Finnish antitank units and tactics
in the Winter War
This page is based mostly on the book "Marskin
written by Erkki Käkelä, published by WSOY, Finland,
In the 1920s, the antitank (hereafter AT in the text) duties was
supposed to be handled by the infantry guns and the field guns. At
that time, as the Soviet armored force was still small, the armored
threat wasn't considered to be great. The consequence was that AT
training and weaponry wasn't considered to be of importance.
In 1932, the Finnish military was alarmed by the development of the
Soviet Tank Arm. The General Staff considered a 20 mm weapon to be
sufficient. At the same time, the decision was made to start producing
armor piercing (hereafter AP in the text) bullets for the small caliber
weapons of the Army.
As the Army needed also an antiaircraft (hereafter AA in the text)
weapon, the two requirements were combined and it was decided that
the two weapons should have the same caliber. The result of this decision
was a 20 mm automatic cannon 20 K/L-34, which wasn't a purpose build
AT-weapon, instead it was designed as a gun suitable against both
air and land targets. The gun eventually never saw action on land,
as the gun saw service only in the Navy, where the gun performed well.
In 1934, 2 groups of Army officers began the work to evaluate the
AT-issue. At their disposal they had the old Renault tanks, and three
Vickers tanks, just acquired from Britain. The tests were made in
the Karelian Isthmus both in the summer and winter, with the purpose
to evaluate different obstacle types and AT-possibilities.
The summary of the work of the both teams (the other led by Col.
T.Laatikainen and the other by Maj.Gen. A.Heikinheimo)
was made in Fall 1935.
In 1936, the 37 mm Bofors AT-gun was chosen as the primary, and the
13 mm AT-mg as the auxiliary "short range" AT-weapon. The
biggest problem was the lack of proper industrial capacity to produce
these weapons, a handicap that took time to remedy.
The 13 mm AT-mg was later, in 1939, replaced by the domestic 20 mm
L-39 AT-rifle, too late to take actively part in the war. The short
range AT-weapons were supplemented by a range of "close defense"
weapons (the satchel charge, the Molotov Cocktail and mines).
Already in 1932, it was realized that as the development and manufacturing
of AT-weapons would take time, the close range AT-weaponry should
be also developed. At the time the experiences were dating back to
WW 1, where grenade bundles, "home made" mines and AT ditches
While the Field and Infantry Regulations were published in 1927 -
1932, they lacked proper instructions regarding AT-defenses and tactics.
They were also criticized being obsolete in the AT category. The first
official Finnish Defense Force AT-instructions was published on October
18th 1933. The instructions advised not to underestimate the enemy
motorized and armored forces. In 1935, an additional discourse by
Col. Laatikainen was distributed to the troops, in where he had also
covered the use of tanks by the enemy.
Many different types of training programs were held, involving "tank
tours"(a few Vickers and Renault tanks toured the different military
bases, where they gave performance shows, and brought some feel of
realism to exercises), obstacle tests, mining exercises etc.
AT-mines as a part of making a mine barrier was tested for the first
time in 1937, in a winter maneuver. While the Army had, when the war
started, three different types of mines available (m/36, m/39 and m/S-39),
the production had been and still was a problem.
After enough experience had been gathered, on February 21st 1939,
the Ministry of Defense published a temporary AT-instructions booklet.
In March 1939, Colonel T.Raatikainen, the head of the Weapons
Section of the Ministry of Defense made a trip to Germany and Hungary.
After his trip, his opinion was that the accepted Finnish AT-weapons
were already too light. Raatikainen said, that in the future AT-guns
should have larger caliber than the 37 mm, as examples he mentioned
47 mm, 57 mm and 75 mm. But he couldn't convince the highest authorities,
and besides, time was running out.
