Sota-ajan tapahtumat Kuusamo–Kiestinki suunnalla 1941–1944
Sotahistorian tutkimusryhmä on tutkinut Kuusamo-Kiestinki suunnan historiaa,
jo vuodesta 1999 alkaen. Ensimmäinen julkaisu oli 2009 ja vuonna 2022 julkaistiin kirja
Salpalinja Kuusamossa ja nyt seuraava historiateos Korpisota 1941–1944, on vielä työn alla,
mutta valmistunee muutaman vuoden sisällä.
Sivustolla esitellään Pohjois-Vienan sotatoimialuetta, kylät, maantiet, vaarat, vesistöt, sillat yms. Esittelyn tarkoituksena, on helpottaa lukijaa hahmottamaan tapahtumien paikat entistä paremmin...
Kuusamo-Kiestinki suunnalla 1941–1944 toimineiden suomalaisten, saksalaisten ja neuvostoliittolaisten joukkojen lyhyet historiikit.
Kuusamo-Kiestinki suunnalla 1941–1944 käytössä olleen taistelukaluston esittely: lentokoneet, panssarivaunut, tykit, kranaatinheittimet, panssarintorjuntatykit ja ilmatorjuntatykit.
Salpalinja Kuusamossa - e-kirjan 7. luku englanniksi
- Original text: Tapio Heiskanen 2022 - Salpalinja Kuusamossa
- English translation: Tom Houlihan and Mikko Rautiainen 2022
Chapter 7 - Autumn 1944 - The destruction of the Salpalinja in Kuusamo
The Continuation War ended when Finland and the Soviet Union signed an armistice on September 4, 1944. The terms of the armistice included breaking off relations with Germany and evicting German troops from Finland. At the time, there were more than 200,000 German soldiers in northern Finland who belonged to the German 20. Gebirgs-Armee. The German XVIII Gebirgs-Armeekorps belonging to the aforementioned army operated in the Kuusamo–Kiestinki region.
After the armistice, the troops of the XVIII Gebirgs-Armeekorps began to withdraw from Kiestinki towards Kuusamo, with the troops of the Red Army's 26th Army (45th Division, 83rd Division and 205th Division) following behind. In the fall of 1944, the strength of the XVIII Gebirgs-Armeekorps was approximately 44,000 men, and when we also take into account the Soviet prisoners of war and Polish labor force they took with them, the strength of the XVIII Gebirgs-Armeekorps was approximately 50,000 men. Kuusamo's roads were therefore quite congested during the retreat, with thousands of people traveling towards Oulu and Rovaniemi.100,121,301
Following the German troops, the Red Army’s 83rd Division turned back towards Louhi near Kuusamo, as the 45th Division had done a little earlier. The 205th Division of the Red Army crossed the 1940 border and advanced towards Finland, following the German forces. Crossing the demarcation line on September 20, 1944, was of course a flagrant violation of the armistice agreement signed on September 4, 1944. The vanguard of the 205th Division of the Red Army was I/IR 721, which advanced relatively cautiously, keeping a safe distance from the retreating Germans in front of them.100,121,301
While retreating, the German troops tried to destroy everything usable, by mining the highways, blowing up the highway bridges, cutting the telephone lines and telephone poles. The German troops did not have any major clashes west of the Finnish border with the troops of the 205th Division of the Red Army who crossed the border in violation of the armistice agreement. The German rear guard unit had two minor exchanges of fire with the advance party of I/IR 721 before withdrawing to the Salpalinja.100,301
On 22 September 1944, the 205th Division's vanguard group I/IR 721 advanced along the Kuusamo–Kiestinki supply road (Lämsänkyläntie) supported by four tanks. During the day, the vanguard reached the Hepokumpu area, where the German engineer team (SS-Pionier) was still mining the road and blowing up the small bridge over the stream. The engineers spotted the enemy's scouts and fired a few shots and retreated to delaying positions near Kemilä. It is known that the German engineers had time to blow up the bridge before retreating.100,121
To the west of the engineer team in Kemilä, there was a rear guard from I/SS-GJR 11 “RH”, about a company strong, at the Salpalinja delay positions. However, the delaying section, alerted by the retreating pioneers from the bridge, spotted the enemy's reconnaissance patrols on both sides of the road and broke away in good time. Apparently, the quick withdrawal of the Germans from the delaying positions in Kemilä was not noticed by the Red Army, because at 11:30 the enemy fired an artillery strike (a few shots) at the emptied position.100,121
The Red Army's I/IR 721, supported by four tanks, advanced to the level of Haukiniemi on the morning of 23 September. A company from I/SS-GJR 11 "RH", left as reserve, was in position here. The company's positions were located about 1.5 km east of the Waldlager Kuusamo. The Waldlager Kuusamo was a large German "forest camp", where the troops had trained in forest combat and skiing in the winter. The Waldlager was already burned to the ground on September 23 by the Germans when they retreated from the area.
