1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

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Lotvonen
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1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Lotvonen » 15 Jan 2016 06:11

1944 Battle of Nietjärvi

It would be fine if any of you could add to or correct the info below.

The heavy battles fought by Finnish Army Olonets Group in summer 1944 have been left in the shadow of the fighting on the Carelian Isthmus. Yet the battles in Olonets (East coast of lake Ladoga) and the victorious battle of Nietjärvi crucially contributed to the survival of Finland as an independent country.

The target of the Red Army was to push on from Svir river to the direction of Sortavala and from there to the rear of the Carelian Isthmus. Olonets Group, particularly 5. Division managed to check the advance of the enemy at Nietjärvi with the help of strong artillery support.

The defensive victory at U line (Pitkäranta-Loimola defensive line) was the fourth great defensive victory of the Finnish Army in summer 1944. The first one was achieved at Ihantala by the end of the first week of July, the second at Viipurinlahti by 9 July, the third at Vuosalmi by 17 July. The battle at Nietjärvi ended on 17 July.

Withdrawing and delaying
The Finnish GHQ ordered the Group Olonets troops to withdraw from their positions at Svir 20 July due to the crisis in Carelian Isthmus. The troops were to withdraw in a planned order to the national border. Two divisions were sent to the Carelian Isthmus by rail.

The bridgehead beyond Svir was vacated unnoticed by the enemy but the rest of the campaign was not equally successful. Gen. Paavo Talvela, though energetic and tough decision maker, had not mastered the delaying tactics. He pulled his troops back in too short steps which did not enable them to prepare for fighting at any delaying position. He also meddled with the decisions of his subordinate commanders resulting in confusion in leading the troops. Artillery support was deficient due to short range of the equipment and lack of radios. Enemy landing at Tuulos was foreseen but no real precautions had been taken.

Yet the troops of Olonets Group were able to reach the U line after withdrawing under enemy pressure for 150 to 250 km in three weeks. The front line to be held had shrunk from 180 km to 70km. The terrain was favourable to defenders and there were satisfactory trenches in the most important points.

Battle at U line
VI army corps were led by Gen. Armas Martola, 5.D held the line on the right wing limited by lake Ladoga. The enemy 7th Army attacked the line at several places from 10th to 14th July but without success, losing men and tanks. Finally the enemy decided to concentrate their attack at the isthmus between lake Ladoga and small lake Nietjärvi, where the main road and railway line to the Finnish rear were situated. The enemy command had to do with whatever forces they had, no replacements were sent to them.

Battle at Nietjärvi 15. to 17.July 1944
The enemy forces comprised 4th Army Corps including 114.D, 272.D, 3.Marine Brigade 70.Marine Brigade, one Tank Regiment and one Assault gun Regiment supported by artillery and rocket launchers and air force.

The defender forces included 5.D, 8.D and 15. Brigade supported by 11 Artillery Battalions. They were ordered to hold the defence line and to limit and contain any enemy break-ins that could not be beaten back by counterattack.

The enemy artillery barrage started at 0803 hrs on 15 July and the infantry attacked one hour later supported by tanks. By noon the enemy attack had been repulsed except West of lake Nietjärvi where the enemy managed to effect a breach in the defence line held by two worn battalions of JR44. During the day the defender spent 10170 shells and 4900 mortar bombs.

The breach was counter-attacked next night at 0300hrs by three divisional reserve battalions, the following morning (16. July) the enemy held still a 400m stretch of the trench. Fighting went on all day, all ten enemy tanks in the breach were destroyed.

The breach was finally eliminated on the night 16 to 17 July. A barrage of 1000 shells was fired at the enemy, then Finnish strike forces began to roll the trench from each end of the breach while artillery prevented the enemy from sending reinforcements. It was 2230 hrs. The isolated Soviet soldiers made tremendous resistance while the Finns pushed slowly on using flame throwers, hand grenades and SMGs. Hardly any prisoners were taken. This day the defender spent 3340 shells

The strike forces met at 0820 hrs 17 July having cleared the 400 m of trench. It had taken 10 hours and 3490 shells.