Even in distant Africa, when Italy used poison gas in Abyssinia,
it had it's adverse effect in the AT-training in Finland. In 1938,
the conscripted men had gas protection training nearly 4 times the
amount of AT-training. Of course at that time no-one could say for
sure, that poison gas wouldn't be used in the next war. But after
roughly a year, that "wrong" allocation of training was
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The AT-gun Training Center
On 16 October, 1939, the Ministry of Defense issued an order that
an AT-gun Training Center (Pst.Tyk.Koul.K, "Panssarintorjuntatykkikoulutuskeskus"
in Finnish) was to be raised in Hämeenlinna, to help the forming
of AT-units and train the crews. Captain I.A.Lehtinen was assigned
as the commander.
After the war, Capt. Lehtinen is often referred
as the creator of the Finnish AT-arm. In 1938, he made a trip to
Göta Livgardet in Sweden, where he familiarized himself with
the Swedish AT-gun training, the Swedish 37 mm m/34 -gun and it's
ammunition. It can be said that among the Finns his knowledge was
Later, in 1939, he made a trip to Sweden and Denmark,
this time the incentive was AT-weapon tests.
Capt. Lehtinen was the author of the first AT-training
manual, which was distributed to the troops during the late stages
of the mobilization.
The task of the center was to train AT-gun platoons, that could be
used in front-line duty immediately. As the political situation was
already very severe at the time, the training couldn't take long.
As training equipment, the Center received two 37 K/36 guns, and it
was decided that as soon as more guns would arrive from the Tampella
factory, they should be used to equip AT-gun platoons, and sent to
the front immediately.
On 11 November 1939, the war time material composition of the AT-gun
platoons was approved, and a month later, also the Personnel allocation
of the Training Center was made official.
Around Christmas 1939, the staff of the Training Center under the
command of Capt. Lehtinen was some 72 men (including all officers,
NCO's, Privates, technicians etc.) forming the following sub-units:
- Officer's platoon
- Rifle company
- AT-gun company
Capt. Lehtinen made himself the training programs, both for the rifle
company and the gun company.
When a new batch of men arrived, they first received a short but
hectic 5-day training in the rifle company. This was made in effort
to unify the infantry skills of the men, who had usually different
levels of training (some were conscripts, while some were reservists,
and some more skilled Civic Guard members etc.). The instructors worked
in three shifts, and the volunteers were hard pressed.
After the short training in the rifle company, the platoon was moved
to the gun company, and received full battle gear. Again, intensive
training followed. The field training was demanding, getting more
tougher on the way. Local civilian/army vehicles passing by played
the role of enemy "tanks", and were targeted whenever possible.
As the shortage of AT-shells was appalling, the gunner training was
enhanced by attaching a rifle barrel in a tubage. Also some tests
were made by attaching a rifle directly on the barrel. All this was
made to prepare the crews for the live firing practice. While not
a very effective training method, this was the only way, as the number
of live shells per platoon was strictly regulated.
Before the live firings, the gunner and the assistants were chosen.
The gunners were required to be marksmen with the rifle, and of course
accurate gunners. Usually the ones who had performed well in handling
the gun and in the indoor aiming training (the gunner candidate tried
to track graphics on a special board that were of the shapes of a
square,"S" and "8") had a good chance to be selected.
The number of live shells that a platoon could fire ranged from 8
to 13, which was the absolute maximum. That is only 4-7 shells per
gun crew, which is hardly enough by any standards. The Center used
at first only 37 K/36's, but later on also captured 45 mm guns were
used. Only the leaders, gunners, loaders and the assistant loaders
were allowed to fire live rounds.
The training in the Center was at first based mostly on foreign manuals
and Lehtinen's own evaluations. Lehtinen requested from the platoon
leaders, that were sent to the fronts, to send any first hand experiences
to him. These letters were valuable in guiding the training slowly
into the right direction.