When the German rear guard withdrew from Haukiniemi, there was a slight exchange of fire. A machine gunner fired a short burst, to which the Red Army soldiers reportedly responded with their rifles. There is no information on possible losses. The German delay section now retreated to the Salpalinja positions on the Vanttaja line, where the main parts of the three SS battalions, which had already been left as reserve, were located.
Germans take up positions in Vanttaja
When the main part of the German delaying forces reached the Vanttaja line on 22 September 1944, the field railway stations located there Kuusamo L (Luftwaffenbahnhof) and Kuusamo F (Futterbahnhof) had already been thoroughly destroyed. However, the Salpalinja positions had remained untouched.100,301
The German Lapland Army (AOK Lappland) had built the field railway line (German: Heeresfeldbahn, Finnish: kenttärata), between 1942 and 1944 from Hyrynsalmi to Kuusamo. The purpose of the field track was to improve supply transport for the German troops in the direction of Kiestinki. The field railway line ran along the Vanttaja isthmus, at Lahtela through the Salpalinja fortress area. The feed station (Kuusamo F - Futterbahnhof) was located in Lahtela, immediately west of the Salpalinja positions. Between Kuusamojärvi and Iijärvi, this included the area of Lahtela–Vanttaja–Taipale. The Kuusamo F railway was completed on April 29, 1944, and in the summer (July 19, 1944) Lahtela could be reached by train. Fodder was transported to the feed station (Kuusamo F) for the horses and mules used by the German XVIII Gebirgs-Armeekorps. The line to Kiestinki was not completed as planned, with work stopping in the fall of 1944. The terminus of the field railway line was the Kuusamo L station (Luftwaffenbahnhof), about 1.2 km east of Lahtela. You can read more about the field railway line in Kuusamo. Read more:
Heeresfeldbahn in Kuusamo
On 23 September 1944, three battalions of the 6.SS-Gebirgs-Jäger-Division Nord, III/SS-GJR 11 "RH", I /SS-GJR 12 "MG" (without 3./SS-GJR 12 "MG") and III/SS-GJR 12 "MG", took up positions with 17./SS-GJR 12 "MG" as the flank protection. The Germans used the names Kuusamostellung and Kuusamo-Schutzstellung for this defensive line. Fire support for the delaying action was provided by one SS-Gebirgs-Artillerie-Batterie (III/SS-GAR 6), located mainly near Sänkikangas, and another mountain artillery battery from 7.Gebirgs-Division (10./Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 82) along the Kajaani road (September 24), and part of the Werfer-Abteilung 11 (mot).100
Troops of the Red Army’s 205th Division, who came after the retreating Germans from the direction of Kiestinki, appeared on the east side of the barrier line. To the east of Lahtela, according to the published Soviet war diaries, the Red Army battalion, I/IR 721, was the vanguard. The rest of the Division's troops were clearly further east.121, 134 Close to the Salpalinja, however, it appeared to be a reconnaissance company of about 80 men.
Did they fight in Lahtela?
In 2020, there was a discussion about whether there was fighting around Kuusamo Lahtela (on the Vanttaja line), Salpalinja position or not, in September 1944. Based on Soviet war diaries, it has been claimed that German and Soviet troops fought at the Salpalinja position in Kuusamo's Lahtela. The claims about the battle based solely on these Soviet war diaries, due to the war diaries of the 6.SS-Gebirgs-Jäger-Division Nord from that time having been lost or destroyed. From this standpoint, the Soviet war diaries as the only considered available source would be correct.
