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The Battle of Suomussalmi

8 - 30 December 1939

Part II

 

 

 

Map of Suomussalmi area

This is a general map of Suomussalmi and the surrounding area.

As you can see, Suomussalmi was an important junction point, from where you could advance to virtually every direction. Note that there is a railroad depot in Hyrynsalmi.

The dark gray line is the border, the cross indicates a parish and the gray dots pinpoints the adjacent name with the place.

(NOTE; the dot marks the places, regardless of the size of the place, it's merely showing roughly the position of the place, so that it's easier to read the map.)

The Suomussalmi area

 

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The Finnish build up

 

As early as Dec 13th, the HQ of P-SR had requested more troops when the 163.D proved out to be too strong for the Finnish troops in the area to break. The Finnish General HQ had denied the requests to move additional troops in the Suomussalmi area. After the P-SR renewed their request, Mannerheim decided, on 19 Dec, to attach the new 9th division (from now on 9.D in the text) to the P-SR. The division was to be used "...to break the surrounded enemy in Suomussalmi."

The Finnish 9.D was far from a normal strength division. It was originally the 2nd Home Replacement Division (2.Koti-T-divisioona, in Finnish) , renamed to be the 22nd division. On 20 Dec, the order to attach the division to the Field Army as the 9th division arrived to the HQ of P-SR and to the HQ of the 9.D.

The division had only 2 infantry regiments, the JR 64 and 65. The division had also the 22nd light detachment (from now on Kev.Os.22 in the text) , 22nd Pioneer battalion (from now on 22.Pion.P in the text) with 2 pioneer companies, 22nd Signals battalion (22.ViestiP) and 22nd transport company (22.Liik.K) . The artillery regiment of the division (KTR 9) had only one battalion, the 1st, equipped with artillery (12  75 mm cannons model 1902, 75 K/02) .

The plans of using the division in the Suomussalmi area were completed on 21 Dec, in cooperation with the General HQ and the HQ of P-SR.

The P-SR HQ formed the Task Force Susi (Ryhmä Susi) , commanded by Lt.Col. P.Susitaival, in the Ylinäljänkä - Lake Piispajärvi direction. The TF Susi was to be consisted of JR 65, Er.P 16, TO 7 and TO Pessi, 22nd motorized Pioneer company, 8th Pioneer platoon and some supply formations.

The JR 64 and other sub-units of the 9.D were to be concentrated in the Suomussalmi village region, and the units already in the area were to be attached to the 9.D.

The final instructions for the 9.D arrived on 24 Dec, where the Soviet forces surrounded in Suomussalmi, namely in Hulkonniemi, were to be destroyed by an attack from the west. The attack was originally planned to commence in the morning of Dec 26, but due to delays in transporting the troops, the attack was postponed by 24 hours.

 

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The preparations and the battles between 21 and 26 December

 

Suomussalmi village and Hulkonniemi-Palovaara road

 

The fighting in the Suomussalmi village had transformed into a trench warlike shooting after the JR 27 received the defensive order on 20 Dec.

On 24 Dec, the Soviet forces launched an attack against the JR 27, concentrating on the west side of the road leading south. The attack was preceded by a 3 hour preliminary bombardment (which was unusually accurate) with all artillery pieces of the 163.D and furthermore helped by 12 Soviet fighters. The following attack lasted the whole afternoon and on occasion it looked like the JR 27 couldn't hold, and the 9.D HQ made plans for withdrawing back to the Niskanselkä-Haukiperä waterline. But with hard efforts, the Soviet gains were restricted to some forward strongpoints.
    In the evening, the I/JR 27, TO 5 and 1.Krh.K/JR 64, were moved near the Haukiperä ferry to act as the regimental reserves.

On 25 Dec, the preliminary bombardment was even more harder than the day before, but the infantry fighting strength of the 163.D had diminished and the Finns had no problems in repulsing the attack. The 163.D failed in gaining contact with the 44.D on the Raate-road, and actions in the Suomussalmi village ceased.

As the attack was decided to launch from the west, the Os.Mäkiniemi (detachment Mäkiniemi, consisting mainly of the JR 27 and other small units on the eastern side of Lake Kiantajärvi) was given an order to engage the enemy, preventing it to sent reinforcements across to Hulkonniemi. The Os.Mäkiniemi was ordered also to keep one battalion on reserve near the Haukiperä ferry. In fear of new Soviet counterattacks, the Os.Mäkiniemi was strengthened by the III/JR 64, commanded by Capt. P.Simelius , on 25 Dec, and on 26th, it was positioned on the SE side of the village.
    The II/JR 27 was positioned as the regimental reserve near the crossroad just north of the Haukiperä-ferry, while the I/JR 27 was just south of it, as the divisional reserve. The two battalions on contact with the enemy were given orders to launch strike team-like attacks (i.e. attacks with small heavily armed units) on 27 Dec.

 

After the Finnish withdrew on 18 Dec from Cape Hulkonniemi, the Soviet defenders improved their defenses by deploying troops along the whole southern end of the cape (the I/JR 305) .
    The Finnish activities before the attack on 27 Dec in Hulkonniemi were restricted to nightly patrols between Hulkonniemi and Kylänmäki, blowing up and mining the road and severing cables.

On 24 Dec, the II/JR 64 took the front-line duty from the Er.P 15 and IV/KT-Pr. which were moved behind friendly lines to replenish their stores and get some rest.
    In the evening of 26 Dec, the I/JR 64 arrived in Suomussalmi.

