What a resourceful and fearless man can accomplish
by Esko Aukee
Journal Kansa Taisteli vol. 3, 1957
The book”Unknown soldiers” by Väinö Linna (a veteran of JR8) includes some detailed descriptions of environment that make the survivors recall the incidents of the period. Linna writes how Rokka made up in his mind a plan to blow up an enemy bunker during the trench war.
Rokka did not blow up the bunker, missing the promised furlough, but actually this bunker was eliminated later by JR29.
II Battalion of JR29 held the front line during winter 1942 at Syväri in front of Homorovitsa in a bunker landscape. The 9th Company held the “Million” dugouts in front of which was open field which included an enemy forward stronghold, the one that Linna describes. It was made up of a partly shelled up house, the basement of which had apparently been fortitied by the enemy, the embrasure was visible to Finns. The structure was a base for enemy F.O.O.s and snipers. Since it was situated on rising ground the enemy was able to observe and harass our positions in daytime, causing continuously losses. The distance to our nearest stronghold, “Little Million”, was less than 300m. We had tried to take it out by mortar and artillery fire. Plans to blow it up had been made but without result so far.
In January 1942 we received replacements, among them Cpl. Erkki Ilmari Tuomela. He had just been released from a military hospital, having been wounded in the face. He had lost one eye and the other one was not yet up to standard. Despite that he had volunteered for front line duty during his convalescence and finally he had been granted his wish.
Cpl. Tuomela had become interested in the no-man's-land immediately after his arrival and began to visit it in the cover of darkness, alone. After one of his trips he came to his superiors asking if he would be allowed to eliminate the enemy bunker. This was an unexpected request, and being made by a half-blind man it was not taken seriously initially. After a while Tuomela repeated his suggestion and said that in the dark he is able to see as much as any man and his hearing was the very best. Since he had proven himself a dapper man and he did not present any symptoms of lunacy – rather the opposite - his plan was accepted and developed on.
After the Battalion HQ approved the operation on condition that there would be necessary preparation and caution, the details were worked out and the operation was executed.
A coil of telephone cable was hauled in the farthest foxhole of the “Little Million” containing new cable enough to reach the enemy bunker. One end of the cable was tied around Cpl. Tuomela's waist. Then he shouldered an explosive charge. It was custom made by Sappers, fashioned like a backpack covered with tent fabric and included a can of petrol plus the explosive and a stick grenade as the detonator. Tuomela was armed with two hand grenades and a pistol plus the ten kilogram charge
Tuomela crept out of the foxhole laden with his gear and began to creep to the enemy
bunker. Two men joined him: one to stay at the wire to assist Tuomela in passing it both ways and one to secure his advance until mid-way.
It was early night and dark. Tuomela had to advance using his instinct and landmarks learned by heart. The telephone cable was uncoiled as he proceeded and we in the foxhole were able to estimate his advance. In the beginning the cable was moving evenly but then long pauses followed. We guessed that Tuomela was listening or digging in the snow that was thick in the no-man's-land. The men in the nearby firing positions had been ordered to keep firing every now and then, but not so much as to attract the enemy's attention, yet enough to mask any sounds of Tuomela's creeping.
Time passed, more than one hour had gone. The cable kept moving in brief jerks. It was agreed that should Tuomela meet with anything unexpected, get wounded or anything else forcing him to abandon the attempt, he should give a strong jerk at the cable. Then the cable men would assist him to retreat. But there was nothing such, the cable was slack for long periods. We estimated by the remaining cable that our man should by now be about at his target.
We were staring in the darkness of the no-man's land. There was a light rocket from the enemy side – Tuomela may be in trouble. I remembered the folk tale of Pekka who was sent in the den of a hibernating bear with a rope around his leg. He was told to kick if attacked by the animal. He did kick, he was pulled out – but he was missing his head.
Cpl. Tuomela in his own words: “ Creeping the second half of the mission was slow and heavy but without any surptises. Then I knew I would have the toughest part ahead. During my previous trips I had spotted two sentry posts, on each side of the bunker, thirty meters off it. I had to find my way between them. Fortunately I had a gap of a few dozen meters, but I had to keep quiet and low. I spotted one sentry as he carelessly lit up, at least I imagined what the small flicker of light was. As to the second one I just had to sense him.
I managed to creep near the house, there was less snow which also had been hardened by shells. I feared it might rustle under my movements. Nothing happened, though. I reached the basement wall. As I got up on my knees one sentry fired a light rocket. I kept glued at the wall, without moving. Do they see? If they do I shall have to hurry up. They did not spot me, they kept watching the no-man'-land, neither did the groove I had made in the snow reveal me.
I began to feel for a spot to place my package. The windows were too high. I spotted the embrasure in the middle of the house, I crept on all fours under it. There it should be, I thought. It will be hard task, but if I can make it, it will make my day.
I unshouldered my load and began to lift it to dump it in the embrasure, keeping my pistol at hand in case my present would be rejected. The opening was big enough for my package. I had untied the phone cable from my waist and tied it to the lanyard of the stick grenade. I gently shoved in the charge while keeping the cable slack.
I stood up and reached in the embrasure while holding the straps of the packet until it met the ground. There it rested, now I had to return using the same route, quietly.
I had to spend time to pass the sentries, then in mid-way it occurred to me that it could make sense to remove the slack from the cable. I pulled it slowly and suddenly there was a flash and rumble. The charge worked, I found, but a bit too early, because the plan was to ignite at our wire. After the explosion shooting broke out and I had to lie lown to avoid becoming a target.”
Cpl Tuomela dropped in our foxhole, undamaged. We had a F.O.O. Observing the situation and he had the blown-up bunker shelled. Riflemen and machine gunners fired, too. At first it seemed the house-bunker would not catch fire despite the tremendous flame of the explosion but by the by we could see the light of a fire through the darkness. Next morning the structure was still smoking and we could see that the house and its fortifications had burned up so well that only the armouring around the embrasure, reinforced with concrete and steel plate, was standing.
Tuomela was granted a furlough. Once again it was proven what a resourceful and fearless man is able to accomplish.