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60 years from Battle of Tali-Ihantala June-July 1944 - which decidedthe fate of Finland

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Old June 28th 04, 05:46 PM
Jukka O. Kauppinen
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Default 60 years from Battle of Tali-Ihantala June-July 1944 - which decidedthe fate of Finland

60 years from Battle of Tali-Ihantala June-July 1944 - which decided the
fate of Finland

By the beginning of 1944 the first contacts were being made about a
separate peace agreement between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviet
terms were considered unacceptable in Finland.
A build-up of troops to take Finland was initiated in spring 1944,
before the race to Berlin began, and the decisive offensive was planned
for 9th June 1944. The troops due to participate in this operation had
been in training in the area south-west of Leningrad. It was calculated
that a ten-fold superiority in numbers was needed for the campaign. The
air component included the 13th Army Air Force, the II Fighter Corps and
the Baltic Navy Air Force. The 13th Army Air Force was reinforced by two
bomber divisions (where one division contained three regiments, each
having 32 bombers) and one ground attack division from the Long-Range
Bomber Command. The total number of combat planes was about 1500.
Despite the Soviet superiority in numbers of aircraft, the FiAF was able
to concentrate its air forces and continue to achieve good results. The
Brewsters, along with the Morane, Fiat and Curtiss fighters, although
continuing their operations, became obsolete in terms of performance
from 1943 on, and new fighters, Messerschmitt 109 G s, were received,
although once again only in small numbers. When the Soviet offensive
began, the units had about 40 Messerschmitts.
From Isthmus to Tali-Ihantala

The Soviet army began the offensive with a two day long artillery
bombardment, one of the largest by the Red Army in the WW2. Just on the
4 kilometers wide main breach point at Karjala isthmus the Soviet army
had 224 artillery guns per kilometre. It is said that the artillery
barrage was heard hundreds of kilometres away. Against the overwhelming
superiority there was no chance of keeping the front lines, and a
retreat was ordered. The Finnish army retreated in remarkably good order
- while there were points of panic, not a single unit was completely
surrounded or destroyed while in the retreat. However, the high command
of Finnish army had practically closed their eyes to a possibility of
Soviet attack. While the soldiers knew attack is coming the high command
had not made any preparations for defence, and the generals had even
"shielded" the War Marshall Mannerheim, Finnish military commander,
against any suspicions of such thing. The generals, as it seems, had
even intercepted and stopped recon reports about possible Soviet
offensive before they landed to Mannerheim's desk.

No surprise that the Soviet attack proceeded in steady pace. Finnish
units made delaying action but there was no strength to put up a
concentrated defence. The major city of Viipuri, the hub of Finnish
commerce and town that would today, if it still was part of Finland,
would be the second largest town of the nation, was lost in amazing
combination of ineptitude. The reinforcements to fight on front of the
town arrived just 2 days before the Soviets and there was no time to
prepare defensive positions. Artillery ammo trains was delayed. When the
fighting began artillery ran quickly out of ammo - and the ammo depot
commander refused to hand down ammuniation without written orders. The
legend says, that he opened the depot doors only after the artillery
officers threatened him with weapons and told, that he may hand down the
keys or they'll take the keys off his body. That was too late, though.
The front line had collapsed - because panic and rumours of withdrawal
orders had started spreading. The post war studies show, that all
started when one of a few men started running from the front lines
yelling "retreat, retreat" and telling they'd been given retreat orders.
The word spread - and the Finnish commanders saw the front line thinning
and disappearing, with the soldiers routing in panic. The town of
Viipuri was lost without practically without a fight…

Meanwhile President Ryti has personally signed a deal with Ribbentrop,
securing a promise of assistance. Soviet forces suddenly face stubborn
Finnish defence, even counterattack. New defence lines is strenghtened
with the German arms deliveries. Gefechtverband Kuhlmey, combined from
II./JG54 "Grl,nhertz", I./SG 3 and and Ju-87's of I./SG 5, moves to
Immola air base.(f11) Armed with Focke-Wulf 190 jabos and Ju-87 dive
bombers they are valuable addition to the Finnish Junkers Ju-88 bombers
and 109s.

Battle of Tali-Ihantala

After loss of Viipuri situation was dramatic. The Red Army had advanced
in two weeks more than it had in the whole Winter War. War Marshall
Mannerheim messaged the troops: the enemy advance must be stopped. The
coming battles will decide the independence of the nation.

Stalin belived the next defensive line to fall easily. Soviets planned
to force-march to Lappeenranta-Imatra - and then to Helsinki. Finland
would be forced to accept unconditional surrender.

The Soviet offensive renewed at Tali, morning of 25th June 1944. The new
defensive line, VKT-line, did not have any pre made defensive positions,
but it was rocky area with lots of lakes and streams. Even when the
troops were tired they kept counter-attacking. The Soviet forces could
not advance and the battle prolonged. The front line seesawed - forward
and backward. The Soviet forces almost broke through several times. Over
100 000 soldiers were deadlocked in heavy struggle in tiny 10 x 10
kilometers area.