 

The PPP 6, which had it's 3rd company on defense along the Kovajärvi-Alajärvi isthmus, was attached to 9.D on 22 Dec. Patrols from the battalion made nightly attacks against Soviet columns on the Hulkonniemi-Palovaara road and blew up bridges. A Soviet battalion, defending Kylänmäki was identified, and the road was found to be strongly defended. A Soviet forward base was located in the SW corner of Lake Alajärvi, and it was completely destroyed by a strike team from 1./PPP 6.

 

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North of the village

 

As the ice road was now the main supply line for the Soviet regiments, the 9.D HQ ordered the Kev.K Hannila (light company Hannila) to move from the Hulkonniemi-direction to the E side of Lake Kiantajärvi. The company arrived in Ruottula on 25 Dec. But as the supply columns were heavily guarded, the company couldn't stop the flow of supplies. On 26 Dec, a Soviet detachment arrived in the cape Kannikkoniemi, and the Kv.K H was unsuccessful in it's attempts to retake the cape.

The Kev.Os. 22, led by Capt. A.Paavola , moved to the N of the village according to the attack plan. The mission was to attack across Lake Kiantajärvi and to reach the road running N from Hulkonniemi. From there, it should take offensive actions in cooperation with friendly troops in the area.

 

 

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The Raate-road direction

 

The actions on this direction continued to be small sudden strikes against the flanks and the encampments of the enemy.

On 22 Dec, while it looked like the Os.Mäkinen was facing only a single battalion, the 9.D HQ attached I/JR 27, TO 5 and the 53rd AT-platoon (from now on 53.PST.J. in the text) to strengthen the Os.Mäkinen (consisting of Er.K Kontula, Er.K Simola, KKK/Er.P 15, TO 6 and a pioneer platoon) .
    Os.Mäkinen received also new orders. It was to attack the Soviet battalion, and advance to the isthmi positions (the isthmi between lakes Pyöreäinen and Kokkojärvi, the positions that the Finns had on 7 Dec in the map "The Soviet advance towards Suomussalmi between 6 and 8 December" in Part I ) .

The I/JR 27 launched an attack around noon on 23 Dec. The battalion failed in taking the isthmus, where the road was, as the Soviet defenders had already erected some field fortifications and were supported by tanks. The defenders also received a steady flow of reinforcements by trucks from the east. The battalion managed to knock out one tank, some trucks, a field kitchen (field kitchens were regarded as prime targets by the Finns, as warm food was one of the few ways to fight the cold) and inflicting some 100+ casualties. The attack achieved the element of surprise, so the Finnish losses were only 2 men killed. Right after midnight, the battalion was permitted to return.

On the meantime, the Er.K Kontula was attacking a few km on the west of I/JR 27 and reached the road without a fight. While the company continued west, it surprised an AT-battalion with 20 guns, which was more or less destroyed. As the Soviets launched a counterattack from the west, the company disengaged before nightfall.

The two Finnish attacking groups didn't have communications with each other or with the TO 5 operating farther east.

The attack of Os.Mäkinen had hit the supply columns, encampments and rear area of the JR 25, which was still moving towards Suomussalmi, and the attack had inflicted serious casualties. The attack also disrupted the attack of the 44.D, planned to coincide with the attack of the 163.D on 24 Dec. As a surprise for the Finns (and definitely for the 163.D) , the Soviet "elite" 44th division dug in, just under 10 km from the 163.D, fighting for it's survival with diminishing ammo and food.

While the 9.D was preparing for the attack, the Os.Mäkinen received a defensive order and was strengthened by an extra company, the 1./IV/KT-Pr. The I/JR 27, which was on 24 Dec returned to Haukiperä ferry as the divisional reserve was left out from the attack and reserved only to the Raate-road direction, as the Soviet threat was now identified. The Er.K Kontula and TO 6 continued their nightly sneak attacks against the Soviet troops along the Raate-road, now fortifying themselves along the road in platoon to company sized pockets. The Soviet activity against the Finnish defenses in the Kuomasjärvi-Kuivasjärvi isthmus were restricted into small scale probing attacks and harassment shelling.

 

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The situation on 26 December

The Suomussalmi area on Dec 26th Hulkonniemi and Suomussalmi village on Dec 26th
Unit legends

Unit legends

1) the Headquarters of the Finnish 9th division
2) Detachment M (Mäkinen)
3) 16th Separate Battalion
4) 6th Bicycle battalion
5) 4th battalion of the Field Replacement Brigade
6) 3rd battalion of the 65th regiment (JR 65)
7) 22nd Light detachment (Kev.Os.22)
8) Light company Hannila
9) Recon detachment 7
10) Recon detachment Pessi
11) the Headquarters of the Soviet 47th Corps
12) Soviet 81st infantry regiment
13) 14th Transport Regiment
14) 3rd battalion of the 662nd regiment (JR 662)
15) 246th Pioneer battalion
16) 298th Medical battalion
17) 13th Road construction battalion

 

 

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The attack of the Finnish 9th division
27 - 30 December

 

After Siilasvuo had issued his attacking order for the 9.D, the 9.D HQ formed the Group Kari, under the command of Maj. K.Kari, from the concentrated troops attacking Hulkonniemi from the west. The group was to be divided into two attacking detachments. The Os.Fagernäs (hereafter Os.F in the text) under the command of Lt.Col. Fagernäs , commander of the JR 64, consisted of I/JR 64 (led by Capt. Mankonen) and the IV/KT-Pr. (led by Capt. Schönberg, and attacking without the 1st company) . The Os. Harola (hereafter Os.H in the text) led by Capt. M.Harola , commander of the Er.P 15, consisted of the Er.P 15 ( now under the command of Lt. V.Karhunen) and the II/JR 64 (led by Capt. L.Räsänen) . Both the Er.P 15 and the II/JR 64 had some elements of the battalions attached to other units, so they hadn't the normal number of companies. The two attacking detachments received both one 37 mm Bofors AT-guns (the only two that the 9.D had) .

