foot of the hill as soon as they had arrived, all batteries side by side, and get ready to fire at the coordinates of Suoju bridges given to them. Then I hurried in the car and returned to the HQ of our Battalion that had remained in its previous position to find out about our own troops in Suoju. By chance I met the Battalion Commander Maj. E: Hallakorpi on my way and reported to him. He was on his way to the commander of an Infantry regiment ordered to take Solomanni but the Major considered this matter so important that he joined me to discuss it in our HQ.

We were disappointed to learn that one of our Regiments was advancing in the terrain and its positions were unknown. Despite the repeated requests of our Major no better information was gained. Consequently it was preferred not to fire.

So I had to return to the Battalion. I climbed up the Suollusmäki hill and Col. Lt. Susitaival greeted me by saying “ Well?”. The Battalion was in firing readiness, with the pieces aimed at the target, they had been busy. I told him what had happened. There we sat side by side, watching the enemy mass still flowing on the bridges. My cheeks were hot with shame as I had to listen to the sarcastic comments of the old soldier-patriot.

Kumsjärvi was to be taken next. Our Batteries were positioned next to the road from Mäntyselkä to Kumsjärvi while the infantry was bypassing the enemy by its flanks. Our F.O.O. Team attached to the infantry was equipped with a radio transceiver and also a field telephone line was to be laid. Twenty men were assigned to carry the cable reels due to the nonexistence of roads. The line was laid out in the darkness of a drizzly night, the path to be taken was often icy and slippery duckboards across swamps. If a man slipped his leg sunk in the bottomless soft peat. It was risky to turn on any light because the bushes were infested with small enemy patrols that every now and then engaged the telephone line team.

The men were getting tired and the assistant F.O.O. leading the telephone team began to waver in his faith. There even was a suggestion to interrupt the telephone line construction and just communicate with the radio. Some words of encouragement telling that no task is and cannot be impossible for us worked miracles and the line was set up as intended.

At the same time the Battalion had to set up a new fire control central next to the road, and the old switchboard was left behind, manned by Battalion men, to act as troubleshooting patrol central. All this and the task of building the above mentioned phone line had in practice tied up all the manpower of the communications “organs” of the Battalion, yet we were ordered to set up another two 3 to 4 km long lines. The very last men could not be engaged in this due to eventual troubleshooting tasks. The solution was that the Communications Officer and one man carrying the reels built one line and the Sergeant-Major plus one man set up the other one. A lorry followed each “team” and the driver spliced the cable and tested the connection.

7 November P.M. The Battalion was stationed in Keltovaara, then it received orders to change their position so close to the front line that they should be able to shell Karhumäki town (Medvezhegorsk) the same day. The fire positions were decided basing on map but actually the area was under threat of direct enemy fire due to presence of hills. The guns had to be placed a little more to the rear, between Matkajärvi and a road, about two kilometers from the firing line.

The same day we had an inkling what was to happen. An enemy patrol cut our telephone connection to the rear and the troubleshooting patrol goit into a firefight with it about 100m from the field switchboard. A lorry on its way to the rear was ambushed. We increased close range defence and Karhumäki was shelled before it was 2400 hrs as ordered

November 11 was a day of bad luck. The advance of our infantry was not successful and the enemy began to show signs of considerable activity. Our infantry needed more and more artillery support. It was just past noon as the 3rd Battery Battery Officer reported that a light horse drawn artillery battalion is marching on the road ahead of our fire positions.

Soon after the report there were sounds of rifle shots from various directions. When I wondered aloud what this implied one Measurement Battery NCO calmly informed that stray explosive bullets are hitting the trees. At the same moment the 3rd Battery reported that the light artillery battalion marching on the road a few hundred meters off was ambushed. Immediately I ordered our entire Battalion to take close defence positions and enquired if we could help the light Battalion with direct fire – the 3rd Battery did not consider it feasible. At the same moment we spotted enemies behind and on both flanks of my command post. We found ourselves on a narrow ridge surrounded by swamps, consequently the batteries were placed densely in one front. This may have been now to our advantage because we could organise quick concentrated countermeasures with a larger number of men.

Soon the 3rd Battery reported that there was a firefight in their positons, soon the enemy engaged the other batteries. Then my phone rang and a F.O.O. requested quick barrage as the enemy was attacking in the front line. Now our gunners showed what they were capable of: while some men fought the attacking enemy the others manned the guns. Sounds of infantry weapons were mixed with the hollow sounds of field guns and the infantry got thei requested support. (The official war history states that the artillery fire considerably helped in beating back the enemy attack on 8 Nov. 1941)

The Battalion was in Poventsa (Povenets) in early December 1941. We had consumed a total of 17677 shells since the start of the war. 2nd Battery was the first to be there, supporting the advacing infantry, the rest of us a little later. The offensive was over, but we had to show the enemy once more that we were still serious.

In early January 1942 the enemy tried their utmost to make us abandon our gains.

The situation was critical: the enemy had for the second time gained all of Tapponiemi. The current front line was about 800m from the 3rd battery on our left wing. The enemy pressure called for more infantry so our Battalion sent a Platoon worth of men to support the infantry in Tapponiemi. 2nd Lt. Takala who was the acting Platoon commander was mortally wounded in the battle. Smaller units of the Battalion were stationed along the Canal (White Sea–Baltic Canal ) . For example one small stronghold was manned by the Battalion surveying squad. Their commander was the Battalion Gas Protection NCO.

One evening I was ordered to make a harassment fire plan for Tapponiemi for the entire night. After that next morning we would shoot an half hour barrage and prepare for a creeping barrage.

That meant that each battery had to fire 52 shells per hour. Our shell reserve would be spent in 2hrs 30 mins and as to resupply we just knew that a rail transport was to arrive at Karhumäki station. We were orderd to start the harassment fire at once. I pointed out that the train could be late which would mean that after 150 minutes of harassment fire we would be out of ammunition. I was ordered to take the risk and send a sufficient quantity of lorries and men to the railway station.

We started the harassment fire as planned. Just as we were about out of shells four lorries drove in each battery position, one lorry for each piece. In order not to interrupt the fire the first shells had to be loaded in the guns right from the lorry. Shell weight classes and propellant lots were mixed up but what mattered was that the enemy was under constant shelling.

Next day the enemy had to abandon the road across Tapponiemi and finally the entire Tapponiemi area.

The gun crews had had scarcely time to light up or have a meal. 52 shells per battery in one hour means 13 shells per gun – one shell in about five minutes. Loading a 6” field gun every five minutes for nine hours, plus the task of unloading the ammunition and sorting it took its toll on the strongest of men.

(1901 words)

Lotvonen
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Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 18 Dec 2016 06:06

A story of a failed operation in 1941 . There is a sketchy map in the original publication.

Landing at Lake Ladoga in August 1941
Keijo Katajainen
Kansa Taisteli 09/1958 pp. 248 - 253

15.D, made up of men from the province of Satakunta, was in July 1941 stationed in the region of Simpele and the Divisional HQ housed in the offices of United Paper mills. While waiting for action the Division was subject to some air raids. Since the minimal contact with the enemy did not provide the necessary information , Col. Hersalo, the Divisional commander, decided to set up a volunteer outfit, that was to be called a Sissi unit, maybe without merit. The author ended up as the commander.

The unit was made up of volunteers from Regiments JR 57, JR 1, JR 36 plus volunteers from Artillery, all first class men as to fighting skills and morale. I do not describe the skirmishes first in Änkilänsalo and later as our offensive had gained momentum in the region of Elisenvaara-Kurkijoki. They were necessary to create unity and team spirit in our small outfit

By 12 August 1941 the II AC had pushed and surrounded two enemy divisions (142. , 198.) in Huiskonniemi (or Kilpolanniemi) and Kilpolansaari. The island was connected to the mainland by a bridge that the enemy sappers had managed to fix to withstand heavier equipment, but the capacity of which was limited. The Russians started immediately an desperate evacuation of their troops and material with all available shipping capacity to the harbours in the South coast of Lake Ladoga. It need not be told that 15.D had orders to destroy the enemy forces before they were brought to safety, but it was by no means an easy task. The terrain was rocky and hilly, with large open fields. The narrow peninsula could be defended with quite few troops, and the defencer, with their back to the Lake Ladoga, resisted fiercely.

Studying the map (K.T. 09/1958 p.249) one can see that there is a small promontory called Ilaskanniemi protruding from the mainland. It includes a hill with unhindered wiew to the abovementioned bridge and the distance to it is 800m, within range of a MG. While the Finnish attack to Kilpola was being prepared it was decided to make a landing at Ulaskanniemi. If it would be successful more troops would be diverted there to drive into the enemy flank to prevent or at least disturb the shipping activities of the enemy, and finally to participate in the decisive battle.

It was a good plan and when carried out it would cause considerable losses to the enemy. A landing is always a difficult operation that needs time for preparation. In the circumstances as my unit was ordered to land at Ulaskanniemi it did not make sense to think of artillery preparation or any such thing. Our observers had recorded the schedule of sentries on the opposite shore. The only way to be successful in my opinion was to make a totally surprising attack on the cape, man it quickly, start harassing the traffic on the bridge and make sure that support would be able to arrive.

I shall for ever remember the moment in the tent of Maj. E.Kukkonen, our chief of divisional staff, as I received my orders and the details were planned.

Our strength was to be 80 men, one MG platoon, one F.O.O team with radio and eight landing boats manned by engineers. All preparations were carried out in the greatest of silence and I selected the men with special care. Volunteers were not hard to find, everyone was willing to join me. The AT cannon platoon had to be left behind to begin with. Its merry leader, 2nd Lt. Brunila, swore in all European languages, but having seen the landing boat he had to admit that his (37mm) Boforses were too heavy for this mission.

I had had toothache for the entire night, one of my cheeks was swollen as if I had had a case of mumps. Brunila found it appropriate to remark:
- As soon as you have tried a bit of swimming in Ladoga, you shall get your other cheek in the same condtion !
As to swimming, he was right...
My outfit included a Corporal whose name I forget, let us call him Cpl. L. (in war style; you were not allowed to tell your surname even to your girlfriend).

As he came forward in Simpele I had asked where his backpack was.