One of the key figures here was recently deceased colonel Ehrnrooth, who
commanded his Jaeger Regiment 7 from the front lines. His regiment loved
their commander and faced the Soviet spearhead with unique show of
courage - their commander fought in the same foxholes as they, so god
damn it, they'd not give up either.

( commander Ehrnrooth:
http://www.hitechcreations.com/forum...hreadid=111520 )

During next week the Finnish forces slowly withdrew to Ihantala. The
Finnish reinforcements had arrived from eastern Karelia, and the Soviet
forces were tired and had suffered losses. The German reinforcements,
Stukas and Focke Wulf jabos, attacked Soviet supply routes and the later
famous bridges of Tali-Ihantala were destroyed daily, often several
times a day, making it hard to bring supplies and reinforcements
forward. Finnish Air Force flew daily with its whole strength, bombing
Soviet positions. Finnish artillery was concentrated and for once there
was no lack of ammuniation. Several soviet attacks were blunted with
artillery only, with 250 heavy artillery pieces being able to
concentrate their fire into a single spot.

In total there was over 200 000 soldiers in the various phases at battle
of Tali-Ihantala, with heave losses. Finns had 8500 casualties, 1100
dead. Soviet forces lost up to 20 000 men, 4500-5500 dead. Finnish and
German air force claimed 569 Soviet aircraft shot down during the Soviet
offensive, half of these lost over Tali-Ihantala. Soviet army lost their
TOTAL tank strength - about 600 tanks - that they had had on the
beginning of the offensive.

Finnish 75 mm anti tank gun has destroyed a Soviet tank at Tali-Ihantala
June 30th 1944.

Quotes about the battle from elsewhe

Soviet attack was concentrated on area east of Vyborg, from south
village of Tali to north towards Ihantala. This was only suitable
terrain for armoured forces in Karelian Isthmus, 10 km wide and limited
by lakes and the river Vuoksi on the east.
By this time Finnish army had concentrated half of it's artillery in to
area, along with army's only armoured division with StuG III assault
guns and German 303. assault gun brigade. The troops finally had new
German anti-tank weapons that were previously kept in storage.
Fighting in area began June 25 and June 30 Finnish forces retreat from
Tali. Heaviest fighting tooks place between July 1-July 2 when Finnish
lost 800 men per day.
On July 2 Finnish captured a radio message, according to Soviet 63rd
Division and 30. Armored Brigade were to launch attack on on July 3
0400. The following morning, 2 minutes before supposed attack, 40
Finnish and 40 German bombers bombed Soviet troops and 250 guns fired
4000 artillery shells into the area.
On the same day, beginning at 06:00, 200 Soviet planes and infantry
attacked Finnish troops. By 19:00 the Finnish troops had restored their
On July 6 Soviet forces had some success despite Finnish 6th Division's
support of 18 artillery battalions and one heavy battery. Soviets were
thrown back following day and their counterattacks at 13:30 and 19:00
did not succeed. By July 7 focus of attacks was already changing to
Vuoksi and Soviets started transferring their best troops to Estonia to
fight the Germans. By July 9 Soviet troops no longer attempted
break-through despite smaller fighting continued.

The Germans - Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey

The heroes in a foreign land

The Russian historician Juri Kilin has wondered why Red Army Air Force
lost the aerial superiority over the Karelian isthus in the second week
of the summer offensive. The reason is the arrival of the German
detachment Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey, a 70 plane unit of Focke-Wulf
fighter bombers and Ju-87 Stukas, that doubled the striking power of the
Finnish Air Force during June-July 1944.

"The chaotic situation could be easily seen from air", tells Franz-Josef
Schopped, 83 years old, one of the Kuhlmey veterans still alive.

The German planes were deadly and accurate in bringing destruction.

"THEY'RE STUKAS, THEY'RE STUKAS", was the cry in the Finnish front
lines. A Finnish veteran writes how they'd been in their foxholes,
enduring Soviet artillery barrage which then stopped - which means
either Soviet assault or Soviet bombers. And aircraft engines were
heard, with the mean cowering even deeper in their positions. But this
sound came from behind. Watching above the tired Finnish soldiers saw
unfamiliar shaped airplanes flying over them, over to the Soviet side
and starting a vertical dive - with the "jericho sirens" screaming and
bombs whistling downwards.

"THEY'RE STUKAS, THEY'RE STUKAS", the dirty men cried, climbed out of
their foxholes, danced, throwed their helmets and caps, and cried in
joy. "We're not alone, the Germans are here too."

The German jabos and dive bombers proved to be one of the decisive
elements of the battle of 1944.

Or as the Finnish Blenheim bomber pilot Kauko Aho told in an interview
of a situation, when their bombers were flying into battle:

"Then I saw two round-nosed fighters coming from behind. They approached
terribly fast. They came to our side and I saw the black crosses in the
fuselage and swastika in the rudder. And then there were more, they were
all around us. I felt really warm, we weren't alone any more. At that
moment I became friends of the Germans."