The plan was that Os.F would advance along the southern edge of Hulkonniemi with the ferry as the objective, destroying the Soviet infantry and artillery positions in the progress.
    The Os.H, on the left, was to advance to the Hulkonniemi-Palovaara road. After securing the road to the north, the main elements would continue their advance towards the ferry.
    The Group Kari was to receive support from the 1./KTR 9 (first battery/9th artillery regiment  armed with 4 x  75 mm guns) and the 2.Krh.K/JR 64.

When the battalions moved to their jump off points, in the early hours of 27 Dec, the attacking battalions, which had the crucial part to play in the attack, hadn't had sleep for 48 hours. While they had "visited" the rear area, there just hadn't been time for rest. The temperature had fallen near - 30º Celsius on 26 Dec.

The PPP 6 received an order to attack around the northern end of Lake Pirttijärvi (without the 3rd company which was defending the Lake Alajärvi - Lake Kovajärvi isthmus) and after reaching the road, continue south. During the evening of 26 Dec, the battalion moved near the northern end of Lake Pirttijärvi. At 0000 hrs, a new order arrived, where the battalion was ordered to attack around the southern end of Lake Alajärvi. The lack of radios (runners were virtually the only method of communicating) was again felt. As a result of the long lines of communications, the battalion was at the ordered time too far in the north, as the most recent plans required.

 

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27 December

Before dawn, the 9.D was ready to attack. The "Schwerpunkt" of the attack was in Hulkonniemi, where 4 battalions (none of them had all their companies) were to attack. Alongside them, were the PPP 6 in the north and the Kev.Os. 22 (3 companies strong) attacking across Lake Kiantajärvi, a total of 6 battalions formed the attacking group of the 9.D and the 3 battalions near the Suomussalmi village formed the engaging group, while the Raate road was defended by a battalion. The divisional reserve consisted of one battalion.

Only one company, the Kv.K Hannila, was to block the Soviet ice road along Lake Kiantajärvi.

 

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The attack

The battalions in Vuokkiniemi (the cape just west of Hulkonniemi) started their advance at 0730 hrs under the cover of foredawn and a 8 minute preliminary bombardment from the field gun battery and the mortar company.

The IV/KT-Pr. spearheading the attack of the Os.F took the westernmost Soviet strongpoint after an one hour fight. During the morning, the battalion advanced, destroying Soviet shelters, machine gun nests and artillery positions in vicious fights, and arrived to the west side of the clearing with several houses, near the SE tip of the cape. There the attack came to a halt under heavy fire from the Soviet field fortified positions. Fagernäs ordered the I/JR 64 to attack the Soviet strongpoint in a little rise with a group of buildings, which blocked the IV/KT-Pr. While it was getting dark, the I/JR 64 arrived and the combined attack started. The attack failed and the rise was left under Soviet control for the following night.

 

The Os.H had Er.P 15 leading the way, arrived during the morning at the road, but was unable to secure it as a Soviet counterattack, supported by tanks threw the battalion back. In the evening, the II/JR 64 attacked south of Er.P 15 and after a three hour fight, it succeeded in securing the road. Further attacks were canceled for the night, and roadblocks were erected to shield the Finns from north and south.

The lone 3./Er.P 15, advancing on the left flank of Os.H, arrived to the road and deployed for defense. The company repulsed all Soviet counterattacks launched during the afternoon and evening of 27 Dec. The company successfully defended the northern flank of Os.H until nightfall 28 Dec. As the company hadn't achieved contact with the main elements of Os.H (the commander had no information whether the attack had succeeded or failed) because of a Soviet strongpoint SE of the company's position, and as also the supply situation was deteriorating, the company disengaged.

 

In the evening of 27 Dec, the 9.D HQ moved it's reserve, the I/JR 27, from it's position from the Haukiperä ferry to Kurimo, behind the Group Kari.

In Suomussalmi village, the JR 27 was periodically bombarded by artillery. The Finnish strike teams achieved only marginal success, and the 163.D was at first able to move additional reinforcements across Lake Kiantajärvi to Hulkonniemi.

The Kev.Os.22, which was avoiding contact with Soviet columns, managed to cross the Lake Kiantajärvi in the evening, north of Suomussalmi village. It advanced via Sopala and arrived to Juurikka. As the detachment continued it's advance, it met some Soviet patrols. In the darkness, the unit lost it's cohesion, and scattered, abandoning it's machine guns. The detachment was rallied during the morning of 28 Dec.

