The Finnish-German Lapland War (15) Sep 1944 - 27 Apr 1945

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Hanski
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The Finnish-German Lapland War (15) Sep 1944 - 27 Apr 1945

Post by Hanski » 21 Oct 2002 19:40

As a part of the armistice terms between the USSR and Finland in 1944, the German troops in Finland had to be disarmed. Eventually this led to the Lapland War, which is summarised for example at the website

http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/mirror ... /hist.html

as follows:

7 Sep 1944 Finnish peace delegation arrives to Moscow.

8 Sep 1944 First German troops start retreat in Kestenga sector.

14 Sep 1944 Finnish delegation starts negotiations on interim peace. Germans lay mines in the Gulf of Finland.

15 Sep 1944 German attempt to seize Suursaari island. Landing fails and Germans have to surrender. They lost 1253 men dead or POW, plus additional 900 drowned with 9 vessels. First losses in Northern Finland: 3-men motorcycle patrol is destroyed after refusing to surrender. Germans destroy airfield in Pori.

18 Sep 1944 Germans and Finns make an agreement concerning how Germans will leave Finland. This prevents all battles until Oct.

19 Sep 1944 Interim peace is signed in Moscow. Troops begin to withdraw to borders of 1940. Other terms include reparations for the sum of U$ 300 million, demobilization of armed forces and allowing the Communist Party to operate in Finland. Final peace is signed in 1947 in Paris.

22 Sep 1944 First members of Allied Control Commission arrive in Helsinki. Soviets take Tallinn, capital of Estonia.

28 Sep 1944 First actual battle between Finns and the Wehrmacht in Pudasjärvi.

29 Sep 1944 Last Finnish troops leave Soviet Union. Porkkala area is given to Russians.

30 Sep 1944 Soviets demand active war against Germans. Three merchant ships leave the port of Oulu, carrying 11th Infantry Rgt.

1 Oct 1944 11th Rgt lands in Tornio and takes the town. Armored Division begins to advance in Pudasjärvi.

2 Oct 1944 Germans counterattack in Tornio and battle rages for four days, then Germans leave.

3 Oct 1944 Hitler issues order that 20. Gebirgsarmee will evacuate Finland and retreat to Norway.

7 Oct 1944 15th Brigade and Det. Pennanen take town of Kemi. Finns find a German liqueur storage, and attacks is halted until storage is empty. Soviets launch a major attack in Petsamo and take nickel mines, which have been the main reason for keeping the strong German army in the northern Finland. Mines were producing 80 % of nickel required by German war industries.

9 Oct 1944 11th Division begins advance along to Swedish border.

10 Oct 1944 Town of Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, is completely destroyed by Germans.

13 Oct 1944 Germans issue the order to destroy everything in Lapland.

16 Oct 1944 Finns reach the ruins of Rovaniemi.

18 Oct 1944 Armored Division continues advance after battles in Rovaniemi slowly, because of thousands of mines. Border Guards Brigade takes Kemijärvi and ends it's war there.

1 Nov 1944 Demobilization of army to peacetime levels begins according to the terms of the interim peace. This begins to hamper action against Germans.

6 Nov 1944 Advance in north-west Finland stops in front of strong German defense line. No real attacks can be attempted since unit stregths are decreasing rapidly because of the demobilization. Soon only 1st Division is pushing the Germans to Norway. It's combat value is low and it waits until Germans leave voluntarily.

12 Nov 1944 Sales of alcohol is banned in Finland until 6 Dec, so that the demobilized soldiers can't make trouble.

14 Nov 1944 Central Council of Finnish Jews issues a statement that freedom and rights of the Finnish Jews have not been violated in any way during the war. 352 Jews fought in the Continuation War and 23 were killed in action.

18 Nov 1944 Germans leave the northernmost tip of Finland.

22 Nov 1944 Soviets return first batch of POW's.

5 Dec 1944 Demobilization is complete, the size of Puolustusvoimat is 37000 men (it's even now approximately of same size). Largest army in the history of Finland is history now.

