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Winter War – Soviet Finnish 1939-1940 War – FULL 3d DOCUMENTARY

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Kings and Generals animated historical documentary series on Modern Warfare continues with a video on the Winter War – Soviet-Finnish conflict fought in 1939 and 1940 as part of the European theatre of World War II.

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The video was made by Leif Sick, while the script was developed by Ivan Moran. The video was narrated by Officially Devin (

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Video transcription:

Although World War II is often depicted as
a conflict between two major alliances, itcan be divided into many smaller wars, as
the states not willing to join a side wereoften forced to fight on their own.A variety of factors led to a conflict between
Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-1940,the conflict we now know as the Winter War.In this video the whole of Winter War from
its origins to the peace treaty…If you are interested in the history of this
era, don’t forget to check out our secondchannel – The Cold War – the link is in
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for the first viewers who click the link inthe description.Details at the end of the video!The relationship between Russia and Finland
was always tumultuous due to a variety ofgeographic, political, and economic factors.Finland was a constant field of battle between
Sweden and Russian entities.The treaty of Nöteborg of 1323, signed by
Sweden and the Novgorod republic, dividedKarelia – the region populated by the Balto-Finnic
Karelians.As Sweden became more powerful over the next
few centuries, it took over the rest of Finlandand forced the tsardom of Russia to cede more
of south Karelia in 1617.However fortunes would turn, and by the end
of the Great Northern War and the Russo-SwedishWar in the first half of the 18th century,
Sweden had given Karelia to Russia.The two empires continued to fight, and Russia,
supported by Napoleonic France, won the FinnishWar in 1809.As a result, Russia annexed Finland, which
became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland,with its own laws and administration, and
the Russian emperor as its Duke.Previously a Swedish general, Gustaf Mauritz
Armfelt, had become an influential counselorfor the emperor Alexander I, and his influence
was crucial in reuniting the South Kareliawith the Duchy.The early period of the liberal Russian rule
in Finland gave way to a more autocratic approachover the second half of the 19th century,
as Russian emperors made deliberate attemptsto Russify the Duchy.However, these methods only strengthened the
national identity of the Finns, and the Fennomanmovement underlined the yearning for independence.The autocratic policies of Nicholas II led
to the assassination of his governor in Finland,which also joined the Revolution of 1905 with
a general strike.As a result, the autonomy of Finland was removed,
and the Russification intensified.In November 1914, an underground student movement
started plotting to gain independence, andwas supported by Germany.To weaken Russia, the German empire trained
groups of Finns as Jägers – elite lightinfantry.In February of 1917, Russia was rocked by
a revolution.The Russian Provisional Government returned
autonomous rights to the Finns.However, the internal situation in Finland
wasn’t great; both left and right-wing partiesvied for power, creating security forces known
as the Red Guard and White Guard, respectively.After the Bolsheviks took over the Russian
government in November, all sides of the politicalspectrum in Finland were eager to declare
independence from Russia, and they did justthat on December 6th.The Bolsheviks were not strong enough to prevent
this, and by the end of the year, Lenin’sgovernment recognized Finland’s independence.The latter hoped that the Red Guard would
make Finland communist and they would rejoinRussia down the line.With Germany and Sweden supporting the White
Guard and the Bolsheviks supporting the RedGuard, Finland entered a period of the Civil
War in January 1918.Both sides had around 100 thousand troops,
but the Whites had the former officers ofRussian army and Jägers fighting for them,
and were led by a talented former generalof the Russian army, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.This and the fact that the Germans occupied
Red-controlled Helsinki in April 1918, allowedthe Whites to win the civil war in May 1918.Forty thousand Finns died in this war.To appease Germany, Finland elected Prince
Frederick Charles of Hesse as a king, buteven before he arrived, he abdicated due to
the revolution in Germany, so the Finns optedfor a presidential republic.Finnish nationalists wanted to take over Karelia,
and three volunteer expeditions attemptedto take the region in 1918 and 1919, all of
which failed.Simultaneously, Finnish volunteers participated
in the Estonian Liberation War, helping thecountry to gain independence from the Soviets.At this point, Mannerheim created a plan to
occupy the capital of Russia, Petrograd, modernSankt-Peterburg, but the government rejected
the proposal.Finally, Finland and Soviet Russia signed
the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, establishingnew borders, with Finland gaining Petsamo
and access to the Arctic ocean while cedingRepola and Porajärvi.In 1921 Karelia started a rebellion against
the Bolsheviks and was supported by the Finnishvolunteers.This territory was crucial for the Soviets
as the Murmansk-Petrograd railway was in theregion, and they moved overwhelming forces
to Karelia to secure it.Despite some early success, this uprising
was crushed in early 1922.In the same year, the Russian Civil War was
concluded and the victorious Union of SovietSocialist Republics became too strong for
Finland to continue these expeditions.Over the next decade, Finland put its faith
in the League of Nations and then its declaredneutrality.Simultaneously, Finland enacted a mandatory
military training program, and by 1939, morethan 180 thousand soldiers and officers took
part in it.Finland also started building a defensive
line from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Ladoga,predicting that the region of the Karelian
Isthmus would be the central area of attackof the Soviet forces in a possible war.This chain of fortifications, called the Mannerheim
line after the leader of the Finnish troops,was 150 kilometers long, and was built between
1920-1924 and 1932-1939.It integrated various smaller lakes and swamps
along its frontier.Stalin, who became the Soviet leader at the
end of the 20s, considered Finland to be athreat.He wasn’t sure that the Finns wouldn’t
support Germany and allow its troops to attackthe USSR through Finland.At the same time, the proximity of the Finnish
borders to Sankt-Peterburg (then called Leningrad)and to the Murmansk-Leningrad railway, was
making the Treaty of Tartu tenuous at best.According to the sources, the Soviet Red Army
started building railway tracks towards theFinnish border sometime in 1935, planning
to use them in a possible invasion.In 1938 and 1939, Soviet diplomats approached
the Finns, asking for a new treaty with guaranteesthat in case of a German invasion, Finland
would fight against it and even allow theSoviets to enter the country and join its
defense.Stalin was still reorganizing his army after
the Great Purge of 1936-1938, so he startedto look for allies, but was firmly rejected
by France and the United Kingdom.As a result, Stalin turned to Hitler and signed
the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Germany.Officially this was a non-aggression pact,
but its secret clauses divided Eastern Europeinto spheres of influence, with the USSR getting
Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Eastern Poland.Worried, the Finns attempted to create a Scandinavian
alliance, hopeful that a sizeable Swedisharmy would serve as a deterrent.However, this hope was crushed when Sweden
caved in to the German and Soviet demands.On the 1st of September 1939, Germany invaded
Poland and started World War II.In response, the British and French declared
war on Hitler.In mid-September, the Soviets invaded Poland
from the East.Soon Poland was occupied entirely, despite
staunch resistance, its territory dividedbetween the Nazis and the USSR.Stalin immediately demanded that the Baltic
countries grant his forces military access,and the latter agreed, allowing almost 80
thousand Soviet troops to set up bases.In response, Finland intensified the building
of the Mannerheim Line, adding 150 concretebunkers in short order.On the 5th of October 1939, Stalin summoned
a Finnish delegation to Moscow.The Soviets demanded the border along the
Karelian Isthmus be moved to the Northwest,away from Leningrad.They also demanded the islands in the Gulf
of Finland and the Kalastajansaarento peninsula,the establishment of the Soviet military base
on the Hanko peninsula, and the destructionof all fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus.In return, Finland would have received Repola
and Porajärvi.Simultaneously, both sides started mobilizing
their forces under the guise of training,and the Finns began evacuating civilians from
the Karelian Isthmus and the cities alongthe Baltic coast.Even though Hermann Göring approached the
Finnish government and asked them to agreeto these demands, the Finns attempted to negotiate,
giving their counteroffer and receiving anotherSoviet demand, which they responded to with
another counteroffer.On the 13th of November, the negotiations
broke down.On the 26th of November, a Soviet border post
was attacked in an incident later known asthe Shelling of Mainila.The Soviets immediately claimed that it was
a Finnish attack and demanded they move theirforces away from the border.Finland denied this and called for an independent
commission to investigate the event.Modern sources have confirmed that it was
a false flag operation conducted by the USSRto implicate the Finns.On the 29th of November, the Soviets broke
diplomatic relations with Finland, and oneday later renounced the non-aggression pact
between their two countries.The Winter War had begun.The leader of the Soviet army in the region
was a veteran of the Spanish Civil war, commanderof the Leningrad Military District, Meretskov,
who had four well-equipped armies at his disposal.The Seventh Army under Yakovlev had nine infantry
divisions, plus one tank and four armoredbrigades.It was tasked with taking over the Karelian
Isthmus and the city of Viipuri, and thenpushing to the Finnish capital Helsinki.Although the Soviets knew about the Mannerheim
line, they lacked details and the SeventhArmy was expected to achieve its goals in
3 weeks, which was extremely optimistic, evenconsidering that the Ladogan and Baltic fleets
were going to assist.The Eighth army under Khabarov consisted of
5 infantry divisions and one light armoredbrigade, and it was entrusted with a breakthrough
to the north of Lake Ladoga.The army would then either drive deep or attack
the Finnish defenders of the Karelian Isthmusfrom the rear.Commanded by Duhanov, the Ninth Army had four
divisions.and an objective to take Kajaani and then
Oulu, thus cutting Finland in two.In the far North, Frolov’s Fourteenth Army
consisted of two infantry divisions and onemountain division.Frolov, supported by the Soviet Northern Fleet,
was ordered to seize Petsamo, as that wouldhave prevented a possible intervention via
Norway or the Barents Sea, and then swingsouth towards Rovaniemi.In total, the Soviet army had 425 thousand
soldiers, 3000 artillery pieces, 2300 tanksand 2500 planes.In comparison to the 24 Soviet divisions,
Finland had just 14, and even those were 20%smaller in terms of military personnel, for
a total of 265 thousand soldiers.The Army of the Isthmus was commanded by Österman,
and consisted of 6 divisions, with the IIIArmy Corps on the left flank and the II Army
Corps on the right.The IV army corps under Heiskanen was located
