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The Battle of Honkaniemi

The attack of the strengthened 3rd Jaeger Battalion
26 February 1940

(The only Finnish tank attack in the Winter War)

 

 

This map shows the location of Naykkijärvi, and the divisions on both sides in the area.
(the square, 15 km SE from Viipuri)

 

 

 

The situation on 25 February

 

Vickers 6 ton tank, in Finnish markings and 37 mm Bofors gun

As the situation on the Honkaniemi-area had developed into a threatening salient, the C-in-C of the II Corps (Lt. General Öhquist) attached the JP 3 and the newly arrived 4th tank company with 13 Vickers tanks to the 23rd division, commanded by Col. Voldemar Oinonen (from 25 February onwards). Also the 3rd battalion of the 67th regiment, which was "on loan" to the 5th division, was returned.

As the 23rd received these reinforcements, Col. Oinonen decided to destroy the the small salient east of Naykkijärvi.

The commander of JP 3, Capt. I. Kunnas, and the commander of the 4. / Pans.P, Lt. O. Heinonen, received the order to attack at 2215 hrs.

 

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The Plan

 

The original plan was to conduct a counterattack with 6 battalions, 3 artillery battalions and the 4th tank company. After the hurried preparations were begun, the units eligible for attack decreased to 4 battalions, 2 artillery battalions and the tank company. The plan was (in short) as follows:

  • After the JP 3 and the 4. / Pans.P, with the help of I / JR 67 have penetrated the enemy line and reached the 1st objective, two battalions (II and III / JR 67) would carry the attack on to the 2nd objective and straighten the line.

Unit Legends

JR 67 is the 67th infantry regiment
I / JR 67 is the 1st battalion of the JR 67
JP 3 is the 3rd Jaeger battalion
I JK is the 1st Jaeger company
4./ Pans.P is the 4th company of the Tank Battalion
II / JR 14 is the 2nd battalion of JR 14

The map on the left shows the planned attack. The Jaegers were to cut through the defending Soviet forces, and two battalions from the JR 67 would advance forward through the Jaegers.

Map Legends

1 - woods, the color represents different kinds of trees (pine, broadleaf, spruce & mixed), and different densities of the forest.
2 - open ground, mostly cultivated fields
3 - marshy / swampy forest (see #1)
4 - marshy / swampy ground
5 - marshy / swampy deforested area
6 - deforested area
7 - a building and it's "yard perimeter" i.e. the farmyard (meaning a main building and possible rear buildings, like barns, cowsheds etc.)
8 - road
9 - the Viipuri (Vyborg) - Leningrad railroad
10 - Finnish tanks (blue), and knocked out Soviet tanks (red)

 

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26 February

 

On the night between 25th / 26th, the JP 3 was transferred by trucks to Heponotko (the road on the map leads to it, 3 km NE from the Honkaniemi depot) and skied to the starting point, arriving at 0400 hrs. The tank company arrived 30 minutes later, after making a 50 km march. The march in bad conditions, costed the tank company 5 tanks to various reasons, mainly engine failures. Capt. Kunnas divided his tanks into two sections, 6 tanks to support the 2nd and 3rd Jaeger companies and 2 tanks to support the 1st company securing the left flank.

The attack was decided to begin at 0500 hrs, but as the communication link to the artillery failed, it was decided to try again at 0615.

As the preliminary bombardment started, some of it fell on the starting points inflicting a total of 30 casualties (dead + wounded), so the attack was postponed again by an hour.

 

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The Enemy

The defending forces were lead elements from the 84th division which, as usually, were supported by T-26 tanks. It has to be remembered, that the soviet divisions had very strong antitank capability, even with attacking formations.

The Soviet forces were preparing an attack on that same day (started around noon), so the opposition was stronger than expected, since the units that were ordered to attack had taken their positions along the front.
(The attacks started on schedule regardless of the Finnish attack.)

The Soviet tanks, that the Finnish 4./PansP faced, were tanks of the 112th tank battalion of the 35th Light Tank Brigade, the brigade being commanded by Col. V.Kashuba.

 

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The Attack

 


This map shows the maneuvers of the Finnish tanks,
and roughly the locations in where the three (confirmed)
Soviet tanks were knocked out.

