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The counterattack of the Finnish II Corps

23 December 1939

 

 

 

 

The situation

 

During December, the commander of the Finnish II Corps, Lt. General Öhquist, had made several propositions to the Finnish High Command about a general counterattack. Mannerheim hadn't approved them, and on 19 December, it became clear that the Finnish defenders had repelled the first Soviet attempts to break the Finnish main defense line. It was well known, that the Red Army was concentrating more forces between Summa and Lake Muolaanjärvi , so the possible benefits of a successful counterattack were better than before.

On 19 December, Mannerheim attached the 6th division to the II Corps. It was to be used either to counterattack possible Soviet breakthroughs or in an attack against the Soviet forces. The HQ of the Isthmus Army decided to use the division for the latter.

The motivations for an attack were as follows; only an attack could reduce the combat effectiveness of the Soviet divisions. Also the offensive mindedness of the Finnish officers was a major reason.
    The letters and diaries, captured from dead Soviet soldiers, described the Soviet situation very grim. Losses from the attacks in the previous weeks were extremely high, supply situation was bad, clothing and especially quartering equipment were inadequate. Letters like these had an influence on the decision to attack.

The ultimate objective of the attack, was to give the opposing forces a crippling blow rendering them incapable to continue attacks, than to destroy.

 

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The attack plan

The plan was to make two attacks on the sides (the 6th division on the right, near Summa, and the 1st division on the left, near Lake Muolaa) . The 11th division would give support on the far left and the 4th division on the right. The 5th division would engage the enemy in the center.

As air support, the 1st Flight Regiment was strengthened by the 10th bomber wing, and their targets were  1) enemy infantry formations and 2) enemy artillery positions (in that order) .

The attack was to begin on 23 December at 0630 hours.

 

(The map below shows the planned attacks)

The Plan

The 6.D executed in the night between 21st & 22nd an exhausting 6 hour march and established contact with the JR 10 manning the front-line.
   The 1st division received the order to attack on 21st. The 1st brigade and the JR 14 were in front-line duty and the rest of the division 15 - 20 km behind the line. The deployment of these forces to the attack positions were delayed due to inadequate preparations and miscalculated schedule. So the 1st division was not ready to attack, on the ordered time.
   The 4th division made preparations while engaged by the Soviet 70th division.
   The 4th brigade was attached to the 11th division on 21st and deployed behind the JP 4 which was defending between lake Muolaa and Lake Yskjärvi

The purple arrows show the 1st phase attacks and the 1st objectives.
The blue arrows show the consequent 2nd phase thrusts.
II Corps Plan unit legends 1) the Finnish 5th Division
2) the 4th Brigade
3) the light Brigade (on reserve)
4) the Soviet 90th Division

 

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The Attack

 

The attacking troops were, excluding the Group S which was 2 hours late, in their starting positions by 0500 hrs.

In order to achieve surprise, no preliminary bombardment were made, instead the artillery observation teams were to follow the leading elements and call in artillery support if needed.

In short, the attacking troops advanced 1 - 5 km, in some places without fighting and in some places only after vicious battles. But by noon the attack had been stopped, and the accuracy of Soviet artillery was greatly improved by the captive balloons, which could monitor all movement in the area.
    At 1500 hrs, the II Corps commander issued the order to abort.

The actual attack! In this map, the attacking units are shown. I haven't included the units deployed on defense along the Mannerheim-line, as it would only make the map harder to read.
   The blue arrows show the advances of the Finnish forces, and the red arrows Soviet counterattacks.

   I also haven't included on the map the following attack.
The JR 15 on the Summa-area, had been ordered to attack make a small attack the by III / JR 15 and cut the Summa- road 2 km south of the front-line. It was to be executed only by a direct order from the divisional HQ, and by 1430, it was canceled. But an hour earlier two companies had started the attack on their own initiative and almost reached the objective. At 1500 hrs the companies were ordered to withdraw.