By 30 November, the Training Center had supplied the Isthmus Army
with 15 AT-gun platoons (some horse-drawn) from which 9 platoons were
given to the II Corps and 6 platoons to the III Corps. The IV Corps,
in Ladoga Karelia, had received one AT-gun company with 4 AT-gun platoons
When the war ended, Lehtinen and his staff had, before and during
the war, trained and sent to the fronts a total of 94 AT-gun platoons,
2 separate gun teams, trained 170 men as replacements, and some 30
platoon leader replacements.
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Directive to the Isthmus Army
After Marshal Mannerheim requested opinions and suggestions about
the general use of Finnish AT, Major General L.Oesch, Chief
of General Staff, noted that the Finnish AT-capability of the troops
defending the Mannerheim Line (main resistance line) in the Karelian
Isthmus was inadequate. It was Oesch's opinion that the Soviet tanks
couldn't be destroyed in front of the line, and the bulk would be
able to penetrate the defenses.
Oesch pointed out that the main objective was to separate the tanks
from the following infantry in front of the line. The tanks should
be allowed to advance over the first strongpoints and trenches into
the defenses. These penetrated tanks should be attacked relentlessly
by AT-teams and AT-platoons using close combat AT-weapons regardless
of the terrain (as it's relatively difficult to closely observe the
surrounding battlefield from within the tank, tanks are vulnerable
to close defense AT-teams without friendly infantry nearby).
Mannerheim approved this as the general directive to be used in the
Karelian Isthmus, and it proved out to be effective.
But although the General HQ issued the above directive, it has to
be noted that during the war, the General HQ had only little to do
in improving AT-tactics. That was usually done by the front-line troops
themselves, at divisional level, and by the AT-gun Training Center.
The HQ of the Isthmus Army can be credited as merging good ideas into
a workable concept.
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During December, the Finnish units (mainly in company, battalion
and regiment level) started to form "close defense AT-teams",
which were of squad - platoon strength. While these units had official
names "AT-platoon" and "AT-section", they weren't
equipped with guns, instead the weaponry of these "ad hoc AT-units"
consisted mainly of Molotov Cocktails, satchel charges, mines, hand
grenades and "blinding devices"("sokaisuvälineillä"
in Finnish). These units were often called "bomber units"
or "close defense units".
Of course, the number of these units depended on the number of Soviet
tanks in the area. While in Ladoga Karelia, a "bomber unit"
in a company was a rarity, the situation in the Isthmus was totally
different. While there also were official instructions to form these
type of units, they were also formed by initiative. On 5 December,
the HQ of the Isthmus Army ordered that such "close defense units"
should be formed in company, battalion and regimental level, and in
divisional level larger units were to be formed from attached Separate
battalions or border guard units. These units (especially in the regimental
and divisional level) had usually a few pioneers in them. This was
important, as the close defense units were responsible of making the
satchel charges etc. which were then transported to the units in the
In the company and battalion level, the AT-teams operated close to
the front-line. The regiment -level teams were used along roads or
at points suited for armor, giving more depth to the defense. The
units at divisional level, were kept in reserve and used in the most
As the close defense units were formed at the fronts by the order
of the local commander, they didn't have any official composition
regarding weaponry or equipment. The rule was, that when a soldier
was ordered to a close defense unit, he was equipped by his weapon,
creating a large mix of small arms in the units. The rifle was of
course the main weapon, but the number of smg's and lmg's (if any)
depended on the situation and the commander.
While there were these small "bomber units" even in the
front-line companies, one shouldn't overlook the other infantrymen,
as they too took part in the AT-defense, if any equipment was available.
The task of the close defense AT-teams was risky at best. The task
of getting close to an enemy tank was hard and required courage and
patience. You had to throw the satchel charge accurately and with
just enough force to land it on top of a tank, to ensure a kill. You
could also run to the tank and place it on the rear deck, but this
was even more riskier. In some cases the soldier died from the blast
of his own satchel charge if it fell down from the tank, or if he
couldn't move to a safe distance.
