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If someone is interested I can email a sample, the story of Cpl. Pajunen of the battle of Siiranmäki in 1944 (112kb .txt) published in 1961
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I'm far from being a copyright issue expert, but from my part there really is no problem in posting your translations here.
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It will be a good gift to all foreign participants of the forum. Thanks in advance!Lotvonen wrote:If someone is interested I can email a sample, the story of Cpl. Pajunen of the battle of Siiranmäki in 1944 (112kb .txt) published in 1961
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Veikko Pajunen: Battle experiences at Siiranmäki in June 1944
published originally in "Kansa Taisteli" magazine no:s. 6, 7, 8, 9 / 1961
The Soviet offensive in the Carelian Isthmus had advanced by the night of 12./13th June to East of Kivennapa village near Siiranmäki. Siiranmäki was defended by Detachment Ehrnrooth including Infantry Regiment JR7 of 2.D. Our Company, 7.Co/JR27 defended a section of front on the open side of Siiranmäki hill. Our Company comprised only a handful of able-bodied men, because the Co. had been placed at Ohta and suffered heavy losses during the delay battles (9/10th June). I had been spared this because I happened to be on furlough as the enemy offensive started. I was returning to my unit on the 11th and got off the train at Kanneljärvi station. A long column of lorries with wounded men was just arriving. After we had helped to unload the wounded in a hospital train we hitched a ride with a lorry up to Vuottaa village.
2. 12 to 13 June
Threatening omens foreshadowed a coming ordeal. There was a constant rumble from the direction of the front line. The horizon was swathed in thick smoke and countless aircraft were seen as small specks in the sky.
Evening the 12th June we arrived at the command post of our Company at the foot of Siiranmäki hill. The Company Commander, Capt. Lauri Walden [son of General R. Walden, Minister of Defence tr.rem.] assigned us to defend a stronghold and me as the leader. Our right boundary was the Seppälä house on the hillside and left boundary the road to Vehmainen. We, six men, had to defend a two hundred meter section of front line.[ One man for 30 m. Tr.rem.] Heavy arms and more men were to come later to our stronghold. We were holding the second defence line (VT line) that we would not abandon voluntarily.
Our Captain told us that because the fortifications were uncompleted and the terrain unfavourable, we had no communication trench to the rear, consequently no possibility to disengage. He told us to store a lot of hand grenades in our dugout and foxholes which would be needed fighting the Russians that would break through the wire in our trench. Later in the night I received reinforcements: two machine guns [Maxim type] with incomplete crews. To the right of us in the section of our Company was Cpl. Arvi Ketolainen's bunker which was disconnected from us due to undug trench. To the left was SSgt. Touko Niemi's stronghold separated from us by two undug stretches of trench. Hastily we proceeded to improve and upgrade our stronghold. I set to fire a stock of firewood to create more field for our weapons and the Seppälä house, too, because I expected it would draw enemy artillery fire at our stronghold. We desperately needed tools and explosives but we only had one field spade. We used it to cut the road to the firewood stock which was the most urgent task.
We had managed to dig but a shallow ditch across the road, too narrow to creep along by the morning of the 13th June. A column of Russians approached from the direction of the still burning firewood stock. An impatient rifleman to the left of us fired before the enemy was in the firing sector of our MGs. The enemy, including the two riders leading them, managed to escape in the cover of the forest. In the forenoon enemy scouts moved shamelessly around in the No man's land, but we did not reveal our few MGs to the enemy observers in the Suurselkä hill in front of our line. They could see in our positions that were situated lower than theirs. The most insolent ones were expelled with single rifle shots. There was a forest covered stretch of terrain near us that the enemy had occupied. I requested from the Battalion mortars a reminder of mortality there. They did shoot with the single surviving mortar, the fire was accurately led by Lt. Jaakko Ketola.
The enemy activity culminated in the evening into an attack supported by tanks in the direction of the burning fireweed stock and the Vehmainen road, but the attack was repulsed. At the same time the enemy began to group tanks in front of us on the Suurselänmäki hill, but we also did get more reinforcements. At dusk an incomplete half platoon of rested men from another regiment arrived. I planned to have some sleep with my tired men in our dugout at midnight and let the newcomers to occupy the trench. Soon their NCO came in the dugout, with a bleeding upper arm, he told that the enemy had shot at him, and he left.
This was our first casualty in our stronghold. There was blood in the revetment in the spot where this NCO had been wounded. The place was solitary and the trench so deep that an enemy could not have aimed at him there. I could not help suspecting that the man had wounded himself with his own weapon to save himself from the hell that was going to break out in this hillside absolutely certainly.
Fog had crept from the dale in front of the Suurselkä hill. Noises of tank tracks broke the silence of the summer night. Any sweat sacrificed now would spare blood but we had not received any of the tools promised to us. I visited Cpl.Ketolainen's bunker. To get there I had to creep in the cover of the house foundation, scorched trees and storage house , then in the road ditch and finally rush 30 meters on the road to reach the trench. Aspirant Lahtinen, the Company vice commander had been killed yesterday here when trying to get in the bunker. When returning, even more luck was needed because one had to run uphill.
At dawn on the 14th June Sgt Sakari Sandroos of our Company returned from his furlough in our stronghold. I knew him, he would be a reliable man in a tough situation. Now there were twenty five men defending our trench. The enemy was likely to attack today to create a break in our positions. Whichever spot the enemy would choose to attack, there the deficiently equipped defenders in their uncompleted positions had to fight to the last man.