 

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The 6th division
(Colonel P.Paalu)

 

The 6th division performed a hard 6 hour march between the nights of 21 and 22 December.
    The division launched patrols to gather information on the opposing Soviet forces right after reaching the point of attack in the early hours of 22nd. The gathered info was inadequate and proved, later on, to cause unpleasant surprises.
    The 18th Regiment got lost while moving to the starting points and only the I/JR 18 was ready for action when the attack started.

The JR 17, commanded by Col. K.Heiskanen, was to spearhead the attack SE from its starting point. The JR 18, commanded by Lt.Col. A.Pirilä, was to follow as the second echelon. The JR 22, commanded by Lt.Col. E.Hagelberg, was on the right. The 6th light detachment (Kev.Os. 6) was the divisional reserve.

 

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The mission

 

The mission of the 6th division was the following:" the 6th division is to attack SE from it's positions along the area between the rivers Summa and Työppölänjoki until, with the help of the 4th division, the road between Summa and Uusikirkko (located in the Isthmus between Lakes Kuolemajärvi and Hatjalahdenjärvi, south of the 4th division) has been reached. The left flank is to be secured strongly. After the 1st objectives are reached, the main elements of the division are ready to continue either to the E (north of Lake Kaukjärvi) or to the S - SE (west of Lake Kaukjärvi) ."

 

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The battle

 

The attack began on 0630 hrs, when the JR 17 (Col. K.Heiskanen) started to advance through gaps in the barbed wire, cut in the previous night.
    The 1st and 2nd battalions were leading the way and the 3rd was following as the regiments reserve. After the crossing of the Summa-river, SW of Murronkallio (a small hill in a bend of Summa-river) the 9th company of the 3rd Bn was sent left to get contact with units from the 5th division. The company met strong enemy resistance some 400 m SW from Murronkallio and suffered casualties (the company commander was among the first dead) . The company fell back on 0830 hrs and was soon joined with the rest of the 3rd Bn and the ensuing attack was repelled on 1000 hrs. The Murronkallio-hill was heavily fortified by the Soviet forces, a piece of information, which the Finnish recon patrols and intelligence failed to find out.
    The regiment commander saw the situation from his command post and ordered artillery support. The communication was provided with field telephones and messengers, both which were unreliable under enemy artillery fire. (Now a terrible mistake was noted. The 81 mm mortars could not give support because the shells were attached with tail fins of 82 mm shells. A small mistake, which was not noticed due to the hurried preparations.) The connections failed constantly under the Soviet fire and the first Finnish artillery shells landed on the Murronkallio at 1205 hrs.
    By now also the 1st and 2nd battalions had encountered enemy resistance, strengthened by tanks, and the attack came to a stop.
    Col. Heiskanen decided to try and break the enemy resistance in Murronkallio, which was threatening JR 17's left flank. The I/JR 18 was attached to his regiment and he directed it to attack Murronkallio with the III/JR 17. The attack of the two battalions failed under the heavy fire of multiple artillery pieces used in direct fire and scores of machine guns. By 1400 hrs it became evident that the defenses in Murronkallio couldn't be broken with the forces now committed and no further attempts were made.

By 1530 hrs the regiment had withdrawn back to it's starting positions while under heavy fire of enemy artillery. The artillery fire was observed from two balloons and also the Soviet fighters harassed constantly the retreating units.

The strengthened 17th Regiment This map shows the positions of the strengthened JR 17 when the attack came to a halt.
The JR 17 map legends 1) Soviet defenses
2) Finnish positions
3) Soviet tanks
4) artillery in direct fire positions
5) Finnish company (in reserve)
6) field
7) road

(Note: The Summa-river makes a bend just north of Murronkallio, which doesn't show on this map.)

The 3rd Bn of JR 18 arrived to the front-line. 2 km east from the intended point and started advancing SE towards Murronkallio at 0800 hrs. The battalion advanced 500 m under constant fire and halted. The battalion held it's position until the JR 17 had withdrawn and the enemy pressure grew. At 1545 hrs the battalion was ordered to withdraw. The II/JR 18 acting as the second echelon behind the III/JR 18 took no part in the combat.

