Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Discussions on the Winter War and Continuation War, the wars between Finland and the USSR.
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PavelKirilovich
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Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by PavelKirilovich » 17 Dec 2013 15:16

Gentlemen,

I have been reading Carl van Dyke's "The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40." This book is written using Soviet sources, and it seems that van Dyke does not have a great deal of experience dealing with Soviet military sources, as I have already noted a series of errors or misunderstandings arising from what appear to be unfamiliarity with the subject matter.

So I'm looking for some information on trivial things I haven't heard about before. On p137 he mentions that each Army assigned to the North-Western Front had "one rifle division composed of tank and machine gun brigades." By this, are we talking about an attempt to provide tanks with close support infantry (avtomatchiki, a'la tankodesant) and he simply mis-translated, or are we talking about an organization with M1910 Maxim MMGs instead of PPD SMGs? Presumably this was grouped under a rifle division headquarters for the sake of control - if not, why, what?

p138 makes mention of Gorolenko's 50th Rifle Corps having received armoured shields on skiis (1000+ examples) and some armoured sleds to be towed behind tanks, "for the protection of sappers and infantry." What is this? I've never heard of this before; van Dyke also mentioned in an earlier chapter that the deep snow led to the infantry slogging through it being slaughtered, so the Soviets took to towing them in sleds behind tanks. It seems to me that this would not reduce the scale of slaughter, but would make recovery of corpses easier in some cases - I presume this is why the armoured examples were then produced in preparation for the successful, systematic attack through the Mannerheim Line.

Thanks for your time. These two oblique references are things I haven't seen before, and he provides no more detail than what I've quoted from his monograph. Hopefully you lot know something more about this than I do.

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Panssari Salama
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Panssari Salama » 17 Dec 2013 15:36

PavelKirilovich wrote:Gentlemen,


p138 makes mention of Gorolenko's 50th Rifle Corps having received armoured shields on skiis (1000+ examples) and some armoured sleds to be towed behind tanks, "for the protection of sappers and infantry." What is this?
Do you mean these?

Image

"Ryssien suojakilpi Viipurin Linnasaaressa. Viipuri. 1940.03.04"

Russian protective shield at Linnasaari, Viipuri.

SA-kuva.fi
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Panssari Salama
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Panssari Salama » 17 Dec 2013 15:41

Another picture of the same armored shield:

Image

Just enter the search phrase "suojakilpi" at www.SA-kuva.fi, to see a larger version of these pictures.
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by PavelKirilovich » 17 Dec 2013 16:51

Kiitos, Salama. I don't know what I'm referring to, never having seen or heard of one before, but those match the description of "an armoured shield on skis." I don't know how effective these would have been.

So that leaves just the armoured sleds, then. Are there any accounts in the Finnish literature (I only know three dozen words of Finnish, two thirds of which are of the "perkele" variety, or I'd look myself) of troops encountering Russians being towed on sleds behind tanks? If SA-Kuva had photos that would be even better, what search times might I use to try and find those?

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Panssari Salama » 17 Dec 2013 17:40

Sure Pavel :milsmile:

These one-man armored shields are widely mentioned in literature, so when I read your post I immediately made the connection. I have not read the book you are referring to, but I think I am being correct here.

As for the towed armored sleds, I have a faint recollection of reading of them too. Probably something quickly put together, then towed by tanks with infantry sheltering behind them. I did not find any pictures though, unfortunately.

I think they provided some shelter to advancing men, but the defenders soon learned to fire to their neighbouring sections and vice versa, so the RKKA infantry hiding behind them was caught in crossfire as a result.

Perhaps some other forum member can shed more light into this?

EDIT: Search term *suoja* seems to provide more results of these armored shields at least:

Image

Synonyms: suojalevy (armored plate), suojakilpi (armored shield) .
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by PavelKirilovich » 17 Dec 2013 18:13

Yeah, it occurs to me that any armoured shield that didn't provide all around protection would have just exposed troops to fire: as you say, mutually supporting positions. The sleds, as I said earlier, probably helped get the troops nearer the Finns before they were unmasked by geometry to a machinegun or a few riflemen, and then the guys riding it probably had a bad time: but at least the sled made it easier to recover their bodies afterwards.

It's remarkable that such a thing as these hasn't made it into the English literature; it's just the sort of technological solution that Western military historiography generally masturbates furiously to, thanks to American techno-centric influence. van Dyke is the first time I've heard of it, but I'm not at all surprised it's commonly mentioned in the much more thorough Finnish literature.

