Finnish Army

    Winter War

    On 30 November 1939, Russian forces attacked Finland, what was to be known as the Winter War.
    Field Marshal Mannerheim who was Commander-in-Chief mobilized 300,000 men, 112 guns and 113 airplanes against a Russian army of 450,000 troops, 2000 tanks, 2050 guns and 1000 airplanes that were massed on the eastern border of Finland.

    By December, the Russians advanced 72kms on the Karelian Isthmus and 16kms along the western shore of Ladoga. Twelve Soviet Divisions attacked along the border from Ladoga. All across the Finnish borders, the Soviet forces were penetrating deep into the country.

    Fortunately for the Finns, there were few roads for the Russian mobile units to cross through because of the vast forests and lakes. By the end of December the Finns were counter-attacking. An entire Russian Division was almost destroyed at Suomussalmi. Beginning early January 1940, two more Russian Divisions were encircled. In spite of the Finnish military successes Russian air power was stilled pounding Finnish cities.

    About forty five new Soviet Divisions were scattered along the Karelian Isthmus all the way through north of Ladoga. In February, 1500 tanks supported by heavy artillery were used by Soviet forces to attack the city of Viipuri. However the Finns held to their defensive perimeter and stopped the Soviet forces from reaching the city. By March 1940, the Russian attack on the Karelian Isthmus continued without let up. On the other fronts, however, the Soviets could not advance in spite of their attacks. Negotiations for peace forced Finland to cede more territory to the Russians than it lost during the war. A total of 22,849 Finns were killed and 43,557 were wounded in action. The Soviet losses were at 200,000 killed.

    Finnish Post Card

    The Continuation War

    After the Winter War, the Soviets continued new demands on Finland and began waging a psychological war. The Finns continued to fortify their borders, armed their forces and stimulate their economy. As the Russians surged into the territory ceded by the peace treaty, they disregarded the boundaries whenever it seemed economically or strategically advantageous. Meanwhile the Germans had keen interest in Finland because they urgently needed Finnish cooper, nickel and other minerals for their arms industry.

    When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Finland declared itself uninvolved in the war between Germany and Russia, but added that Finland would defend itself if attacked, which they knew it would happen. To the surprise of no one, the Russians quickly responded by attacking Finnish borders. Thus, Finland was drawn into defending herself and into a partnership with Germany.

    The Finns called their participation the "Continuation war." Finland was divided into two military strategic Fronts.

    Finnish Semi-postals

    Finnish Semi-postals

    The Finnish semi-postal stamps were issued in May 1941. The surtax was used to aid soldiers who fought in the Finnish-Russo War. The other two Finnish semi-postals were issued in 1940. The surtax was used to promote Finnish national welfare. Notice the German style helmet on top of the bayonet, honoring the Finnish Army. Both stamps also show on the bottom corner the Order of the Cross of Liberty, 3rd or 4th class.

    Karelian Front

    On the southern Karelian Front it had the Karelian and Southeastern Finnish Armies. The Finnish Southeastern Army, was formed into two Corps. The 2nd Corps composed of the 2nd, 10th, 15th and 18th Divisions, and the 4th Corps comprised of the 4th, 8th and 17th Divisions. In August 1941, these two Corps accomplished the tasks of surrounding the town of Viipuri and taking control of the roads and rails of the area. By September, these forces recaptured their lost territories and halted only 48kms from Leningrad.

    The Karelian Army had two Corps, totaling 100,000 men. The 6th Corps forming the 1st, 5th and 11th Division plus 163rd German Division and 1st Jaeger Brigade. The 7th Corps was composed of the 7th and 19th Divisions, which included a calvary and 2nd Jaeger Brigade. Mannerheim planned a major offensive to open north of Lake Ladoga and Lake Oneaga as far as the Svir River.

    In six days the Finns fought their way through 105kms of forest, reaching the northern east corner of Lake Ladoga. By 24 July the Karelian Army was 24kms beyond the 1939 border to the Tuulos River. After major offensives from the Finnish Southeastern and Karelian Armies and countless battles, the Finns recover their territory lost during the Winter War.

    Northern Lappland Front

    On the northern Lapland Front it had the German elite 20th Mountain Army. The German 20th Mountain Army was composed of three corps:
    the Finnish 3rd Corps, the German 36th Corps and a Mountain Corps, which included the Finnish 6th Division.