It should also be noted, that in the early phases of the war (December
- late January) it was considerably easier for the Finnish AT-teams
to destroy Soviet tanks, as the tanks usually attacked without supporting
infantry. In the last month of the war the enhanced Soviet training,
conducted during January, was paying off, making it hard or nearly
impossible for the "bomber units" to get close to the tanks.
As a result, the few AT-guns had to be deployed closer to the front-line,
causing increasing casualties (see the "long range AT-defense").
From the actions in Summa,
on 19 December 1939, as described by the commander of JR 15
Lt.Col Ilmari Karhu.
I've tried to translate the text as exact as possible.
(The notes in (parentheses) are my additions, meant to clarify
"In the afternoon the (Soviet) attack was
repeated with even more strength. Reports from different directions
told that nearly 100 tanks were in the Summa-village. Our AT-guns
were still stunned by the morning attack. The tanks were roaming
virtually free within our lines, as our bombers (meaning "bomber
units") couldn't get close to the tanks in broad daylight,
in the open terrain. The men were just laying flat in their
foxholes and waiting for the dusk. The tanks were firing at
the trenches and the bunkers.
The situation was oppressive. Could the infantry stay in the
positions letting the tanks pass and stopping the enemy infantry,
as was ordered (see: the general directive). The first attack
reached the support line. It was of course manned, but it's
AT-defense was very weak.
The time passed slowly. Wild rumors were going round.
Finally it grew dusk. The evening came. The midnight came. The
support line was still intact. Some tanks immobilized by mines
were in front of it. But how was it with the main defense line?
Reports were arriving. The enemy infantry hadn't been able to
follow the tanks inside our defenses. At dusk the "bombers"
could approach the tanks. The tank busting began. Some twenty
were destroyed and the rest withdrew. The attack had been beaten
back. The troops in this sector were reassured that the tanks
weren't invulnerable. Confidence among the troops grew."
Source:"Talvisodan Historia 2",
(The Soviet troops reached the Mannerheim
Line in Summa around 6 - 7 December. On 12 December, the first
probing attacks were launched. On 16 December, the usual artillery
bombardment intensified, continuing until 17 December, when
the first attack supported with tanks was launched, but it
was repulsed leaving 23-24 destroyed tanks behind. On 18 December,
only small probes were launched after the Finnish artillery
had fired a strong barrage into a big formation dispersing
it. The main attack was launched on 19 December, which was
repulsed. Some smaller attacks were made in the following
During the week, the Finnish 5th division
had repulsed the attacks made by two Soviet divisions, the
138th and 123rd. The Finns counted 52 destroyed tanks, from
which some 20 were heavy (meaning medium T-28 tanks). )
Back to Top
employment of a "close defense" platoon
(The schematic is based on a somewhat similar
drawing in "Marskin panssarintuhoojat", p. 157)
"close defense"-platoon deployed along the the most likely
routes (marked by "1" on the map), digging camouflaged
foxholes for two men (the larger blue dots on the map) on both sides
of the route, with a smaller foxhole some 2 m away, where the satchel
charges and Molotov Cocktails were stored (for safety reasons, of
The tactic was simple; when the leading tank reached
the last foxhole (marked by "2" on the map) or hit an
AT-mine in a minefield (marked by "3" on the map), the
two man team attacked the leading tank. While the other one "blinded"
the tank with blinding devices or a Molotov Cocktail, the other
one finished it off with a satchel charge. The explosion was the
sign for the other teams, which attacked the closest tank. The requirement
for this tactic to work was, that the enemy wasn't able to use their
tanks 'en masse', and most importantly that attacking infantry was
pinned down by the front-line strongpoints.
Two Soviet tanks lying near the
Finnish communications trenches in the Lähde sector, near
Photographed on 21 December 1939. The tank on the left seems to
be a T-28.
Source: "Summa", p.73
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|As mentioned earlier in the text, the 37 mm Bofors
gun was chosen as the primary AT-weapon. As it was a cannon, capable
of penetrating enemy armor at distance, I'm referring to this as "long
range AT-defense", while it's a matter of opinion if ranges of
up to 900 m can be considered "long range".