On a semi-related note: The Russians do not seem to have figured out the skis very well until after 1942: having read their winter regulations updated after the experiences of winter 1939-40 and 1941-42, they still advocated firing from skis (perhaps their bindings were more difficult to put on than Scandinavian examples?) but otherwise had acceptable winter tactics. I'm not surprised that their Talvisota-era tactics were so weak.

Thanks again mate.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Juha Tompuri » 17 Dec 2013 20:44

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JTV
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by JTV » 17 Dec 2013 20:48

PavelKirilovich wrote:On a semi-related note: The Russians do not seem to have figured out the skis very well until after 1942: having read their winter regulations updated after the experiences of winter 1939-40 and 1941-42, they still advocated firing from skis (perhaps their bindings were more difficult to put on than Scandinavian examples?) but otherwise had acceptable winter tactics. I'm not surprised that their Talvisota-era tactics were so weak.
IMO shooting while skis is not really as much of problem as throwing hand grenades or doing bayonet-fighting while on skis, which to my best recollection are also included to Soviet pre-war ski manual. What I have read apparently the Soviet skis indeed had notably more complicated and slower to use ski bindings than the design used by Finnish military. But it seems this was not the only difference - simply noted they seem to be shorter than the Finnish ones. According modern Finnish Defence Forces ski training manual skis should be 20 - 40 cm longer than the person using them. BTW: What I have read Finnish military skis were developed in 1930's, but I am not sure how they compared to those used in Norway and Sweden.

Another Finnish military item, which proved extremely useful was a military tent which could be heated with a small iron stove. This sort of accommodation may not seem much, but in comparison the Soviets seem to have started the war without tents or stoves while Finnish Army employed scorched earth tactics by burning to the ground all buildings left to the enemy. Sleeping under open sky in subzero temperatures (no sleeping bags either in those days) is no picnic and making large fires to keep warm (what the Soviets often seemed to have do) was just asking for trouble (making them good targets for artillery or surprise attack).

Jarkko

Soviet and Finnish skis on state border. The smaller ski is a Soviet one. SA-kuva.fi photo archive, photo number 3219, photographed 15th of January 1940.
Image

Soviet ski, length 5.5 feet (about 168-cm). SA-kuva.fi photo archive, photo number 7234, photographed in 2nd Army Corps 1st of March 1940.
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by PavelKirilovich » 18 Dec 2013 03:10

Kiitos, Juha! Those must be the sleds van Dyke mentioned. Well, you have to give credit to the Russians for trying, at least. As we say in English: "An A for Effort."

Jarkko (I understand you're the guy who runs JaegerPlatoon? Excellent site by the way.), good data, thanks. I should have said "fighting from skis," because you're quite right, they did have suggestions for bayonet fighting and I imagine that would have turned out to be a lot like medieval jousting without the horse.

Being a Canadian, I understand completely about the tents. The Soviets never introduced satisfactory bivouac equipment, you have to be a hard man indeed to survive in some areas with what the RKKA issued. I know, having experimented with it myself. I've heard that the Finnish boots we see a lot of in period photographs and sadly not so much of these days (pieksut?) with the turned up square toe are perfect on the traditional bindings the Finns use that the rest of the world calls "Himalayan" or some shit like that; you basically step in and out of the binding.
As to the skis being shorter, don't the Estonians have short, wide cross country skis that aren't too bad? Probably, the loss in length is offset by the increase in width. I wouldn't know, I haven't learned to ski yet: snowshoes are more common here. I'll take care of this gap in my knowledge this winter.

I seem to recall that the Soviets trying to stay alive by huge fires was how a lot of them were shot during operations against motti (what is the Finnish plural of motti?). They'd be silhouetted against the fire so it wasn't any effort for Finns in the woods to pick them off.

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JTV
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by JTV » 18 Dec 2013 06:57

PavelKirilovich wrote:I've heard that the Finnish boots we see a lot of in period photographs and sadly not so much of these days (pieksut?) with the turned up square toe are perfect on the traditional bindings the Finns use that the rest of the world calls "Himalayan" or some shit like that; you basically step in and out of the binding.
Finnish military had a variety of military boots in its use and due to supply situation large number of soldiers went to war in their own boots/shoes. The boot type that you mentioned is also commonly referred as "Laplander boots" or lapikkaat in Finnish, it was among the issued boot versions, but not the most common among them. The most common issued boot type was black leather boots which are almost knee high and resemble quite a lot the Russian/Soviet and German boots of the time, but have very wide tips - these boots work well with Finnish ski bindigs as well. In addition were also small number of marching boot m/34, which was a predecessor of modern laced military boots.

