Vyborg Bay Islands Landing Operation

The 'Vyborg Bay Islands Landing Operation' was a Soviet amphibious undertaking by the Baltic Fleet to take and hold the islands in bay of Viipuri (Vyborg in Russian) within the context of the 'Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation' (1/10 July 1944).

Despite the fact that Soviet history listed 20 June, the day on which Soviet forces seized Viipuri, as the end of the 'Vyborg Offensive Operation' within the 'Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive Operation', Soviet operations in the Viipuri region continued after this date. To support and assist the further offensive on the Finnish forces' right flank along the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland, Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Leonid A. Govorov, the commander of the Leningrad Front, assigned to Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet the task of supporting his own forces' coastal flank with the gunfire of the fleet’s larger warships, hitherto confined to the tightly confined waters at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. The fulfilment of this assignment demanded the capture from the Finns of Viipuri Bay’s islands: Teikarsaari (Igrivy in Russian), Swonionsaari (Krepysh) and Ravansaari (Maly Vysotsky), and then an amphibious landing on the western coast of Viipuri Bay.

Considering the importance of the islands for the defence of southern Finland, the Finns had readied the islands for a determined defence, and the Soviets possessed the following information about the defences in the area of ​​the islands: the coast of the gulf to the south of Nisalahti was occupied by the 2nd Rannikkopuolustusprikaati (coastal defence brigade); to the north-west of Nisalahti were elements of Kenraalimajuri Antero Svensson’s V Armeijakunta (army corps) including Eversti Urho Tähtinen’s reinforced 1st Ratsuväkiprikaati (1st Cavalry Brigade) on the islands, Eversti Viktor Sundman’s 17th Divisioona (17th Infantry Division) defending Cape Tienhara and Kivasillansalmi; and Eversti Lauri Haanterä's 3rd Prikaati (3rd Brigade) defended the land area from the Saimaa canal to the Ventelyanselka lake. In reserve Svensson had Eversti Kai Savonjousi’s 10th Divisioona (10th Infantry Division), which was located near Tienhaara, as well as Eversti Kaarlo Heiskanen’s 11th Divisioona (11th Infantry Division) and Eversti Yrjö Sora’s 20th Prikaati (20th Infantry Brigade), which were located in the Hovinmaa area and to the west of Juustila. In the same area was also the reserve of the Finnish army’s supreme command, namely Generalmajor Hero Breusing’s German 122nd Division, which had recently been transferred across the Gulf of Finland from Estonia as a matter of urgency.

The islands of Viipuri Bay were protected by a mass of infantry trenches and machine gun nests, covered by the fire of mortars and artillery on the islands themselves and also on the adjacent mainland. There were only a few barbed wire entanglements on the islands, but there were large numbers of explosive barriers: minefields had been laid in coastal area, and there were also barriers of sea mines in the waters off the islands, and these too were covered by direct infantry and artillery fire. The islands' garrisons were supported by the guns of the 31st Tykistön Akku (31st Artillery Battery) and the mortars of the 1st Ratsuväkiprikaati and the 2nd Rannikkopuolustusprikaati: in total, these were 130 pieces of artillery and mortars in calibres between 75 mm (2.95 in) and 220 mm (8.66 in).

After the loss of the Koivisto islands farther to the east, the Finns speeded their the pace of their strengthening of the Viipuri Bay islands and the installation of additional minefields. A significant number of German and Finnish ships and craft evacuated from the Koivisto islands and transferred from remote areas of the Gulf of Finland were concentrated along the coast, and the local air strength was increased.

Vitse Admiral Yuri F. Rall, the officer who had planned and executed the 'Koivisto Landing Operation', was given command of the 'Viipuri Bay Islands Landing Operation', which was controlled at the operational level by General Leytenant Ivan T. Korovnikov’s 59th Army of the Leningrad Front. The new Soviet amphibious assault was schemed on the basis of force including 32 tenders, two tender ferries, 30 patrol boats, six armoured gunboats, eight torpedo boats, 13 armoured boats and 14 smokelaying boats. The landing operation was supported by the fire of about about 250 guns, which included the 1st Guards Red Banner Krasnoseysk Sea Railway Artillery Brigade (three 180-mm/7.09-in guns and eight 130-mm/5.12-in guns). The operation was launched from the port of Koivisto (now Primorsk).

At 22.25 on 30 June, a detachment comprising five armoured gunboats, two submarine chasers, nine tenders, four minesweepers and four smokelaying boats departed from Koivisto with the assault force, which took the form of one battalion of the 185th Regiment from the 224th Division and a 260-man reconnaissance group of the 1st Marine Brigade. At about 13.35 on 1 July, the detachment approached Teikarsaari island, its objective, where it was discovered and hit by Finnish coastal artillery from Cape Harapyaniemi and from Teikarsaari island. Several tenders were damaged, and one submarine chaser and one tender sank after hitting mines.

