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The Karelian Isthmus

1 February 1940



The Isthmus front, February 1st 1940
Feb 1st 1940, map legends 1) the Finnish main defense line
2) the boundary of the Finnish Corps
3) Finnish divisional boundaries
Feb 1st 1940, unit legends 1) the Finnish 2nd Division
2) the 2nd Brigade
3) the 26th Infantry Regiment (Jalkaväki Rykmentti)
4) the Uusimaa Dragoon Regiment (Uudenmaan Rakuunarykmentti)
5) the Häme Cavalry Regiment (Hämeen Ratsurykmentti)
6) the
Soviet 4th Division

(Note: the Finnish had also multiple separate small units committed in the front line, but I have chosen not to include them, since it would make the map chaotic)



The Finnish side

On February 1st 1940, the Finnish Isthmus Army was still holding the positions it took in early December 1939. The Soviet forces had suffered grievous losses on the repeated frontal assaults against the Finnish defense-lines throughout December and the first days of the year 1940.
    But also the Finns had suffered heavy losses, mainly because the Finnish artillery in it's severe ammo shortage couldn't conduct counter-battery fire and couldn't actively support the defenders. But in many cases, when artillery was used, it usually won the day. The counterattack by the II Corps (23 December 1939) , that failed, had also it's adverse effect on the Finnish forces. In time, the casualties got higher, and the battalions and companies decreased in size every day, as new reinforcements were hard to come by.

The Finns had changed on January 1st, the designations of three divisions and their sub-units. The 6th division became the 3rd division, the 11th division became the 2nd division and the 10th division became the 7th division. The purpose was to deceive the enemy, but it's unknown if it worked.

Old designation

New designation

Old designation

New designation

Old designation New designation
6.D 3.D 11.D 2.D 10.D 7.D
JR 17 JR 7 JR 31 JR 4 JR 28 JR 19
JR 18 JR 8 JR 32 JR 5 JR 29 JR 20
JR 22 JR 9 JR 33 JR 6 JR 30 JR 21
KTR 6 KTR 3 KTR 11 KTR 2 KTR 10 KTR 7
Kev.Os.6 Kev.Os.3 Kev.Os.11 Kev.Os.2 Kev.Os.10 Kev.Os.7

Finland had 2 replacement / training divisions (the 21st and 23rd divisions) on the Home Front (as C-in-C's reserves) , which were attached to the field army in late January. It was decided, that they would provide more use on the front, than training replacements. The 21st division was moved behind the III Corps, to act as a strategic reserve, and the 23rd was moved behind the IV Corps, fighting on the northern shores of Lake Ladoga.
    These divisions were very weak, in both training and equipment. For instance, when the war started, 75 - 80 % of the men in the 21st division had only civilian clothes. In time the situation "improved", because when the war ended "only" 60 % were in civilian clothes.
    The divisions didn't have artillery regiments, and they even got their mortars on the way to the front. Of course, the divisions eventually got some artillery pieces, but one artillery battalion from the 21st division got her guns only after the war had ended. The divisions were armed with just enough automatic weapons, to train with them, but certainly not enough to fight efficiently.




The Soviet side

The high command of the Red Army, after the attacks in December were repulsed, noted serious flaws in their own organization and armed forces in general. The doctrines and theories, that had been used until now weren't usable in the Finnish terrain.
    After the large scale attacks on the Isthmus were canceled in late December - early January, the high command started to the preparations to win the war. Because the Karelian Isthmus offered the fastest way to victory, it was decided to concentrate the needed forces there.
    At first, the leadership was rearranged. In the isthmus a new northwestern front (Army Group) was formed with Army commander 1st Class S. K. Timoshenko as the commander.
    K. A. Meretskov continued as the commander of the 7th army on the west side of the isthmus and Army commander 2nd Class V. D. Grendal was still on charge of the 13th Army, formed in 25th December.

At the end of January, the number of Soviet forces on the Karelian Isthmus had grown to consist the following units:

Unit type 7th Army 13th Army Total
Infantry divisions
Army group artillery regiments
Corps artillery regiments
Super heavy artillery battalions
Tank brigades
Machine gun brigades
Separate tank battalions
Aircraft regiments
Cavalry regiments

In addition to these forces, the Soviet High Command formed a reserve group with 3 inf. divisions, 1 tank brigade and a cavalry Corps.
(The information on the reserve group varies by different Soviet sources, other sources indicate that the reserve group had only 2 divisions and the total infantry division number on the isthmus was 23, and depending on the source, the number of units is somewhat the same.)

The Soviet war-machine was almost ready to launch, this time a very well prepared and practiced, offensive against the Mannerheim-line.
    Two thirds of the artillery and some 60 % of the Soviet forces on the Isthmus were concentrated against the Finnish II Corps between Vuoksi and Karhula. The result was, that on the chosen 40 km long front, the approximate Soviet strength per kilometer of front was between 2 - 4,5 infantry battalions and 50 - 70 artillery pieces.

On February 3rd, the war-council of the Northwestern front, gave the two armies the following missions:
- The 7th Army was to break the Finnish positions between Lake Muolaanjärvi and Karhula and advance to Viipuri. The 7th Army has at it's use 9 infantry divisions, 5 tank brigades, a machine-gun brigade and 10 Corps-level Artillery Regiments.
- The 13th Army was to break the Finnish positions between Lake Muolaanjärvi and Lake Ladoga and advance to Käkisalmi. The main body of the 13th Army will be concentrated between Muolaanjärvi and Vuoksi, numbering 5 infantry divisions, a tank brigade and 6 Corps-level artillery regiments.

The commander of the NW-front ordered that the 10 first days of February should be used to make small-scale attacks, in order to identify Finnish defenses and to improve positions to the consequent large offense. The actual attack-order was given on February 9th.



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