Laplander boots are still available from some manufacturers in Finland, but they do not seem to be very popular in these days. The reason is probably that they do not seem to be in fashion and are quite expensive, check the versions marked as "original lappish boots": http://www.toysankenkatehdas.fi/en/catalog/1

I have to admit that I have no experience about Estonian skis, however the Soviet skis shown in the period photographs do seem to be any wider than Finnish skis. Hence the surface area seems to be notably smaller.

Finnish sources often mention sending patrols equipped with automatic weapons to attack the Soviet units warming around open fires. Apparently this proved quite successful.

Plural for motti would be motit.

And yes - Jaeger Platoon is my website. Thanks for the compliments. The next update will be about super-heavy (8" - 12") coastal guns.

Jarkko

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by PavelKirilovich » 22 Dec 2013 06:20

Jarkko, thanks for the information again and, inadvertently, the link to Toysan K. once more. I'm not hardcore enough to justify wearing lapikkaat, although I do carry puukkos (what is the correct plural?) and stack my wood in motit; I started consciously adopting elements of Finnish cultural technique as my research into military history revealed increasingly impressive things attributed to the Finns. I've always been an outdoorsman, and Finland of this era basically required you to be an outdoorsman if you wanted to survive: there's a lot of folk knowledge and military culture and technique that I'm finding very useful in my personal life. The point of this long segue is that Toysan K. has a set of felt lined jackboots I'll be using for short hikes in the woods over the winter. I couldn't remember the name of the company.

With regards to JaegerPlatoon.net, I find the sections describing the way the Finns organized and the role of a formation (as per the page on the Coastal Artillery infantry battalions and an organization which loosely parallels the Soviet "Fortified Region" units in mission, the independent area defence companies) very useful. I imagine that when you do it, the tactical section would be in something of the same vein. As a tactical-operational military historian/analyst, I am most interested in how the Finns used automatic weapons in their units, given the need to fight in very dense terrain in some sectors. How the squad fought with a high proportion of rifles due to necessity is also of interest in such terrain. I imagine there was a great deal of battlefield salvage of PPSh-41 and PPS-42 submachineguns.
There is a gap in coverage, however: as Varusteleka quite correctly notes, the M/31 SMG gained almost as many kills during the Winter and Continuation wars as the puukko. The puukko has no dedicated page. Should be rectified at the earliest opportunity. [Why yes. I did intend that as a joke.]

I have come across, in van Dyke's work, the name of the armoured sled. It seems to be called the "Sokolov," as per p151, and was employed in the attack of the 123rd Rifle Division against Hills 62.4 and 65.5, vicinity of Summjärvi. The 245th and 272nd Rifle Regiments fought for these hills; van Dyke reports that the Finns were pushed off the hills, they left 700 dead behind on 62.4. This strikes me as being a very high number of dead and no context was provided: is this inaccurate Soviet reporting or was this position of particularly vital importance to the Finns during this time?

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by JTV » 30 Dec 2013 20:54

PavelKirilovich wrote:... although I do carry puukkos (what is the correct plural?) and stack my wood in motit;

Sorry for the slow reply. I have been offline for the last week or so. The plural for puukko is puukot.
With regards to JaegerPlatoon.net, I find the sections describing the way the Finns organized and the role of a formation (as per the page on the Coastal Artillery infantry battalions and an organization which loosely parallels the Soviet "Fortified Region" units in mission, the independent area defence companies) very useful. I imagine that when you do it, the tactical section would be in something of the same vein. As a tactical-operational military historian/analyst, I am most interested in how the Finns used automatic weapons in their units, given the need to fight in very dense terrain in some sectors. How the squad fought with a high proportion of rifles due to necessity is also of interest in such terrain. I imagine there was a great deal of battlefield salvage of PPSh-41 and PPS-42 submachineguns.?
As noted, these were used in islands and coastal areas. The closer equivalent in to "Fortified Region" units in Finnish Army might have been been Fortification Battalions (Linnoituspataljoona) and Separate Fortification Companies (Erillinen Linnoituskomppania). Some discussion about use and structure of these units:
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=84724

Incidentally I have an old archive find listing table of organisation and equipment of 20th Separate Fortification Company in December of 1942, if anybody happens to be interested.