    These Corps were placed under the command of General Eduard Dietl who was lionized in the German press as the "victor of Narvik" for his takeover of that port in Norway. The purpose was to take the Petsamo-Murmansk region, in order to eliminate any Soviet troop movement from Murmansk, which had a 1368kms railroad connecting to Leningrad.

    This was no easy task for the German Mountain Corps since it had to cross a 97kms area from Petsamo to Murmansk that was virtually impassable. There were countless torrents, lakes and fast-flowing rivers with rapids and waterfalls. Because of the complexity, a two operational plan, was adopted.

    The first plan was called operation "Platinum Fox," it was Hitler's designed. Two German Divisions would advance 200kms from Petsamo across the tundra onto Murmansk.

    The second operation named "Polar Fox" was Dietl's suggestion. Two divisions launched from the town of Rovaniemi in central Finland would strike the Soviet strong hold at Salla, then advance on the railhead to Kandalaksha. In addition two Finnish Divisions would simultaneously cross the border to the south. One division will attack the city of Salla while the other division cuts off the railroad at Loukhi.

    On 29 June two German Mountain Divisions and a Finnish detachment of 800 men cross the border and advanced through the Petsamo region. On 6 July after some offensive fighting, the two Mountain Division's made it across the Litsa River establishing a bridgehead 48kms from Murmansk. By the middle of September, after countless counterattacks by the Germans and at a cost of 10,290 casualties, Dietl decided to dig in for the long Artic winter.

    During operation "Polar Fox," Lt. General Hans Feige took command of 40,600 men and 8000 SS Police German troops including the Finnish 6th Division with 12,000 men. While Brigadier General Hjalmar Siilasvuo commanded the Finnish 3rd Corps took 12,000 men. The drive towards Salla by Feige's men had suffered 5,500 casualties while Siilasvuo's troops had advanced 64kms short of their objective. By August 1941, both the Finns and the Germans decided to halt and regroup. By December 1941 to May 1944, the Finnish Front remained static.

    On early June 1944, all hell broke loose, the Soviets launched a massive offensive of half a million troops with 800 tanks that resulted in the Finnish 3rd and 4th Corps in collapsing. The Finnish forces fought rearguard actions.

    During the summer of 1944, the Germans had sent an additional infantry division, an assault gun brigade and large quantities of anti-tank weapons. By the end of June 1944, the Finnish forces were thrown back to the border, where they succeeded in digging in. All the gains in the continuation war had been lost.

    In August 1944, Finland concluded an alliance with the Soviets. The German forces were expelled in the Lapland area. By the end of 1944, the German forces were withdrawing into Norway. Finland lost 55,000 men killed.

    Finnish Field Post

    Finnish Field Mail

    Top is a Finnish military field cover with special label applied in order to control the volume of mail. The field cover shown in the center has been censored. Notice the sealing tape applied to the side that was opened
    Below is a field cover with a Swedish stamp that was mailed to a Swedish volunteer in the Finnish forces.

    Finnish Postal History

    The Finnish Army had a field post service since July 1919, however they were not regulated.
    In March 1937, military maneuvers were held in an area north of Lake Ladoga in Finnish Karelia. During these maneuvers a new field post system was processed. The soldier's mail was carried without a postal charge. Regulations required that letters should be addressed with the word "KENTTAPOSTIA" (Field post) or in Swedish, "FALTPOST." The addressee was identified by his rank, name and abbreviated name of his unit.

    During the Winter War field post regulations stated that all mail was marked with one of two rubber-stamped cachets: "Kenttapostia" in violet ink, for personal mail and "Sotilasasia" in red ink, for official mail, however, in practice they were struck in whatever ink was available at the time. The size of these markings varied in size and were either boxed or unboxed.

    As the war progressed these handstamps were a security risk since they identified the location of the operational units. Sixteen "Kenttapostikonttori, Kpk" (Field Post Offices, FPOs) were established in September 1939.

    The mail from the border towns was handle by the army logistics centers. These field offices postmarked the mail with a black, double-ring circular dated cancel reading Kpk. In order to control the volume of fieldpost being sent to the troops, on 1 November 1941 a small rectangular, imperforate or roullete perforate label was issued. These labels were typographed with the inscription KENTTAPOSTIA surrounded by an enclose wave-form frame on red paper. Four labels every month was provided.

    In December 1941, this was increased to eight labels. The intention was that the labels would be affixed to the front of letters and cards being sent to the troops as postage free.

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