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On April 2, 1939, the Finnish government decided to start building fortifications along the Karelian Isthmus, the area located south of Lake Ladoga. Six months later, on October 5, the Soviet Union wanted to initialize talks on what it described as “current issues between the Soviet Union and Finland.” Since a mutual agreement between the two countries could not be found, the Soviet Union tried to provoke Finland into war on November 26, 1939 by launching artillery shells near the Russian village of Mainila, an incident known in history as the “Shelling of Mainila.” Mainila is located on the Karelian Isthmus, a few hundred kilometers south of Kollaa.

he Russians tried to blame this incident on Finnish aggression and demanded an apology. the Soviet Union then began moving a number of divisions closer to the Russian-Finnish border. When Finland refused to acquiesce to Russia and denied responsibility for what had taken place at Mainila, the Soviet Union attacked on November 30, 1939 with 23 divisions—totaling approximately 450,000 troops—thus starting the Winter War. Soon after the Russians attacked, the Soviet Union created a puppet regime government on December 2, 1939 at Terijoki, a town located near the Russian-Finnish border, designed to create an impression of political and diplomatic legitimacy to the outside world. It fooled no one.

Known as the Finnish Democratic Republic (or Terijoki government), it was little more than a “Quisling” government, led by the founder of the Finnish Communist Party, Otto Ville Kuusinen. As for Simo’s role during this time, he related the following account to me: On the last day of November, I was in Suvilahti where I had been sent the previous day with some others to participate in an antitank course. That night we slept well; only in the morning were we told that the Soviets had started a heavy artillery bombardment against villages in Hyrsylä river bend, followed by simultaneous infantry attack across the border.

We took our time to have a good breakfast; followed by orders to each one of us to return to our own respective units. Well, this is it, we thought, the war had begun. Now I would be able to really apply for real all the skills I had honed when practicing for the annual Viipuri Civil Guard autumn shooting championships. I knew I was in excellent shape as I was extremely satisfied with my results during the last combat and range shooting exercises.

I hadn’t expected, though, that the next competition would be like this. Once we reached Pyhäjoki, we assembled our barbed wire, fortified our trenches and finished digging our fox holes. The first Soviet attack against us came during the darkness. After a few days of heavy fighting, we were given orders to withdraw all the way to Suvilahti.

There we participated in a minor battle to hold off the Russians once again. One incident I will never forget: I was given a mission to destroy the telephone line. I did that and cut the wires, taking my time, although the Russians were shooting at me with a machine gun from a position about 200 meters away. I just couldn’t think yet that I would be in any real danger as our losses in Pyhäjoki had been very low despite the heavy fighting and bombardment. As this story shows, Simo was a brave and fearless soldier from the very beginning of the war. His story also reflects how in the early stages of this war the Russians were rather inept—their military leadership having been decimated by Stalin’s bloody purges only a few years earlier—while light Finnish losses did not give their soldiers any indication of how serious the fighting would become in the future.

T his was about to change. Simo, who served in 6. /JR 34, received his baptism of fire along the Loimola road which leads west from the Hyrsylä river bend. He participated in the first battles in Suojärvi, along a little river that runs from Lake Pyhäjärvi. The Finnish troops withdrew to Suvilahti, from where they disengaged to the Kollaa River, some 30 kilometers away, where the Russian attack was brought to a halt. T he battle here was intense and bloody, as many men from Rautjärvi fell during the first days of fighting along the Loimola road.

Sadly for Simo, more of his fellow villagers died during this period of fighting than in any other engagement. The pressure of the battle forced his unit to withdraw to Suvilahti, and then finally another 30 kilometers further back to the River Kollaa, where the Finnish troops dug in. It would not be too much longer before all of Finland would learn first hand what the phrase “Kollaa will hold” would mean. A specialist for difficult missions In the early days of the war, Simo’s company commander, Lieutenant Juutilainen, discovered Simo to be an excellent shooter.