 

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Hulkonniemi - Palovaara road, north of Kylänmäki

The PPP 6 launched it's attack around the northern end of Lake Pirttijärvi at the same time with Group Kari in the morning, arriving to the road an hour later. The 2nd company (hereafter 2.K in the text) turned north, and after reaching the Lake Ala-Kuurtonen, it erected a roadblock and deployed for defense. It had no problems in repulsing Soviet company sized counterattacks from the north.
    The 1.K continued south. It met a Soviet company at Lake Kivijärvi and was engaged in an intense fire fight. Only after the Soviet company disengaged, could the 1.K resume it's drive south reaching the hilly terrain at a small lake (Syväjärvi, not visible on the map) in the morning of 28 Dec. As the terrain favored defense, the company halted and repulsed the repeated Soviet attempts, supported my mortar and artillery fire, to open the road north.

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28 December

Hulkonniemi

In Hulkonniemi, during the night between 27th and 28th, a few sporadic small skirmishes were fought, and some stray cases where movement was detected towards Lake Kiantajärvi.
    Before dawn, the Finns were attacked by a few Soviet aircraft, and it seemed to the Finns that yet another Soviet counterattack was coming, so the troops deployed for defense.

But the counterattack never came. Finnish sentries in Kirkkoniemi and Vuoriniemi saw that the Soviet units had started to pull out from Hulkonniemi. The retreating formations were protected with tanks and air cover. The Finnish small arms fire, from the two previously mentioned capes, couldn't reach them.

After the reports of the major Soviet withdrawal was confirmed, the battalions received hurried attack orders. The Er.P 15 was the quickest to attack, reached the shore of Lake Kiantajärvi after an one and a half hour fight. After that, during the afternoon, the battalion attacked a strong Soviet strongpoint on it's northern flank and took it.

Around noon, a Soviet column some 4 - 5 km, consisted of around 2 000 men, 20 guns, 6 tanks and 48 trucks passed Cape Kannikkoniemi and continued north. The Kev.Os. 22, was unable to stop or even harass effectively the column, as it had no machine guns. (As the detachment was out of supply and the men very uneager to fight, the detachment crossed Lake Kiantajärvi during the afternoon. Later, on 29 Dec, the detachment was sent near Ämmänsaari for refit.)
    The JR 27, advanced and took the Suomussalmi village, destroying some lonely resistance pockets, that were left behind. The regiment received a defensive order from 9.D HQ, and no immediate pursuit was launched.

Around noon, the II/JR 64 broke the resistance of the Soviet delaying force, covering the retreat, after a short fight. The II/JR 64 advanced with the battalions of Os.F, meeting only light resistance, and reached the ferry during the afternoon. Contact across the lake with the JR 27 was established at 1600 hrs. The whole southern end of Hulkonniemi was abandoned by the Soviet defenders, leaving only 3 tanks, a horse drawn baggage train and scores of different small arms behind.

While the Hulkonniemi cape was clear of the enemy, in the north, near Kylänmäki, were still a substantial number of Soviet troops. Group Kari redirected some of it's troops towards north. The I/JR 27, the divisional reserve in Kurimo, was attached to Group Kari around noon, and it was ordered to advance via Juurikka (now empty after the Kev.Os. 22 had left) to Sopala. There it's mission was to prevent any Soviet retreat attempt from Kylänmäki. The battalion crossed the Hulkonniemi-Palovaara road, at the same spot that the 3./Er.P 15 had held some hours ago, arriving to Sopala late that evening without a fight.

The Er.P 15, now fighting for the fifth day without a rest, was ordered to attack along the road north, and destroy a Soviet blocking the road. Just before midnight, after a preliminary bombardment by the mortar platoon, the battalion attacked and overran the position, annihilating all the defenders who fought fiercely in the desperate situation. After the objectives were met, the exhausted battalion deployed for defense. Other tired units of Group Kari, were resting around Hulkonniemi and Kurimo.

 

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North of Suomussalmi village

The 163.D had prepared their retreat quite well. The Kv.K Hannila was the only Finnish unit, north of Suomussalmi village and on the eastern side of Lake Kiantajärvi. Since 26 Dec, the company was engaged with the Soviet troops holding Kannikkoniemi and with the detachments protecting the Soviet traffic along the ice road. As the long retreating column passed it's positions on 28 Dec, in the absence of heavy weapons, it couldn't do anything else, but to report any sightings. (During the following days, the company's area of operations was enlarged to include the cape just north of Kannikkoniemi, and patrols were sent to near the area where Kiantajärvi forks, locating a large Soviet encampment in the area. After harassing the traffic along Lake Kiantajärvi by patrols and shooting, the company was ordered to return to Suomussalmi.) Later in the evening of 28 Dec, the Soviet troops in Kannikkoniemi retreated.

 

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Hulkonniemi - Palovaara road north of Kylänmäki

The 3./PPP 6, deployed along the Kivijärvi-Alajärvi isthmus, joined the attack around noon after a exchanging fire periodically with the opposing Soviet forces. After the Soviet forces disengaged, the 3.K advanced, coming within 500 meters from the Kylänmäki crossroad in the evening. There it had to stop, as the Soviet resistance stiffened considerably.

A Finnish detachment, formed of supply and maintenance personnel, 2 platoons strong, attacked around the southern end of Lake Alajärvi. The detachment gained some ground, but it too wasn't able to reach the road itself.

 

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The actions on 27 and 28 December, in and near Hulkonniemi

Hulkonniemi, Dec 27th and 28th Legends

The actions of the PPP 6 during the same time are shown on the map below.

