Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Tank Log

In 1939 a lone road ran from the Soviet/Finnish border. It's in the north of Finland and it heads through the village of Alakurtti and on to a place called Salla. At Salla the road splits in two, with the northern leg describing three sides of a square, before re-joining Kemijärvi. From there the road leads west and then south west, across Finland's narrowest point to the Gulf of Bothnia.
Along the northern road lies the village of Pelkosenniemi, and the southern route has the village of Kemijärvi.

The Soviet planners looked at this and saw a steady supply line that enabled them to cut off the most northerly third of the country. When, on the 30th of November, the Soviets invaded Finland without warning, they threw a force along this road.

Initially all went well, as the Finns had wanted to avoid provoking the Soviets they hadn't stationed any military forces near the border. So the initial skirmishes were with a few poorly armed border guards vs the might of the Soviet armies.
To give you an idea of how badly prepared Finland was there is this excerpt from a youth during the winter war. He like many others his age were part of a civil defence organisation (sorry Finns, Google translate failed me here and I might have gotten it wrong), not to dissimilar to the British Home Guard or the German Volkssturm. His name is Antti Henttonen, and the full account of his experiences can be found here.
'Enemy fighter machines flew over us, in the tops of the trees artillery shells burst. We only had pieces of crispbread in our pockets, and no protection against the temperature that sunk below -30 degrees. Many boys suffered frostbite with their toes turning grey and falling off. My toe was rescued by a neighbour's boot made of jacket cloth. Two of my fingers became swollen so that later they felt like leather. The metal parts of the rifle were so cold that they just "burned".'
Note: I've tried to tidy up the English from Google's offerings, so some of the details may be wrong. 

Back in northern Finland, the Soviets reached Salla village by the 9th of December. The Finns, as they went had been forced to burn their own villages in a form of scorched earth, that would prove devastatingly effective during Finland's harsh winter. The Finns managed to form a scratch defence line, however the Soviets were able to smash through with their armour. From here they swept along the roads both north and west.
The Soviets reached Pelkosenniemi on the 16th of December. Here they met a Finnish line at hill 44.8 near the Lampestenoja brook and the Finns attempted to hold the Soviets. However, they couldn't dig in as they were trying to defend a swamp. At best the Finns were able to use some logs to form field obstacles. The Russian's 9th Rifle Division attacked the Finns 13th Infantry Regiment. As the Russians approached the Finnish defenders put up a storm of fire. This caused the Russian attack to become pinned. Six tanks were ordered forward. As they approached through the heavily wooded area they were hit at a range of just 50 meters. One after another four T-26's were knocked out by the few anti-tank weapons the Finns had.
The last two tanks gunned their engines and pushed on. Both made it to the Finnish lines. Prior to the war the Finnish infantry had been given manuals that said tanks were not something to be scared of. You could cause them to throw a track with a crowbar or a log. 
To that end Private Vieno Loimu of the 7th company grabbed a crowbar and charged the nearest tank. He heaved the crowbar into the moving wheels and there was a loud clanging sound and the crowbar was hurled out. Undaunted he grabbed a nearby log and heaved it into the tracks, only to see the log splintered into a thousand bits. As the tank moved deeper into the lines it was attacked by satchel charges and destroyed, as was the second tank to reach Finnish lines. For now, the Finns had held.
The Finns then planned an attack for the next day. A Jaeger battalion had been sent to help the front. The plan was for the defenders to launch an attack the next day, while the Jaeger's, who lacked any heavy weapons would move through the wilderness and hit the Russians from the rear. As it turned out both sides launched their attacks at the same time and blundered into each other. However, the Jaeger's managed to get behind the Soviet lines and hit a supply depot and the Russians reserve battalion. The sounds of bitter fighting from their rear and the panicked reports caused the Soviets to panic and fall back.

On the main road the Finns were also having successes turning back the Russians. Eventually the Russians were pushed back to Salla, where the front stabilised until the Winter War ended.

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