Even before the Winter War started, the idea of giving the AT-defense
depth, already existed. The AT-guns were to be used behind the front-line,
while the front-line troops would use their short range weapons. As
mentioned earlier, after the Red Army adopted improved tactics where
the infantry supported the tanks more efficiently, it forced the Finns
to deploy their guns closer to the front-line, where the nearly constant
artillery fire started to extract casualties. Also, the shorter ranges
increased the chance that the gun was spotted from a tank, and targeted.
This resulted in a gunnery duel, which didn't end until the other
Also, after the war it was noticed that many battalion commanders,
which had AT-gun platoons at their disposal, weren't familiar of how
AT-guns should be used and had the tendency to spread them around,
decreasing their effectiveness. Also, the commanders above company
level had a tendency of overestimating the speed and cross-country
capability of the gun teams. While the organization of the AT-gun
platoon was quite clear, it was quite common throughout the war, that
a regiment / battalion commander gave an order to a single gun team
(just shows the low overall number of AT-guns at the commander's disposal).
In Ladoga Karelia, where there were really few guns compared to the
size of the area, the gun teams were usually kept in reserve, and
used where needed. This created confusion in the AT-gun platoons,
as it was often unclear to which unit they were attached and who's
order to obey. As the gun teams operated in many different areas,
in confusing situations, they could sometimes be left for days without
proper shelter or food e.g. if the local supply officer wasn't aware
of their presence.
While the number of Finnish AT-guns was relatively low, they still
caused the largest casualties for the Red Army tanks. As the 37 K/36
was the most numerous AT-gun, it was also "The" tank killer
of the Winter War.
Each of the gun platoons had two gun teams. The detailed composition
is visible in the chart below, as is the composition of the gun teams.
The motorized and horse-drawn gun platoons were nearly identical,
the difference is mainly in the transport equipment and personnel.
Originally, all men were armed with rifles, but after many complains
from the crews and especially from the gunners (the rifle is a too
long and cumbersome weapon, as the crews were in action on their knees
or crouching) on 5 February, the General HQ issued an order that a
platoon should be armed with two smg's.
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of an AT-platoon
(Source: "Marskin panssarintuhoojat",
The schematic on the right is based on a drawing that a commander
of an AT-gun platoon sent to Capt.Lehtinen, commander of the AT-gun
The letter was sent from the Isthmus front, and it shows how the two
guns were sited inside the forest, behind the two strongpoints. The
forest was cleared along the chosen lines of fire, with as much indistinctness
as possible. The distance of the gun nr.1 to the strongpoint "1"
was some 300 meters. The platoon commander regarded the deployment
to be good.
The commander of the AT-gun Training Center, Capt. Lehtinen, who
received letters from the AT-gun platoon commanders, started soon
to emphasize that the guns should be in reverse slope positions, and
if possible in terrain unsuited to tanks (many guns had been overrun
by Soviet tanks during the war).
AT-gun platoons weren't well suited for the Finnish winter and terrain.
In a snowy terrain, the crews could move their guns without horses
or trucks, but only for short ranges. In forest, the trucks were mostly
useless, and horses had to be used. But the horses were quickly fatigued
in deep snow, if they even could pull the guns at all, and it was
very hard to move the guns without a special towing carriage. Of course,
that was a bigger problem in north Finland, than it was in the Karelian
Isthmus. The Winter War showed also that AT-guns weren't suited for
offensive operations in the Finnish winter. It proved impossible to
move them in the first echelons, as the attacks were almost always
made through rugged terrain.