3. 14th June forenoon
Sun rose and dispersed the fog. The tank park of the Suurselkä hill has increased in number. We can see dozens of them.
- Why does our artillery not strafe them? They are there in one cluster, right in front of our fire controller. They must be blasted at now, else they are going to crush us in our trench. We have not been given any close combat weapons to fight the tanks. I sent a messenger to inform Capt. Walden in his command post behind the Siiranmäki hill of these tanks. An infantry man would love to see how tanks are shelled, even though the monsters are not much effected by artillery fire.
- The tanks start moving, they form a line, some are seen on the side of the hill. They position themselves so that the ones in the rear are able to fire above the ones in front of them. The threatening gun barrels are aimed at us. Now every man has to leave our sturdy dugout, because it is situated on the rising hillside without a communication trench in the rear. The unnecessary men are to get in the crowded cover of the MG bunker shelter room.
It is 0800 hrs.
- We could do with morning coffee! At the moment a deep sound emerges from the Russian side, resembling a sombre gigantic sigh. A short while later it turns into the noise of a passing express train as the cloud of shells flies overhead. Suurselkä hill is alive with muzzle flames.
- Satan himself is loose! Shells of every caliber are raining on the soil of Siiranmäki hill. The shell explosions merge into a terrible rumble. The point blank fire of the tanks hits accurately our trench and specially the right wing that slopes in the direction of the Suurselkä village. The horizontal cross supports of the trench revetments, stupidly nailed, are torn off and the trench turns into a badly passable chaos filled with timber splinters.
- Why does our artillery not give any fire? The enemy tanks firing at us in their formation would still be a good target. Is our fire control team already eliminated or did they lose all connections with our rear?
At the same time another group of tanks are shooting from the direction of the Vehmainen road. As the point blank fire abates for a moment I can hear the constant howl of shells before they hit our rear. I am trying to move about in the wrecked trench. At times I carefully peek to see in time where the Russians are attacking from. A shell, nearly a square hit, howls through my field of vision, seeing a flying shell is an incredible perception! A couple of men are keeping lookout. They must be relocated from this timber revetted trench where flying timber and collapsing trench sides increase the risk. Eero Brännvik is lying unconscious among timber splinters, knocked down by a log ripped from the Seppälä house granary. Among the dirt raining in the trench a small bird is thrown in front of me. I take it on my palm, and while stroking its back plumage I am imagining the bird has an invisible protector. The idea consoles me. Having recovered the frightened bird tarries on my palm, then shakes the dirt off its plumage, and takes off, vanishing in the storm of earth and steel splinters.
The savage artillery barrage has continued for one hour now. The mighty Russian tank and infantry formations keep approaching our positions on the fields to the East of the Kekrola road. Now tanks from the point blank firing formation start moving to join the attack formation, their fire abates and we have a chance to observe more safely.
The weather is warm but the enemy infantry are wearing their long overcoats. They merge in the sunlight with the colour of the tanks so that the attacking troops look like a solid rolling mass. Seeing this enormous formation makes me think: do we have enough strength to receive the tremendous superior pressure, do the defenders have enough firmness to withstand even more of extreme shocks and strain of nervous tension ?
- But why is our artillery not firing ? The Russians are getting too close already ! Could I send another messenger to ask for support?
The dense enemy attack formations cover hectares of ground on the hillside of Suurselkä are well visible to my lookout point. Finally our artillery gives them a savage strafe. As the shells explode the infantry drops down, the men seek cover. I feel relief as I see how several tanks are stopped but it is also terrible to watch how human extremities and body pieces are flung high through the dense cloud of smoke and earth that suddenly has fallen on the Russians. As the shells are flying over me in a flow I hear notes of organ music in their howling.
- The artillery fire is terribly effective. There a pressure wave rips up a soldier with his long overcoat, another blast rips off a piece of it. The bedbug-brown rag rises high, fluttering like a standard in the blast pressure.
- The shell explosions are forming a continuous barrage on the ground. The attack formation is dispersed but the first echelons, least suffering from the shelling, is about to get in the area that our weapons can cover, two hundred meters from our trench. We must not reveal our MGs until the last moment, as we have to prevent the enemies entrenching themselves in the ditch on the bottom of the dale in front of us.
The shelling aimed at our front line ceases, just to shift to the rear ever more furiously. At the same time swarms of ground attack planes appear, to soften our positions. The aircraft gun shells rip the hillside and spent cases are raining down as if tied in ribbons. The wide hilltop of Siiranmäki is shrouded in dust and acrid smoke that are dimming the sunlight.
Despite our fire enemy infantry reaches the cover of the ditch ahead of us. Our LMG manages to prevent a enemy MG being placed there. However, soon the enemy concentrate their fire at the LMG and it has to fall silent. A group of Russians, some of which have abandoned their flying overcoats, continue their mad dash beyond the ditch at our positions from one shell hole to another. Gradually the group is thinned until a well aimed shot ends the dash of the very last man.
- The attack seems to have stopped at the right wing of our stronghold. Also the attack from the Vehmainen village against the Niemi stronghold has abated. The left wing with its MG of our stronghold participated in repulsing the attack.
4. 14th June afternoon
The sun shines hot, indicating afternoon.
- What is the situation at bunker Ketolainen at the foot of the hill, where the Vehmainen road cuts our positions? We have tried to support them with our fire as much as possible despite our poor chances to fire in front of his position.
