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The counterattack of the Finnish 4th Corps
to the Lemetti-Uomaa road
12 - 14 December 1939







The situation


After the delaying actions on the Salmi - Kitilä and Käsnäselkä - Lemetti roads had ceased, the IV Corps, commanded by Major General W.Hägglund, deployed to defensive positions.

The IV Corps consisted of the 12th, and 13th Divisions, group Räsänen (delaying-group north of Suojärvi) and the Er.P 11 (11th separate battalion) delaying on the road to Ilomantsi.
    The overall strength was 26 battalions, 6 artillery battalions and some replacement-units.


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The 13th Division


On December 11th, the 13th division, commanded by Colonel H.Hannuksela, was deployed to defend the area northeast of the coast of Ladoga, especially the vital road and railroad, that lead from Salmi to Sortavala via Kitilä.

During the 8th and 9th of December, the main elements of the 13.D deployed along the chosen main defense line of the IV Corps. Small detachments were scattered in front of the line to delay the Soviet advance and make reconnaissance harder.
    The defense line had the most important points entrenched during the "YH" and it was strengthened by wire- and AT-obstacles in some places.


Abbreviations used in the text and map:

18.D = 18th Division                                                        
JR = (Jalkaväkirykmentti) Infantry Regiment
JR 36 = 36th Infantry Regiment
I/37 = 1st battalion of the 37th Regiment
KTR = (Kenttätykistörykmentti) Artillery Regiment
II/KTR 12 = 2nd artillery battalion of the 12th Artillery Regiment
Er.P 8 = (Erillinen Pataljoona) 8th Separate battalion
LMe.P. = (Laatokan Meripuolustus) Ladoga coast defense
Tst.Os. = (Taisteluosasto) Battle group


The early morning of 12 December 1939

The situation in the early hours of December 12th 13divCA1212Legends1.jpg (3369 bytes)
On 12th December, early morning, the Soviet JR 208 (leading regiment of the 18th div.) made contact with the defending I/JR 38 and the following attack at noon was repulsed. The 18.D sent the JR 316 west, towards Ruokojärvi, where it was eventually stopped by the I/JR 39.

The Soviet 168th division made contact with the II/JR 37, at Kitilä, on the 12th at 0430 hrs, where the defenders just barely managed to stop the Soviet advance to the west.

1) railroad
2) road
3) trail
4) River Uuksunjoki
5) divisional boundaries
6) Finnish lines

On the area between the Lakes Syskyjärvi, Pyhäjärvi and Kotajärvi, contact was maintained by patrols. The 18.D left JR 97 to secure the vital supply route, the Lemetti-Käsnäselka (Lemetti-Uomaa) road.

As reserves behind the defense-line and for the planned counterattack, the Finnish 13th division committed 6 battalions (over one half of it's infantry units) .

For the attack, the IV Corps concentrated into the area from the 12th division, the JR 36 (except the 1st Bn ), I/JR 35, II/KTR 12 and 34th Pioneer-company. The forces in the area were divided into three Groups.
    The group "Oinas", under the command of Lt.Col Järvinen, had 5 infantry battalions supported by 2 artillery battalions. It's mission was to hold the defense line between Lake Ladoga and Lake Syskyjärvi, and tie down enemy forces. The group Oinas received help from the LMe.P., which committed few companies to the defense.
    The Main Attack Group "Jousimies", led by Colonel Olkkonen, had 6 infantry battalions and 2 artillery battalions. The 1st objective of the group was to advance to the Lemetti-Uomaa road bypassing the Lake Kotajärvi from the east.
    The group "Luoti", led by Major T.Hassinen, had only 2 infantry battalions, and it's mission was to advance south along the trail to Uomaa and cut the road east of Uomaa.


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The actions on 12 and 13 December 1939

Actions on 12 and 13 December

13divCA1212Legends.jpg (5424 bytes)

The map legends:

1) railroad                                         6) Finnish lines
2) road                                               7) Finnish advances during December 12th
3) trail                                                8) attacks & attack routes
4) river Uuksunjoki                         9) Soviet defenses
5) divisional boundaries               10) the route of withdrawal for the I/37

From the forces of the main attack group, a Tst.Os. (Battle group) was formed, led by Colonel P.Autti (the commander of JR 39) , and it consisted of the HQ's of JR 39 and JR 36, II/JR 36, III/JR 36, I/JR 37 and II/JR 39. As artillery support, it had the 6th battery of KTR 12.  The group "Jousimies" kept the HQ of JR 38, III/JR 38, III/JR 39. As artillery support it had the 3rd artillery battalion of KTR 13 and the two remaining batteries of II/KTR 12.


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Group Luoti ("bullet")


At 0200 hrs , the I/JR 34 moved from it's position from the east side of River Uuksunjoki (where it had repelled two Soviet attacks on the previous days, 10th and 11th) and started to advance south along the trail.

At 0700 hrs, the I/JR 35 started to advance SE from it's positions without encountering resistance.

At 1030 the I/JR 34 encountered a Soviet force (at least 2 companies) guarding the trail about 2 km north of Lake Haahkajärvi (north of Uomaa along the trail) . The I/JR 35 heard the sounds of the battle and sent a patrol to make contact with the I/JR 34. The patrol returned with a reported that a battalion- sized force was between the two Finnish battalions.