to the north of Ladoga and had two divisions,while the North Finland Group led by Tuompo
was made up of the border guards, reservistsand former members of the White Guard.The Finns also had just 500 artillery pieces,
26 tanks and 270 planes, which meant thatthe Soviets had an overwhelming advantage
in aerial combat and in open terrain.At the same time, the Finns had a shortage
of artillery ammunition and even small arms,which meant that they had no hope to win open
battles.However, most of the territory that would
be initially attacked by the Soviets was impassablefor tanks, so they needed a breakthrough to
get into the area more suitable for theirarmor.The Finnish forces were mostly concentrated
on the Karelian Isthmus and to the north ofLadoga, with smaller groups in North and Central
Finland.Those less populated areas were convenient
for large-scale guerilla combat, but on theIsthmus and around Ladoga, the Finns would
be forced to fight the Soviets head-on.Despite being heavily propagandized, the Mannerheim
line was hardly impassable, as the Finns didn’thave enough artillery and bunkers, with its
weakest point being near Summa.The line’s strongest points were on the
Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, as the defendersmanaged to create effective artillery systems
on the nearby islands.Mannerheim expected his army to contain the
Soviets for up to 6 months, after which, hehoped, Finland would be supported by France
and the UK.The war started on the morning of the 30th
of November with Soviet artillery volleysagainst the Finnish lines, and bombing runs
against the nearby cities, leading to civiliancasualties.On the Isthmus, the Finnish border was mostly
defended by the reservists and border guardbelonging to the 11th division.Although heavily outnumbered, this group was
able to hold the Soviet advance for sevendays, before they retreated behind the Mannerheim
line.This stalwart defense gave enough time for
other Finnish divisions to take their positionsalong the line.As the Finns had a more significant concentration
of forces on the right flank, the Sovietsdecided to delay their plans to attack towards
Viipuri and continue the advance on theirright.Crossing the Voksi river seemed like a great
way to split the enemy front, but the Taipaleriver was a more comfortable crossing, so
the Soviet 150th and 49th Divisions were taskedwith attacking there.However, this lag allowed the Finnish 10th
division defending there to concentrate moreartillery in the area and start shelling the
Soviets, leading to severe casualties.The Soviet artillery counter-volleyed and
their troops began the crossing.Although the Finnish batteries managed to
inflict even more damage on the Soviets comingacross, and there were counterattacks, by
the 12th, the Red Army had gained a footholdon the Koukkuniemi Peninsula.Here they started waiting for the 49th Armoured
Brigade to arrive.At the same time hoping to gain multiple footholds,
the Soviets launched an attack on the townof Kiviniemi.As the commander of the Seventh Army, Yakovlev,
was pressured to make progress as quicklyas possible, they attacked as soon as engineer
battalions arrived, with no reconnaissanceor artillery support.By night, the Soviet infantry crossed the
river supported by amphibious T-38 tanks andsome artillery.Yet as the operation seemed to develop successfully,
Yakovlev’s men faced an unexpected turnof events.When the Soviets reached the midway point
of the crossing, the strong current startedto drag them downstream away from where they
needed to land.Furthermore, the Finnish defenders caught
sight of them and started to open fire fromthe opposite bank.The Soviets were slaughtered, and only a small
force of 30 soldiers and some tanks managedto cross the river using the remains of the
railway bridge.The tanks would be unable to make progress,
and eventually the force of the waters draggedthem down into the rapids.The men however, quickly went to ground and
offered strong resistance, but this wasn’tenough, and they would end up captured by
the Finns.Hundreds of Red Army soldiers died in this
failed attack on the night of the 7th of December.Despite that, Yakovlev informed his superiors
that he had a foothold, and ordered his troopsto attack again.His soldiers refused to carry out the order
in an unprecedented fashion.On the 8th, Yakovlev was relieved of his duties
and replaced by Meretskov himself.Soviet headquarters ordered more troops to
join the 7th army.Meretskov decided that he needed to attack
simultaneously along Lake Ladoga and towardsViipuri to put more pressure on the defenders,
but that caused even more chaos, as the Sovietsstarted moving artillery and armor towards
the Gulf of Finland, and the two small roadsin the area weren’t nearly enough.This delay was used by the Finns to reinforce
and camouflage their positions.So, when the Soviet right flank troops started
barraging the enemy, they barely did any damage.On the other hand, Finnish artillery was able
to inflict heavy casualties on the Red Armysoldiers attacking around Koukkuniemi Peninsula.After each volley, the Finns would move their
cannons to a new position, making it impossiblefor the Soviets to pinpoint their batteries.The Soviets’ attempts to make their foothold
larger continued until the 25th, but werestopped, losing thousands of troops and almost
all of their tanks.However, to the West, Stalin’s units managed
to gain another foothold by taking Kelja.The Finns were able to bring more troops to
the area and started shelling the Soviet foothold.This prevented the Soviets from gaining even
more territory to the north of the river,and by the 28th, the remaining Soviet troops
were forced to retreat.Thus, ended the battle of Taipale.The Soviets lost more than 10 thousand soldiers,
while the Finnish casualties were around 2thousand.However, this was just the beginning of the
Winter WarOn the western Karelian Isthmus, the initial
Soviet attempt to breakthrough was focusedon the area between Summa village and lake
Muolaanjärvi, defended by Finnish 1st and5th divisions, but it failed.As December progressed the Soviets continued
to concentrate forces in the area: the Soviet24th division attempted to push the Finnish
1st from the area around the lake, with noresults.A new plan was devised – the 90th, 123rd
and 138th divisions were to join the attackfrom the west to advance in the area near
Summa.The attack was planned for the 17th of December,
but the freezing weather prevented the Sovietsfrom using their tanks.Still, after a short bombardment, the 90th
division attacked the Finnish positions.This attack continued till the 22nd with the
Soviets losing hundreds.Only on the last day of the onslaught did
the attackers manage to advance a little bit,as their tanks were finally able to participate.The 123rd division started its attack near
Munasuo on the 17th and its tanks achieveda minor breakthrough, but the infantry lagged
behind, and by the end of the day, 23 of 35Soviet tanks were destroyed.Another attempt to advance was made on the
next day, but the Soviets used the same route,which allowed the enemy artillery to destroy
many tanks.Soviet artillery lacked munitions in that
area due to logistical issues and the attackdidn’t happen.To the west, the 138th division was slightly
more successful, managing to get close tothe Mannerheim line bunkers.The high point of this attack happened on
the 19th, as both divisions advanced, reachingthe forests around Summa.Unfortunately for the Soviets, the staging
areas of their attacks were targeted by theFinnish artillery with ease, and they were
losing dozens of tanks every day.At the same time, the Finns lacked their own
armour, so the gains from the counterattackon the 20th were modest.Still this was largely a stalemate – the
Soviets lost thousands.Meretskov sent a telegram to the headquarters
basically admitting that a quick breakthroughwas impossible and each bunker would have
to be taken one at a time.The Finns attempted to use the concentration
of the Soviet troops to the south of Summa.6th Division, which was near Viipuri in reserve,
was sent to the front with an order to attackto the southwest of the village and surround
the Soviet divisions.Simultaneously elements of the 5th Finnish
division were ordered to move at Munasuo.This attack happened on the 23rd, but failed
due to the lack of coordination with otherparts of the front.The Finns suffered almost 1500 casualties
and were forced back.The troops called this poorly planned attack
the “Idiot’s nudge”.The Soviet attacks became more focused after
that: the 90th division was tasked with takingthe Poppius bunker, but this wasn’t an easy
task, and in the last 8 days of the year,the Soviets lost thousands in that area.Meanwhile, the region of Ladoga Karelia was
defended by Heiskanen’s 12th and 13th Infantrydivisions facing against the Soviet Eighth
Army under Khabarov, tasked with moving 90kilometers inland in 10 days.Soviet 18th and 168th divisions were to attack
between lakes Ladoga and Jänis, while 56thwas to attack the Loimola crossroads and the
1st Rifle Corps was to advance to the north.The 1st Rifle Corps initial attack was successful
and it took the strategically important Suojärvion the December 2.Elements of the 12th Finnish Division tried
to counterattack, but was forced back by thesuperior Soviet firepower, taking casualties.Some Finnish units started retreating beyond
the Kollaa river in order to avoid being outflankedfrom the north.Mannerheim was not happy, reacting by replacing
Heiskanen with Hägglund and sending the groupTalvela to reinforce this front.This new force attacked the village of Suojärvi
from the northwest, which diverted the Sovietattention and allowed the battered Finnish
units to the south some respite.After a short pause, the Soviets started attacking
along the front on the 8th, but as was thecase on the Karelian front, the Finns used
the time they had to reposition their artillery,which inflicted heavy damage on the attacking
troops, particularly the tanks.On 12 December the Soviet attempts to cross
the frozen lakes to the south of Finnish positionsalong rive Kollaa also failed.On the Finns crossed Kollaa and counterattacked
destroying a number of tanks and artillerypieces, which led to Khabarov’s replacement
by Shtern.On the same day the Soviets attempted to encircle
the enemy from the north by crossing the lakeSuojärvi on skis, but were stopped once again.As temperature plummeted to -25C on the 18th,
the Soviet headquarters ordered the Eightharmy to halt the offensive and defend the
modest gains.The Finns were less perturbed by cold and
on the 20th launched a counter-attack againstNäätäoja, which connected the crucial Loymola-Pitsiyeki
railroad.This counter-attack along the one on the 23rd
were unsuccesful, but it prompted the Sovietsto attack in that area, hoping to break the
line.These attacks continued until the end of the
year and the Soviets losses were considerablyhigher than that of the Finns.On the southern part of that front 56th and
158th Soviet divisions divisions were outnumbering13th Finnish 3 to 1 and as the defender’s
positions were overrun around Käsnäselkä,they retreated and formed a defensive line
in Kitilä and to the north of it.The Soviet advance reached the area on the
11th.Thankfully for the defenders, they had coastal
artillery on Valamo island and in the villageof Salmi, which was used against the armour,
destroying a number of tanks.The Soviet plan near Kitilä was to attack
the village itself with 168th division anduse 18th division to advance towards lakes
Syskyjärvi and Ruokojärvi.Although some advance was made to the south
of Syskyjärvi on the 12th, the Finnish fightingretreat was costing the Soviets dearly.At the same time, the initial rapid Soviet
advance stretched their supply routes – mostof the tanks were kept back both as a deterrent
against a counterattack and to save fuel.The defenders wanted to exploit this and a
counter-strike was ordered on the 12th – theplan was to cut off the Lemetti road and either