 

Legends

1) road
2) trail
3) ice road
4) individual houses, church
5) Soviet lines and actions on 27 Dec
6) Finnish lines and actions on 27 Dec
7) Soviet retreat and lines on 28 Dec
8) Finnish actions on 28 Dec

 

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29 December

 

In the morning of 29 Dec, Group Kari was on defense, where the Er.P 15 had advanced in the previous day. The Group had also the I/JR 27 near Sopala preventing Soviet retreat.
    After the 9.D HQ had made new plans, around noon new orders were issued. The JR 27 (the 1st and 3rd battalions) was to attack from the east towards Kylänmäki, and the IV/KT-Pr. was to attack along the Hulkonniemi-Palovaara road north.

The 3./PPP 6, resumed it's attack in the morning, but even while most of the Soviet forces there had already left, a small but heavily armed rear guard prevented the company from reaching the crossroad.

During the afternoon, the IV/KT-Pr. advanced without a fight to the Kylänmäki crossroad where it met the Soviet rear guard. In the evening, it established contact with the III/JR 27 which had arrived to the scene via Juurikka. The two battalions resumed their attack north together, and by morning of 30 Dec, they had broken the defense of a mixed force of supply, artillery, transport personnel still in the area. At the same time, they established contact with the PPP 6.

In the early hours of 29 Dec, the I/JR 27 attacked NW from Sopala. During the morning and the day, it advanced most of the way, fighting wandering groups of Soviet stragglers in the confusing dark forest. A Soviet group some 50 men strong, surprised the baggage train of the battalion, but as the starved Soviet soldiers stopped to scavenge, a counterattack by Finnish supply personnel killed the group to the last man. One large organized retreating formation was met at around 1000 hrs, leaving some 300 Soviet corpses, 8 guns, around 50 trucks and over 100 horses. Delayed partly by the bad terrain and the darkness, the battalion arrived near Lake Syväjärvi (not in the map, located in the NE corner of the Soviet perimeter in Kylänmäki) in the morning of 30 Dec, establishing contact with PPP 6 and III/JR 27.

A Soviet column abandoned in Hulkonniemi The fight around Kylänmäki had ended. With light casualties, the 9.D had destroyed the bulk of the III/JR 662, 14th Transport regiment and the 246th Separate Pioneer battalion.

(On the left: an abandoned Soviet column near Hulkonniemi - Kylänmäki)

Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 3", p.273

 

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The actions on 29 and 30 December, in and near Kylänmäki

The actions in Suomussalmi Dec 29th and Dec 30th

This map shows the Finnish positions on the Raate-road, and the Soviet escape routes.

The SissiP 1 (Ranger battalion is probably the closest English equivalent) arrived to Suomussalmi on 28 Dec, and was immediately sent to strengthen the Os.Mäkinen. The battalion was to defend the western shore of Lake Kuivasjärvi and to start extensive strikes against the immobile 7 km long column, which held the bulk of the 44th division.

It also shows how far north the Os.Kuistio went, while chasing the retreating Soviet columns.

 

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The chase

 

The first orders to begin chasing the Soviet forces on Lake Kiantajärvi were given during the night between 29 Dec and 30th. From the III/JR 64, the reserve of JR 27, a detachment was formed. The detachment consisted of a machine gun platoon, moving with 5 trucks and having as additional support weapons one AT-gun and an AA-machine gun.

The detachment was led by Capt. H.Kuistio, and it was to drive to the northern end of Lake Kiantajärvi. The detachment set out before dawn, and moved along the eastern shore. The detachment had problems right from the start as the lake was covered with thick snow (they weren't moving along the ploughed ice road). Capt. Kuistio was forced to return 3 trucks, and continued it's mission with 2 trucks (one truck armed with 2 mg's and 2 smg's and another truck with a twin AA-mg and 2 smg's) . They encountered a kilometer long column, near the Lake Kiantajärvi fork. The Finns surprised the column (that was probably the first time, when they saw a truck used by the Finns) by moving close to it and opening a murderous fire from close range. The column was consisted of 500 men armed with rifles, moving in a sparse double file. The massacre lasted 20 minutes, with only some 100 Soviet soldiers escaping. The detachment lost one man badly wounded. A grim end to the last large group of Soviet soldiers who had left Kylänmäki.

On the way back to the Suomussalmi church, the detachment met some small groups of Soviet soldiers, which were more or less destroyed.

During the 30 Dec, the only Finnish air support sortie was flown, as two Bristol Blenheims bombed and strafed a Soviet column on the ice of Kiantajärvi.

 

After the fighting in Kylänmäki had ceased, the PPP 6 was attached to TF Susi, and the battalion received an order to clear the road and the nearby areas up until Palovaara. The battalion advanced, while hunting down small groups of stragglers, and made contact with a JR 65 company on 1 Jan.

The road was quite badly damaged in the fighting, and the repairing took a few days. On Jan 4th, the road was in good enough condition to be used by trucks, and a direct road connection between the 9.D and TF Susi was open. On Dec 3rd, the search for Soviet stragglers was called off, the PPP 6 was sent east towards Juntusranta and the JR 65 to take part in the battle along the Raate road.

The 9.D received on 30 Dec, an order to destroy the Soviet 44th division on the Raate road. The Finnish battalions that took part in the attacks in Hulkonniemi and Kylänmäki were given a few days to rest.

