This was a Soviet strategic offensive 1, known to the Finns as the 'Karelian Offensive', by the Leningrad Front and Karelian Front against Finland on the Karelian Isthmus and East Karelia fronts of the 'Jatkosota' continuation war in which the Soviet forces captured the eastern part of the Karelian isthmus and Vyborg as well as Ladoga Karelia and Olonets Karelia (10 June/9 August 1944).
In January 1944 the Soviet forces had raised the siege of Leningrad in 'Iskra' and driven Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord' back to the line linking Narva in the north visa Lake Ilmen in the centre to Pskov in the south. Finland had asked the USSR for peace terms in February, but the Finnish parliament considered the terms it received as being impossible of fulfilment. After Finland had rejected the peace conditions, and Germany had checked the Soviet forces from reaching the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland at Narva, the Stavka had begun to plan an offensive to force Finland’s exit from the war or even, perhaps, to conquer Finland.
In order to destroy the Finnish army and to drive Finland out of the war, the Stavka schemed the 'Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation', which was to be based on a two-prong offensive, one from Leningrad along the Karelian isthmus via Vyborg (Finnish Viipuri) to the Kymi river, and the other farther to the north between Lakes Ladoga and Onega across the Svir river through Petrozavodsk and Sortavala past the 1940 border in preparation for an advance deep into Finland. The plan called for the Finnish army to be destroyed on the Karelian isthmus, and its remnants to be pinned against the western shore of Lake Ladoga between the two assaults and Lake Saimaa, and there annihilated.
The Soviets' primary strategic objectives were therefore to push the Finnish forces away from the north-western approaches to Leningrad, to drive Finland out of the war, and to create better operational conditions for a major offensive in the south against Germany.
The Finnish army had been preparing defensive fortifications since 1940, and three lines of defences across the Karelian isthmus. The first two were the 'Main Line' along the front line of 1941 with Kenraalimajuri Hjalmar Siilasvuo’s III Corps on the left and Kenraaliluutnantti Taavetti Laatikainen’s IV Corps on the right, and the 'VT-Linie' between Vammelsuu on the north coast of the Gulf of Finland and Taipale on the western shore of Lake Ladoga, and thus some 12.5 miles (20 km) behind the 'Main Line'. These two lines were reinforced with numerous concrete fortifications, but the work of their construction was still incomplete. Held on the left by Kenraalimajuri Antero Svensson’s V Corps, the third line was the 'VKT-Linie' linking Viipuri on the Gulf of Finland, Kuparsaari on the south-western bank of the Vuoksi river and lake complex, and Taipale in the north on the western shore of Lake Ladoga, but this was still in the planning stage and work on the construction of the fortifications began only in late May 1944 along the Viipuri sector of the line. On the northern bank of the Svir (Finnish Syväri) river between Lakes Ladoga and Onega, the Finnish army had prepared a defence in depth area which was fortified with strongpoints with concrete pillboxes, barbed wire, obstacles and trenches. After the 'Talvisota' winter war, the 'Salpa-Linie' had been constructed behind the 1940 border, and incorporated concrete bunkers in front of the Kymi river.
To overcome these obstacles, the Stavka assigned 11 divisions and nine tank and assault gun regiments to General (from 18 June Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza) Leonid A. Govorov’s Leningrad Front. That meant that there were 19 divisions, two divisional-strength fortified regions, two tank brigades, 14 tank and assault gun regiments at the south-eastern end of the Karelian isthmus with 220 batteries of artillery and multiple rocket launchers (almost 3,000 guns and launchers). About 1,500 warplanes of General Polkovnik Stepan D. Rybalchenko’s 13th Air Army and the air arm of Vitse-admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet. The latter also contributed warships and naval infantry units.
To the east of Karelia, the Stavka planned to add nine divisions, two combat engineer brigades, two tank brigades and three assault gun regiments to General Kirill A. Meretskov’s Karelia Front, raising its strength to 16 divisions, two fortified regions, five separate infantry brigades, two tank brigades, three assault gun regiments and three tank battalions. These land forces were supported by Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega Naval Flotillas and the warplanes of General Leytenant Ivan M. Sokolov’s 7th Air Army.
On the Karelian isthmus front the Soviets amassed an average of 120 pieces of artillery on every kilometre (193 pieces per mile), with as many as 220 pieces per kilometre (354 pieces per mile) on the breakthrough sector at Valkeasaari. In addition to heavy the coastal artillery of the Leningrad area and the guns of the Baltic Fleet’s major warships (old battleship Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya and modern heavy cruisers Kirov and Maksim Gorkiy), the Stavka had also assigned heavy siege artillery in calibres between 280 and 305 mm (11 and 12 in) to support of the offensive.
On 9 June, a day before the launch of the Soviet main offensive, most of the 13th Air Army’s 1,600 warplanes undertook a major aerial assault. At the same time, artillery units of the Leningrad Front and ships of the Baltic Fleet shelled Finnish positions for 10 hours. Though it was ensconced in well-fortified positions, the Finnish army was taken by surprise and morally undermined to the extent that many Finnish units retreated and lost thousands of men to desertion.
On 10 June, on the right wing of the Leningrad Front’s sector, General Leytenant (from 18 June General Polkovnik) Dmitri N. Gusev’s 21st Army, spearheaded by General Leytenant Nikolai P. Simoniak’s XXX Guards Corps, opened the offensive on the Valkeasaari sector, which was defended by 1st Regiment of Eversti Jussi Sihvo’s (from 17 June Eversti Kai Savonjousi’s) 10th Division. During the day, the Soviet attackers took the front-line trenches and destroyed fortifications, shattering the Finns' first defence line in this key breakthrough sector. On 13 June, the 21st Army’s offensive reached the partially completed 'VT-Linie', which had been breached at Kuuterselkä by 15 June. Despite the fact that their line had been broken, the Finns defended stubbornly and managed to delay further Soviet advances.
At this same time General Leytenant Aleksandr I. Cherepanov’s 23rd Army attempted to break through at a perceived weak point in the 'VT-Linie' at Siiranmäki. This was the first place at which Finnish troops were able to use Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck anti-tank weapons imported from Germany, and although the Finns managed to contain the Soviet breakthrough at Siiranmäki, this was not enough to preserve the 'VT-Linie' as the Kuuterselkä sector had already been breached. General Major Piotr K. Korotnikov’s LXXXXVIII Corps, fighting in the Siiranmäki area against the Finnish 7th Regiment, admitted that between 13 and 16 June it had suffered 3,784 casualties including 887 men killed in action.