surround the Soviet 168th and 18th divisionsor force them back.Three taskforces were created to tie down
the enemy or strike deep in the first majorFinnish counterattack of the war.Task Force Archer moved towards the lakes
Kotajärvi and Sääksjärvi avoiding theroads.On one hand, that allowed them to avoid the
Soviet troops, but on the other, when theywere finally came into contact with the enemy
near Kotajärvi, they were too exhausted anddidn’t proceed much, save for one battalion
which managed to capture a section of theroad to the south of Sääksjärvi.Task Force Bullet attempted to move toward
the lake Haahkajärvi and then south to Sääksjärvi,but was also sighted by the Soviets and forced
back without reaching its objective.Meanwhile, the defensively oriented Task Force
Ram had a critical situation, as the enemymanaged a minor breakthrough around Kitilä
Station.However, they managed to push the Soviets
back and plug the gap in the defences.As the attempts to cut the Soviet forces on
the Lemetti road failed, the leaders of theFinnish 13th division decided to attack towards
Mitro in order to split the Soviet 18th division.That was a logical decision, since its units
controlled a wider front than the others.However, the two-pronged attack was unsuccessful,
and once again the Finns had to retreat withcasualties.Using that, the Soviets moved the units of
the 18th division, taking Ruokojärvi andgetting to the south shore of lake Syskyjärvi.The Finns once again tried to stop this attack
by counterattacking towards Mitro, but wererepelled.Unfortunately for the Soviets, they also were
suffering casualties, especially from frostbite,so by the early hours of the 17th of December,
the Finns retook Ruokojärvi and territoryaround Syskyjärvi.Task Force Archer was moved to the west and
attempted to cut the Soviet supply lines tothe southeast of Lake Syskyjärvi.They actually succeeded on the 18th, which
forced the Soviets to divert more troops fromthe southeast to restore their line of communication.However, that meant that their divisions were
not getting the requested reinforcements.Their foe was going to use that, and the Finns
started to attack across the front: for thefirst time since the beginning of the war,
the Soviets had to defend, and although theywere successful, on the 27th, Task Force Bullet
attacked to the southeast taking Uomaa, whichcut the Lemetti road, making it impossible
to supply the Soviet divisions quickly.The Red Army’s attempts to retake Uomaa
failed repeatedly, and their 168th and 18thdivisions were attacked constantly.By the beginning of January, the Soviet salient
at Syskyjärvi was pushed towards the Lemettiroad.The Finns were still outnumbered on this front,
but their dogged resistance and deep raidsnot only stopped the Soviet attack, but created
an opportunity for the Finns to go on theoffensive in January 1940.Meanwhile, to the north of the lake Suojärvi
the Soviet 1st rifle corps pushed the Finnsback 60 kilometers away from the border.This was a crucial region for the Finns and
they couldn’t have afforded to retreat more,as that would have opened the troops around
Ladoga to attack from the north, so to stemthe tide Mannerheim appointed colonel Talvela
and reinforced him with additional troopscollectively known as the Group Talvela.Colonel was a hero of previous wars and his
appointment immediately improved the morale.Still the Soviets pushed and on 8 December
took the river crossing over Kivisalmi.Talvela needed to do something drastic to
change the situation and on the night of 9December, Task Force Pajari counterattacked:
third of the unit tied up the Soviet forcesacross Kivisalmi, while the rest crossed the
lake and attacked the enemy 139th divisionfrom the south.Apparently, this attack surprised them and
the Soviets not only suffered losses fromthe enemy fire, but also started shooting
at each other in confusion, which continuedlong after Pajari returned to his initial
positions.This daring raid also helped with the morale.At the same time, as was the case on other
fronts, the Red army moved too quickly inthis area, which stretched their supply lines
and made the further attacks more difficult.Reinforcements were requested, but due to
the nature of the war, they wouldn’t arriveto the region until much later.Most of the Soviet troops needed some rest,
but that allowed their enemies to dig in.To the north Soviet 155th Division was finally
stopped by the Finns.More dangerous for the Finns was the arrival
of the Soviet 718th Regiment to the area inthe center of their line, which threatened
the integrity of the front.Swinging west around the side of Tolvajärvi
village, the 718th managed to surprise andencircle the defenders.Yet as the Soviets were overcoming the Finnish
line, their attack came to a halt when theymanaged to secure their soup kitchens.This is because the men of the 718th were
so hungry after a five-day march that theyimmediately laid down their weapons and proceeded
to gorge on hot sausage stew.As unusual as this incident was, it gave the
Finns the respite they needed to reorganizeand receive reinforcements.Now under the command of Colonel Aaro Pajari,
the Finns launched a surprise counterattackon the night of December 10 that soon turned
into a fierce hand-to-hand combat.By dawn, the 718th had been finally repelled
and over a hundred Soviet corpses laid onthe snow with pieces of sausages still on
them; such was the effectiveness of Pajari’ssurprise attack that some of the enemy soldiers
even died with food still in their mouths.After the so-called Sausage War, some Red
Army troops to the south attempted to assistthe fleeing 718th, but they were stopped in
the area of Lake Tolvajärvi, suffering hundredsmore losses.Talvela didn’t mind to continue this wave
of victories, but his soldiers were as tiredas their counterparts, so the front was quiet
on the 11th.The Fins had planned a counterattack for the
next day: The task force M would attack theenemy head on to the north of the Tolvajärvi
village, while Pajari would attack from theflank.In this attack the Soviets were forced back
losing more than 1000 men and valuable equipmentagainst the 300 losses of the Finns.Over the next day, the Finns pushed the invaders
so much that the Soviet leadership was forcedto bring in the 75th division from Suojärvi
to assist the retreating 139th.This played role in the replacement of Khabarov
with Shtern which we mentioned previously.However, the strict disciplinary actions of
Shtern didn’t improve the morale of hissoldiers.The Finnish attack in the area continued until
the 16th when they reached the village ofAgläjärvi pushing even the fresh troops
to the east.Both sides started concentrating more troops
on the area during the next day.Although the Finns had the initiative, their
attack on the 18th and 19th ended in failure.The Soviets brought tanks to the village and
used them to start a counterattack on the20th, but the Finnish anti-tank guns proved
deadly, destroying them and allowing the Finnsto counterattack.By the end of the day the Red Army troops
were squeezed into the village.Despite the fact that the Soviet air forces
attacked the enemy during these days, theforest terrain rendered their runs ineffective.The Finnish attempts to take the village continued
and on the 21st of December the Soviet leadershipfinally gave the order to retreat to the Aittojoki
River.The Finns attempted to cut the retreat and
killed many Soviets during the retreat, butthe encirclement failed.Still, Agläjärvi was the first major victory
for Mannerheim’s army during the war.The Soviets lost around 6500 men in these
battles, while the Finnish casualties werefewer than 800.In the north General Wiljo Tuompo had only
one mission: to assemble his scarce forcesand mount a defensive line in the huge 800-km
long border that runs from Lieksa in the southto Petsamo on the Barents Sea.The Soviets meanwhile had two objectives:
to cut off Finland from its border with Swedenby seizing the important port of Oulu in the
Gulf of Bothnia, and to take the strategicport of Petsamo on the Barents Sea and then
advance on to Rovaniemi.The Soviet 9th Army of Commander Mikhail Dukhanov
was in charge of the offensive against Oulu,but the only road accessible for the Soviets
led first to the village of Suomussalmi.The town would first have to be taken if Dukhanov
wanted to ever reach the coast of Bothnia.At dawn on November 30th, 1939, the 163rd
Motor Rifle Division advanced near the hamletof Lonkka.The commander of the division, Andrey Zelentsev,
divided his forces for a two-pronged attackon Suomussalmi, with the 759th Regiment advancing
through the Raate road and the 81st and 662ndRegiments advancing towards Palovaara.But at Juntusranta, Zelentsev lost control
of the 662nd, led by Colonel Sharov, whichstruck north towards Haapavaara, leaving only
the 81st to attack Suomussalmi from the north.Meanwhile, the 759th encountered the Finnish
15th Battalion at the Puraksenjoki River.The Soviets assaulted the defensive line on
the frozen river several times but were repelled.On December 3rd, the Soviets managed to encircle
the defensive positions, forcing the Finnsto retreat.Failing to notice that their foe had retreated,
the Red Army waited a full day for their artilleryto arrive and then another day to bombard
the now-deserted defensive line.Further south, the elite 54th Mountain Rifle
Division was sent to advance towards the townof Kuhmo in a pincer movement against Suomussalmi.Commander Nikolai Gusevsky of the 54th had
planned to directly assault the Finnish positionson the Rasti crossroads with the 118th and
337th Rifle Regiments, while a Soviet companywould attempt a flanking maneuver to the north
in the Kiekinkoski area.By December 6, fighting began on both fronts
with the Finns barely holding their groundagainst the firepower of the Soviet division.In response, General Tuompo appointed Colonel
Aksel Vuokko to lead the defense of Kuhmo,who quickly set out to the frontlines with
his men.Reinforced with the 25th Regiment, Vuokko
launched a counterattack against Gusevsky’ssouthern flank on December 8.The Finns, fighting with tooth and nail, managed
to repel the 54th’s men, and then executedan encirclement maneuver to the north three
days later.Although the offensive’s main goal of defeating
the Soviet division wasn’t achieved, the54th was now surrounded and Gusevsky’s advance
had been successfully stopped.Meanwhile, the Soviets managed to break the
Finnish line on Kiekinkoski and advance upto Lake Tyrävaara by December 13.There, General Tuompo formed Detachment Kekkonen,
a small force composed by approximately twocompanies.This detachment managed to halt the Soviet
advance, and on December 24 launched a counteroffensiveto expel them from the Kuhmo area.Outnumbered, the Soviets were forced to retreat
back to Kiekinkoski.Yet Tuomo ordered Detachment Kekkonen to pursue
its foe, and on December 28, the Soviet companywas surrounded and destroyed.With their northern flank secured, the detachment
was assigned to reinforce Vuokko on the Rasticrossroads.By conducting small-scale guerrilla attacks,
the Finnish Colonel would successfully maintainthe 54th away from Kuhmo until more men could
be assigned to finish off the Soviet division.At Suomussalmi, only a small force defended
the town, as the Finns didn’t think thatthe Soviets would invade through the vast
virgin forests of Central Finland.The overwhelmed Finns held out against the
81st’s attack until December 7th, when theyfinally decided to retreat towards the south
side of Lake Kiantajärvi.Suomussalmi was put to the torch before the
withdrawal, as the Finns didn’t want theirenemies to get the town’s resources.The following day, the 759th reached the town
from the south and regrouped with the 81st.Despite their initial success, Zelentsev had
suffered many casualties due to Finnish resistanceand frostbite, and now his forces were dwindling.At the same time, Colonel Hjalmar Silasvuo
took command of the disparate Finnish forcesscattered in the Suomussalmi area and regrouped