The attack has been repulsed. The No man's land seems quiet. The firewood storage is still burning and on our right wing there are enemy abandoned equipment and fallen men. We can hear noises of tanks moving about on the side of the hill on the other side of the Seppälä house remains, out of our view. Several heavy tanks emerge from that direction, driving at the edge of the "dragon's teeth" line. They spread in front of our positions to soften our stronghold with their cannons. Next to the house ruin behind the barbed wire, in cover from our fire, we can see flashes of men creeping or dashing . I rise up from the trench and shoot at them with my SMG until a tank aims its cannon at me. The tanks are at a hand grenade throwing range, they fire their cannons as soon as they see any movement in our trench. Many a man spares his life by moving quickly as a cannon barrel is aimed at him. But keeping a lookout must not be neglected.
The tanks have hit the machine gun bunker steel dome several times. The embrasure is being eroded as hits chip off metal from the edges. The second MG has been in an open position. Its concrete walls are a much more comfortable shelter than the chamber below the steel dome. One man who has stayed in the protective chamber all the time is completely stunned as the tanks start shooting at the steel dome. He clambers out and is lethally hit. It is impossible to make sure how many of us have been killed in the collapsed trench.
- Enduring here appears to call for more courage than a mad dash at the tanks and ensuing sudden death.
I assume that the Russians have broken through the wire on the other side of the Seppälä house ruin. The tanks in front of us are covering the flank of the breakthrough.
- There are eight of us who have survived. It seems we do not have any chance to leave our stronghold and save ourselves, because there is a steep rising slope behind us, and to the left there are several undug stretches of trench, all of them under enemy fire. We expect that the Russians are going to widen their breakthrough by rolling our trench starting from our right wing.. We prepare for a bitter fight and split into two mutually supporting groups. Sgt Sandroos with his group is waiting at the abatis created in the trench to receive the Russians while my group is on the left wing trying to repair our positions to be able to withdraw to the left while fighting. Our work is ineffective due to the tanks stalking us, fortunately they are behind the stone "dragon's teeth".
- What if the attack at our trench will be supported by tanks? We do not have any weapons against them.
The men appear to trust me, the risk of death brings us together. I know they have mothers, brides, children even, who are going to be tormented by the ignorance of the fate of their missing beloved one.
- Did the Company commander mean that we are not allowed to abandon the stronghold even though we had a chance and dying here would be useless ?
The tanks drive back and forth behind the "dragon's teeth" and finally disappear behind the house ruin to the right. So far there is no sign of enemy starting the rolling. As it is nearly impossible to move in the smashed up right wing of our trench I decide to move to the left, in the Niemi stronghold if my surviving men want to follow me. They agree to try. We must act quickly. I get out of the trench and run to our dugout. In the entrance I find my brave LMG gunner Pvt Lappalainen collapsed on his weapon. He had told me before the tanks appeared that he was going to find a better firing position behind our trench at the entrance of the dugout. I get past his body with trouble. There is no response to my shout in the dugout. I’m fumbling in the dark, trying to find my backpack on my bunk, in vain. I return hastily to the trench.
To reach the Niemi stronghold we have to traverse two undug stretches. We are rushing by pairs or one at a time. We traverse the first one successfully. The other one at the Vehmainen road is longer. I see how my men make it across and vanish in the trench. Sgt. Sandroos and I are the last ones. I am running at his heels a little to the side as I see him stumble. I dash madly past him and fall in the trench on top of someone who has taken a bullet through his head. I believe Sgt. Sandroos was wounded but he must have made it to the trench after me. Without looking back I keep running in the strange trench for dozens of meters until I meet my men, five of them. They are huddled in a group as if discussing something. I order the men to disperse and secure. I return to look for Sgt. Sandroos but I don’t find him neither in the trench or on the road that we just traversed. At the end of the trench languishes the man I jumped over with rattling breath. I feel pity for him but I cannot help him even though his wound may not be instantly lethal. I am asking for his name but he just moves his lips.
Since I don’t find Sgt. Sandroos I return to my men. I pass the spot where they were. I continue without seeing anyone until the trench ends at another road. There is a tank crushing the concrete "dragon's teeth" with the shells of its cannon. There are infantrymen on top of the tank and next to it. I presume I have arrived at the left edge of the sector of our Company, and I have jumped from frying pan into fire. The Niemi stronghold has been under heavy pressure and our men have left it. There are only dead men in the trench. The enemy is in front of the "dragon's teeth". As soon as the tank has made a hole in the line of "dragon's teeth" the enemy will break in our positions.
Again I turn back to find out where my pals have gone. At a corner of the trench I find the end of a communication trench, knee-deep only, going uphill. I assume my pals have tried to get out of the first line using that trench. Sgt. Sandroos has of course thought that I have joined them. The shallow trench is under the fire of the enemy at the wire, and it is tremendously dangerous. I put up my head to observe. The enemies that have penetrated the wire advance up the hillside in several long files. The files are dense with men with plenty of arms, including MGs and mortars. The files are fanning out from one spot at the breakthrough point near the ruin of the Seppälä house. The Southernmost file has climbed high, near the top of the Siiranmäki hill. The file nearest to me is advancing parallel to our trench past me at a stone’s throw. Something in me demands to seek the fulfilment of my fate, because I am being surrounded soon. I fire at the file with my SMG and cause some confusion. But my firing is retaliated and sand splattered by bullets from the brim of the trench jams my weapon.