The Finnish army attempted to buy time with delaying actions as it retreated so that additional forces from East Karelia would have the time to reach the front and the 'VKT-Linie' could be prepared for combat. On 19 June, however, forces of the Leningrad Front had reached Vyborg, and the first phase of the Soviet offensive was completed by the capture of this city on 20 June, when the defenders of Eversti Armas Kemppi’s (from 22 June Eversti Yrjö Soraing’s) Finnish 20th Brigade were routed in panic. The 20th Brigade had been redeployed to defend the city, but had been inadequately supplied and lacked effective anti-tank weapons as it had neither 75-mm (2.95-in) PaK 40 anti-tank guns nor any training in the use of the few available Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck anti-tank weapons. The 20th Brigade was therefore not prepared to cope with a Soviet armoured assault, led by the CVIII Corps' 90th Division supported by 260th Separate Heavy Breakthrough Tank Regiment and 1238th Self-Propelled Gun Regiment, and its resistance crumbled swiftly, the brigade’s men fleeing either in panic or under supposed orders to withdraw.
Although the Leningrad Front had managed to capture Vyborg within the schedule set by the Stavka, it had nonetheless been unable to prevent retreating Finnish units from regrouping on the 'VKT-Linie' and improving its defences.
Suomen marsalkka Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the Finnish commander-in-chief, had meanwhile requested German assistance, and on 17 June the warplanes of Oberstleutnant Kurt Kuhlmey’s Gefechtsverband 'Kuhlmey' arrived in Finland, followed on 21 June by the armoured vehicles of Hauptmann Hans Wilhelm Cardeneo’s 303rd Sturmgeschützbrigade (at half strength) and also by Generalmajor Hero Breusing’s 122nd Division. The Germans also supplied new Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck anti-tank weapons for issue to Finnish troops.
On 21 June the Stavka ordered continued attacks on the defences of the sector between Imatra and Virojoki via Lappeenranta on the 'Salpa-Linie'. Another group of forces was also to attack to the north in the direction of Käkisalmi (Russian Priozersk) and surround the Finns defending the eastern part of the 'VKT-Linie' while preparations were completed for an advance toward Kotka, Kouvola and the Kymi river.
On the same day the Finnish government asked for Soviet peace terms. Delivered on the following day, the response demanded a Finnish capitulation before any conditions could be presented. This created confusion in the Finnish government, where some senior politicians, including President Risto Ryti and Foreign Minister Väinö Tanner, were willing to repeat the inquiry about conditions and others remained opposed to capitulation. During the meeting Mannerheim was called, and stated that the Soviet demand constituted an unconditional surrender. When it was recalled that the negotiation journey undertaken by Juho Paasikivi, the minister without portfolio, to Moscow in March 1944 at the instigation of the Soviet ambassador in Stockholm was merely a pretext for the Soviets to attempt to dictate terms, the Finnish government decided to interpret the Soviet response as a demand for unconditional surrender. It seemed that after the Finns' refusal to accept the Soviet proposals in April 1944 as they included impossibly severe reparation demands, Finland was to be offered only unconditional surrender.
By this time, with reinforcements, there were some 268,000 Finnish troops with 2,350 pieces of artillery, 110 tanks and assault guns, and 250 warplanes facing the two Soviet front groupings: 40% of the men and guns, and all of the armour were on the Karelian isthmus. The Soviets thus had advantages of 1.7/1 in men, 5.2/1 in artillery, 6 or 7/1 in warplanes and armour over the Finns, who could muster 14 infantry divisions (at 12,000 men each), one armoured division (at 9,200 men), five independent infantry regiments (at 5,100 men each), one cavalry regiment (at 4,300), seven independent border Jäger battalions, coastal defence forces, and headquarters and corps artillery units. Fewer than 40 of the Finnish tanks and assault guns were modern (German StuG III assault guns and captured Soviet T-34 medium and KV-1heavy tanks ) and fewer than 100 aircraft (German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers). In real terms therefore, the Soviet matériel advantage in armour and aircraft was about 20/1 in the middle of June.
The Soviet offensive continued on 25 June, when the Soviet forces breached the 'VKT-Linie' at Tali between Vyborg Bay and the Vuoksi river. On 26 June Ryti guaranteed to Joachim Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, that Finland would fight to the end alongside Germany.
When it became evident that a breakthrough at Ihantala was not possible, the Leningrad Front attempted a double envelopment of the defenders with the twin assaults at Vyborg Bay and Vuosalmi. However, the Finnish army was able to hold its positions on these sectors of the front. On 12 July the Stavka ordered the Leningrad Front to release offensive elements from the Finnish front, and on 15 July the Soviet formations and units were ordered onto the defensive as offensive formations (mostly armoured) were transferred to the German front for use in the 'Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation' (otherwise 'Bagration').
The precise strength diverted from the Leningrad Front on the Karelian isthmus to other fronts is much disputed, for captured documents suggest that the strength of Soviet regiments and battalions, especially in the Ihantala and Äyräpää areas, suggested that the Soviets had suffered monumental losses. It had been estimated that 10 divisions each had fewer than 2,000 men, and the losses among the elite guards formations and units was especially heavy.
The Soviets attempted deep penetrations to the west after the Battle of Ihantala: in the Äyräpää sector until 18 July and in the Karelia Front’s area even into early August. Despite their losses, sometimes disguised as diversions to other parts of the Eastern Front, the Soviet offensives continued until very end despite the fact that there was no chance of securing any decisive and therefore final breakthrough.
After the Soviet offensive on the Karelian isthmus had driven to the north-west past Koivisto, the Finnish forces defending the islands in the Gulf of Finland became isolated. After its 21st Army had failed to attack the islands, the Leningrad Front passed to responsibility for taking the islands to the Baltic Fleet. The initial Soviet landing on 20 June was contained, but the strategic situation rendered senseless any Finnish attempt to hold the islands, and ships of the Finnish navy soon evacuated the defending forces in a movement which was largely unopposed and completed on 25 June. Although the readiness of Finnish commanders to evacuate the islands preserved the defending forces, the loss of the islands proved costly as the Baltic Fleet gained a safe route unto Vyborg Bay.