- Lieutenant, Sir, I have a case of weak lungs and my back is hurting, I really am not able to carry anything.
- Well, why the heck are you planning to join a sissi outfit, we shall often have to march long stretches ?
- During the Winter War I was 49 times snooping behind the Vanya's back, I would like to get an even 50 missions.

He was an excellent NCO, soldier and sissi, his nerves did not fail even a serious wound, as it was found later.

Troops led by Col. Hersalo attacked the Russian positions starting 12 August for a week on the isthmus of Huiskonniemi to break through at the enemy forces on Kilpola island. Yet the enemy front held while they kept on shipping and evacuating to South.

On 20.8 we estimated that soon the enemy transports would be over. However the AC command demanded activities, consequently troops were exchanded and another attack was launched on the same day. Sissi unit Katajainen would land in the enemy rear on the night of 20/21 August as we had planned for several days.

*
The H hour approached. Time and again I had been observing the enemy sentry exchange with 2nd Lt. Salminen, my second-in-command

- It is quiet on the beach between 0200 and 0400 hours, it is then we have to enter, I mumbled him for the umpteenth time. - We may get an eternal furlough, and suddenly, too.
- Lieutnant, Sir, do you have a clean handkerchief ?
- What the -? Are you going crazy?
- No Sir, but you chose to deny me evening furlough twice due to lack of clean handkerchief!

Salminen was two years my junior in the Cadet School and this was a good occasion to relieve the tension. I dare say both of us would have preferred the familiar Santahamina (=Cadet School) for this place at the moment.

0100 hrs, we are in the cover of a promontory and once more we check our equipment. The rowlocks have been greased, everyone's pockets and bags are full of ammunition and magazines. Food has been left behind, we shall be supplied by units following us. Smoking is absolutely forbidden. I check every boat. Suddenly I remember something:
- Is every man able to swim? I ask my Runners.
- Sure they do, you would be crazy to join a landing without being able to swim !
- I guess so, this is not the time to start lessons, one Pfc. Opines.

It is 0100 hrs as we push the boats slowly and silently out of the reeds to the open water. The Engineers grab the oars and our crossing starts. We are safe behind the promontory until we shall emerge from behind it – now!

Is there on the opposite shore a son of the steppes with a ken eye, informing and alerting his stronghold? One SMG gunner in the cover of alder bushes would be able to wipe out our entire outfit.

I beckon to the boats behind me: spread out more!

Someone clanks a SMG mag against the gunwale, it sounds as loud as a shot, and the man is subjected to angry glances.

It is a total windstill. Good Lord, do not make any moonlight now, save it for lovers back home in Finland, we so very much prefer to be in the dark! I catch myself fidgeting the safety of my SMG from single fire to auto, back and forth.

I am in the leading boat, almost stopped, the other boats are approaching near me in an uneven formation. I signal to proceed and move my gaze for a moment from the beach to my men. There is the red-head from Karvia, aiming his SMG at the landing point, squeezing the butt of the weapon in a strong grip. Quite so, this fellow is he who won the training shooting contest.

Another one is prone in the prow with his rifle in readiness, supporting himself on the cross braces of the boat. A cheerful Carelian lad writes something in the back of a cigarette pack then shows it to me:
Wish I could smoke !
I could not agree more.

Again my gaze wanders in the opposite shore. There is our landing spot, we are drifting too much to the left, I beckon to correct the course. We are now about 300m from the shore. There is no movement whatever visible. Glancing behind us I can see the contour of hills agains the night sky. Silence of death is reigning, although I know that our progress is being observed and they are prepared to support us if it proves necessary.

Two hundred meters, one hundred... Total silence! Salminen is steering to the left, his task is to cover the coastline and the Southern side of the promontory. Sgt. Kiiski is heading to the right, his task is to take the tip of the promontory and cover our rear from there

Now we are just touching the coastline. I am worrying that my men might get excited and start running or in some other manner make noise in the reeds growing in shallow mud bottomed water. If we shall be shot at it is right now... Nothing! I rally the main body of our outfit. I send men to secure ahead, Aspirant Hakala with his MGs in the middle and we proceed for the hill opposite to the bridge. Our landing has been successful.

Half an hour later we are in our objective. It is just past 0300hrs as we take our positions on the top of the hill. Hakala puts his Mgs in position and finally we can enjoy the much missed smokes.
I am treating Cpl. L with real “North State” recently mailed to me by a charming young lady.

I wonder what our brother Ivan is up to, maybe he has managed to get out of here altogether? The Cpl. Is pondering.
I don't think so, there should still be quite a lot of them, I have been told, I respond.

Why is Salminen not sending any message to me ?

Then there is noise on the South shore of the promontory: SMG bursts, a couple of louder explosions followed by some single shots every now and then. Salminen has made contact with the enemy, I am telling myself, and at the same moment there is movement on the bridge.

Hakala is prone behind one of his Mgs and he is looking questioningly at me :
- Shall I start?
- Not yet, we do not mind about a few pedestrians.

Soon a horse drawn field gun comes crashing.
- Let them come to the middle of the bridge and start with the horses. It will make a nice block for the enemy to untangle.

That is what happened, fortunately the beasts were killed at once, because the wailing of a wounded horse is terrible to listen to, I found that out in the Winter War at Pitkäranta where plenty of horses were wounded

Every time the enemy tried to clear the bridge our Mgs started chattering and I thought we had started fulfilling our mission with success. On the other hand it was obvious that this could not go on for much longer, the bridge was vital to the enemy. We needed reinforcements because a real swarm of hornets would be coming at us !

Why the heck does Salminen not contact us ? I fretted to Cpl. L., now the lake should be swarming with boats with reinforcements to us, and where did the F.O.O. Manage to place himself? He could be radioing the coordinates from here as if in training.

I was getting earnestly nervous. There was open field in front of our hill and we were getting rifle fire from the far side. The lads were digging in, brief SMG bursts coúld be heard in the South but I was not worried by them. I knew that Salminen and his men were equal to one Company in terrain. The standard tactical error was repeated: the subordinated commander did not contact his superior. We could not wait any more, the radio had to be brought here and I had to find out what was going on in the South from us.
- Corporal L.! Take a runner with you and find Salminen to see what is going on. Kiiski must be doing all right because we have not heard anything!

A harrowing wait began. The “neighbour” attempted to traverse the field to make us reveal our strength, but the hill was an ideal natural stronghold and three or four sniper kills was enough to dampen the enemy attack ardour.

Day had broken by now, my watch was showin 0630hrs and the day appeared to become a lovely summer day. However the trusted Cpl. L. had been on his little mission for more than one hour now. Whatever could be the kink in this matter? We were holding the promontory, the Engineers had landing boats, ferries and other such kind of floating devices. Troops should be coming over, light weapons, mortars, and so on in quantities, yet the only sounds reaching my ears were the brief intermittent dry bursts of SMG!

For the tenth time I visited the sentries on the South side asking them about the situation but nothing had happened. Opportunely Sgt. Kiiski's Runner met me and told that they were doing quite fine, the East end of the promontory is secured, he even gave me a tranparent map sketch.

But, the runner reported, there was something awry at our landing place: men had been seen swimming over to our side. No contact with Salminen. Kiiski had personally left to find out. Losses: one slightly wounded. The enemy had lost two double sentries.

Anyone who has been in war can guess my feelings.

I could no way abandon my excellent position that was the core of the entire mission, just to examine a secondary skirmish. Nothing serious could possibly be going on there, my experienced ears could interpret the noise of auto weapons fire and hand grenade bangs. I smoked in chain and walked back and forth. Another normal confusion that tend to occur in exceptional situations, I was assuring myself. As soon as Cpl.. L. returns I shall find I have seen ghosts at noon!

0830 hrs! No, this won't do! I must establish a contact with the Division in any manner!
I decided to hand over the hill to Aspirant Hakala and sort it out in my rear, but just then Cpl. L. arrives along the path , sweat-drenched and panting .

- We shall soon be in hot water, Lieut! Salminen's men have been dispersed, the Lieut himself has been killed by a hand grenade in the very beginning, the artillery Lieut misundserstood and swam across, his radio set has been shot up! Sgt. Kiiski is standing his ground in the extreme Eastern tip of the promontory, he is not in actuat trouble because the Vanyas are advancing very carefully in the tall reeds. But they are in our rear, obviously the only connection with Sgt Kiiski is through the North part of the promontory. Kiiski has saved a couple of landing boats, the neighbour has destroyed the rest of them!
- Why are we not getting reinforcements ?
- They must have misunderstood the situation having seen the men swimming over to them.
Surely the FOO Lieutenant shall inform that we are not in real trouble yet, I tried to convince myself and the others.
- That fellow is not going to tell anything like that, muttered one of Salminen's men who had joined Cpl. L.
- He has got a totally wrong idea avout the situation and the rattle of Hakala's MGs convinced him that we have shared the fate of Salminen's men!

That's it then. I secured the South side, sent a patrol to contact Sgt. Kiiski, then we were just sitting and waiting..

When accident enters by the door it is better to open the windows, too, is an old wisdom. Cpl. L., ignorant of he enemies in the edge of the fores, stood up too much and was hit in the leg and side with a burst of LMG fire. We bandaged him as well as we could, and then the patrol who had contacted Sgt. Kiiski returned.

We met Sarge's Runner in half-way and the fact is that if we want to keep contact in that direction we have to leave double quick, the patrol leader informed me.
The Vanya is still a little confused as to our whereabouts but more of them are coming all the time and we have not spotted any activity in our side in the mainland.

I made a quick estimate of our situation. We shall be trapped on the hilltop, but joining forces with Kiiski we shall have almost all of the 80 men left (our losses by the hour were but 2 KIA and 8 wounded). Maybe I could hold this small beachhead until nightfall, surely everything will be sorted out by then! The terrain on the South beach was favourable for my good SMG gunners, so I believed I would easily be able to resist even a large superior force.

I happened to glance at Cpl. L. A bullet had hit his hip, he would not be able to walk one step.

- Just leave me here, give me a SMG and a pistol, Lieut, he said me calmly.
- I am a goner.

No way! I could see that response in the eyes of every man. A couple of slim birches were cut down and fashioned into a stretcher using an greatcoat. I secured in every direction and we took off.

