Hosted by Juha Tompuri
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Recently encouraged to join this great and extremely important forum, I would like to reciprocate with a small collection of letters written by a Danish volunteer in the Finnish Army during the Continuation War, taken from my book "Hitler's Nordic Ally: Finland and the Total War 1939-45", which came out last year. The letters can also serve as more general examples of life on the Finnish front during the Trench Phase. They first appeared in the book "I krigets spår" (1943) by Holger Hørsholt Hansen, a Danish journalist working for Associated Press during WWII (due to the German occupation of Denmark at the time, his book could only be published in Sweden, hence the Swedish title). Hørsholt Hansen had met the Danish volunteer during a visit to Finland in 1941, and these letters are addressed personally to the author.
First letter: From Hanko to the Eastern Front
I have now been rather a long time on the Eastern Front and I must say that the transfer from Hanko to here was like coming from paradise and ending up in hell. The final part of the journey was the worst. I had to march 20 km, and as you know all the roads here are completely cut up in the autumn and filled with mud that reaches up to your knees. We had three days of tough fighting before the Russians finally gave in. They at-tacked us in several waves, shouting hurrah. But it did them no good. We captured the town from which they had launched the attack and then we started cleaning up. It was a dangerous job. In nearly every shell hole and behind every house there where Russian soldiers hiding, and all you could do was throw hand grenades at them. Some of them were still moving about and pretending to be snipers, so walking around at night was pretty spooky. Can you remember how much I hated the snipers at Hanko? I am not a lot better myself now that I have managed to get hold of a fine new rifle, Model 1941, with a telescopic sight. It is Russian made and I have had several chances to experience how accurate it is. By and large, the Russians have good weapons – unfortunately.
Second letter: In the Wilderness
Between the Russians and us there is – or was – a village of some 50 houses. Two days ago we were five men who walked down to the village with bottles full of petrol and set fire to it. It was pitch black and the job took an hour, and all the time the Russians were shooting at us. But we made it and now we have a fine view …
This morning at three o’clock we were put on full alert. I was asleep when a submachine gun started firing nearby. We all jumped up immedi-ately. A Russian patrol of twenty soldiers had penetrated our lines; they are undeniably good soldiers. Now they were moving in on us. Luckily, a Finnish corporal spotted the Russians in good time. He sent two privates he had brought with him down to alert the rest of us. Meanwhile, he hid behind a tree trunk and waited until the Russians was just 10 metres away from him. Then he opened fire. The Russians threw hand grenades at him, but strangely enough he survived. Then we arrived, and soon the battle was raging. In a glimpse I saw a Russian lying next to me behind a big stone. He was probably no more than eighteen years old. Poor boy! God knows if I may one day be found like that by a Russian soldier? Will he call me a ‘poor boy,’ as well? I think it is possible, since we are human beings on both sides of the front, though we are killing each other.
There is a big wilderness around here. We have problems getting enough food brought out to us. Though we treat the civilian Russian population with consideration, we sometimes have to kill one of their pigs or chickens in order to survive. But soon there will be nothing left to eat around these parts …
I am lying here on the ground with a lousy battery torch writing you this letter, hoping that perhaps you can use it in some way or other.
Third letter: At the River Svir
After a few quiet days spent in a little village north of the River Svir, we were suddenly ordered to strike camp. It was a shame, since we had been quite cosy in that place. It was only recently we had captured it, and it was completely undisturbed when we got there. There were quite a few Russian families left; they had probably been taken by surprise with not enough time to flee. Most of them do that. It feels a bit strange that they flee from us. We thought they would be happy to be liberated. For the last few weeks we have been billeted in the Russian houses. For the first time in a long while we ate from real plates and drank fresh milk etc. The young people of the village would often come to visit us in the evening. There were some young girls who brought us much joy, and boys of up to 15 or 16 years. There were almost no grown men in the village. They were of course out in the forests shooting at us, the devils. The young ones who visited us sold us cigarettes and were very interested in listening to the radio we have. On several occasions we held little improvised parties that helped us keep up the spirit. But then we suddenly had to leave.
When we got to the other side of the River Svir, we expected to be granted a proper rest. We had heard that we would not be made to attack south of the river. Oh, well! The next morning at four o’clock the journey continued in the direction of Podporosje [Podporozhye, a town on the south bank of the River Svir 300 km northeast of Leningrad]. The Finnish units ahead of us had been involved in some tough fighting, and every-where along the roads there were signs of the struggle. Fallen Russian soldiers, dead horses, wrecked cars and war materiel lay strewn along the ditches. We are so used to these sights that they no longer bother us. Finally, we reached our destination where we were meant to relieve another regiment the next day.
Last week the Russians carried out several counterattacks, but they were all repelled. There is, however, still much patrol activity and new attacks can be expected at any moment. During the last few days it has started snowing quite a lot, and it has become easier for us to spot the Russian patrols. But it has also become easier for the Russians to detect us, and we have to be very alert. We are somewhere near the Murmansk Railway, against which we have carried out various kinds of attacks. So far, I have not personally participated in any of them, but that will proba-bly come. According to rumours we have blown it up in several places.
Fourth letter: Civilian Russians
… When we approached the little village, we ran into a young woman who was weeping as she was pulling a cart. We thought she was trying to flee along with her belongings. She was fleeing but when we pulled the tarpaulin off the cart, we saw the corpse of a Russian man. He had been killed by a hand grenade. The woman broke down completely, weeping and sobbing hysterically. She said he was her husband, and she was taking his corpse along with her. Of course we could not allow her to continue, but I heard later that she had buried him in a nearby graveyard.
Another time we suddenly bumped into two women who came strolling out of the forest. They wept and told us they had fled from their homes, but now they had decided to go back. They said they had hidden their children in the forest and now they wanted to go and get them. We were rather suspicious, as they could well be spies, and the suspicion grew when they wanted to go back into the forest to collect their children. Some of us followed close behind them, though they were less than happy about it. It could have been an ambush, but all the same we dared not let them go on their own, since we had no idea how much they might have seen. But everything was fine. Inside the forest we found a bunch of kids, who followed us back. They looked a bit battered. They had lived in the forest for a whole week, and it was quite cold. If they had not been wearing their wadded clothes, which look funny but at least are warm, they would probably have frozen to death.
Fifth letter: Fighting over a Dug-out
Let me tell you a rather grim story. We had attacked a small underground korsu [dug-out] and encircled it. It was completely quiet inside it, so we had no particular worries about investigating it. Some of the chaps had started sneaking down into the dug-out when the man in front was hit by a bullet that killed him. We got angry and threw three or four hand grenades into the room. We heard some screaming and groaning, but then all went quiet again. We were certainly more cautious now, but also convinced that there could be no living creatures left in there. Oh, well! When we sneaked into the dug-out again, we hear another gunshot, although this time no one was hit. A few more hand grenades and the path was clear. We continued downwards, rather nervously. The room was dimly lit. A woman who was lying in a corner suddenly started getting on her feet. She was furious, but also badly wounded. The revolver in her hand was pointing at us. Before she has time to pull the trigger on her weapon, two shots were fired simultaneously finishing her off. It is not that we enjoy shooting at members of the weaker sex, but in this case we had no choice. I shall never forget her eyes, shining in the dark like little dots. I have never seen such intense hatred.
Sixth letter: Pancakes
I had guard duty on New Year’s Eve. We had been given a little extra food in the evening, and then the service commenced. When I came back from my guard duty, my comrades had made coffee and – would you be-lieve – pancakes cooked on the hearth. Well, perhaps ‘pancakes’ was not quite the right word for it. They were distributed during dinner after they had been reheated. They were not exactly like Danish pancakes, but still – they tasted good.
Yes, I am still alive. I often think that it makes no difference what happens to me as long as I can avoid becoming an invalid.
I have to stop now. The next time I write to you, it will probably be from somewhere further north. I have asked to be transferred to Karhumäki [Medvezhyegorsk], so God knows how long I am to stay in this place.
Holger Hørsholt Hansen writes that the author of these letters was killed in action in October 1942.
Ystävällesin terveisin, the Tanskalainen
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Here is some more of Hørsholt Hansen's reportage, which can be found in my book. This time the reporter is following in the wake of the Finnish 14th Division as it marches on Repola:
Source: "I krigets spår" p. 62In many places we pass by battlefields where bitter combat has taken place. In vast areas all the trees have been shot to pieces. Wrecked aircraft – Russian and Finnish – tanks, cars, machine guns are scattered around. Russian steel helmets and empty cartridge cases are piled up along the roads. In several places we find empty Russian vodka bottles with 40% printed on the label along with the price, 5 Roubles and 50 Kopek.
In other places, where the Russian army has obviously kept its field kitchens, there are piles of empty tin cans and bits of food. Everywhere there are big craters in the ground from detonated landmines and shells. The little bridges over brooks and streams have mostly been destroyed and then rebuilt. Wrecks of fishing boats are lying on the banks of the lakes. In one place we saw a completely smashed up American car, a Ford, and a Douglas aircraft. In several other places we found wrecked machine guns of American or British origin, signs of the Allied aid to the Soviet Union.
And this is his description of the neutralised Poorlamppi Motti after the Finnish recapturing of Viipuri in August 1941.
Source: "I krigets spår" p. 26-28When I, along with a number of other foreign war correspondents, arrived at the battlefield, the Finnish troops were still occupied with the extermination of minor enemy groups who had slipped into the forest to continue the fighting from there. To arrive at such a theatre of war immediately after the fighting has ended – in this case it was the day after – is a terrible experience. Long before we reached the six square kilometre large area we were met by a choking stench. In this Motti of Hell were not just individual soldiers, not tens or hundreds of them, but huge piles of mutilated and bloody corpses. Hundreds of dead horses added to the poisoning of the air. The sight was terrible and simply beyond description. Blown up bodies with intestines pouring out of big, gaping wounds, dead Russian and Finnish soldiers side by side in twisted positions, and terribly mutilated. The destruction was so complete it was hard to believe that this could take place in the year of our Lord 1941, in ‘the century of culture and civilisation’. Brown, wrecked cars. The personal equipment of Russian and Finnish soldiers was lying in a mess on every square metre of ground along with cartridge cases and shell splinters. But the most terrible of all was the sight of the fallen soldiers, whose distorted faces spoke of the unbelievable pain they must have suffered. The bodies lay distended and black in the clear autumn sunshine, their arms reaching up to the sky in despair and empty eyes staring up through the tree tops towards the white clouds that sailed slowly across the firmament.