After capturing Vyborg, the leading elements of the 21st Army attempted to push forward along the main road leading to the north-west from Vyborg, and this led to the Battle of Tienhaara on 22 June. After the loss of Vyborg, the Finns next concentrated their defence in the Tienhaara (Russian Seleznevo) region, which offered good defensive options as a nearby waterway cut the already narrow battlefield into several islands.
Part of Eversti Viktor Sundman’s 17th Division, Everstiluutnantti Alpo Marttinen’s Jalkaväkirykmentti 61 (61st Infantry Regiment, consisting entirely of Swedish-Finns) arrived on the Karelian isthmus from the Svir river area immediately after the loss of Vyborg. On 22 June the regiment was deployed for the defence of Tienhaara, which is located on the coastal highway leading to the west from Vyborg on the coast of Kivisillansalmi, relieving exhausted troops. Having strong artillery support and the support of the warplanes of the Gefechtsverband 'Kuhlmey', the regiment was able to hold the Tienhaara region including the Kivisillansalmi against repeated attacks by two of the CVIII Corps' divisions with powerful artillery support.
After the Battle of Tienhaara, the Soviet forces attempted to push to the north-west but failed to break through the Finnish line. At this point Govorov decided that further attempts to cross the waterway would be too costly in men and time, and instead concentrated the bulk of his forces to the Juustila-Ihantala area in an effort to find a location in which to breach the 'VKT-Linie'.
The result was the Battle of Tali-Ihantala between 25 June and 9 July, which remains the largest single battle in the history of the Nordic countries. The battle was one of attrition rather than manoeuvre in which the Finns suffering proportionally heavy losses than the Soviets. Even so, it marked a notable point in the Soviet offensive when the Finnish forces first prevented the Soviets from making any significant gains, though the Finns had earlier checked the Soviet forces at Siiranmäki and Perkjärvi.
After the 'VT-Linie' had been breached at Sahakylä and Kuuterselkä on 14 June, and after a failed counterattack on Kuuterselkä by Kenraalimajuri Ernst Ruben Lagus’s Finnish Armoured Division, the Finns fell back to the 'VKT-Linie' in a week of retreat and delaying battles, and the Soviet offensive was crowned when the city of Vyborg fell on 20 June after only a short battle. Despite their success in smashing two Finnish defence lines and capturing a substantial area of territory in just 10 days, the Soviets had failed to destroy the Finnish army, which was able to concentrate its depleted forces on the 'VKT-Linie', which was reinforced from the other main front to the north of Lake Ladoga.
On 21 June the Stavka ordered the Leningrad Front to breach the 'VKT-Linie' defences and advance to Lake Saimaa, and at this time the forces available to the Finns were Kenraaliluutnantti Karl Lennart Oesch’s Isthmus Forces with Kenraaliluutnantti Taavetti Laatikainen’s IV Corps (Eversti Lauri Haanterä's 3rd Brigade, Kenraalimajuri Aaro Pajari’s 3rd Division, Kenraalimajuri Pietari Autti’s 4th Division, Kenraalimajuri Paavo Paalu’s [from 26 June Eversti Otto Snellman’s] 18th Division, from 27 June Kenraalimajuri Kaarlo Heiskanen’s 11th Division, and Kenraalimajuri Einar Vihma’s 6th Division), Lagus’s Armoured Division, and the warplanes of Everstiluutnantti E. Magnusson’s LeR 3 (33 Bf 109 and 18 Brewster B-239 Buffalo fighters and one Fokker C.X reconnaissance aeroplane) and Eversti O. Sarko’s Le R 4 (33 Bristol Blenheim, 12 Junkers Ju 88 and eight Dornier Do 17Z bombers). The Finnish forces totalled some 50,000 men.
The German contribution was the Gefechtsverband 'Kuhlmey' (23 increasing to 43 Focke-Wulf Fw-190A-6/F-8 fighter/ground-attack aircraft, 24 increasing to 30 Ju 87D dive-bombers and one increasing to eight Bf 109G-8 reconnaissance fighters), the 303rd Sturmgeschützbrigade (22 StuG III Ausf. G assault guns and nine StuH 42 assault howitzers).
The Soviet forces involved in the Battle of Tali-Ihantala were all elements of Govorov’s Leningrad Front: in the Tali-Ihantala region, Gusev’s 21st Army had the XXX Guards Corps and the LXXXXVII, CVIII, CIX and CX Corps with the 45th, 63rd and 64th Guards Divisions and the 46th, 72nd, 90th, 109th, 168th, 178th, 265th, 268th, 286th, 314th, 358th and 372nd Divisions. The Soviet forces totalled between 148,000 and 160,000 men.
The 21st Army did not commit all its strength simultaneously, instead keeping some formations and units in reserve to be committed only after the initially committed formations had spent their offensive capability and therefore required rest and refit. Also, at the beginning of the battle, some of the Soviet forces that later took part in the battle were deployed on nearby sections of the front: the three divisions of the CVIII Corps, for example, were deployed to Vyborg and the Vyborg Bay area.
Cherepanov’s 23rd Army attacked on the front immediately to the east of that on which the 21st Army was deployed, and its objective was Noskua. The 23rd Army deployed the VI Corps with the 13th, 177th and 382nd Divisions.
The Battle of Tali-Ihantala was fought in a small area of only 38.5 sq miles (100 km²) between the northern tip of Vyborg Bay and the Vuoksi river around the villages of Tali and Ihantala some 5 to 8.75 miles (8 to 14 km) to the north-east of Viborg.
The Soviet forces were concentrated in the area to the east of Vyborg, from where the attack started, through the southern village of Tali and north toward Ihantala (Russian Petrovka). This was the only exit terrain out of the Karelian isthmus suitable for armoured forces, and is 6.25 miles (10 km) wide, broken by small lakes and limited by the Saimaa canal to the west and the Vuoksi waterway complex to the east.
The first phase of the fighting in the area lasted from 20 to 24 June, and took the form of a defensive battle in which the Finnish 18th Division (6th and 48th Infantry Regiments and 28th Independent Battalion) and the 3rd Brigade (four battalions) and the Swedish 3/13th Regiment fought the LXXXXVII and CIX Corps and the 152nd Tank Brigade. The Finns were hard hit by the Soviet artillery and warplane attacks, but managed to put up a strong defence which checked the Soviet advance for a time long enough for Finnish reinforcements to arrive and join the battle.