The distance, as bird flies, was just over one and a half kilometers, but for us it became a march through purgatory. The bush covered terrain appeared to be teeming with enemies, and although our flank patrols kept taking them out, they also attracted more enemies. Having reached the waterfront with few losses we had to creep in ditches to keep the tall reeds covering us from swaying and betraying us.

The Vanya commander made a cunning move: he placed a LMG at each ditch and let them fire blindly along them. Several of my men were wounded and Cpl. L. whom we had to drag along ungently due to circumstances on his miserable stretcher was again wounded, this time by a bullet in his side.

It was about 1500 as our force was again rallied at Sgt. Kiiski's “HQ”. All of us felt a boost of self confidence, being together again, and most of the wounded were light cases. I sent securing patrols as far ahead as possible, the lads were in their own element having a chance to fight in the usual manner. Two landing boats were in a safe spot and I thought that in case we are not contacted by nightfall we have here the means to estavblish contact. We shared our sparse proviant in a most christian manner, replaced the dressings of the wounded and we felt encouraged.

But a Runner dashed at me out of breath:
- Now those cursed ones are coming at us with tanks!

What a situation! Lake Ladoga behind us, one kilometer wide strait to cross to friendly side. Tanks were coming, even if they would be tankettes they would be impervious to SMG fire and hand grenades ! I and the Sarge went at once in the reeds to examine the ground.
- They do not dare to drive here, they are bound to get stuck, we consoled each other while scraping the mud with our boots, but neither of us believed it.

We fashioned satchel charges of hand grenades and desperately tried to dig in muddy spots because the enemy was advancing really warily, the tanks also were testing the ground. We had some respite but the enemy kept approaching

I remember how I had discussed with my colleagues about a stituation where the leader cannot do anything more. In peacetime the idea felt like impossoble, surely one can attempt to do something always, obfuscate the enemy, sacrifice men to save the rest, fight to the last man until you get support...

We were not going to get any help now! By now it would have been suicidal to try to cross the strailt with landing boats because there were enemies all over the beach except the small promontory that we were holding – for now.

Slowly but inexorably the terrible war machines approached, their machine guns sent bursts in every direction, and to top it all, some men reported that they could not swim! I briefly explained our situation to everyone although they understood it well enough already. The ones that could not swim would take the two landing boats and try to get in the cover of the island nearby while the rest of us would try to delay the enemy to the extreme, and only then jump in Lake Ladoga. Nobody even suggested surrendering!

We undressed, I went to Cpl. L. and said:
- This is it, can't help it, brother. Do you want a fag, I cannot do more for you?

I believe he was unconscious at times but he held the lit cig between his lips. I did not spot any signs of fear or knowing that he was about to start his final journey.

- How come did we not get any aid or fire support? He wondered till the very end.

The end was quick and miserable. As the boats set out the enemy was encouraged, probably fearing that we all migh slip from them. They stood up and charged but due to our SMG fire it cost them a lot of blood. They stopped and hesitated, thanks to that the boats – despite taking hits – managed to get in the cover of the island and by miracle over to the own side. The losses, however, were great

Men started slipping in Lake Ladoga, and shouting over the rumbling of tanks I hardly heard my own voice as I told Aspirant Hakala: -Off we go!

I do not know if any of you readers has “plinked” at a target floating in water. It is very easy to hit it because the splashes indicate whether you aimed too high or too low. It was Russians who plinked at my unlucky men on the shore of Ulaskanniemi on the 21 Aug. 1941

Hakala had been swimming next to me, and as I glanced in his direction I saw the poor man take a hit and sink. I swam, dived for a while, then swam and dived till my lungs were about to burst. It was certain that I would not be to make it as far as the half-way, so I turned back. Having hidden in the reeds I attempted crossing with a log but was detected and I had to return. Then I kept hiding under the floorboards of a barn, in the end half crazy with fever and hunger, until I met a Finnish patrol, the leader of which insisted that I was a desant.

To sum up, the death of one brave Second Lieutenant in the beginning of the operation resulted in the failure of this well planned and initially successful operation. The delay that our landing caused to the enemy must have caused losses to them, too, but our list of casualties is also long.

Of the eighty men, sissis, MG platoon, FOO team and Engineers, thirty managed to get on our side and ten were taken POW. Five of them were returned during the trench war phase. Many of the survivors were wounded.

I learned in a hard way how small details may cause a great failure in war. I want to respecfully thank the lads who did all they were able to do for their sacrifice.


(The five men “returned” during the trench war phase were actually recruited as spies by the enemy but they surrendered as soon as possible. The last enemies left Kilpolansaari the next day, 22.Aug. Lt. Katajainen was hiding, being ignorant of the situation. Tr.rem.)

(4141 words)

Lotvonen
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Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 21 Dec 2016 07:05

Here is a story of a Winter War patrol on the Carelian Isthmus. The patrol did not use skis for some reason.

Pvt. Sulo Patja
Patrol to past...

Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 02/1957

I well remember the patrol that we did in the frosts of the Winter War on 9 Jan 1940 on the far side of lake Suvanto. We were in rest, lodged in tents in Saapru. There were seven men led by LT. Kulo. Among them were Leevi Loponen, Väinö Korpelainen and me of the Machine Gun Company of Detached Battalion 6 (ErP.6). The others came from the rifle companies and I do not remember their names any more. We were given a sled ride to the vicarage that was used as accommodation for soldiers.

We prepared for the mission waiting for night, until at 2200 hrs we started crossing Lake Suvanto at Virkki village. A sentry guided our silent procession past the minefield and soon we found ourselves in the no-man's land on the ice. The crossing was successful in the dusk of the night. (Lake Suvanto is about 25km long but narrow, about 2 km wide at the crossing point. Tr.rem.) The enemy had tread a sentry path on top of the beach bank, judging by the footprints it had been frequented, our good fortune was that now we did not see anyone. We continued for a while our leader made a sign to stop, ordering me to stay behind for a few minutes to find out if anyone would be following us. Everything was however quiet and peaceful. Soon I caught up with the others on the path where snow was often above your knees.

I was totally familiar with the terrain, the ruins of my home village were in the vicinity. As we arrived at the road to Mönkö we spotted an enemy alert trigger wire by the roadside. We crossed it and the road, too. Next we proceeded through the forest to Petäjärvenkylä village. As we traversed another road an enemy staff car was driving in the direction of Hovinkylä. It would have been a great opportunity to do some mischief but we just had to duck in the snow. On our outward bound mission we could not reveal ourselves.

We had orders to proceed as far as the Rautu railway station. We heard continuous noise of tanks in Hovinkylä. We had to cross a brook by using a tree trunk that we found, yet I got my unidentical pair of felt boots wet. We went on along open field and then through some forest until we came to the hut of Mari Taskinen. No Russian sentry was seen although we found that there was a number of enemies in the house and there was a lot of their gear on the yard. Silently we went on, heading for the forest on Kalojankangas. At the boundary of Rautu parish we stopped for a rest, because dawn was breaking. Yet we soon went on in the dusk of the dawn and arrived in a dense spruce forest. Assuming that the spot was safe for a spot of rest we decided to make some tea and put on dry shirts. We were heating the tea water first with a Primus stove but it was in our opinion too slow. So we made a small open fire. When we had broken some spruce boughs to sit on it was quite pleasant to warm ourselves up. Firewood was found in the brushwood fence nearby.

Each of us served as sentry while the others were resting. In the course of the day we heard how an enemy train proceeded from Rautu to Kiviniemi and back again. Intense hum of automobiles could be heard in the direction of Mäkrä. The weather was sunny but cold.

We were scheduled to proceed at 1530 hrs. Everything was ready, we had pulled back the sentry and removed the early warning mine from the path. Then it happened. One of us had spotted some movement in the dense spruce forest and he beckoned to our flanks. Enemies! In the cover of the thick forest they had managed to approach as close as 30m from us. We counted them: nine men in two groups and a dog.

We got going as well as the enemy. We fanned out to a kind of line to defend ourselves as the enemy attempting to dash at us. Some of them were not firing, maybe they intended to take us alive.

But that did not happen. We had both long and short guns for close range fighting and we fended ourselves using them. However, soon we found that we were surrounded, in a “motti”. We realised this as we heard that the shouts of a couple of wounded enemies were responded behind us.

Now a piece of good advice was needed. We dashed at the spot where we had heard the shouts of the wounded men, and broke through there. Next we headed for the road, we had already dispatched with the dog.

Unfortunately Leevi Loponen was no more with us. He was killed by enemy bullet in the firefight. We had to leave his body behind in the “motti”, from which we had saved ourselves in the nick of the time, although it was hard for us. But Fate was to grant me a chance to do the last favour to him later.

Now we were in a hurry. Visiting Rautu was out of question, we could not use our incoming tracks. Enemy bullets were cracking in the branches as we were wading in the forest. Once we planned to make a firing line and try to fight back but we found it would be in vain and useless, since there appeared to be dozens of enemies and we were already one man less. Every now and then we feigned to form a firing line, and then went on.

When we were crossing a field and a road the pursuers fired at us intensively but without result. I suggested that we should swerve to the right, to the hard road that would conceal our tracks. The enemy had lost their dog, too. So we proceeded on the road from Lapinlahti to Mutala that fortunately was without traffic at the moment.

We zig-zagged attempting to cover our tracks making use of the familiar terrain we arrived at the far side of Loposenmäki hill where we decided to have a break. We had shaken off the enemy from our tracks. Some lads started snoring as soon as they had sat down on the snow. The pursuit had taxed our strength that much.

It was our original plan to recross the Suvanto at the same spot we had come from but now our plans had to be changed. We decided to cross at the very spot we found ourselves in. Passing Kuoppaniitty fields we saw how enemy batteries were shelling Finnish positions. We could see the gun crews in the light of the muzzle flames.

We estimated that it would be troublesome to cross the Suvanto at that spot. Our white camo suits were frozen, we had to rip them off because they were making a rustling noise as we were moving.

With 15m intervals we proceeded to the beach along a brushwood fence of the field. Abut 150 m from the beach two Russians were walking on their path in the direction of Ojaniemi. They must have supposed we were their own men because they did not shoot. We feared that there could be an enemy MG nest in the edge of the forest where the two men had come from. Our fear proved soon to be justified.
We had made it until half way to a spot where we were able to see a part ot Lapinlahti village and the ruins of my torched home as our leader ordered one of us to signal with a torch to our lines. The same moment a Mg opened up behind us from the edge of the forest, fortunately they did not hit us. We proceeded until friends began to fire at us. They could not know that it was our patrol that was returning although we had given light signals.