Consequently, Lieutenant Juutilainen did not assign him to a specific squad but rather made him a sniper. Simo’s most remarkable combat engagement in the war came after an enemy sniper killed three platoon leaders and one inexperienced courier NCO who had been sent to replace one of the platoon leaders of Juutilainen’s company. Juutilainen summoned Simo and ordered him to “try to knock that man out.” Simo replied, “I’ll do my best.”

Simo selected a suitable firing position but had to wait a long time. He had lots of layers on as the winter conditions were bitter and a sniper was not supposed to make any movement for fear of detection. In fact, he closely resembled a snowman due to all the thick layers beneath his snow-camouflaged fatigues.

Daylight was slowly coming to an end. Evening drew close. After several hours of waiting, Simo noticed a flicker on the horizon; the last rays of sunlight reflecting directly off the Russian sniper’s scope. In addition, the Russian rose rather carelessly, most likely believing that with the dusk approaching, his day’s work was done. Simo carefully aimed at the Russian sniper, squeezed the trigger, and hit him on the cheek. Although Simo instinctively reloaded his rifle, there was no need for a second shot. T he Russian was dead. Simo also spoke of another incident, when Lieutenant Juutilainen unsuccessfully tried to kill an enemy sniper with a scoped rifle. Shortly thereafter, Simo was ordered to kill him and related the following: It happened once that my CO, Lt Juutilainen, “the Horror of Morocco” as he was known from his previous service in the Foreign Legion, tried to kill an enemy sniper with a scoped rifle.

This Russian had taken up position about 400 meters from us and was constantly shooting towards our lines. After a while, the lieutenant sent for me and showed me approximately where he thought the enemy sniper’s position to be. One of our second lieutenants was with us, acting as a spotter, when our duel begun. At first, I did not see a trace of him, just a small rock where he was supposed to be. After careful investigation, we spotted him behind a little hump of snow near that rock. I took a careful aim with my trusty M/28-30 and the very first shot hit the intended target. Since a sniper is such a high-value target on the battlefield, Simo’s reputation as a marksman reached the Russian front lines.


This Russian had taken up position about 400 meters from us and was constantly shooting towards our lines. After a while, the lieutenant sent for me and showed me approximately where he thought the enemy sniper’s position to be. One of our second lieutenants was with us, acting as a spotter, when our duel begun. At first, I did not see a trace of him, just a small rock where he was supposed to be. After careful investigation, we spotted him behind a little hump of snow near that rock. I took a careful aim with my trusty M/28-30 and the very first shot hit the intended target. Since a sniper is such a high-value target on the battlefield, Simo’s reputation as a marksman reached the Russian front lines.

On one occasion, after Simo had once again finished off an enemy sniper with a single shot (of course!), the Russians in turn tried to kill him by shooting indirect fire, a mortar bombardment, at the vicinity of his firing position.

Miraculously, Simo was not wounded or killed. He made it without a scratch. On another occasion, an artillery shell landed near his firing position and tore apart the back of his greatcoat. Simo survived this with only a minor scratch to his back and some understandable shaking. The enemy fire never achieved what was expected as Russian forward observers were simply unable to hit Simo with heavy concentrations of indirect fire throughout the war. As Simo would confirm, the Russians put a lot of effort into trying to kill him: Soon heavy artillery started sending their roaming regards. There was this forward observer and his crew nearby, and once I knocked out their sniper, they sent a swarm of shells in my direction from a rapid-firing cannon shooting direct fire. About fifty shells landed around my foxhole but in vain.

Many  of them threw clouds of sand into my face, but nothing worse than that. Lieutenant Juutilainen sent a man to tell me to get out of there. “They’ll kill you there,” he said. Well, getting out of the foxhole was not really in my mind—so intense was the enemy fire. Lieutenant Juutilainen was not the only man to understand Simo’s importance as a critical member of the Finnish war effort. He was often used on special missions and in those combat situations when ultimate precision was needed on the battlefield. At times, he was even personally summoned by car or horse-drawn sleigh to other sectors of his battalion to undertake specific tasks as a sniper. Once they told me from the HQ to go to the 5th company section to destroy the forward observer site where an artillery spotting periscope was sighted. T here was another forward observer who was preparing fire for effect.