them into Task Force Silasvuo.Their objective was to take back the key town
of Suomussalmi.On December 11th, the Finns started their
counteroffensive, severing the invader’sline of communication from Raate on December
13th and cutting their northwestern supplyroute two days later.The Soviets wouldn’t sit idly by waiting:
Zelentsev attempted to repel the Finnish forces,but he was pushed back to Suomussalmi.And from the east, Dukhanov sent the 44th
Rifle Division to reinforce Zelentsev, althoughthe forward elements of this division were
also repelled by the resilient Finns on theRaate road, led by Colonel Johan Mäkiniemi.But Silasvuo was also struggling with holding
down the northwestern route, and his attacksinto the village were failing as well.By the night of December 18th, Silasvuo decided
to pull back, although he nevertheless keptsending small forces to disrupt Soviet preparations.On the Raate road, Silasvuo reinforced Mäkiniemi’s
forces with one howitzer and a machine-guncompany.From the 17th to the 24th of December, the
Finns defended their control of the road with350 men against an overwhelming 14,000 soldiers
from the 44th.These soldiers were elite, but they had been
demoralized by the “Finn terror”, so despitetheir numerical advantage, they couldn’t
break the position of Task Force Silasvuo.Trapped in Suomussalmi, Zelentsev knew that
the situation was unbearable.Having lost 1500 men, the commander asked
the Soviet High Command permission to retreat,but he was denied, as they believed the 44th
was finally approaching.Meanwhile, at Haapavaara, Sharov’s 662nd
was stopped at the shores of Lake Piispajärviby the Finnish 16th Battalion under Major
Pallari.Outnumbered, Pallari held off the Soviet advance
and started a counteroffensive on December8th that managed to throw the invaders on
the defensive.Pallari himself was wounded though, and Colonel
Paavo Susitaival took command of the Battalion,quickly forming Task Force Susi north of Palovaara.Their objective was to recapture Palovaara
and from there move on to take back the mainSoviet supply route through Juntusranta.On December 11th, Susitaival intercepted a
radio transmission from which the Finns learnedthat the 662nd had lost 10% of their forces
from frostbite and that reinforcements werenot coming to aid them.Susitaival then sent the 16th Battalion to
take Palovaara, but the Finns faced heavyresistance and only managed to take the crossroads
by December 13th.On December 14th, as Susitaival was preparing
for the counteroffensive, Sharov launchedan ill-advised attack towards Ketola village.The Soviets were defeated, losing 150 more
men, and had to retreat.Desperate, they started moving southwards
trying to link up with Zelentsev’s forcesat Suomussalmi, but they were stopped by the
16th Battalion at Palovaara.Furthermore, Susitaival chased them from behind
and surrounded them.In an act of cowardice, Sharov abandoned his
men and escaped back to the Soviet Union.The 662nd fought tenaciously, but only 300
men managed to retreat to Juntusranta.When they reached friendly soil, they saw
their courage rewarded with the executionof Sharov.On December 22nd, Dukhanov was replaced by
Commander Vasily Chuikov due to his incompetence.Despite the fact that most of the 44th was
still in transit, Chuikov ordered Zelentsevand the 44th’s commander, Alexei Vinogradov,
to commence a simultaneous assault on theFinns, trying to gain a breakout.In the end, Zelentsev started the attack alone
on December 24th and was forced to halt itby Christmas.Meanwhile, General Mannerheim reinforced Silasvuo
with the 9th Division to prepare for a finalassault on Suomussalmi.As the 44th was amassing at the Raate road
in front of the Finns, Silasvuo decided touse his forces to attack Zelentsev from the
northwest of the village.Four battalions were assigned to Task Force
Kari under Major Kaarle Kari for this assault.On December 27th, the operation started, with
Kari’s forces advancing over the frozenLake Oraviselkä towards Hulkonniemi.There, Kari was halted by Zelentsev’s 81st
Regiment and a chaotic struggle ensued.By night, the 81st had suffered many casualties,
retreating back to Suomussalmi to regroupwith the 163rd.The Soviets continued to offer fierce resistance
until the early hours of the morning, butthe Finns could tell they were starting to
break.As the battle was quickly turning against
them, Soviet High Command finally authorizedZelentsev to retreat back to Juntusranta.On the night of December 28th, the Soviets
started crossing the frozen Lake Kiantajärvito the north.A day later, only a small force remained in
the village.They were destroyed by Kari, who managed to
successfully reoccupy Suomussalmi.Silasvuo’s offensive had been a success,
and just in time, as the 44th had at lastassembled on the Raate road.As Silasvuo had taken the initiative and Susitaival
was marching his forces to take Juntusranta,Vinogradov felt as scared as his men were
for the situation they were in.His division was highly mechanized and didn’t
have enough room to maneuver on the smallforest road; his Ukrainian men didn’t know
how to ski; and the forests spoke Finnishas the enemy fell on them.For him, it was a deadly trap to be on the
Raate road, so he asked permission to withdraw,but the High Command wouldn’t allow him.On December 30th, General Tuompo ordered Silasvuo
to destroy the 44th Division, reinforcinghim with the 1st Sissi Battalion of specialized
ski troops.As soon as the 9th’s soldiers had rested
after the fearsome battle, Silasvuo startedto send them to reinforce Mäkiniemi’s position.Sissi was placed southwest behind the front,
with the objective of looping around the enemylines and attacking towards the town of Haukila,
while Kari was ordered to circle towards Ala-Vuokkiproceeding in the direction of Raate from
the south-east.On January 1st, Mäkiniemi launched a frontal
attack towards Haukila, where Vinogradov’smain forces were concentrated.By afternoon, Sissi suffered heavy losses
while attempting their objective and wouldhave to be recalled, but one of Mäkiniemi’s
battalions managed to advance through theroad undetected and capture the Soviet artillery
on the road.Vinogradov launched one counterattack after
another, but he couldn’t dislodge the Finnsfrom their positions.By the end of the day, he was forced to take
up a hedgehog defensive formation, placingthe 146th Regiment in defense of the southern
flank.At this point, Kari had reached the frozen
Lake Vuokkijärvi and was preparing to attackthe following day.Near Sanginaho, the entrenched 146th managed
to repel Kari’s attempts to break through,but with their supply route compromised, Vinogradov’s
forces started to starve.Furthermore, the freezing weather was inflicting
a heavy toll on the 44th’s strength, andwhenever the Soviets started a campfire to
warm themselves, the Finns would open firewith their machineguns from the forests.On January 3rd, Task Force Kari was assigned
to assault the town of Sanginlampi, the mainbase of the 146th.As their initial assault failed, Kari decided
to encircle the Soviet position with a pincer-movementthe following day.The Finns slowly progressed through the Soviet
defenses, causing them 300 casualties beforetheir foe’s withdrawal.With Sanginlampi under his control, Kari defeated
a tank counterattack and advanced a few kilometersto the north of the town.Food and ammunition were running low for the
Soviets, the 146th had been pushed back tothe road, and the Finns were constantly harassing
them.Meanwhile, reinforcements arrived from Juntusranta
to relieve Mäkiniemi’s forces.Silasvuo knew the situation was ideal and
so he gave orders to encircle and destroythe enemy in the area between Lake Kokkojärvi
and Haukila using a tactic known as motti.For these attacks, the Finns plowed winter
roads through the snow away from the enemypositions.These functioned as jumping-off points, allowing
the defenders to mass troops together quicklyand undetectably.Although the Finns failed to occupy the Raate
road as planned, the Soviets were now surroundedboth from the north and south, so they couldn’t
withdraw or move from their positions.On January 6th, a battalion of the 9th managed
to capture a section of the road near LakeKokkojärvi and immediately dug in defensive
positions.Later that day, Kari managed to sever the
road west from the battalion, and then takethe soviet artillery at Kokkojärvi.At this point, Haukila had been completely
encircled in a motti, and Silasvuo commandedhis forces to cut the Raate road at multiple
points, creating several smaller motti.In the end, Vinogradov had no other choice
but to retreat eastwards towards Lake Kokkojärvi,even in spite of High Command’s orders to
fight to the last man.The Soviets gathered on the road for one last
chaotic breakout attempt, suffering heavycasualties against Finnish machinegun fire.But at Kokkojärvi, the Soviets found that
Kari had taken the position and was waitingfor them.The 44th’s troops were soon defeated and
fled to the woods in desperation.Meanwhile, Chuikov had sent the 305th Rifle
Regiment to rescue Vinogradov’s men.They cleared a 9km channel from the border
into Finland, enabling the Soviet soldiersthat managed to flee to the forests to successfully
escape.By January 7th, the Raate road was completely
in Finnish hands.Mäkiniemi’s men alone had captured more
than 1000 prisoners that day, and the 44thDivision had ceased to exist as a fighting
unit.The loss of more than 4000 men and much equipment,
including vehicles and horses, was a heavyblow to the Red Army.The Soviet High Command’s decision of maintaining
the 44th in its place while Zelentsev retreatedwas a huge mistake, and although Vinogradov
had wanted to retreat from the start, he wouldpay that mistake with his life.Meanwhile, Mannerheim awarded Silasvuo and
his men with his gratitude as this great victorywas celebrated in Helsinki.But the war wasn’t over.In the far north, another operation was taking
place at the same time.Commander Valerian Frolov and his 14th Army
invaded the area around Petsamo on November30th, trying to cut off Finland’s only Arctic
port.Furthermore, Frolov was supported by the 122nd
Rifle Division of the 9th Army striking towardscentral Lapland.The port of Petsamo had been placed under
the defense of Task Force Pennanen, a smallunit with the strength of three companies.In contrast, the Soviet commander had three
fully-fledged divisions at his disposal, andhe planned to use them in the best possible
way.As such, he had reserved the 14th Rifle Division
to protect the Kola Peninsula from foreignlandings while the 104th Mountain Division
was tasked with capturing their vital objective:the port of Petsamo and the nickel ore mines
that surrounded the area.On the morning of November 30, the 104th advanced
across the border seemingly unopposed throughthe Kalastajasaarento Peninsula and the Petsamo
area.The Finns knew that they were heavily outnumbered,
so in response, they prepared to execute guerrillatactics to delay the advance of Frolov’s
9th Army.This is why the defenders decided to burn
the village of Petsamo to the ground, thenretreating to some better defensive positions
on the town of Yläluostari.Although the port had been razed to prevent
the enemy from getting its valuable supplies,the battle for the Petsamo area was far from
over, and as the 104th advance was slowerthan expected, Pennanen had ample time to
better organize his scarce forces.On December 3, the Finns managed to halt their
enemy at Yläluostari while preparing to retreatto the next delay positions at Maajärvi.With some favorable defensive positions, Pennanen
would successfully resist any further assaultsby the 104th until December 15.But in this time, Frolov didn’t simply sit
by waiting.Instead, he reinforced the 104th with the
fresh 52nd Rifle Division and launched a renewedoffensive against the Finnish line.Captain Antti Pennanen and his men were barely
holding their ground against the might ofFrolov’s 52nd Rifle Division, but the Soviet
advance was slowed down due to temperaturesbelow -40°C.