 

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The attack of the Task Force Susi
between 25 and 30 December

 

The HQ of P-SR planned, on 19 Dec, to destroy the Soviet opposition by an attack from the north and NW. As the JR 64 was attached to the 9.D, the TF Susi, led by Lt.Col. Paavo Susitaival, received only the JR 65, led by Lt.Col. K.Mandelin .

The TF Susi was consisted of JR 65, Er.P 16, 22nd Motorized Pioneer battalion, 8th Pioneer platoon, TO 7, TO Pessi and some supply formations.

The actions in Alassalmi was during the preparations restricted to patrols. A Soviet battalion was still deployed in Haapavaara, but Mökinvaara (the Soviet position on the southern shore of Alassalmi) was abandoned on 21 Dec, 6 days after the failed attacks against the Finnish positions.

The 3./Er.P 16, which was sent on 17 Dec to interdict the traffic from Juntusranta to Linna, attacked the road on 23 Dec, and held it's position for a day, but disengaged in the evening because of the Soviet countermeasures.

The fighting around Palovaara crossroad was heavy. The Finnish attack on 22 Dec, was repulsed by the fierce resistance, but as the 2./Er.P 16, led by Lt. A.Eronen , renewed the attempt in the evening of 23 Dec, the crossroad was again in Finnish hands. The company received some additional reinforcements from the 6./JR 65, but as the Soviet units launched a strong counterattack from the north, supported by artillery, the Finns had to withdraw, between the night of 24 Dec and 25th, a kilometer to the west.
    But, the Finns had managed to build roadblocks, and thanks to them, the Finnish attack on 25 Dec, succeeded in taking the crossroad back to the Finns, this time for good.

During the evening of 25 Dec, the elements of the Er.P 16, released from Alassalmi arrived to Palovaara, and it was possible to increase the patrol activity. The TO 7 and TO Pessi made numerous patrols stretching to Lake Kiantajärvi, harassing the traffic, and ambushing columns (at least two 30-40 horse columns were destroyed) . Again, the attempts to penetrate the defensive ring around the HQ of the 47th Corps failed. (Later was found out, that the Soviet units had tried to build a road in the woods, passing the Palovaara crossroad.)

 

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The main attack

 

Two days before the 9.D attack begun, the JR 65 launched it's attack from Alassalmi strait towards south. The advance was slow and cautious, as a Soviet detachment had deployed in Mökinvaara, on the day before. The Soviet detachment withdrew, and the I/JR 65, led by Maj. Y.Hakanen , crossed the Alassalmi strait early in the morning. When it reached Haapavaara, the attack stopped in the fire from fortified positions and tanks.

The 9./JR 65 was sent to advance past the Soviet resistance and to cut the road, south of Haapavaara. During the afternoon of 26 Dec, the 5./JR 65 was sent to reinforce the company.

The II/JR 65, under the command of Capt. Hyppölä , was left to Peranka as the reserve of TF Susi.

The I/JR 65 and the III/JR 65, led by Capt. M.Flink , used the light of the day on 26 Dec, to prepare for a night attack. Supported by the 1.Krh.K/JR 65, the two battalions were ready to attack at midnight. Surprisingly light resistance was met, as the majority of the Soviet defenders had pulled out, when they found out that two Finnish companies had cut the road south.
    During the morning, III/JR 65 advanced to the hill, took some lone prisoners and found a few abandoned vehicles.

The battalion continued it's advance south, harassed by Soviet fighter planes, arriving to Mustajoki River in the afternoon, where it was engaged by a Soviet company delaying the Finnish advance.
    After the Soviet rear guard disengaged again, the 4./JR 65 (from the reserve battalion) moved through the positions of the III/JR 65 and started the drive south. After advancing for a mere kilometer, the company received an order to halt from Lt.Col. Mandelin.

The advance from Mustajoki River continued at dawn on 28 Dec, when the I/JR 65 passed through the defense line of the 4./JR 65. A few hours later, the leading elements of the battalion met a Soviet column of artillery and supply personnel, gathering on the road.

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A description of the battle at Hyövynvaara

The I/JR 65, led by Major Y.Hakanen, started it’s advance a couple of hours after midnight from Haapavaara. The idea behind a night attack was to surprise the enemy, deployed along the road, and to prevent the enemy to use his air support.

The leading platoon was led by a reservist-2nd Lt. U.Oksanen. A half of the mg-platoon was following directly behind his platoon.

At around 0500 hrs, the leading squad met the enemy, and a hectic fire fight began. The mg’s were brought into action immediately. 2nd Lt. Oksanen took position only some 20 - 30 meters from the enemy, and sent his messenger back with a message; "We have met a large enemy force, and we cannot continue."

Oksanen and a few other men continued their fight near the enemy. As a Finn got wounded, and began to cry for help, the Soviet quadruple AA-mg’s, mounted on trucks, opened fire. The AA-mg’s lighted the battlefield with tracers, the bullets striking the frozen trees, bouncing and whizzing. The effect was psychologically devastating to the Finns, which hadn’t seen combat yet. The whole 2nd company routed, with their company leader in front of them. As they met Major Hakanen, the battalion commander, the panicked company leader reported that his entire company had been destroyed. As only one man had actually been wounded, Major Hakanen was about to shoot the company leader as a deserter (the Major was known as a short-tempered man) when one of his officers managed to calm his commander.

