Battle of Ilomantsi


Battle of Ilomantsi

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Ilomantsi


caption=
partof=the Continuation War
date=July 26 to August 13, 1944
place= North Karelia, Finland
result=Decisive Finnish victory
combatant1=flag|Finland
combatant2=flag|Soviet Union|1923
commander1=Erkki Raappana
commander2=General-Lieutenant F.D. Gorelenko
strength1=14,500
strength2=20,000+
casualties1=400 killed or missing
1,300 wounded
casualties2=3,200 killed
3,450 wounded
1,400 missing

The Battle of Ilomantsi was a part of the Continuation War (1941–1944). It was fought from July 26 to August 13, 1944, between Finland and the Soviet Union.

The battle

The battle took place in an area 40 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep, near the Finnish-Soviet border, close to a small Finnish town of Ilomantsi, in North Karelia. The battle ended with a decisive Finnish victory, as the last major Soviet attack against Finland was stopped here.

Two Soviet divisions had advanced towards "Ilomantsi", as part of the Soviet Union's final attempt to get the over-all offensive campaign going, and to make a break-through past the Finnish defenses. At first, the offensive was successful, bringing good news to Joseph Stalin: Finally, on July 21, 1944, the Red Army units were able to reach the Finnish-Soviet border of 1940, the first and only time during the entire Soviet offensive of 1944, and — in fact — ever since 1941. The success was short-lived, however, as soon the Soviet divisions were to be shattered, and those escaping death were to be driven back east.

The battle was confusing and difficult to both belligerents. The Finnish forces utilized envelopment tactics ("motti" in Finnish) that drew upon the ancient methods of warfare and those already used by them in the Winter War (1939–1940).

Two attacking Red Army divisions were decimated in this last major engagement on the Finnish front, before the armistice was concluded in early September, 1944. The commandership of the Finnish forces in the "Battle of Ilomantsi" was carried out by the famed Finnish General — and a Knight of the Mannerheim CrossErkki Raappana.

Military historians note that the two Red Army divisions were completely routed after a week and a half of fighting, leaving behind over 3,200 Red Army soldiers dead, thousands wounded and missing, and over 100 pieces of heavy artillery, approximately 100 mortars and the rest of the Soviet ordnance for the Finns to capture.

This was the ninth major Finnish defense victory in only a few weeks' period, since the main Soviet offense against the Finnish fences was launched in June 1944. Moscow could now only decide that the Finns had plenty of fight left in them, and that they would never accept an unconditional surrender.

General Raappana's men — the so called "Group Raappana" ("Ryhmä Raappana" in Finnish) — had fired within ten days over 36,000 artillery shells, aimed at the Soviet forces in "Ilomantsi". The Soviet artillery participating in Ilomantsi were able to fire only 10,000 shells during the same period.

The main reason for the lower Soviet artillery successes were the Finnish disturbance tactics. For instance, a Finnish guerrilla detachment led by the Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, Lieutenant Heikki Nykänen, destroyed a Soviet colony of 30 trucks carrying Soviet artillery grenades to the battle scene.

Impact

The Finns had achieved victory, and the remnants of the two Red Army divisions had barely escaped destruction, by breaking out from the encirclements. After the battle, Stavka (Soviet Armed Forces Headquarters) brought its offensive to a halt and gave up the demand of Finland’s unconditional surrender.

The Finnish President Mauno Koivisto spoke at a seminar held in August, 1994, in the North Karelian city of Joensuu, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Finnish victory in the crucial Battle of Ilomantsi. The future President of Finland witnessed this battle as a soldier in a reconnaissance company commanded by the legendary Finnish war hero and a Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, Captain Lauri Törni (who later became a legend also in USA as a Green Beret under the name "Larry Thorne", raised to the rank of major upon his disappearance in Laos in 1965, during the Vietnam War):

:In the summer of 1944, when the Red Army launched an all-out offensive, aimed at eliminating Finland, the Finns were "extremely hard-pressed", President Koivisto itenerated, but they "did not capitulate".

:"We succeeded in stopping the enemy cold at key points," the President said, "and in the final battle at Ilomantsi even in pushing him back."

In a speech held on September 4th, 1994, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, ending the Finnish-Soviet hostilities, the Prime Minister of Finland Esko Aho declared:

:"I do not see a defeat in the summer's battles, but the victory of a small nation over a major power, whose forces were stopped far short of the objectives of the Soviet leadership. Finland was not beaten militarily ..."

:"Finland preserved her autonomy and her democratic social system ..."

:"Finland ... won the peace."

Significantly, aside from Britain, Finland was the only European nation involved in battles during World War II - west of Russia - that was never occupied by enemy troops. Besides London and Moscow, Helsinki was the only European capital of a nation involved in the war that was never occupied by enemy forces during World War II.

External links

The "Utrio" area played a central role in General Erkki Raappana's — the leader of the 1944 Ilomantsi operation — plan of defence. Fast moving battalions from the "Cavalry Brigade", experienced in forest warfare, were driven through this area between lakes, as a wegde between the attacking Soviet 289th and 176th Divisions. The opening battles fell on the Finnish "Light Infantry Battalion 6". When it turned against the encirclements at Leminaho and the Lutikkavaara hill, the "Uudenmaa Cavalry Regiment" attacked through "Utrio" and the River Ruukinpohja, with flanking from the "Light Infantry Battalion 1".
* [http://www.joensuu.fi/mekri/sotahistoria/warhistory.htm Ilomantsi at War]

Sources

* A documentary film by Tuomo Rysti; "Korpisodan suurvoitto"
* "Suomi 85 Itsenäisyyden puolustajat - Sodan kartat" (2003) / "Finland 85, Defenders of Independence ..
* Erkki Nordberg; "Arvio ja ennuste Venäjän sotilaspolitiikasta Suomen suunnalla" (2003) /
* "Ilomantsin taistelut", http://www.joensuu.fi/mekri/sotahistoria / "The Battle of Ilomantsi ...
* Jari Leskinen - Antti Juutilainen; "Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen" (2005) Helsinki / "History of ...


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