Operations on 25 June started at 06.30 with a Soviet one-hour heavy artillery bombardment and air attack, followed by a major ground attack from Tali village at 07.30 with the object of reaching the line linking Imatra, Lappeenranta and Suurpäälä before 28 June. The XXX Guards Corps had now also joined the battle. The Soviets attempted to break through along each side of Lake Leitimojärvi, but the attack on the eastern side of the lake was stopped after 1.85 miles (3 km) by the 4th Division. On the lake’s western side, the infantry of the CIX Corps and 45th Guards Division became stuck in the defensive positions around the hills of Konkkalanvuoret defended by the 48th Infantry Regiment, but Soviet tanks of the 27th Tank Regiment were able to force their way through to the Portinhoikka crossroads.
The 178th Division also attacked, in this instance over the Saarela Strait defended by the 1/6th Infantry Regiment, and was driven back. The LXXXXVII Corps attacked the 3rd Brigade’s positions, but gained little ground. At this stage the situation was very critical for the Finns, whose units were at risk of being cut off and surrounded, and this would inevitably have led to the defeat of the IV Corps and the loss of the 'VKT-Linie'. However, the Finns were now able to create a counterattack, which helped to stabilise the situation, using the reserves of the 18th Division, parts of the 17th Division and a number of small battle groups of the 4th Division. Later in the afternoon of the same day, the Armoured Division joined the battle and managed to drive the Soviet forces on the western side of the Lake Leitimojärvi back to their starting point. The Finns destroyed the 27th Tank Regiment, and captured six of its tanks.
In the next stage of the battle, between 27 and 30 June, more Finnish units joined the battle, together with the 303rd Sturmgeschützbrigade. By this time, however, the Finnish units had become widely scattered and intermingled with each other, and this made the organisation of a concentrated defence difficult. The Finnish units were therefore reorganised into Eversti Sven Björkman’s Battle Group 'Björkman' and Eversti Albert Puroma’s Battle Group 'Puroma'. The Soviets also reinforced their forces with the CVIII Corps. At this stage, the Soviet forces included at least one armoured brigade, two armoured breakthrough regiments and four assault gun regiments.
The Finns attempted to regain the tactical initiative by attacking the 46th Guards, 63rd Guards, 64th Guards and 268th Divisions, together with the 30th Guards Tank Brigade, which had broken through to the east of Leitimojärvi, from three directions, in order to create a motti (pocket) containing the Soviet divisions. The two battle groups did manage to advance to a distance of less than 1,095 yards (1000 m) of each other, but were unable to complete the encirclement of the Soviet forces, which had established themselves in a hedgehog defensive position round Talinmylly.
The Finnish attack failed because of heavy Soviet resistance, especially by massed tanks and artillery, and because of a failure of the communications between several Finnish battalions in the course of the attack. Despite the fact that it failed to achieve all its objectives, the Finnish counterattack gave the Finnish defenders 72 hours of respite at the time that the fresh 6th Division and 11th Division reached the battlefield. There were several tank engagements during this stage of the fighting.
On 28 June there was considerable air activity on each side as Finnish level bombers and German dive-bombers pounded the Soviet formations. The Soviet air forces also took the offensive, hitting the headquarters staff of the Armoured Division hard in an attack by the bombers of the 276th Bomber Division. On the same day, Oesch gave the order for the Finns to withdraw to the line liking Vakkila, Ihantalajärvi, Kokkoselkä and Noskuanselkä, still within the 'VKT-Linie', but the withdrawal was overtaken by a fresh Soviet attack.
Thus 29 June was both the hardest and the worst day for the Finns during the whole battle, with defeat never far removed, but the Finns did finally manage to restore the line on the same day after very bloody fighting. On 30 June the Finnish forces fell back from Tali, and on the following two days, 1 and 2 July, there was very sanguinary fighting in which the Finns lost some 800 men on each day.
The ensuing Finnish concentration of artillery fire was the heaviest in the country’s military history and based on a celebrated fire-correction method devised by Tykistönkenraali Vilho Petter Nenonen, the Finnish army’s chief artillery officer, which enabled easy fire correction and quick changes of targets. On the critical Ihantala sector of the battle, the Finnish defenders managed to concentrate their fire to smash the advancing Soviet spearhead using Nenonen’s fire-control system, which made it possible for as many as 21 batteries, totalling about 250 guns, to fire at the same target simultaneously: the fire controller did not need to be aware of the location of individual batteries to guide their fire, which made quick fire concentration and target switching possible.
By this time the Finnish army had concentrated half its artillery strength in the area, along with the Armoured Division and the 303rd Sturmgeschützbrigade both equipped largely with StuG III assault guns. Moreover, the defenders now finally had available to them useful numbers of the new German anti-tank weapons which had been kept in store up to this time.
On 2 July the Finns intercepted a radio message which revealed that the 63rd Division and 30th Tank Brigade were preparing to launch an attack at 04.00 on 3 July. The following morning, two minutes before the start of the Soviet attack, 40 Finnish and 40 German bombers attacked the Soviet concentration, and 250 guns fired a total of 4,000 rounds into the area of the Soviet concentration. From 06.00 on the same day 200 Soviet warplanes and the Soviet infantry attacked, but the Finns had restored their lines by 19.00.
On July 6 the Soviet forces gained some success despite the fact that the 6th Division could call on 18 artillery battalions and one heavy battery to support it. The Soviets were thrown back the following day, however, and their counterattacks at 13.30 and 19.00 on that day were unsuccessful. By 7 July the focus of the Soviet attacks had started to shift to the area of the Vuoksi river front, and the Soviets now began transferring their best troops to the Narva front in Estonia to fight the Germans and Estonians. From 9 July the Soviet troops no longer attempted a breakthrough, but there was nevertheless some fighting until, on the following day, the Soviet forces were ordered to cease offensive operations and go over to the defensive as the Stavka redeployed forces to the Baltic fronts, where the Soviet forces were meeting 'fierce German and Baltic resistance'.
