Jatkosota 1944: Finland at War (2)
Finland at War in 1944
Part Two: Soviet Attacks on Other Fronts
By Scott Elaurant and Jyrki Saari
Outflanking Attempts at Viipurinlahti and Vuosalmi
As the tide at the Tali-Ihantala battle was beginning to turn against Soviet forces, attempts were made to attack around either flank of the Ihantala position. To the west and north-west of Viipuri lay the Bay of Viipuri (Viipurinlahti in Finnish). Although deep, it was dotted with islands short distances apart. The Soviet 21st Army had tried to force a crossing on 22 and 25 June already, right after the loss of Viipuri, but the attempt had been repulsed.
The fresh Soviet 59th Army attempted to cross the bay by boat in an “island hopping” strategy on 1 July. The initial assaults were repulsed but by 5 July Soviets had managed to push the Finns back from the largest islands. On 6 July German 122. Infanteriedivision replaced the Cavalry Brigade on the frontline between the Coastal Brigade of Eastern Finland and JR200 (Estonian volunteer regiment). On 9 July the Soviets started a general assault on the sector of the 122. Infanteriedivision. The two Soviet divisions committed to the landing, for obvious reasons, lacked the massive armour support that had proven decisive in the Isthmus, but were supported by their air force and naval guns. The Germans had artillery support of their own in addition to strong Finnish artillery. Air Group Kuhlmey also supported the defence. On the far shore a combined defensive force of JR200, JR62 and the German 122. Infanteriedivision was gathered at Kivisilta and Tienhaara. Soviet troops were attacked while still in their boats and immediately after landing on shore and decisively defeated, the last troops being withdrawn or captured by 10 July.
To the east of Tali, the Soviets again tried to outflank the Finns holding along the Vuoksi River line. 2nd Division had carried out delaying actions in the retreat from the VT line, and still had two battalions from both JR7 and JR49 occupying a bridgehead on the high ground of Kylä Paakkola and Äyräpää ridge, south of the river. The Soviet 98th Corps attacked and finally forced the defenders across the river in heavy battles lasting five days. Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the fighting with the 98th Corps practically losing its offensive capability. A new Corps, 115th, then attacked across the Vuoksi on 9 July to gain a bridgehead on the north bank at Vuosalmi in preparation for a breakthrough of 2nd Division positions. After establishing a small bridgehead on 9 July the 115th Corps then continued its attack on 10 July after ferrying in more troops. Despite the pressure and heavy losses 2nd Division did not break, although it was pushed back from the river itself and dug in on the edge of the forest on the north bank.
The Soviets committed a further two divisions across the river to exploit the bridgehead, leading to a bitter melee on the north shore of the Vuoksi. As 2nd Division was by now stretched almost to the limit the battered Panssaridivisioona and a German assault gun company were urgently sent to reinforce 2nd Division and ordered to counterattack. Coincidentally the Soviets attacked at the same time and the attacks blunted each other. The Soviets were unable to force a breakthrough. Finns were likewise unable to push the Soviets back across the Vuoksi or even to reduce the bridgehead. Heavy fighting followed as the Soviets kept ferrying more troops into the bridgehead with both sides gaining local successes, but by 17 July the front had become a stalemate.
|Once again artillery and air attacks played a significant part in
stopping the Soviet attacks, their troops suffering heavily as the
bridgehead was kept under continuous fire. In this battle alone the
Soviets lost over 15,000 men and the Finns 6000. JR7 had taken almost
75% casualties, but did not break. JR7 was one of the most illustrious
of all Finnish infantry units. During the war a total of 13 men from
JR7 were awarded the Mannerheim’s Cross, Finland’s highest award for
bravery. By comparison, a total of 191 Mannerheim’s Crosses were
awarded among the army’s 60 regiments during the period 1941-1945.
||Battles North of Lake Ladoga
North of Lake Ladoga, too, the frontline was unchanged from the spring 1942 battles. The Finnish units were divided into two groups: Group Aunus (V and VI Corps) at the River Svir (Syväri in Finnish) and on the western shore of Onega and Group Maaselkä (Later II Corps) between Group Aunus and German 20th Mountain Army in the north. After the Soviet attack on 9 June the operational reserves of Group Aunus, 17th Division as well as 20th Brigade, were moved to the Karelian Isthmus. The operational reserve of II Corps, the 4th Division, was also moved there.
The second part of the original Soviet plan had been to trap Finnish forces in Karelia to the east of the Finnish border. The Soviet offensive plan was for 7th Army to attack across the Svir River on 20 June and, at the same time for the 32nd Army to attack II Corps.
