Jim W
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This excerpt is taken from
The Winter War by Eloise Engle / Lauri Paananen Chpt. 5

Lieutenant General Hugo Viktor Osterman, commander of the Finnish army at the Karelian Isthmus...

...Osterman began receiving reports on how the tanks were operating and usually they indicated that the Russians weren't too sure of what to do with their fine equipment. Sometimes the tanks came in pairs, the medium-heavy leading the light; later they came in groups of three to ten with the first opening the road while the second tried to keep the defenders down. They fought in open fields, close to the roadside, and sometimes they moved along the front, stopping periodically to fire towards the line. Before snow began hampering their movements, they could travel up to 18 miles per hour but later, in five to eighteen inches of snow, they were slowed down to 5 miles per hour. Oddly enough, they seldom tried to get to the defenders' line but preferred to move about just in front of them. When the infantry faltered and showed lack of interest in attack, the tanks circled around and brought them back under their protective wings.

As the shock of the initial Russian attack wore off, Finnish border troops began to show their mettle. Noting that the Russians shunned the darkness, the Finns sent nightly patrols through the woods to attack the enemy campsites. Osterman's border troops fired their field artillery on a straight trajectory to destroy the oncoming panzers while ski troopers hit the infantry from the sides and Finnish sharpshooters picked off the tightly clustered Red soldiers gby the hundreds. Within 5 days, Osterman noted, his troops had destroyed 80 tanks on the Karelian Isthmus; a pretty good score had the enemy been anything less than the USSR. More had to be done, and General Osterman informed Mannerheim's headquarters accordingly. Russian panzers, the kings of the battlefield, had to be stopped. Ditches, mined roadsides, and boulder barricades were not enough. The finns would have to think of something else.

First, the engineers (Pioneer battalions) came up with the idea of mines made of pieces of steel pipes. The fuse was ignited by touching a trip-wire leading to the pipe, which exploded about three feet above ground. Frontline troops could make these mines by filling the pipes with a mixture they called klorihartsi, chloride resin.

Then Colonel Arvo Saloranta invented a wooden-box mine which was nonmagnetic and nearly impossible to detect. The Russians were soon forced to detail their men, armed with spikes, to clear the fields and roads before the tanks entered the area.

But there was more, much more, as Mannerheim's headquarters ordered the formation of special anti-panzer units at every company, battalion, regimental, and division level. The Molotov cocktail was born as the State Liquor Board Alkohooliliike, went to war. Forty-thousand bottles, the regular fifths, were provided, which were filled with the "mixed drink" of crude kerosene, tar and gasoline. In the early part of the war soldiers wrapped a gasoline-soaked rag around the bottle's neck before igniting and throwing it. Later, ignition was provided by an ampule containing sulphuric acid attached to the mouth of the bottle.

Although the gasoline-filled bottle had been used in previous wars, it was the Finnish Winter War Soldiers who named it the Molotov cocktail. During that time the Finnish army used some 70,000 of them, including 20,000 made at the front lines. It was a horrible fate for the Russian tank crews when the Finns ignited their bottles and threw them, aiming at the air intakes or opened hatches. For the Finn guerrillas it meant a casualty rate of 60 to 70 percent. Their only thought was to sell their skins at the highest possible price and to survive as long as they could.

The grim drama of man against tank was seen all along the frozen frontier. It began with the report that the panzers were coming and the anti-panzer men scrambling to their previously dug holes along each side of the road. These holes were carefully camouflaged with branches of spruce or other evergreens and plenty of snow because the Russian in the turret would be keeping a wary eye for foul play.

Before long General Osterman could report that Russian panzers were no longer crashing through unopposed. As anti-panzer units harassed the tanks along the roadsides, other Finnish units doubled in brass to fight the death boxes. Cooks, quartermasters, engineers, and riflemen soon discovered that they could shove a log or a crowbar into the threads of the advancing tank, derailing it so that it was useless. When the tank crews emerged to make their repairs, they were met by Finnish machine gunners.

Panzer crews trying to move across frozen lakes quickly learned that, before the hard frost, their adversaries had set rows of mines just below the water's surface, with pull ropes attached at each end. These watertight mines, partially filled with explosives, had enough air left in them so they hugged the bottom of the ice when the lake became fast frozen. Buoyant metal containers also kept the mines high enough to do the job. The mines were exploded when the tanks were either right above them or just past, so there was no chance for retreat.

The Russians also ran into anti-tank barriers in the ice itself where the Finns had sawed out openings. In areas where they could not keep the "water ditches" open because of the extreme cold, they laid wide strips of cellophane over the snow-covered lakes, hoping to mislead Russian reconnaissance planes into thinking the lake had been opened and that tanks could not cross. They put up make believe tank fortifications made out of cardboard and even positioned men and horses fashioned from straw so that bombers would waste their ammunition on the fake Finnish "concentrations." There seemed to be no end to the Finns' bag of tricks, but every trick required an individual man of extraordinary courage and even as headquarters officers nodded approvingly at the surprising effectiveness of the crude and unconventional methods of fighting they paid their respects to the lone soldier in the field
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