After a short artillery bombardment by I / KTR 21* and I / KTR 5** the attack began. The Finns encountered problems right from the start. Only 6 tanks managed to join the attackers, as 2 tanks suffered technical problems.
- The I / JR 67 managed to advance 200 meters before halting in a murderous fire.
- The 1st Jaeger company, covering the left flank, advanced to the railroad, but was unable to cross it.
- The main attacking force, 2nd and 3rd Jaeger companies managed to advance 200 meters SW from the railroad until it too had to stop.

* = the 1st artillery battalion of the 21st artillery regiment
** = the 1st artillery battalion of the 5th artillery regiment


During the battle, the lack of radios was painfully realized (the tanks were purchased from the UK without guns, optics and radios, and some even without the driver's seat, in order to save money). As communications between the individual tanks was impossible, all tanks were acting with their own initiative, according to the original plan.


The 4th tank company had a sad day. One of the tanks (# 644) got stuck in a ditch, and the turret was damaged, later returning back to the starting point of the attack. All the other tanks were lost in the concentrated fire of T-26's and T-28's and numerous 45 mm AT-guns. Only 3 tanks managed to break into soviet positions before they too were destroyed.

 

 


Source: "Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut 1918 - 1997"
The command tank of 1st tank platoon, commanded by Lt.V.Mikkola, Vickers Nr. 648, advanced farthest, some 500 meters. While the exact number of Soviet tanks knocked out isn't known, some kills by individual tanks were recorded, e.g. the tank Nr. 670, led by 2nd Lt. J.Virniö, which managed to knock out one Soviet tank before it was damaged. Tank Nr. 667, led by Corporal E.Seppälä, kept fighting after being immobilized. It destroyed 2 Soviet tanks, but after the enemy scored a few more hits, the crew abandoned their vehicle.

The attacking 3rd Jaeger battalion had also an AT-gun platoon as it's disposal, but no Soviet tanks were destroyed by it's guns in the attack.

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This map shows with more detail, the attacks of the Finnish
infantry, and how far they advanced

The attack came slowly into a halt by 0900 hrs and on 1000 hrs, Capt. Kunnas received an order to abort the attack and withdraw. The first Finnish tank action, fought by inexperienced crews had been unsuccessful. The tank company lost one NCO killed, two officers were wounded and two NCO's and three privates were reported missing. Among the reasons for failure (in addition to the lack of experience of the crews and the lack of radios), the absolute superiority of numbers, that the enemy had, was definitely one of the main reasons, and one can say that the pre-attack reconnaissance was insufficient. But as the tankers, even while acknowledging these shortages, mounted their tanks and started the attacks, one can say that while the Finns lacked nearly everything, courage wasn't on short supply.

 

The next day, on Feb 27th, the remaining 8 tanks of 4./PansP were ordered to move to the Rautalampi area for AT-duties.

 

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The individual Finnish tanks

 

I found from the Armour Museum (in Hämeenlinna, Finland) a map, where the individual ID-numbers and the rough locations, in where they were destroyed.

There was also more information of what happened to the individual tanks, and I've included most of the information to the table below.

Note that there were some other small ditches present in the area, but I've included, in all the maps on this site, only the one ditch in where the Vickers #644 got stuck.

Tank ID #
Commander
What happened
Vickers #644 Corporal Rassi The tank gets stuck in a ditch. The turret is damaged, and the tank returns to the jump-off area in Jukkala.
Vickers #648 Lt. V.Mikkola
(Comdr. of the 1st tank platoon)
This tank was the platoon commander managed to advance the furthest into the enemy positions. The crew bailed out, but Lt.Mikkola was the sole survivor of the crew.
Vickers #655 ? Was destroyed.
Vickers #667 Corporal Seppälä The tank fought stubbornly. Makes one effort to get the Jaegers to follow the tank. Knocks out 2 Soviet tanks, before the crew bails out.
Vickers #668 Corporal Pietilä The tank gets bogged down, the crew bails out, of whom one survived.
Vickers #670 2nd Lt. J.Virniö The tank made two efforts to get the Jaegers advance with the tanks. Knocks out one tank before it got knocked out. The crew retreated back to friendly lines.

 


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