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(composition verified 16 October 1939)
The platoon had a total strength of
(including privates, NCO's and the officer)
The tasks of the men in a gun team
The tasks of the 8 individual soldiers (led by a
NCO) in the gun team was distributed as follows:
- gunner (nr. 1)
- loader (nr. 2)
- assistant loader (nr. 3)
- substitute (nr. 4)
- spotter (nr. 5)
- ammunition carriers (nr. 6, 7 and 8)
In case the NCO was either killed or wounded, he
was succeeded by nr.2 (loader) which in turn was replaced by nr.
3 and so forth.
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The platoon had a total strength of 32 men
(including privates, NCO's and the officer)
The shortage of motorized vehicles
forced many of the AT-gun platoons to be equipped with horses
instead of trucks. The composition of the horse-drawn AT-gun platoon
was later on judged to be successful.
But as horses need more everyday
care than motor vehicles, any human casualties caused problems,
as someone was then responsible of two tasks. Of course, the platoons
operations were even more difficult, if the horses themselves
were wounded or killed.
The gun crew had the same fighting
strength 1+8 (and crew tasks) as the gun teams in the Motorized
AT-gun platoon (see above).
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While (indirect firing) artillery isn't usually regarded as a very
effective in an AT-role, the Finnish artillery was very essential
also in the AT-role.
While plagued with the chronic shortage of shells, the Finnish barrages
were exceptionally accurate. While the main task of the barrages was
to pin down or disperse any infantry attacks, that were following
the tanks, some lucky hits on individual tanks was scored. The more
tighter group, in which the attacking tanks were deployed, the more
effective even a short barrage was. Even a 76 mm artillery shell was
powerful enough to destroy a light tank, or severe the tracks from
even a bigger vehicle. A hit by a heavier shell almost always disabled
a light T-26 or BT tank.
No detailed records were kept from the effectiveness of the Finnish
artillery, instead war diaries usually only note: "a barrage
was fired at an attacking enemy formation, tanks dispersed".
Some figures were recorded, and e.g. on 18 Dec, 12 Soviet tanks were
knocked out by the Finnish artillery barrages in the "Lähde"-sector
near Summa. By the end of December, the Finnish artillery had either
knocked out or damaged 11 tanks in Kollaa (located in Ladoga Karelia).
The above figures are probably caused by indirect fire. As the Red
Army failed to achieve deep penetrations, the Finnish artillery seldom
had to defend their positions against tanks. Of course, some light
76 mm artillery pieces were used in direct firing positions (AT-role),
to substitute the low number of AT-guns.
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The organization of AT-units in the 4th division
late in the war
first officer, which was assigned to be the AT-officer, was assigned
in the 4.D, which was fighting in the Karelian Isthmus. Capt.
E.Lauhiala was assigned to this task on Jan 17th, and this new
organization (concentrating the AT-troops under a central command)
was the work of 4.D Chief of Staff, Maj. S.Simelius and the
4.D Artillery commander, Maj. L.Klärich.
The new AT-officer took over the command of the
4th AT-company ("4.Panssarintorjuntakomppania" in Finnish)
and the 2nd separate company (2.Er.K, "2. Erillinen komppania"
in Finnish). The 2. Er.K was originally the 2nd border company
(2.Rajakomppania), which was attached to the 4.D as a separate
According to Capt. Lauhiala, this reorganization
took place only after sufficient experience had been gained from
the enemy's use of armor. From the two AT-companies, the 2.Er.K
was responsible for the close AT-defense on the sector of the
4.D. The arrangements, which are shown in the schematic above,
were made in late January. On 8 February, the 4.D got an AT-rifle
detachment, armed with 2 "Boys" AT-rifle. The AT-rifle
detachment was subsequently attached to the 2. Er.K.
Each of the regiments received one 2-gun AT-gun
platoon, which were either 37 mm Bofors guns, or captured 45 mm
AT-guns. The 37 mm AT-gun crews had received the basic training
in the AT-gun Training Center, but the shortage of instructors
forced the 45 mm AT-gun crews to be trained directly by the regimental
AT-gun platoon, or by the 4.AT-company.