The situation was chaotic. The runner, that Oksanen had sent, came to the battalion HQ nearly in panic, reporting that "...Oksanen is dead and everything is lost...". While the Soviet tracers flew over the Bn HQ, even the Bn commander got nervous. He believed that the Soviet forced were about to launch a counterattack, and ordered the mg’s to form a defensive square around the HQ. The battalion would’ve been nearly helpless against a determined Soviet counterattack, but luckily for the Finns, the Finnish leading squad had met the enemy HQ, so the situation on the Soviet side was at least as chaotic as on the Finnish side, probably even worse, as the same enemy regiment was attacked from south by the Er.P 16.

While the situation was unclear and it was still dark, Major Hakanen didn’t want to visit the front-line personally, especially since he had a company to rally. Therefore, the command of the situation was passed on to junior officers near the action. The few Finnish mg’s, under the command of reservist 2nd Lt. N.Valonen, still fighting the enemy prevented the Finnish resistance from collapsing. His men were greatly helped by some remarkably brave individuals, who continued to fight alone, without connections to friendly troops. The point Finnish forces were also helped by a mortar section, led by reservist 2nd Lt. P.Helin, which moved right behind a Finnish mg, and began to fire the nearby enemy blindly. The target was indeed fat. Along a two kilometer long section of the road, there were big groups of Soviet soldiers between groups of horses and piles of other material. "...you simply can’t miss...", said the mg gunners, while also the mortar began to lob shells against the tight enemy groups.

Meanwhile, Capt. T.Kaunisto, managed to gather more men to the front, and the Finnish fire power was increased. As the dawn came, a light snowfall began. The fire fight continued throughout the hours of light, diminishing while it was getting darker. Now, 2nd Lt. Oksanen was able to return from his position, near the enemy, where he had spent the entire day alone (he couldn’t have left earlier, as the Finns would’ve probably shot him by mistake). As the evening came, it was noticed that the Soviet forces had retreated east leaving all his heavy equipment on the road.

The Finnish losses in this engagement was only a few dead and some wounded, while hundreds of Soviet bodies littered the battlefield and an unknown number of Soviet soldiers died in the forest freezing to death while lost from friendly troops.

Source: "Suomen Sotilas" magazine 1/1997

 

As the Soviet column opened fire with their quadruple AA-mg's, the leading elements, and eventually the whole Finnish battalion scattered.

A quadruple Soviet anti-aircraft machine gun
Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 3", p.278

 

Thanks to the effective corporals and sergeants, enough men were rallied to slowly bring the column under mortar and small arms fire. The fire fight lasted the whole day. At the end, almost the entire Finnish battalion was involved with both of the mortar companies of JR 65. As the reserves of JR 65 was far behind, the Soviet troops managed to slip east, towards Juntusranta, leaving only the heavy equipment behind. After the Finns secured the road, 11 field guns, 6 AT-guns, 2 AA-guns, 2 AA-mg's, 150 trucks, 11 tanks, 250 horses and 12 field kitchens were found. Hundreds of different small arms were gathered (and again, the Finnish troops took the best equipment into use immediately) . The Soviet casualties were not so big compared to the amount of captured material.
    After the fight, the III/JR 65 continued south, establishing contact with the Finnish troops defending the Palovaara road junction before midnight.

The Er.P 16, led at the time by Capt. T.Salske , had repulsed the attempts made by JR 662, to open the road. The battalion had also succeeded in closing a large part of the 163.D's supply formations between the Palovaara road junction and Kylänmäki, preventing the evacuation of these units.
    The roads around the blocked junction, were eventually congested with different Soviet material. A surprise attack was launched in the afternoon of 27 Dec, involving three companies, targeting the Soviet area north of the crossroad. The attack failed in gaining control in the area, but a Soviet column moving south was surprised. The column sustained substantial casualties, and hindered the already hard job of the commander of JR 662.
    The last Soviet attack against the Palovaara junction, was repulsed on 28 Dec, at the same time when the I/JR 65 was fighting only a few kilometers to the north.

 

The Soviet JR 662, which had fought in the Lake Piispajärvi - Palovaara area, had been badly mauled in the last few days. The regiment, which had sustained heavy casualties in the repulsed attacks at Lake Piispajärvi (Alassalmi strait) , managed to save most of it's men, as the JR 65 was attacking with frontal attacks along the roads, and not by encircling.

Abandoned Soviet material on the Palovaara - Peranka road
Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 3", p.279

However, the JR 662 lost most of it's equipment as the roads were blocked. The fighting ability of the regiment was almost gone. Only after many weeks of rest and refit, did the regiment receive combat missions again, now in the Juntusranta area.

As all of the TF Susi units were involved in the fighting, in and near Alassalmi and Palovaara, the actions in the areas beyond were made by small patrols, thereby enabling the retreating elements of 163.D to be saved from destruction on the ice road.

 

 

In the morning of 29 Dec, the TF Susi continued it's attack. The Er.P 16 was sent to Linnasalmi through the woods, while the I/JR 65 was to continue along the road. The III/JR 65 was sent south, and the battalion reached Raatejoki on that same evening, and on the following day it continued south. The battalion made contact with the PPP 6, now attached to TF Susi on 1 Jan.