Even from this starting point, it would be very unusual for a force of less than company strength to attack three battalions in strong fortified positions. Such a measure could hardly be considered reasonable by the military commanders of any country.
Traces of "battle" found in the terrain
No fired ammunition cases have been found in either the Germans or Soviet positions, which is unusual if there had been any fighting in the area. The traces of the indirect fire on the terrain have also been minor and there are only a few visible signs of it. Artillery's share of the harassing fire has been clearly smaller than that of mortars. The information in the German war diaries, as well as the empty ammunition boxes of the 81mm mortars (8cm Gr.W 34) found in the rear terrain of the Vanttaja line, and the shells of the 10.5 cm le.FH 18 light field howitzer found in Sänkikangas support this thinking. On the other hand, no empty 15cm s.FH 18 field howitzer shell cases have been found. It would seem that the Red Army artillery had targeted the German artillery positions with its harassing fire, rather than the troops in the Salpalinja positions.
German war diaries
The German war diaries (KTB 20.Gebirgs-Armee) do not speak of the events of 24.9.–25.9.1944 as a battle. It could be concluded that the indirect fire by the Red Army was light and relatively inaccurate, as there are hardly any reports of losses. However, it must be remembered that the German troops were able to enjoy the excellent protection provided by the Salpalinja positions. It can be assumed that the Red Army artillery targeted the German artillery positions, which were mainly in the direction of Sänkikangas, not in Vanttaja.
The German war diaries (KTB 20.Gebirgs-Armee), on the other hand, say that the Red Army troops behaved with surprising restraint (September 24, 1944). The Germans had no information about the effectiveness of their indirect harassing fire. The possible losses of the Red Army, in clearly worse positions, are not known to us. If an entire Red Army battalion had been relatively tightly grouped in the area indicated in the map appendix of the Red Army's war diary, I would guess that the losses would have been considerable in this case. However, the inventory of the terrain reveals that the Red Army's war diary and its map appendix are not correct in this matter either. The stations were further east and there was only a reconnaissance company involved, with about 80 men.
Interviews with veterans
In 2004, we interviewed two German SS veterans (Jochen Seeliger and Werner Adam). In the fall of 1944, they were both in position at the Salpalinja position in Vanttaja and remembered the Salpalinja position and their events well at the time of the interview. Both have even written their own books about their experiences on the Kiestinki–Kuusamo route in 1942–1944. Seeliger was a machine gunner, on the roof of a concrete bunker no. 12 along Lämsänkyläntie. When he was asked in the interview whether there was fighting at the Salpalinja position in Lahtela or whether enemies were shot at, the answer was a clear “no”. He stated that "Ivan" had kept a respectful distance. This statement was confirmed by yet another veteran, Werner Adam. I see no reason why veterans would make an untruthful statement. They did remember the Salpalinja's special positions well, the indirect artillery that was fired, and a few other very precise details.119, 120 This "respectful distance" mentioned by the veterans is supported not only by the actual positions found in the terrain, but also by the fact that three German battalions were able to break away from Vanttaja's Salpalinja positions at 05:00 in the morning of September 26, unnoticed by the Red Army troops. The Soviet soldiers of Infantry regiment 721 did not realize the situation until half a day later.
It is strange that the Soviet war diary claims that the troops of the 205th Division threw the Germans from the positions on September 26, 1944 at 16:00, supported by powerful artillery.134 This claim is not true, because the Germans had already withdrawn from the positions on their own before this. The Red Army, supported by artillery, had "captured" the unmanned Salpalinja positions, so there was no battle in this case either.
Final conclusion about the events in Lahtela
The claim of the so-called battle in Lahtela is therefore not supported in my opinion by the questionable credibility of the Soviet war diaries and the even clearer inaccuracies. Unfortunately, these strange "inaccuracies" seriously erode the credibility of the Soviet war diaries, although they undoubtedly have their own value. The claim presented in Koillissanomat newspaper, that the information in the Soviet war diaries is undeniably true and accurate, is not valid in my opinion.