The close defense platoons (Torj.J) were consisted
of 3 close defense sections (Torj.R), each section having one
NCO and 9 men.
of the "Pst.kiv.R"
1. Fire team
2. Fire team
- section leader
- AT-rifle gunner
- 1. assistant
- 2. assistant
- smg or lmg gunner
- 1. soldier (satchel charge)
- 2. soldier (satchel charge)
- 3. soldier (satchel charge)
- 4. soldier (satchel charge)
- 5. soldier (satchel charge)
The AT-rifle section had also 1 NCO
and 9 men, and the section was divided into 2 fire teams. The
detailed composition is shown in the table on the right, and it
proved to be successful.
|At the end of the war, many of the Finnish
divisions had organized their AT-units according (not necessarily
identical, but close) to the example of the 4.D, but not all.
E.g. the 4th separate AT-company ("4.Er.Pst.K",
"4.Erillinen panssarintorjuntakomppania" in Finnish),
which was under the direct command of the IV Corps (in Ladoga
Karelia), was forced to use the AT-gun platoons (I - IV AT-gun
platoons) in many different directions.
The I and II platoons were attached to the 13th
division, while the III platoon operated in the Tolvajärvi
area, and the IV platoon in Ilomantsi. While the platoons were
formally under the command of the company commander, in reality
the commander was more of an administrative leader, training replacements,
than in direct command of the platoons.
(The 13.D was defending the Lake Ladoga coastline, Tolvajärvi
is some 60 km north of Lake Ladoga's NE corner, while the Ilomantsi
battle grounds are roughly some 40 km north of Tolvajärvi.
So the distance between two platoons of the same company could
be even 100 km.)
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The first surprises
Among the first surprises for the Finns, was the wide use of tanks
by the Red Army. In 1930s, as the Finnish General Staff had evaluated
the Finnish defenses, it had predicted that the Red Army would use
it's tanks mainly on the Karelian Isthmus and even in there mostly
on the roads only. The Winter War proved that prediction dead wrong.
The surprise was even greater, when the Red Army troops in the narrow
roads of Ladoga Karelia and middle-north Finland had relatively strong
tank support (as was also the sheer number of Red Army troops in these
directions). Also, as much of a surprise as the huge number of tanks
was, so was their wide use on the frozen lakes, swamps, and even over
the frozen sea.
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lack of AT-weapons forced the front-line troops to improvise. All
along the front, the troops used small logs and iron bars to immobilize
tanks by jamming them into the tracks. This was by no means an effective
or safe method, but usable in dire situations. Small logs were split
and and carved from the inside and after filled with explosives, a
hand made mine was ready.
And while there were AT-gun platoons and teams, "close defense"
units, it's fair to say that during the Winter War, almost the whole
AT-defense was in fact mostly improvised, improving and developing
during the war as more experience was gained by the troops. The initial
shock caused by the masses of Red Army tanks faded quite quickly,
but still, the little AT-training before the war did cost a lot of
Early in the war in Petsamo, where the terrain was mostly open
and where the troops had no AT-guns or AT-mines, the enemy advance
was slowed by blowing the road up, or by blowing rocky walls on
to the road. Sometimes the enemy armored advance was slowed by
make small dirt piles on the road, which looked like badly camouflaged
mines. After spotting these, the lead tanks halted and shelled
the suspicious bumps. This bought the withdrawing Finns precious
As an other example of improvisation, on 17 December 1939, in
the battle near Porojärvi (some 70 km SW of the Finnish Arctic
Ocean coast, next to the Norwegian border), one gun of the 5.Er.Ptri
(equipped with 4 obsolete 87 mm guns, 87K/95-R, which were guns
without recoil system) was positioned to fire any tank advancing
on the road. The lead tank appeared behind a rock, only some 60
m from the gun, and the crew managed to fire their gun. Luckily
the tank was immobilized (knocked out?) with the first shot, but
before the crew could pull the gun back into the position (guns
without recoil system jump backwards with each shot, making their
rate of fire relatively slow) the advancing Soviet infantry pressed
forward. The crew managed to grab the breech lock with them before
abandoning their gun.
