Battle of Suomussalmi

Battle of Suomussalmi

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Suomussalmi

partof=the Winter War
date=December 7 1939 to January 8, 1940
place= Suomussalmi, Finland
result= Decisive Finnish victory
combatant2=flag|Soviet Union|1923
commander1=Hjalmar Siilasvuo
strength1=Three regiments and separate battalions (11,000 men)
strength2=Two divisions, one tank brigade (45,000–50,000 men)
casualties1=350-900 killed
600-1770 wounded and 70 missing [Trotter, William; "A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish War of 1939–1940", Algonquin Books, 2000] [ [ The Battle of Suomussalmi, 8 - 30 December 1939 , part 1 ] ]
casualties2=27,500 killed or missing
2,100 taken prisoner
43 tanks destroyed

The Battle of Suomussalmi ["suo.mus.sal(a).mi"] was fought between Finnish and Soviet forces in the Winter War. The action took place from around December 7, 1939 to January 8, 1940.

The outcome was a decisive Finnish victory against vastly superior forces. In Finland, the battle is still seen today as a symbol of the entire Winter War itself.

Course of battle

On November 30 1939, the Soviet 163rd division crossed the border between Finland and the Soviet Union and advanced from the north-east towards the village of Suomussalmi. The Soviet objective was to advance to the city of Oulu, effectively cutting Finland in half. This sector had only one Finnish battalion (Er.P 15), which was placed near Raate, outside Suomussalmi.

Suomussalmi was taken with little resistance on December 7 (only two incomplete companies of covering forces led a holding action between the border and Suomussalmi), but the Finns destroyed the village before this, to deny the Soviets shelter, and withdrew to the opposite shore of lakes Niskanselkä and Haukiperä.

The first extensive fight started on December 8, when Soviet forces began to attack across the frozen lakes to the west. Their attempt failed completely. The second part of Soviet forces led the attack to the northwest on Puolanka, that was defended by the Er.P 16 (lit. 16th detached battalion), that had just arrived. This attempt also failed.

On December 9, the defenders were reinforced with a newly founded regiment (JR 27). Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo was given the command of the Finnish forces and he began immediate counter-measures to regain Suomussalmi. The main forces advanced on Suomussalmi but met resistance that caused the Finns serious losses.

On December 24, the Soviets counter-attacked but failed to break through the surrounding Finnish forces.

Reinforced with two new regiments (JR 64 and JR 65), the Finns again attacked on December 27. This time, they took the village, and the Soviets retreated in panic over the surrounding frozen lakes.

During this time, the Soviet 44th Division (mostly composed of Ukrainians) had advanced from the east towards Suomussalmi. It was entrenched on the road between Suomussalmi and Raate and got caught up in the retreat of the other Soviet forces.

Between January 4 and January 8, 1940, the 44th Division was divided into isolated groups and destroyed by the Finnish troops (in a tactic known as motti), leaving much heavy equipment for the Finnish troops. [" [ The Mighty Finn] " - War Nerd, "the eXile, Issue 254, 29 December 2006]


The battle resulted in a major victory for the Finns. If the Soviet Union had captured the city of Oulu, the Finns would have had to defend the country on two fronts and an important rail link to Sweden would have been severed. The battle also gave a decisive boost to the morale of the Finnish army.

In addition, on the Raate-Suomussalmi road the Finns captured a large amount of military supplies, including tanks (43), field-guns (71), trucks (260), horses (1,170), anti-tank guns (29) and other weapons which were greatly needed by the Finnish army.


The Battle of Suomussalmi is often cited as an example how a small force, properly led and fighting in familiar terrain, can defeat a numerically vastly superior enemy. Factors which contributed to the Finnish victory included:

*Finnish troops having higher mobility due to skis and sledges; in contrast, Soviet heavy equipment confined to roads.
*Finnish strategy flexible and often unorthodox, as for example in making Soviet field kitchens a prime target, greatly demoralising the enemy fighting in a sub-Arctic winter.
*Soviet army being poorly equipped, especially in regards to winter camouflage clothing.
*Soviet counter-intelligence failures: Finnish troops often intercepted the Soviet communications, which relied heavily on standard phone lines."Snow and Slaughter at Suomussalmi" - Hughes-Wilson, John - "Military History", January/February 2006, page 50]
*Finnish troops' equipment being well suited for warfare in deep snow and freezing temperatures.
*Soviet objective to cut Finland in half across the Oulu region - while appearing reasonable on a map, this was inherently unrealistic, as the region was mostly forested marshland, with its 'road network' consisting of mainly logging trails. Mechanized divisions had to rely on these, becoming easy targets for the Finnish ski troops.
*Finnish simplicity where needed, as the final assault was a simple head-on charge, decreasing the chances of tactical errors. Rough weather also favoured comparatively simple plans.
*Soviet Red Army still suffering from the aftermaths of Stalin's purges in the thirties, with officers often incompetent."World War II" - Willmott, H.P. et al, Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd, 2004]


External links

* [ Battle of Suomussalmi] (from

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