Two of us went closer to be able to shout the password, which ended the firing from our side. So thre we were wading in the thick snow for our own lines. We saw a man running from the shoreline in our directin shouting something that we did not hear well enough. When on the shoreline we learned that he had wanted to warn us about a minefield and now he was wondering why none of the mines went off. Obviously we happened to dodge all of them.

In a dugout of the shoreline we were treated with coffee while we were warming up ourselves. Soon a horse was sent from the Battalion HQ for us, now one less on the small hours of 11 January 1940
*
More than two years had passed, Carelia had been retaken and many of the inhabitants had returned to their abodes. I had been wounded at Taipale some time after the patrol and had returned home as a convalescent invalid with a stiff leg. Now I could try to find Leevi Loponen's body in the place where he had fallen. My father and brother took me with our horse to Kalaoja forest. The place was found as we followed the brushwood fence we had used for firewood. There were the bones of our brother-in-arms and also the remains of the dog that we had killed nearby.

I informed the next of kin of the dead man. Some days later 2nd Lt. Janne Loponen, Policeman Lampainen came with a truck of the civil defence boys and a coffin. It was raining hard as we went in silence in the forest. Lt. Loponen identified the dead man as his brother, so the coffin could be taken to the proper destination, the war graves of Sakkola parish.

(1664 words)

Lotvonen
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Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Lotvonen » 21 Dec 2016 07:09

Here is the story of a high ranking officer ambushed by Red Army stragglers in the Carelian Isthmus in 1941

Bertil Heinrichs (Jaeger Colonel, 1897 – 1992, photo in wikipedia)
Saved from the threshold of death
Kansa Taisteli, vol. 04, 1958

The great battle in Sommee and Porlampi had ended. Three Russian divisions, a total of 50 000 men, had been partly destroyed and partly scattered. The forests to the South of the battleground were full of enemy units that tried to escape the advancing Finnish troops along the flanks of roads. Despite the fact that the enemy outifts were missing their baggage train, food and ammunition, they were a real threat to the road traffic, being dependent on whatever material they managed to obtain by attacking single men or smaller oufits. Although all available troops were engaged in systematic search for these enemy stragglers and although daily hundreds were taken prisoner, small Russian outfits were encountered even several weeks after Finns had occupied the area.

My regiment JR24 had after battles continued their advance to the South and on 4 September 1941 we were approaching Summa village. 0730 hrs I, Maj. Hallbäck and Capt. Notz got in the staff car driven by Sgt. Olsson, my driver, and we left our previous lodgings. Taking into account the risk in the recently occupied terrain we had equipped ourselves not only with our personal pistols but also a SMG, an autoloading rifle and six hand grenades which were an accessory of the car. To avoid unpleasant surprises we followed a lorry loaded with armed men in road patrol duty.

We proceeded in schedule and were approaching Summa village on a lone forest road from West. It had been raining lightly all night, the road had become quite soft and difficult to drive on. At one spot the rainwater had swept off an underpass and dug a deep rut in the roadbank. The lorry passed the spot without prolems but our Hudson had to try several times without success. In the meanwhile the lorry vanished behind the next bend of the road.

Hardly had we passed the damaged spot of the road as there was intense SMG fire just next to us. Hits broke the windscreen of the car. A bullet hit Maj.Hallbäck in the left brow splitting the skin and partly smashing his skull. Binded by flowing blood and damage he
fumbled around without being able to see anything. Intense shooting went on without respite. Either the Russians had destroyed the undérpass or else they had skillfully selected the spot for the ambush. In the deep mud we had no chance to escape using the car. The only way to save ourselves was to seek cover in the terrain. Our car was a four-door Hudson. The moment the car stopped we jumped out, each of us from his own door.

In the passing I managed to get hold of the SMG and Sgt.Olsson grabbed the autoloading rifle. Unfortunately we did not have time to take the hand grenades that were hanging behind the front seats.
The shots from the right in relation to our route were fired from a distance of a few meters only whereas the fire from the oppositge side of the road were fired from several dozens of meters. Instinctively we tried to get to the left side of the road. Dragging the half unconscious and fully blinded Maj.Hallbäck we managed to throw ourselves in an old shell hole of the Winter War. Without this hole our chances of surviving would have been quite nonexistent.

Next we found that Capt. Notz was not with us. He had taken a hit in his stomach at the moment he jumped out of the car, and was now lying in the ditch. With surprising tenacity he managed to crawl towards our hole, but we had to help him during the last few meters.

Our situation was truly difficult. Both wounded were unable to participate in fighting and most of all in need of quick help, which we, however, were not able to provide. Sgt. Olsson and the undersigned were the two who had to repel the enemy attacks. Later the enemy leader, a Lieutenant, was taken prisoner and he admitted that his outfit comprised a platoon of about 20 men.

At the moment we were relatively safe but how long would we be able to resist the attack and above all, when would our limited ammunition be consumed and we would have the last cartridge left? I had spent a number of cartridges while helping Capt. Notz in our hole with the fire of my SMG. The Russians were encroaching ever closer as we tried to economise our ammunition. Some attackers had already paid with their lives for their audacity but the enemy superiority was far too great for us to be able to resist it for any longer time. The nearest attackers were but a few dozen meters from us.

Time was crawling on slowly and the condition of the wounded kept getting worse by the moment. The attack had happened one hour ago, but to us it was like eternity. This could not go on. The moment as the last bullet would have to be fired was approaching inexorably, and then it would be the end. Too well we knew the urgent situation of the attackers to expect any quarter.

I decided to break out to find help. Better to get killed in action than get killed once out of ammunition! Hoping that there were enough ammo in the magazine of my SMG for breakthrough I swept with the fire of my weapon at the closest attackers and the moment they ducked to avoid bullets I dashed over the rim of the shell hole to a recess in the terrain, also covered by a small clump of bushes

My heart was racing wildly and cold sweat broke on my forehead. Would the Russians attack, would it end my attempt and would Olsson be able to repel the attackers until I would reach the village of Summa nearby where some of our troops were placed and summon help?

Seconds turned into minutes and nothing special happened. I started crawling carefully one meter at a time in the bushes to penetrate the enemy line.

I was successful. When deep enough among the trees I abandoned care and started running as fast as I could for Summa village to seek help that should not be arriving too late.

I did not have to run far, maybe one kilometer, before finding sappers repairing the road. They followed me at top speed to the recent battleground. It was a matter of minutes, that is why we in no way tried to conceal our arrival, rather the contrary, to make our men and the enemies to notice that help was coming.

As we reached Olsson and the wounded the Russians vanished in the forest at once. They were either eliminated or taken prisoner the next day. As we approached the shell hole, Maj. Hallbäck, although severely wounded, stood up and thanked Lord for the aid that he had no more considered possible and that would in his opinion been too late after five more minutes.

The wounded were immediately taken to a dressing station and then to a field hospital.

Next evening I received a sad message. Capt. Notz had succumbed to his wounds and Maj. Hallbäck who had lost his eyesight was hovering between survival and death. He did survive after long treatment and recovered his vision, too, but not his health. Nowadays he is residing as the “village elder” in a “brothers-of-arms village” near Porvoo, the birthplace of poet Runeberg.

Later during the war the death has been stalking me several times and nerve wracking incidents have taken place in a continuous sequence but this case in Summa on 4 Sept 1941 shall remain in my memory – if I shall return home – as an embrace by Death, even half a step over the threshold of the Eternity.

( Written at Svir 30. July 1942)

Lotvonen
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Posts: 752
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories - A Winter War Christmas story

Post by Lotvonen » 24 Dec 2016 10:54

Martti Haapamäki
Christmas at Taipale in the Winter War

Journal “Kansa taisteli”, vol 1, 1958

Christmas eve 1939. Road through Vilakkala. Three Platoon Leaders with their Runners are marching from the front line where we had been for a week, fighting hard every day. Our men had already marched in the rear, our task had been to guide the men who took over our old dugouts and the Kirvesmäki sector.

Our company, 6/JR21, was posted to guard the lake Suvanto beach in Volossula, to recuperate and celebrate Christmas after hard fighting and heavy losses. It was a grey, cloudy day. We marched on in a file with tired steps without talking. Bomb craters could be seen on both sides or the road. The houses of the beautiful village of Vilakkala were abandoned, some smashed up by shellfire. Wind had swept thin December snow on the entrance steps and in from broken open windows and doors. If the war had not broken out, how different would the village have been! The villagers would be preparing to celebrate Christmas. Now there is but darkness in the empty and abandoned village in the dusk of the Christmas Eve.

There is a patch of forest behind the fields where we find the tents of our Company. The tents are cold because it is forbidden to make fire in the stoves in daytime. However the Christmas mood is there, there is a pile of present packages in every tent and more is delivered all the time. Christmas cards and letters are being read. Soon we, too, have immersed ourselves in our presents and other greetings from home in candlelight.

At nightfall we have to pack up and march to Volossula. We have taken some Christmas packages with us .

Again we are on the road. The sparse file of men in snow camo overalls and horse-drawn sleds loaded with ammunition are proceeding slowly. The password given to us is “Kannas – kestää”. Moon has risen, providing soft light in the snowy forest. In one crossroads we receive replacements: one officer and thirty men join our Platoons. We cannot see nor recognize them in the dark forest. The reinforced Platoons are now posted in the strongholds along the Suvanto shore. My Platoon reaches their destination. In a shallow covered MG nest I meet an officer.
This is a calm place to spend your Christmas. We have not seen any action so far here, not even enemy patrols. We would have liked to stay here for Christmas, too, the Second Lieutenant of the Metsäpirtti Company tells us.

- Rest is just what we need since we have not had a chance to sleep for a long time, I am thinking to myself. We part, wishing merry Christmas.