I only got two or three shots at the forward observer’s periscope before the Russians started to shoot at us with heavy artillery fire. Shrapnel, tree branches and ash were flying all over the place, but miraculously we survived. However, it resulted in our aborting the mission and the spotting periscope was not destroyed that time. Simo, however, never left his mission until it was accomplished and continued the story: “Later that day I returned to the scene, this time from a different angle. This time

I got my shots out as the artillery f ire was hitting further away and the periscope was destroyed.” Again, Simo did what he felt had to be done, using all of his skills as a soldier to fulfill the commander’s orders to the best of his ability. T his episode, however, does not end quite yet. As Simo continued his account, he remarked how the Russians were extremely angry about losing their valuable periscope. He remarked: Russian artillery fire intensified all the time and now it was targeted against the accommodation bunkers of the 5th Company. There was a direct hit on one of the bunkers, but the men inside survived with minor scratches from f lying pieces of logs. We estimated that although I had destroyed the forward observer and the seven-man team around it, there would be a replacement. And so it happened. Well, we repeated our performance and the new spotting scope was destroyed as well, although this one was a mono-scope instead the stereo-scope that we had destroyed the day before.

War booty Serving as a sniper was not Simo’s only duty. He also participated in a number of well-executed Finnish counterattacks, which were typical on the Kollaa Front, made necessary by Russian penetrations. In Simo’s words, On December 4, 1939 we disengaged from the battle because of the pressure of the enemy force, withdrew to Kollaa and started fortifying our trenches and preparing firing positions. We expected to be able to get some rest as we were quite exhausted after several days of heavy fighting. Our lull did not last long before the fighting started again. As far as I was concerned, it continued in that same region until the early days of March. By mid-December, the Russians had resumed their usual attacks, and after a while we started counterattacks on our behalf. The Russians were taken by surprise as they sat around four large campfires, and we crawled very close before opening fire. The resulting battle scattered the Russians in complete disarray and we captured plenty of booty from this trip. Among the items we captured were machine guns, submachine guns and four antitank guns.

T his incident proved how careless the Russians were behind their own lines, while these brave attacks by Finnish soldiers often culminated in the seizure of considerable quantities of Russian weapons and other prized items that the Finns lacked. Throughout the Winter War, there was a constant shortage of combat material for Finnish troops; one major reason being that only a short time before the war began, Finland’s Prime Minister Aimo Cajander repeatedly had voted against funding for the military. When the war broke out, many soldiers were given only a cockade and a rifle; and it was not uncommon for Finish soldiers to be seen wearing mixed military and civilian attire, an outfit nicknamed “Model Cajander.”


Despite such disadvantages, the resolute Finns learned to adapt. In Simo’s case, he developed many standard routines that contributed to his success on various missions. As he would recall: Of course I had to participate in many other attacks and recon patrols with my men, but one was like another, so it is pointless to comment on them all. Precision shooting [sniper activities] either alone or with a comrade was also the everyday duty and we got some remarkable results. We observed the enemy activity during the day and tried to figure out where we would find the most target-rich environment. When darkness came, I prepared myself a good firing position. I even packed the snow on the ground in a manner that it would not give me away by dusting from the muzzle blast. From a position like that, it was easy to shoot and I was happy with the results. Combat comrade: Corporal Malmi It seemed to me that Simo often did his sniper’s work alone; though when he did have a spotter, he most often selected the same soldier. I tried for years to find out details about Simo’s sniper practices, in particular the name of this comrade, who worked alongside with him as his spotter. Simo, however, wanted to protect this soldier’s privacy, even decades after the war. After repeatedly asking about the topic, I finally got my answer in 2001 at the War Veterans’ Institute in the city of Hamina. Simo’s trusted comrade was Corporal Malmi.