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This and other Danish pictures can be found with search "tanskal*" and by ticking the selection "+päivättömät" IN THE FINNISH VERSION OF THE PAGES. You get 304 hits!
And please DO MENTION THE NUMBER WHEN USING SA PICTURES; it´s more than just a little annoying trying to find the high resolution file version when somebody publishes it at AHF in low resolution without mentioning the number.
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Point taken, but let us speak nicely to one another.
It should be mentioned also that the picture is from the Winter War, while the letters mentioned are from the Continuation War. There weren't many Danish volunteers in the Continuation War, so pictures are harder to find, but I shall try now according to you instruction.
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Prisoner of war in Soviet
Journal "Kansa Taisteli", vol 5, 1958
This story won the 5th price in the competition of stories in “Kansa Taisteli “ in 1958. The author is titled as “Captain, ret.“ residing in Inari. He also made sure that it is impossible to tell any facts as to his outfit and the location .
I was lying on a blood soaked stretcher, carried by two soldiers and a third one following us, his finger on the trigger of his SMG. _t was the summer of 1944, it must have been midsummer day. Sun was shining on a cloudless sky. Fog was rising from a river and low lying marshes, covering a group of houses nearby. I was a wounded POW. My stretcher was carried next to a house that was serving as the enemy field hospital, the yard was teeming with lightly wounded patients
The sentry escorting my stretcher revealed that I was a POW. In a moment my stretcher was surrounded by excited patients. I was kicked at without hesitation. I felt how my wounds were reopened and started bleeding. A kick at my shoulders was very painful as I had been shot through lungs, and I was about to suffocate. There was a taste of blood in my mouth.
Strong hands grabbed my stretcher, trying to dump me in a foxhole. I was fully aware of my helpless status, I was in a great pain, and guessed that I was being lynched. Yet my self-preservation instinct was great despite my helpless state. I squeezed at the frame of the stretcher as hard as my forces allowed. For the next few days I felt pain in my fingertips, my fingernails had partly sunk in my flesh. But my enemies would not hear any cries of pain, I had decided that
How did I get out of that awkward situation? Sometimes aid comes from an unexpected quarter. I just heard a sharp burst of SMG fire and saw how sand was flying at the edge of the foxhole. I also heard a command that I suppose meant “halt!” Another two bursts and another loud command that I think meant: “stand back!”
The threatening situation had been averted. The sentry had acted in an exemplary alert and decisive manner, saving my life for now by dispersing the agitated soldiers from me. My stretcher was carried in the cellar of a house.
I was exhausted. I had served in a breakthrough point as the CO of a battle unit, a situation that can fully be understood by men who have been in the same position or the captain of a shipwrecked vessel in a storm without radio contact. I shall limit my story to the description of one day and my thoughts about being a POW, and leave the battle descriptions for others.
-As already mentioned I was in a miserable state. During the preceding days and nights I had been subjected to such a cruel interrogations that I am neither able nor willing to describe them. My wounds were still bleeding. At times the pain increased to a cutting agony. I was hearing tremendous crashing in my ears. I was seeing rings, in every colour of the rainbow. I was aware that all this was hallucination.
My stretcher was placed in a tilting position so that I was resting, if you can say so, on brick halves and large lumps of mortar. The good view was set up for me on purpose. To my surpirse I saw a Finnish soldier on the opposite side of the cellar, his head had been bandaged with bloodied tissue. As he noticed that my eyes were fixated on him he started critisizing our enemy most severely. Having seen that I did not react in any way to his words he immediately changed tack and started praising our enemy exuberantly, and finished with “Thank God that finally a Finnish officer arrived here”. Now I lost my temper somewhat and said that this life shall end in the mountains (Ural? Reference to deportation ? Tr.rem.) in the best case. I could not care less in the state of mind I found myself but yet I was careful not to say anything more.
Later during the interrogations I was charged among other things for carrying out agitation among Finnish POWs by saying that the end of our journey shall be in the mountains even in the best case.
The man was, as I had suspected, a Finnish defector who had been put in the cellar to glean from me by treacherly something that the torturers were not able to find out with their methods. This disgusting type must have been promised lots of good should he manage to provoke his officer to say anything that could be used to lengthen his sentence, and increase feeling of guilt. I must admit that the defector did not lie to increase anything on my story. I think someone must have been eavesdropping behind a wall. Later I found out that the enemy trusted least of all the defectors and their promises.
My condition kept getting worse. My pains had indeed partly grown numb. I was ever so tired. Yet my brain was working in a feverish pace. Often, far too often, my thoughts returned to my home. My sons were still helpless back there. I estimated that they had learned that I had been killed in action. All I dared to hope that they would deal with the death of their father as the son of a killed soldier in a patriotic poem. I was sure that I had been written off as a KIA since the last bullet through my lung I had become totally unable to move and my men considered me dead.
Lying in that cave of pains I had not noticed when the defector had left. I had a better look around and saw on the floor among other debris pieces of gauze and smaller amputated pieces of limbs. Being alone my thoughts were free for now. I came to think of the contrasts of life.
In the very same manner I had been lying on a stretcher in early autumn 1941. The circumstances had been very different. I had been injected with morphine and I did not feel much pain. After several days' journey our hospital train stopped and the stretchers were carried out on covered station platforms. Hundreds of young Jaegers were there, as patients on stretchsers
A group of Junior Lottas appeared on the platform, and they gave flowers to each of us. I was given three roses. I was dumbstruck with emotion, I was unable even to say thanks. We were used to giving everything we had, never to demand anything. I do not think roses were ever given in a more appropriate situation in a more appropriate manner. People were pasiing us with their heads bared and soundless steps. Their countenance told of respect and sympathy. They may have been thinking about their next of kin in the front line.
Our stretchers were loaded in ambulances that were driven by skilled drivers in front of a modern hospital. The stretchers were carried right in a washing room and the wounded were washed crefully like babies by nurses. We were grateful for being finally able to get some rest. Finally I, too was dressed in clean hospital clothing and my bed was pushed in a lift. Soon I found myself on an operating table...
As I woke up from the narcosis I found myself in a clean hospital chamber for one person. My gaze stopped on the table next to the bed: there were the three roses in a glass bowl, tied with a red-white ribbon of the Liberty cross. The ribbon had been taken off from my tunic. The ribbon had been placed there by my CO before I had been wounded. He had said: “In the name of the Commander-in-Chief I am granting to the CO of the battle unit, Eino Takkunen, the 4th class Liberty cross with oak leaves for personal bravery”. This was imprinted in my mind as being the most beautiful thing that had happened to me in my lifetime. That is why I rememberd it now.
It was as if something had tugged at me. I saw a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark. At first I thought I was hallucinating. Having taken another look I saw several such pairs. I understood these were carrion rats, waiting for me to weaken enough to have a go at me. I was shaking with disgust and cold caused by fever . It was cold and draughty. But the greatest danger was posed by the carrion rats. I fumbled for pieces of masonry that I threw at the nearest rats. They withdrew agilely, as if their legs were made of rubber bands, but not far, soon to approach again. The look of their eyes revealed their intent and I thought I was able to read their thoughts. My eyesight kept getting hazier. Finally I saw nothing more but still I kept fumbling for pieces of masonry and throwing them there where I heard sounds of scuffle and squawking. There must have been a fight for an amputated hand. - Who may have been the owner of the hand, - had it been used more for good or for evil, - where could the previous owner be at the moment...
My pain appeared to be decreasing. It would almost have been good to die but for the cursed carrion rats. I tried to direct my thought away from them but I could not because the rats would attack at my throat. I did not dare to think more. Again and again I fumbled for pieces of masonry to throw at my tormentors. Finally the rats appeared to be taking another shape and other weapons...
I came to as I was kicked. In the twilight I saw two officers, much agitated and gesticulating as if preparing to fight each other... I passed out.
Once again I came to. Now I found myself in another environment. It was very dusky, I cannot tell whether it was my weak state or night. I saw another pair of eyes, totally different from the ones in my previous place of sojourn: a pair of human eyes. A beautiful pair of eyes, full of sympathetic pity. I was being addressed with a foreign language. I almost understood the words.
By gesticulating she explained to me that my cheeks were hollow. I would have to eat so that they should become puffy, she spead her hands to indicate. There was a plate of steaming good looking food, tea and white bread. Since I had become a POW I had not got anything to eat. I could not tell how many days ago I had last eaten. I had a terrible thirst. I found it demeaning to ask for anything from the enemy.
I was sure I would soon die. I almost wanted to make the death arrie sooner. But the death was not in my power. I felt nauseous because I had had to eat several pages of my notebook to prevent information dangerout to our troops from falling in the hands of our enemy.
The most surprising fact was that I was not hungry at all. The angel, there is no other word for her, asked me what I first wanted. I pointed at the tea. I was not able to get up at all. But I did not have to, I was gently helped to get in a sitting position.
Having drunk it she wondered why I did not eat. I pointed out to her the bullet holes on my chest, legs and cheek. She burst out in tears. She started talking in a painful tone and her words turned into weeping. I, too, was abot to weep for her good-heartedness.
This affection was quickly ended. Someone had been listening behind the door, my helper was roughly led out. I never saw her againg, neiter did I see such a table with food. I still remember her as the symbol for a saint of a great religious country.
The place I described above was a field hospital. One of the officers arguing with each other must have been a surgeon who wanted to save my life in the last possible moment by sending me to the hospital. The other one was an interrogator, whom I still classify as
animals in human disguise. I detest them and despite their uniform I consider them least of all soldiers. My angel was an enemy nurse and I am not able to find words good enough to praise her.
Now, afterwards, I can see that our enemies were humans like us. There were cruel sadists who seemed to enjoy their disgusting job. Also there were human, even lovable nurses and doctors, and exemplary, well trained soldiers.
I can also add that I never again have seen in Finland the defector.
Where is the author now you may ask. I am far away. I keep viewing the goings on from a distance. I have found that everything looks more beautiful that way. Yet one day I laid my hands on a copy of “Kansa Taisteli” magazine. This unexpected donation I considered a hint that I, too, should tell the truth about something that I experienced. Life is after all worth living. Unpleasant matters are not too often remembered. Beautiful and happy incidents remain in our memour and are warming even decades later.