I lodge my men in three small nondescript dugouts, too small to have place for all of my men. I have to send one Squad to a large dugout where another Platoon is lodging. I am staying in the stronghold with three Squads. I send an outpost on the ice. I climb on a hillock to look at my stronghold. Moon has set, dense fog and darkness covers everything. Yet I am able to see the wide open fields on both sides of the small forest where my stronghold is, and the open ice of Suvanto lake in front of me. To the right there is Päheikköniemi, a promontory stretching deeper in the lake, dimly visible, where one of our Platoons is.

I return to my lodgings – a covered MG nest. A sort of stove has been built of stones and there is a tea kettle on the embers, the men are enjoying their Christmas tea. In the dim candlelight I can see their bent shapes, the MG on its high tripod and the closed embrasure. I get a place to lie down in the rear corner. But hardly have I settled down as one of my men appears at the door and alerts me. There is a fire visible on the opposite side of the Suvanto. A couple of houses seem to have caught fire. Red flames climb to the foggy sky and we can hear the sound of burning wood. Otherwise it is totally silent. I am walking hither and thither, watching, but there is no movement nor any sounds. The fire need not signify anything, but it is a bit odd since it happens on this totally quiet stretch of front. Something may be brewing. For the sake of safety I send men to replenish our ammunition store. Then I return to my lodgings, lie down and ask for wake up no later than 0900 hrs. Then, staying awake for a while, I read the Christman Psalm in the psalm book that I found in my Christmas packet in the light of a little candle until I fall asleep.

I wake up and glance at my watch: 0400 hrs. However, I wake up one of my Runners, then we get out. We make a tour of sentry posts and dugouts. Nothing special. We again approach the coastline and keep a lookout at the fog covered ice of Lake Suvanto.
Suddenly the Runner remarks:
- Is there some movement on the ice, what do you think ?
- Where ?
- There, right in the middle of the lake, there appear to be men in snowsuits in a line.

However hard I try to watch I cannot see anything in the darkness. Then one of my Corporals comes running and reports the same fact. Soon I, too, can see dense lines of men all over the ice. Due to darkness and fog they are hard to detect and observe. The enemy is attacking and attempting to surprise us !

My runner leaves to inform the Company commander at once, then I alert my men. Every man to the positions ! The replacements shall get their baptism of fire soonest. I am trying to man the wide stronghold with my few men as well as I can. I have just three Squads and three auto weapons: two LMGs and one SMG, plus the MG of the Metsäpirtti men. I have to leave the wide fields on our flanks unoccupied by necessity.

To our left the enemy appears to approach the coastline marching in closed formation. In front of us the one kilometer wide Suvanto is full of approaching enemies.

Now the SMG of our sentry buzzes, we have engaged the enemy. The MG, placed higher up from the coastline, is fetched down because it cannot fire from its nest due to darkness. The MG fires just a few bursts at the enemy lines to our left, that disperse on the ice. Immediately an enemy AT gun opens fire. Its shells burst on the frost hardened shore bank near the MG, we pull it back from its temporary position. Immediately a shell lands right on that spot. The MG and its crew were saved in the nick of the time.

Then I am reported that one of our LMGs and our only SMG are jammed. Only one LMG remains. The enemy hordes are about to reach the shoreline. At the very moment a red flare is fired in the forest behnd us and bullets start whining about us. We take a glance in our rear, the muzzle flame of a LMG is visible among the pine trees. We have to admit that there are enemies in our rear. They have been able to get there in the cover of darkness, but now we have to ignore them. A far greater danger is threatening us from the ice.

Our only LMG is placed in a ditch on the coastline where it can fire at the enemy attempting to get a bridgehead. Due to darkness and fog its task is very difficult , and the very first burst reveals its position. The AT gun starts harassing it, and soon it is hit. The LMG is broken, the gunner is wounded and his assistant killed. Our situation seems to be quite bad.

But we manage to fix the other LMG and the SMG, too. I place the LMG on our left wing in a sheltered position to fire to the left. The SMG I give to a quiet man from Multia to continue the duty of the silenced LMG. His task is to shoot down as many of the enemies trying to reach the shoreline as he can. Our fate may depend on his abilities.
- Särkivuori, do you understand what is your task ?
- Yes, - he says with emphasis, watching intensively the shoreline in the darkness

He does fulfill his duty. Not a single enemy is able to get ashore on his shooting sector. As soon as he detects an attempt his SMG buzzes.

Yet our situation is uncertain. It is still dark, and the lake ice is full of enemies. They may still succeed in creating a beachhead. Then we hear MG rattling in Päheikköniemi, another one joins it: they are our weapons. They have sheltered positions in the promontory and they can give flanking fire.

Slowly dawn approaches. The situation has turned in a better direction. The MG fire forces the enemy to stop and drop on the ice. The MGs are firing one belt after another at the mass of enemies. Their rattle is favourite music to our ears in the breaking dawn. At daylight we can state what our situation is. The enemy attach has been stopped, hundreds of them are prone on the ice. The nearest ones are on the shoreline, but there they remained. Some try to retreat but any movement they pay with their lives. My men fire accurately, setting a stop to all enemy activity. Enemy shelling has disturbed us all morning and it goes on all day. Our artillery drops some shells on the ice and water rises from the holes among the enemies prone on the ice

As the dawn breaks I see about twenty men in white running from the forest behind us for the shoreline. “Finally we are getting some aid” I am thinking – but Särkivuori's SMG buzzes and the men are keeling over on the field! What's this supposed to mean ? Surprised, I run there as the last man drops down. They are enemies, probably the patrol that slipped behind us in the night. Soon we check the dead Red Army men, there is one Captain and one Second Lieutenant among them. We get a nice stash of war booty, and can see that the enemy has sent some of their best troops against us.

I return to the gun nest in the tip of the forest, watching the view . Sun has risen, a December sun, golden yellow. The snow covered shoreline of lake Suvanto is shining in its shine. It is not until now that I remember it is Christmas morning: ” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” We do not feel like it. In front of us there is a crowd of hundreds of beaten men, some dead, others wounded, freezing in the biting frost. My Platoon has ten casualties .

While contemplating the craziness of the world reserves arrive to help us, but they have nothing to do here, they can return. We have beaten back the attack and stabilized the situation. The Christmas day passes and turns into night.

As darkness has shrouded the battlefield a transport column arrives to haul off the war booty which fills several sleighs. My men can return to their bad dugouts where they find Christmas food. Indeed, there is a ham on the table, sweets and frozen apples. We sit down quietly and try to enjoy our Christmas. But our appetite is missing and festive feeling also. Tooo many of us are missing. One man with mangled legs is still prone in a cold corner of the dugout. We have covered him with our overcoats to keep him from getting cold until the paramedics evacuate him.

At midnight we are replaced in our stronghold and we return to our tent camp. Again we trudge through darkness, each Platoon in a sparse file, loads of war booty in the rear. Our steps are heavy but the password we were given has been proven: Kannas-kestää (“Carelian isthmus shall hold”). In spite of allwe are prooud of having done our duty once again. The attack over lake Suvanto has been repelled.

(2095 words)

Lotvonen
Member
Posts: 752
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories - Bicycle Battalion in 1941

Post by Lotvonen » 25 Dec 2016 07:22

The author was a Platoon leader in Jaeger Battalion JP3 in 1941

KT 03/58
Olavi M. Venesoja

Morning wash in river Svir
(…)
The battles between Korpiselkä and Salmi, although violent successful, had consumed the forces to the extent that replacments were called for. Quite a number of officers were loaded in lorries in Tuupovaara and shipped at a fast rate near Salmi which was still being fought for. We were ordered to disembark in a place where fighting had been going on some hours earlier.

Before reporting in the HQ of JP 3 there was some time for sight-seeing the battleground on the sides of the road. Our dead and wounded had already been evacuated, but pock-marked yellow-faced enemy dead, identified as “Kirghiz” by someone, were still lying in great numbers on the fields. A bit farther off we saw that a largish group of men were busy working. Approaching them we found that it was POWs digging a mass grave for their pals. The rate of work was slow and unwilling, and their countenance implied that they were thinking that they were digging their own graves. Enemy propaganda may have been effective. Another group of POWs was carrying the dead closer, and finally as the grave had been dug deep enough they, with apathetic look, began in fact to dump the dead in it in an indifferent manner. The Finnish officer in charge of the operation tried to make the procedure more appropriate but he had a hard time in effecting it.

The front reporters, too, were also busy at the graveside.

The first impressions of the Continuation War were not very reassuring for a man whose experience of the Winter War was quite limited.

Next we reported in the HQ of the JP, we were assigned first to Battalions and then to Companies. The undersigned was ordered to report in the command post of 1/JP3 on 17 June 1941. The Company Commander was Lt. Rintala who was killed in Poventsa on Christmas eve. I was told to contact Staff Sgt Kuronen to complete my equipment. I for one remember that the Sarge was about to overload me with hand grenades. The importance of hand grenades was emphasized, and I should have filled all my pockets and pouches with them. The Sarge seemed to be observing what kind of effect his “sermon” had made on this young officer. The message did go home all right but it was not to be shown to the Sarge. So I gave back some of the grenades, being unable to carry more, and expressed my wish to get more once the ones I had would have been thrown.

Then I reported to the Leader of 1st Platoon, Lt. Stenberg. I found that my position was to be his second-in-command. This relieved my initial tension, because it would be fine to be an “apprentice” to a man who had been at it from the very beginning. I “signed” soon and it was found to be a “multi-year “contract.

The 1st Coy. was just having a brief break at the side of the road. All their gear was set up in a manner to imply a quick start when ordered. The Jaegers seemed to be fast asleep, being obviously tired after several days of fighting. The wait was not long before the orders to proceed were received. The patch of forest was stirred up and the columns moved on in the usual manner on their bikes. A new replacement was not given any special attention.

The reinforced 1st Coy. Had received orders to make a detour to Miinala village, SE of Salmi, and destroy the escaping enemy troops. We managed to penetrate in the enemy rear unnoticed. However we did not manage to make contact with the Battalion HQ to get an update of the current situation.

The 1st Coy. Launced their attack to squeeze the enemy to a smaller area. The I Platoon was placed on the left wing. Our advance was peaceful up to the Miinala cemetry. There we took fire and we had to stop and take positions. The undersigned fired his first Continuation War shots between the crosses on the cemetry. An appropriate place to start one's war, I think!