Result
The enemy casualties in the battle of Nietjärvi were estimated as 5000 to 6000 men, dead or wounded. Finnish losses comprised 700 men. Fighting died down turning into a trench war until the Armistice.

Source: Matti Koskimaa,General Staff Col.
Syväriltä Nietjärvelle. Aunuksen ryhmän taistelut kesällä 1944
(WSOY, Porvoo 1998 ISBN 951-0-22949-0)

Maps by Col. Koskimaa can be seen here: http://personal.inet.fi/koti/juhani.put ... a_1944.htm

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi, eyewitness account

Post by Lotvonen » 15 Jan 2016 06:17

Our defensive battle at Nietjärvi July 1944

Hugo Kujala
Journal "Kansa taisteli" vol.,7 1967
(Apparently Mr Kujala was a Platoon Leader of IV Btn, 5th Brigade. Ref. also http://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/a1405061282811, in Finnish)
(It seems Mr. Kujala is a little bashful describing the battle as to the role of the Sappers and the use of their "special equipment" (=flamethrowers))

I
We started our withdrawal on 20 June 1944 from Kuuttilahti at Svir river. The remainder of our JR29 had been merged into IV Btn. of 5th Br. We had had a hard time during the retreat and our ranks had been thinned in hard battles. Our road was blocked at Vitele while we were still engaging the enemy at Alavoinen, some thirty kilometers South. The Russians had landed from Ladoga and managed to cut for good our trafficable retreat road.

Here at Tuulos we had to taste our own medicine, as we had been outflanked just as the enemy had been outflanked by us during the advance phase of the war. The Russians had set a strong roadblock on our route. Our only way to pull out was a bad road in the forest connecting with our troops. Fighting constantly with all our power, trying to repel the ever stronger enemy attacks we, however, kept approaching the national border. Yet our tired and depleted troops were called for ever stronger effort to break the enemy attacks.

We had been retreating and fighting constantly for three weeks until we arrived at Nietjärvi lake on 13 July 1944. We finally were placed in reserve but in the immediate vicinity of the first line and in battle readiness.

II
We were given tents which we set up in a moment, our outfit did not need many of them anyway, so much had we been worn down during our arrival here. But now we had a chance to breath out a little nevertheless, because we knew that we were now behind the positions of the U line, which were continuous, manned and equipped. But it was not a boarding home that we found ourselves in.

In the evening of 14 July the enemy began to strafe our lines with artillery and bombers, continuing all night. Next morning the fire intensified into a terrible barrage. I wanted to find out what our hard tested and tired men were thinking now as the steel storm of war was raging and everyone was quiet as if during a thunderstorm. I told the men to set up their gear and be ready. It was as if I had thrown water on hot rocks.
"Where are we supposed to be going, not in the first line I believe? The trenches are manned, aren't they? They in their good positions are much better off than us here under bare sky in our foxholes?"

Having heard these questions and opinions I stated my view that the men in the first line are not able to withstand such a barrage for a long time. It is self evident that if the first line does not hold we shall be summoned, and soon.

It felt like an eternity before the shelling moved from the first line and became a risk for us, too. Wounded men, helping each other, were getting out of the trenches to seek help. They told us what we had suspected: the enemy had broken into the positions of the U line.

III
We knew that it was our turn to repel the enemy attack. Then a runner came in great haste and brought us the order that we had been expecting. We received orders to counterattack the enemy flank in the lost positions in the North shore of lake Nietjärvi and retake them.

We managed to take by charge a stretch of well made deep and exceptionally good trench. Other outfits, II Btn. of 15.Br and JR44, charging at our left flank were not equally successful. The enemy beat them back with an intense tank charge.

The tank's fire had a terrible effect on our troops on the rocky side of a hill. We were protected by a two meter deep trench from the shells of the tanks. But we were not able to press on, and there was no way to fight the solid wall of tanks in front of us without AT weapons. Our artillery, too, apparently did not make any effect to the enemy.. WE could not pull back, either, because the enemy was alert and followed us as soon as we tried to move.