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 01, 1966
When skiing in the Carelian wilderness between the field strongholds of a Battalion hailing from Kuusamo I several times tried to get in contact with a communications man, whom his pals called Sämi Jaakkola. In the first summer of war in 1941 he had been on the deck of an enemy tank that had broken through, almost for three hours and finally managed to destroy it.
I had heard many kinds of stories about this escapade and now wanted to hear his version. After some searching I finally met in the Battalion HQ a thin dark man with a fashionable long sheath knife on his belt. There was also the ribbon of the Iron Cross in his buttonhole: two armies were granting decorations there in the North.
He was looking at me with calm eyes and his voice, too, was calm as he said:
I wonder what there is to tell about.
By being inquisitive and baiting him with pieces of the stories I had heard I managed to extract the story.
His telephone squad had been following the advancing battalion, spreading the telephone cable as they went. The Companies had been ordered to attack and communications had to be established. Finally the squad had set up their phone line in the terrain and they sat down for a smoke. Then there was a noise of a tank approaching from the front line. The men knew that the road had been mined, they considered it wisest to shift to side so that any explosion should not spread dust on them. Anyway, it was something that consideed the infantry, so no big deal ..
The tank came aggressively and ran on a mine as it was supposed to do. One track was cut off. A man that had been on top of the machine had vanished. The telephone squad retuned from the forest to check the result. But the tankers did not remain idle. They spotted some infantry men, guarding the mine block behind a rock and fired at them pretty intensely. As it seemed the tank would not be running out of ammunition soon Sämi started thinking of an idea to silence the thing. At first hand grenades were thrown at it, the result was chipped paintwork. Then the grenades were spent. Next, rifle fire was applied, and the shooters had the scanty joy of hearing the sound of ricochets.
In the meanwhile Sämi had been thinking of technical tools and hauled a length of birch rod from the forest. Having advised the others to distract the tankers with rifle fire from opening their hatches he climbed on the tank deck from the rear. His idea was to beat the MG barrel out of shape with the piece of timber. The MG appeared to be the only working weapon of the tank. The main gun was either jammed or the man who had left for eternal life had been the only gunner, who knows. Fortunately the gun remained silent.
The tank MG barrel was pointing up. Sämi whacked down his rod and the gun barrel tilted down. As he lifted up his rod for another blow the gun barrel rose up. This was repeated so many times that Sämi found he was doing the hardest part of an useless labour. It was wrong in his opinion, so he abandoned the timber. A Finn trusts sturdy tools, so Sämi grabbed a large chunk of rock that he dropped on the MG barrel, until he had to admit that each time the barrel slipped away undamaged.
Sämi withdrew to a cover to curse the lack of explosives while the others kept informing the tankers with their rifles that the infantry had not given up yet. The tank responded with its only weapon. The sun shone and the gnats were annoying, too. Yet Sämi had all the time and obstinacy to think and experiment.
During the battles of the summer Sämi had laid his hand on a sniper rifle, he had “taken” one as it is said. Now it was employed. From the distance of a few meters he unflinchingly kept firing at the barrel of the MG and observed the effect through the scope. Finally there was a dent in the metal after a perfect hit. A few more rounds and the MG barrel was useless.
One would think that the tankers would have agreed to negotiate but they did not. The men approached the machine, examining it at close range. The hatches were well closed, they did not respond to knocking. Those doors were not opened by sweet talk.
Finally a satchel charge was brought up, and other material, too. By now the tank had become Sämi's own for good. Almost lovingly he set up his opening charge on top of the tank and ignited it. The turret hatch was indeed ajar after the explosion. A grenade was thrown out of the tank but it just dropped next to the tank and went off. Sämi exhorted the tankers to come out of their box but in vain. They no more threw their hand grenades, probably they were unable to do it. With a melancholic sigh our man who had been working hard for a good while took his stick grenade to the hatch and dropped it in. Of course that was the end of the story, the tank was destroyed .
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Winter War spirit in practice
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 2. 1960
Another input by U.Arhosuo, this time about his Winter War outfit 2nd Coy of Er.P3.
At the new year in 1940 the enemy action in the Carelian Isthmus was showing signs of less activity. It never was, however, all quiet, although the official communique reported “attacks repelled”.
All through December there had been violent fighting as the enemy tried to break in our positions at the Lähde sector in Summa front. Attacks were a daily phenomenon. Heavy shelling would start early in the morning and increase into a barrage during the forenoone, and in the afternoon the enemy infantry would attack supported by tanks. Our trenches had been filled up by shelling and aerial bombardment, and bitter fighting against dozens of times superior attackers started at the main defence line. Tanks kept firing and due to lack of AT weapons they were able to proceed unhindered up to the support line. At times even beyond that. The enemy infantry was able to gain foothold at the ruins of the trench, and at the dusk our counterstrike started. The positions were cleared of the enemies and the trench dug clean.
The same was repeated the next day without any change. This was the normal “quiet” that was reported as “attacks repelled”.
The great number of enemy tanks was something to think about. There was a dearth of AT guns as well as field guns but the lack of AT weapons had to be remedied in some way. The tanks were becoming ever more insolent and they had to be contained by human force. The 2nd Coy of Er.P3 was assigned to this close range AT duty. Although it was not an easy task, many tanks were killed by petrol bottles or satchel charges. The men were facing a tough job fighting tanks with the primitive weapons. The enemy employed every trick to get these men in their foxholes killed. A man in his hole had to take care not to be run over by a tank. The enemy did not spare shells to keep the AT men low .
An AT man in his hole often had a hard time fighting the tanks. It was nerve racking: he was alone, with his petrol bottles and the satchel charges, actually pieces of TNT wrapped around a stick grenade. This makeshift weapon could disintegrate when being thrown, with fatal results.
One of our AT men, Pfc. Lääveri, had an unusually tough two hour duel with a tank in early December. Another regular enemy attack was going on and the tanks were approaching. The AT men had manned their foxholes right behind the main defence line. The holes had to be manned as long as it was dark since it was not possible to show oneself in daylight unless one wanted to be shelled at. The tanks had crossed the trench, firing intensely, and one big hulk for a tank was approaching Lääveri's foxhole. He was keeping a lookout, waiting for a chance to throw his satchel charge at the tank. But the tankers must have spotted him since the tank turret traversed and the gun barrel started sinking while the tank speeded up, heading for his foxhole. Now there was no time to lose. Without losing one second our man threw his satchel charge with a steady hand at the tank and dropped to the bottom of his foxhole, waiting for the explosion. The tankers had obviously not spotted his throw since the tank just approached with increasing speed, and was just on top of the satchel charge as it went off. Else the charge would have had no effect because the throwing distance had been too long. The frozen ground was shaken by the explosion and chunks of it fell in the foxhole.
The tank ( a T-28, tr.rem.) had been immobilized, one track had been cut. However, it did not catch fire and remained functional. The tank opened a terrible fire at the foxhole. Lääveri would have been killed at once if the tank had not advanced so close that it was not able to depress it cannon enough, he was in a dead angle. But the machine guns opened up against the foxhole. The frozen ground at first deflected the burst but soon started crumbling and the bullets were nearly sweeping Lääveri's helmet top. His end was approaching but he did not stay idle. Instead he started digging his foxhole deeper using his sheath knife as entrenchment tool, in competition with death. It was just 14.00hrs and it would not be dark until in two hours.
Before that, there was nothing to be done. The tank could not be approached, the tankers were wildly shooting about in their desperation. The minutes were passing in a crawling pace, but the time passed. Another thirty minutes and it would be dark, then the Finns who were watching the desperate situation could intervene and torch the tank.
But there was a nasty surprise for the man in the foxhole: he encountered a large boulder at the bottom of his pit. He could not circumvent it. The shape of the foxhole had become odd as the man had been digging it in competition against the machine gun jets. Again the bursts of bullets approached his helmet, but the brave man did not lose his calm. The tank engine had been running all the time, the tank would be prone to catch fire. A “Molotov coctail” was prepared, it had to hit the right spot now. The bottle was thrown, hitting the side of the tank which immediately caught intense fire. Flames were rising high and none of the men in the tank came out.
Lääveri climbed out of his foxhole, his clothing was soaking wet. The nearly two hour digging had indeed brought him to sweat.
It was mid January as we were ordered to carry out a minor patrol mission in the enemy terrain. It was a “minor” mission because the duration was to be just one night, but the objectives wre major. But at that time no task was impossible for us, who were under the spirit of the Winter War.
The enemy had received even more artillery batteries that they had spread along the edges of Munasuo swamp, and even on harder spots on the swamp. Our commanders, mostly Maj. Kuiri who was in charge of the front line, were interested in the location of these batteries. However, finding the artillery batteries was but one minor part of our task that we could carryout on our outbound leg of patrol. Our main task was to ski as far as the sand pits of Vierusta W of Perkjärvi and – destroy the 28 enemy tanks there. (This number may refer to T-28 type tanks that were encountered in considerable numbers in the front. Author's remark). Taking into account the fact that only six men were preparing to join our patrol, we would have enough to do. But we were eager enough and were busily setting up our equipment. We wrapped pieces of TNT around stick grenades, fashioning them in our taste, one for each man. We also took the same number of petrol bottles and believed we would destroy the tanks with what we had.
As the night of the winter night was total we went over the top of our trench as Maj. Kuiri was wishing us good luck. Sgt. Jääskeläinen, known as a reckless and very brave man, had been ordered to lead our patrol. We passed the minefields without major problems with the help of advance information. We went on along the open Munasuo swamp.
Having advanced just more than one km we had found out several field gun positions at the perimeter of the swamp. The enemy did not need to worry about Finnish air raids or Finnish artillery strafing, and they were behaving accordingly. There were rows and rows of big campfires along the swamp edge and a loud bantering in Russian echoed at the lodgings. They would have been an ideal target for our batteries – if they only had had shells.
We toured the swamp widely, observing the gun positions and seeking for a chance to “land”, but the enemies making noise at the edge of the swamp did not give us a chance. We were not in a hurry because we had decided to attack the tanks not until in the small hours as the enemy vigilance would be at its lowest then. We were able to hear the buzz of the tank engines in the windless night; to keem the engines from freezing they were kept running constantly. We also hoped that the enemy would keep their tanks warm so that they would be easier to torch when we would get there.