2nd Lt. Stenberg was a warrior who knew his duty as did the Jaegers who had been in their Military Service as the war had started. Totally disregarding the enemy Lt. Stenberg ordered his men to charge and the enemy had to yield. Without stopping they charged the bridge of Miinalanjoki river. Running while bullets were whining all about them they reached the far bank of the river, on which they returned the enemy fire. This is what the already famed Jaegers were like, I thought to myself. I had to adapt myself to their style, a task in itself. This I am telling to describe the fighting spirit that spurred the Jaegers at
that period and without which the success in battles of Os.Lagus would not have been possible.

The attack at Miinala could not be continued because the rest of the Coy. Met with superior resistance, and we attempted to destroy the enemies trying to get out of the “motti”. Night fell , however, and darkness made the life in the rear danger-filled.

Since we were not informed of the general situation, there were several cases when our Coy. Was saved from getting in even deeper trouble by poor enemy leadership.

In the darkness of the night a platoon sized oufit, marching in apparent closed order, headed for the position of Sgt. Puputti's Platoon. Machine guns and Jaegers were in the fighting line and ready but everybody was for some reason thinking that friends were coming. At a distance of some twenty meters the outfit was identified and a melee with shouting and noise ensued. Our men kept shouting “Puputti” to tell friend from foe, but the enemy, too, started shouting “pupu, pupu” to create disorder and to be able to break through. Both sides took losses and Sgt. Puputti was wounded. Some of the enemies managed to escape due to the darkness.

At dawn the tension just increased. We spotted several lorries coming in our direction from Salmi. The leader of the MG Platoon, 2nd Lt Tikansalo quickly placed his guns in position and we were anxiously waiting what would happen. The four lorries approached, apparently ignorant of us, there were plenty of “people” seen on board. The Jaegers behind the Mgs were just waiting for permission to push the trigger. The distance to the lorries was no more than 40 to 50m as the Mgs “started their music”. Both the lorries and the passengers got a warm reception. The lorries went wobbling on for a while, but soon the entire “caravan” stopped and loud wailing emerged from their direction. The able-bodied enemies jumped in the ditch and returned fire. Furious duels across the road were fought for a moment, until fighting died down and we were able to check what kind of “congregation” we had had against us. The disorder in the lorries was tremendous as one could expect. Killed enemies were lying in most various positions and to our amazement almost everyone was wearing an officer belt, including a couple of females among them. We deduced that this must have been a part of some kind of HQ whose journey was cut short. We shared the chocolate we found and anyone who needed a better belt may have re-equipped himself.

The “motti” in Salmi was cleared in due time and we were assigned to new duties.

We fought on toward Rajakontu. Crossing the border would have been unnoticed unless the houses would have been grey and in odd building style. We arrived in Vitele and after hard battle at Tuulosjoki river on 24 July 1944. There we made a longer stop due to the general situation of the offensive in Ladogan Carelia.

Stationary war at Tuulosjoki went on until 4 September 1941. During it the1st Coy. Had to participate in the extremely intense and bloody motti battle at Säntämäki hill on 7 to 8 August 1941. Infantry, too, participated in the fighting, Maj. Tiirikkala's battalion. 1st Coy. Was at the time commanded by Lt. Seseman while Lt. Rintala had fallen ill. Initially we did not have any idea that we would be getting in real trouble. Briefing his Platoon Leaders on 7 Aug forenoon at 10hrs Lt. Seseman explained the situation: some scattered enemy units had managed to sneak between the artillery positions and our first line, the terrain would quickly be swept. He also instructed our Sarge to prepare our meal for 1200 hrs immediately after the sweep. The Lieut also mentioned that infantry was already busy sweeping and for that reason we should be careful not to shoot at friends and our mission may be just to check a cleared situation.

But, what was to happen in reality? We set off immediately after briefing. Everything went peacefully, and our line advanced rapidly. We did not for a long time spot neither friend or foe.

Finally we heard a shot on our left wing, soon a MG began to chatter and soon our Coy. Was in battle line and engaged in firefight.

We could see at once that we did not have a small band of enemy stragglers against us but strong enemy outfit, armed with Mgs, that had dug in. We charged at once and initially we seemed to make good progress. The Jaegers appeared to be again in their own element. Then we began to receive bad casualty reports, which wiped the smiles off everyone's faces.

2nd Lt Hynynen was the first one to be mortally wounded, our Platoon Commander Stenberg shared his fate. I took over his Platoon but not for long: Platoon Commander Ssgt Koivula came to me and told me that I was the only surviving officer of our Company. Lt. Seseman, too, had been mortally wounded. More was to come: the MG platoon leader 2nd Lt. Salonen shared the fate of his fellow officers and many a brave Jaeger.

The Battalion Commander Capt. Komonen (Capt Hynninen was missing) arrived to us and ordered us to outflank the enemy on our right wing over a bog to get the enemy in a “motti”. We did manage to create a “motti” and established contact with Maj. Tiirikkala's Battalion before nightfall. We had also obtained a mortar for our disposal and we started softening the enemy up. The enemy was pushed into an ever tighter encirclemen with repeated attacks not lacking harshness. Hand grenades and battle cries were not spared. Finally the enemy was so hard pressed that they started desperate attempts to break out of their encirclement. “Uraa!, Uraa!” was reverberating in the darkening forest until the shouts died down finally ten to fifteen meters from our positions. Piles of bodies appeared to be accumulating at places.

We did not get away with it without casualties. Men were lost mainly by enemy hand grenades which were raining on us during each enemy charge. Some hand to hand fighting ensued: sheath knives, bayonets and other cold weapons were used. It was difficult to maintain the contact with each other, some enemies may have slipped through our line as it was ominously yielding due to losses.

At dawn we finished off the “motti” with a frontal charge. The outfit following us had coundte hundreds of kiiled enemies on the battlefield. The situation should have been cleared in every respect, yet some enemies feigning dead caused us the loss of several men.

Maj. Tiirikkala gave me orders to rally the Coy. And take it to Manssila where our camp was. Our spirits were not high due to our casualties. Morose Jaegers rode their bikes to the camp where the food definitely was well cooked, and their appetite could not have been better.

After our losses had been reinforced and we had enjoyed a “front show” by Matti Jurva (the most popular male singer of the period, tr.rem.), JP 3 was ready for further action that was to be plentiful.

The offensive from Tuulosjoki river to Svir was to be launched. The reveille on 4 Sept 1941 was early but propably most of us had been shaken awake by the tremendous rumble heard in our camp. Our artillery had started their multi-hour fire, unprecedented by Finnish standards. We could not tell single shots from the general din as the artillery fire was raging at full rate. The skyline was red as we were having our morning tea, then we rode to the takeoff area to wait.

The artillery comprised about 150 pieces and the shell consumption was tremendous, 400 to 500 thousand shells. The enemy resistance was tougher than expected and the infantry that was to effect the breakthrough had to fight hard. We had to spend the day and the next night waiting for the right moment

Detachment Lagus started on early 5 Sept. At the crossing of Tuulosjoki we could see the effects of our artillery fire. The earth had been widely ploughed over. Advancing on the road next to Tuulosjoki river we met a remarkably large group of POWs whose countenance and appearance showed that they had been fighting hard.

A long bike march for Aunuksenkaupunki town followed. We saw the debris of battles that the breakthrough troops had fought: abandoned field guns, tanks, even a couple of our tanks were lying on the side of the road.

We reached Aunuksenjoki river, all the bridges had been destroyed. Fortunately there was a logjam filling the river, and we crossed over carrying our bikes stepping on the logs. Gen. Lagus was watching our crossing whereby some of us got their trousers wet, others even more. Once on the opposite shore our advance continued without pause. Darkness fell and our march just went on. We set white pieces of paper or handkerchiefs on our backs to be better able to follow the man ahead of us. Yet at times someone stumbled in the ditch and got up swearing, then hurrying to catch up with the rest of us not to be left behind. Once we found ourselves in the yard of a house before we admitted that we had strayed from the right road. At places the houses on the sides of the roads were burning which made it easier for us to find our way.

We met cobblestone road and estimated that we should soon arrive at Aunus town. There were houses, in a more dense cluster, but we did not believe this would constitute a town. The leading men stopped and a break was ordered, and in time, too, because we had ridden our bikes for dozens of kilometers without rest at a best possible speed taking the darkness in account. It was raining hard, and we sought shelter under the eaves of houses. Suddenly a window was opened on the house which provided me shelter, and an elderly woman stuck out her head and greeted me in Carelian dialect . We asked the “granny”what this place was, and we were told “ well, you find yourselves in Aunus town”.

Later we found out that Battle Group Hlkkinen had taken the town. The town surprised us by its “grandness” because we had heard “Tiltu” (=Soviet propaganda radio shows) describe it in totally different terms. We had to believe that we found ourselves in a town. Some men had found the church, too. They were sorry for not finding the wine cellar.

We enquired the granny where the soldiers were. “Oh, they left yesterday that way” she said beckoning with her arm. “There is not one single soldier in the town”. We asked why she had stayed even though she knew that Finns were coming?

“Yes, they told everyone to leave but I did not. I am old already, I am not afraid of Finns, my husband was born in Finland, in Joutseno.” Someone asked her for water to drink and she served several scoopfuls after she was made to swear that the water was not poisoned. The granny was much distressed by this show of mistrust.

Again we were ordered to get going, this time for Mäkriä. We were there in the morning while it was still dark. Immediately a battle broke out, a heavy one. The enemy was supported by heavy mortars among other weapons. In co-operation with our tanks the enemy resistance was broken. Again 1st Coy. Suffered considerable losses , among them two young Second Lieutenants were killed in their first battle: Manninen and Mahlanen.

After the battle of Mäkriä we did not get any respite because 1st Coy. Received a sort of historical order to follow Battle Group Häkkinen, and in the crossroads at Kargeosero we were to take the road to the right for Mylly at Svir river. This order did not fail to startle even the most tired Jaegers. Something out of ordinary was to happen. The strengthened 1st Coy. Was not involved in any considerable fighting until at the end of the journed, and then it was pursuing small groups of enemy stragglers.