The Finns estimated that the Soviets lost about 300 tanks in the Battle of Tali-Ihantala, mainly to air attacks and close defence weapons, and between 120 and 280 Soviet aircraft were shot down.
The Finns reported that 8,561 of their men had become casualties (about 1,100 men killed, 6,300 men wounded or about 1,100 men missing) in the battle. The Soviets reported their losses as about 18,000 to 22,000 men killed or wounded in the 21st Army. The uncertainty about casualties rises from the fact that 25% of the 21st Army’s strength was not involved in the battle. In addition to the losses of the 21st Army, the VI Corps of the 23rd Army, which attacked to the east of the 21st Army closer to the Vuoksi waterway complex, suffered 7,905 casualties, of which 1,458 were killed in action and 288 missing in action. There are no reports of the losses suffered supporting formations.
Despite heavy fighting and use of fresh reserves, the Soviets had failed to break through the 'VKT-Linie' defences, which were bent but not broken, and this compelled the Leningrad Front to seek alternate routes past the Finnish defences. The Leningrad Front followed roughly the same plan as in the 'Talvisota' winter war and thus made plans for a crossing of Vyborg Bay.
The task was assigned to General Leytenant Ivan T. Korovnikov’s 59th Army, to which General Major Anatoli I. Andreyev’s XLIII Corps was subordinated. The infantry formations involved in the offensive were the 124th and 224th Divisions, with the 80th Division in reserve, and only a small quantity of armour was assigned to support the offensive. Several artillery regiments were assigned to the offensive, which also had air support from the Baltic Fleet’s light naval forces and air arm, as well as the 260th Naval Infantry Regiment.
Initially the Finnish forces responsible for the defence were the 22nd Coastal Artillery Regiment of Eversti Pekka Enkainen’s Eastern Bay of Finland Coastal Brigade under Kontra-amiraali Eero Akseli Rahola, the commander-in-chief of the Finnish Navy, and parts of Eversti Urho Tähtinen’s Cavalry Brigade under Svensson’s V Corps. Both the 22nd Coastal Artillery Regiment and Breusing’s newly arrived German 122nd Division were subsequently subordinated to the V Corps. A large portion of the Finnish navy supported the defensive operations.
The islands in Vyborg Bay were initially in a fairly strong position, with the Finnish garrison on the Koivisto islands preventing the Soviet naval forces from gaining access to the bay. The Baltic Fleet landed a small assault force on the islands, but the Finnish garrison managed to keep their beach-head contained. Even so, Finnish headquarters decided it would be impossible to keep the troops in the islands supplied in the face of overwhelming Soviet air supremacy, and organised an unopposed withdrawal of the Finnish forces from the islands. This opened the route for the Baltic Fleet to enter the bay without opposition.
The fighting in Viborg Bay started on 30 June as the 224th Division attempted to take Teikari and Melansaari islands. The small Finnish forces on the islands drove the attacks back, inflicting heavy losses on the Soviet troops in the process. Renewed Soviet attacks on 4 July met success in the islands near Uuras, but the attempt to land on Teikari island was again repulsed with heavy Soviet losses.
On 4 and 5 July the Finnish navy, supported by several German Artilleriefährprahm gun-armed ferries, made several raids on Viborg Bay in an attempt to disrupt the Soviet landings on the islands. Strong resistance by Soviet shore artillery, numerous motor torpedo boats and warplanes forced the Finns to withdraw without reaching the intended target area. Although none of the Finnish ships was sunk, most of them suffered casualties among their crews and were badly also damaged, requiring immediate repairs. This situation effectively forced the Finnish naval forces to withdraw from the battle. Among the Finnish ships, the worst damage was suffered by the 303-ton auxiliary gunboat Viena during a Soviet air attack on her anchorage. The vessel came close to sinking but managed to return to Helsinki for repairs.
Part of the 124th Division captured Teikari and Melansaari islands on 5/6 July. Fighting on the other islands, closer to the north coast of the Gulf of Finland, continued until 8 July, when the 124th and 224th Divisions attempted landings on the northern shore of the bay, but were driven back by the 122nd Division. The 59th Army went over to the defensive after these attempts, and fighting in the bay ended.
In costly fighting, the 124th and 224th Divisions had managed to capture the islands dominating Vyborg Bay, but failed to gain a beach-head on the north coast of the bay. With both its initial attempt at Tali-Ihantala and the crossing at Vyborg Bay unsuccessful, the Leningrad Front turned its attention to the still undecided battles raging in the Äyräpää-Vuosalmi region.
The resulting Battle of Vuosalmi (Russian Druzhnoye), which is also known as the Battle of Äyräpää-Vuosalmi, lasted from 4 to 17 July and was a Soviet attempt to break through the Finnish positions at Vuosalmi and encircle the southern part of the Finnish forces in the Karelian isthmus. Before the start of the main battle, the 23rd Army’s elements in this area had made unsuccessful small-scale attacks against the Finnish defences in the Äyräpää area for almost two weeks, and the 23rd Army’s lack of success led to change of command on July 3, when General Leytenant Vasili I. Shvetsov replaced Cherepanov.
The Finnish defences in the Vuosalmi area initially comprised only Kenraalimajuri Armas-Eino Martola’s (from 6 July Kenraalimajuri Aarne Blick’s) 2nd Division, but this formation was later reinforced with Lagus’s Armoured Division once the Battle of Tali-Ihantala had started to subside. The Finns deployed a maximum of 30,000 men, 35 assault guns and 200 pieces of artillery.
Shvetsov’s 23rd Army was assigned the task of making a crossing of the Vuoksi waterway complex of rivers and lakes, and of effecting a breakthrough at Vuosalmi, and decided to employ General Major Georgi I. Anisomov’s LXXXXVIII Corps (92nd, 281st and 381st Divisions), which was later replaced by General Major Sergei B. Kozachek’s CXV Corps (10th, 92nd and 142nd Divisions). The Soviets deployed a maximum of 60,000 men, 150 armoured fighting vehicles and 300 pieces of artillery.