It was not yet midnight and we were able to observe undisturbed. Also skiing in thick snow was soundless and we were able to move just in the vicinity of the enemy camp areas at the edge of the forest. Only when the artillery batteries were firing we had to duck to avoid getting detected in the open marsh by the enemy soldiers. We would have to fight inside the huge enemy camps and that was not an appealing idea.
Having skied for a while we spotted on our left a deep tongue of marsh sticking in the forest, and fortunately we did not see one single fire there. We decided to “land” there and once in the forest would head for our target. Another artillery battery opened up and we ducked in the snow. In the light of the muzzle flames we saw something out of ordinary ahead of us on the swamp. As if there had been a net strung across the tongue of swamp. As the artillery quit shooting we set out to find out. It was next to incredible that this spot would have been secured by a net.
We got closer and found that our observation was verified. Our route was blocked by a steel mesh net, 4 meters wide and one meter above the snow, reaching down to the ground under the snow. There were enemy securing ski tracks beyond the net. We cursed at the enemy ruse, the net may have been mined or there may have been alerting wires in it. It would not be difficult to cross it but the enemy might be alerted. We did not care about the securing tracks because once in the forest we would have been safe. The enemy skiing skill was nothing to worry about. We observed this wonderful structure for a long time, not daring to disturb it. The enemy battery on our left at the edge of the forest opened up again and in the light of the muzzle flames we could see that the net stretched across the 700 to 800m wide open area up to the forest edge.
Our only chance to proceed was the forest edge on our right. We started approaching carefully. Another 100m to the cover of the forest remained for us to cross as we heard some noise in the direction we were heading for. Tjhere were enemies at the edge of the forest, although they had not made open fires. We decided to try to cross the net, no matter what, and one of us climbed on the net with his skis. At the same moment flares were fired on both flanks of the net. We ducked in the snow to wait for the consequences: moving the net had triggered an alarm as we had feared. Now there was rasping of skis on the securing ski track on both flanks behind the net.
Or patrol leader oredered us quickly to withdraw from the ski tracks, now we would try to get in the cover of the forest regardless the enemy manning. By shooting if necessary , the brave patrol leader told us. We had but 100m to cover to the edge of the swamp, and by skiing silently we believed we would make it. Our Russian speakers were given instructions in case the enemy would start asking any questions. Everyone was set for silent operation. But we did not get much farther before we found that our ID was not to be verified. An enemy MG accompanied by a coupe of LMGs opened up at the edge of the forest and tracer bullets drew beautiful arcs overhead as we were lying in the snow. Another flare went up and we had problems in remaining undetected on the open swamp. As the flare went out we set out at record speed from the vicinity of the MG. Now both edges of the swamp were alive. Enemies were entering the swamp on both sides. Our mission had to be aborted tonight, the enemy knew to be on guard. We were fully occupied in getting away from the enemy masses.
We had a quick war council. Jääskeläinen calmed us down in his familiar manner:
- We shall ski among the enemies, do not fire uness you absolutely have to. In the dark we can even chat with the enemies and they cannot know that we are Finns. Hundreds of men are skiing on this swamp, we shall join them.
Now we headed for our lines, carefully dodging the enemy patrols. We had to make long detours to make the enemy believe we were their men, seeking for the Finnish patrol. They did not ask any questions and we slowly were approaching our positions. It was late in the morning as we finally managed to disengage from the enemy and approached the first line, fretting our bad luck.
In our dugout we reported our findings to our CO and he was satisfied with us despite our bad luck. Upon second thoughts, we too, were happy because it would have been impossible to fulfil the order, despite the spirit of the Winter War.
I am planning to translate the Winter War diary of 2./ErP3 starting next November.
Despite the late and cold spring I have to quit my participation in the forum for gardening.
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Thank you very much for your translation work here.Lotvonen wrote:I am planning to translate the Winter War diary of 2./ErP3 starting next November.
Despite the late and cold spring I have to quit my participation in the forum for gardening.
Wish you a good harvest, even at least at this part of Finland, there is more snow now on the ground than last Christmas.
(Nothing is as important as gardening and it is not finally very important)
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli” vol. 11-12, 1959
II/JR35 was guarding one part of the front at the big encirclement in Kittilä. Map on p. 332. The author appears to have been a Platoon leader.
On the17th Dec 1939 our battalion II/ JR 35had been fighting behind lake Kollaanjärvi repelling an enemy encirclement manouver. After a hard day's fighting the enemy finally gave up and retreated. As we then skied back to our camp, hot food and mail were waiting for us. But we were also informed that we would have to leave Kollaa next morning.
Tents were overcrowded. We were struggling in a mass to get to make some coffee after our meal. Our Sergeant stood in the middle of the tent and uttered in a loud voice:
- Oh yes, lads, the times had just got good, our life was fine and peaceful, and it has been all ruined!
His bearded face had a desperate look as he reached to place his field kettle filled with snow on top of the tent stove.
The mail had brought me two civilian packages, I found a set of underwear in them which I immediately put on, leaving the old set hanging on a spruce branch. The letters gave me greetings from home. My family and home were indeed far away now, I felt. Only getting wounded would maybe bring them closer. No furloughs were granted, the front needed every man.
So we spent our last night at Kollaa. Despite the occasional harassment shelling of our camp area the tired soldiers slept in their crowded but warm tents. (At least 20 in each. Tr.rem.). They had had their important share in creating and stabilizing the front line at Kollaa. Now their task had been fulfilled and next morning they would be leaving for an unknown destination.
I and III Battalions would remain at Kollaa to the very end of the war. Only the II Battalion left before sunrise on the 18. Dec for a new stretch of front. Our Company, 6./JR35 set out on skis at 05.00hrs for Loimola village in our rear. We had lost the following brothers from our ranks: Lieutenants Oinas, Bror and Salonen, Sulo, Cpl. Mikkonen, Viljo and Privates Rantapelto, Armas; Eronen, Armas; Pöyhönen, Lauri; Nikkanen, Teuvo; Karttunen, Yrjö and Ahonen, Lauri. Two NCOs and 8 men had been wounded. But just a few of the men skiing for Loimola that cold morning ever returned home unscathed. Our Company fought to the last man in Petäjäsaari island on 6 March 1940, where we now were going to.
Lorries were waiting for us at Loimola. We were loaded on them, tarps were pulled over us and the journey started. We saw some civilians when approaching Suistamo, and they greeted us with enthusiasm. We must have looked very war-like, being unshaven and unwashed. At places women had brought something to eat for us at the roadside. However, we did not have any chance to stop and chat. Instead there was a stop and meal in the Suistamo ceminar house. I found it felt odd to find oneself inside a large building after a long time.
It was told that the enemy was advancing at a fair rate along the lake Ladoga coastline. It was obvious that we would be fighting soon.
A couple hours later we again found ourselves on the lorries, suffering terribly from cold under the tarps. But we soon arrived at Impilahti village, which was being evacuated in a hurry. With good reason, because artillery was booming and flames of big fires could be seen in the Eastern direction, distance just 10 km. This stop was for another meal because our field kitchens would be here days later, and we would not get hot food for a long time.
As we were marching to get our meal an unknown tall soldier, in clean white camo suit and with a big revolver in its holster on his belt, was marching next to me. He said that the enemy was close and getting closer. Help was coming, he told me. A strike force from Loimola would stop the enemy.
I guessed that we were the strike force. I preferred to stay quiet.
At the ordered hour we rallied at our lorries. Another 3 km ride followed, ending at Sumeria village. The driver opened his door and said:
- Unload now !. We got off the lorries quickly and the lorries vanished in the night.
There we stood with our gear. No tents, however, were needed because several houses were seen on the far side of the bridge on a hill. Lt. Sundström distributed the lodgings to us.
We climbed up the hill to the house on the comb of the hill. The inhabitants must have left in a great haste. The table had not been cleared after a meal. The bedchamber had been rifed hastily. A soldier is usually at home as soon as he has looked around. Then he has a meal and next falls asleep, and this is what we did. We found potatoes in a storage pit and jam in the cellar under the house. Soon the house stove was glowing red, a kettle and our field kettles were steaming. We felt at home again. Soon every one was soundly asleep, only the sentry outside was awake.
The house door was opened at 03.00hrs and a Runner came in, stomping his boots.
- The Company is to rally at 03.30hrs on the road to march on, get all your gear.
The Company was assembled in double files by platoons.
- Carry the skis, march!
After a while we heard a shout in the forest on our left:
Then a flash and thunder. As if ordered the entire Company had ducked. It had been just our artillery sending morning greetings to the enemy. Realising this had a liberating effect on sleep drunk men.
Refreshed we kept marching on. A civilian horseman drove past us with his load. Soon we found ourselves within the range of the enemy artillery. Shells were landing on each side of the road, at times on the road, too.
-Put on your skis! Forward! Distances five meters!
There was the sound of intense MG and rifle fire, and monotonous shouting. It was only after a while as we got closer that we understood what it was.
- Raa – aa- aa – uraa – uraa.
It was the enemy, yelling as they rushed forward. I guess they were toughening themselves up to be able to withstand the evil they were about to meet.
Skiing at a fast rate the Company turned left from the road, arriving at the foot of a steep hill which was extending to both flanks as a ridge. There we stopped and had a break. The Company CO and the Platoon officers left to recce.
Our firing line on the ridge top had been sparse, but they had defended themselves well. There were, however, three dead Finns next to each other, victims of a hard battle.
The hillside was gently descending to the enemy side, and it was open ground. Here and there we saw black dots – killed men. The Company took positions on the ridge with routine. We opened fire as soon as we detected enemies in the edge of the forest opposite to us. The enemy artillery did not hit the ridge but the shells went over us. These were good defensive positions, the enemy would have a hard task dislodging us with a frontal attack
The enemy must have found that reinforcements had arrived since its activity slackened after some failed attack attempts. At 1700 hrs we handed over the positions to other men. We returned to the abandoned houses of the village in the rear, and in some hay barns. It was very cold and we were hungry but there was nothing to eat. The nature was as if frozen stiff and dead. Fighting had died down, not a single shot was heard. At 2000hrs the Company was allowed to return to the previous accommodations. The freezing men hurried at a good speed back there where we had come from in the morning. Once again we climbed up the hill to the familiar house. At once we made some coffee and found more potatoes in the pit. We did feel good, everyone. We had survived the day without casualties. We had participated in repelling the enemy attacks and so served our country . The future of Finland was at stake and every man felt a deep connection with his fatherland.