Based on the silence of the German war diaries about any battle on the Salpalinja, the statements of the German veterans who were on the spot, and the observations made during the terrain inventory, I do not believe there was fighting in Lahtela in the fall of 1944.
If Lahtela had been fought in the fall of 1944, it would be interesting new information, but in the light of the information presented, it unfortunately does not seem likely. Of course, everyone can decide for themselves whether to believe the Soviet war diary, or the evidence presented now, based on several different sources, or even both.
As the German troops continued their retreat from the Vanttaja-Taipale line in the morning of 26 September 1944 at 05.00, the 205th Division of the Red Army did not notice the situation until at noon and started to advance slowly, dismantling mines. The troops of the 205th Division thus followed the Germans slowly and cautiously and occupied the entire village of Kuusamo, which had been burnt by the Germans. The German rear guard, which was approximately platoon sized, had been given a mission of monitoring the advance of the Red Army. The soldiers of the rear guard (the "last Mohicans" mentioned by the veterans) observed the Red Army advancing cautiously and occupying Kuusamo.100,119,120 Although the Red Army soldiers did not come in contact with the German rear guard, their caution was justified, as the Germans had quite ingeniously mined the enemy's advance route.
The rear guard of the 6.SS-Gebirgs-Jäger-Division Nord was located in Vanttaja and Taipale.100 An SS battalion (III/SS-GJR 11 "RH") was positioned in Taipale, supported by a mortar squad and an artillery battery positioned in the area of Sänkikangas.101
The German troops spent about a week in the area, during which time they dug five 81 mm mortar (8cm Gr.W 34) firing positions and four accommodation bunkers in the Taipale hinterland. Some of the men stayed in tents, as the tent sites were also discovered during a survey of the terrain in 2003. The Germans made use of the dugout bunkers in the Salpalinja line for living accommodations.
The Germans also had a lookout point in the attic of the Taipale house. From the window of the attic, you could see directly over Lake Iijärvi to the east. When the Germans left, they did not burn the house.117
Saapunki and Kolvanki
Three German SS battalions were positioned in the Vanttaja line (between Lahtela and Taipale), Saapunki and Kolvanki were flanked by one platoon each. The Red Army’s 205th Division Ski Battalion, which had moved north of Lake Kuusamo, advanced cautiously, reconnoitering to the vicinity of the Saapunki and Kolvanki fortifications by 26 September 1944. There was no fighting in these positions either, as the German platoons left as the rear guard withdrew westwards before there could be a contact. The German war diaries (KTB AOK 20) do not mention any fighting in this area, and no evidence of fighting has been found in the area during the terrain inventory.
According to the map appendix of the Red Army war diary, the ski battalion would had advanced to and through the Kolvanki positions as early as 11.00 on 24 September and would have advanced as far as the Petäjälampi area by 16.40 on 24 September. This would have meant that the German retreat towards Rovaniemi would have been cut off. This information, however, is not correct. The German war diaries and the veterans interviewed do not mention such an event. If the information in the Red Army war diaries were true, the event would have been so significant and would certainly have led to a strong German response that would certainly have been mentioned in the German war diaries. However, the troops stationed in the Vanttaja line were able to break away unmolested at 05.00 on 26 September and retreat through the Kuusamo towards Kilkilösalmi and from there on through Joutsijärvi to Rovaniemi. The road of retreat was therefore not cut, and the map appendix of the Soviet war diary has the wrong date.
German retreat through Kilkilösalmi in autumn 1944
Beginning 10 September 1944, part of the German XVIII Gebirgs-Armeekorps withdrew through the Kilkilösalmi fortification area towards Joutsijärvi and from there to Rovaniemi.100 Although the entire army corps did not withdraw through Kilkilösalmi, there was quite a traffic jam in the autumn of 1944.