31 Dec 1944 Mannerheim gives up the command of Puolustusvoimat.

1945

6 Jan 1945 National dance-ban is lifted. It has been illegal to dance during the wartime.

10 Jan 1945 German 7. Gebirgsdivision retreats from it's positions in Lätäseno. Only a very small portion of Finland is still in German hands.

12 Jan 1945 General Heinrichs is appointed to the post of the commander of Puolustusvoimat.

25 Apr 1945 Last Germans withdraw to Norway. Two infantrymen are killed in the last clash of the Second World War in Finland.

27 Apr 1945 Last shots are fired in the Finnish territory.

28 Apr 1945 Commander of the III Corps, General Siilasvuo reports that the mission of Puolustusvoimat is complete. Second World War is over for Finland.

-------------

My question is: how extensively is the war in Finland and Lapland War covered in German WW II literature? What are the prominent attitudes in it towards the Finns, and especially, about the events described above? How do German and Austrian veterans remember these experiences for their part?

H Mononen

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Bjørn from Norway
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Post by Bjørn from Norway » 23 Oct 2002 20:19

Hello!
Actually, the war on this sector is quite good covered in seveeral books etc. Rovaniemi was not destroyed by the Germans, something that already was known at the time I lived in Finland (mid seventies)

German veterans I know have a good impression of the Finns, but not all Norwegian volunteers, that did volunteer for one purpose: help Finland to keep the Russians out. Many of these Norwegians did feel really betrayed, as it turned out to fighting with the Finns.

B.

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Rovaniemi razed or not

Post by Sami_K » 23 Oct 2002 23:34

Bjørn from Norway wrote:Hello!
Rovaniemi was not destroyed by the Germans, something that already was known at the time I lived in Finland (mid seventies)


- I just checked, and none of my books agree with you. Nearly every house was destroyed by the retreating Germans, the leading Finnish Jaeger Platoon advanced in darkness to the Church village while the buildings were still burning. The havoc was completed by blown up roads and destroyed railrways.

Perhaps you mix Rovaniemi with some other place.

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Re: Rovaniemi razed or not

Post by JTV » 24 Oct 2002 07:54

Sami_K wrote:
Bjørn from Norway wrote:Hello!
Rovaniemi was not destroyed by the Germans, something that already was known at the time I lived in Finland (mid seventies)


- I just checked, and none of my books agree with you. Nearly every house was destroyed by the retreating Germans, the leading Finnish Jaeger Platoon advanced in darkness to the Church village while the buildings were still burning. The havoc was completed by blown up roads and destroyed railrways.

Perhaps you mix Rovaniemi with some other place.


Little piece of data loaned from official web-site of Rovaniemi town (http://www.rovaniemi.fi):
"Kaikenkaikkiaan saksalaiset tuhosivat noin 90 % kauppalasta ja 60 % maalaiskunnasta". In English: "Overall Germans destroyed about 90 % of the borough and 60 % of the rural municipality".

Admittably Soviets had bombed Rovaniemi several times, but damages had always been relatively small. So think also that there might be a mix-up in places.

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Bjørn from Norway
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Post by Bjørn from Norway » 24 Oct 2002 14:27

Hello!
I will check my sources when i get home tonight, and make a posting.
The Germans that were in Rovaniemi have a different story, that I will translate and put online.
Nice to see a posting from Espoo. I used to live in Kauniainen!

B.

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Juha Hujanen
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Post by Juha Hujanen » 24 Oct 2002 15:47

Yeah,Germans have a differend story.
Commander of 20.Gebirgsarmy General Rendulic reports in his diary,some burning huts at the outskirts of town.In the night of 14th October town commendant Captain H.Jöhnk, reported that fire has broken out in town.2 Finnish civilians had been caught.They were later released.He ordered engineers to blow up houses around fire,so it could be get under control.At the railway station was a train full of ammunition and it was ordered to be pulled outside buy 2 tanks(no locomotive was available) but train rolled back to station.
Jöhnk was in his way to station,when fire caught the train and it exploted.More than 6 hours munitions exploted and fire burned town to the ground.Germans suffered many wounted from explositions and the wounted in military hospital suffered too.About 20 men did get eye injuries from broken glass.

IMHO German report is convincing.Surely they wouldn't have started demolitions when their own troops were still in the city.