We were alerted before midnight and set out. At Leppäsilta we exchanged positions with Lt. Roiha's Company. All adjacent buildings on both sides of the railway line were in flames, illuminating the night. We dug down in the snow. The left flank of my Platoon was at the rail line. I kept walking up and down the fighting line of my platoon to stay warm. Worst of all were my feet, in my too small skiing boots.
The enemy stayed put, maybe they, too, were suffering from cold.
At daybreak the artillery greeted each other mutually, and some aircraft flew overhead. The day was quiet. Late in the evening we were relieved and the Platoon left.
Being tired from staying awake for several nights I fainted and dropped on the road, unnoticed by anyone. As I came to the Platoon was gone. Everything was quiet. As I tried to get up I still felt dizzy. There was a farm next to the road, and a sauna, where I crept on all fours to get some rest for a moment. I woke up in small hours, shaking with cold. As I felt that my feet supported me, I collected my gear and set out. On the road I met a Runner of the Battalion. He told me where the Company had been lodged, in a house in the middle of a field. I found my Platoon in tents in a birch grove behind the house.
The men had been worried about me.
- Why did you not say anything, we would have lent you a hand, said Urho Kinnunen, an always cheerful man.
The baggage train had arrived. The men had eaten and drunk well, as it was reasonable to do regarding the cold weather. A common feeling of satisfaction with existence reigned also. Having eaten a field kettleful of strong pea soup I, too, was willing to forget the bygones and join the general opinion. I lit my pipe and set out to get better boots.
Returning to the tents from the house I saw a Russian plane overhead. Thick smoke was rising to the sky from the chimneys of the tents. Of course they were well visible everywhere.
We were just enjoying our existence as past 1000hrs we heard loud noise of engines from the air. Someone shouted:
Bombers, heading right at us ! Nine of them!
What was there to be done. We just ducked in our tents. The noise of bombardment was ear-splitting, and the ground appeared to be rocking.
Suddenly it was quiet. It took awhile for us to recover from the spell. We rushed out to see the expected destruction. Yet every house of the farm was there. The bombs had fallen on the fields around the house, there were huge craters. A horse had also run in the field through thick snow, it had been harnessed to a sled next to the house as the bombers came. Finally we spotted a huge big rock next to our tent. Whew, it had been a close call again!
This day, 21 December, was our first day off after the start of the war but nothing is for ever. As soon as it was dark again we received orders to relieve another unit from the front line. Our Company took to skis and skied to the Leppäsilta train stop. As we rallied at a small hut Lt. Sundström told that one Platoon must be subjected to the 5th Coy. As there were no volunteers a lot was drawn. III Platoon had to go.
The CO of the 5th Coy Lt. Pörhölä guided us. We skied through a forest to a spot on the bank of Syskyänjoki river where some tents had been set up. We were told to stay there for now and guard the bridge across the river there.
A lone gray hut was situated on the hillside, it was a splendid place to spend the night. I took it over with the 1. Squad. The rest stayed in the tents. Two men at a time were manning a listening post. A snowstorm was rising, but we had a nice place to stay in. We covered the windows and lit a lamp we found on the wall.
There was a note on the table by the daughter of the house : “ Mom, in case you should come here once more, do not worry. I joined my neighbours to escape from the enemy”.
The snowstorm was now raging wildly. I shivered my hour as sentry with Martti Piispa, thinking of all the people who had to leave their homes and places. Did they find safety there where they now were? It depended on us, the men in the front line. But the border line was long and our army small. Many of the men who were available had not been trained while it had been possible to do so.
At 0700hrs next morning I took the first relief with me to relieve the men of the 5th Coy in the positions. The sentry posts were operated from the tents. The entire 2.Squad was placed in a large threshing barn. A hole was cut in the rear wall because the door was facing the enemy.
This front section proved to be calm. The enemy had lost their appetite for attacks. Nothing worth mentioning happened during two days.
At Christmas eve I made an inspection tour on our line. I finished it in a Christmas dinner with the merry men of the 2. Squad in their threshing barn. Urho Kinnunen was the host and the waiter. A real shaded oil lamp was hanging from rafters, and we ate off real plates with forks and knives. In the meanwhile Pvt. Vesa Kurki was keeping guard with his LMG at the chaff storage.
It was a War Christmas in 1939.
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Opening the “Vaski gate”
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”,Vol. 1, 1960
JR39 was fighting after the new year 1940 split in parts attached to several temporary battle groups, for example Battle Group Dragon mentioned below. The author apperars to have been a Machine gunner with the rank of Private.
Winter War, 6 Jan.1940. II/JR39, code name Lakka (=varnish or cloudberry or shack, tr.rem.), was as usually engaging the enemy flank NE of Lake Ladoga. The Battalion had skied led by their CO, Capt. Ami Salonen next to the Uomaa road, advancing in the following days to Koivuselkä, Koirinoja and up to some islands of Ladoga. This advancing route was later named “Vaski (copper) gate” referring to the Regimental CO , Col. Autti's code name or “Dragon gate”, referring to the code name of the Regiment.
After sunset the cold weather had become extremely cold, really murderous. We did not have our tents at hand, they were not received until later that night, and the enemy did not allow us to make any fire. We tried to stay alive by jumping and moving constantly. This was an exertion beyond our forces, due to exhaustion.
The road in front of us, on the sector of the 6.Coy was quiet. During the day two tanks had kept us interested. One of them was now smoking in front of us like a domestic sauna in a Saturday night. It first had hit a mine, then the engineers finished it off, being careless with fire next to it. The other tank would cruise back and forth in the crossing of the Koivuselkä road until it left the road to test its terrain mobility but got stuck. Later the Regimental chaplain went to look at it and found a living enemy in it. The man presented himself as the driver, he had been waiting for help that the other tankers had gone to seek in Lemetti.
To the right and ahead of our positions, in the direction of E Lemetti, about 150m on the road behind a small depression on the ground, a full battle was raging. An auto weapon was firing at full rate accompanying single shots. Was it ours or was the enemy having a good time? The situation appeared to be confused but we did not pay any more attention, being fully occupied in repelling the attacks of the freeze.
The CO of 6./JR39, Lt. Heikki Pietikäinen arrived at the positions of his Company to observe the noise emerging from the direction of Lemetti. He, too, must have suspected something unusual, that easily happens in forest fighting at night.
So he shouted at full volume:
“ Sixth here, it is the sixth here! Who the h* is shooting there?”
He had scarcely yelled the last words as he got a reply. We saw a flash and at the same moment there was an explosion at the trunk of a spruce at our firing line. A tank had fired a shell that almost hit the Lieut. He did not delay in ducking, but he continued to yell
“ Sixth here, it is the sixth here! Go get them! Go get them!"
Then there was a laughter by several men. Men dozing in the foxholes, suffering from cold, had watched the scene and now burst into laughter. The yell had been somewhat funny taking into account Petikäinen's Swedish tinged accent and his quick ducking. The Lieut became known for his yell and the men began to appreciate him so that he became one of the most popular officers of the Battalion.
A third tank showed up that night coming from E Lemetti. The tank proceeded carefully on the road, stopping every now and then, approaching a Finnish minefield. Thrilled we waited what would happen to the “vehicle”. There was a loud bang. A mine had exploded, but to our surprse the tank turned back . Later a machine gunner who had had an advantageous viewpoint that a man had been walking ahead of the tank, poking the road with a long pole. As the mine went off, the man just ducked, then continued his task as if nothing had happened.
The flank to Lemetti now calmed down. Shooting ended but the cold just got more intense. If one did not for a moment jumping and flail one's arms like the fishmongers on the marketplace in Viipuri in peacetime, the blood circulation in the extremities appeared to stop, and it was hard to restart. The jumping and flailing men were no more able to keep their heads up but tiredness and lack of sleep made them tilt this way and that
Fortunately the tents were finally brought up to save the day. To our amazement frozen green birch could be burned in the tent stoves, to repel the worst cold out of the tents.
The muster of the companies equalled to platoons as the Battalion was rallied to cross the Uomaa road to advance to Koivuselkä. There were 120 fighting men in the battalion, men who had survived the cold weather. Several of the best men were now sorely missed.
We had crossed the road without problems and proceeded on the road that the enemy had plowed open. During a stop the Regimental CO with his messenger skied there. After another brief skiing distance we were ordered to set up tents.
The order was carried out in an experienced manner and soon the tents were full of sleeping men.
Yet our rest was not undisturbed because soon we began to hear odd shouts "stavaittes ruki verh" at the perimeter of our camp area. An enemy unit had appeared from Koivuselkä in front of our securing men and now our men and the enemies were shouting orders to surrender to each other. The noise of shouting was loud but we who were sleeping in the tents were not interested in the foreigners.
Then there was a loud yell, louder than the other noise:
- Machine guns, fire and quick!
A MG opened up. The bursts were long. The enemy retaliated and some bullets made holes in our tents. However the men kept sleeping except two of them, one went out and was heard to say, when going out, that he won't be killed in a tent. They had placed a loaded MG next to the tent, just in case.
The situation appeared to be serious. The enemy was in front of our securing, distance a few dozen meters. The enemy CO had given his men order to surround us and men were already wading through the snow to outflank us. The order to fire had been given by one of our securing men, who during the Depression years had defected to Russia, but returned in the same manner. He had lived a volatile life over there and also picked up the language. Now he had been observing what the enemy was up to and found out that they had no intentions to surrender. That is why he put in his oar.
That is what was told after the battle. The enemy had been so close that the MG gunner did not have the courage to hop at his weapon but the squad leader, Cpl Pentti Ruotsalainen did.
We had no time to check then or later how large the enemy unit had been and what kind of losses they took. The Battalion was assigned to new tasks and our Squad, led by Cpl. Long was ordered to turn back to guard the minefield on the Uomaa road.
Otto Korpijaakko, who was the Chaplain of JR 39, mentions in his book “Tulessa ja pakkasessa" that he had crossed the battlefield immediately afterwards, and he had counted one hundred dead on the road alone.