Unfortunately, I have no further information about this man, and I doubt that he is still alive. On the videotape I made of this interview, Simo mentioned working with Corporal Malmi only two or three weeks before the end of the war. Here is one story Simo told about his co-operation with Corporal Malmi: In early February (1940), Corporal Malmi and I spotted a new area of enemy accommodation bunkers. The two of us set out to an observation post to learn what was going on there. We moved silently through the forest and got within 150 meters of the enemy bunkers, which were located between the front lines. We spent the whole day in our position and killed 19 Russians.

T hey never learned where we were and dared not to send a patrol out under those circumstances. Simo’s success resulted in the Russians paying more attention to applying better cover and protection to their positions to avoid unnecessary losses. It also forced them to alter their tactics, at least at the company and platoon level. For example, they began to use more soldiers to protect their troops and conduct surveillance missions. And as Simo would attest, “after that night, the Russians built walls of snow to cover the bunkers and trenches connecting them.”

Simo often departed his lines in the early dawn to undertake his sniper duties and would not return until late in the evening. When he did return, his accommodation was normally the tent of his commanding officer, the “Horror of Morocco” Lieutenant Juutilainen. Regardless of who Simo was billeted with, there was always someone appointed to ask him after he returned how many kills he had achieved. Personally, Simo never cared about his count and disdained the public attention gained by the numbers he is credited with. Never in our many interviews together would he ever tell me the exact number of enemies he killed, although I tried to ask that question many times over the years in various ways. On December 21, 1939, Simo shot what would prove to be his highest daily tally of kills on record—25 confirmed kills.

Prior to this, his record was 23 Russians killed in one day. By the time he achieved this amazing score, Simo was already credited with having killed more than 100 Russians. This record had been long awaited for in Simo’s 6th Company, and now it was reality, it was looked upon by his fellow soldiers almost like a Christmas gift. Incredibly, over a three-day period, he amassed a total of 51 confirmed kills. Considering, however, that only one third of Simo’s kills were actually confirmed, his accomplishments are even more astounding. Simo recalled the Christmas of 1939, stating, “the Russians did not give us peace even during the Christmas, but God was close to us. We sang psalms, had a Christmas tree and received many gifts from home.”

During the night, Simo would often visit his favorite firing positions, making whatever preparations and improvements he felt necessary. He often observed the enemy from his side angle position and his accurate fire from this location in Petäjälampi (about 5 kilometers north-west from Kollaa), would take the Russians by surprise—many for the last time. When Simo approached 200 confirmed kills, he started to receive other awards than just praise and admiration from his commanding officer. An unnamed individual from his home town region contributed several fine pocket watches that were given out only to the most distinguished combatants—Simo Häyhä being one of them. Some time later, he even received a wrapped gift from his commanding general on the Kollaa Front. Inside were a pair of nice warm gloves, most likely knitted by the general’s wife herself. In December, the advance of Soviet troops came to a standstill as a result of numerous Finnish defensive victories.

The most notable ones were in Taipale on December 6–7, again in Tolvajärvi, December 12–14, and then in Suomussalmi, December 26–30, 1939. The Kollaa Front would go down in the Finnish history of the Winter War as never having been broken. Time after time, the much smaller Finnish forces threw the Russians back with stubborn determination and unheralded bravery. War of maneuver deep in the forest T he Finnish “forest warrior” who fought on the Kollaa Front attained a legendary reputation among the Finnish people.

They spoke about this region with reverence, as one would of an individual hero, and with good reason. The Russians concentrated the majority of their manpower, material and firepower resources on the Karelian Isthmus, and were opposed by two-thirds of the Finnish army. In such a confined region, there was not much room for tactical maneuvering on the isthmus. The situation was considerably different in the deep forests where there was ample space for movement. In this area, Finland’s skillful mobile ski troops operated with virtual impunity and inflicted considerable damage on the Russians. The rural Finns were literally “at home” in such surroundings, and used their inherent knowledge of the terrain to gain favorable results.