Regards Juha

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Post by Juha Hujanen » 24 Oct 2002 16:07

:oops: I did forget the source.Alfred Steurich-Gebirgsjaeger in bild.

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Burning down of Rovaniemi is an undisputed historical fact

Post by Hanski » 24 Oct 2002 22:45

Hey, come on now! I moved to Rovaniemi with my family in the age of two years, and I have lived there about twenty years of my life thereafter, going to school and graduating there and having my roots in that city. In my boyhood years, we found plenty of excitement playing aroung with pieces of wartime military hardware left around the city by the Germans, especially around Rovaniemi airport.

It never even occurred to me that I should need to prove something so self-evident like the fact that Rovaniemi was destroyed by the retreating German troops. It was burned down house by house, with only very few exceptions remaining.

Any book on the history of Lapland War displays photographs of the ruins, with only chimneys standing left. The destruction was systematic and much more complete than with any other Finnish city that suffered for example damage from aerial bombardment.

It was scorched earth tactics indeed, and of course it was planned for the stage when the German troops were no more dependent on using the local infrastructure. It was no accident, but a carefully planned and thoroughly executed operation of demolition. In addition, the borough was extensively mined, and the clearing of mines continued well into the 1950's. Mining was widespread all over Lapland to the North from Rovaniemi, and every single bridge drum was either blown up or mined to slow down the pursuing Finnish troops. The German motorized troops were very effective in securing the retreat of the main force, and too fast to be caucht by the pursuing Finns.

For anybody visiting Rovaniemi I recommend visiting the City Museum. It has a part devoted to Lapland War, with an accurate scale model of the burnt-down borough (built according to aerial photographs), and the corresponding re-built borough in 1950's in identical scale.

For my countrymen I can recommend the memoirs of Colonel Wolf H. Halsti, who personally led a Finnish contingent throughout the Lapland War.

So there is no question about whether or not retreating German troops burned down Rovaniemi, but only about details how they did it etc. It was a logical part of their tactics from the military point of view; stating this historical fact does not include a moral judgement about its justification.

H Mononen

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Post by Juha Hujanen » 25 Oct 2002 15:58

Hmononen.I do know that retreating Germans burned,exploted and mined nearly everything in Lapland.And that made pursuiting Finns very bitter(i've remenber reading about Finnish Regiment commander who had a"hobby"of sniping house burning Germans).And i'm certainly not try to defend Germans actions.
That German version of destruction of Rovaniemi is only one i did manage to find from German side.Propably Germans would have destroyed Rovaniemi later but that munitions train explosition sounds reasionable.Germans weren't such of a hurry or panic,that they would have started demolitions when their troops were still in the town.Mayby someone else cold find more accounts?

Ps.I've read Halsti's memoirs.

Chears Juha

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Interesting "explanations" indeed!

Post by Hanski » 25 Oct 2002 19:56

Well, it is quite interesting to hear an "alternative story".

"Commander of 20.Gebirgsarmy General Rendulic reports in his diary, some burning huts at the outskirts of town."

Generaloberst Rendulic must have been a very modest person indeed! It is clearly beyond any doubt that the nearly complete destruction of the whole borough - outskirts as well as all of the centre, huts as well as houses, churches, bridges, even ski jump towers - was an effort that required clearly organised activity. He must have given the order for it, and in no way can he have been unaware of the outcome. What he wrote in his diary and why, is a totally separate issue.

"In the night of 14th October town commendant Captain H.Jöhnk, reported that fire has broken out in town.2 Finnish civilians had been caught.They were later released.He ordered engineers to blow up houses around fire,so it could be get under control." - So, it was really the Finns who wanted to burn Rovaniemi, but fortunately the Germans saved it! And they even generously released those culprits.

For those unaware of the historical context: the civilian population of whole of Lapland had much earlier been given orders to be evacuated to Sweden, by the then Governor of Lapland, Uuno Hannula. It was quite clear there was going to be heavy fighting, so it is hard to understand why and how Finnish civilians could have remained in Rovaniemi.