The Finnish positions were located on the Äyräpää ridge, with the wide Vuoksi river behind them. Though the position was very unfavourable, the Äyräpää ridge dominated the lower ground of the river’s northern bank, and it was for this reason that the Finnish defence had been placed on the ridge. The LXXXXVIII Corps started its main attack on 4 July, and heavy fighting for control of the ridge lasted to 9 July, when Finns finally withdrew to the northern bank. The CXV Corps then continued the attack and crossed the river on the same day. The CXV Corps quickly reinforced its bridgehead and by 11 July had all three of its divisions in the bridgehead. The Finns also received reinforcement, in form of the depleted Armoured Division straight from Ihantala, and on 11 July 11 each side attempted to attack at the same time, each checked when it ran into its opponent’s attack. Although the Soviets now had access to the open farm land on the northern side of the river, where their armour could be used more effectively, the Finns were able to stop all further Soviet advances. The Finnish counterattacks at Vuosalmi at this point were unsuccessful, and both sides were on defensive in this area from the middle of July.
In the Battle of Vuosalmi, the Finnish artillery fired more than 122,000 rounds in the Äyräpää and Vuosalmi area between 20 June and 17 July: this was almost exactly the same number of rounds as was fired in the almost exactly contemporaneous Battle of Tali-Ihantala, also on the narrow Karelian isthmus.
The battle cost the Finns 795 men killed, 4,976 men wounded and 354 men missing, as well as two assault guns, while the Soviets lost 3,050 men killed, 11,750 men wounded and 250 men missing, as well as 60 armoured fighting vehicles.
Govorov was highly critical of the commanders of the 23rd Army, LXXXXVIII Corps and CXV Corps, for the Battle of Vuosalmi had again yielded little on the way of concrete results despite the very heavy Soviet losses.
While the 'Vyborg Offensive Operation' part of the 'Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation' was fought within the narrow confines of the Karelian isthmus and the north-eastern coastal waters of the Gulf of Finland between 10 June and 15 July, and achieved negligible strategic results other than the exhaustion of the Finnish forces at great Soviet cost, the other half of the 'Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation' was the 'Svir–Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation' fought between 21 June and 9 August in the wider areas of, from south to north, Ladoga Karelia, Olonets Karelia and White Karelia between Lakes Ladoga and Onega, and in the narrow gap between the latter’s northern tip and Lake Segozero. In this sector the Soviets aimed to expel the Finnish forces which had occupied them since the middle of 1941, and at the same time to clear the length of the Murmansk railway between Maselskaya in the north via Petrozavodsk on the western side of Lake Onega to the line of the Svir river and thence Leningrad.
Under the command of Meretskov’s Karelia Front were two armies, namely General Leytenant Filipp D. Gorelenko’s 32nd Army on the narrow front between Lake Onega and Lake Segozero, and General Leytenant Aleksei N. Krutikov’s 7th Army on the wider front between the south-western corner of Lake Onega along the Svir river to the south-eastern corner of Lake Ladoga. The 32nd Army was opposed by Kenraalimajuri Einar Mäkinen’s Finnish II Corps, and the 7th Army by Kenraalimajuri Armas-Eino Martola’s Finnish VI Corps, both of Kenraaliluutnantti Paavo Talvela’s Aunuksen Ryhmä (Olonets Group), which was terminated on 18 July.
The 32nd Army began its offensive on 20 June, striking out to the south-west toward Ilomantsi in North Karelia, and the 7th Army followed on 21 June as its formations headed to the north in the direction of Petrozavodsk and to the north-west between Lakes Onega and Ladoga toward Olonets and Salmi.
In the latter area, the Aunuksen Ryhmä had been awaiting the expected Soviet offensive since 11/12 July in the prepared defences of the 'U-Linie'. The construction of the 'U-Linie' had been started some seven months earlier, and extended from Nietjärvi via Lemetti to Loimola as the fortified line behind the 'PSS-Linie' linking Pisi, Saarimäki and Sammatus, which was the most heavily fortified defence line in the Ladoga Karelia and Olonets Karelia regions to the north and north-east of Lake Ladoga.
Up to July 1944, the front line in the 'Jatkosota' continuation war followed the line of the Svir river, which flows from Lake Onega to Lake Ladoga. Before the start of the Soviet offensive, the Finns abandoned their bridgehead on the southern bank of the Svir river when the need to redeploy troops to the Karelian isthmus made it impractical to retain this bridgehead. Behind the front line there was a secondary defensive line in front of the strong 'PSS-Linie' designed to slow rather than halt any Soviet offensive.
In overall terms, the Karelia Front started its Olonets Karelia and White Karelia offensive on June 20. The weak Finnish forces located this this part of the theatre proved unable to stop the offensive, which reached Olonets on 25 June, and on 29 June took Petrozavodsk, one of the main goals of the operation. The long advances in the supposed pursuit of the Finns, which fought a number of individually small but cumulatively important delaying actions severely sapped the Soviet strength, and the main push of the 7th Army stopped at the 'U-Linie' defences. The 7th Army and the 32nd Army tried to pass round the left flank of this defensive line with attacks farther to the north, but failed to break through the Finns' defending formations and units in battles fought in the wilderness of several part of Karelia. The last attempt to resume the offensive was made farther to the north by two divisions of the 32nd Army, which were defeated by the Finnish counterattack in the Battle of Ilomantsi.
Before the start of the Soviet offensive across the line of the Svir river, the Finns had withdrawn most of their forces from the southern bank of the Svir river, so when the start of the Soviet offensive on 21 June did not achieve the desired degree of strategic and tactical surprise. The Karelian Front’s 7th Army (XXXVII Guards Corps, IC Corps and LXXXXIX Corps) crossed the river using amphibious vehicles on the following day and secured a bridgehead 10 miles (16 km) wide and 5 miles (8 km) deep. After securing their bridgehead, the Soviet forces continued to pursue the retreating Finns toward the defences of the 'PSS-Linie' extending inland from the north-eastern shore of Lake Ladoga.
On 23 June, the 70th Naval Infantry Brigade was delivered along Lake Ladoga in vessels of the Ladoga Flotilla in the 'Tuloksa Landing Operation' to land and seize a beach-head behind the Finnish lines and also beyond the 'PSS-Linie' between the Viteleenjoki and Tuuloksenjoki rivers, severing the main road and railway connections along the eastern side of Lake Ladoga. As the Finns had earlier moved most of their coastal defence capability to the Karelian isthmus, the Soviet landing met only a skeleton defence. Finnish attempts to counterattack and drive the 70th Naval Infantry Brigade back into Lake Ladoga proved unsuccessful, but had pressed the Soviet naval infantry force into a difficult situation as its ammunition and supplies started to run short. The situation in the Soviet beach-head was improved as the 3rd Naval Infantry Brigade started to land during the evening of 24 June, though adverse weather hampered the landing and the brigade was fully landed only on 26 June, and the landed forces made contact with the advancing 7th Army on the following day.
