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84 Years Since the Defeat of Soviet Troops at Suomussalmi (Finland)



The Battle of Raate Road, concluded on January 7, 1940, marked the end of one of the bloodiest operations in the Soviet-Finnish War.. It ended with a complete rout of Soviet forces - the 44th Rifle Division of the Red Army commanded by General Vinogradov was defeated. On November 30, 1939, the division, advancing from the area near the town of Ukhta, crossed the border between the USSR and Finland and moved southwest towards Suomussalmi. The objective of the offensive was to divide Finland into two parts by advancing Soviet troops towards the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia and the Swedish border, with the prospect of further invasion into Swedish territory. The only opposition to the 44th Division was the 15th Border Battalion. Faced with an obvious disparity in forces, the Finns had to rely largely on the training of their fighters and local militia.

 

By redeploying reinforcements from other sections of the front, the Finns, on December 11, blocked the Raate Road, connecting the 44th Division to its rear. On December 13, the Finns also blocked the northern route for supplying reinforcements to the Soviet forces. On December 20, Vinogradov requested permission from the headquarters to retreat to the Soviet border but was refused. By the end of December, the 44th Division was encircled and then defeated.Tired from the long march and lacking winter gear, parts of the division engaged in battle directly from the march, mostly battalion by battalion. Erecting a barrier in the path of the 44th Division's movement, Colonel Siilasvuo, in the early days of January, launched several flank attacks on the stretched-out Soviet units along the Raate Road. All communications were severed. The division was cut off from ammunition, fuel, and provisions, unable to evacuate the wounded. Small Finnish ski reconnaissance units constantly inflicted troubling blows. Suddenly appearing on the flanks and in the rear of Soviet units, they opened dense fire and then swiftly disappeared. At night, Finnish skiers, among them local hunters, silently eliminated Soviet soldiers and officers without firing a shot—only using cold weapons. Snipers supported this work. Not only units but also headquarters were falling victim to these strikes. This caused chaos, disrupted communication, disorganized command, and led to losses in the units. Snipers supported the work of these units. Concentrated on a small area, troops and equipment became excellent targets for Finnish artillery. Attempts at breakthroughs made on January 2-4 were unsuccessful.

 

Finnish militia used to crucify communist prisoners and commissars upside down on trees. This horrific sight induced panic among the invaders.


The Finnish forces, divided into 4 units, launched the decisive attack at 8:30 on January 5th. The "Mandelin" and "Mykiniemi" units attacked the encircled Soviet troops at Haukila, where the main part of the 44th Rifle Division was concentrated. During the battles on the 5th and 6th, the Soviet division was split into parts; tank counterattacks on Finnish block posts failed. Most Soviet soldiers soon froze to death. According to interrogations of prisoners (there were 1300 of them), the 44th Rifle Division consisted of 17,000 individuals. Finnish research indicates 7,000-9,000 casualties among the servicemen of that division. Finnish losses in this operation were reported as follows: 310 killed, 92 missing, and 618 wounded. Soviet material losses amounted to around 5,000 rifles, 100 heavy and 250 light machine guns, 260 trucks, as well as other weapons and equipment.

 

By the end of the operation, realizing that the frostbitten and starving Soviet soldiers were no longer able to fight, the Finns shifted from exterminating the invaders to rescuing the survivors. Local militia members lifted them on their arms and sledges, taking them to their homes where they warmed them up and provided them with food and drink. During captivity until the end of the war, the Soviets saved by the Finns were utilized for labor in households. It can't be said that they were particularly well-fed (Finnish peasants themselves faced shortages in those days), but a glass of milk, a slice of bread, a cup of coffee, and a couple of cigarettes a day were guaranteed, and on holidays, they were even offered some vodka...


After the Winter War, there were hardly any mentions in Soviet historiography regarding the fate of survivors and casualties. In 1991, Sergeant Pyotr Morozov of the division mentioned in an interview with a Finnish author that Soviet soldiers who had been taken prisoner and returned to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940 were executed by court order... Presumably, these returnees from captivity were hurriedly shot to prevent them from sharing their experiences back home. As for the division's commander, Brigadier General Vinogradov, the chief of staff Colonel Volkov, and the political commissar of the division, Commissar Pakhomov, who left the division at the crucial moment of the battle, they were sentenced by a military tribunal of the 9th Army on January 11, 1940, and executed by firing squad.

 

Years later, monuments were erected on the battlefield in honor of the fallen Soviet and Finnish soldiers...

 

Recalling how the USSR did not spare its soldiers then, it's not surprising how the current Russian Federation doesn't spare its own soldiers either. Although... who are considered "their own" over there?

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