Realizing he didn’t have enough men to defendPetsamo, Pennanen retreated south and started
a tiring campaign of attrition against the14th Army.Frolov had successfully achieved his objective
of taking Petsamo and the nickel ore minesof the region, but his new orders to push
south saw his army constantly harassed bythe Finnish small raiding parties.By the end of the year, the relentless winter
and sniper attacks had completely halted Frolov’sadvance.Further south, Colonel Peter Shevchenko’s
122nd Division was rapidly progressing towardsthe town of Salla.Shevchenko’s objective was to capture the
capital of the Lapland region, Rovaniemi,and then advance to the port of Tornio on
the Gulf of Bothnia.In response, General Tuompo assigned the defense
of the village to Major Vilho Roininem.Task Force Roininem had been hastily retreating
from the border ever since Shevchenko startedhis advance.He knew that his force was no match against
the 122nd, and despite receiving reinforcementson December 6th, he would have to surrender
the town three days later.As Tuompo’s main forces were in the region
of Suomussalmi and he had his full attentionon that front, on December 13th defense of
the Lapland region was assigned to a separateforce, Group Lapland, led by General Kurt
Wallenius.Wallenius quickly decided that the Soviet
advance had to be stopped, and so he startedforming a defensive line in front of the town
of Kemijärvi.While Wallenius tried to call on reinforcements,
he placed Roininem, who had by now musteredfour battalions, as the main defense unit
on Lake Joutsijärvi.By December 15th, Shevchenko believed that
the Finns weren’t able to build a strongdefense in the region, and with the reinforcement
of the 273rd Mountain Rifle Regiment, he decidedto split his forces.He sent the 273rd towards a northerly route
past Pelkosenniemi village, with the objectiveof cutting off the supply routes of the Finnish
forces still fighting in the Petsamo region.Meanwhile, he would lead the 122nd to directly
assault Kemijärvi.Despite their defenses, the Finns were worryingly
struggling with the 273rd drive northward.In response, Wallenius got the command of
the 40th Regiment and placed it at Pelkosenniemi.But by the time the 40th arrived at the village,
it was already too late, with the 273rd ferry-crossingthe Kitinen River to the northern edge of
Pelkosenniemi and establishing a bridgehead.On December 17th, the two forces chaotically
clashed at the bridgehead.Despite the Finns’ well-thought-out counterattacks,
the Soviets pushed forward tenaciously, andeventually, two tanks broke the Finnish line.But as the Finns were fleeing, the Soviets
were suddenly hit by an undetected Finnishrelief force that managed to rout them with
ease.As the invaders began to retreat, leaving
behind precious equipment, Wallenius feltrelieved that the 273rd advance had been stopped
and that Pelkosenniemi was secure.The 273rd would go on to retreat back to Saija
village, where they wouldn’t be a threatfor the remainder of the war.From December 17th onwards, the 122nd launched
repeated attacks on Roininem’s forces, butthe Finns held firm.On December 20th, Shevchenko split his forces
across a three-pronged attack that would encircleand then crush the Finnish defenses.But Roininem was prepared for this, and he
commanded a limited counterattack on the southside of Lake Joutsijärvi that sent the Soviets
packing.Shevchenko’s assault had failed miserably,
with his forces ending up encircled in a motti.On December 21st, Shevchenko was ordered to
establish a temporary defensive position,in order to regroup and prepare for another
attack.But Wallenius wouldn’t allow his foe to
regroup: he reinforced Roininem and preparedto break the Soviet lines on January 2nd.The Finnish assault was a failure, and this
prompted Shevchenko to attempt a breakthroughthree days later.Chuikov tried to reinforce the 122nd with
the 88th Rifle Division, but on January 13th,he realized these forces wouldn’t arrive
on time, and so he ended up ordering Shevchenkoto withdraw back to Lake Märkäjärvi at
Salla.The Soviet forces proceeded to fortify their
positions on the west bank of the lake, whilethe Finns set their troops into an extended
semicircle in front of these defenses, preparingto recapture their town.Wallenius placed Task Force SFK in command
of the operation, a force composed of Swedishand Norwegian Volunteers led by the Swedish
General Ernst Linder.Linder managed to repel any further attacks
by the Soviets, but he lacked sufficient mento encircle and destroy the 122nd.Salla would remain in control of the Soviets
for the remainder of the war, but the LaplandGroup would see complete success in their
objective of containing the invaders.The loss of Petsamo and the nickel ore mines
was a hard one for the Finns, but the Laplandand Oulu regions had remained largely untouched,
and that was celebrated back in Helsinki asa great victory.Our story resumes in the Kitilä area, where
the situation was more desperate for the Soviets,with the 168th and 18th Rifle Divisions being
on the brink of encirclement.On January 3rd, General Hägglund started
to prepare his 13th Division for a major offensiveaimed to destroy the Soviet forces right where
they stood.For this, the Finnish regiment that had previously
captured a portion of the Uomaa Road was reformedinto Detachment Cannon, with orders to hold
and reinforce their position at the roadblock.Task Force Archer, in defense of the Kitilä
crossroads, was depleted to dangerously lowlevels to create two new offensive forces:
First was Task Force Bumble-Bee, led by 13thDivision commander himself, Colonel Hannu
Hannuksela, that had to attack directly intothe flank of the 18th.Second was Task Force Dragon which was to
advance from Lake Pyhäjärvi to Cannon’sposition with the objective of capturing the
rest of the Uomaa Road, defended only by aSoviet tank brigade.On January 6th, the Finnish offensive started
with a feint against the Soviet positions.At the same time, the two main task forces
sprang into action.Hannuksela managed to gain control of the
road bisecting the 18th Division, while TaskForce Dragon crossed the same road further
east, completing the encirclement.As the Soviet units didn’t panic or launch
a counteroffensive, the Finns continued withtheir maneuver, establishing two motti around
the 18th’s headquarters at Lemetti.In result, Hägglund quickly ordered them
to continue the attack towards Koirinoja onthe shores of Lake Ladoga.If successful, the 168th would be completely
cut off from the rest of the Red Army.But Hannuksela knew better: first they needed
to secure their grip over their two largemotti and repel any relief attempts by the
rest of the 18th Division.Furthermore, temperatures below -40°C were
taking a heavy toll on both sides, but especiallyon Task Force Bumble-Bee.Once the two motti were secure, the Finns
started their advance south in encirclementof the 168th Division.By January 9th, Task Force Dragon had occupied
the Koivuselkä hamlet, cutting off the Sovietsupply route to Pitkäranta, while Hannuksela
proceeded to Pukitsanmäki, a small hillockoverlooking the Pitkäranta road.The next day, both forces joined at Koirinoja
and captured the town, thus preventing theirfoe from escaping southwards.Although the Finns had created 11 independent
motti between Kitilä and Koirinoja, the encircledSoviet forces defended their ground with great
tenacity.Furthermore, the Soviets were bolstered by
a large number of pack animals and were stillbeing supplied by air, so they weren’t going
to be starved into submission.A week later, the Finns had managed to strengthen
their position along the Pitkäranta road,but the Soviets were still resisting tooth
and nail.When Hägglund was reinforced by the 64th
Regiment, he immediately created Task ForceRace to strike at the new enemy formations
approaching Pitkäranta from the southeast.This was the 11th Rifle Division, commanded
by Piotr Borisov, and their attempts to reestablisha connection with Pitkäranta would fail throughout
January and early February.On January 22nd, Hannuksela started an attack
against the western Lemetti motti.The following day, the Finns occupied one
of the Soviet fortified bases, but the offensivewouldn’t see much progress overall.On January 27th, Hägglund ordered a renewed
attack to be carried out by several smallassault forces.These were largely unsuccessful, but one of
them managed to capture two heavy mortars.With these deadly weapons, the Finns split
the enemy forces and reduced them by February4th.Further west, Task Force Ram had managed to
encircle the 208th and 316th Regiments inearly February.Despite the Finn’s relentless attacks, the
Soviets managed to resist submission and,on February 17th, they attempted a breakout.This action would decisively fail, and the
Soviets would be cut down almost to a man.On February 5th, the 11th Division was ambushed
by Task Force Race and Borisov himself perishedin the struggle.Leaderless, the 11th ceased all their attempts
at relieving their fellow countrymen, andadopted a passive stance instead.Further to the northeast, where the Finnish
12th Division had barely managed to halt theSoviet advance against the Loimola crossroads,
the Finns continued to offer dogged resistanceat the Kollaa River.Colonel Lauri Tiainen had very few forces,
but he needed to reinforce his fellow countrymento the south with the objective of cutting
off the rest of the 18th Division.On January 12th, Tiainen created Task Force
Tiger to assault the Soviet strongpoint atUomaa.By January 17th, Tiger’s two battalions
had managed to cut off the road on both sidesof the village, while the rest of Colonel
Tiainen’s forces proceeded to take controlof the Uomaa road, creating three new motti.Just like in Lemetti however, the Soviets
resisted fiercely, preventing Task Force Tigerfrom capturing their objective.Back at Kollaa, the depleted Finns were reinforced
by the 23rd Division, but when the Sovietoffensive on the Karelian Isthmus began, only
the 69th Regiment could be spared to remainon this front.By the end of the month, the 69th was already
fighting over the frozen river when Tianenfell ill, so command of the division was reassigned
to Colonel Antero Svensson.This man would soon face a perilous situation
as the Soviets regrouped for a new offensive.On February 12th, Soviet High Command reinforced
the 11th Division with the 34th MotorizedDivision, and both forces were reorganized
into the 15th Army under Commander MikhailKovalyov, with the objective of renewing the
offensive against the Pitkäranta road.As further attacks on Pitkäranta failed,