The landing caused the Finnish defenders of the area major problems as it had severed the railway line along the shore of Lake Ladoga. The simultaneous cutting of the road in the same area was of less significance as the Finns had already built a new and parallel road farther inland against just such a Soviet landing, but the heavy weight of the traffic of the withdrawing Finnish forces totally ruined the new road, and some equipment had therefore to be abandoned. Though the Finns were able to withdraw to new defences, the advancing Soviet formations and units broke through the part of new line at Vitele on 28 June, thereby forcing Finns to continue with their effort to check the Soviet advance for a time long enough to allow their main forces to fall back into the 'U-Linie' defences.
For slightly more than three weeks, the Finns managed to delay and discommode the Soviet offensive, tiring the Soviet forces and blunting the sharpest edges of the attack. The Finns halted their retreat on the 'U-Linie', and after coming up against these defences the Soviets began to make local probing attacks on the 'U-Linie' with the object of locating any weak spots as the sites for breakthrough attempts. As a result of these local efforts, the Soviets decided to make their main effort along the main lakeside road at Nietjärvi beside the lake of the same name, and then to advance in the direction of Kittilä. If they reached and took Kittilä, the Soviets know that they would then have access to one of the better-maintained parts of the Finnish road network as well as several roads into the Finnish rear areas and places such as Sortavala, Värtsilä and Matkaselkä.
At the break of day on 15 July, the disposition of Kenraalimajuri Kustaa Tapola’s Finnish 5th Division was as follows: Everstiluutnantti Ilmari Rytkönen’s 44th Regiment on the line between Lake Ladoga and Nietjärvi, and Eversti Heikki Saure’s 2nd Regiment farther to the north-east of Nietjärvi.
On the morning of 15 July 1944, Soviet artillery and mortars began a concentrated fire preparation, and the resulting clouds of dust, sand and smoke severely reduced local visibility, making it difficult to see anything as the Soviets followed the artillery preparation with an armour-supported infantry assault. By 12.00 the Finnish defence had been able to halt the Soviet attacks at all points except on the western side of Nietjärvi, where 1/44th Regiment and 3/44th Regiment found themselves unable to halt the Soviet attack. The Soviets followed their initial success with another breakthrough attempt, this time at Yrjölä on the north-western shore of Lake Nietjärvi. Lack of reserves made it difficult for the Finns to respond effectively to the Soviet attacks, but by the evening the Finns had succeeded in stopping the Soviet breakthrough attempt, with the sole exception of a 440-yard (400-m) section on which the Soviets had a tight grip. The Soviet offensive continued relentlessly, backed by heavy air support, right through the evening, but Finnish warplanes also played a part in the proceedings with bombing attacks on Soviet formations and units on the south-eastern edge of Lake Nietjärvi.
In the morning of the next day, the Finns counterattacked to regain the defence line, and there was continuous and heavy fighting right through the day. By the evening the Soviets still held part of the village of Nietjärvi and part of the defence line on a nearby low hill. As they felt that a frontal assault would be too costly, the Finns decided to cut off the Soviets by assaulting along the trenches as artillery fire was used to prevent Soviet reinforcements from reaching the area. At 22.30 on 16 July, the Finnish artillery and mortars began an artillery preparation, and this was immediately followed by an infantry assault, from each end of the Soviet-held trench lines, with automatic weapons, grenades and flamethrowers. In the early morning of 17 July, the Finnish units sweeping the trenches from each end met. Only a small number of the Soviet troops managed to escape. Other Soviet troops tried to support those fighting in the trenches, but Finnish artillery prevented reinforcements from reaching the area.
Thus the Soviets had been unable to penetrate the defence of the 5th Division in the 'U-Linie'. The heaviest losses were those of the 114th Division, and the 762nd Regiment was totally destroyed. The bulk of the other two of the 114th Division’s regiments was also destroyed. Additionally, the 272nd Division suffered heavy losses. The 40 to 50 Soviet tanks which had attacked in the direction of Nietjärvi were also lost. In overall terms, therefore, the breakthrough attempt had cost the Soviets some 6,200 casualties, of which some 2,200 were killed or missing. The Finnish losses were 500 men killed and 700 more wounded.
The efficient co-operation of the elements of the Finnish armed forces helped the Aunuksen Ryhmä to halt the Karelian Front’s advance along the shores of Lake Ladoga on the 'U-Linie'.
At the same time the 7th Army attempted to pass round the north-eastern end of the 'U-Linie', and this resulted in a number of smaller engagements in the frontier region to the north of Lake Ladoga. The Soviet move to extend the front to the north required Finns to extend their line as well, and this set the stage for the Battle of Ilomantsi. The overall effect of the successful Finnish defence of Ladoga Karelia had prevented the Soviets from advancing round the northern end of Lake Ladoga to debouch on the left rear flank of the Finnish forces facing the Soviet primary offensive in the Karelian isthmus. Had the Soviets not been halted in Ladoga Karelia, therefore, the Finnish forces fighting on the Karelian isthmus would have been caught between two Soviet armies on the narrow isthmus, in the area limited by the Gulf of Finland to the south and Lake Ladoga in the north, and another from Ladoga Karelia.
The other major engagement in the Karelian region was the Battle of Ilomantsi, fought between 26 July and 13 August 13, in an area approximately 25 miles (40 km) wide and 18.5 miles (30 km) deep near the Finnish/Soviet border, close to the small Finnish town of Ilomantsi in North Karelia. The battle ended with a Finnish victory as the last major Soviet attack on Finland was stopped.
The Finnish forces in the area before the battle comprised only Eversti Torvald Ekman’s 21st Brigade, but this was reinforced by Eversti Urho Tähtinen’s (from 7 August Eversti Bertel Ikonen’s) Cavalry Brigade and three battalions (the 3rd Border Jäger Battalion and the two battalions of the Osasto 'Partinen' [Detachment 'Partinen']). These forces were subordinated to a temporary formation, Kenraalimajuri Erkki Johannes Raapanna’s Ryhmä 'Raappana' (Raappana Group), whose task was the defeat of the Soviet advance and the recapture of the important crossroads at the village of Kuolismaa.