On our way to the minefield guard duty we were engaged by an enemy patrol firing from the side of the road, and they did not give up firing although we retaliated, aiming well. One of the 4th Coy men, Pvt. Roivainen , took a bullet through his shoulder. Then one men of the 4th, Pvt. Aaro Martikainen, said:
- Let's attack! The machine gunners do not dare anyway!
Yet the reputation of our outfit did not have to suffer. We found four of our men, totally shot up, they had fulfilled their task to the very end.
We continued our journey, and found machine gunners who had been guarding the mine field before us. They were just evacuationg a wounded enemy, who was sitting at the roadside, talking loudly. We had an idea that this “comrade” was a good man although we were not able to understand his language. Obviously there had been a skirmish with an enemy patrol.
“Vaski gate” was now open. This battle that led to one of the most notable actions of the Winter War was fought in the most severe winter conditions. Enemy tanks that so far had frustrated many of our good attempts were now tied to limited areas due to the deep snow. In the battles at Uomaa road the ability of the Finnish ski troops to move quickly and freely in terrain had decisively contiributed to the situation and prevented the enemy from fixing their broken communications.
For comparison an extract of the II Battalion/JR39 War Diary:
4.30hrs Battalion shifted by skiing to Ala-Lavajärvi lake
7.30hrs Arrived at a point abt 500m W of the E tip of Ala-Lavajärvi lake, a hill at the road, with enemy transport column and tanks on the road. A firefight started at once. During the day several enemies and horses were shot.
17.00hrs Securing was set up and we pulled back about 500m for rest. The gear of the men was wet and the men were tired.
3.30hrs Baggage trains of companies arrived. As soon as they were there the tents were set up. Cartridges were distributed and there was some rest
01.00hrs Covering patrol was provided for sappers who mined the road about 600m NW tip of lake Ylä-Lavajärvi
08.30hrs Tents were taken down and loaded.
10.00hrs Set out for a ski march to E of lake Vuortanojärvi (about 1 km E of the lake).
13.00hrs Battalion in target.
16.00hrs started setting up tents, organising sentry duty and resting.
05.40hrs Set out, objective Uomaa road NW of Lemetti (800m from it). Btn had been given one AT gun and one 20mm MG.
10.00hrs Air raid against the bagage train
11.00hrs Battalion reached the objective. Baggage train situated NE of lake Vuortanojärvi.
05.00hrs Battalion in securing duty, at times firefights.
12.00hrs Enemy tank destroyed with satchel charges and hand grenades.
13.00hrs Baggage train shifted near Syskyjärvi. When leaving, subjected to artillery strike. No damage
Battalion still in guarding duties, including guarding a mine field
23.00hrs Battle baggage train I joined the units.
3.00hrs Battalion in march readiness, setting out to the direction of Koirinoja.
3.30hrs Arrived at site of camp, situated about 2km along the road to Koirinoja from the Uomaa road
04.40hrs Tents set up and the men were having rest, securing set up.
05.05hrs Exchange of fire between enemy patrol and our sentries.
06.20hrs Information received: there is at least one Company of enemies against us.
07.00hrs Firefight intensified. The enemy is near.
08.00hrs Fighting continues, captured 100 rifles, 4 LMGs, 2 sniper rifles, several pistols and other gear
Enemy losses about 150 men.
12.00hrs Battalion marching to the direction of Koirinoja.
05.30hrs Tents taken down.
06.00hrs Battalion in marching readiness E of Koirinoja river.
Battalion proceeded to S of Koivuselkä village, reaching the railway line, and was able to keep the road under fire.
During the night several patrol skirmishes. Sentry duty and securing continues. At times intense exchange of shots. Our fire controlled the terrain up to the shoreline of Ladoga.
10.45hrs Tsk I moved to the Battalion in Koivuselkä.
13.30hrs Arrived at Koivuselkä.
19.00 Securing set out for forTsk.I.
6th Company/IIBtn/JR39 war diary for the same period:
Coy marched in the direction of Lemetti, Hill 83. Sentry duty and patrolling.
Sentry duty and fighting.
Sentry duty and patrolling.
Coy marched in the direction of Lavajärvi.
Sentry duty and patrol skirmishes.
Coy marched to the direction of Nietoja
Battle in the terrain of Lavajärvi-Pitkäjärvi crossroads. About one company of enemies were destroyed. The Coy marched as the spearhead company to the direction of Koivuselkä and swept the road clean of enemies scattered in battle. Cpl. Palviainen, Heikki, Pfc. Hyvönen, Johan Petter and Pvt. Leskinen, Janne were KIA.
Coy marched in the direction of Nietaja. Sentry duty.
Battle on the supply road between Uomaa road and Koivuselkä. A crowd of some 300 enemies met us, and they were entirely destroyed, some surrendeed and the rest were KIA. Of our Coy Pvt Ville Lauri Pitkänen died of heart attack and Cpl Reino Halonen was wounded.
Fighting and sentry duty
Fighting and sentry duty
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- Joined: 25 Jun 2007 11:17
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Journal “Kansa Taisteli “,vol. 2, 1960
Another Er.P.3 story of the Winter War, there is a map in the source on p.39
I was just one of many – a 2nd Lieut, a MG Platoon leader in Er.P.3 (Detached Battalion 3)
I was trying to advance with my outfit on the Lähde sector from the Regimental command post to the Battalion command post situated on the Support line to the direction of the forestry road. Spruce trees kept falling down on the road and the ever denser shell holes proved that the Support line and its reaer were now being shelled by the enemy artillery.
The road is familiar to me since Er.P.3, having been transferred from Vammelsuu to Summa, had been converted into a “satchel charge battalion” (AT) tasked to hunt and destroy tanks. I have been fighting just on this Lähde sector, subjected to Lt. Rave's Company.
Today, 11 February 1940, our CO Maj. Ludvig Mäntylä arrived on a lorry to Kultakumpu where my Platoon was having a rest. He told me and my men to embark on the lorry and took us to the command post of the Regiment. The enemy had managed to make a breach in the Lähde sector. It was said to be something more serious than the usual course of events: breach - tanks broken through – counterstrike – tanks destroyed or withdrawn – situation unchanged.
This breakthrough had been heralded since the morning ever intensifying concert of ear-splitting, rumbling explosions, sounding like a huge boiling cauldron of soup. I had been suspecting this kind of breach already some days back as we were relieved, in the heat of battle, from the first line by new troops. Even a 2nd Lieut is enough of a tactician to deduce something. I think I happened to tell the newcomers that “ Keep the positions now, so that we should not have to run back to help you at once”. Now we were running there.
The damn shelling was now there slowing us down. “Warrior” Mäntylä (Maj. M: used to refer to himself so) had rallied every available man of the Battalion: scribes, cooks, horse drivers, numbering a dozen men, and they were added to my depleted Platoon as my outfit.
At the Regimental Command post I had been ordered to take the outfit to the Battalion command post dugout on the Support line. Now that artillery barrage there...
I get out of my shell hole, walk upright on the road, light a smoke and yell:
- Lads, let's go, dashing onward!
I admit it is stupid to stand on the road and that is playing for the gallery but at least one has to look like courageous even though one is afraid. There is a task waiting for us and it does not pay to lie here.
In the command post dugout of the support line I meet the familiar Battalion CO, the same man who led the fighting on the Lähde sector as the enemy offensive started early February. There is also 2nd Lr. Villanen who relieved my Platoon from the front line, he is wounded and waiting to be evacuated. I am given the task to set up a blocking position in the terrain behind the “gas sauna”, and I do make it before the enemy and place my outfit in defensive positions. The rumble of battle is waving, at times louder, at times less so, suddenly turning into full volume sometimes on our left , sometimes on our right. Troops are coming, actually slogging – presumbly for a counterattack.
To my amazement I find my old classmate, student of theology, now Platoon leader Erkki Kuparinen. There is no time for a chat. What does that matter, anyway, as the enemy is ramming the gate of the Carelian isthmus and has managed to pry it partly open. We who hail from Viipuri know what that means. The troops that are going to counter-attack are in my opinion men that already have experience from Summa – seeing their tattered and soiled snow camo suits and tired, slogging gaint. Yet their eyes and countenance are oozing decisiveness. Battles have hardened them and their instincts have learned to separate the sound of a whining shell from a whistling one which allows them to take cover in the right moment, sparing their energy, despite their tiredness.
In the evening I am informed that I have to get in phone contact with the Battalion CO at once. I receive an order over the phone to hand over my outfit to my deputy and get in Lt. Ericsson's command post where I shall get more men and further orders. My task would be to retake a trench taken by the enemy on our left wing – that means to the direction of fort “Poppius”. The CO also mentions that he would start rolling the same trench from the other side of the breach in our direction.
Heading for Lt. Ericsson's dugout with my Runner, Pvt. Turtiainen I am thinking hard about my order. I never before have seen the Lieut, but the order is clear, it does not matter whether I know him or not. I also am familiar with the terrain. The only detail that occupies my mind is what kind of fighters would join me for the counterstirke.
Ericsson's dugout is a concrete construction deep underground. The strong light of a Petromax lamp blinded a man coming in. The feeling in the dugout was not very high, no wonder, because the Company had had to take a tremendous pressure from the front and from the wings. I do not know what instructions Lt. Ericsson had been given but it took a long time before I got hand grenades and a couple of SMG gunners to join me at the spearhead. His Company was to occupy the trench as the enemy would be pushed back, and the operation could be launched.
There may have been some friction in the preparations but none in the rolling of the trench.
We proceeded up to the perimeter of the fort Poppius to the point where a destroyed tank was situated on the trench with a passage under it. But then we were unable to continue any farther. The enemy had secured the location completely. There were two or three MG s firing from the flanks and there was a weapons nest dug under a destroyed tank to the right and ahead. A red flag was flying some 20m from us, probably to signal that “us Russians” have taken this part of the trench and those Finns on the far side of the tank could be for example shelled.
We stayed there, Turtiainen and two plucky Swedish speaking men of Ericsson – and set up a weapons nest. There we were waging war – throwing hand grenades and evey now and then firing over the parapet with SMGs at the enemy gun nests. It was the usual day-to-day business for a front fighter; no land was taken, neither gave we up one single inch. The sounds of battle around us were dying down, as if vanishing in the darkness. But the front would not become totally calm. Handsome muzzle flames meant that “the neighbour” was awake and preparing for their next assault to-morrow. One tank after another rumbled and clanked past us through the breach in our line. Some headed to the direction of the support line, some made a turn to the left in our rear, which created nasty forebodings in our minds. Most tanks carried men on the deck. Some “monsters” fired at us when passing so that dust was flying from our parapet. For fun, I thought.