"At the railway station was a train full of ammunition and it was ordered to be pulled outside buy 2 tanks(no locomotive was available) but train rolled back to station. Jöhnk was in his way to station,when fire caught the train and it exploted.More than 6 hours munitions exploted and fire burned town to the ground."

I happen to know exactly where the wartime Rovaniemi railway station was located. I fail to understand how a train can "roll back" on level, flat ground, especially if it is pulled by 2 tanks. And I would like to know how an ammunition train can catch fire from a burning building (was the railway station itself in fire?), when houses are not built near enough railroad tracks that any flames could reach the carriages. In the weather conditions of Lappish October, is it so easy to set fire to a railway carriage, even if it is wooden? And does the Colonel General claim that something like an ammunition train was so poorly guarded, in a borough full of well-disciplined German troops just preparing to depart, that any civilians could just like that set fire in its vicinity?

OK, for argument's sake, let us now assume that there was an ammunition train, which accidentally caught fire and exploded. What exactly was the ammunition? Infantry cartridges, artillery shells, or incendiary bombs? Artillery projectiles can explode, they can even fly and then explode, but what does the damage look like then in nearby houses? The blast and the resulting shock wave can shatter a house to pieces or rip the timber apart, it can dig a deep hole in the ground underneath, but does it burn the house to the ground level and leave the chimney standing? If mines are scattered around from an exploding ammunition train, do they dig in the ground and form minefields by themselves?

There may or may not have been an incident with accidental explosions, but that does not explain how the whole borough burns to the ground within the radius of kilometers, leaving only chimneys standing! It takes men with petrol and intentional burning to do that.

I would be curious to know the exact source of this "explanation" - a person must be extremely naive to accept that as the cause of the 90%destruction of Rovaniemi. It is difficult to believe Generaloberst Rendulic would not have had a more credible explanation.

Juha has read Colonel Halsti's memoirs, and he refers to the feeling of bitterness. There is no doubt at all about the emotions of bitterness and hate -- and that indeed is part of my question in my first message.

The Germans must have felt betrayed by their former brothers-in-arms, and the Finns have been outraged for seeing the destruction. Just like Halsti writes, part of the destruction had nothing to do with military tactics, it was pure revenge - like exploding a spruce tree growing in the yard of a house.

I am glad about having brought up this subject now, as it gives the opportunity to correct gross misconceptions and sheer ignorance about the questions involved.


H Mononen

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Post by mars » 25 Oct 2002 23:05

Currently I am reading 6 th SS "Nord" division veterian Wolf T. Zoepf's memory "Seven Days in January", according to him, after the war, at a meeting between German and Finnish veterian, a fomer Finnish soldier Erkki Kerojarvi,told him it was a Finnish commando destroyed this ammunition train, which blowed up and burned down the whole town, so it acually was Finnish army's fault for destroying Rovaniemi , any comments about that ?

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Post by Bjørn from Norway » 26 Oct 2002 10:37

Hello!
I have translated this from German to rather poor English, it is written by Franz Schreiber. Norwegian volunteers I have spoken to, are supporting this version:

Rovaniemi

"..In the history of the last days of Rovaniemi, there was added a Legend, which was constructed by the Swedish newspaper "Expressen" on the 20th October 1964. The Legend did get many followers and seems to be alive even these days. The former commander of the Lappland Army, Generaloberst Rendulic have several times denied this story - and in a letter from him, dated 1. May 1966, he explained this closer. The Legend itself says, that parts of the 6.SS-Geb. Div "Nord", in fury and anger, gave orders to completely destroy the town of Rovaniemi. This version was also incorporated in the Memories of Field Marshal Mannerheim.
The Korps had indeed ordered, that the bridges, the houses, that were built of stone including the Hotel, that served as HQ for 20. (Geb.) Army should be blown up by Army Engineers ("Heerespioniere"). Why this not was done, is shown in the report by the City Commander (des Ortskommandanten):
During the retreat, the troops were ordered not to enter Rovaniemi, but march around the town. I had my office in the barrack of the "Ortskommandantur". Battle group commander was SS-Standartenführer Schreiber, the commander of SS-Geb.Jg.Rgt. 12 "MG". It was forbidden for any German soldier to enter the town centre, and military police guarded this. One night, during the transport of a Finnish POW, a military police patrol reported that parts of the town centre had started burning. It could not be proved that the Finns had started this fire.
We had only few resources to fight the fire, and were not able to do it. The fire soon grew larger, as the dry wooden buildings started burning. I decided, by the help of Engineer troops, to blow a "Fire Gate" around the fire, to prevent it from spreading. This did not prevent more houses to get in flames. At the railway was a train, loaded with ammunition. I had to use tanks ("Panzers") to push the train away from the station, since we had no locomotive. The Railway Officer, who was from the Wehrmacht, got the orders to do this. Then, of reasons I do not know, the train was pushed back to the station again! Suddenly, I got a phone call from the Railway Officer, who said that the train could blow up at any moment, and what he should do. The tanks had already left the area, I checked this. I had to leave the train. The Railway Officer had already left; he was court martialed for this later. The fire grew closer to the train. As I was leaving for the station, the first wagon exploded. One wheel from this wagon landed 2 meters in front of me, in the entrance of the "Ortskommandantur". Now several explosions occurred, this time for hours. More and more buildings caught fire now. The "Ia" of the Korps was aside me in the trench outside the "Ortskommandantur". The train was loaded with mortar ammunition, as well as artillery shells, and mines.
The explosions came without warning to the divisional parts that were in the vicinity. During the first explosion, the staff members of "Jäger 12" managed to throw themselves into the ground, before the building collapsed. Flying pieces of window glass injured several. They had to crawl on their bellies, as grenades and ammunition started to explode.
The parts of SS-Geb.Jg.Rgt 12, which camped not far from the station building, had numerous wounded.
The article in the Swedish newspaper "Expressen" wrote that 41 000 buildings were destroyed. But during the war, only 3000 Finns lived in Rovaniemi. Most of them had evacuated the town these days. It must be clear, that if we had planned to destroy the town, or even started the fire on purpose, that we would have evacuated our own troops prior to this".
(Franz Schreiber 1969)

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Post by Hanski » 26 Oct 2002 11:17

I must confess I haven't read a thorough description recently about the Lapland war, or the destruction of Rovaniemi, and while I am currently in Britain, I don't have reference material at hand. It was already in the late 1970's when I read the memoirs of Colonel Halsti. Maybe other Finnish members with access to literature on the subject can help us to check the facts.

I am not at all disputing that there may have been an explosion of an ammunition train, either as a result of commando sabotage or intentional demolition (but the idea of accidental fire spreading from buildings sounds odd -- we all know how railyards look like, wide open spaces, and at the age of steam locomotives you would also expect a fair amount of water and fire-fighting equipment to be available at a railway station).

What I am saying is that the blasts of explosions cannot have caused such damage as seen in numerous photoghraps, as I mentioned before, to such an extent.

Strangely enough, it seems difficult to find any of those photos in the Internet. Maybe they are not considered such a pleasant sight that they would have been posted even in history web pages? But photoghraphic evidence does exist in abundance.

Relevant links that I found were an overview of Lapland War at

http://www30.brinkster.com/huttunen/lapland_war.htm

and a photograph of the end of the war at

http://hkkk.fi/~yrjola/war/finland_wwii.html/end.html


mars from Shanghai, could you quote any passages from the book you are reading that would clarify the details of what happened at Rovaniemi in October 1944?

When thinking of whose "fault" it was that Rovaniemi burned to the ground, I think it was simply a consequence of real war breaking out between the former co-belligerents and comrades-in-arms. Instead of orderly retreat and handing over Rovaniemi intact, Colonel General Rendulic chose the scorched earth tactics, which logically included complete destruction of the "Capital" of Lapland.

And if the Germans were originally willing to retreat in good order, like it initially happened in agreement with the Finns, why then did the Finns not allow them to do just that, retreat peacefully, but fought on, made a landing at Tornio etc.?

The reason was the pressure of the Soviet Union, which threatened the very existence of sovereign Finland then. The U.S.S.R. did not approve that kind of "phoney war", with Germans leaving territory behind them and Finns capturing it in the same pace - the Soviets demanded proof of battles and fighting, they wanted dead bodies and prisoners of war.

