The tactical doctrine of the Finnish Army presupposes an overwhelming superiority in
numbers and materiel on the part of its potential enemy. To increase the effectiveness
of their defense against such an enemy, Finnish tactics take advantage of the available
natural factors: the characteristics of the Finnish people, and the nature and
possibilities of Finland's terrain.
Their long struggle with poor soil caused the Finnish people to develop exceptional
physical strength, iron nerves, resourcefulness, and a stubborn will. These traits, together
with the high level of popular education, general skill in arms, the expert use of
skis, and familiarity with life in the woods make the Finnish soldier especially
suited for independent action.
The Finns are naturally uncommunicative, like to go their own way, and are of a
suspicious nature. Not easily aroused to enthusiasm, they are strong-willed, and
once an idea is conceived it is held tenaciously. Finns are hard to lead, but, once
having accepted a leader, are extremely loyal.
The country is largely covered with woods, thousands of lakes, and numerous rivers and
swamps. The coastline is very irregular. Travel must be confined to roads since
crosscountry communication is almost impossible. The roads are many miles apart and
hemmed in by the forest. The clearings for agricultural purposes are few and small. It
is a rolling country, with very few marked elevations.
Finns realized long ago that if war came to them, it would be a defensive conflict
begun by an aggressor and fought from the very first day within their own
boundaries. The general plan of defense assumes that the enemy will be
unprepared by nature and experience to cope with conditions in Finland.
Although Finnish troops are organized into divisions, brigades, regiments, etc., in the
same manner as other modern armies, their operations against an enemy emphasize use of
small units: patrols, attacking groups, and detachments.
The basic tactical doctrine assumes that the enemy will follow avenues of approach which
will make him vulnerable to encirclement, after which his forces are to be destroyed
piecemeal. This is accomplished by forcing the enemy to follow routes outlined by
either natural or artificial obstacles until he reaches the terrain selected for
The tactics of annihilation are carried out through the use of a "motti". In original
usage the word motti means a pile of sawn timber held in position by upright stakes
driven in at intervals along its edges. In military usage, motti refers to an enemy
group surrounded by Finnish patrols each of from eight to twelve men armed with
automatic arms. Lines of communication are severed and the surrounded enemy is
decimated by numerous raids, severe cold, and slow starvation. This encirclement
may last several months, until the enemy force is completely destroyed.
A modern army invading Finland is to a large extent confined to the roads in
order to move its mechanized units and weapons forward. Finnish light artillery is so
emplaced as to force these moving columns off the road into the adjacent forests. The
Finns then rush their machine guns and antitank guns through the forest on a
special type of sled called a "pulka"; they attack and are off again before the
enemy can take any counteraction.
Finnish winter uniforms are made of white skins and furs, and patrols wear a white
cape with a hood attached. Against a snow-covered background they are almost invisible
to the enemy. Materiel is also camouflaged to blend with the white background. For
example, the Finns cover captured tanks with lime-wash to make them less conspicuous.
No Finnish unit, however small, is ever sent out upon operations of more than a few
hours' length without heating equipment adapted to its needs. Dugouts are
constructed, lined with skins and roofed with birch logs capable of supporting
several feet of snow. In each of these shelters there is a stove designed to
burn without sparks or visible trace of smoke.
The Finns are experts on skis and rely mainly on their use in winter; material is
transported on motor trucks, horse-drawn sleighs, and dog-team sleds. Ski troops have
been known to travel over 65 miles a day.
The chief offensive weapon of the Finns is the Suomi machine carbine, similar to
our sub-machine gun (see sketch). Ordinary Central European military tactics demands
fire beginning at long ranges in the form of artillery preparation and increasing
gradually in intensity over a considerable period of time. Something entirely
different is required for warfare in the Finnish woods. Here the weapons must be
located far forward and maximum fire power attained immediately. This demands an
automatic weapon which is light and mobile. This weapon must be unusually well-balanced to
ensure good aim under difficulties incident to forest fighting. The Suomi carbine
is the weapon which fulfills all these requirements.
|9-MM. MACHINE CARBINE -- SUOMI|
Long-range rifles are not suitable for forest warfare because of the very
limited fields of fire.
