attack, summer 1944
In the defensive battles of summer 1944 the Finns managed to stop the massive Red Army attack. The Soviets had the initiative at first and forced the Finns to retreat, in haste in places, but were not able to crush the Finnish Army. Despite the early difficulties the Finns could for the most part maintain combat readiness and pull back to new defensive lines in the rear in an orderly fashion. The Red Army failed to fully achieve their objectives with Finland. By fighting successfully the Finns avoided occupation and maintained independence – Stalin had to drop his demand for unconditional surrender. Hence the Finns have called this a “defensive victory” (torjuntavoitto).
Towards the end of 1943 the Soviets planned their actions for 1944. The First Strategic Offensive would start in January and take place in the Leningrad area with troops from the Leningrad Front and Volkhov (Olhava) Front. The Second Strategic Offensive would take place in the West Ukraine with the 1st and 2nd Ukranian Fronts. In the Third Strategic Offensive the 3rd and 4th Ukranian Front troops would attack in the south. The target for the Fourth Strategic Offensive would be Finland.
The Soviet objective in the massive summer offensive of 1944 was to destroy the Finnish Army, penetrate deep into Finnish territory, and force Finland into capitulation. Territory-wise the first target was to reach the Saimaa waters with the troops attacking on Karelian isthmus, and the Sortavala – Ilomantsi level north of Lake Laatokka i.e. roughly the 1940 Moscow treaty borders. Then the Leningrad Front troops would continue to River Kymijoki and eventually to Helsinki.
The Soviet plan for the offensive on Finland. First the Leningrad Front troops would attack on Karelian
ishtmus (1.). After they take Viipuri, the Karelian Front attacks both from River Syväri and Maaselkä
isthmus (2.). Then the Leningrad Front troops advance to the Saimaa waters and River Kymijoki (3.).
When the Germans start sending help to the south, the attack begins in the north (4.). Then the Leningrad
Front troops continue to Helsinki. Phases 3., 4. and 5. were not started. Source: Alanen - Moisala,
"Kun hyökkääjän tie suljettiin".
The majority of the 450,000 troops (41 divisions), 1,000 tanks, over 1,000 airplanes and 11,500 artillery pieces the Soviets allocated for the operation belonged to the Leningrad Front attacking on Karelian isthmus. Their first task was to penetrate the Finnish defenses, annihilate the Finnish troops on the isthmus, and capture Viipuri. Their objectives after this were already beyond the post-Winter War borders. The Karelian Front would operate north of Lake Laatokka and their attack was to begin around 10 days after the Leningrad Front had started, both from Aunus (River Syväri) and the Maaselkä isthmus. Their objective was to shatter the Finnish forces and advance in the first phase to the Sortavala – Ilomantsi level.
Karelian isthmus the
two Army Corps, the 3rd and the 4th, altogether
about 90,000 men. The Aunus Group was at River Syväri (Svir) between
the lakes Laatokka and Ääninen
(Onega) and also had the strength of around 90,000 men. Between Lake
Ääninen and Lake Seesjärvi,
on the Maaselkä isthmus, the 2nd Army Corps had 45,000
troops. The 14th
Division was alone at Rukajärvi and in the rear of the German
operational area in the
Finns had one unit, the 3rd Brigade.
was a surprise to the Finnish and German High Command. At least they
did not expect it in June, although men at the front may have felt it
was due. They had been seeing and hearing signs of it and had reported
these but they were not listened to.
Front started heavy artillery fire followed by the first,
type attacks in the morning of June 9, 1944. Already then they were
able to capture
from the Finns in the front line near the Gulf of Finland. The main
offensive started next morning, on June 10,
with an unforeseen
artillery barrage and led into immediate success
– the front line
defenses were knocked out at Valkeasaari
and the defending troops there
left in chaos. The artillery barrage had lasted for over two hours and
3,000 guns and mortars taken part in it. In the pressure point, where
the 30th Guards Army Corps was to lead the attack, the
Soviets had more than 200 artillery pieces per front line kilometer.
Four days later, June 14, the second
defensive line, the VT Line (Vammelsuu – Taipale) was penetrated
Kuuterselkä. The Finnish Jaeger Brigade attempted to recover the VT
Line but it was not possible. Soviet troops got through the rupture to
the rear of the Finnish Cavalry Regiment fighting in the
Vammelsuu - Ino area. The next day, June 15, Marshal Mannerheim decided
on withdrawal to
third defensive line, the VKT Line (Viipuri – Kuparsaari – Taipale). On
the VT Line to the east of Kuuterselkä, in Siiranmäki,
Division troops fought against three Soviet divisions concentrated in a
small area. The battles here started on June 13
and for four days the
Finns kept their positions, until the events in Kuuterselkä and
Mannerheim's decision forced them to leave the VT Line. The troops
detached at night between June 16 - 17 and started withdrawal
the VKT Line at Äyräpää - Vuosalmi.
The remains of a Finnish bunker from 1944 on the coast of the Gulf of Finland near Ino,
behind the VT Line.
offensive had started, the Finns began to move troops from East Karelia
to Karelian isthmus. Four divisions (4th, 6th,
and 17th) and one brigade (20th) were transferred
Aunus, and the 3rd Brigade from the north, raising the
troops on Karelian isthmus from 90,000 to 155,000 by the end of June.