Here, they had the initiative. For the Russians, however, Finland’s sparse road network severely limited their options for advance. Particularly affected were the Russian support troops, whose reliance on heavy equipment tied them to the main roads. In the forest frontier, the Finns expertly utilized the two basic elements of the battlefield: fire and mobility. As they were familiar with the terrain, Finnish military planners were comfortable making tactical and operational maneuvers in the deep forests of Kollaa. The limited resources that were available to the Finnish forces could be easily enough moved through the forests into selected areas; even to the extent that Finnish soldiers gained brief spells of momentary “local superiority” in terms of troop strength over their Russian opponent.

T he Kollaa Frontier was shaped by a series of successful encircling actions by the more mobile Finnish troops. Thus quick strikes, followed by carefully planned withdrawals, followed one after another. Along the main roads, the Russians may have had superiority in manpower and material. But on the flanks, the Finns held the upper hand in mobile warfare, employing recon patrols with considerable effectiveness to locate tactical weaknesses among the various Russian units.

Thereby the tactical situation, the number of ongoing operations and their limited resources often influenced how, when and where the Finns would fight. On the other hand, at the furthermost point along the Uomaa road, Finnish troops were forced to stay put to keep the Russians encircled. T he only thing certain in war is its uncertainty, and the Winter War was no different. And in this respect, the Finns were absolute masters of the uncertain as they repeatedly conducted surprise attacks at the unsuspecting Russian troops.

After the first week of probing attacks, the Russians attacked in various fronts with much stronger forces than the Finns expected, with massed armor deployed as spearheads. At first, the impact on the more lightly armed Finnish forces was catastrophic, causing occasional panic among their troops. The Finnish forces, however, quickly recovered from their initial shock and began to reorganize their defenses. As a result, the Russians were unable to advance toward Loimola according to their original plan and their rate of advance soon significantly slowed. By the second week of the war, the Finnish defenders had reorganized their defenses in such an efficient manner that they began to inflict considerable losses on the enemy. During the third week of the war, the Russians launched an entire division into an attack across a front of approximately 10 kilometers in an attempt to break through the stubborn Finnish defensive lines.

By  December 18, however, their attack began to slow significantly, and soon they were unable to move forward any more. Rather than resulting in the expected success, the Russians suffered heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Finnish defenders regained their self-confidence, learned the enemy’s weaknesses and successfully increased their counterattacks, which gave them more time to strengthen their defenses. The Russians concluded that a breakthrough was not possible with the available forces, and urgently sought more reinforcements which they believed would give them success in the battle.

T he success on the Kollaa Front was achieved at the very last moment and to the Finnish commanders, it seemed as if the line would hold. As a result, the Finnish IV Corps went on the offensive and initiated an attack on their southern flank with the goal of cutting the Russian supply lines. The Kollaa Front had to be held with the smallest force possible in order that the attack to succeed. As many in the Finnish High Command believed they would not have another opportunity, they maintained the initiative from the week before Christmas until mid-January. While the IV Corps spearhead advanced all the way to the shores of Lake Laatokka, the four Finnish battalions at Kollaa secured its extending left flank. The Kollaa Front extended all the way to Uomaa where a road passage from Käsnäselkä was blocked from the enemy.

The vast forest area in the middle of the front allowed Finnish commanders the room to maneuver and they took advantage of it, employing creative tactical thinking. In summary, the Kollaa Front extended from the forests of Ulismainen all the way to Uomaa, making it one large operational area that fell under the command and control of the Finnish 12th Division that was initially raised in Karelia. Along the Kollaa Front, Finnish troops were victorious, even though they were significantly fewer in number. The main reason for this was their skillful use of mobile warfare which constantly disrupted Russian plans, forcing them to protect their flanks and maintaining an ever-constant alert for Finnish counterattacks. The Finns were slowly decimating the Russians who, without reinforcements, would not have been able to continue the battle.

