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Finnish infiltration missions through Soviet lines during the trench war

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  • Finnish infiltration missions through Soviet lines during the trench war

    I have going through Finnish unit records from the Continuation War. In many cases I can read that often a relative small Finnish unit was able to infiltrate pass the Soviet trench line in different part of the Finnish front during the trench warfare phase of the War (December 1941 to May 1944).

    To give a few example, Major Arnold Majewski's 1300 men strong task force was able to pass the lines, cut the Murmansk railway and keep it for nine hours, burn 103 buildings, a bridge and eleven railroad cars. All this took place 60 kilometers behind the Soviet lines in January 1942. In another case which took place at the same time as Majewski's raid, a Finnish unit of approximately 200 men blew up the only railway bridge 20 km behind Soviet lines and 10 km west from the supply town of Louhi/Лоухи without even seeing a single Soviet soldier! The longest distance a Finnish patrol went behind the lines during the War was c. 200 kilometers.

    It is my understanding that the situation did not improve before NKVD battalions were placed behind the lines starting from late 1942 or early 1943. However often the Finnish could follow their radio communication and give instructions to own patrols to change direction to avoid enemy patrols.

    Why do you think the situation was as it was as late as year 1943?

  • #3
    Originally posted by Egorka View Post
    Wilderness. Is not it the answer?
    Wilderness explains only some of the cases, since in many of the cases Finns crossed the lines near a large Soviet infantry unit or approached a target such as a large supply depot without detection before the raid began. This happened all over the front from Leningrad to Murmansk and not just in the far north.

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    • #4
      Originally posted by Martti Kujansuu View Post

      Why do you think the situation was as it was as late as year 1943?
      Those fights are almost unknown here. I don't know any reliable sources for operations in that area in 1942-1943. Almost all sources cites records for either 1941 or 1944 years. All the other years are a "big gap" from the Soviet side. One need to see archival records to find out what was happening that time.
      My own feelings says there was a so called "wrecker war" of small groups from both sides.
      There were no such a solid frontline with a dense soldier filling like in other sectors of the front. More likely it was a "fireplace" defense positions. That made possible for small groups of wreckers to infiltrate far away into enemy rears and perform sudden attacks against communications and other critical points.
      If you fire a rifle at the past, the future will fire a cannon at you.....

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      • #5
        Originally posted by Martti Kujansuu View Post
        Wilderness explains only some of the cases, since in many of the cases Finns crossed the lines near a large Soviet infantry unit or approached a target such as a large supply depot without detection before the raid began. This happened all over the front from Leningrad to Murmansk and not just in the far north.
        The Karelian front from Leningrad to Murmansk was deeply auxiliary and had no much forces to keep a solid frontline. It had many gaps even within a large units lines where it was easy to infiltrate.
        If you fire a rifle at the past, the future will fire a cannon at you.....

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        • #6
          Originally posted by amvas View Post
          That made possible for small groups of wreckers to infiltrate far away into enemy rears and perform sudden attacks against communications and other critical points.
          Yet many of these attacks were not performed by a small number of soldiers but company and battalion sized force. The question I am after is why did the Soviets did not organize their rear security better by compensating the lack of front line troops with other troops patrolling the gaps as the Finns did as early as 1941?

          The Soviet partisan groups did try infiltrating the Finnish lines as they Finns succeeded passing the Soviet lines but without success. The most often citated case is probably the one concerning the 1st Partisan Brigade in summer of 1942. Out of 648 partisans, only around 1/4 made back and without succeeding destroying anything important behind the Finnish lines. The area where they tried crossing the "lines" were not even close to any major Finnish unit but patrolled by Finnish platoons.

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          • #7
            Part of the answer, I am sure, was that the front north of Leningrad was the only place in the entire 'Russian' Theater where the Red Army was able to conserve manpower. For most of the war in this region, the Soviet military forces had less manpower in the area than the Finns and Germans did. Karelia Front, in fact, was the only Front HQ that distributed divisional 'reduced organizations' for a rifle division with less than 4000 men: rifle battalions of two companies with only two platoons per company and two squads per platoon. That does not leave a lot of men 'on the ground' to do much of anything but hold the fixed strongpoints.