I am now alone, without the safety provided by the SMG. A feeling of loneliness is creeping in my mind. Now I find I have been deprived of food and sleep for a long time, I have a burning thirst and I feel discouraged. Am I going to miss all the valuable issues that I have been hoping from my life? I briefly wonder if the Russians going to treat their prisoners decently ? Would I find myself in a camp of forced labour starving to death ? Yesterday their loudspeaker propaganda sent us greetings from Pvt. Eero Kilpeläinen of our Company.
(Kilpeläinen had not surrendered, I remember having seen him later among us. He like many others had just lost their backpack and papers in Ohta to Russians. The loudspeaker propaganda was rough and too grotesque to have the desired effect on us. The transmission was finished by an extremely vulgar song, introduced as “Risto Ryti and his orchestra Mannerheim perform a Schottise “We are now in piss”).
It was an impossible idea to abandon myself to the mercy of the Russians. I go through the incidents of the morning in my mind. Miraculously I did survive. I still have hope because I am alive. I remember my grieving parents from whom the Winter War took a son at Aittojoki, their youngest son was in the Isthmus like I was (he was killed the day before). I decided to spare my parents from the grief that my disappearance would cause.
I find stick grenades in the trench. I take some next to me, I unscrew the cover of one and shake out the fuse string balls. Then I put it under my tunic. I field strip my SMG, remove the sand clogging it , then open the magazine and reload it. My SMG is again functional and my spirit is refreshed.
Beyond the road the open fields of Siiranmäki turn into shell- thinned forest. The trench continues there, enticing me, but it would be a suicide to try to traverse the road. I decide to battle at the end of the trench next to the road. I shall have to die there unless something unexpected saves me. I prepare the stick grenades for use. The one under my tunic I am going to use not until I find myself hopelessly cornered. If I am going to survive until hand to hand fighting, let the hand grenade explode under my tunic and take the attacking enemy to death with me.
The enemy files reach the edge of the forest. They are certainly going to roll up our trench to create connection with the tanks breaking up the "dragon's teeth" at the road.
I am keeping a sharp lookout against enemy surprise from any direction. Suddenly I hear noises from the other side of the road, and a bearded face rises up. To my great relief I recognize him, it is one of our men, NCO Toivo Penttinen, a squaddie of our Company. He is accompanied by a pal. They have just arrived from the rear, they shout me telling that our troops are holding the trench from there on.
It seems to be impossible to make it cross the road but the men insist that I try despite everything, before it is too late. They open fire at the men on top of the nearest tank. Quickly I throw my haversack and any heavy objects from my pockets over the road. I dig holes to tread on in the soft side of the trench as high as possible unseen to the enemy. I wait until the attention of the tank is turned at the men beyond the road. As a burst of bullets is spilling sand at the embankment near the men I dash out with all my forces, the momentum I have gained propels me across the road in the trench at the feet of my new pals. Bullets are beating the road behind me, but I am unhurt. We keep on firing bursts every now and then, all three of us. Annoyed by our insolence the turret of the tank revolves and the cannon barrel points at us like an accusing finger. There is an open concrete walled nest next to us. We crouch down behind it on the bottom of the trench. We trust the two concrete walls between us and the tank give us enough cover. Then I lose my consciousness as a shell explodes.
As I come to it is dark and my face is wet. There is something heavy on top of me. Then the weight disappears and I lift up my head. The concrete walls have been torn into pieces, and we can see the tank turret with its cannon through the opening. My pals get up from my back. Quickly we move aside to avoid another lesson. There is blood on my face from a wound in the back of my head but my pals are unscathed.
We are ragged, bloody and sooty as we advance along the trench to find our own men. The enemy superiority in quantity is tremendous. Even though my hearing is affected by the explosion I am able to hear the enemy scream “URAA” as they surround the empty trench of the 2nd Company They have won the first round on the struggle of the trench.
5. 14th June evening
The trench on the Eastern slope of the Siiranmäki hill leads to the North . It is revetted with timber at places and so wide that men going into opposite directions can dodge each other. The forested terrain becomes more flat and the soil firmer. It is difficult to estimate how long we have proceeded because the zigzagging trench does not allow a view farther than a few meters. We proceed hundreds of meters. I estimate we shall soon meet with the counterstrike force and it might be fateful to us to bump into them in the trench. So we proceed on the parapet of the trench. There is a strong wire following the trench at places closer than a hand grenade’s throw. There is a dale beyond the wire. Being uncleared, the terrain provides easy approach to the Russians.
We are knocking at the tree trunks and calling quietly “Friends” as we go. Finally I detect men approaching in the cover of trees and high vegetation. The row of men arrives at us. There are Pvt Kaarlo Kammonen and Viljo Vierula, the remainder of stronghold Niemi’s defenders. There is a Platoon commander, Lt. Maakivi. Judging by him this counterstrike force is made up of III Battalion.
We are told to join them. We take our places on the left wing and head for the Russians. I am walking along the trench with Pvt Penttinen and keep an eye at the trench. The right wing of our row makes contact with the enemy since suddenly we hear bursts of SMG and bangs of hand grenades. Then we see Russians, without exposing myself I let them walk in the sights of my weapon. The terrain rises slightly ahead and I am able to see over the bushes to the distance of 50 meters. I draw the bead on two Russians wearing helmets, they drop out of sight after they have been fired at.
We are told that a stronger counterstrike force is coming. I join the 2nd Co. men in the trench. Well armed men appear behind us. As the file passes I learn that it is a reinforced company and its Commander wants me to inform him about the situation. A passer-by wonders at my sooty and bloodied appearance. Discussion with the Captain is awkward because my stunned ears. I draw on his note block a sketch of the 2nd Co. lost positions as I remember them.