Just before reaching the Svir two funny incidents happened, describing how totally the enemy was surprised by our fast advance after the breakthrough at Tuulosjoki. When we were riding down a forest road, almost as in training during peacetime, a handsome saddle horse ridden by an eminent looking officer came to our way. As the first men of our column came to him the officer dropped his jaw and totally lost he rode past the entire I Platoon. The II Platoon stopped and the men grabbed the horse by the bridle and told the officer to dismount. Obviously the officer in his morning ride was serving in the nearby airfield. BTW aircraft took off at the last possible moment as we were too eager to reach the Svir to think of the eventual existence of an airfield and aircraft. We found this out not until the planes were rumbling low in the air.

A quick look at the lodgings (dugouts) of the airfield personnell proved that either the tidiness had been neglected or the inhabitants had extremely urgently saved their skins, maybe both factors contributed.

Were these dugouts used as family lodgings? We could not find that out, but knickers and other feminine items implied that. Their reveille had been far too early and in the hurry they may have forgotten to put on some pieces of clothing. The existence of cosmetics in great quantity and variations implied to female presence, although the officer we had met had smelt good, too.

We quit short the inspection of the enemy lodgings, finding no enemies, and we were eager to reach the Svir.

Having proceeded but a few kilometers we met a private on foot, carrying a basket covered with a piece of fabric. The same show as with the officer was now repeated: The man was dumbstruck and did not even try to flee. The leading Squad did not let him get any further, but they peeked under the fabric covering the basket. It was found that the basket was full of hot pastries. They were sent to the airfield personnel for their morning tea but since the original recipients had run and the Jaegers did not despise delicacies, the pastries were soon gone, while the nonplussed messenger was watching. Someone commented that at times it pays to be in the lead.

Then we found ourselves in the terrain of Mylly. We met some enemies who seemed to be in a hurry to leave, and we egged them on with our weapons.

On 7 September 1941 we found the Svir ahead of us, the famous river. Here it was about 400m wide, fast-flowing. Enemies were neither seen nor heard. After taking precautions we descended to the river beach and washed off the sweat and tiredness of our journey in a totally peaceful manner. Not a soul was visible on the far side. Someone with a keen eyesight spotted a bunker embrasure over there, so the enemy had taken some precautions due to our breakthrough at Tuulos

We had arrived in a way “ahead of schedule” . My Runners Oinonen and Hatara soon made surrogate caffee, so we celebrated the occasion with beverage made in the flowing water of the Svir. I must admit that there was a kind of Sunday atmosphere then. One could see it also in the faces of the battle hardened Jaegers as they were watching the quiet flowing Svir. We spent the rest of the day setting up our camp, and we patrolled along the riverside during the night. I led one patrol and I remember the full moon over the Svir, in total peace and calm. It was a perfect “two-person weather” that made many of us melancholic in mind.

The next day nothing worth mentioning happened on either side of the river, but the night was restless. There was no moonlight, dark autumn night reigned instead. Something unusual was going on in our sector. We heard neighing and other familiar cattle noises at the river beach. We gave a few mortar strikes in the direction of the sounds and judging by the noise the bombs hit home. The situation calmed down by the by but it was not until at daybreak that we found out what actually had been going on. A big herd of pigs and sheep, some cows and horses among them, was on pasture there. A mortar bomb had hit a horse cart, the horse had been killed between its shafts. Some other animals had been hit, too, but no enemies were seen, neither dead or alive. The enemy had intended to ferry the cattle over the Svir in the night but also this time their schedule did not fit in ours and the shipping attempt failed. We were busy herding the animals, having received orders to move them from the riverside. We did not completely succeed because in the afternoon we spotted movement on the far side of the river and some shots were fired. It was no more safe to go to the river beach.

We had to hurry up and entrench ourselves some distance from the shore. The river bank provided cover and it was easy to dig the sandy soil. We had returned to the normal order of things, having to take into account the enemy in everything we did. We felt this was more natural than walking about in the front line in a totally peaceful manner.

It was by order forbidden to butcher cattle, even pigs, with the apparent intent to divide them more equally somewhere in the rear. We did not follow the order strictly, because who would let a nice pork steak pass by as your stomach was grumbling and your mouth was watering. Since death sentence was not to be expected the truth is that there was pork boiling in many a field kettle that day. It was a pity that some of us had been too long deprived of strong food or did not pay heed to do well their cookings. The result was bad stomach cramps, making some men roll on the ground in pain.

We were kept busy by other activities, too, having to carry out some securing and swwwping missions, suffering some casualties in process. In one skirmish Staff Sgt. Unnasjärvi was killed, I knew him as an exemplary soldier. He was trusted and he had created such a spirit in his Platoon that it radiated on other platoons, too. His words before the battle of Ruotsinkylä became a saying in the Company: “ work is equal to celebration”. His death left a gaping hole in the ranks of the 1st Coy.

13 September 1941 we handed over the front to the Germans (163. Infanterie-Division, Engelbrecht-division) and our infantry. JP3 marched on roads rendered to poor condition by autumn rains and heavy traffic via Kuittinen and Kuujärvi to Vaaseni where we camped to rest and recuperate and to wait for further orders.

(...)

Lotvonen
Member
Posts: 752
Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
Location: Finland

Re: Personal Finnish War Stories - Germans and Finns

Post by Lotvonen » 26 Dec 2016 06:47

Arrela, V (Sr.
Finnish-German dictionary in glass covers

Journal “Kansa Taisteli” vol.2, 1958
(...)

As early as autumn 1940 in the days of the interim peace the first German green uniforms were seen in Lapland. “Baubattalions” had arrived to set up prefabricated houses along the sides of the road to Petsamo but mostly in Rovaniemi at such a rate that a joke claimed it is not advisable for a bald man to tip one´s cap because Germans set up a barrack at any bare spot.

Fraternization with the future brothers in arms started with the help of “nix-konjak” (brandy). The first German canteen was set up on the Border Guard camp, where also a soldier in gray uniform could be generously relieved of any drought in his throat.

A pair of new friends were walking supporting each other, one in green and the other one in gray tunic. The German was happy by nature and the Finn was spirited by German brandy. No language skills were required. A Finn understood at once what the German expression “sehr gut” meant: he told everyone that these Hitler's lads were good men as they immediately found him to be their cousin (=”serkku” in Finnish)

That was the beginning of friendship. German discipline and behaviour were surprising. No drunken and loud men were seen. Soon the Finns found out why as the German field gendarme street patrols, tough and strict, were encountred.

In June 1941 the clouds of war were darkening and the storm was expected to break out.
We were not alone anymore. In Ylikylä school the mobilization orders of the arriving reservists were checked and they were assigned their respective tasks. I spotted men whom I had met in the Winter War. Ww were in a hurry, we had to get to the national border as soon as possible.

Our Regiment embarked a train in Rovaniemi railway station. We were lacking equipment and only a German station crew had loading ramps. Our first contact was with them. We communicated in poor German learned in school mixed with Swedish and English we made ourselves understood and were allowed to loan the loading ramps. The embarkment was completed in a record rate. Our train was soon steaming for Kemijärvi.

The Kemijärvi railhead was totally prepared war. Germans covered our disembarkment although there was no air activities. From the station we headed for the ferry to cross lake Kemijärvi as the railway bridge was not yet in use.

A German outfit run the ferry with a Finnish sapper captain acting as the liaison officer. Here I met a German Lieutnant who was in charge of the ferry. He despised our weapons and the rest of our gear. Also the ferrymen looked at our rifles and pointed down with their thumbs: Best to dump them in the lake! They are useless for you unlike us! Great Germany!

But it was our horses, looking like sheep in front of big carts on rubber tyres that made the Germans laugh and deride. They accused us of cruelty against animals. I admit our horses were small and the loads big, but the wheels were equipped with roller bearings and the horses had acquired stamina when hauling logs in logging camps. Compared with the big German Ardenner horses ours were like colts. Even the hoofprints of their horses were big as if impressed by a cauldron. Size, however, is not equal to power because the Germans needed a pair of horses to haul some ammunition cases. We wondered in our minds how the feeding of these steamrollers would be organised. We were able to turn the tables by remarting that the forefathers of these horses had been helping when the Finnish cavalry in Swedish army occupied Germany during the Thirty Year's War.

Several months later we crossed the wilderness and arrived at the road at Nurmitunturi, where we met the same German supply soldiers. Their big horses had starved to death and had to be replaced by mules. Our horses had lost weight and their shoulders were chafed by pack saddles and their sides rubbed hairless by travois shafts, but they had retained their stamina in full.

The same ferry officer watched us in amazement and said that for the first time he is able to witness a miracle: horses can be fed with rocks and tree bark, yet they remain functional. Our German friends had to witness many other miracles before they were back in Germany.

Our march to the border went on. We, too, saw wondrous things. One of them was the German camp gear. Their tents were for two men and open at each end, with buttons. We had rejected them ten years ago. The Germans had still their humour because the summer was beautiful. I remember one tent, in front of it were two pairs of hob-nailed boots and two helmets with eagles on them. There was the symbol for poison (skull and bones) and a text painted on the telt fabric: "Betteln fuer Mitglieder der NSDP verboten” (Begging forbidden for the members of the Nazi party)

I had to stay ahead of our transport column to find camping area for us. I rode a farm horse from Saarenkylä, he was a better riding horse than I was a rider.

Approaching Käylä village I met a German telephone team building a telephone line from Kemijärvi to an unknown target. They had made a fire next to their custom vehicle, and as they treated me with coffee – Finns were always assured that it was really “Bohnenkaffe” instead of surrogate – I accepted the friendly offer and stopped for a cup and banter.

When chatting with the team leader – a Feldwebel – he told me that he had been in the campaigns of Poland and France as well as Norway. He said he had been married just before the operation in Poland and after that he had visited his home only once. I asked him whether he suffered from homesickness. The Sarge took his thick wallet and showed me a string of photos of beautiful women of different nationalities, saying: -With their help I have been able to defeat my home sickness!

We arrived at the national border. There I had to co-operate with a German artillery forward observation officer and climb in a high pine to observe our coming theater of action. He was totally certain about future victory. The slogan was: “Nach Kandalakscha!” Due to my experiences in the Winter War I had some respect for Kandalakscha and told him that we, too, had tried to get there but there were high hills on the way there. He did not pay heed to my opionions.