This northernmost withdrawal route from Kuusamo ran along the main German supply route, Kiestinki- Kuusamo-Ruka-Kilkilösalmi-Joutsijärvi. At Kilkilösalmi, a German rear guard detachment operated for about two weeks, supported by the Salpalinja positions. The Germans cut a line in the woods (on the east side of Kilkilösalmi) so that the sentries could see the road to the east for about a kilometre.118 Before retreating, the Germans destroyed the bridge over Kilkilösalmi and effectively mined the area.100,118 A reconnaissance patrol of the Red Army's 205th Division also visited Kilkilösalmi after the Germans had left.118
Kuusamo occupation period
The Red Army's 205th Division occupied the burnt-down Kuusamo village for a total of 52 days (27.9.-17.11.1944). In practice, the Red Army troops crossed the border at Kuusamo in the evening of 20 September 1944, and the last of the troops left the border by 18 November 1944. During the occupation period, the 205th Division set up outposts at Kuoliovaara, about 20 km from Kuusamo towards Oulu, and at Kilkilösalmi.100
During the occupation period, the 205th Division was mainly billeted in the vicinity of Kuusamo. The Red Army soldiers collected German property left on the site, but also stole property that had been left by the residents of Kuusamo and saved from burning.
Blasting of reinforced concrete bunkers
The Red Army caused massive destruction in Kuusamo when, during October 1944, they blew up the reinforced concrete bunkers on the Salpalinja line in Kuusamo, 32 in all. In addition, one half-finished bunker was blown up in the Ikkunus area.
With this action, the Red Army caused Finland an estimated loss of more than 32 million Finnish marks at the time, since the average cost of one reinforced concrete bunker was more than one million marks. In the case of the Salpalinja, the damage was limited to these concrete bunkers, as the armoured barriers and field fortifications were left alone.
Explosions in Tuovila
Troops of the Red Army's 205th Division arrived in Tuovila on 27 September 1944. The engineers thoroughly searched the fortifications and blew up all nine of the reinforced concrete bunkers in the area, during October 1944. For some reason, the old mill, located near the quarry of the Tuovila fortress area, the Kivimäki, was not destroyed by the retreating Germans in the autumn of 1944 and later by the Soviets who left in November 1944. The mill is still in place, although it has not been used for decades.
Explosions in Ikkunus
Troops of the Red Army's 205th Division arrived in the Tuovila-Ikkunus-Saapunki area in late September 1944. Soviet engineers thoroughly searched the fortifications and blew up all six of the reinforced concrete bunkers in this area as well, during October 1944. For some reason, they also blew up the unfinished machine gun bunker No 50. The floor slab of this bunkers had been poured, the well had been dug and the walls had been paved, but the walls and roof had not been poured. There were two other barracks bunkers in Kuusamo, Saapunki (No 190) and Taipale (No 5), which were at a similar stage of construction, but these were not blown up.
Explosions in Saapunki
On 26 September 1944, the troops of the 6th SS-Mountain Division Nord had a platoon-sized rearguard detachment in Saapunki, supported by mortars. The Red Army's 205th Ski Battalion, which followed behind the Germans, apparently kept relatively far away from the Germans, and there were no firefights reported at the Saapunki positions either. At least the German war diaries make no mention of a clash with Red Army troops. Red Army troops arrived in the Tuovila-Ikkunus-Saapunki area in late September 1944. Soviet engineers thoroughly searched the fortifications and blew up eight reinforced concrete bunkers in this area as well, during October 1944.
Explosions in Kolvanki
When the Germans were preparing to evacuate their depot area in September 1944, at the western end of the present airport, the evacuation of Kuusamo civilians was already in full swing. The Germans were puzzled by the civilians' activities and eventually asked where the Finns were going from their homes. The civilians had only jokingly remarked that "we are on our way to Berlin".118 The Germans destroyed their own camp area, but here too they left the Salpalinja positions untouched.110
The 6.SS-Gebirgs-Jäger-Division Nord had rear guard troops in the area of Kolvanki from 23 September 1944. The Germans relied on the already built Salpalinja field fortifications and dug positions for an 81mm mortar squad (8cm Gr.W 34) in the terrain between Munakkalampi and Pieni Korppilampi. Reportedly, in the Kolvanki area, there was no combat between German and Soviet troops. In the Kolvanki area there were no ready-made reinforced concrete bunkers, so the Soviet engineers had nothing to blow up in this area.