However, after the situation on the Karelian
Isthmus had become serious on 16 June it was decided to transfer even
more troops, 11th Division and V Corps staff from Group Aunus and 6th
Division from II Corps, to the Karelian Isthmus. To free the required
troops, the frontline was shortened. II Corps was ordered to withdraw
to a prepared position to the rear and Group Aunus was ordered to
withdraw all troops south of the Svir leaving only small rearguards. It
was also authorised to withdraw further to the PSS line if pressed by
an overwhelming enemy attack. After the removal of troops II Corps had
one division (1st), one brigade (21st) and four separate battalions.
Group Aunus had three divisions (5th, 8th and 7th), one Brigade (15th)
and seven separate battalions.
The Soviet 7th Army had three Corps (4th, 99th and 37th Guards) to use
in the attack. The 32nd Army was really just a strong corps with four
divisions (27th, 176th, 289th and 313th) of which the 27th was located
at Rukajärvi against the Finnish 14th Division and three others were
used to attack II Corps.
The shortening of the frontline went unnoticed by the Soviets. On 20 June they attacked the rearguard of 5th Division that withdrew to the north bank of the Svir. The Soviet attack really begun on 21 June and on the same day they gained significant success by managing to cross the Svir and to gain a significant break-in to the frontline positions. VI Corps and 7th Division started a fighting withdrawal to the PSS line and arrived there on 23 June.
At the same time II Corps was attacked as well and completed the withdrawal to the previously mentioned shorter position. Since the focus of the fortification work had been there, both the PSS
line and the fortified line on Maaselkä isthmus, while still not quite
complete, were in satisfactory condition and certainly far more battle
worthy than the VT line (not to mention VKT line) and it was expected
for them to hold for some time. The Soviets, however, had other plans
and had a nasty surprise in store for Group Aunus.
During the night of 22/23 June a large convoy was detected on Lake Ladoga. That night the Soviets made amphibious landings between Tuulos and Vitele on the coast of Lake Ladoga and by 6am had gained a beach head.
By 12am they had cut the coastal road and railway, the main supply
routes of Group Aunus. The initial attack was made by 70th Naval Rifle
Brigade later followed by 3rd Naval Infantry Brigade and supported by
light amphibious tanks (T-37 or T-38) as well as the guns of the fleet.
On the Finnish side the situation was serious since the operational
reserves were on their way to Karelian Isthmus and the only coastal
defence brigade was stretched thin. Improvised counterattacks by the
few troops available failed. The invasion delayed the transfer of 11th Division to the Karelian Isthmus.
On 24 June the Soviets renewed their attacks and broke through 15th
Brigade positions on the PSS line. This breakthrough and the rear
threat from the Tuulos bridgehead forced the VI Corps to withdraw as
there was not sufficient strength to contain both. The 15th Brigade and
5th Division rearguards fought hard buying time for the main body of
troops to get around the Soviet bridgehead using secondary roads. The
withdrawal of 8th and 7th division was accelerated.
II Corps positions were attacked by the Soviet 32nd Army on 20 June. By 23 June the Soviets had achieved a break-in. Counterattacks failed to restore the position and II Corps received permission to withdraw on 24 June. Finnish troops from II Corps and Group Aunus then fought a fighting withdrawal by establishing one delaying position after another. The Soviets put on continuous pressure and pushed the Finnish troops steadily back. By 10 July the Finnish troops had manned the so-called U-line located a short distance inside the pre-Winter War border.
The Soviet troops of 7th Army followed close behind and launched an
immediate assault on a wide front against Group Aunus. Some frontier
positions were lost, but even though counterattacks were unable to
dislodge the Soviets they were likewise unable to force a significant
break-in. The battles continued until mid-July but the 7th Army was
unable to breakthrough the U-line.
The Soviets then switched focus against II Corps north of the U-line. 127th Corps was transferred there to support 32nd Army and, thus reinforced, it started to attack during the night of 17/18 July. 1st Division and Rajajääkäri Battalion (Frontier Light Infantry Battalion) were pushed back to Tolvajärvi where they received 20th Brigade as reinforcements at the end of July. Battles continued until the beginning of August when the Soviets stopped their attacks.
In the north the situation was even more serious. The lone Finnish 21st
Brigade had been pushed back by two Soviet divisions (176th and 289th).
At one time it was almost surrounded and cut off but managed to
withdraw in the nick of time. At the end of July it had been pushed
almost to Ilomantsi, where the good road network to Joensuu and inner
Meanwhile the Cavalry Brigade had been transferred to the area from the
Karelian Isthmus, where the situation had stabilised. Together with
21st Brigade and Group P (two battalions from 14th Division) they were
formed into Group Raappana, under command of Maj.Gen. Raappana (the
commander of 14th division).
Ilomantsi – the Final Motti Battle
A short distance east of Ilomantsi, from 31 July to 13 August, Finnish and Soviet forces were locked in combat for what would turn out to be the last time. As mentioned above, two Soviet divisions (176th and 289th) tried to break through the Finnish lines to Ilomantsi and the road network there.
||Instead, by 4 August they had been surrounded by Group Raappana. The next day the battle escalated as three Soviet Naval Brigades (3rd, 69th and 70th) tried to reach the surrounded divisions. Finnish guerrillas harassed Soviet supply convoys and, for the final time, the Soviets were on the receiving end of Motti tactics.