Men keep going past me, and paramedics are called in the front. The counterstrike force has engaged the enemy and the trench is their supply route. Bloodied wounded men are staggering to the rear, others are carried on stretchers. The empty stretchers are returned to the front where we can hear rattle of SMGs and blasts of hand grenades.
There is a bush covered glen beyond the hindrances. Beyond that on a hill emerges a tank. A man climbs out and walks downhill. Pvt. Kammonen of 2nd Co, one of the best riflemen, prepares to shoot carefully. The range is long, more than 500 meters. Pvt. Kammonen has taken good care of his M/39 rifle but it is equipped with plain iron sights. I am interested in finding out if the man and his rifle have retained accuracy. A shot rings out - the Russian on the hillside tries to reach safety behind his tank, dragging a leg.
The trench is now sparsely occupied by men unknown to us. We want to join our own battalion but we are ordered to hold the trench until the next morning. We demand food in return, but in vain.
6. Night 14 to 15 June
The sun is setting. Continuous noise of infantry weapons can be heard from the Seppälä house ruin and the top of the Siiranmäki hill. This is accompanied by artillery shooting over us, both Russian and Finnish that aim for each other and other targets beyond the front line. The artillery cannot fire at the breakthrough point, where hand to hand combat is raging, without risking their own men.
The counterstrike force, Detachment Varko retakes with the support of artillery most of the lost positions by midnight of 14. /15. June. They also have destroyed all the tanks that broke through. [Recoilless German AT weapons had arrived. Tr. rem.]
As the night arrives thick fog creeps from the dale. I am standing and dozing at a corner of the trench. I am leaning my elbows on the parapet to keep my body supported. I have hardly slept for five days. I am swaying on the edge of sleep overwhelmed by odd visions without sensing how the time goes by. At times I wake up and see the poles of the wire in the fog. I am trying to peer through the fog and get startled.
- An immobile dark lump in the grey fog ? It is close and it resembles a horse, or is it a cannon? I fire twice at it and hit both times, but the lump stays there. I am shivering with cold, then doze off time and again. Finally the sky gets paler and the fog abates as the dawn breaks. I can see several lumps on the opposite slope, they are just big rocks.
7. Morning 15th June
Sun is rising and it is the 15th June. A SMG burst rings out on my right. There is movement in the dale behind the wire, but I cannot fire there. Farther on the sides there are Russians heading for the dale. They have to traverse an open strip of field, where it would be good to aim but targets at 200 meters are beyond the range of my SMG. Pvt. Kammonen keeps up good work. A slow Russian meets his fate on the field. Those who follow him learn their lesson and run across the field with their coat lapels flying. One of them has not buttoned up his coat as he falls down like a landing giant bird.
There is a dense flock of Russians in the dale. They may blow a hole in the wire with a chain charge. We are told that a six inch battery is going to shell them. The artillerymen have to fire just next to us!
Mortars would be now needed but we probably have lost them in action. The shells must hit squarely now if ever, even slightly short shots would fall into our trench or behind it.
I seek a shelter in the trench fearing tall tree trunks. A shell exploding against a tree would be lethal to the men in the trench. With a frightful howl the first six inch shells are landing beyond the wire. The howl of the shell can be heard only half a second before the explosion. I can see the shells against the sky as rapidly falling shadows. Even though the shells are fired from a distance of several kilometers they hit accurately. The nearest shells fall thirty meters from our trench. High columns of mud rise in the dale and splinters are whining overhead. As the artillery quits we can see that the Russians in the dale have been pacified.
Logistics is now in action. Food porters arrive and cause restlessness inspired by hope and expectation in the trench and in the rear. Someone gets a letter. The soup is distributed to the last drop and dry food divided equally. We, the men of the 7th Co, are outsiders here, because we are not included in the distribution list, neither has the unit any killed men whose rations we could take over. Pvt. Kammonen fetches some water that we boil hoping to get a piece of bread from someone. My begging attempts are interrupted by a pleasant surprise. Sgt Minkkinen, the paramedic NCO of 2nd Co. emerges from the forest. He is looking for any scattered men of his Company in the battle stations.
Sgt. Minkkinen is likewise surprised to meet me. He tells me that yesterday he had met Sgt. Sandroos.
Sandroos had told how he left our stronghold next to the Seppälä house together with all others, but had been left behind them. He had then passed the bodies of the men in the neighbouring stronghold. As nobody else came the same route they were considered to have fallen. I was to be struck from the rolls of our Company today. The only officer of the Company, Capt. Walden was missing in action and the remains of the Battalion were to be assembled at the Vuottaa village to be reinforced. Sgt. Minkkinen promises to send Sgt. Sandroos to me so that we can find our way to the assembly spot together,
- I am wondering how Sgt. Sandroos could survive . He is a Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, and not without good reason. Nobody other than an experienced, cool- headed and courageous soldier could have survived on the route that he had taken, not even with the best of luck.
I feel relief when leaving the front line. I find an enamel mug and stuff it in my pocket. I believe I can use it when I will be fed in the rear. It is three kilometers to Vuottaa. One kilometer and we are at Kylmäoja brook. When reaching for water to drink I can see my face reflected in the water and it is terrible. The shell that knocked me out yesterday has powdered my face gray. Dribbling sweat has created stripes on it, and black strips of dried blood reach from my hair down to my neck. My hair is matted with dry blood. Having drunk enough of the fresh water I dunk my head in a refreshing deeper spot of the brook.