Our Battalion Commander Maj. E. Väänänen had to send time and again requests for more men and AT weapons because our forces and equipment had proved insufficient to reach our target. The Division answered time and again briefly and in military unambiguity: " No reinforcements available, but the positions have to be retaken, keep attacking as long as there is one man standing."

Having received this message we (the officers) agreed to demand artillery strike in the positions held by the enemy. Now we were able to make the artillery agree with our request which was taken as the last request of a dying man. All our men in the trench were told to take the best possible cover because shells may be falling in our positions, too.

IV
On 16 July at 2230 hrs the Finnish artillery barrage was launched with tremendous intensity and apparently totally surprising the enemy. The effect of our 6-in. shells was tremendous in us as they kept exploding just next to us. A man felt himself powerless and expendable. We suffered some losses but it did not cause any confusion since we could expect such a thing to happen and anyway we had been ordered to win or die!

The shelling had caused a horrible mess in the trench that had been full of enemy troops. There were literally piles of corpses that we had to climb over to retake the lost positions. We easily took a brief stretch, but soon our tough enemy recovered from the bloody blow. Their men neither retreated nor surrendered, they had to be killed on the spot.

One of our problems in these prominently deep trenches was spotting the enemy, because it was not advisable to put up one's head. The tanks lurking nearby would fire at any movement they detected. But we found a pair of periscope binoculars abandoned by artillerymen. Our Company Commander, Lt. Keskinen, used it to spot the enemy and control the use of hand grenades; now we were able to advance although we had too few of them in our hands.

We left behind us dugouts manned by the enemy. They were a suitable job for the Sappers who had arrived to help us, having special equipment for it. The last enemy resistance point on top of Yrjölä hill consisted of a machine gun that needed twenty hand grenades to be knocked out. It tried to shoot to the very last although many a man had been dropped behind it. While engaging this last obstacle we began to hear noises of battle beyond the hill. Shouting the defined identification call "hakkaa päälle" (Beat them!) we received the same while the surviving 30 to 40 enemies jumped up and tried to cross the wire over to their side. Their attempt was not successful, their run was ended either on the wire or on the field beyond it.

From a covered foxhole next to the last machine gun post we found some living enemies who unwillingly allowed themselves to be enticed out. One of the last enemies fired a concealed pistol at one of us, fortunately it was just a flesh wound. We left this heinous act to be punished by others, because we believed our commanders wanted to make these tough men of a Guards Division talk.

V
We were satisfied with ourselves for good reason: we had managed to struggle to the victorious end in this crucial battle for Nietjärvi, creating one of the pillars of our defence campaign. We were not able to celebrate because in three constant days of battle a lot of our brothers with whom we had made friends during the war years had left our ranks for ever. We counted in this breaking in area about 1000 dead enemies and a total of about 2000 on the entire Nietjärvi battleground.

The Division Commander Gen. Lt. Tapola under whose command we had fought sent his personal thanks to our Company Commander, Lt. Leskinen. It was this man who had led his company to roll the enemy positions in the entire break-in area.

The survivors of the tough battle did not remain unacknowledged. The distribution of honours after the battle was unprecedented. Gen. Tapola was present as the decorations were awarded in a solemn ceremony.

(1445 words)

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Art » 15 Jan 2016 09:22

Lotvonen wrote: It would be fine if any of you could add to or correct the info below.
So-called "battle of Nietjarvi" was an engagement between Soviet 114 Rifle Division and several Finnish battalions. The article alleges that it was a major battle of strategic significance or at least a key turning point in operations in Karelia. The first is plainly wrong and the second is highly dubious. In fact the problem of the article is that it is switching focus between this tactical engagement and a major defensive battle in Karelia.
Finally the enemy decided to concentrate their attack at the isthmus between lake Ladoga and small lake Nietjärvi
Actually only the 4 Rifle Corps with two divisions (114 and 272) was attacking in this sector. It was just a part of a larger offesnive operation.
The defender forces included 5.D, 8.D and 15. Brigade supported by 11 Artillery Battalions.
Only a part of 5 Division held the front between Ladoga and Nietjarvi lakes. Again that is a problem of focus.
The enemy casualties in the battle of Nietjärvi were estimated as 5000 to 6000 men, dead or wounded.
Again it's not clear to what units or what sector this estimate pertains. 114 Rifle Division had about 5400 men by 15 July, it just couldn't lose that many men. Losses reported day by day were (combined from the divisional war diary and files of the Karelian Front):
15 July - 12 kia, 263 wia, 1 mia
16 July - 73 kia, 310 wia, 70 mia
17 July - 28 kia, 270 wia, 196 mia
18-19 July - 43 kia, 137 wia, 143 mia
Total 156 men killed, 980 wounded and 410 missing. Those numbers were preliminary and were subject to corrections later.