Mr. Aho described how at that moment he knew Finland has a chance of
survival - and how the Soviet fighters shadowing their bombers fled from
the Focke Wulfs.

Schoppe commanded a flight of Focke-Wulf fighter bombers and arrived to
the battle from northern Finland, from the German Luftwaffe units
statitioned there to fight against Russian army and convoys.

"The situation at north cannot be compared to Karelian isthus. The
Russian anti-air at isthmus was absolutely horrible."

- How many tanks you destroyed at Karelia?
"I don't know. Many. My log books were taken by a British major, when I
surrendered to the allies in 1945. But I destroyed many bridges as well."

The German pilots of detachment Kuhlmey enjoy high respect in Finland,
with a memorial statue erected at their war time base Immola in summer
1994. The Kuhlmey veterans have been interviewed by Finnish tv and
participate in the Finnish war pilots association meetings.

Kuhlmey's detachment (Kyösti Karhila's notes)
Arrived in Immola 16.6.1944
Joint operations with Finnish Air Force. The commander of air corps on
Karelian isthmus was Colonel Lorenz.
Stuka Ju-87 - 30 planes
Engine 1420 hp Jumo 211, max bomb load 1800 kg.
From Immola 700 kg = 1 x 500 kg + 4 x 50 kg
2 x 20 mm cannons, 2 x 13 mm mg, observer has 2 x 7.9 mm mg
1200 sorties, 540000 kg of bombs, vertical dive bombing.
Focke Wulf 190-A fighter - 30 planes
Engine 1400 hp, speed 645 km/h, 4 x 20 mm cannons, 2 x 13 mm mg
1000 sorties, 126 kills
Focke Wulf 190 JABO
Speed 645 km/h, 2 x 20 mm cannons, 2 x 13 mm mg
500 sorties, 23000 kg of bombs, dive angle 45 degrees
Altogether Kuhlmey's detachment dropped 770000 kg of bombs. The bombs
had cardboard whistles attached to their tails, producing nasty whistles
with different pitches when the bombs were dropped. Kuhlmey's detachment
operated from Immola for five weeks and they left as quickly and
inconspicuously as they came, didn't leave any reports or papers.
The liaison officer was Jussi Laakso.
Losses of Kuhlmey detachment:
41 planes
30 pilots killed
25 pilots wounded
4 Stukas, five FW 190s destroyed and 15 other planes damaged when Immola
was bombed. 1215 bombs were dropped in the attack on Immola.
Part of Frans-Josef Schoppe's speech in the association 25 years
"It is a rather wonderful feeling and a great honour, as the former
leader of a Kuhlmey's fighter-bomber Flight in the decisive 1944 battles
of the Carelian Isthmus, to stand here together with - one of the best -
flight comrades and to see those brothers in arms, to whom I have become
attached irreversibly since that summer, in front of me.

The German Pilvenveikot member Schoppe's letter to the Finns in 2000

Schoppe was supposed to come to the Utti Air Base were a memorial for
the Air Force personnel who died in the war was unveiled. It has all the
names and the dates. Schoppe could not come but he sent a letter:
Schoppe tells to have read many times the book Double Fighter Knight by
Juutilainen which he got in the previous Summer when he visited Finland.
Based on Juutilainen's and his own experiences as the pilot of JU 87
Stuka and Focke Wulf during the war in Finland he wants to present the
following in the occasion of revealing the eagle statue:
"He who has once belonged to the brothers in arms of Germany or Finland,
whether he was a member of the flight crew or of the ground personnel
who with their work and diligence created good conditions for the fight
capability of the units, knows that the spirit particular to this branch
of armed forces unites and obliges both sides of the forces. The
technical advances demand from the individuals and from the units
perception and tactical adaptation. To perform an attack alone or in a
group, during the day or night, to the ground or sea target requires
often development and learning of completely different new methods of
operation. To know the fellows on the sortie already in advance increase
the sense of certainty and unity in the critical moments. The sense of
unity particular to this branch of armed forces, the trust of each other
also when a great contribution, even life, was demanded was a basis for
the performance and the behavior of this branch of forces.
"The roots of power and the will of fight come for many from the
patriotic feelings. To the fallen and missed pilot fellows, for whom we
now erect a statue, I am always in debt of gratitude. At this point I
would like once more say the same thought which I clearly gave in my
presentation in Vantaa, in Finland to the brothers in arms:
"So you, when you have done all what you have to do, say: we are just
humble servants. We have done only what is our duty."
(Professor Aho: these words tell what is characteristic also for these
Germans since they have been blamed often for many things, but these
were here in Finland for this matter and they have not got much other
thanks and they have not asked either.)
"Unfortunately I am not able to participate in the ceremony of unveiling
the memorial, but I feel even more blessed by my brothers in arms. My
sincere greetings to all my former brothers in arms. H & B" H & B"

Sources: Helsingin Sanomat 28.6., own interviews, web references


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