When the Er.P 16 reached the road on the mouth of Mustajoki River, it halted and deployed for defense. It was to prevent any Soviet retreat along the road to Linna, but in vain. On 30 Dec, the battalion deployed along the western shore of Linnasalmi strait, and by reports from patrols, the eastern shore was lightly manned by the Soviets.
    In the same evening, the I/JR 65 advanced without a fight, to the little village in Cape Kiannanniemi (where the HQ of 47th Corps had been) .

In the evening of 30 Dec, the P-SR HQ issued an order, that the JR 65 (without the 1st battalion) was to assemble in Palovaara, as the reserve of P-SR, thereby detaching it from TF Susi.

 

Elements TF Susi moving past Linna towards Juntursranta
Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 3", p.280

TF Susi was ordered to continue the pursuit of the fleeing Soviet forces towards Juntusranta, and with the PPP 6, still attached to TF Susi, was to clear the roads and the nearby area of any Soviet stragglers.

On the last day of 1939, the Er.P 16 launched an attack across Linnasalmi strait, with one company before dawn. The company surprised the defenders on the other side, and the whole battalion followed during the morning. The road was filled with obstacles, erected by the retreating Soviets, and mines. The battalion arrived to Lake Saarijärvi at noon 1 Jan 1940. The battalion continued eastwards, until it met a Soviet detachment, supported by tanks on the west bank of Kellojoki (not shown on the map, runs from N to S on the western side of Juntusranta) . After a 6 hour fight, the Soviet force was routed by a flanking attack from the north made by two companies. The Soviet detachment retreated to the eastern side of Kellojoki, which was heavily fortified.

On 2 January, the HQ of TF Susi moved to Kiannaniemi, and an order was issued to cancel all attacks against the prepared Soviet positions. In fact, the front-line along Kellojoki River remained somewhat the same to the end of the war.

 

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The TF Susi's attack

The attack of TF Susi The map shows the actions and the positions on the area.

The purplish blue is showing Finnish attacks between 25 Dec and 28th.

The light red are Soviet positions and actions.

The darker blue shows Finnish actions and positions between 29 Dec and 30th.

The red arrows show the Soviet escape routes.

 

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The result

 

The Soviet 9th Army was tasked to cut Finland in half by advancing to the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia, taking the town of Oulu.
I have added below the 2nd section of the Directive nr. 4713, in where the objectives of the 9th Army are defined.

Task of the 9th Army

Council of War of Leningrad Military District
21 November 1939
Nr. 4713
City of Leningrad

To the Council of War of 9th Army

........
2. The 9th Army, consisting of the 47th Corps and the Special Corps under command of kombrig T. Shmyrov / 122nd, 163rd, 54th, 44th Rifle Divisions / and 2 tank battalions, of which the arrival of the 44th RD and 2 tank battalions is to be expected late November, is to mount an attack with a mission, securing its flanks, to destroy the forces of the enemy, by operating with its main forces in the direction of Kajaani with the near objective being to advance to the line Kemijärvi - Kontiomäki station and in the shortest possible time capture Oulu.
.......

Commander of Leningrad Military District
Army Commander 2nd Class
K. Meretskov

Council of War members
Zhdanov
Vashugin

Chief of Staff of Leningrad Military District
Tshibisov

Source: "Talvisodan salatut taustat", p.59

The 163rd Division was to be the spearhead of that attack. Had the 9th Army succeeded in its mission, it would have severed southern Finland from her land connections with Sweden and Norway. Apart being a major morale victory, it would have forced the Finnish GHQ to weaken other fronts, namely the Karelian Isthmus in an effort to stretch the already sparse Finnish forces to defend the roads running southwards from Oulu.
Therefore its safe to say that the Finnish victory in Suomussalmi (and the subsequent victory of the 44th RD along the Raate road) were definitely among the most crucial battles of the Winter War.

 

The manpower of the strengthened 163rd division was around 23 000. The Finnish attacks, starting on 27 Dec, sealed the fate of the mostly surrounded division.

The exact number of Soviet casualties remains a mystery. While the Finns found some 5 000 bodies stretching from Suomussalmi village to Alassalmi. Around three hundred prisoners were taken and an unknown number of Soviet soldiers were swallowed by the hostile winter forest.

The Finnish losses, against the 163.D, were 350 KIA, 600 wounded and 70 missing. The Finnish JR 27, who made the initial attack to the Suomussalmi village, sustained the heaviest casualties.

The achievement of the Finnish forces is even greater, when one considers that the Finns had to fight, almost, without artillery and AT-support. And that the Soviet infantry units had much more automatic weapons than the Finns, an important factor in forest fighting.

 

The war booty from the Suomussalmi - Lake Piispajärvi - Juntusranta axis
!!! These figures don't include the booty from the Raate road !!!
(The figures are the numbers that were counted and transported away from the front, hundreds of rifles, lmg's and mg's were taken into use immediately and thus never counted.)

Rifles 625
LMG's 33
Mg's 19
AT-guns 12
Field and AA-guns 27
Tanks 26
Armored cars 2
AA-Mg's (four barrels) 2
Horses 350
Trucks 181
cars 2
Tractor 11
Field kitchens 26
Miscellaneous 800 000 rounds of 7.62 mm rifle ammo, 9 000 artillery shells, the almost complete equipment of a field hospital, skis, snowsuits, handguns, baggage trains, a bakery

 

Go to Part I

 

Additional information

home.interserv.com/~tazio/7dSuomu.htm
"The White Death: The battle for Suomussalmi", by Michael R.Evans


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