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The Battle of Suomussalmi


German expansion politics at the end of the 1930ies caused the Soviet Union to become worried about the security of the city of Leningrad. Hence the Soviet Union claimed territory from the Baltic countries and Finland. During negotiations in Moscow Finland did not give its consent to the territorial claims of the Soviet Union as such. The Soviet Union decided to solve the Leningrad security question with war. After the Mainila shootings (26.11. 1939) the Soviet Government denounced the non-aggression agreement between the countries and broke diplomatic ties. The Red Army crossed the border on November 30, 1939, and advanced on all roads along the land border with strong forces. The extraordinary maneuvers. The Soviet Union took bases from the Baltic countries, and called Finland for negotiations to Moscow on October 5th 1939 so the Finnish peacetime military forces marched to the Karelian Isthmus. The field army was summoned to extraordinary maneuvers, in all 300 000 men and women. The main forces were located on the Isthmus, and the Lake Ladoga Karelia. Elsewhere in the provincial communes the military consisted of occasional battalions. During the extraordinary maneuvers the reservists were trained and the defense posts were improved. In spite of material deficiencies, the Defence Force was ready to do its duty. The men believed in the justification of their fighting and felt their responsibility. The so-called Spirit of the Winter War was created. The Soviet Union concentrated approx. half a million soldiers against Finland, supported initially by more than 2000 artillery pieces, about 2000 tanks and a thousand airplanes.


The attacks of the Red Army were beat off in the delaying battles of Summa, Taipale, Lake Ladoga Karelia, Kollaa, Tolvajärvi, Ilomantsi, Kuhmo, Suomussalmi, Pelkosenniemi, Joutsijärvi and Petsamo. Especially much the Finns' minds were lifted by the victorioius repelling victories of Tolvajärvi and Suomussalmi. At the end of December 1939 and at the beginning of January 1940, the Finns in Suomussalmi destroyed nearly completely two Soviet divisions. Also elsewhere in Northern Finland the Red Army's intrusion into mainland Finland was repelled. In the Kuhmo region the mainly entrenched Soviet division was surrounded, but because of lacking artillery a final solution could not be achieved. In Lake Ladoga Karelia the Finns besieged the enemy in many places. For example, in the Lemetti blockade a great war booty was got, but no total victory was achieved because of the continuously increasing Soviet troops superiority.


At the beginning of 1940 the Soviets tried to get a solution by concentrating a great contingent of troops, artillery and armoured forces to the Karelian Isthmus and Lake Ladoga Karelia. With a total force of a million men it started a total attack at the beginning of February 1940, supported by Air Force bombings against Finnish military and civilian targets on many places. Enormous artillery concentrations broke the Finns' defensive position here on the 15th of February, at which time the troops were withdrawn south of Vyborg. Soon, however, the troops had to be moved to the line Bay of Vyborg - Vyborg - Vuoksi-river. The Finns concentrated to the repelling fights of the Karelian Isthmus all the men that could be disengaged, even including Lapland, where the frontier responsibility was given to Swedish volunteers. The fightings moved from the region Vyborg - Tali to the Bay of Vyborg. Also in Vuosaari and Taipale the pressure grew intolerable. The Finns maintained their position by fighting at the verge of their endurance. North of Lake Ladoga in Kittilä the siege broke through and the Kollaa frontier widened to the flanks. There were only tired troops to dispose of against the attacker. Fortunately, in the Northern Frontier, the situation was controlled by the Finns.


The winter war ended 13.3. 1940 at 11.00 a.m. Finland had to cede the Isthmus of Karelia, the Lake Ladoga Karelia, parts of Salla, Kuusamo and Petsamo to the Soviet Union, and also to let out the Hankoniemi Peninsula. More than 400 000 people were evacuated from the ceded regions. In the winter war battles about 25 000 Finns perished and 43 500 were wounded. In addition, in the bombings of the Home Frontier, a thousand civilians died.


In the morning of the last day of November 1939 the Soviet 163. Division crossed the border in Suomussalmi, with main forces in Lehtovaara in Juntusranta, and with part of the forces in Raate. The first goal of the division was the village of Suomussalmi and the roads west and south from there. The opposing force in Suomussalmi was solely one battalion (Er.P 15), founded here and strengthened by one border guard company. At the beginning of December, from Kajaani succoured an additional battalion (IV/KT-Pr.). Delayed by minuscule Finnish forces, the vanguards of the 163. Division reached the village of Suomussalmi. During the delaying fights the evacuation oc the civilians began from the border villages and the Suomussalmi village. As the evacuation order was given too late, the inhabitants' property was left back in their homes, and the cattle in the cowsheds. During the war 265 civilians were caught by the Red Army. The Finns burned the Suomussalmi village, as they drew back, as well as houses in Juntusranta and Raate. All counted about 270 houses were burned in Suomussalmi during the war. The defense of Suomussalmi moved to the advantageous Haukiperä natural waterway narrows, where it beat off the Red Army attack on December 9th 1939. The in Kemi founded regiment nr. JR 27 came to the region, and colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo was called to be the Finns' new commander. He started immediate counter-measures to regain the lost Suomussalmi village. The main troops advanced to the village, only leaving a stopper detachment to the line Kuivasjärvi - Kuomasjärvi, where the Red Army troops obstinately resistred, causing Finns serious losses. The 163. Division was partly blockaded in the village and in Hulkonniemi. In Piispajärvi the men of Kuusamo and Posio held back the Soviet regiment that was determined northward. In the west, a new auxiliary troop was nearing, a regiment from Satakunta (Bicycle battalion PPP 6 ), that at the end of December closed the northward way of the Russians. The Soviet troops that had been besieged in the Suomussalmi village on Christmas Eve 1939 made a furious counterattack to break the surrounding circle. Only with difficulty were the troops, led by Siilasvuo, able to fend it off in the middle of their own preparations for an attack, in which also took part two regiments coming to aid from Southern Finland (JR 64 and JR 65). The latter regiment was directed to the northern side of the parish, where the commander was lieutenant-colonel Paavo Susitaival. At this same time a new Ukrainian division, the 44th, was nearing in Raate towards the village of Suomussalmi. The Finns' attack, begun on December 27th led to the panicky retreat of the 163th division on the ice of Lake Kiantajärvi to Juntusranta, shielded by tanks and airplanes. Only a couple of bases were left back in the area, which also were destroyed the next day. The division had lost thousands of men as casualties, and the bulk of the military equipment was caught by the Finns. The shaky 163th division without maintenance and order was almost completely at a loss. The 44th division was waiting on the road to Raate, entrenched in an area of a couple of kilometers. Lt. Col. Siilasvuo divided his division to four detachments, which, south of the road to Raate, attacked to Haukila, Tyynelä, Likoharju and Raate. During a couple of decisive days (4.-7.1.1940) the 44th division was divided to isolated bulks (called "motti") and destroyed on the Raate road. Only a minimal part of the motored infantry division succeeded in fleeing from the blockade to the other side of the border. The war booty was remarkably big. The defense victories of Suomussalmi were the result of the skilled use of terrain, the will to fight and a skillful leadership of a unit, in spite of material deficiency. The Red Army could not manage here, even superior in numbers, in circumstances alien to them. The double operation of Suomussalmi - Raate, as this battle sometimes is referred to in military history, because of its final result, remains one of the most remarkable battles of our war history. It was important for lifting the mental endurance of our nation. The fightings of the winter war continued in Kuhmo, norteast of Lake Ladoga ad in the Isthmus, where the Soviet Total Attack still awaited.