Later I had to climb another pine with this gentleman closer to Kandalakscha and I enquired how he assessed the situation now. He had changed his tone. The hills, he said, were too high for German artillery who was used to action in a flat terrain. I thought that the ballistics would be the same for Finnish and German artillery, but I did not argue because I was not used to climbing in pines and I was afraid of not getting the needed encouragement from his canteen to climb down.

Before Kemi Timber Company boats were brought in Jyrhämäjärvi lake we had to abandon our carts and resort to our secret weapon – the travois. Infantry triumphed feeling real pride of their branch it was the Infantry that was the queen of the battlefield. Artillery had to leave their gear behind and act as porters, the artillerymen carried the supplies in their backs until the first enemy field guns were taken on the road of Vuorikylä.

At Jyrhämä another German communications unit joined us. They were equipped with four german “fjord horses” These animals were pony-sized, big-bellied, sure-footed and excellent pack horses. They were good horses and the Germans were good men in their trade but they were not horsemen. As we stopped for a break I never saw them unload the heavy cable coils or enen try to find a pasture for the horses. We pitied the men as well as the horses and instructed them.

Near Jylhämä lake we found a farm abandoned at the beginning of the Winter War, the dairy cows of the farm had been left behind in the barn. We found them dead in their stanchions, only skin and bones.

There was a grove of unusually sturdy birches, and as rain came and we had no rain gear, the men made primitive rain protection of birch bark. Forest covered and fed Finns but the Germans cursed it: - As soon as I am back in Germany I shall cut down every tree on my yard!

For them the forest was plain Hell that frightened those who were townspeople or flatland dwellers. They feared getting lost which was manifested in plainitive shouts as soon as one of them was lost out of sight behind a bush: - Max, wo bist du? Hier Fritz!
We understood them and instructed them. In 1944 we found that they had learned all too well as we became enemies due to the circumstances.

Finally we reached our destination. A constant flow of wounded men passed us. There was artillery fire. I wondered why we had to use the same route that was used for the evacuation of the wounded. It was one's own fate that passed you, a man limping, supporting himself on his rifle, with a bloody bandage on his arm. Another soldier was lying under a tree, whose life had been drained of him through a splinter wound on his thigh on the lichen that had turned red as autumn leaves.

A soldier should never see anything like this. He must not think ! Nothing of this sort at least. Whatever he sees or experiences he must forget, else the horrors of war shall render him unable to fight and withstand his lot.

War became a habit for us. We had learned the habits of our adversary. The cuckoo predicts the number of your remaining life here, too. The enemy scouts used to communicate by crowing like a cuckoo. Soon we heard plops from the slope of the hill on the opposite side, as if champagne bottles were uncorked. Next we heard faint swishing - – death on his way – which increased in volume ending in a sharp explosion. Mortars.

Here we saw our German friends in real action. One hot day of July our Company informed us that two German officers had arrived there to see us. I told them to get a guide to see the gentlemen to our command post. Soon two young and very sweaty Propaganda Company men came. Their first question was if we had anything to drink. The artillerymen who had been turned into porters had been carrying also carbonated water from Stettin and apple juice and given us some. The apple juice, labelled “Alkoholfrei” made many Finns drunk since they did not read one letter farther than “Alkohol”. Why should a bottle be labeled with such a potent word if the content wasn't?

We had by now consumed all of it, and residing in terrain with no lakes we had had to dig in a nearby swamp a hole which had seeped full of brown, murky water. We used this liquid for washing and also for cooking. We had received German water purification tablets but since they caused a disgusting chlorine taste in the treated water, we discarded them.

I directed our visitors to this water hole, then took my wooden mug, that had served me through the Winter war and was now quite black, off my belt,filled it and offered the refreshment. They were aghast and said “Nein, Sumpfieber!” We had heard this warning of “swamp fever” (malaria) many times already

We did not get neither swamp fever nor dysentry until we got involved with German red wine but that is another story as Kipling wrote.

While the German propaganda men were still with us aquiring material for their fabulation a German recce pilot was directed to our Command post. These Storch airmen were brave aviators. We had been watching this man in action for several days. He flew his slow plane alone, probably as an artillery spotter. Enemy batteries quit firing as soon as his plane appeared, while we began to wait when the horsefly looking enemy I-16s would appear to the scene.

Then the Storch would drop altitude down to treetops, we said that the stork landed on the road and drove on it, usually getting away with it. Now the enemy had got his plane and the pilot was our guest. Well done!

But our wonderful day was not over yet, another visitor arrived. A Private yearning for furlough brought our first Russian prisoner who was briefly questioned before he was escorted to the HQ of our Regiment. Another theme for the Germans!

We practiced hostilities at Killuntaivaara hill for some time. Then the horse driver's news agency informed that we were in for a wilderness march as the Germans would take over this front section. It happened in the first days of August 1941. Germans arrived, they were tanned tough-looking young men still retaining their faith and enthusiasm.

It was one of the Wehrmach elite battalions that had gained fame taking Salla. The Battalion commander was Hauptmann (capt.) Manntay, a member of the Reichstag and Hitler's personal friend. He was a jovial gentleman. I had to act as a liaison officer in his command post so I learned to know him better. Since my German was not top-notch our palavers were started with an order of Herr Hauptmann:
-Bring us the dictionary !

Usually this dictionary was made of glass but using it we could straighten out the matters.

Later this friendly and un-Prussian officer was decorated with the knighthood of Iron Cross before getting killed in action at Alakurtti. It was said that Hitler ordered his body to be flown to Germany for burial

This honour befell few German soldiers. Unknown graves were the end of their journeys. A cross made of birch, a name plate and his helmet marked a Wehrmacht soldier war grave. A trident shaped marker with a SS helmet showed that the buried man had been a political soldier who had died for his faith. A killed man's boots were taken off, his body was wrapped in a piece of tarp and the grave was covered withut any ceremony. SS men did not need any while the Wehrmacht men had been given the last rites at an open grave before leaving for the front.

Our Division (6.D.) once again covered the front and made a painful journey across wilderness. Fighting at Nurmitunturi hill took a heavy toll in losses. Our Battalion captured an Artillery Battalion that had just recently taken its positions, and turned the guns at the Nurmi railway station. We asked for permission to fire there as we knew it was full of men and material. We were denied to shoot because the Germans had reported they already had manned the station. This was false information because the Germans came after Finnish troops had taken over the station terrain.

From Nurmi village to the East the roadsides were full of junk marked by Germans as war booty. Shot up artillery tractors or green tanks were marked alternately "Rgt Bleyer" or "Rgt Sacher". No Finnish units were mentioned !

We approached Alakurtti lähestyi. I came there with our Jaeger platoon in recce mission.
We took a break in a rail line trench where Geman and Russian wounded were placed. A German Oberleutnant, wounded in his arm, came to me. He wanted to give his SMG to one of us to put the suffering wounded enemy down. Flatly I refused saying that Finns shoot the enemies in open battle and treat their prisoners as humans.

At the same moment a car came from the West with our respected Division Commander, Col. V. Vikla. I reported to him and while chatting a German field artillery battery emerged. The terrain would have been favourable in the forest also, but the Battery took positions in an open field. I remember Col. Vikla's words: “The Fritzes have not yet learned anything. They preferred open fields also in the Great War. Let us wait and look!” . We stood about, waiting and soon we heard buzzing approaching from East. A nice green hydroplane came at a low altitude and bombed the battery. (...)

It was here that I saw for the first and last time contemporary (1941) motorized warfare. While sitting on the bank of a ditch a German outfit approached from West motorized , 99. Erklärungsabteilung that we later got to know well. At the same time 9 Stukas passed overhead, with howling wings, and on a field nearby behind an artillery unit we could hear the noise of several pairs of tank tracks. They were really aware of their power.

At Kutujoki river we fought side by side with Germans. I was assigned as the liaison officer and I had to contact a German battalion. They had grouped on an open sandy heath near the railway line. I reported and waited.

My own Battalion was on the right wing, facing a well fortified enemy line in a patch of forest near the river. Our attack was to start simultaneously. I saw that Germans distributed rum and everyone took their share, including me.

H-hour. Company commanders blew in their whistles and shrill sound cut the air. Death-defying German soldiers rushed up the slope of Kutuvaara hill. The terrain was favourable for them, they charged until they fell and the attack stalled. Finnish attack in the familiar forested terrain had proceeded successfully which turned this battle a matter of honour for the Germans. New commanders blew in their whistles and new companies charged. Their losses were high but the target was reached.

A Finn asked himself: where do they get replacement for this kind of losses?

Night fell and fighting died down. I was ordered to get in contact with the first line. I walked down the road because experience had shown us that the Germans are likely to be found next to a road.

I found a German motor cycle patrol. The engine did not run, the lights were off and the MG barrel pointed to the East. I asked where their front line was. I was not surprised to learn that they are the front line: there were no men on the flanks.

Finally we reached Vilmajoki river where winter and lack of resources stopped the invasion. There was a German unit on our left and we made friends with their men. I remember young Lt. Hancken from Southern Germany and his sorrow as the sun disappeared from the Lapland sky.

Fraternizaton started ! Finnish soldiers built dugouts for Germans and were paid with brandy. Complicated passwords were abandoned and replaced with the master password “Konjak” that was valid in every situation.

We could build without being harassed by the enemy because there was a wide lake between us and them. A canteen was built, too. It was opened on the birthday of our Battalion commander, the same day as king Geroge V's birthday. Our German friends were invited and there was a friendly atmosphere.

Then our war took a new turn. Our assignment in Salla was ended and we prepared for transport to South

After we had handed over our positions we were sleeping in tents at Karmalampi. Then we spotted light of a large fire from the direction of our old camp. We learned that it was our old command post that was in flames. I began to suspect something and I interrogated my Runners whether they had any connection with this incident. They assured their innocence. Only next year as the matter was almost forgotten I found out what had caused the fire in our old command post. One of my Runners told me that he wanted to confess something if he would not be punished for it.

I learned what had been the cause of the Command post fire.
A small room had just been completed for the Battalion Commander as we had to leave. My friendly Runners volunteered to install the sheet metal stove and its chimney in a corner. But they wound straw around the sheet metal chimney to ”insulate” it in the ceiling. The straw caught fire as the chimney heated up enough and the entire log house burned down. Fortunately no lives were lost; else I would not have pardoned the culprits.

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