            The whole situation changed starting in the spring of 1944, when the build-up started for the attacks of June 1944 that knocked Finland out of the war, but for most of 1942 - 43, most of the Soviet effort in this theatre was predicated on doing without any major expenditure of manpower or resources, which were all going to the 'main front' against the Wehrmacht to the south.

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            • #8
              Originally posted by Sharposhnikov View Post
              The whole situation changed starting in the spring of 1944, [...]
              I agree the rear security was improved south of the Lake Onega but not north of it as Finnish forces managed to continue their raids against the Soviet supply centers. Based on the Finnish mission and intelligence reports, I would say there were at least the same number of men on the both side during these raids but it might be that the Soviet tactics were not improved at the same rate as their equipment and manpower.

              To my knowledge, the final large Finnish raid during the trench warfare period took place between 27 and 31 March 1944 when the Finnish forces burned two villages (void of civilians) of 60-70 buildings with few losses in northern parts of the East Karelia. The documents taken from a KIA Soviet soldier reveal that the villages were manned by some units from the NKVD 72nd Border Regiment.

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              • #9
                Part of the answer, I am sure, was that the front north of Leningrad was the only place in the entire 'Russian' Theater where the Red Army was able to conserve manpower. For most of the war in this region, the Soviet military forces had less manpower in the area than the Finns and Germans did. Karelia Front, in fact, was the only Front HQ that distributed divisional 'reduced organizations' for a rifle division with less than 4000 men: rifle battalions of two companies with only two platoons per company and two squads per platoon. That does not leave a lot of men 'on the ground' to do much of anything but hold the fixed strongpoints.
                The Finnish front was the only part of the Eastern front where axis (incl. Finnish) troops outnumbered Soviet troops after 1941.

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by Michate View Post
                  The Finnish front was the only part of the Eastern front where axis (incl. Finnish) troops outnumbered Soviet troops after 1941.
                  This is false. According to Finnish researcher Ari Raunio and Russian researcher Yuri Kilin (in their books Jatkosodan torjuntataisteluja 1942-44 and Sodan taisteluja 2: Jatkosota), Medvezjegorsk Operative Group had 46779 soldiers at its disposal on 1 November 1941. It faced the Finnish VII Corps of around 36000 soldiers. The total Soviet force against Finnish II Corps of c. 41000 men around Karhumäki was around 58000 men in January 1942 .

                  During the Soviet spring attack against the Finnish and German troops at Kiestinki in April 1942, their troops were outnumbered only by 1:1.15 (36000 vs. 42000 men).

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                  • #11
                    Originally posted by Martti Kujansuu View Post
                    This is false. According to Finnish researcher Ari Raunio and Russian researcher Yuri Kilin (in their books Jatkosodan torjuntataisteluja 1942-44 and Sodan taisteluja 2: Jatkosota), Medvezjegorsk Operative Group had 46779 soldiers at its disposal on 1 November 1941. It faced the Finnish VII Corps of around 36000 soldiers. The total Soviet force against Finnish II Corps of c. 41000 men around Karhumäki was around 58000 men in January 1942 .

                    During the Soviet spring attack against the Finnish and German troops at Kiestinki in April 1942, their troops were outnumbered only by 1:1.15 (36000 vs. 42000 men).
                    You are apparently talking about corps sized sub-sectors, while I was talking about the Finnish front as a whole (and also including the parts manned by German forces). Ziemke in "The Northern Theater of War" and in "Stalingrad to Berlin" leaves no doubt about it. That does of course not rule out the possibility of local Soviet force superiorities, such as those you mentioned. Also, in spring/summer 1944 the situation as a whole changed.