We continue our journey through the forest refreshed and groomed. There is another trench beyond the brook and we traverse it. There is a noise of heavy fighting behind us. I feel as if my hearing would have improved from yesterday.
Watching the Vuottaa village from the edge of the forest we deduce that they are fearing a Russian breakthrough at Siiranmäki. A truck towing a big AT cannon arrives at a high speed and the cannon is quickly brought into position near the road.
When walking trough the village fields we are approached by an unknown Second Lieutenant carrying a SMG. I enquire him, shouting, where is the rallying point of the Kuvaja battalion that should be somewhere here. The Lieutenant walks in front of us and says that the battalion is in the front line. In a quarrelsome tone he goes on what kind of trembling cowards we are, who can be more often found in open fields than in ditches and he tells us to get back in the ditches. We do not care what this desktop warrior is blustering. One just has to compare his clean uniform to our battle-tattered garb to discredit his slander. I think that if the officer himself is feeling trembling of fear, he should defeat them and cover up his shock. After I have asked him where to find some food the Lieutenant leaves us, without answering my question.
8. 15. June afternoon
Now Pfc Nenonen of the company AT squad has joined me and Sgt Sandroos. Also Pvts Penttinen, Kammonen and Vierula have found us. Is it possible that we, six men, are now on the 15th June the survivors of our Company? We are discussing the question of finding food farther in the rear even if we would be considered deserters? However, we find a military crispbread carton nearby in the bushes, and there are some pieces left in the bottom. It is troublesome to eat bare dry bread even though we have screaming hunger . Sgt. Sandroos has a delicate digestion, he soon vomits whatever he has swallowed.
Since we think that the remains of Kuvaja's battalion have not been able to disengage we decide to return to Siiranmäki. Very loud explosions and long bursts of MGs tell us that extremely heavy fighting is going on. We come to a clear cut line in the forest and follow it. After a couple of kilometers the terrain turns into swampy thicket and there is a small plot of spruce forest ahead of us. Stray bullets are whining above us. To the left there is a deep drainage ditch, soldiers are standing in it. There is an Aspirant among the men and I enquire him who they are and where they are going. They are the Jaeger Platoon of JR49 on their way to join the Kuvaja Battalion. - So we are on the right way.
We arrive at a low hillock and unexpectedly find the command post of the I Battalion. There is Maj. Eino Kuvaja and some of his command squad men, busy digging foxholes.
After I have reported to the Major he briefly explains the situation to me. I enquire if the trench, that I saw when going in the rear, has been occupied. It is unoccupied at this stretch. Maj. Kuvaja is delighted in learning that the Jaeger platoon is nearby in the swamp ditch, and I instruct a messenger how to find them.
I am sent to reconnoitre the terrain. I find another trench at some distance, at the edge of a narrow strip of swamp. MG fire is heard beyond the swamp and stray bullets are whining. A lone Major is sitting on a stump some fifty meters from Maj. Kuvaja's command post. I know him, he is the Commander of the II Battalion, Maj. Arvo Ahola. I go to him and tell what is going on, but the Major does not respond to me, he just sits there looking pensive. The Jaeger platoon emerges and I shout :
- Platoon, this way, double quick, march!
Now the Major stands up quickly and tells me in a joking tone, bowing slightly:
- Pardon me, but I am the commander here !
He repeats my command phrase and then tells me to take the platoon in their positions.
There are several holders or future holders of the Mannerheim Cross in that spruce forest, Sgt. Sandroos, Majors Kuvaja and Ahola. Everything implies that fighting will go on. I do not make it to the trench with the Platoon as Lt Aaro Iivanainen, previously of the 2nd Co., comes and tells me to join him and Maj. Ahola. We shall go to the first line where the Russians have managed to widen their break-in and surrounded the command post of a Company. The II Battalion led by Capt. Raassina has started a counterattack. So Maj. Ahola is the commander of some other outfit. A messenger and a couple of unknown men join us.
9 A Counterstrike, 15th June afternoon
We set off at a trot for Siiranmäki, crossing the swamp. The SMG and its magazines are heavy, the moss is sinking under my boots and bad thirst makes me weak. Shells are blowing holes in the swamp ahead of us. In the passing I fill my mug with the bitter tasting liquid. I take a swig and spit out the mud and moss sticking to my teeth. Maj Ahola tells me to hurry up. I stuff the mug in my trouser pocket. Suddenly a stray bullet hits the mug, pierces it and stops at the rear cover of my pocket watch. I dump the mug, splinters of enamel and a SMG bullet out of my pocket. The watch keeps ticking despite the dent in its cover.
We climb from the swamp up a slope with sparse pine forest . The air is heavy with stink of explosion gas and smouldering peat. Desolation is gloomy. We pass a dugout that may have been a Company command post. A dead Captain is lying in front of it, someone calls him Pietarinen. We are approaching the trench that I had left some hours ago. Lt Iivanainen tells me to enter the trench, he assures our own men will be there.
Our small group has increased as new men have joined us. Maj. Ahola and Lt. Iivanainen have left and now there are five or six men behind me in the trench. I do not know any of them, a tall Aspirant stands out.
We proceed hundreds of meters to the South in the trench without seeing anybody, collecting the hand grenades we come across.
- Maybe there are none of our men here ?
I proceed, watching carefully behind each bend of the trench to avoid getting in sudden hand to hand fight or bumping into a Russian bayonet. I meet a man who has been soiled into an unknown hue - he is one of ours and says that farther on there is another one. When I get to him, he tells me that there are Russians on the next straight of the trench. I look at this brave sooty man with respect. At the next bend I can see a dead Russian with a broken SMG and some magazines. The revetment is marked by hand grenades. The sooty man sneaks quietly past me and I find myself at this dangerous place that he handed over to me.