Kovalyov would be replaced by Vladimir Kurdjumov,and the Soviet High Command sent them the
144th and 119th Motorized Divisions as reinforcements,although their arrival would be seriously
delayed.On March 6th, Kurdjumov ordered the 34th to
start a general offensive on the Pitkärantaroad.The Finns were entrenched on the islands south
of Koirinoja, and a bloody struggle ensued,but despite the heroic Finnish resistance,
the 34th was highly successful, capturingthe large Petäjäsaari Island and the key
Maksimansaari Island.Over the next few days, the last of the islands
were cleared and a supply route could be finallyestablished to the 168th Division, encouraging
them to continue to resist the Finnish attacks.Meanwhile, the Finns retreated to Koirinoja,
where they established solid defensive positions.These positions would hold on until the end
of the war against the full might of the 15tharmy.The retaking of the supply lines however brought
much hope and courage to the encircled Soviets.In early February, the Soviets trapped around
Lavajärvi succeeded in a breakout, getting810 men to safety.But not every attempt would be so successful.At Lake Saarijärvi, the Soviets had all been
killed or captured after their breakout failedat the end of the month.The two motti at Uomaa and Siira meanwhile
would hold on with dogged resistance untilthe end of the war without attempting any
escape.On February 28th, the 18th Division’s headquarters
at the eastern Lemetti motti attempted theirown breakout under the cover of night.The Finns were taken by surprise, but they
managed to inflict 400 casualties on the fleeingSoviets.Although the Soviets managed to break through
the Finnish line, they ended up encounteringheavy Finnish opposition on the shores of
Lake Vuortanajärvi, where the division commandwas destroyed.Only 1200 soldiers managed to escape, 900
of them wounded.The 18th Division ended up suffering over
9000 casualties, the heaviest on any unitin the entire war.In contrast, the 168th Division continued
to offer fierce resistance around their perimeteruntil the end of the war, although suffering
heavy casualties as well.After the victory at the Pitkäranta road,
the Soviet 8th Army had more forces availableto reinforce the Kollaa River front.Towards the end of February, Commander Grigory
Shtern had amassed six divisions to carryout a renewed offensive against the Finnish
positions, including the 1st Rifle Corps thathad retreated from the battle of Ägläjärvi.Shtern’s plan was for the 1st Corps to attack
in a three-division-wide front to preventany encirclements, while the 14th Rifle Corps
to the south flanked the Finnish defensesand enveloped them.On March 2nd, the Soviets started their offensive
with a preliminary bombardment.By midday, the three divisions of the 1st
Corps and the 128th Motorized Division fromthe 14th started their advance.Despite the great superiority in numbers that
the Soviets enjoyed, Colonel Svensson hadprepared for such an assault, setting up barbed-wire
obstacles and arranging his forces in defensivepositions to take advantage of the deep snow.The frontal assault of the 1st Corps failed,
but the 128th to the south fared a littlebetter, as after crossing the Kollaa River,
the Soviets managed to advance to the easternridge of Lake Heinätsylampi.The following day, the 1st Corps resumed its
attack, breaking through the barbed-wire atsome points.But the Soviets suffered massive losses for
little gain, as the Finns killed everyonethat managed to make it to the breach.High Command was furious at this failure,
and after a few days of recovery, they orderedShtern to start the offensive again on March
7th.In a change of plans, the 87th Rifle Division
of the 14th Corps was reassigned to supportthe 1st Corps’ assault, while the 128th
started to turn directly northwards in anattempt to fold the Finnish lines in on themselves.After a preliminary bombardment, the 1st Corps
renewed its offensive.This time, the 56th Rifle Division managed
to cross the Kollaa River and establish abridgehead while repelling several Finnish
counterattacks.Their courageous effort would be in vain though,
as the other Soviet divisions were stalledin the deep snow.In the end, the defenders managed to push
back the 56th and regain their main defensiveline.The Finns continued to resist the Soviet attacks
in the following days, but despite receivingreinforcements, on March 10th the Soviets
finally took control of the defenses alongthe river.Meanwhile, Svensson sent the 34th Regiment
to stop the 128th Division, which managedto slow down the Soviet advance.And in the north, the 75th Rifle Division
finally took their hill objective, repellingFinnish counterattacks to retake this vantage
point, and breaking through the defenses onthe Loimola road.By now however, the 56th Division was too
depleted and had to be relieved by the 87thDivision.Despite Finnish maneuvers to stop the 87th
in its tracks, this division had joined the56th on March 12th to start their attack on
the road.Although the southern Soviet assault had failed,
the breaches on the north and center of theline forced the Finns to abandon almost all
of their positions along the Kollaa River.But as they were retreating, Svensson decided
against any further retreat and started preparinga combined counterattack to regain the riverfront.This counteroffensive, however, would be prevented
by the end of the war.Despite Soviet success on the previous day,
the battle had not ended in victory for eitherside.This would be crucial for the negotiation
of the ceasefire, as Mannerheim needed theKollaa line to hold on to gain a better bargaining
position.It was on this front that the prodigious sniper
Simo Häyhä fought, serving on the 6th Companyof the 34th Regiment.Although Häyhä himself didn’t keep track
of his own achievements, his comrades did.Early in December, he had managed to kill
51 enemy soldiers in just three days, whichwas unbelievable even to his superiors.The Finnish officials then placed with him
an official observer that attested to 542confirmed kills in a space of just 100 days.Through his service, he would be promoted
to junior sergeant while dispatching manytroublesome enemy snipers.The legend of his prowess and achievements
soon extended throughout all the known world,and he became known to the Soviet soldiers
as the “White Death”.On March 6, while adopting a high-knee shooting
position, Häyhä was shot in the face withan explosive bullet which pierced his left
cheek.Although he was proclaimed dead, he actually
survived and managed to recover with the helpof ten operations.He would never return to frontline service
though, and he would go on to live until theage of 96, finally dying on April 2002.Further north, Group Talvela had managed to
stabilize its situation at the Aittojoki line,as the 1st Rifle Corps was ordered to retreat
for the renewed assault against the KollaaRiver.In reward, Colonel Paavo Talvela would be
promoted to Major-General for his successand determination.But in February, their northern position at
Lieksa was threatened by the elite soldiersof the 54th Mountain Rifle Division advancing
against the town of Kuhmo.Led by Commander Nikolai Gusevsky, if the
54th could breach the Finnish defenses, theycould drive south in a pincer movement against
Lieksa or north against Suomussalmi.In fact, it is in Lieksa where one of the
least known battles of the Winter War tookplace.Almost 200 km to the northwest of Agläjärvi,
Gusevsky had sent the 529th Rifle Regimentin a two-pronged attack to capture the critical
crossroads of Lieksa.The town was defended by the North Karelia
Group under Colonel Erkki Raappana, althoughthis was just a small force composed of three
battalions.In the morning on November 30, a Soviet battalion
attacked the southern Inari guarding post,while the main bulk of the 529th advanced
through the northern Kivivaara road.After evacuating Inari, the Finns retreated
to Palkinjärvi for the night, where theywere reinforced by a Finnish battalion, and
then continued on to the Viisikkojärvi line,where they set up strong defensive positions
that managed to halt the Soviet advance.Yet on the north, Raappana was facing a more
perilous situation, with the 529th and theFinnish 12th and 13th Battalions clashing
over the frozen Lake Änäkäinen.As the Finns saw their efforts to counterattack
thwarted, on December 3, they would be finallyforced to retreat to Lake Puurunjärvi.The Finns would then quickly fortify their
new stations at the Puuruu line, and thesewould manage to be strong enough to stop the
Soviet progress.While the Russians were stymied in front of
the Finnish defenses, Raappana would preparefor a general counteroffensive against the
529th.On December 24, Christmas Eve, the day finally
came to counterattack.On Viisikkojärvi, the Soviets were soundly
defeated, retreating back to the other sideof the border in a haste.And on Puurunjärvi, Raappana’s forces executed
a motti tactic by cutting off the road behindthe enemy.Taken by surprise by the unprompted Finnish
maneuver, the 529th broke off before the Finnscould accomplish their goal and then withdrew
back to their starting point.Yet when the Finns arrived at the border by
December 26, they were surprised to find theenemy stations empty.This was because the 529th had withdrawn completely
from the frontlines, and now the road wasclear for the Finns.One day later, Raappana’s men would reach
Kivivaara, where they would remain in protectionof the road south to Lieksa until the end
of the war.The Soviet attack on the Lieksa region had
been defeated, but now Gusevsky’s 54th Divisionwas threatening again to break the Finnish
lines and advance over the North Karelia Groupwith the full might of his motorized division.In the previous months, the 25th Regiment
had managed to halt the advance of Gusevsky’sforces with the execution of small-scale guerrilla
attacks.But once Colonel Hjalmar Silasvuo from the
North Finland Group had secured victory atSuomussalmi and the Raate road, he was ordered
to take his 9th Division to the defense ofKuhmo.By the end of January, when Silasvuo arrived
at the front, Gusevsky’s forces had alreadydug defensive positions along a 45km road.Silasvuo would use the same motti tactics
that he used back in Raate, preparing iceroads and setting jumping-off points for his
soldiers.Silasvuo’s men were highly experienced in
these motti tactics, and on January 29th,the soldiers would start to execute the encirclements.In a matter of hours, Gusevsky’s men would
be surrounded by five mottis, suffering tremendouslosses.The following day, the bulk of the 9th Division
was engaged in pinning down the entrapped54th soldiers, while Colonel Johan Mäkiniemi