All we were able to do was to look on, from our first row seats, at the enemy preparations for another attack. Oh that feeling of helplessness that overcame us. We had nothing to even try to engage the tanks, not even satchel charges or petrol bottles – and our request for artillery fire had been denied.
The dawn unravelled the black fabric of the night – pulling quietly off one strand at a time. The local features became more clear, details of the surroundings were revealed. To the right in front of us two new armour shields had been set up, behind them an enterprising enemy was hunting us with small grenades. It was just the gray moments of morning as the energies of the defenders after a sleepless night are at the ebb struggling against the deafening, all-encompassing exhaustion. Your senses are dulled, the idea of the futitlity of it all is creeping on your mind – an attitude of “who cares” is spreading. That is the dangerous moment for a defender, who does not have the energy to observe his environment. Even the mere sounds of incoming shells are able to reveal a lot for an experienced man: whistling – passing overhead, whining – oncoming, hissing – we are about to get it. Then there are the shell explosions: splat – hit on something soft, such as bog, sharp crack – hit on a rock, crash – hit against trees.
As I was thinking something like this I was alerted by our lads yelling “Enemy attacking”. There they came – as tney used to do – one wave after the other. They were wearing peaked caps and long overcoats, advancing in quick dashes. They kept approaching our trench on a wide front, while we were under small arms fire from our flanks and also from the attacking lines. There was a mortar coughing as if about to suffocate. But our line was oddly quiet, only the “fort Million” appeared to be alive, but the rest of the front was quiet.
- Turtiainen! Go and alert the company, double quick!
Turtiainen's tall, faithful shape vanished behind the nearest bend of the trench. We tried to keep up resistance with our small arms to delay the oncoming enemy at least for now, while wondering at the silence in our positions.
There is Turtiainen :
- Lieutenant, Sir! The trench is empty, there are nobody in the dugouts – we are alone – the Company has pulled back.
In a flash I realised the hopelessness of our situation. We were trapped, four men at the end of a rolled trench. Tanks have been rolling into our rear all night, some with men on deck, there was heavy fighting on the support line, and our way out – the trench – shall be blocked as soon as the enemy shall storm at the abandoned trench. Simply put, there is no return.
Why did the Company pull back? Why did they not inform us, but abandoned us here? Were we abandoned ? Carelessness, forgetfulness or on purpose? Maybe the purpose was to abandon us, to set up a kind of hedgehog position – if so, I shall remain here, everything is going to hell anyway, this is the end of the war.
- Dammit, lads, shoot at them!
I ordered despite my gloomy thoughts, but they disregarded my orders.
They had rallied around me, looking at me with appealing eyes: “What shall we do? You are our leader, so lead us out of here!”
What a heavy responsibility of a leader it was that fell on my shoulders. I realised that I was responsible not only for my unimportant life but those of my young brothers who had such bright eyes.
“I have to try” was the idea hammering in my mind. The only but small chance was found in the terrain between the front line and the support line; using it we would have to weave our way between the enemy tanks and eventual weapons nests, not to the support line but making a wide turn back to the front line, possibly at Summajärvi lake. Quickly I explained my plan, ordering to keep in contact with each other but to avoid bunching and follow and watch me. We gave one more burst at the advancing enemy and jumped out of the trench in “no-mans's land”
We started our journey. Mostly it was creeping, crawling on all fours, at times a brief dash and then bounce in a hole. A hole with a frozen son of the steppes still clutching at his rifle provided cover for me, too. As there was a more calm moment – good-bye to you, a son of the steppe – I shall try to make another bounce. If it should be my last one, we shall rest in neighbouring holes, in peace just as now. It looked like all the resources of Russia would have been aimed to support their sons advancing in the ecstacy of victory while we four “forgotten ones” kept weaving our way on .
Death was now sweeping the battlefield. Sometimes he would take a frightened man in his foxhole, relieving him from his fear, or at times he would dig deeper – maybe an entire dugout or weapons nest with the men inside.
How long did it take for us to reach our lines? One hour, two or five? I cannot tell. Time stays still when a man in mortal danger is living only the actual moment with every cell of his body. Every moment is a victory – by lying ever lower down even on top of a dead adversary may enable you to steal a moment from the future to the present.
We had made it unscathed. I relieved both Swedish speakers to find their own Company, I reported at the nearest command post. There was Cavaly Capt. Eino Penttilä, in a tent that had been dug in the ground and covered by a sort of layer of logs.
The bearded CO, one-time champion of javelin throw, was sitting there, surrounded by his subordinates and quietly received my report. I was given a new task: to take over the Summajärvi stronghold and set up a blocking position in the direction of “Fort Million”. I set out to my new task, Turtiainen at my heels, and through my exhaustion I had a premonition: Would we be forgotten this time ?
We were not.
For comparison, ER.P3 KKK war diary on the same days:
06hrs Meal.. Artillery barrages also near our camp. Lively air activities. Leaflets dropped.
I/JR7 still accommodated .
14.00hrs III Platoon ordered to join the 2nd Coy Admin Platoon. Trench retaking mission.
WIA Pfc. Rättö, Pentti, Pvt. LauniainenUuno
Cpl. Kiesi, Viljo (added: Severely wounded)
Pvt. Kikkanen, Onni,
Sintonen, Emil, (Added: POW)
16hrs Enemy air activities lively. Leaflets dropped.
I/JR7 still accommodated
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- Location: Finland
Pvt. Vättö, the volunteer last man
Journal “Kansa Taisteli”, vol. 2. 1960
It is the usual thing to do to tell about men who want to be the first ones but there was a man who wanted to be the last one. I want to explain that I am going to tell about the delaying battles of summer 1944 and about a man who had a special desire of being the last man to abandon a position.
One shell explodes like another, the difference is just the calibre and how close the impact is. Auto weapons noise is such that one cannot tell the calibre, and “duds” may cause major surprises. I do not consider it necessary to describe such minor details, which means that the description of the course of events shall lack some colour. On the other hand I know that every front fighter is aware of what is the show in which one's survival is not depending on one's will.
IT was late autumn 1943. Our outfit (10./III/21.Pr. = 21. Brigade, III Btn, 10.Coy) was in rest and recuperation N of Karhumäki (Medvezhegorsk), earning their rations for a change in fortification work. It was a sweaty work indeed, and specially the ones unused to physical work got their shoulder skin scraped off when carrying huge pieces of round timber.
While we were working our outfit received replacements, this time they were of the youngest age class. It was a relief for me as well as many others in the Company because we were relieved of the burden of being the youngest men; we had a rise in caste. I was a rifle squad leader and received two new men in my squad.
They looked like normal Finnish soldiers, one was skinny, the other one burly. The latter man attracted my attention, because in infantry the tough service tests a man's physical strength. As he reported to me and I saw his “bear hands” I decided to make him a LMG gunner.
His name was Viljo Vättö, a son of a father from Häme province and a Carelian mother. His blonde hair, his broad shoulders, his bear-like gait and most of all his quietness proved that the Häme features dominated his countenance. Learning to know him better was a slow process since usually he did not talk at all unless talked to, also I was another one from Häme. I kept observing him and my first shocking observation was to see him pour his weekly ration of ersatz cream in one go in the lid of his field kettle when he was drinking ersatz coffee. I understood he belonged in the group of men whom once enough is preferable to smaller portions more often.
Another characteristic detail was his (relative) learnedness, he knew by heart the entire teachings of the basic education.
In February 1944 we were shifted to the front line, which was a familiar environment for us but for the recruits it was something new and wonderful. Our outfit was this time posted in Vansjärvi front section that is situated between Krivi and Hiisjärvi.
In his very first stretch of sentry duty Pvt. Vättö drew attention to himself in an unusual manner, enough to be chewed up by our Platoon CO. This is what happened: The CO had instructed Vättö before he took the sentry post that in case of emergency, that is enemy attack, he has to fire a red flare. A red flare is going to launch an emergency artillery strike at pre-determined targets.
Yet Vättö, without any reason, at once fired a red flare. The artillery was alerted in the due manner but before they opened up they called our CO to make sure that artillery support was needed. Our CO was unaware of any danger, we were alerted to man our fighting positions.
Vättö was standing calm in his sentry post, ignorant of the melee caused by the red flare that he had launched. As the CO asked why he had fired the red flare he responded:
- I have never fired a red flare I wanted to see what it looks like in the sky.
Then he had to hear some selected words for his education. Taking the admonishing he did not look like one in regret, he rather appeared to be smiling. In my opinion Vättö was far from a simpleton. I never returned to this case when talking with him. There was something else to think of every day.
The enemy had launched their offensive in the Carelian Isthmus and that affected every front sector in some way. On the night 13 to 14 June 1944 the enemy had distracted us by firing and spreading a smokescreen. Yet there was no attack.
(Good maps describing the course of events found here: http://personal.inet.fi/koti/juhani.put ... o_1944.htm)
21.Pr. disengaged starting 20 June 1944. One man from each squad had to stay as the last man to observe the enemy. The Platoon CO had hardly finished his briefing and before I managed to request a volunteer I heard a reliable-sounding voice reporting for sentry duty. I glanced over my shoulder: it was pvt. Vättö. His request was approved, now he had a chance to distinguish himself.
Next we had to march 30 km in hot weather and then man a fortified position at the “Nuoli road”. (Karhumäki-Osterjärvi-Liistepohja line, 21.Pr on the right wing, tr.rem.) Vättö was there among us and he had fulfilled his duty correctly. My squad manned a forward stronghold with a dugout. It was Midsummer day of 1944 (=23.06.1944) and the enemy started celebrating in their own manner. We hardly had time to man our positions to repel the enemy attack. Vättö used his LMG so effectively that the enemy had no chance to break through there. I was on the extreme left wing with my SMG seeing to it that we would not be surrounded. Everyone of my men was in their positions doing their duty well. Just one man ran away as we were alerted, taking his valuable SMG with him. Valuable because the only auto weapons in our squad were my SMG and Vättö's LMG, the other men had rifles. Unfortunately my SMG malfunctioned at the critical moment. I pulled the trigger, receiving a blast of gunpowder in my face. A faulty cartridge had left a bullet in the barrel, blocking it. I set out to find a man with a cleaning rod to fix my gun or to find a good one ( obviously the squaddie did not have a spare barrel, tr.rem.). Pvt. V. Ojala, the Runner, almost bumped into me, relaying the order to disengage. The enemy had broken into our trench on our right and the squad manning it had withdrawn. My squad also withdrew to stay in contact with the rest of the Company. We were pulling back slowly, but the man with apparently the least hurry was Vättö who shouldered his LMG with irritating sluggishness before joining our retreat.