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                    • #12
                      Originally posted by Michate View Post
                      You are apparently talking about corps sized sub-sectors, while I was talking about the Finnish front as a whole (and also including the parts manned by German forces).
                      Those were mere examples of the whole situation along the Front. These two Corps account 1/3 of the Finnish Defence Forces at the time and the situation was not different for the other 2/3. Against the Finnish-German troops of 5 divisions at Olonets Isthmus, the Soviet forces had 7 divisions or equivalent in April 1942.

                      The only place were Finnish and/or German troops might have had a substantial advantage was at Leningrad. There the four Finnish divisions faced the Soviet 23rd Army of 5-6 divisions or equivalent. I do not know the specifics of the troops facing the Germans around Leningrad. Therefore the only advantage Finnish had in manpower was in 1941, not afterwards and certainly not in 1944.

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                      • #13
                        Excerpt from E. Ziemke: "German Northern Theater of operations, 1940-1945." (DAPAM 20-271, 1959), p. 249 (situation as of September 1943):

                        ... The tragic element in the Finnish situation was heightened by thefact that at no time in the war had local tactical conditions been more favorable for a Finnish-German offensive.

                        The Finnish Minister of Defense told the Commanding General, XXXVI Mountain Corps, that on its front Finland had roughly 400,000 men while the Russians opposite them numbered between 160,000 and 180,000.19

                        The Twentieth Mountain Army had over 170,000 combat troops facing approximately 90,000 Russians.

                        The Finns' refusal to exploit that clear 2:1 superiority drew some criticism from the German side, both at the time and after the war.
                        The German opinion was that Finland did not want to risk a complete breach with the United States.20

                        In reality, there was no way an offensive out of Finland could have permanently influenced the course of events. The Murmansk Railroad could possibly have been cut, but by then it was no longer vital to the Russian war effort; Soviet production had increased and supplies from the West were moving through the Persian Gulf.

                        A strong Finnish thrust on the Isthmus of Karelia, which might have relieved the situation of the Army Group North temporarily, would in the long run have been suicidal for the Finnish nation. ...
                        Footnotes with sources, same book, same page:

                        18 Der Kommandierende General des XXXVI (Geb.) A.K., la, Nr. 252/43, Militaerpolitische Eindruecke auf meiner Suedfinnlandreise, 28.9.43, in Anlagen zumChefsachen-K.T.B., (Geb.) AOK 20, la, 11.7.43-31.12.43. AOK 20 43871/10.
                        19 Ibid.
                        20 Erfurth, op. cit., p. 119. Dietl, op. cit., p. 259.
                        Source available here: http://cdm15040.contentdm.oclc.org/c.../2729/rec/1321

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                        • #14
                          Originally posted by Michate View Post
                          The Finnish Minister of Defense told the Commanding General, XXXVI Mountain Corps, that on its front Finland had roughly 400,000 men while the Russians opposite them numbered between 160,000 and 180,000.19
                          I prefer Finnish and Soviet sources over German ones. While it is true that the Finnish Defence Forces numbered 402 379 men in 1 September 1943, only 277 013 were part of the land component. Unfortunately I do not have Soviet sources to give out numbers for their strength in 1943. However I do know that no later than six months from the September they had a huge advantage over the Finnish forces along the Front. For example in some parts of the front a Soviet division was facing a Finnish battalion.

                          Again, I really doubt that Finnish had any real advantage over the Soviet along the whole front in general after year 1941.

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                          • #15
                            Originally posted by Martti Kujansuu View Post
                            Again, I really doubt that Finnish had any real advantage over the Soviet along the whole front in general after year 1941.
                            But 1941 is the crucial year.
                            It looks like pushing just a little farther would have gotten them to the Sea, which would have allowed them to shorten their front a great deal, even if Murmansk held out.

                            And, about your question in the first place... you live there, isn't that front awfully remote, wild, and basically hostile to human life?
                            Long, dark nights in the winter, too. On a clear night with no moon you could navigate by the stars and still not be seen from just a few hundred yards away.

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