With the support of Soviet coastal and rail batteries, as well as aircraft of the Baltic Fleet’s air arm, the landing force came ashore. Te Finns immediately offered fierce resistance with all the strength they had available. To block the landing from the sea, a detachment of 18 German and Finnish ships and vessels, including two torpedo boats, was despatched to the island, and two Finnish patrol craft were sunk in the ensuing naval battle, but at the same time the Soviet torpedo boats TK-43, TK-63 and TK-161, three of the eight such craft committed to the battle were destroyed and another was seriously damaged. The Finnish ground units on the island consisted of two infantry companies (350 men) with several 20-mm cannon and 45-mm light guns. At about 16.00 the Finns began a hastily improvised the crossing from the mainland of two infantry companies to reinforce their men on the island, where the Finnish total thus became about 700 men. Several Finnish coastal batteries opened fire on the Soviet beach-head. At 04.55, a naval observation team which landed on Teikarsaari reported a successful advance inland, but at about 05.00 communications with the landing party were lost. On the afternoon of July 1, the landing force was driven back into the sea, from which boats recovered as many as 50 men.

The primary reasons for the landing’s failure were the fact that the infantry committed to the undertaking were wholly untrained for amphibious assault; that the landing included no artillery; that air support was insufficient (118 sorties by 57 Ilyushin Il-2 close support aircraft of the Baltic Fleet, of which five were lost); that the artillery support from the shore was poorly organised;that communications gear was available in such limited numbers that that little or no co-operation was possible between the landed troops and their support forces.

To further the operation, the 224th Divisions 160th Regiment and 143rd Regiment (2,400 men and 28 guns), as well as the 124th Divisions 406th Regiment, were transferred to the Baltic Fleet. It took time to prepare these for the operation, so there was a three-day pause, of which the Finns took advantage to improve their defence.

On the evening of 3 July, 12 Il-2 attack aircraft and 14 fighters bombed Teikarsaari island, and during this effort one Lavochkin La-5 fighter was lost.

Next came the Soviet ladings on Teikarsaari, Swanionsaari and Ravansaari islands on 4 July. For this phase of the Soviet operation, the 160th Regiment, 143rd Regiment and 185th Regiment of the 224th Division were committed in the form of a single regiment to each of the three target islands, and these departed the launch port in two detachments at 06.45 on 4 July. Immediately after leaving this bay, the landing ships were spotted by the Finns, who started to shell them. To avoid this bombardment, the Soviet vessels were forced into a process of constant manoeuvre, which sharply reduced the core speed of their movement toward the target islands. The landings on the designated islands began only at about 10.00 and continued under concentrated shelling for more than one hour. At the same time, four T-26 light tanks were landed on Swanionsaari island.

A fierce battle broke out right on the beach, but on this occasion Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs, commander of the Baltic Fleet, had arranged for the landing forces to receive constant naval gunfire support and a steady stream of reinforcements and ammunition: many of the vessels were damaged as they approached the Soviet beach-heads in daylight. The Baltic Fleet’s air arm flew as many as 500 sorties to attack the Finnish positions on the islands, and the support provided by mainland-based artillery was constant: the railway brigade alone fired almost 1,500 large-calibre rounds. By 17.00, the islands of Swanionsaari and Ravansaari (now Maly Vysotsky) had been completely cleared of Finnish troops.

On Teikarsaari, the landing was again difficult. The armoured guards vessel BMO-503, which was carrying the regimental headquarters, lost radio contact and thus made it impossible to call for air and artillery support. The lack of any reliable means of isolating the island from the mainland allowed the Finns to make continuous delivery of reinforcements, which increased the number of the island’s defenders to about 800 men, and made it possible to deliver a counterattack on the Soviet beach-head. by about 18.00, the Finns had managed to halt the Soviet advance from the beach-head, and then send in a series of counterattacks that cut the beach-head into two parts, whose southern portion had been driven back to the south by 22.00, and about 200 men to the island’s north-eastern coast. The 160th Regiment’s losses had reached 700 men by the evening.

Small but fierce battles were fought in the waters of Viipuri bay off the island. As many as 17 German and Finnish vessels attacked the landing’s naval support element, and a Soviet detachment of nine motor torpedo boats and five patrol craft sank four minesweepers and one high-speed landing barge, and damaged one patrol boat and one impressed fishing vessel. Soviet naval aircraft also struck the German and Finnish vessels, reporting the sinking of one gunboat, one patrol boat and two barges. German and Finnish air response over the water on this day was weak, largely as a result of the fact that the German and Finnish aircraft had been committed to a preliminary series of attacks on Soviet airfields: in the area of the fighting, therefore, the appearance of only 17 German and Finnish aircraft was recorded.