Indeed, according to the armistice terms with the U.S.S.R., any Germans that surrendered to Finns as PoW's in the Lapland War had to be handed over to the Red Army. And Finland fulfilled her obligations to the point, in order to meet all the requirements, for the selfish purpose of survival.

When it became clear that Finland had to make separate peace with the U.S.S.R., Marshal Mannerheim wrote a personal letter to Reichskansler Hitler about this, stating the reasons. Ultimately, those were the reasons that led to all the consequences, including to the nearly complete destruction of Rovaniemi.

I try to avoid discussion here from the moral viewpoint of who was "guilty", because both sides were. The point is that Lapland War was not playing soldier games or pretending to fight former friends - it was a bloody and destructive real war of its own, with casualties and heavy losses, that had their political background. Fighting former comrades-of-arms undoubtedly made it feel different to the Finns from fighting Russians, with whom Finns had had to fight now and again since the times of belonging to the Kingdom of Sweden.

To avoid too much formality, from here on I prefer to sign my messages with my nickname instead of "H Mononen".


With best greetings,

Hanski

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Post by Hanski » 26 Oct 2002 12:26

I am very grateful to Bjorn from Norway about his message, which was posted while I was still editing my previous one.

I cannot comment on the details with lack of reference material. But it is completely new to me that "During the retreat, the troops were ordered not to enter Rovaniemi, but march around the town".

There are two roads to Rovaniemi from the south: one following each bank of the Kemijoki river. The road on the eastern bank passes by the town centre, going around the Ounasvaara mountain and continuing to the north via the Suutarinkorva bridge (with both railway and highway on the same level) to Saarenkylä. Any troops marching this route would not enter the town centre without first crossing the Kemijoki bridge connecting Ounasvaara to the centre (with railroad on higher level and highway on lower deck).

Unless troops coming to Rovaniemi from the south would not cross the rather wide Kemijoki river, with its strong current, across some other bridge to the eastern side, and they would be marching along the western bank road, it is inevitable they end up in or at least near the town centre, as far as I can remember. It is difficult for me to see how they could find any march route around the town without going in the forest, where vehicles cannot follow.

Rovaniemi is where the rivers Kemijoki and Ounasjoki join in a form of letter "Y", and both these rivers are considerable natural obstacles that dictate where the movement can continue, they are nearly impossible to cross in October elsewhere than by bridges.

But that is not really the most relevant point here.

I agree pre-war Rovaniemi was built tighter, and warmed wooden buildings are dry (unlike for example railroad carriages), so fire can spread from house to house, regardless of its origin, or whether it was lit on purpose or by accident.

Mortar ammunition, artillery shells and mines - if you have tons of those exploding in a train, then at which radius would you expect the shock waves to cause damage? I think we are here discussing totally different type of damage from explosions, compared to a spreading fire. Explosions might even extinguish fires.

But the fact remains: Rovaniemi was 90 % burned, including houses kilometers away from its centre, and it was partially mined as well. The former Headquarters Hotel Pohjanhovi partially survived, paradoxically.

I have not heard any Germans were left behind in the burning Rovaniemi, so had they not evacuated their troops before that? Maybe the ammo train explosion caused casualties, but it cannot have caused all the damage.

I must say Generaloberst Rendulic fails to convince me unless he explains such widespread burning more credibly. Interesting explanation, though, but it defies the laws of physics.


Hanski

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It took the Swedish press to explain it!

Post by Hanski » 26 Oct 2002 14:25

I think this detail is funny:

"..In the history of the last days of Rovaniemi, there was added a Legend, which was constructed by the Swedish newspaper "Expressen" on the 20th October 1964. The Legend did get many followers and seems to be alive even these days."

So, the Finnish troops who first arrived at Rovaniemi in October 1944, seeing the borough aflame, could not form their own opinion of what they saw with their own eyes, until twenty years later they bought a Swedish newspaper and read from "Expressen" what they should think about it...!

:wink:


Bjorn from Norway, could you tell us about the number of Norwegians fighting the U.S.S.R. in Finland in the ranks of the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS?

Hanski

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