(Source: "Petsamo Talvisodassa",
Only on 18 December, the Finns fighting in the north near Petsamo,
received their first AT-unit.
The 51st AT-gun platoon (equipped with two 37 mm Bofors guns with
the personnel strength of 1 officer, 3 NCO's and 28 men) led by
2nd Lt. Osmo Nissinen. The arrival of this unit was a big
morale booster to the defenders, giving the defenders at last
some ranged AT-capability.
(The 51st AT-gun platoon was dispatched from the AT-gun Training
Center on 15 December).
Back to Top !
While the Finnish Army didn't have a very strong AT-arm, the tanks
of the Red Army suffered huge losses in the Winter War.
Probably the largest number of kills, that a platoon scored in one
day, was made in the morning of 13 March 1940, when the two 25 mm
AT-guns of the 164th AT-gun platoon knocked out over 10 tanks (the
exact number is not known, but it's probably between 13 - 17). The
second largest score in one day was credited to the 37th AT-gun platoon,
which on 5 February knocked out 9 tanks in Summa.
As the largest unofficial score for a gun team, achieved during the
war, was 57 kills. It was scored by a gun team of the II platoon of
4.Er.Pst.K, led by 2nd Lt. Toivo Kausto, equipped with a 37
K/36 -gun. Most of the kills were made when the gun team took part
in the destruction of the "Motti of East-Lemetti". Of course,
since the figure can't be verified it isn't necessarily 100 % reliable,
but it can be close to the truth as that particular Motti had 105
tanks, from which 34 were destroyed and 22 damaged. In addition to
the tanks, the team destroyed a couple of infantry guns and some mg's.
While the Red Army had some 2 000 tanks against Finland at the start
of the war, on 13 March 1940, when the war ended, the Red Army had
2 998 operational tanks against Finland. Thus in all the total number
of tanks employed in the Winter War is around 6 000 !
In 1990, a Russian study was published in Finland (made by Professor
M.Semirjaga), and according to it, the total
tank losses of the Red Army was 3 543 tanks (this figure is
the same, as in the memo that was after the war handed over to the
Chief of General Staff, Army Commander 1st Class, Boris Shaposhnikov).
The figure includes losses of all reasons, which in case of the Karelian
Isthmus mounts up to 1 275 tanks.
Note also, that it wasn't only the light tanks that suffered heavy
losses, also the T-28 medium tanks were prey for the Finnish AT-guns.
E.g. the 20th Tank Brigade (with 90th, 91st, 95th Tank Battalions
and 301st Armored Car Bn) under the command of Brigade Commander S.V.Borzilov,
which was transported on October 8th 1939 to the Karelian Isthmus,
started the war with 105 medium T-28 tanks. The brigade saw action
in the Summa area and received during the war, as replacements, 67
tanks, but when the war ended it had only 71 tanks left.
(105+67-71=101 tanks lost. Of course most of the losses were repairable,
but still some 100 tanks is a very large figure).
(The Finnish intelligence department of the General HQ, had estimated
that some 1 500 tanks had been destroyed, underestimating the sheer
size of the Red Army's armored force. E.g. the Finnish General HQ
had estimated that the Red Army had had 3 300 tanks against Finland,
and so near the war's end, the most optimistic officers were sure
that the Red Army was running out of tanks.)
The below table by M.Kolomiets shows by detail the Red Army tank
losses in the Karelian Isthmus (not including tank losses in other
Army tank losses in the Karelian Isthmus during the Winter War
(Source: "Marskin panssarintuhoojat",
(Original source: Maksim Kolomiets, "TankoMaster"-magazine,
beyond repair / complete losses
||mines, satchel charges
- Feb 1st
1st - Feb 25th
25th- Mar 13th