Line broke the Finns decided to give up East Karelia. On June 16
ordered the 2nd
Army Corps and Aunus Group to start withdrawal to Laatokka-Karelia,
were eventually moved to Karelian isthmus.
Division stayed in the same positions at Rukajärvi until the end of the
war. The Soviets did not start any major offensives against the German
troops up in the north during the summer offensive against the Finns.
The battles in the third defensive line, VKT Line, started badly for the Finns: Viipuri was lost on June 20 almost without battle. Part of the troops of the 20th Brigade, which had just arrived from East Karelia, panicked and fled from their positions. The defenses of the city collapsed. After the loss of Viipuri the Finnish government approached the Soviet Union to inquire about conditions for peace. At this point the Soviets were doing well militarily and the reply was that Moscow would be ready to receive Finland’s delegation for unconditional surrender. Stalin probably felt the Finns would soon be crushed by his troops. The Finns on the other hand knew what surrendering to the Soviets would mean. They could not accept the brutal occupation that would inevitably follow. If the requirement was unconditional surrender there was no basis for discussion. The Finns did not reply to what they saw as an ultimatum. They decided to continue fighting and instead asked Germany for help – they were going to fight for their survival and did not have many choices. Joachim von Ribbentrop arrived in Helsinki on June 23 to discuss their conditions for increased support. President Ryti agreed to send a personal letter to Hitler asserting that Finland would continue to fight against the Soviet Union and no government nominated by him would sue for peace. The Germans gave, or continued to give aid in the way of weapons and also brought the 122nd Division and a 303rd Assault Gun Brigade (Stu-40) from Estonia to fight on Karelian isthmus. Perhaps the most significant impact came from Air Unit Kuhlmey which practically doubled the Finnish air power and achieved good results with their Ju-87 Stukas.
For two weeks following the loss of Viipuri the Soviets tried to push trough the VKT Line. It bent but did not break. The Leningrad Front troops started to meet increasing resistance by the Finns and their losses started to mount. They never reached the 1940 Winter War border.
Soviets apparently thought that after Viipuri the Finns would retreat
to the Salpa line and set their next offensive target there. The troops
were to reach the Virojoki - Lappeenranta - Imatra level by June 26.
The strong resistance immediately after Viipuri surprised them. Between
– 24 all Soviet attacks were repelled at Tienhaara and in the area
north-east of Viipuri. A second
wave of attacks started on June 25 and the Leningrad Front troops
achieved a breakthrough in
but the Finnish 4th Army Corps caused them heavy casualties
retreating towards Ihantala. The Finns made numerous counterattacks and
the battles raged continuously. By the time the front was in Ihantala
the Soviets were
and unable to start new major offensives, although intense fighting
continued. At the beginning of July their advance had been stopped in
area. The Soviets decided to try
more by attacking in the flanks. The 5th Army Corps
the German 122nd Division stopped their attempts to
Bay on the west shore in early July, and at
the 2nd Division (now in the 3rd Army Corps) supported by
Lagus and his tanks - the Panzer Division - had also stopped the enemy
advance by mid-July.
The troops dug in for defense everywhere on
Karelian isthmus by mid-July. Soon after the Soviets started to move
troops to the south, to fight the Germans in Estonia.
Map of the Tali-Ihantala area. Tali in the lower right-hand corner, Ihantala up in the center. Portinhoikka road crossing to the left.
Viipuri is to the south-west. One side of a square is about 2 km.
The road from Tali towards the Portinhoikka road crossing, near Ihantala. From here the Soviets started their attack on June 25.
The day Viipuri was lost the 2nd Army Corps and Aunus Group troops started their retreat towards Laatokka-Karelia. On June 21 the Karelian Front troops started their attack both on Maaselkä isthmus and at River Syväri. The Aunus Group fought delaying until they reached the U Line around Loimola – Koirinoja in Laatokka-Karelia on July 10 and here they stopped. The battle for the U Line raged until the end of July but the Soviets could not achieve a breakthrough. The most intense fighting took place in the area around Lake Nietjärvi near Pitkäranta. The last battle of the Continuation War was fought around Ilomantsi, where the Finnish Group R (Raappana) isolated and surrounded two enemy divisions just east of the 1940 border. The divisions abandoned their heavy equipment and fled, after which the Finns dug in. The battle ended before mid-August.
Remains of the U Line at Nietjärvi, Laatokka-Karelia.
new war in
the trenches then ensued, lasting until the armistice in the beginning
September. President Ryti had resigned to make way for peace, Marshal
Mannerheim was made the President on August 4 and discussions on peace
were reopened. Stalin was now ready to talk without demanding
capitulation. Now the 1940 borders and a breach with Germany would
suffice as the basis for negotiation. Mannerheim suggested an armistice
even before the negotiations and Stalin agreed. The Finns started the
cease-fire on September 4, the Soviets
later. The interim peace agreement was signed in Moscow on
September 19. The
war against the Finns had become too costly for Stalin who needed the
elsewhere, to fight the Germans. He could not fully achieve his
the amount of troops he could afford to spend against the Finns and in
had to do it, so he had to drop the request for unconditional
surrender. The Finnish Army moved behind the new borders intact.
Finland saved herself from occupation and the fate suffered by
overrun by the Red
As a condition for the armistice the Soviets demanded that Finland breaks her ties with Germany and requests the German troops to leave in a given time – or drives them away by force. For some of the Finnish troops there was a new war waiting – the war in Lapland against their ex-brothers-in-arms, the Germans.