After dark, the I/JR 35 stopped even though no contact with the enemy had been made. Because the battalion was exhausted and a small misfortune (an own patrol was shot upon with devastating results) , by 1900 hrs Major Hassinen decided to abort the advance and return.
    The I/JR 34 didn't withdraw back to it's starting point, instead it took positions near the enemy.

On the morning of December 13th, the I/JR 35 didn't renew it's advance to SE, instead it was later that evening ordered to move to the west side of Lake Varpajärvi where it eventually, during the night between 13th and 14th, was moved to the west side of Lake Syskyjärvi From there it marched to the area of 12th division in the evening of December 14th.

The I/JR 34 made repeated attempts against the active Soviet force without success. In the evening of December 14th the battalion was ordered to return to it's original position near Lake Saari, east of the river Uuksunjoki, where it arrived on December 15th.



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Group Jousimies ("Archer")


After midnight on December 12th, the Tst.Os.Autti began it's advance from it's positions NW of Lake Varpajärvi. The almost roadless terrain slowed the movements of the battalions so much, that the Tst.Os.Autti didn't reach its gathering point, east of Lake Kotajärvi, until 1700 hrs. That same evening, a detachment consisted of II/JR 39, I/JR 37 and a company from JR 36 started to advance south, but since the tired troops didn't have the strength to continue they returned. Col. Autti decided to continue the attack in the morning.

On December 12th, the III/JR 39 reached the northern end of Lake Pyhäjärvi and the III/JR 38 made contact with elements of the Soviet JR 97 on the western side of Lake Kotajärvi at 1445 hrs. These two battalions had a limited role during these few days as the III/JR 39 sent numerous patrols SW of Lake Pyhäjärvi and the III/JR 38 couldn't break the defenders supported by tanks.

The forces of Tst.Os.Autti reached the road without opposition and the II/JR 36 advanced SE along the road until at 1200 hrs it met resistance. The III/JR 36 reached the road to north at 1155 hrs, and met elements of the same force that the III/JR 38 was fighting.

The crossroad (This picture is taken from the crossroad, and the photographer is facing east, towards Uomaa
Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 3", p.53 )

The I/JR 37 reached the crossroad at 1300 hrs, but was immediately attacked by a battalion sized force. The fighting continued all day. The II/JR 36 held it's positions against repeated attacks by elements of the 34th tank brigade. The I/JR 37 was scattered and holding it's own just barely. Although the reserve of the Tst.Os.Autti, the II/JR 39, wasn't yet committed to fighting, it became clear during the evening of December 13th that the element of surprise wasn't achieved and the chance for a victory was lost. At 2335 hrs, the order from Major General Hägglund, to abort the attack, reached Col. Autti.

Although the reserve of the Tst.Os.Autti, the II/JR 39, wasn't yet committed to fighting, it became clear during the evening of December 13th that the element of surprise wasn't achieved and the chance for a victory was lost. At 2335 hrs the order from Major General Hägglund, to abort the attack, reached Col. Autti.

In the following night, the troops began their journey back. The I/JR 37 slipped north between the two lakes near the crossroads and continued north. The rest of the battalions went back the same way they had came.


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Group Oinas ("wether / The Ram")


The group Oinas was to engage the 168.D and the 18.D, but during the following days, it barely managed to keep the line. The situation became critical between the Lakes Ruokojärvi and Ladoga, where the entire 168.D was attacking against the II/JR 37 and small units from the LMeP. On December 12th, a small local breakthrough in Kitilä was made and the II/JR 37 succeeded in containing it by heroic efforts.
    On December 12th, the JR 208 of the 18th Division was attacking NW from the road, near Lake Syskyjärvi, and the III/JR 37 made a successful counterattack against the leading elements that had succeeded to infiltrate the Finnish defenses. The JR 208 renewed the attack on the following day, directed north against the I/JR 38, which was repulsed.


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The reasons for failure


The reasons that caused the counterattack to fail are numerous. The objective was to encircle the enemy in a too wide maneuver. The element of surprise was to be achieved by the cost of proper preparations.
    The maneuverability of the Finnish forces wasn't as great as expected. The 13th and 12th division had too few skis and sledges. The table below shows the ski and sledge situation on December 6th. Although the numbers slowly grew, the myth of "skiing divisions" was false.
    The element of surprise was lost when the forces didn't reach the Lemetti - Uomaa road on the 12th day. The 168.D and 18.D had made very strong attacks against the group Oinas, and no reserves could be spared. Also the situation on the Kollaa-river had became serious, as the depleted 12th division was threatened by flanking attacks.
    The timing of the attack was unfortunate. Elements of the 34th tank brigade were moving towards Lemetti and so the counterattacking Soviet JR 97 received additional tank support while the Finnish battalions had only very limited AT-capability.

The cooperation between supporting artillery worked good, so that wasn't one of the reasons for failure on this operation (as it was in the counterattack of the II Corps) .

  As Y.A.Järvinen describes in his book: "...the IV Corps tried to bite a too big chunk from an apple that proved to be too hard to be bitten by soft teeth..."


The shortage of skis and sledges of the IV Corps on 6 December 1939

UNIT Item they had shortage
12th Division Skis 5 445 5 600
Sledges 145 199
13th Division Skis 2 336 10 766
Sledges 133 383

A mg on the move! Especially the shortage of sledges was a problem.

The sledges were usually boat-shaped, and in roadless terrain, the sledge was virtually the only method to transport heavy equipment, and to evacuate the wounded.


( On the right, a machine gun is going to be moved, the picture was taken during the battles in Suomussalmi.)
(Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 3", p.263)



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