What is known suggests that it was very common to use captured automatic weapons for extra firepower, however due to poor availability of 7.62 mm x 25 Tokarev ammunition, the long-term use of captured submachine guns was not common. The organisations explained in my website as "by the book" type - in other words they are the official organisations, but to which extent they were applied remains uncertain. Finnish Army was not really "by the book" sort of Army. The way in Finnish military was trained to apply its tactical manuals was to study them to learn the basic concepts and terms, but leave the manuals at home when going to war and use their own head to figure out the best tactics for each situation. It is widely accepted among military historians the submachine guns were likely not often issued according official table of organisation and equipment, but often gathered from larger units and re-issued to smaller specified units intended to specific duties (spearhead for attack, raiding units for patrol operations etc). BTW: One of the things that I have on the back burner for the website is a page about hand-to-hand combat equipment used by Finnish soldiers - knives, bayonets, entrenching tools etc.
I have come across, in van Dyke's work, the name of the armoured sled. It seems to be called the "Sokolov," as per p151, and was employed in the attack of the 123rd Rifle Division against Hills 62.4 and 65.5, vicinity of Summjärvi. The 245th and 272nd Rifle Regiments fought for these hills; van Dyke reports that the Finns were pushed off the hills, they left 700 dead behind on 62.4. This strikes me as being a very high number of dead and no context was provided: is this inaccurate Soviet reporting or was this position of particularly vital importance to the Finns during this time?
The place you mentioned in likely Summajärvi Lake, which was in Summa sector of Mannerheim-line in Carelian Isthmus. The numbers used with hills refer to hill hights in Soviet maps of the area, which I unfortunately do not have at the moment. So I am not able to name the exact hills. But Summa was the sector where Leningrad - Viipuri/Wiborg/Viburg highway went through Mannerheim-line and the by standards of Carelian Isthmus at that time the terrain there was favourable to use of tanks. Hence there was extremely heavy fighting in this area during December of 1939 and February of 1940. It was also the area where the Soviets succeeded breaching Mannerheim-line in February and breaking through it, which resulted Finnish troops retreating from southern part of this defence line. For more details I would need to know when the particular battle happened.

Jarkko

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John Hilly
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by John Hilly » 31 Dec 2013 17:03

PavelKirilovich wrote:Gentlemen,
So I'm looking for some information on trivial things I haven't heard about before. On p137 he mentions that each Army assigned to the North-Western Front had "one rifle division composed of tank and machine gun brigades." By this, are we talking about an attempt to provide tanks with close support infantry (avtomatchiki, a'la tankodesant) and he simply mis-translated, or are we talking about an organization with M1910 Maxim MMGs instead of PPD SMGs? Presumably this was grouped under a rifle division headquarters for the sake of control - if not, why, what?
I cannot explain this reasonably, but AFAIK PPD SMGs weren't used in the Winter War?
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by JTV » 31 Dec 2013 20:53

John Hilly wrote: I cannot explain this reasonably, but AFAIK PPD SMGs weren't used in the Winter War?
The Soviets had warehoused existing PPD-34 and PPD-34/38 submachine guns in February of 1939 and also stopped manufacturing of PPD-34/38 around that time. By that time only 4,174 of these weapons had been manufactured. It took wartime experiences on receiving end of Finnish submachine guns for Red Army realise that submachine gun could be effective infantry weapon. Hence end of December of 1939 they re-issued PPD submachine guns issued by that time and re-started manufacturing of PPD-34/38 (which few weeks later got replaced by PPD-40).

Incidentally Finnish Army was not terribly well equipped with submachine guns either. When Winter War started Finnish military had only about 4,000 Suomi m/31 and around 1,400 Bergmann submachine guns. About 730 additional Suomi m/31 were manufactured during this war.

Jarkko

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by PavelKirilovich » 02 Mar 2014 16:19

Just of interest as an addition, probably not worthy of another thread to itself, there may be photographs of Soviet body armour from the Winter War. These appear to prefigure the famous SN-42.

It is reported that factory NKV NII-13 manufactured 150 SN-39 and 100 SNSh-39 breastplates, which were then tested in combat in Karelia, presumably issued to 7th Army because 7th Army HQ reports later that they were satisfactory, though their protection against 7.62mm ammunition (presumably the 7.62x54R/7.62x53mm projo from rifles and machineguns) had to be increased in "close combat," leading to the SN-40A breastplate. Close combat is presumably defined in the report as less than 150m, as the technical specifications require only that it protect against abovementioned ammunition at 150m at 0 degrees incidence. SN-39 and SNSh-39 were manufactured only in one size; small. SN-40A was to be manufactured in three sizes and gave way to SN-42 afterwards.

Some valuable document scans can be found at this link, from which I have parsed the above information.

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