During 4 July, the Soviets lost four armoured gunboats, one small submarine chaser and one patrol boat sunk, most of them to mines. One patrol boat and one tender were damaged by artillery fire, and another two armoured gunboats were severely damaged.

On the same day, the small islands of Hietasaari and Kiusterinsaari were occupied, and on the night of 4/5 July the islands of Melansaari and Kuolansaari were also seized.

The situation of the landing on Teikarsaari island was assessed by Rall as being serious that he ordered the evacuation of the landing. It was not possible to carry out this order, however, as the weight and accuracy of the Finnish artillery fire made it impossible for the evacuation craft to approach the coast in all but one location, where just 21 men (including the commander of the 160th Regiment) were extracted. Rall then changed his mind that decided to collect all possible forces and maximise effort committed to the landing. At dawn on 5 July, the battle for Teikarsaari continued. By 11.00 two infantry battalions of the 124th Division’s 406th Regiment had been delivered to the island and landed on the eastern coat under continuous fire, and by 16.30 two more battalions and four T-26 light tanks armed only with machine guns had been diverted from the assault on Suonionsaari island. Six motor torpedo boats and four patrol boats were sent to the northern tip of the island with the task of keeping the strait between the island and the mainland under fire, and thus hinder if not totally prevent the arrival of more Finnish reinforcements. This sense of this decision was validated when, at 14.25, the Finns responded to the threat of island garrison’s garrison by ordering an immediately evacuation of the garrison. From this time onward, the the landing force began to make good progress. During day, the Baltic Fleet’s air arm flew 317 sorties to support the landing force.

The main efforts of the fleet’s vessels and aircraft were focussed on the destruction of German and Finnish vessels in the strait between the island and the mainland. According to Soviet data, three medium and small vessels were sunk in these waters, and three patrol vessels, one gunboat, one patrol boat, and five more ships and vessels were damaged. Finnish historians confirm the sinking of one gunboat and one 'small ship', heavy damage to three gunboats, and three German gun-armed ferry barges.

By 21.00 on 5 July, the Soviets had secured Teikarsaari island, the last Finns escaping across the strait by swimming.

On 7 July, Soviet forces landed on the island of Hapenensaari (now Podberezovy), where the fighting once again took on a stubborn nature, albeit not as severe as that that on Teikarsaari island. On 8 July, the landing force was reinforced and the Finns abandoned the island. In this area, the Baltic Fleet suffered damage to three patrol boats: one to Finnish artillery fire and two to 'friendly fire'.

On 7 July, an attempt was made to land Soviet troops on the coast of the Gulf of Finland in the area of ​​the Karpila peninsula. However, when approaching the selected landing site, the ships were met with powerful artillery fire, which sank two patrol boats. The operation’s commander decided to abandon the landing in view of the threat of even greater losses, and the assault force returned.

At dawn on 9 July, a detachment of Baltic Fleet vessels (six patrol craft, 12 tenders and one submarine chaser), supported by six armoured gunboats and three patrol boats, landed two reinforced infantry companies on Koivusaari island (now Bereznik). Another landing was to have been made at the other end of the island, but as the vessels carrying the landing force approached the planned area it came under concentrated fire of Finnish artillery batteries and suffered significant losses: in just a few minutes, six tenders, two patrol boats and one smokelaying launch were sunk. The rest of the force returned to base. However, on the following day the island was abandoned by its garrison.

Some Finns have averred that on this day a second landing was attempted on the Karpila peninsula but failed.

In total, between 1 and 10 July, the Soviets seized 16 Finnish islands, including some whose garrisons were evacuated even before Soviet troops had landed. On 10 July Govorov, the commander of the Leningrad Front, ordered a temporary end to hostilities and the adoption of a defensive posture as peace negotiations between the USSR and Finland resumed. Despite the repeated delays and interruptions in these negotiations, there were no more Soviet amphibious operations in this area.

The 'Vyborg Bay Islands Landing Operation' ended with only partial success as some of its goals had not been achieved: some of islands remained in Finnish hands, and the capture of the occupied islands had suffered unexpectedly high losses in men and vessels. Moreover, the planned amphibious landing on the coast of the Finnish mainland had been abandoned.

The Soviet and Finnish information about losses differ significantly from each other. According to the Soviet data, in the course of the operation 2,400 Finns had been killed and 37 men taken prisoner (these latter on Teikarsaari island, while there are no data for the other islands), and the Finns had lost 21 guns and 95 machine guns. However, the Finns admit the loss of 1,253 men killed, wounded and captured. Other data contradict each other even more.

For their part, Finnish historians claim that during the operation the Soviets lost up to 3,000 men killed and 20 vessels. The 160th Regiment alone lost 1,027 out of 1,135 men who took part in the landing.