Fighting went on for hours in the rear position. We had an advantageous position on the top of ridges compared with the enemy who had to charge uphill. That is why we won the battle despite the numerical superiority of the enemy, denying them breakthrough. At one moment the situation was critical due to lack of ammunition. We had to fire single shots with our auto weapons. Quick action was taken to remedy the situation and cartridge supply was re-established. Silence fell on the battlefield, only the wounded were moaning in no-man's-land, a shocking message in the Midsommer night, the celebration of light.
Our dugout, where we had been cantonned before the battle, was now in no-man's-land. Our personal gear had been left behind there because after the battle alert we had not had a chance to retrieve them. As it was quiet now, I decided to get my gear from the dugout. I informed my me so that they should not take me for an enemy and started sneaking for my objective. I found the gap in the wire, because I had used it many a time. At the dugout there were quite a number of enemies who had found the end of their journey there. Fearing possible new occupants I carefully sneaked in, and returned with my backpack and map case. I had been reprimanded for losing equipment, but not this time.
In my opinion abandoning “earthly goods” in an extreme situation was a quite natural thing to do.
Back in our positions I was surprised to be received by a handshake and congratulations. The ceremony was performed by my classmate, Cpl. O. Lehtonen, who by quirk of fate and to my great joy would be sharing our dugout. We shared this unforgettable Midsummer that we could not anticipate when in school. I shall never forget his handshake. Lehtonen was a member of the F.O.O. team whose input in the recent battle had been well directed artillery support.
I told my men to get their stuff from the dugout because the route seemed to be clear. To my surprise someone said that Vättö had already collected his. I do not know when he had done it. Only one of my men was not interested in the fate of his gear, so Vättö went out and got it for him.
By now I was sure that in my squad Vättö was a man that I would not like to lose. I never saw such fast and timely distribution of honours that happened after this battle. Our CO asked whom I suggest to be decorated in my squad. I put out Pvt. Viljö Vättö. I did not intend to disregard the others but there was just one medal to be had. If I remember correctly three medals were distributed in our Company and all of them were given in our Platoon, one of the decorated being Pvt. Vättö.
We had to retreat on 24.6.1944 from these positions. The waves of enemy swept over us like the waves of sea. The enemy mass was rolling at us, our artillery had already quirt firing and the Mgs had been removed from the concrete bunkers. LMGs were now the major weapon to repel the brownis-green avalanche. The enemy was resoundingly shouting “uraa” and among the din I saw men running past. As I asked them where they were going I did not get any answers. I left the trench and buffeted by shell blasts I dashed in our dugout. Nobody was there. I fastened every SMG drum I found on my belt and left to catch up with the others
Soon I found the Company and my squad was there among the other men. One of us was missing – Pvt. Mättö. He, too, soon emerged from the dust cloud and joined us just as we were heading for West. He had been slow in coming as he was carrying a rifle in addition to his LMG. He had taken it along as someone had “forgotten” it in the trench when disengaging hurriedly.
We had reached Liusvaara during our retreat, one of the first stops on this side of the old border. (About 21 July 1944, tr. Rem.) The enemy had carried out several attempts to cut off our retreat and to destroy us. Our outfit, half a platoon, had taken positions on a hillside, waiting for the “programme” for the day. Lots of it would be coming this time. We started hearing clanking of tank tracks which meant hard work for the AT men next to the road. The menacing clanking approached but at the very moment we received orders to retreat. Not one moment too soon. We had to run to avoid getting crushed. I shouted the men to use a ridge top that I spotted for cover. We ran crouching behind the ridge that covered us from the fire of the tank guns and Mgs. It remained in my memory as a thrilling “gauntlet” that ended at a river.
The fate favoured us that time. We found that two huge pines had been placed side by side as a kind of bridge spanning the river. I was fearing for Vättö, because he was carrying the heaviest load: the LMG and the magazine cans. He would make quite a splash and he would sink deep if he should slip. Yet he made the crossing just as well as the rest of us. But the hard part remained: we had to run up an open hillside to reach the cover of forest. We made good targets although the enemy had now a longer shooting range. We reached the forest without casualties.
We were congratulating ourselves for our good luck but our joy was cut short as we were told our Battalion had been surrounded. Finally the enemy had succeeded in their attempt . We dispersed to spot our chances to break out, and without delay. I joined a group that was studying a map, deciding to make use of marshes to avoid the enemy. Everyone at that spot joined them. I was not able to find all my men, among them Vättö. There was no time to lose and the group set out. We had to wander some 20km over swamps, at times under the nose of the enemy, and made it to our side and we were directed to our Company where a steaming field kitchen was waiting for the returning men. There was a roll call. My squad was complete save one man: it was not hard to guess who: Pvt. Vättö. I knew that he did not make haste when retreating but still I feared the worst. To my great joy I spotted him in a small group of returning men.
At Liusvaara we had been surrounded but soon it was the enemy's turn, and in a bigger scale, by two of our Divisions. Part of the surrounding force was our 21. Brigade led by Col. Ekman. In the wilderness of Ilomantsi broke out fighting during which the worn out and tired Finnish troops, maybe defeated in the opinion of the enemy, launched such a counterattack that the tables were turned.
In the beginning ( about 31. July, Tr.rem.) our Battalion had to take the blows of the enemy at (Öykköstenvaara,) Möhkö, a famous Winter War theatre, until it was our turn to advance to surround and destroy the enemy. It was rather odd to advance in the same manner as in 1941.
I am describing an incident in Möhkö (12. Aug.). I must admit that we were really tired and some men were showing symptoms of collapse. Returning home was just a dream. One Sergeant who never had shown any symptoms of physical or moral weakness, came to me and whispered:
Look at the top of that tree stump, do you see the gnomes jumping down off it?
I am sure he did see them since he was shocked and serious. I did not see any however hard I looked at the tree stump some meters off. He was not drunk, none of us had even seen “firewater” for a number of months. I explained the Sergeant that his hallucinati0n was due to exhaustion and he had better to sleep a few hours as soon as possible.
My Squad had been posted in a most nasty place in the front line: a seam between two Companies. It had been manned but the men had spontaneously abandoned it and the officers had not found another squad to fill the hole in the line. To be honest I admit that at first I refused to take my men there because in my opinion it was not necessary to man the spot but after a brief consideration I agreed to take my squad there.
There was nothing wrong with the spot when one found oneself there, because the foxholes had been dug under big boulders, providing sufficient cover against shell splinters. The nasty part was getting out of them. A man leaving his foxhole was like on a platter for the enemy tank guns which they immediately used . Also getting food there was problematic. We did not have to stay long in these rat-holes
Pvt. Ojala, a runner, came to me during a shelling, sweat was flowing down his temples under his helmet. We were standing up as he delivered his message to me. At the same moment a shell exploded against the trunk of the tree under which we found ourselves. He kept talking while I saw blood oozing on his cheekbones, pierced by small shell splinters. However I found that it was nothing serious, we ducked and went on talking.
The orders he relayed implied that we had to leave at once for new tasks. Yet the shelling was so intense that I preferred to wait for a more calm moment. A squad had far less chance to pass an artillery barrage than a single man. I decided this time to ask the opinion of my men. The first one was Pvt. Karvonen. He should have had experience about every possible war situation, because he was fighting his fourth war. The previous ones were the War for Liberation, the campaigns in Viena and Aunus and the Winter War. In all of them he had been in the front line. I had received this good warrior, 20 years my senior, as replacement in my Squad.
He said that we should wait for a more opportune moment, because it was certain that all of us would not survive that run. Since Vättö, too, the youngest man, shared his opinion, we stayed there,waiting. As soon as the shells were no more pouring down we set out and made it without casualties.
Vättö and Karvonen were men whose judgement I trusted. Unfortunately I lost Pvt. Karvonen a while later. He was wounded and evacuated, it was not a bad wound. He did need rest because on top of everything his only son had been killed in action in this very same front sector.
We were waiting for order to assault on a swamp, lying prone on damp tussocks. I fell asleep and woke up with a start: the ground under me had been shook strongly. I looked around and the first thing I recognized was Vättö's face. I asked him what had happened. Calmly he stretched his arm to point out a hole next to us and said:
- A dud landed there.
These scattered memoirs on Viljo Vättö are based on my war diary and my memory. The one striking feature of his was his calm attitude in every situation. Sometimes it was even irritating. He controlled his nerves well and never embarrassed himself unlike another man who in two cases burst out in tears in the most critical moment of a battle.
At Porajärvi as there was a battle in a bridgehead Vättö was the first one I saw after an infernal barrage when the dust was settling a little. He was aiding the wounded and calling for paramedics. He also was one of the 18 men in a delaying patrol at Soutjärvi as we marched 50km in pristine wilderness. I would not call him a “hero”, it is a worn out word for this purpose. He was just an ordinary Finnish man who had had to abandon his farming tools for a LMG. He was working for the future of the country and the Fatherland, in another manner. He had no time nor inclination to stop to think about the price of the war. He had this job to do, he would gladly abandon it when he would no more be needed, and was ready to return to his civilian occupation
He was not to return to his dear homestead because it was situated in the ceded territory. That may also have effected his reluctance to withdraw from Carelia. Also there may have been other incidents in which Mättö proved himself but I was not there to witness them. He survived the war unscathed.
One of the most cheerful slogans of the war was “In war, everyone does not die but in civilian life everyone in the end”. He came to our outfit without any ceremonies and our ways were parted without fuss in Rauma in November 1944 on the day of demobilization. We shook hands for goodbye and I said “Thank you for everything, you were the best man of my squad”.
(Unfortunately the story cannot be compared with war diaries because no 12.Pr. War diaries of 1944 have survived.)