The Buzz

This Battle in the Winter War Had Far Reaching Consequences for Russia—and Beyond

The southern pincer did not do too well, either. ErP-112 attacked at 8 am backed by heavy machine guns and four or five artillery pieces. The men crossed the frozen lake, clambered up the island, and reached some rocky islets near the Kivisalmi Bridge, but their support, the 9th Company of JR-16, never showed up. Their regimental headquarters never gave the company commander a jump-off time, so by the time he was told to advance it was long past the designated hour. He had to wait for further instructions.

The third thrust, in the center, was assigned to 2nd/JR-16. Pajari did not want to send his men against fortified positions over open ground without artillery support, and the guns did not get into position until two hours after they were supposed to. When the Finnish shells came crashing down, there were so few that Pajari cursed himself for waiting in the first place.

Pajari gave the word, and Lieutenant Isotalo led his 2nd Company of JR-16 across the straits on the lake’s southern side with machine guns providing cover fire. Suffering only light casualties, 2nd Company moved across. However, 6th Company came under Soviet artillery and light automatic weapons fire, which tied them down. Soon the 4th, 5th, and 6th Companies, all intermingled, were pinned down as well.

Yet the Finns continued to attack. Backed by their machine guns, the ski-suited Finns silenced Soviet troops in their foxholes and gun pits and began engaging the Soviet heavy machine guns.

Incredibly, the Finns fought their way forward to the tourist hotel. Soviet troops in the fortified hotel opened up with gunfire from windows and loopholes cut into its thick log walls. Finnish officers showed considerable initiative, grouping and regrouping miscellaneous troops into combat teams to fight for the village and hotel. Officers and NCOs took casualties. Lieutenant Isotalo was shot in the hand, paused to get it bandaged, and then went forward to lead his men again.

The hardest fighting took place in a line of gravel pits about 200 yards west of the hotel and its hill. The road was narrow, the terrain jagged, and the Finns had to advance in single file. Pajari had his 37mm Bofors guns sited just in case—and soon enough three Soviet tanks trundled up the road to counterattack. The Bofors guns opened fire, and the three tanks were destroyed.

Pajari decided that there was still just enough of a fight on his northern flank to divert the enemy and enable him to reinforce the men in the gravel pits across the frozen lake. He ordered 3rd Company of ErP-10 to do so, and the 2nd Company of ErP-10 to attack straight across Lake Myllyjärvi into the base of the Hirvasharju Peninsula’s wishbone shape to put pressure on the hotel from the northwest.

The attack resumed at 1:30 pm. Finnish troops, refreshed by food and cigarettes, charged up a 60-foot hill against the chalet-style hotel and its log and granite walls. Soviet troops in the building and rifle pits in front of it blazed away with machine guns, rifles, and grenades. If the Finns had been supported by artillery, they could have easily taken the hotel, but instead the struggle came down to a battle of infantrymen.

The battle raged back and forth for an hour, hand to hand at some places. Finnish troops hurled grenades through hotel windows and shoved bayonets into Soviet bodies. Soviet troops counterattacked. One Finnish company commander was killed, another gravely wounded.

The scale was tipped when the 2nd Company of ErP-10 arrived, bringing the hotel under fire from the north, weakening the Soviets. Some Finns were able to sneak around to the building’s southern side and snipe at its windows, which made the Soviets realize they were close to being surrounded.

Some of the defenders began to withdraw to the Kivisalmi Bridge, and the Finns, sensing victory, launched a charge into the hotel, hurling dozens of grenades through the ground floor windows, silencing all resistance on that floor.

However, there were still Soviets on the upper floor, and they maintained a heavy fire. As long as they held the hotel, the Finns could not advance. Lieutenant Siukosaari, commanding 6th Company, figured that the best way to eliminate the problem was to pour gasoline into the building, set it ablaze, and shoot any Soviets who tried to flee. A major standing nearby overruled that thought and ordered a more conventional assault. The decision may have been due to squeamishness or because the hotel was a prominent source of local pride.

Either way, Siukosaari led the attack by example, brandishing his Lahti pistol. He ran smack into a Russian officer armed with his own pistol at the doorway leading to the hotel kitchen. Both men opened fire three feet apart, but Siukosaari’s shot hit first, killing the Soviet. Siukosaari’s men charged over the dead Russian into the hotel.

The Finns then had an easier time, hurling grenades into the upper level and then rushing up the stairway. They found 28 Soviet soldiers still alive, most of them wounded and ready to surrender, along with the corpse of the commander of the 609th Soviet Infantry Regiment and the usual regimental papers, all valuable for intelligence. Of greater value to Siukosaari and his crew were the 18 usable automatic weapons and ammunition—they doubled his platoon’s firepower.

Buoyed by the victory, Pajari threw in the last card in his deck, Bicycle Battalion PPP-7, which mopped up as far as Kivisalmi Bridge. Pajari had won the southern part of his battle.

At Ilomantsi, the uneven struggle went on all day. The double pincers at Möhkö did not accomplish much, but near Kallioniemi the Finns knocked out four more tanks.