By the end of January 1940, however, the Russians had sent another division to Kollaa, and were therefore able to once again go on the offensive. Though both sides were reinforced, the Russians had far more troops at their disposal. Soon, they had four divisions in this theater, which gave them the opportunity to begin steamrolling again along the roads and widen their front. T hus, for the last month of the war, the Finnish defenders of the Kollaa Front and flanks were under a continuous series of Russian attacks. In a relatively short period of time, the battle was fought along a 20-kilometer front. Since the Russians had no shortage of supplies, and their forward based logistics were now able to resupply their frontline forces, it was inevitable that they would finally attempt to make a decisive breakthrough.

T he honorary rifle For his accomplishments on the battlefield, Simo Häyhä was awarded a custom-built precision rifle made by the prominent Finnish rifle manufacturer, Sako. The rifle was contributed by Mr. Eugen Johansson, a Swedish businessman and a great friend of Finland. The rifle was intended to be awarded to the “most distinguished shooter of the corps.” Pastor Rantamaa, who suggested awarding the rifle to Simo Häyhä during a discussion he had with Simo’s divisional commander, Colonel A. Svensson, recalled the matter in his book, From Parliament to Kollaa: I had a certain suggestion which I wanted to present.

There was a really nice honorary rifle sent from Sweden to be awarded for the most distinguished shooter of the corps and the decision was made rightly to grant it to Simo Häyhä. I suggested that Häyhä would be invited here to the HQ from his company, and that the Colonel himself would present the award for the Boy. The Colonel, a flexible man, immediately understood the great value added for the award and agreed right away. He told me to invite Häyhä right away to the HQ, and the presentation of the award would be done in the morning. Modest and silent, Simuna, Simegg, then arrived to stay overnight at Military Chaplains’ and the Commandant’s joint office, and was given a real bed for the night. The Boy soon fell asleep indoors for the f irst time in a long time.

Pastor Rantamaa continued his story on what exactly took place on Saturday, February 17, 1940: I and Häyhä went to have a meal at the depot established at wailer Matjoi Plattonen’s house. At 11:20 was the actual awarding of the prized rifle. By March 7, a total of 259 confirmed enemy kills were made by Simo Häyhä’s trusty M/28-30 rifle with the serial number 60974. He is also credited with making an equal number of kills by using a light machine gun and submachine gun.

Here is the accompanying citation from Simo Häyhä’s award of the Honorary Rifle: T his honorary rifle from Sweden is thus granted to NCO Simo Häyhä in recognition of his great accomplishments as a shooter and combatant. His deeds—219 enemies shot with a rifle and the same number with a submachine gun shows what a determined Finnish man who fears nothing can do, has sharp eyes and whose hands do not shake. This honorary rifle should be considered equal to a medal given for equal accomplishments, and should be passed from father to son as a reminder for the yet unborn generations of the great deeds done by Simo Häyhä in the great war where the men of Finland bravely and with success fought for the freedom of their country, the future of their people and for the greater ideals of mankind.

At Kollaa Front: February 17, 1940 Division Commander, Colonel A. Svensson Simo Häyhä’s honorary rifle, together with his uniform and medals, are now preserved in the Heritage Room of the North Karelian Brigade, which preserves the memory of Infantry Regiment 34. Kollaa holds, Finland survives T he Winter War was not just an isolated war between Finland and Russia. Arguably, it should be regarded as one of the many violent chapters in the historical annals of World War II. It had great national, international and military importance; not just for Finland, but for the Soviet Union’s political and geographical assessment regarding Finland and other Scandinavian countries.