I am alert and trying to think what to do. If the Russians suddenly throw a hand grenade I must get behind the bend before it explodes and engage the Russians there. If I would throw one myself the click of its fuse would betray my intentions seconds before the explosion, and the Russians would most likely rush at this straight of the trench. If I were left-handed I could sweep the next straight behind the right hand bend without exposing myself too much.
- The men behind me are ready for action. Our silent lurking cannot go on much longer. Maybe there are no Russians behind the bend!
I have stuffed boughs in the holes that have been shot in my field cap. I flatten them and pull the cap flat on my head. Near the trench bend I stand up to look over the parapet at the next straight. I can see the revetment top only, I must stand higher.
- I can see an immobile top of a Russian helmet. It is less than three meters off.
- Is the man dead or alive ? I keep staring at the helmet, without budging. The helmet is moving! One of us must obey the harsh law of the war: Kill or --
Did he notice me? Are there any other Russians in the straight? The helmet turns slowly and gets farther. The Russian is not careful! Quickly I step in the bend and sweep the straight clean with a brief burst. There was but one man there, I jump over his body to the next straight which is empty.
Now I have a chance to instruct the men behind me.
- We are going to start rolling the trench but not by throwing hand grenades. It would alert the Russians.
- I proceed from one bend to the other. I am aiming along each straight entering it, and peek over the parapet ahead and to the sides.
In the forest to the right of the trench I catch a glimpse of Sgt. Mikko Nieminen of the II Battalion Jaeger Platoon, a friend of mine since childhood. Having a reliable pal nearby encourages me. Mikko also notices and recognises me judging by his expression.
I press on. I can see Russian heads behind a couple of straights. I select two hand grenades, one standard and one stick. They are clean and look fresh. I remove the pin from the standard one and put it in my breast pocket. I unscrew the plug from the stick grenade and take it in my left hand that also has to hold the barrel of the SMG. I keep approaching, ready to shoot.
Believing their flank secured the Russians in the trench have focused themselves totally on the Finnish counterattack in the forest. I manage to sneak near them. I support my weapon on the parapet and aim at the Russian officer who is standing up to his waist ahead of me five meters away. He is holding a smoking Tokarev [TT33] pistol in his hand. His arm twitches each time he shoots, aiming at the forest. Without moving my point of aim I try to estimate the number of Russians in my vicinity. There are several men crouching behind and on both sides of the officer.
It is my hour now! I direct the initially aimed burst down and both sides for one second. Then both hand grenades fly a short distance.
- Wait - explosions - and I dash among the Russians. In a flash I see the terrified expression on the face of a dying Russian as I rush past him. Bursts of SMG clear my way. Russians start fleeing. I need more magazines and hand grenades. The men behind me hand them to me but they are left behind as I am pressing on.
Russians have been jammed on a wide unrevetted stretch of the trench. The shroud of my SMG barrel burns my hand . The panicking crowd is easy prey for a SMG at a short distance and enemies are falling in heaps. Farther down the trench Russians are climbing our of the trench and heading for the ruin of Seppälä house running parallel to the trench. Magazines and hand grenades are passed to me. I run after the fleeing crowd , firing sparingly brief bursts.
- If only another SMG gunner would join the chase now, then we would make hay !
Suddenly the trench ends at the Vehmainen road, where I yesterday dashed past Sgt. Sandroos. It does not pay to try to get any farther. I get a good aim at a crowd running a stone's throw away. My SMG snarls until its sound changes into a dull one, and the finishing part of a long burst does not seem to have any effect on the Russians. The music of my SMG ends with a flash and explosion in the extractor opening. The barrel has been blocked by a stuck bullet and finally one (unchambered) cartridge has exploded against the open bolt face and blown the extractor away.
Beyond the gap of the trench, between the wire and a ruined smokestack there is a Russian who is not running away. Having spotted me he emerges and throws energetically a "lemon" hand grenade at me in a high arch, it lands a little aside.. I retaliate with a stick grenade. I cannot continue this ballgame because a real danger is looming.
The edge of the forest is two hundred meters behind us and the counterattack there has not progressed at our speed. The Russians lurking among the tanks at the top of the Siiranmäki hill may cut our retreat.
There is a shot up outbuilding on the hillside near the Seppälä house ruin, and a tank turret emerges nest to it. Soon the tank tracks are visible and the cannon barrel is aimed at us.
I shout at the others telling that we must get back. But we have hardly made a start before a couple of shells whizz past me. The tank is able to shoot almost squarely along our trench. Now it is firing its machine guns. A young man at my side turns pale and staggers as a jet of blood shots out of his neck. He is going to bleed to death. Another man ahead of me stumbles and falls. His eyes and words are pleading: "Do not abandon me to the Russians !". He has taken bullets in his thighs and one upper arm. I step between his limp legs and hold them under my arms while another man is dragging him by his upper body. Our progress is painful but the wounded man insists that we must not care abut his pains. He says he is Pvt. Eemeli Kotti from Räisälä and asks me to write his wife if I get a chance to do it. I promise him. The marks of bitter fighting are horrific in the trench as we stumble on in a mess of piles of bodies, machine guns, mortars, ammunition boxes and other gear the Russians have abandoned. The warm air is heavy with the disgusting stench of human guts and blood.