In Finnish practice, the place of the bayonet is taken by the "puukko" (see sketch). The
best puukko, or Finnish knife, comes from Lapland. It usually has a straight
blade 7 1/2 in. long, tapering to a point in the last 1 1/2 in. Its
handle is 4 1/2 in. long and made of polished wood. It is generally enclosed in
a scabbard of tooled leather. The puukko is a weapon for the silence and darkness of the
woods. It is carried by most Finnish troops and particularly adapted to night raids.
Activities of Patrols.
Against massed troops and columns of the enemy, Finnish patrols employ fire from
automatic weapons, trench mortars, and light artillery. However, columns are
annihilated chiefly by swift movement and automatic fire. For this purpose ski
troops are held in readiness and are put into action at the proper time. These
ski troops attack a column on the flank, move rapidly along the whole
length, and inflict casualties with automatic weapons.
When decisive action is expected to take place in woods, machine guns, as a
rule, are not taken along. These have little effect in woods and may easily fall
into the hands of the enemy. On the other hand, the Finns recognize the fact
that fire of lighter automatic weapons increases the momentum of attack in the woods
and employ them in unusually large numbers.
The Finns do not attack large bodies of enemy troops. They devote energies
primarily to three specialized tasks: a) depriving the enemy divisions of their
command by attacking and destroying regimental and brigade headquarters; b) concentrating
on the destruction of the field-kitchens; and c) attacking communications.
When the enemy lines of communication are extended, they are subjected to incessant
harassing. For this purpose detachments of picked ski-runners are considered most suitable.
A condition for success of the raid is that such detachments receive clear, and very
often detailed instructions. Orders to such detachments must therefore be issued by
an experienced officer, either a battalion or regimental commander.
During very cold weather, night attacks yield better results against hostile troops
if these have had to halt in the open for lack of suitable bivouacs. The mere fact
that the activities of patrols and aircraft prevent the enemy from lighting fires
causes many frostbites and severe colds, and makes him more vulnerable to attacks
by major forces. Patrols are equipped with machine carbines, hand grenades, and
materiel for destroying armored vehicles and for burning trains, supplies, etc.
In addition to inflicting direct casualties, patrol activity creates a feeling of
uncertainty among enemy troops and forces them to take excessive measures of
precaution. For example, as a result of such activity by Finnish patrols, the
commander of a Russian tank corps ordered an entire tank brigade to reconnoiter the
terrain far to the rear of the Russian positions.
For the destruction of armored vehicles, and for burning trains, Finnish
patrols are provided with "partisan incendiary grenades" (see sketch). These
contain about 300 grams of thermite. Arming is effected by striking the friction
surface of a match box against the friction surface at the end of the handle. By
means of a fuse card the thermite is ignited 5 or 6 seconds later.
|FINNISH "PARTISAN INCENDIARY GRENADE"|
During the first Russo-Finnish War (1939) great losses were suffered by Russian
tank units attempting to penetrate Finnish antitank defenses.
The first Russian attempt to attack with tanks was stopped and disorganized by fields of
mines arranged inside the frontier. The mines were placed on all the roads, paths, and
bridges, and caused severe losses among the tanks.
These mines were not placed in fixed positions. During the night Finnish patrols would
replace destroyed mines, particularly on roads over which some Russian units had already
passed. Many tanks were destroyed in this way.
In order to prevent the removal of mines by the enemy, mine fields are kept under
constant observation and are covered by infantry fire.
The Finns construct tank obstacles of various types, and mine the weaker
points in the lay-out of obstacles. One of these obstacles is an abatis. An abatis
is at least 30 yards in depth and made of trees with trunks measuring over 8 inches
in diameter. Trees are cut from 3 to 4 feet above the ground but left
attached to their stumps. The tops are pointed toward the defender. The trees
are attached to one another with steel wire, large nails, or hooks, and barbed
wire is interlaced in all directions. With traps inside such barriers, their removal is
rendered very difficult. The tops of these trees must not be parallel but
should partly cross one another so as not to allow passage between the trunks.
