Finnish discipline

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Henric Edwards
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Finnish discipline

Post by Henric Edwards » 04 Sep 2002 17:50

After listening to my grandfathers stories I have come to the conclusion that his unit was a rather rowdy one. Always complaining about orders, threatening to refuse to obey, and at one time it almost came down to fighting as an officer wanted to award them some medals instead of bread. Movies and litterature such as Väinö Linnas "Unkown soldier" seems to reinforce this image of the Finnish figting man as a rather undisiplined and scabby looking individual. But the book as well as my grandfathers stories point out that even though they did protest, in the end they did their duty and more. My question now is this; How true is that picture of the Finnish soldier? Were they really the insubordinate crowd of rough boys or have this image been overemphizised in post-war litterature? How prelevalent was this mood within the Finish Army during WW2? Any thoughts are welcome.


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Tiwaz
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Post by Tiwaz » 05 Sep 2002 06:40

Just like with most cases over time reputation has grown bigger. Finnish soldiers weren't raging maniacs but compared to most other armies Finns were less "disciplined" and more independently minded specially in the field.

And I little doubt about that officer thing. Soldiers may have had rather "unofficial" relationship with their direct superiors but usually with higher level officers behaviour was more diplomatic.

All this may or may not be correct depending on person and unit.

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Harri
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Post by Harri » 05 Sep 2002 13:10

Discipline was harder in full or partial conspript units (like Cavalry Brigade and Armoured Division) than in pure reserve units where even leaders were mainly reservists. On the other hand long range patrol companies were usually more democratic and experience was the most decisive factor, not rank, which moulded the atmosphere of these voluntary units very special.

In 1941 and early 1942 supply was bad and many complains were due to hunger and rest (or lack of them). During trench warfare period the lack of sensible work gave room to individual behaviour. Certain units trained and worked more to kill time, others just played with playing-cards and made hobby crafts depending on the activity of leaders. In "Unknown soldier" Corporal Rokka refused to put "rounded stones" to the yard of the command dugout. Hobby crafts are made in there too.

Reserve units were usually regionally formed unlike conscript units and many reservists knew each others and their leaders well. In the front formal discipline was although much milder than in garrisons. That same is true even today.

Finnish soldiers are/were maybe insubordinate but they are/were very disciplined in combat. They did their duty almost any time and in any situations and senseless escaping under enemy pressure was almost unknown in Finnish units. In the summer 1944 thousands of men did escape from the front because they were afraid of shooting and bombing or just thought it was better to save ones life but these "escapes" happened usually during peaceful periods straight after hard combat.

Finnish soldiers were among the best volunteers also in Waffen-SS. Finnish volunteer SS battalion was eventually ranked to the top by Germans in shooting and in combat after long mistrust dispite of evident non-Prussian behaviour of the Finns.

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Henric Edwards
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Post by Henric Edwards » 05 Sep 2002 14:19

Thanks for the very interesting replies Tiwaz and Harri! Anyone else?



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Juha Hujanen
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Post by Juha Hujanen » 05 Sep 2002 17:15

The image for Finnish soldier as always whining has been overemphizised in post war literature,especially in "Tuntematon Sotilas".Surely they weren't parade troops,but it must be remembered that Finland mobilised huge part of it's men.Many men were older,in their 30s and even 40s.They had their wifes and kids in home,they had farms to look after,so they didn't felt necessarry to shout sir and salute everytime when 2Lt walked by.They took their opportunity,as privates in every army,to complaint.About food,their gear,just about everything.And it was ofcourse true,that their group was always put on baddest places,most difficult attacks etc :wink
In Knut Pippings 47 published thesis"Komppania Pionoisyhteiskuntana" he found 2 classes in Company.Officers"masters or sirs" and others"noncoms and men".Then there were smaller groups from birthplaces,ages etc.Men thought that courage was to be suited to time and place.Try to maximise the safety with smart action.Everyone was expected normal amount of courage and those who didn't have it were loathed.The courage ment that you didn't left your group,because it jeopartized the group.Extraordinary courage was one's ownmatter but it wasn't to ment to make extra danger to your comrades.
Personally brave officer was allowed to put his men to more dangerous situations but only when he exposed to danger himself too,not when he stayed in safe in rear,
They say that "sisu"(guts) is 1 part of stubbornes,1 part of stubitidy and 1 part of unknown substance.I personaly have a problem to take orders from others....

German officers were horrifield when they first saw Finnish units in North."Finns march like gypsies"they said.Well barrack dispiciline didn't helped them in forests when winter came...

Juha

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Post by Fjy » 05 Sep 2002 18:22

It should be mentioned here about the Finnish mass denial in 1941 at the old border. There have also been several fugitives during the wartime: in 1941 1499 men, in 1942 2384 men, in 1943 903 men and to the beginning of June in 1944 454 men. This all just to show that Finns are also humans...

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Post by Fjy » 05 Sep 2002 18:23

It should be mentioned here about the Finnish mass denial in 1941 at the old border. There have also been several fugitives during the wartime: in 1941 1499 men, in 1942 2384 men, in 1943 903 men and to the beginning of June in 1944 454 men. This all just to show that Finns are also humans...

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Henric Edwards
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Post by Henric Edwards » 05 Sep 2002 18:55

Fjy wrote:It should be mentioned here about the Finnish mass denial in 1941 at the old border. There have also been several fugitives during the wartime: in 1941 1499 men, in 1942 2384 men, in 1943 903 men and to the beginning of June in 1944 454 men. This all just to show that Finns are also humans...