The attack of the JR 22 got underway at 0630 hrs and  was immediately fired upon by mortars and mg's. The II/JR 22, on the right, advanced 2 km crossing the River Työppölänjoki and reached the battalions first objective, 3 km west of the northern tip of Lake Kaukjärvi. From there the battalion was unable to continue because artillery support was not available due to poor communications (the cable lines were constantly severed by Soviet artillery fire) .
    The I/JR 22 was advancing on the left and the III/JR 22 in the middle. They both advanced to SE, the 1st being slightly behind the 3rd. The 3rd crossed the River Työppölänjoki at 0930 hrs, losing cohesion while doing it. Only one company (from the 3rd) continued  to the original direction and the two others started to advance NE. Elements from the 1st, following the 3rd, were also drawn to the wrong direction by the preceding units. The troops moving NE ran into units from the JR 17 moving SE and a firefight between friendly forces began. It didn't take long to clear out the error and casualties were light, but it shook the confidence of men fighting their first battle.
    The forces from the 1st and 3rd, who were moving in the right direction met 1 km north of the II/JR 22, strong enemy resistance and tanks.
    At 1010 hrs, Lt.Col. Hagelberg ordered the 3rd and the 1st to withdraw behind the River Työppölänjoki to regroup. The units withdrew in disorder and the slow gathering of the scattered forces prevented a quick new attempt. The II/JR 22, which was still defending it's gains was therefore ordered to withdraw also, which it did by 1200 hrs.

 

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The 1st division
(Major General T.Laatikainen)

 

The 6th division had it's JR 14 and the 1st brigade (1.Pr) deployed on defense, when the attack order arrived on 21 December. The group S (consisted of the 2.Pr and 3.Pr) and group Vuori (consisted of 10th and 6th Replacement/Training brigades) were deployed 15 - 20 km behind the front. The III/JR13 was also attached to the 1st division for the attack.
    During the night before the attack, the groups were supposed to march into their starting points. But poor preparations, traffic control and miscalculated timetables delayed the start of the attack.

Major General Laatikainen had divided his forces into three battlegroups. On the left (by Lake Muolaanjärvi) was the JR 14, commanded by Col. V.Polttila, strengthened by the 5th light detachment (Kev.Os. 5) . On the middle was the group S, commanded by Col. A.Svensson. And on the right was the group Vuori, commanded by Lt. Col. M.Berg, strengthened by the 3rd battalion of JR 13 (III/JR 13) .
    The 1st brigade and I/3.Pr were selected to be the divisional reserve behind the main forces.

 

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The mission

 

The mission of the 1st division was the following:"The 1st division attacks with it's main force along the railway until the 1st objective has been reached (the railroad-road crossing and the Lake Muolaanjärvi - Lake Perkjärvi isthmus) . After that, the division must prepare a further advance to SW and secure the positions against enemy forces from S and SE."

 

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The battle

 

On the right, where the group Vuori was to attack, only the III/JR 13 started the attack on time. It advanced S and immediately met Soviet units supported by tanks. The battalion left a company to defend the right flank (due to lack of AT-weapons, it couldn't attack the tanks) , and continued the advance past the Soviet strong point, until after 1 km it met another strong point and the attack halted. The III/JR 13 held it's positions until an order to withdraw was given at 1330 hrs.
    The other units of the group Vuori (the X and VI replacement/Training brigades) started the attack an hour late. While they were nearing the railroad (after advancing SE) , they met heavy resistance. The Soviet forces launched a counterattack around noon and several companies fell back. The attack was aborted and all battalions had retreated behind the main defense line at 1500 hrs.

The group S, which was attacking on the most important direction, was most delayed.
    It started the advance at 0830 hrs. The hurry lead to inadequate reconnaissance, so it took the battalions over an hour to find their way through Finnish defense works (mines, wire obstacles etc.) .