The presence and activity of the Red Army influenced other countries as well, even though Finland kept the Russians at bay. Had Finland failed, the consequences would have been felt across Scandinavia. From a strategic point of view, the Kollaa Front was not a secondary theater of the Winter War but one of the most vital ones. By enduring, the Finns contained the Russian onslaught and saved their nation from being conquered. Fighting a series of successful battles against unspeakable odds, the Finnish defenders had their hands full yet never concerned themselves with what took place on other fronts. They remained focused on their mission and in doing so, set a personal example of bravery that created a winning formula for countless other Finnish battles in the Lake Ladoga–Karelian region, in Finland’s defense in general, and in maintaining the independence of the nation. T he nature of the fighting became more mobile as the battles escalated, with reconnaissance and patrol activity over vast regions.

By the end of the war, the troops of Finnish 12th Division were defending a section 60 kilometers wide, fighting simultaneously in trench, reconnaissance and encirclement warfare. As one would expect, the tactical situation for the most part dictated the tactics deployed by the defenders. Relative strength did not favor the Finns and the struggle started to become intolerable. By then the odds were increasingly unfavorable for as the 12th Division was facing five enemy divisions. At least three of these divisions consisted of fresh forces and were at full strength for manpower and material. Each Russian division in Kollaa contained 12–15 battalions.

T he balance of power in Kollaa had become unfavorable and there was no way to change that fact by fighting alone. The enemy had five times the manpower and when it came to heavy weaponry, such as artillery, the situation was catastrophic. The enemy fired up to 35,000–40,000 artillery shells a day when the Finnish artillery could respond with a maximum of 1,000 shells a day. The enemy could destroy anything in their way by sheer artillery firepower. Under such a firestorm, digging in was useless, there was simply too much hot steel flying through the air. On the Kollaa Front the enemy attacked along the railroad and highway with the same ferocity as in the center of gravity in the Karelian Isthmus. They needed a breakthrough so they used a devastating artillery bombardment, similar to that employed against other key targets. It was a small miracle that the front was sustained under such a pressure.

When the enemy realized that a brute breakthrough was not possible along the highway and railroad, they spread out the front line to better utilize their superiority in numbers. The enemy was constantly seeking a weak spot in the defensive lines which resulted in everchanging mobile warfare where attacks and counterattacks followed each other in a continuous, hectic stream. The Finns compensated for their lack of men and material with their smarter tactics. This situation remained unchanged until the beginning of March. Outside the center of gravity, the Finns had room for encirclement operations: “motti” sieges. Many Russian units and their heavy equipment were surrounded and the captured weapons and equipment played a significant role for the Finns. On the southern flank of the Kollaa Front the battle developed into encirclements of Uomaa and Siira roads.

They were not easy battles and they required lengthy and consuming preparations. The Russians were to be allowed to advance to a certain area and then the Finns would envelop them. Maintaining the “siege” was very exhausting for the men; they had to keep the encircled enemy under pressure while at the same time prevent them from being resupplied or relieved from outside. Sometimes the encircled enemy forces tried to break out, which also required rapid reaction. In Kollaa the enemy was supposed to be kept far enough east in the direction of Käsnäselkä road. This would protect the right f lank and the heavy fighting of the neighboring division along the Pitkäranta–Impilahti road and in the region of Kitelä. The significant feature of these battles was the neutralization of strong Russian units by encirclement.

The attacks launched by the Soviets to relieve the encircled were conducted in divisional strength but were still successfully countered. Controlling the forest area between main battlegrounds tied up Finnish forces but luckily the encircled Russians soon ran out of determination for effective fighting. Towards the end of the war the materially superior enemy started to succeed in the focal areas of battle and in the center of gravity. The artillery superiority of the enemy was simply overwhelming. Armored spearheads struck deep into areas already devastated by artillery, clearing the way for the infantry following them.