Isn't it rather odd that the number of deserters was at its lowest at the beginning of the Soviet offensive? I can understand the figures for the static portion of the war as well as the offensive phase, but why so low during the retreat? Can this be an indication of a somewhat stronger sense of duty and the importance of the defensive actions fought during that fateful summer? Or am I reading to much into it?

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Post by Fjy » 05 Sep 2002 19:19

The figures in 1944 are not for the whole year. There is no accurate numbers from the large Soviet attack, as the troops were so in disorder that it was impossible to tell who was a runaway and who was just lost. But the numbers are multiple to that 454.

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Henric Edwards
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Post by Henric Edwards » 05 Sep 2002 19:36

Fjy wrote:The figures in 1944 are not for the whole year. There is no accurate numbers from the large Soviet attack, as the troops were so in disorder that it was impossible to tell who was a runaway and who was just lost. But the numbers are multiple to that 454.


Thanks for clearing that up. :)



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Juha Hujanen
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Post by Juha Hujanen » 05 Sep 2002 20:44

During Winter War 1054 deserter cases were reported.In trench war period 118 men deserted to enemy.70-80 of them were communist of Er.P 21 who volunteered to front only because they could desert to Russland.During June-August 11690 men deserted.Most of them(6821) in June.The shock of massive full scale Soviet attack was too much for them.
R.E.Hirva made a study for men of 2th.and 10th DivisionReasons for panic were:artilleryfire 39%
tanks and direct fire guns 24%
bonbers 10%
ground attack planes 8%
breaking of communications 5%
death of commander (%
destruction of own weapons 3%
other reasons 3%

Deserteions varied a lot in Divisions.2th Division lost staggering 9254 men in summer of 44 but they had only 995 deserters.A Ratio of 10:1.These deserters mostly were men who in stress of battle slipped in the rear area and came back after a while.
In the end of September 76 deserter were contemmed to death.46 were actually shot by firing squad.

Source Kansa Taisteli 1-2/86
Kun hyökkääjän tie suljettiin.

Juha

JariL
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Deserter is not the correct term, I think

Post by JariL » 06 Sep 2002 08:30

Hi Juha,

Deserter I think means a man who either runs away from the front and tries to hide from the authorities or chooses hiding already when the mobilization order comes. This type of desertion was not very common in the Finnish army. Deserters for all reasons counted to a couple of thousand during the whole war.

As was stated in your post, in the summer of 1944 more than 11.000 men ran from the line for various causes. The biggest problems were in the 10th division and in JR 5 I belive, but also Cavalry Brigade and 20. Brigade had problems. But practically all units had at some stage men missing from th eline. But most of these men were gathered only a couple of kilometers behind the lines and returned to the front. Very few refused to go back.

If I remeber correctly 47 men of different ranks were shot during the summer for desertion. Interestingly enough the effect of the death sentences was very doubtfull. The message that deserters will be shot was clear enough but on the negative side was that the sentences made men passive. They did not want to do anything extra because if it failed you might get punished. Even general Talvela, who was the a strong supporter of the death sentencies admitted thet the "effect was very dubious".

The biggest reason for running away was battle stress as can be seen in Juha's post. It does not really make any difference if it was the ground attack planes, artillery fire or tanks that triggered the reaction.

What is also important to notice is that after 10 days in battle the Finnish units started to rally. Even the 10th division that had the biggest problems went back into battle near Viipuri after June 20th.

Soviet troops had similar problems in Tali-Ihantala and Vuosalmi in late June and July when they were hit by heavy artillery fire. There are several descriptions of whole divisions running away after being exposed to heavy artillery fire. The density of fire on both sides was so great at times that even the strongest of men had problems in controlling themselves -if they were still alive to even try. Russians shot at times 2 tons of ammunition / hectar, Finns at the peak could reach even 10 tons/hectar. No wonder that so many lost their nerves. The bigger wonder is that so many could be returned to their units.

Regards,

Jari

Nicolas von Schmidt-L
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Artillery in summer -44

Post by Nicolas von Schmidt-L » 06 Sep 2002 09:09

I have videoclips of Finnish artillery concentrations in -44. NOTHING could survive that. I can't find them right now, but I'll embark on a journey to find them soon.

Also, with some luck, I will get a copy of a tape that was recorded at Tienhaara during a Russian artillery concentration. The veteran told me that he had no clue how they could survive anything like that either.

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Antti V
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Re: Artillery in summer -44

Post by Antti V » 06 Sep 2002 11:27

Nicolas von Schmidt-L wrote:I have videoclips of Finnish artillery concentrations in -44. NOTHING could survive that. I can't find them right now, but I'll embark on a journey to find them soon.

Also, with some luck, I will get a copy of a tape that was recorded at Tienhaara during a Russian artillery concentration. The veteran told me that he had no clue how they could survive anything like that either.


It would be very nice to see those clips. I think it is very shameful for our war veterans and for us who are interested for war, that our Broadcasting company and Sota-arkisto, who does 'own' all that material, doesn´t release all that material for free use. Veterans and all Finns have paid that all film material when paying war taxes, so it should be free IMO. :(

'Information not shared is lost'.... especially films as we all know how old those films are....

Nicolas von Schmidt-L
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clips

Post by Nicolas von Schmidt-L » 06 Sep 2002 11:59

I've found the clips. They're at my fathers place. I will have them in a week.

I just got of the phone with a Swedish veteran from Svir and Tali, and he owns a video cassette with (original) films from these places. If I just had a video card with TV-in :/

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