The 3rd brigade (3.Pr) , commanded by Lt.Col. A.Kääriäinen, had the 3rd Bn leading the way, the 2nd following behind. The leading companies met only small squad and platoon sized forward positions, some of which were quickly neutralized while some retreated. A short while later, the Finns heard noise from the left, which turned out to be a Soviet detachment, in dug-in positions, whose sleep was interrupted. The battalions reserve-company was sent to the left and it virtually trampled the defenders down, from whom only a handful escaped.
    After advancing some 4 km, the III/3.Pr came, at 1220 hrs, to the River Perojoki (running from Lake Perkjärvi towards Viipuri) , and found the southern bank of the river defended by a line of 10 tanks and infantry in prepared positions. The battalion commander, Major V.Linden, called for artillery support but failed. The hurried preparations had caused a unforgivable mistake, the codes for the designated supporting battery, had been switched by mistake with a battalion from group Vuori! The artillery observers tried to solve the problem, but as the cable lines failed constantly, so nothing could be done in time. Also the request to get some AT-guns for support was denied.
    The II/3.Pr followed behind the 3rd Bn but was not committed, as an unsupported attack would've been foolish.

The 2nd brigade (2.Pr) , commanded by Col. A.Svensson, directed the 1st Bn to the W (towards the railroad) and the 3rd Bn to S. Both battalions reached the River Perojoki around 1300 hrs, and were stopped by strong Soviet resistance on the opposite banks.
    As the Soviet launched counterattacks near the railroad against the 1st Bn, the reserve, the 2nd Bn was ordered to join the attack at 1500 hrs. It was directed against the flank of the enemy resistance facing the 1st Bn, but it didn't participate in the fighting as the whole group S got an abort order from Major General Laatikainen at 1510 hrs.

The JR 14, commanded by Col. V.Polttila,  was ready at the ordered attack time, but didn't start the advance because the 3rd Brigade was late. At 0830 hrs the regiment received a direct order to launch the attack. The attack begun without preliminary artillery bombardment.
    The 2nd Bn (II/JR 14) , advancing on the left encountered immediately Soviet troops, but managed to push them back. But at 1100 hrs, the Soviet resistance stiffened and the attackers were stopped.
    The 3rd Bn advanced several kilometers without opposition, until it encountered an artillery battalion protected in every direction by direct firing field guns, 11 tanks and numerous mg's, at 1200 hrs.
    The leading company of the 3rd Bn, 7th company, launched a swift probe, supported by mg's but was repulsed by the concentrated fire of the "linnaleiri" ("castle camp", a nickname for the Soviet positions, made defensible in every direction, and protected by a ring of tanks) . Parts of the 8th company was sent to flank the enemy, but encountered a Soviet motorized detachment supported by 4 armored cars W of the position. The elements of the 8th company were forced to retreat. The 9th company had been sent to flank the enemy E of the position, but was also pinned down.
    The 3rd company from 1st Bn (3./I P) was attached to the 3rd Bn and sent to attack the positions from the W at 1230 hrs. The attack of the 3rd company started well, but was eventually stopped on the edge of a small swamp by enemy field artillery pieces firing canister shots.
    At 1430 hrs the commander of the 3rd Bn, Capt. M.Kuiri, received an order to withdraw and regroup for a new attack. The new attack was canceled at 1550 hrs by Col. Polttila because all communications to the divisional HQ were cut. About an hour later, when the JR 14 was already withdrawing, came a messenger from the 1.D HQ bringing an abort order.

The left Main Attack This map shows the gains made by the Finns, when the attack was stopped.

(Note: there are some contradictions between different sources about the exact positions and gains of the 8th and 9th company, III/JR 14, when the attack was aborted.)

The left Main Attack map legends 1) the Finnish main defense line
2) Soviet forward positions
3) Finnish advances
4) Soviet retreat routes
5) Soviet defenses
6) Soviet armor
7)   " artillery in direct fire positions
8) Soviet artillery battalion
9) Finnish battalion
10) Finnish battlegroup boundary

 

 


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