Although the battle cost the Soviets some 3000
casualties the Finns were unable to destroy the two divisions. On 9
August the main body of the two divisions broke through the surrounding
Finnish troops to the east leaving behind most of their heavy
equipment. The Soviet fourth strategic strike had been finally stopped
- short of its objectives.
The Price of Peace
The scale of fighting in the 1944 summer offensive had been immense. In the three months from the start of the Soviet offensive on 9 June to the cease fire on 4 September the Finns had lost 60,000 casualties, including 15,000 dead, most of them in the first month of fighting. For the Finns the losses per day were even more than in the Winter War. Over four years from 1941 to 1944 the Continuation War had cost the Finns 250,000 casualties including 60,000 dead.
The Soviet 1944 offensive had been much better planned than in 1939 and their troops far better trained, but their losses were still heavy. Soviet and Finnish sources differ, but in total they are likely to have exceeded 150,000 men and 600 tanks for the 1944 summer offensive. Total Soviet Continuation War casualties are estimated at approximately 700,000 including 300,000 dead, a ratio of three Soviet casualties for every one Finnish casualty. (In the Winter War the Soviets had lost over 400,000 casualties against 60,000 Finnish, a ratio of seven to one.)
By August the front had stabilised to trenches and static defence along roughly the 1940 Finnish – Soviet boundary.
President Ryti resigned and his successor, Marshal Mannerheim, promptly signed a ceasefire. Stalin accepted the ceasefire on 4 September but Soviet troops continued to fire and even attack until the next day. Stalin needed his troops elsewhere but was in no mood to be generous. In addition to all the territory taken by the Soviet Union in 1940 Finland would lose Petsamo, had to pay huge war reparations, demobilise most of her army, and would have to evict (or intern) German troops remaining in Finland. However, the demand for unconditional surrender had been dropped. There was little choice but to accept as the collapse of Germany was only a matter of time and, after that, Finland would face the Soviet Union alone.
Part Three: Lapin sota – the Campaign against Germany...
Glossary of Finnisn terms for the Maps
A = Armeija = Army
AK = Armeijakunta = Corps
AKE = Armeijakunnan Esikunta = Corps HQ
Aun.R. = Aunuksen Ryhmä = Group of Aunus
Er.P. = Erillinen Pataljoona = Separate Battalion
ISuom.RPr. = Itä-Suomenlahden Rannikkoprikaati = Coastal (defense) Brigade of Eastern Finland
JR = Jalkaväkirykmentti = Infantry Regiment
Ka.AK = Kaartinarmeijakunta = Guards Corps
KaJoKE = Kannaksen Joukkojen Komentajan Esikunta = HQ of the commander in chief of Isthmus troops
Kan.R. = Kannaksen Ryhmä = Group of (Karelian) Isthmus
Karjalan Rintama = Karelian Front
Laatokka = Lake Ladoga
Laat.RPr. = Laatokan Rannikkoprikaati = Coastal (defense) Brigade of Lake Ladoga
Leningradin Rintama = Leningrad Front
Merijv.Pr = Merijalkaväkiprikaati = Marine Brigade
Olhavan Rintama = Olkhov Front
Os. = Osasto = Detachment
Osia = Elements (for example, osia 4.D = elements, 4th Division)
Pohjoinen Armeijaryhmä = Army Group North
Peipsjärvi = Lake Peipus
Pr. = Prikaati = Brigade
Ps.D. = Panssaridivisioona = Armoured Division
Ps.Pr. = Panssariprikaati = Armored Brigade
PSS asema = PSS Line
Pääasema = Frontline (lit. main position)
Päämaja = Supreme HQ
RajaJPr. = Rajajääkäriprikaati = Frontier/Border Jäger Brigade
RTR = Rannikkotykistörykmentti = Coastal Artillery Regiment
Rv.Pr = Ratsuväkiprikaati = Cavalry Brigade
Ryhmä = Group
Salpa-Asema = Salpa Line
Suomenlahti = Gulf of Finland
U-Asema = U Line
Viipurinlahti = Bay of Viipuri
VKT-Asema = VKT Line
VT-Asema = VT Line
Vuor.A = Vuoristoarmeija = Mountain Army
Vuor.AK = Vuoristoarmeijakunta = Mountain Corps
Vuor.D. = Vuoristodivisioona = Mountain Division
Ääninen = Lake Onega
Äänislinna = Petrozavodsk
Ään.RPr. = Äänisen Rannikkoprikaati = Coastal (defense) Brigade of Lake Onega
Last Updated On Wednesday, November 23, 2011 by Wayne at Battlefront