The enemy was not short of infantry, especially towards the end of the war. Fresh units were brought to battle in a continuous stream. The advance was possible with the help of tanks. The effect and power of such attacks was tremendous and towards the end of the war there was no way of stopping them. The enemy had finally taken the initiative and was able to exploit success to gain more benefit in oncoming attacks. In Kollaa, the survival of the defenders was possible only by protecting the flanks. Small forces of Finnish troops were sent to block the enemy from the flanks. Their success increased their self-confidence and made the impossible seem possible.

Divide and encircle Holding the Kollaa Front was essential for the entire defensive battle, and the corps responsible for this region was a key element in the Finnish order of battle. The Russians attempted to make their decisive breakthrough on the Karelian Isthmus; and in order to speed up their goal, they tried to attack to the rear of the Finnish defenders on the isthmus by attacking around Lake Ladoga from the north.

T hat was the Kollaa Front. For the Finns, it was essential to keep the attacking Russian forces separated. One road was only large enough to enable a unit of a certain size to pass and the capacity of the road literally dictated the volume the Finnish defenders had to face. The Russian Army was unable to utilize the terrain to obtain their goal. T his helped Finns defend their country. Another goal was to keep the enemy along the Loimola road as far east as possible, thus enabling the Finnish defenders to concentrate their forces on where the enemy was found to be weakest: the flanks of the main Russian force, and in the north their supply lines towards Lake Ladoga.

The enemy movement had to be stopped east of Loimola and this goal was achieved with a few battalions positioned far enough east. This enabled the Finns to deploy the essential forces of the corps for a decisive counteroffensive. T he idea of encirclement was to totally isolate an enemy unit from the rest of the force. It was easier to destroy a surrounded enemy, or force it to surrender. When troops were encircled, the only way the enemy could possibly help was via the air. The Soviet Union did have air superiority and sometimes it tried to resupply its troops by air. This never had any influence on the end result of the battle; the enemy was either destroyed or forced to surrender to the surrounding Finnish forces. T he enemy was encircled in Kitelä and elsewhere.

The Kollaa Front had to be reinforced as the enemy attempted to attack in that direction to help its forces that were in a compromised situation in the south. The Kollaa Front acted as a roadblock; it protected the Battle Group Talvela, which had relatively small forces but because Kollaa acted as a buffer, it could hold the enemy all the way back in Aittojoki, and could send some of its scarce resources to assist other commanders in need. T he success of the battle in Kollaa provided relief further north as well, for Finnish troops on the Kuhmo and Salla fronts.

As the Soviet Union had failed in its initial attack, it had to use the roads in the Aunus region to their full capacity, meaning that they had to give up any plans for expanded attacks there and could not proceed with the overall strategy to cut Finland in two halves down the middle. Its goal to isolate Finland from Sweden also never materialized. T he Kollaa Front held—it had to hold. If it had fallen, the whole Finnish Army would have been in a catastrophic situation. The single division, the 12th Division, tied down five enemy divisions in the battle. As the Soviet troops could not break through, they could not inflict the damage intended in the Soviet attach plan.

They were literally kept out of the way. In the Winter War, the Russians concentrated approximately 50  divisions against Finland, one tenth of them in the vicinity of Kollaa. The fact that Kollaa held, however, against such odds ensured that some relief for Finnish forces was provided in areas such as the Ladoga-Karelia region, as well as for the entire Finnish Army Group located on the isthmus. The battles in Kollaa also provided Finland with the time necessary to initiate an honorable political resolution to end the war, which finally came on March 13, 1940.

T he battles on the Kollaa Front were characterized by a distinctive feature; that of creating a universal team spirit among the Finnish soldiers who fought there. This spirit gave them the strength to overcome adversity and encouraged them to perform far above and beyond the call of duty, far beyond the efforts normally expected from an average soldier. They were imbued with an extraordinary sense of camaraderie that time and again pulled them through conditions often described as inhuman. For example, taking their wounded to safety, regardless of the risk involved, was always a top priority among the Finns who fought at Kollaa. Nobody was ever left behind; an unmistakable reflection of the Finnish courage and determination at Kollaa. The principle was same in all wars and theaters.

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