led a strike force to capture the strategicLöytövaara hill, preventing any further
Soviet relief attempts from the east.When the hill was captured on January 31st,
General Chuikov assembled a task force oftwo ski battalions to dislodge the Finns from
Löytövaara.But this task force was catastrophically disorganized,
and over the next few days, Mäkiniemi destroyedthe ski battalions almost to a man.The Soviets though still regrouped at Kilpelänkangas
and prepared to renew their assault, whichalarmed Silasvuo.He sent several attacks against this position
until the Soviets had to retreat to Riihivaaraon February 9th.Two days later, the Finns started an all-out
attack against Gusevsky’s headquarters atLuelahti.For a total of four days, the tenacious Soviets
managed to hold the Finns at bay, but thena new threat appeared from the north.On February 11th, the Soviets had sent a ski
brigade under Colonel Vjatseslav Dolin tocut off the Finnish supply route, and he had
managed to break contact with Finnish forcesin the Kiekinkoski area.This was because Dolin had been handed highly
inaccurate maps, and the route he ended uptaking caught even the Finns by surprise.But this would ultimately be his doom, as
the Soviets were now trapped at Vetko andthe Finnish snipers were quickly pinpointing
them.On the morning of February 15th, almost 400
Soviet bodies lay on the battleground, Dolinhimself among them.Chuikov then tried to relieve Gusevsky by
sending the reformed 163rd Division on February25th, but this force would also be repelled
by the ferocious Finns at Löytövaara hill.From March 1st onwards, Silasvuo bombarded
the Luelahti motti with 4500 shells in total,the heaviest bombardment executed by the Finns
in the entire war.Each day, the Finns paid a high cost in lives
in order to gain a little bit more groundfrom the dogged Soviet troops.On March 8th, the defenses of the Luelahti
motti were finally overcome, with half ofGusevsky’s men managing to flee to the Reuhkavaara
motti.The Finns then proceeded to turn their focus
against Reuhkavaara, but Gusevsky would holdon until the end of the war a week later.This was Silasvuo’s costlier campaign, losing
more than 4500 men in the struggle againstthe 13000 men that the Soviets lost.But in the end, it would be a success, as
they critically crippled the 54th as a fightingforce and managed to secure the flanks of
Suomussalmi and Lieksa.The Finnish victories at Ägläjärvi, Kitilä,
and Uomaa, in combination with the stoppingof the Soviet advance at the Kollaa River
and Kuhmo, brought much hope and relief toHelsinki, and contributed enormously to the
peace talks at the conclusion of the war.Meanwhile, the poor performance of the Red
Army on all four fronts had shown the SovietHigh Command that the offensive operation
had many flaws.Commander Kiril Meretskov had underestimated
the size of the Finnish forces, their resistance,and ability at guerrilla warfare, and the
sturdy and well-prepared defenses on the MannerheimLine, and in turn, they had been slaughtered
by the enemy.Meretskov would see himself replaced by the
High Command due to his failure.The new man in charge of the operation, Semyon
Timoshenko, would go on to give the Sovietsa new fighting chance to prove to the world
that they wouldn’t be defeated so easily.The Soviet High Command was highly disillusioned
by Meretskov’s performance, and decidedto replace him with Timoshenko, sending him
21 fresh divisions to prepare for a renewedoffensive operation.As such, the 7th Army was reorganized into
the North-Western Front under Timoshenko himself,with Shtern’s 8th, Chuikov’s 9th and Frolov’s
14th Armies directly reporting to MarshalVoroshilov’s High Command.Timoshenko was ordered to breach the Mannerheim
Line by any means necessary and bring thewar to the Finnish heartland.Meretskov was then reassigned to lead the
new 7th Army on the western side of the front,with 14 divisions in total as he received
5 as reinforcement.Furthermore, nine new divisions were assigned
into the newly-assembled 13th Army under Grendahl,placed on the eastern side of the front, and
the other seven divisions were designatedas general reserve for the operation.With so many troops on a single front, the
Soviets had to divide their forces to maintaincontrol over them, with Meretskov forming
five army corps and Grendahl forming three.In contrast, the Finns on the Mannerheim Line
were worn out after a month of intense fighting.Their fortifications were in a bad state,
as throughout December and January the Sovietartillery had shelled their positions daily.And the Finnish forces were not only exhausted
from resisting the Soviet onslaught, but alsofrom repairing the dugouts and assault obstacles
after the relentless enemy bombardment.The commander of the Army of the Isthmus,
General Österman, had grouped his troopsinto two formations: the western 2nd Army
Corps around Summa, under General Öhquist;and the eastern 3rd Army Corps in the Taipale
sector, led by General Heinrichs.Behind them, the Finns had the poorly-manned
Interim Line, with only a few emplacementsand facilities for the defense of these positions.And behind this lay the final obstacle for
the Soviet advance: the inadequately fortifiedRear Line, which ran from Viipuri to Kuparsaari
and from there to Käkisalmi.Although the Finns were heavily outnumbered,
with only 8 divisions against the overwhelming30 Soviet divisions, the defenders were prepared
to fight to the last.On February 1st, Timoshenko launched his offensive.On the Summa and Lähde sectors, the 3rd Division
of Colonel Paalu had been hammered by severalsmall Soviet assaults throughout January.When Meretskov’s forces approached the Mannerheim
Line, it took a while for the defenders torealize this was no small attack, but a full
army assaulting them.Within hours, the Soviets managed to capture
a section of the trenches while bombardingthe entire line.Each day they renewed their attacks, focused
on acquiring a bunker here or a dugout there.These assaults were very successful, and some
positions would remain in permanent Sovietcontrol, further lowering the morale of the
Finns.Despite these losses, Paalu had withstood
the Soviet assaults by February 10th.But this was just the beginning, as one day
later the 19th and 50th Rifle Corps starteda joint offensive.The star of this offensive would be the 123rd
Rifle Division, which managed to push throughthe Finnish lines just east of Lake Summa
and capture Poppius bunker and all the strongpointseast of it.By afternoon, their attack had breached the
Mannerheim Line and reached the Interim Lineat Lähde.Meanwhile, Paalu threw back the Soviet attacks
at other locations along the front and launcheda quick counteroffensive against the 123rd.This counterattack, however, lacked the arms
and men needed, and thus failed.As Mannerheim became aware of the breakthrough
later that night, he immediately ordered thereserve 5th Division to the breach.In response, the Soviets started reinforcing
the 123rd to capitalize on their success.Two battalions from the 5th hastened to counterattack
the enemy, but despite pushing back the Soviets,they would be driven back by Soviet tanks
later that day.As the defenders recovered from their failed
counteroffensive, the Soviets started a bombardmentof the Interim Line and their armored forces
rolled straight through the Finnish defenses.Furthermore, just east of the Lähde road,
the invaders had created a gap in the defensiveline.The following day, the Soviets would continue
to widen the breach while General Öhquistthrew every available reinforcement to stem
this.If Lähde fell, the Soviets could open up
a passage in every direction through the isthmus.In the meantime, fierce combat was taking
place in the Merkki sector as the 19th RifleCorps slowly and progressed through the line
of the 1st Division at great cost.By February 13th, the 90th Rifle Division
had breached the Mannerheim Line at Merkkiand managed to push in several kilometers.That night, Commander Meretskov noted their
tremendous success and ordered his corps toexploit this opportunity.At the same time, Öhquist gave permission
for the 5th to start withdrawing eastwardand for the 1st to retreat towards the northeast.On the other side, the Soviets would not follow
the disengaged Finns, instead consolidating.Meanwhile, Grendahl’s 13th Army had the
objective of advancing through the Finnishdefenses to the road network on the Kelja-Korpikylä-Järisevä
line.On February 8th, the Soviets started their
bombardment of the Taipale sector and the3rd Corps launched a wide-front assault, resulting
in the capture of two bases at the Terenttilähamlet.Two Finnish counterattacks had failed to regain
it when a third desperate effort managed toreturn these positions to their hands.Suffering heavy losses, General Heinrichs
had halted Grendahl’s assault, but justas in Summa, this was just the beginning.On February 11th the Soviets started a strong
bombardment and launched a renewed offensive.The Finns fought tooth and nail, and at the
end of the day, they would still be in controlof their main defenses.Furthermore, a surprise counterattack near
Suvanto forced the Soviets to relinquish theirnewly-captured positions.This came at a hefty price in manpower, and
the 7th Division’s soldiers would have tobe reinforced with the fresh 21st Division.For the next week, the defensive line waved
back and forth as the defenders kept recapturingthe positions lost on the previous day.By February 17th, Heinrichs had withstood
the main Soviet assault, and now the situationwas stable for the Finns at Taipale.When Grendahl realized this, he ordered the
49th and 150th Rifle Divisions to cease theirattacks and instead wear down the defenders
with an incessant bombardment.On February 14th, Mannerheim arrived to assess
the situation on the front line.He quickly concluded that despite holding
most of the main defenses, the breaches atLähde and Merkki forced the 2nd Corps to
retreat to the Interim Line.One day later, the exhausted and battered
Finns started their retreat, and the Red armyallowed them to do so.By February 17th, all Finnish forces had made
it to their designated positions at the InterimLine, and they would be reinforced by the
23rd Division coming from the Kollaa River.The last Finns to withdraw were the soldiers
of the 4th Division on the Koivisto Islands,who escaped by skiing over the frozen Viipuri
Bay to its west bank, establishing criticaldefensive positions at the islands around
the city of Viipuri.Meanwhile, the Soviets kept applying pressure,