We pass a field kitchen that the Russians have brought to the trench along the road that I traversed yesterday and then was shot unconscious by a tank. The road has been dug up or blown up at the trench crossing, and there is the ruined open nest that I tried to use as cover from the tank.
10 Night 15th June
Sun is setting behind trees as we, drenching sweat, keep dragging the wounded man from the trench in the forest. I must readjust my grip every once in a while, he keeps slipping from my hands because his blood has drenched his trousers and tunic and made them slippery. Dusk is falling and it is getting cooler. Food porters are coming. The wounded man does not want his ration. He is left with the Raassina battalion men expecting an ambulance as I join the queue at the soup distribution point.
Nobody is now asking if I am entitled to be fed. I cannot remember when I had a meal last time except the palm size piece of crispbread gnawed at Vuottaa. The soup is made of split peas and canned meat, and one can get of it as much as one can eat, it stills my hunger and quenches my thirst. The food looks enticing but I am surprised how little I am able to eat. I am getting drowsy.
Capt. Raassina's command post is in a dugout nearby. I am looking for Maj. Ahola and Lt. Iivanainen. I am told to wait. Messengers come and go. A message arrives, informing that a (Russian) tank has been destroyed - there are now Panzerschrecks in the front line. Capt. Niska. the Company commander, comes in the dugout. The two officers' actions create trust , they appear as calm leaders who are in control of the toughest situations.
Since there is no room in the dugout to get any rest I get out to refresh myself. We are not far from the Siiranmäki field. It is quite dark now, and there is a bright flash in the night followed by a sound of explosion that covers all other noise. A man on my side says that a Panzerschreck was fired.
I am looking at the trench that was yesterday the left wing of my stronghold. It was left unrevetted by the fortifications builders just as the Niemi stronghold trench. Shelling has crumbled its walls, it has become wider and lower. I reckon that the Niemi stronghold changed hands for the fifth time as we abandoned the trench to the Russians, dragging the wounded man. Probably the owners are going to be changed once again. The battered trench has fulfilled its purpose as "battle trench", battles have been fought in it .
Lt Iivanainen comes and we leave for Kylmäoja through the dark forest. I feel utter sleepy.
- I am told that tomorrow we have to leave Siiranmäki because in the West the Russians have probably made a breakthrough in our lines. At Kylmäoja I am directed into an empty half platoon tent, I drop on the heather and immediately fall into deep sleep.
11. 16. June
The tent has been filled while I sleep. As I start waking up in the morning it is crowded and I find myself staring a Field Chaplain's collar badges with the gold crosses right in front of my face. As I sit up I recognise Chaplain Laajoki. He, too, has been repelling the enemy attack last night.
The front line of Siiranmäki is held by delaying troops. After almost four days of battle it is quiet today. The attacking enemy divisions are probably exhausted for now.
The Company receives forty men as replacements, they are men of the youngest conscript class plus Sec. Lt. Hirvonen, who is back from hospital and still limping. As the oldest survivor of the Company I want to give the new man a few words to help them to survive in their new environment. Before Lt. Hirvonen takes the Company in his command, I repeat the men the same advice that I received when I was a replacement of this same Company, then called 5.Co../JR21 at the Kirvesmäki stronghold at Taipale in the Winter War.
I advise the men to always wear a helmet, always to stick to their outfit and follow their commander and not mutilate themselves on purpose. After returning from my furlough I had no helmet to wear which resulted in two holes in my field cap as a warning.
As the Company lines up for march it includes only half a dozen survivors of the battles of the past week. None of the five men returning from the furlough with me four days ago are there. The new men who had marched from Valkjärvi carrying their full gear have to continue with the others to the North .
There they fought at Punnusjoki and Salmenkaita before the bloody action at Äyräpää bridgehead and Vuosalmi.
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Thanks for the heads up, Mangrove!Mangrove wrote:Some 4300 previously unpublished articles and memoirs sent to the Kansa Taisteli magazine have been now published on their web site. Kansa Taisteli - miehet kertovat. Julkaisemattomat kirjoitukset.
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""Kansa taisteli", the magazine that was published fron 1957 to 1986 is one of the most famous magazines in Finnish history. It took the everyman personal war story telling to a completely new level. Once a month the publication reminded of the points of view of Finnish front line soldiers in the Winter War, in the Continuation war and in the Lapland war. At times the editorials of the magazine could have been picked from "Hakkapeliitta", the official CG magazine. It is no wonder that the unrepentant style divided opinions. For the war veterans the magazine was a means to tell about the extraordinary experiences of their youth and the political right appreciated its national defence spirit and its patriotism. For the leftist militants the magazine represented extreme reactionarism and digging in the garbage bins of history.
In the year 2014 society "Suomen Sotahistoriallinen Seura" committed a culturally valuable deed by publishing the entire content of the magazine in Internet. For many a younger reader the "Kansa taisteli" is just a collection of veteran's war stories. It is not possible to understand the true significance of the magazine without being aware of the period of history as it was published.
Jukka Kemppinen wrote a witty comment in his blog:
That magazine was actually in its heyday quite a strong political comment. Reading it in a train was considered a treason of the working class and one who bought a copy was considered to be anti-Soviet .
In Finland with the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 in force the magazine was dissident. While the official Finland was emphasizing Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance with the Eastern neighbour the "Kansa taisteli" kept fighting the "Russki". The contrast between the national defence friendly spirit of the magazine and the official Treaty liturgy was considerable. No wonder that president Kekkonen devoted three critical letters to the editor-in-chief (Gen. Oesch, ret.)