Antitank defense companies are employed for destruction of tanks which
may break through the main line of resistance. Such missions require alert and
The antitank defense company consists of 3 platoons of 4 sections each; a section
includes a leader, an assistant leader, 5 men, 3 men in reserve. The company is
equipped with several cargo trucks for various types of mines and Molotov cocktails.
The company performs on the principle that observation from a tank is limited and
that it cannot fire at an object within a radius of 3 to 4 yards. A section
operates in the following manner:
Men are placed in pairs, one on each side of the road over a distance of 75 to 100 yards. Each
man digs a shelter for himself and thoroughly camouflages it. Tanks, which generally drive
along the road in platoons of 5 vehicles each, are allowed to advance to a point where the
first tank is abreast of the last pair of men. Here it is destroyed by a mine drawn across
the road in its path. This is usually a signal for the other pairs of men to take advantage
of the resultant confusion and simultaneously destroy the other tanks. To accomplish the
destruction of such a tank group, terrain is selected where it is difficult for the tanks
to leave the road, as in dense woods or on stony ground.
A mine drawn across the road is constructed of four ordinary tank mines coupled
together with wire, the distance between each mine being about 1 inch. A wire
about 25 yards long is attached to each end of the series of mines, and by
means of this wire they are drawn across the road. The parts of the wire lying
on the road are camouflaged. Since the bottom of the mine is indented and does
not slide easily, a plank or strip of tin must be placed underneath. As the tank
approaches, the mines are drawn onto the road in front of it.
Stopping of the first tank in the column is the signal for a general attack. An
antitank mine is thrown in front of the track of each tank and combustible
bottles are thrown simultaneously. Immediately after the detonation of the antitank
mine and the immobilization of the tank, a grenade thrower jumps or climbs
onto the tank and throws a hand grenade through the roof shutter of the turret.
The audacity of antitank defense personnel can best be illustrated by reports of their
action north of Lake Ladoga against Russian tanks. Lacking other tank-destroying
equipment, Finnish soldiers were reported to have bent the barrels of the tank
machine guns by hitting them with trunks of birch trees.
Antitank defense platoons cooperate with the antitank gun platoons whenever
possible. When the latter hit a tank they signal the antitank defense personnel to
Possessing very few antitank guns, the Finns became experts in the accurate
delivery of fire, and strategic emplacement. They realized that antitank
guns located on the main line of resistance are destroyed either by the fire of
hostile tank guns or by being overrun by attacking tanks. Finnish tactics stress
that antitank guns, when possible, should be located on reverse slopes, on ground
interspersed with boulders, under cover of terrain difficult to pass, or under
protection of mines placed well forward. A frequent change of positions is also
a method of avoiding destruction.
Their best defense against air attacks, and one utilized to great advantage
by Finnish troops, is the natural cover and concealment afforded by local terrain. Thick
forests and the excellent camouflage of troops and materiel make air observation very difficult.
In addition to the use of basic infantry weapons on enemy aircraft, the
Finns employ the 76-mm., 40-mm., and 20-mm. antiaircraft guns and
the 7.62-mm. antiaircraft machine gun. Of these, the 40-mm. antiaircraft gun proved to
be the most efficient in the ratio of ammunition expended to the number of planes
downed. Small-arms antiaircraft fire is delivered only by platoons.
It has been reported that during the Russo-Finnish War, the Finns found
the use of Stokes mortars effective against dive-bombing attacks. The mortars
were placed in batteries of four, under the command of an officer. The future
position of the target was estimated by the gunners. Mortar shells were kept
ready at charges 1, 2, and 3. The officer selected the charge and gave the initial
order to fire. Although the number of planes brought down by this method was
not great, the fire interfered with the aim of the bombers and kept them at a
respectful distance. This expedient was originally improvised by infantry units
which had no other means of antiaircraft defense.