One of the most important battles of the Winter War, the Battle of Raate Road, was fought Jan. 1–7, 1940. It was a part of the larger Battle of Suomussalmi , where the Russians aimed to cut Finland in half at its ‘waistline’, through Suomussalmi in the east to Oulu on the west coast.
Two Soviet divisions and one Soviet tank brigade were brought to the theater of Suomussalmi.
In preparation for a victory parade in Oulu on the west coast, the Soviets also brought a brass band.
However, the heavily outnumbered Finnish 9th Division decisively defeated the invading Red Army on Raate Road during the first week of January, 1940. The battle showcased the effectiveness of Finnish “motti” tactics, in which the enemy is encircled, entrapped and decimated. Scroll down for a picture gallery of the battleground.
The 9th Division had already encircled the Soviet 163rd Division in the village of Suomussalmi when it received orders to destroy the Soviet 44th Division. The 44th was stalled on the narrow, forest-encircled Raate Road, 12 kilometers south of Suomussalmi. It was destroyed by the vastly outnumbered Finns.
Russian troop strength totaled 48,000 men, 335 cannon, 100 tanks, and 50 armored cars. The Finnish defenders, reinforced from a few thousand, now numbered 17,000 with 11 cannon under the command of Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo; his only hope was to defeat the Russians in detail. And he did.
Of the Russians who escaped, many were wounded. In the dark northern winter, temperatures plummeting to -40C – rare even by Finnish standards – only 5,000 made it back.
The Finns captured 85 tanks, 437 trucks, 20 tractors, 10 motorcycles, 1,620 horses, 92 artillery pieces, 78 anti-tank guns, and 13 anti-aircraft guns plus thousands of rifles, machine guns, and a wealth of ammunition.
The Soviet 44th Division was formed nearly entirely of soldiers from Ukraine. A Ukrainian veteran of the battle, Sergeant Pyotr Andrevitch Morozov, was interviewed in 1991 by Finnish writer Leo Karttimo. According to Morozov, Finns returned prisoners of war, but none of them made it back to Ukraine as the Soviet secret service NKVD executed them all in the summer of 1940.
Raate Road was one of the first battle sites the Finnish authorities allowed foreign war correspondents to view. There is a first-hand account in my novel Lost Ground.
Photos from Finnish War Archives
Soviet attacks December 1939