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by mars » 15 Jan 2016 15:27

I wonder why there were so many MIAs. on July 17, there were almost 200 men missing, does that suggest some units of 114 Rifle Division were routed in that day?

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Art » 15 Jan 2016 16:55

The Finns had cut off the wedge in their defenses created a earlier, see this scheme for better understanding:
http://www.forum.aroundspb.ru/index.php ... &private=0
As I said the daily reports were preliminary. According to a corrected report 114 Division lost 386 men missing during the entire July 1944.

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Juha Tompuri » 15 Jan 2016 22:26

Art wrote:
Lotvonen wrote: It would be fine if any of you could add to or correct the info below.
So-called "battle of Nietjarvi" was an engagement between Soviet 114 Rifle Division and several Finnish battalions.
Wonder what is the origin of the term "Battle of Nietjarvi" and what is the source of your definition?
Art wrote:The article alleges that it was a major battle of strategic significance or at least a key turning point in operations in Karelia. The first is plainly wrong and the second is highly dubious. In fact the problem of the article is that it is switching focus between this tactical engagement and a major defensive battle in Karelia.
At the Soviet attack against the Finnish forces at U-line, wasn't the Nietjärvi-Ladoga section the one where the Soviet managed to gain most and the threat (looking from the Finnish side) of the Soviet final breakthrough (=advance at Olonets) appeared as most imminent?
Art wrote:Actually only the 4 Rifle Corps with two divisions (114 and 272) was attacking in this sector.
Lotvonen earlier wrote:The enemy forces comprised 4th Army Corps including 114.D, 272.D, 3.Marine Brigade 70.Marine Brigade, one Tank Regiment and one Assault gun Regiment supported by artillery and rocket launchers and air force.
Was it just the corrected two divisions there then?

Regards, Juha

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Art » 16 Jan 2016 22:36

Juha Tompuri wrote:Wonder ...what is the source of your definition?
Finnish wiki:
https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nietj%C3%A4rven_taistelu
It's said that 114 Division was the Soviet unit involved.
At the Soviet attack against the Finnish forces at U-line, wasn't the Nietjärvi-Ladoga section the one where the Soviet managed to gain most and the threat (looking from the Finnish side) of the Soviet final breakthrough (=advance at Olonets) appeared as most imminent?
I don't think that it makes my comment invalid. By any rate Soviet offensive wasn't limited to this sector, it cannot be even said that the main forces operated there. And again the problem of the narrative discussed is that it doesn't give a clear idea what was going on in other sectors which is a serious flaw in my opinion.
Was it just the corrected two divisions there then?
Of formations that actually took part in the attack on 15.07 - yes. 70 Brigade was actual withdrawn to the front's reserve as the events discussed were happening, and 3 Brigade made a limited part. It's clear that both armies (including Finnish naturally) had non-divisional support units, I simply omitted all them.

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi: significance

Post by Lotvonen » 17 Jan 2016 06:50

Finnish military historians consider the battle of Nietjärvi significant.

The shell consumption of Finnish artillery gives an idea:
15. July at Nietjärvi: 10170 shells
For comparision: 3. July at Ihantala (the day of hardest need for artillery support): 12000 shells

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John Hilly
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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by John Hilly » 18 Jan 2016 14:56

Colonel (Ret.) Koskimaa is an artillery officer so in his books and articles he concentrates to artillery and his focus on larger concept is not very detailed.
"Die Blechtrommel trommelt noch!"