During the initial Soviet advance the only defenders of were the 7,000 or so men of the 21st Brigade, but as the front in the Karelian isthmus began to stabilised the Cavalry Brigade was rushed to Ilomantsi to reinforce the 21st Brigade, so raising the Finnish strength on 31 July, when the counterattack began, to about 13,000 men, soon increased to 14,500 men by the arrival of the three additional battalions.
The forces of Meretskov’s Karelia Front advancing toward Ilomantsi comprised two divisions of Gorelenko’s 32nd Army: these were Polkovnik Vasili I. Zolotarev’s 176th Division and General Major Nikolai A. Chernukha’s 289th Division. As the battle progressed and the advancing divisions were encircled, these two Soviet formations were reinforced by the 3rd, 69th and 70th Naval Infantry Brigades and other units.
At the beginning of the Karelian Front’s offensive on 21 June, the two Soviet divisions had a combined strength of some 16,000 men, but by the time the Finnish counterattack at Ilomantsi started on 31 July, their strength had dropped to 11,000 men. After the 3rd, 69th and 70th Naval Infantry Brigades had been brought up to support the encircled 176th and 289th Divisions, the combined Soviet infantry strength in Ilomantsi was slightly greater than 20,000 men.
The Soviet offensive initially appeared to be successful as on 21 July, the Soviet formations and units were able to reach the Finnish/Soviet border of 1940 for the only time during the entire Soviet offensive of 1944 and, in fact, since 1941. Finnish reinforcements arrived on 28 July, however, and on 31 July Raappana started his forces' counterattack and by the following day the Finns had cut the sole road supplying the 176th Division. By 3 August both Soviet divisions were encircled as the Finnish forces made use of their well-honed envelopment tactic to trap the Soviet formations in a motti even as men of the 4th Erillinen Pataljoona (4th Independent Battalion) disrupted the supply lines of the Soviet artillery, preventing effective fire support.
The Soviets deployed the three naval infantry brigades with armour support in their effort to reopen the road connection with the encircled divisions, but the Finns prevented the Soviet attempt. Renewed attacks then distracted the Finns sufficiently for the encircled Soviet forces to escape through the dense forests, though only by abandoning all their heavy weapons and equipment. Given the element of surprise and the Soviet forces' superiority in numbers, the Finnish troops holding the encircled divisions had little hope of containing organised break-outs, especially in the forests, so many of the encircled Soviet troops managed to escape, the last of them on 10 August.
From the start of this small but important campaign, the Utrio area played a central role in Raappana’s defensive plan. Well versed in the particular demands of forest warfare, fast-moving battalions of the Cavalry Brigade drove through this area between lakes as a wedge between the attacking 176th Division and 289th Division. The first Soviet attacks fell on the Finns' 6th Light Infantry Battalion. When it implemented the encirclements at Leminaho and round Lutikkavaara hill, the Uudenmaa Cavalry Regiment attacked through Utrio and along the Ruukinpohja river, with flanking support provided by the 1st Light Infantry Battalion.
The outcome of the Battle of Ilomantsi was that the two Soviet divisions were effectively decimated in this last major engagement on the Finnish front before the conclusion of the armistice at a time early in September 1944. The defeat cost the Soviets 1,500 men killed or missing, and 3,500 wounded, in the period between 1 and 11 August within total of 3,200 men killed, 1,400 men missing and 3,450 men wounded between 26 July and 13 August. The Soviets also abandoned more than 100 pieces of heavy artillery, about 100 mortars and all the rest of the two divisions' ordnance for seizure by the Finns.
The Finnish losses were 400 men killed and 1,300 men wounded in the Battle of Ilomantsi within the context of 2,500 men killed, wounded and missing between 24 July and 13 August.
The Battle of Ilomantsi was the ninth major Finnish defensive victory in a period of only a few weeks following the start of the main Soviet offensive on 20/21 June. Over a 10-day period the Ryhmä 'Raappana' had fired more than 36,000 artillery rounds, whereas the Soviet artillery involved in the Battle of Ilomantsi had been able to fire only 10,000 rounds during the same period. The main reason for this was the Finnish interdiction of the Soviet lines of supply by guerrilla tactics: in one instance, for example, a detachment commanded by led by Luutnantti Heikki Nykänen destroyed a Soviet convoy of 30 trucks carrying artillery ammunition to the area of the fighting.
The Finns had achieved victory, and in the aftermath the Stavka brought to Soviet brought its offensive to a halt and the Soviets gave up their demand for Finland’s unconditional surrender.
For the Soviets, the ‘Svir-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation’ entailed major losses. The Leningrad Front’s admitted casualties during the Vyborg offensive between 10 and 20 June were 6,018 men killed or missing, and 24,011 men wounded or taken sickWIA & sick, although post-war recalculation suggests that the losses were more likely in the region of 60,000 men killed, wounded and missing. The estimates for same front’s losses during the Virojoki-Lappeenranta offensive between 21 June and 15 July are 15,000 men killed or missing, and 53,000 men wounded or taken ill. Thus the total Soviet losses on the Karelian isthmus between 9 June and 18 July are in the order of 189,000 men killed, wounded, missing or take ill.
The Karelia Front’s admitted losses between 21 June and 9 August were 16,924 men killed or missing, and 46,679 men wounded or taken ill.
The losses of Baltic Fleet and the Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega Flotillas during this entire period were 732 men killed or missing, and 2,011 men wounded or taken ill.
The Finns suffered smaller but nonetheless significant losses. On the Karelian isthmus the losses were 9,300 men dead and 32,400 wounded between 9 June and 15 July, and on the Karelian front 3,600 men dead and 12,100 men wounded between 9 June and 15 July. Some 3,000 men were captured on all fronts. Thus in the period between 9 June and 15 July there were 12,932 men killed on all fronts, and between 16 July and 9 August 2,766 men killed on all fronts. The Finnish death totals for all fronts between 9 June and 9 August were 10,008 men killed in action, 2,870 men died later of their wounds, 2,802 men missing action and later confirmed deceased, 39 died in captivity, and 726 non-combat deaths.