resuming attacks against the new line immediatelyafter their enemies had manned it.On February 22nd, the 23rd finally arrived
to relieve the depleted 5th Division, andtogether, they managed to halt the Soviets
for a few days.At the same time, Österman was replaced by
General Heinrichs.Furthermore, the experienced General Talvela
would take control of the 3rd Corps and GeneralLaatikainen would be assigned to command the
new 1st Corps at the left flank of Öhquist’s2nd.By February 18th, Grendahl had restored the
cohesion of his forces and ordered them torenew their assault.This offensive was especially successful around
Kirvesmäki, where the 150th Division routeda battalion of the 21st and took control of
the strongholds on the southern side, whilethe 49th Division captured the forts at Terenttilä,
forcing the Finns to retreat to the InterimLine.After the fall of these defensive positions,
the Soviets stopped their advance becausethey feared a Finnish counterattack, allowing
Talvela to strengthen positions on the lineone day later.The following night, the 7th Division launched
a counteroffensive and took back control ofthe Terenttilä sector.This position would go back and forth between
the Finns and the Soviets, but by February24th, the 7th Division had established more
permanent positions.In March, Talvela issued a final retreat into
the well-prepared bunkers of the Rear Line,but the war would end before Talvela reached
and defended this last line.In the meantime, the 2nd Division of Colonel
Koskimies would soon fall back to the concretebunkers of the Äyräpää sector.As Taipale had proven too resilient, Grendahl
now directed his forces against these positionsin the center of the Interim Line.Reinforced by the 19th Corps, the 23rd Rifle
Corps was pushing north with the objectiveof securing the village of Antrea, while further
east, the 15th Rifle Corps was assigned tocross the Vuoksi River near the village of
Äyräpää.Koskimies resisted the Soviet attacks as best
as he could, but by February 29th, Grendahlexercised complete control of the Interim
Line west of Äyräpää, forcing the 2ndDivision to retreat to the Rear Line.But from the village eastwards, Koskimies
still controlled his defensive line, and soGrendahl ordered the 15th Corps to launch
an offensive against Äyräpää’s defenders.The commander planned to first destroy the
defenses on the south side of the Vuoksi andthen proceed straight across the Finnish rear
to take the village.In turn, Koskimies left the 23rd Regiment
to defend Äyräpää from the western assaultof the 4th Rifle Division, while he came forth
to the east to receive the combined attackof the 17th Motorized and 97th Rifle Divisions.On March 1st, the Soviet offensive began,
achieving a breakthrough the following day.But this wouldn’t last, as later that day
Koskimies managed to recapture the lost positionsand push back.As a result, Grendahl was replaced due to
his repeated failures by Parusinov, who immediatelyissued new orders for an assault.This offensive would fail as well, but on
March 4th, the 50th Rifle Division defeatedthe 8th Division and took a strategic hill
east of Vuosalmi.With the elevated firing positions against
them, the Finns south of the Vuoksi Riverand at Äyräpää would have to retreat to
the shores.After the capture of Äyräpää, Parusinov
continued his offensive against the largeVasikkasaari Island in the center of the river.Although Koskimies kept offering fierce resistance,
the following day the 50th Division capturedthe island with great losses.On March 6th the Finns attempted to regain
the island, but Parusinov’s forces repelledthem and counterattacked, establishing a position
on the shores of Vuosalmi.A fierce struggle ensued in which Koskimies
ended up victorious, pushing the Soviets backto Vasikkasaari.Following this success, he would be reinforced
by the 21st Division, and together they wouldmanage to hold on until the end of the war.Meanwhile, as the rest of the 50th Corps continued
their assault on the Lähde breach, Meretskovhad formed a new task force, consisting of
two tank brigades and two infantry battalions,to take Viipuri on February 28th.But one day earlier, Öhquist’s forces had
fully retreated to the still incomplete RearLine, preventing this new offensive from ever
launching.Meretskov, however, had managed to overrun
the Interim Line in its whole length, andhe was now preparing his forces for a final
assault on the last Finnish defensive line.Right in front of Viipuri, the 3rd and 5th
Divisions stood as their main obstacle, withthe 4th Division protecting the bay to the
west of the city.And immediately east from them, Laatikainen’s
1st Division had taken positions east of theTali crossroads with the 23rd Division at
its west in the town of Repola.Meretskov planned to do a two-pronged attack,
with the bulk of the 7th Army skirting thecity from the east to encircle the Finnish
forces, while the 10th and the reservist 28thRifle Corps had to cross the frozen bay west
of Viipuri to secure the road to Helsinki.At this point, the Finnish government was
working day and night to resolve the conflictpeacefully before the invaders could do tremendous
harm to their capital.The Rear Line had to be held and Viipuri couldn’t
fall if they wanted to avoid complete occupation.Towards the end of February, overall command
of Viipuri Bay was handed over to the newly-formedCoastal Group, led by the experienced General
Wallenius.Their situation was very perilous, as the
bay was frozen, allowing Soviet tanks to crossit, and by March 1st the Soviets had forced
the 4th Division to retreat from the two largepeninsulas extending into the bay.Wallenius then placed his forces on a line
of islands extending to the port of Viipuri,directly facing the three divisions sent by
Meretskov.When the offensive began, the 800-strong defenders
at Tuppura managed to hold their ground againstthe invaders, but they couldn’t stop them
from occupying the smaller islands just northof the line.The following night however, the Finns at
Tuppura found their position untenable andhad to retreat to Teikarsaari Island.They would continue to resist there for an
entire day before retreating to their finalposition at the Vilaniemi Peninsula.At the same time, Wallenius faced a great
threat when the Soviets skied over to theHäränpääniemi Peninsula and drove back
the coastal defenders, but by March 3rd thepeninsula was back in Finnish hands.This forced Wallenius to order a retreat from
the island line to concentrate at Turkinsaari,but despite his best efforts, he would then
be replaced because of the disorganized stateof his forces.In the meantime, Meretskov launched his eastern
offensive against Viipuri on March 1st.The 34th Rifle Corps had the task of directly
assaulting the city from the south and fromthe northeast, where the 5th Division stood
in defense, while the 50th Corps advancedin the direction of Repola to eliminate the
23rd Division.On March 2nd, the 3rd Division defending Viipuri
itself was assaulted by the 7th and 95th RifleDivisions, and the Soviets managed to create
a breach on the southern edge of the city.But the 3rd would continue to hold the Soviet
attacks on the following days, further preventingthe invaders from sweeping into the city.Simultaneously, the heroic 1st Division was
holding down the 50th Corps on the Tali crossroads,and the 5th and 23rd Divisions were also resisting
the relentless enemy attacks.Back at the bay, the new commander of the
Coastal Group, General Lennart Oesch, decidedto recapture the key Teikarsaari Island on
March 4th.This would fail, and soon the 86th Motorized
Rifle Division created a bridgehead on theHäränpääniemi Peninsula.Oesch quickly launched a counterattack to
regain this position, but by March 5th the86th couldn’t be dislodged.At the same time, the Finns in Vilaniemi were
finally routed, so the Soviets continued eastwardstowards Viipuri until they were stopped on
the Karjaniemi Peninsula.The next day, Oesch attempted to recapture
Vilaniemi, with both sides suffering heavylosses.Although the Finns had contained this breach,
the Soviets had managed to cut off the roadto Helsinki, achieving their main goal.With Viipuri isolated from the capital, Finnish
Prime Minister Risto Ryti was finally grantedpermission from Moscow to travel there and
start the peace talks.While these negotiations lasted, Heinrichs
and Mannerheim knew that they needed to holdthe invaders at bay.On March 9th, the 70th Rifle Division on Vilaniemi
was reinforced by the 173rd Motorized RifleDivision, and one day later they advanced
northwards beyond the road.Towards Viipuri, they would finally be stopped
by the recently-assembled Group Varko comingfrom the city.Meanwhile on Uuras Island, the 4th Division
was enjoying great success on March 9th againstthe 43rd Rifle Division, and only after being
reinforced by the 42nd and 113th Rifle Divisionsdid the 43rd manage to capture the island.The rest of the islands would be lost the
following day and the 4th would have to retreatto the Koivuniemi Peninsula in defense of
the coast.Simultaneously, Meretskov launched a new main
offensive against Viipuri on March 11th.But the Finns fought to the last man and resisted
both the artillery barrage and the Soviets’incessant attacks.Öhquist’s position was becoming untenable
with each passing day, and so he requestedpermission to abandon the city.But Mannerheim knew the importance of maintaining
Viipuri and he knew that the war was nearits end, so he ordered his men to maintain
the city at all costs.On March 12th, Meretskov was preparing for
a final assault on the surrounded Viipuricoming both from south and west, but before
the Soviets could exploit their breakthroughon the city, Ryti capitulated to Stalin’s
terms.A day later, the terms of the Moscow Peace
Treaty were announced and the fighting stopped.Immediately, the majority of Heinrich’s
forces started to withdraw to the newly-agreedborders, while the depleted 3rd Division remained
in Viipuri to lower down the national flag,as the city had been annexed by the Soviet
Union.The territorial losses that Finland suffered
ended up being more than what the Sovietsinitially demanded.Although the war ended in defeat, it was remarkable
that the Finns had managed to hold on forso long against the Soviet onslaught.The Finnish casualties were around 70 thousand,
25 thousand among them dead.More than 150 thousand Red army soldiers were
killed and 200 thousand more were wounded.The Soviets also lost around 400 aircraft
and more than 3000 tanks, which would proveto be important when Hitler attacked the USSR
15 months later.The attack that the Finns joined, starting
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