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Karelia » 18 Jan 2016 16:45

There's no doubt of the strategic significance of the battle(s) at the U-line.

A detail: there never was a "Olonets" Group in the Finnish Army. It's of course the Aunus Group. There's no logic in using Russian names in English, when refererring to a Finnish unit with a Finnish name, which refers to a Karelian (Finnic) indigenous area name.

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Art » 18 Jan 2016 19:42

Karelia wrote:There's no doubt of the strategic significance of the battle(s) at the U-line.
Yes, but "battle of Nietjarvi" (meaning here a battle between 114 Division and corresponding Finnish forces) was only a part of them and not even the largest.
Also an account of AFVs employed. There were two armored units attached to the 4 Rifle Corps on 15.07.44 - 89 Tank Regiment and 338 Guards Self-Propelled Regiment with 22 T-34 and 21 ISU-152. Operational strength on the same day was 15 T-34 and 17 ISU. Both units in the sector 114 Rifle Division suffering serious losses. On 20 July 89 Tank Regiment had 18 T-34 available, 2 were reported as write-offs and 2 were damaged tanks not evacuated yet. 338 Regiment on the same day - 19 ISU-152 available, 2 write-offs.

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Juha Tompuri » 18 Jan 2016 21:52

Art wrote:
Juha Tompuri wrote:Wonder ...what is the source of your definition?
Finnish wiki:
https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nietj%C3%A4rven_taistelu
I would doublecheck if naming wikipedia as a source.
Art wrote:
Karelia wrote:There's no doubt of the strategic significance of the battle(s) at the U-line.
Yes, but "battle of Nietjarvi" (meaning here a battle between 114 Division and corresponding Finnish forces) was only a part of them and not even the largest.
As above.



Juha Tompuri wrote:
Art wrote:Actually only the 4 Rifle Corps with two divisions (114 and 272) was attacking in this sector.
Lotvonen earlier wrote:The enemy forces comprised 4th Army Corps including 114.D, 272.D, 3.Marine Brigade 70.Marine Brigade, one Tank Regiment and one Assault gun Regiment supported by artillery and rocket launchers and air force.
Was it just the corrected two divisions there then?
Art wrote:...Of formations that actually took part in the attack on 15.07 - yes. 70 Brigade was actual withdrawn to the front's reserve as the events discussed were happening, and 3 Brigade made a limited part. It's clear that both armies (including Finnish naturally) had non-divisional support units, I simply omitted all them.
Art wrote:...Also an account of AFVs employed. There were two armored units attached to the 4 Rifle Corps on 15.07.44 - 89 Tank Regiment and 338 Guards Self-Propelled Regiment with 22 T-34 and 21 ISU-152. Operational strength on the same day was 15 T-34 and 17 ISU. Both units in the sector 114 Rifle Division suffering serious losses. On 20 July 89 Tank Regiment had 18 T-34 available, 2 were reported as write-offs and 2 were damaged tanks not evacuated yet. 338 Regiment on the same day - 19 ISU-152 available, 2 write-offs.
Thanks, now we have even more men and equipment from Brigades and Regiments at the sector where the events took place.
Do we have even more?

Regards, Juha

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Lotvonen » 19 Jan 2016 08:13

Karelia wrote: A detail: there never was a "Olonets" Group in the Finnish Army. It's of course the Aunus Group. There's no logic in using Russian names in English, when refererring to a Finnish unit with a Finnish name, which refers to a Karelian (Finnic) indigenous area name.
Quite correct, I just fail now to find a way to correct my text...

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by Aleksander P » 12 Apr 2016 01:19

Does anyone know the sources for Finnish estimates of Soviet casualties during the battle?

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Re: 1944: Battle of Nietjärvi

Post by SFCLinken » 20 Apr 2018 08:01

Putting life back in this old post.

What kind of AT capacity did the Finns have in this area? I assume they had PzFausts and PzSchrecks on squad level. I am very uncertain on the JR 44 OOB but did they have any attached Pak capability? If so what type? Did they have any StuGs?

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