Explosions in Vanttaja
The delaying troops of the German SS-Gebirgs-Jäger-Division Nord occupied positions on the Vanttaja-Taipale line on the Salpalinja line for a few weeks.100 As the Germans continued their retreat, the Red Army's 205th Division occupied positions in the Vanttaja area on the afternoon of 26 September 1944. During October, five reinforced concrete bunkers in the Vanttaja area were blown up by Red Army engineers.
Explosions in Taipale
After the Germans withdrew, the engineers of the Red Army's 205th Division blew up the prefabricated reinforced concrete bunkers (Nos 4, 7 and 153) in the Taipale area during October 1944.
Explosions in Poussu
Troops of the 205th Division of the Red Army also arrived in Poussuu in October 1944. The engineers of the 205th Division thoroughly searched the fortifications and blew up the only reinforced concrete fortress in the area (No 135), during October 1944.
Kuusamo occupation ends
The 205th Division of the Red Army occupying Kuusamo left on 17 November 1944 and the entire Kuusamo municipality, behind the 1940 border, by 18 November 1944. After this, the Kuusamo evacuees were gradually allowed to return to their completely burnt and destroyed hometown, where reconstruction soon began.
During the reconstruction period, there was a shortage of all building materials, which meant that various building materials were removed from the Salpalinja structures. As a result, the locals supplemented the work of the Red Army by removing metal from the concrete structures of the blown-up barracks, even with the aid of small explosives.
The large blast holes and small pieces of concrete that can be seen in the landscape today are therefore not entirely the work of the Red Army. The photograph below, taken by Aukusti Tuhka in the summer of 1945, clearly shows the state of the Red Army's blasting. This one still has the dome attached, which is further proof that the Red Army did not take all the domes with them.
The collection of reinforcing steel from blasted reinforced concrete bunkers began in 1946-1947 with civilian labour. The work involved the use of sledgehammers and small explosives. According to one report, the Finnish state was also involved in the metal collection. The metal collected in Kuusamo was transported to the Oulu railway station and from there to the Soviet Union as part of the war reparations.
The fate of steel domes
Only one steel cupola was spared from destruction and removal in Kuusamo. It now rests partly sunk in the swamp at the Tuovila fortress area, in the backyard of bunker No 42.
All but one of the machine gun and spotting scope heads in the reinforced concrete bunkers have been either blown to pieces or taken away. However, no one seems to know with absolute certainty the fate of all the shells. According to Lieutenant General Heikki Koskelo (1935–2020), the Red Army took at least some of the steel domes with them to the Soviet Union.
The Red Army would have had the opportunity to do so, even with the manpower and transport equipment available. Some locals have even claimed to have seen cupolas taken from Kuusamo across the border. Apparently one of these steel domes has been, until recently, abandoned behind the border.
According to one report, the machine gun and telescopic sight domes in the reinforced concrete bunkers were blown to pieces by the Finns after the war, using phosphate bombs and dynamite. However, there is no certainty as to how many of the shells were blown up, as there are also reports that the shells were taken away by truck in the early 1950s. After the war, the Finnish state collected scrap metal and had the necessary transport equipment, including for moving heavy cupolas.
One cupola, possibly transported from Kuusamo, is still intact in Oulu. This information also seems possible, since metal collected in Kuusamo was transported to Oulu in the years after the war.
Moving roadblocks after the war
On 11 August 1947, Colonel Otto Bonsdorff, Chief of the Finnish Army Engineer Corps, gave the order to move the roadblocks to the sides of the roads in northern Finland. As it was difficult for the Maintenance Office to organise this with its own manpower, the task was given to Talon Huolinta ja Tarvikkeet Oy. The task was therefore to widen the roadblocks enough to clear the ditches adjacent to the roads. In Kuusamo, this work was carried out at Kilkilösalmi, where barbed wire barriers were dismantled and “Spanish Rider obstacles” were removed from the roadside. In Tuovila, Saapunki and Kolvanki, armour stones and roadblocks were removed.73
- 73. T-19173/3, Puolustusvoimain Pääesikunta, Pioneeriosasto n:o 101/Maal./302, Kansallisarkisto/JK”