- Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive
Infobox Military Conflict
World War II, Continuation War
caption=The start of the Soviet offensive on June 9, 1944.
Karelian Isthmus/ East Karelia, USSR
June 9– August 4, 1944
result=Limited Soviet success, eventual Finnish defensive victories
combatant1=flag|Finland flag|Nazi Germany
commander1=flagicon|Finland C.G.E. Mannerheim
Karl Lennart Oesch
strength1=75,000 soldiers initially
268,000 after reinforcements
Ohto Manninen: "Molotovin cocktail, Hitlerin sateenvarjo", ISBN 951-37-1495-0, Painatuskeskus, 1994, The numbers available in Krivoshejev's books are only up to the capture of Vyborg at Karelian Isthmus and up to end of July at Ladoga Karelia thus missing the heavy fighting between June 21-July 15 at Karelian Isthmus and the final Battle of Ilomantsi at Ladoga Karelia. Manninen had collected those numbers from corps level casualty reports from archives of Soviet Ministry of Defence.] |
World War II, in the Continuation War, the Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive was a strategic offensive by the Leningrad and Karelian Fronts against Finland on the Karelian Isthmusand East Kareliafronts. The result was a limited Soviet victory. The Soviets captured most of East Kareliaand Vyborg(Viipuri), and were also successful in drawing further German forces away from Army Group Centreand weakened the German position in Belorussian before the launch of Operation Bagration. [Bergstrom 2008, p. 58-59.] However they did not achieve the objective of Kymi Riverand the destruction of the Finnish army. This was the largest operation in scope and scale ever fought in Scandinavia.
The operations of each Front had their own limited operations
Vyborg Offensive(10 June 1944 - 20 June 1944) by the Leningrad Front
Svir–Petrozavodsk Offensive(21 June 1944 - 9 August 1944) Karelian Front
During the winter of
1943- 1944, Soviet forces had raised the Siege of Leningradand driven the German Army Group Northto the Narwa- Lake Ilmen- Pskovline. Finland had queried for peace conditions in February, but the given conditions were considered impossible to fulfil. When the Finnish rejection became known, the Stavka(Soviet Union's General Headquarters of armed forces) started to prepare for an offensive to force Finland's exit from the war on the side of Germany.
The Stavka plan called for a two-pronged offensive, one from Leningrad via Vyborg to the River Kymijoki, and the second across the
Svir Riverthrough Petrozavodskand Sortavalapast the 1940 border, preparing for an advance deep into Finland. The plan called for the Finnish army to be destroyed in the Karelian Isthmus, and the remains blockaded against the western shore of Lake Ladogabetween the two assaults and Lake Saimaa.The Finnish army had been preparing defensive fortifications since 1941, and on the Karelian Isthmus there were three lines of defence. The first two were the "Main line", which was constructed along the frontline of 1941, and the VT-line( Vammelsuu- Taipale) running 20km behind the main line. These lines were reinforced with numerous concrete fortifications, but the work was still ongoing. The third line, the VKT-line(Viipuri-Kuparsaari-Taipale) was still on the drawing board and the construction of the fortifications began in late May 1944 at the Vyborg sector of the line. At the northern shore of the Svir the Finnish army had prepared a defence in depth area which was fortified with strong-points with concrete pillboxes, barbed wire, obstacles and trenches. Behind the 1940 border was after the Winter War built Salpa Linewith concrete bunkers in front of the River Kymijoki.
To overcome these obstacles, the
Stavkaassigned 11 divisions and 9 tank and assault gun regiments to the Leningrad Front. That meant that at the Isthmus there were 19 divisions, 2 division strength fortified regions, 2 tank brigades, 14 tank and assault gun regiments, all of which included over 220 artillery and rocket launcher batteries (almost 3,000 guns/launchers). Around 1,500 planes from the 13th Air Armyand the Baltic Fleet naval aviationalso contributed to the operation which included surface and naval infantry units of the Baltic Fleet.
To the East of Karelia, the Stavka planned to use 9 divisions, 2
sapperbrigades, 2 tank brigades and 3 assault gun regiments, raising the whole strength to 16 divisions, 2 fortified regions, 5 separate rifle brigades, 2 tank brigades, 3 assault gun regiments and 3 tank battalions. They were supported by Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega naval flotillas and the 7th Air Army.
Karelian Isthmusfront there were on average 120 Red Army artillerypieces for every kilometer, with up to 220 artillery pieces per kilometer on the breakthrough sectorat Battle of Valkeasaari.Fact|date=August 2008 The offensive opened with a huge aerial assault by the 1,600 strong 16th Air Army. The Finnish Army was in a strong position behind fortified positions, but the Soviet air attacks undermined resistance and many Finnish units retreated and suffered from thousands of deserstions. [Bergstrom 2008, p. 59.] On June 9, the Soviet offensive began, surprising the defending Finnish army. During the day, the Soviets captured frontline trenches and destroyed fortifications, so they were in good starting positions when the main thrust began at the morning of June 10, which shattered the Finnish defence at the breakthrough sector. Already, on June 13, the VT-line was reached and although it held out in the Battle of Siiranmäki, the defensive position was breached at Battle of Kuuterselkäon June 15.
The Finnish army tried to buy time by fighting
delaying actions when retreating so that additional forces from East Karelia would reach the front, and the VKT-line could be prepared for combat. However, on June 19 the first Leningrad Front forces had reached Vyborg, and the first phase of the offensive was completed by the capture of the city on June 20, when defending Finnish 20th Infantry Brigade fled in panic.
Mannerheim had asked for German help, and on June 17 Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey arrived in Finland, followed on June 21 by the
303rd Assault Gun Brigade(at half strength) and the 122nd Infantry Division. Also, new German anti-tank weapons, " Panzerfausts" and " Panzerschrecks", were issued to Finnish army troops. On June 22, German foreign minister von Ribbentrop managed to extract the guarantee from Finnish president Ryti that Finland would fight to the end alongside with Germany.
On June 21, Stavka ordered continued attacks on the Imatra-Lappeenranta-Virojoki defence line, on the Salpaline sector of the front. Another group would attack northwards to Käkisalmi (now Priozersk, Russia) and surround the Finns defending the eastern VKT-line while preparations would be made for an advance towards
Kotka, Kouvolaand the Kymi river.
With Finnish army reinforcements, there were 268,000 Finnish army troops with 2,350 guns, 110 tanks/assault guns and 250 planes facing the two Red Army Fronts; 40% of the men and guns, and all the tanks were on the Isthmus. In all, the Red Army had a 6:5 advantage in men and 3-5:1 advantage in guns, planes and tanks against the Finnish army.
The offensive continued until June 21, when the Red Army tried to breach the
VKT-lineat Tali, between the Bay of Vyborgand the Vuoksi river. In the ensuing battle, the Leningrad Front managed to breach the VKT-line at Tali, but was bogged down at Ihantala, in the largest battle in Scandinavian history. When it became evident that a breakthrough was not possible at Ihantala, the Leningrad Front tried to surround the defenders with the twin assaults of the Bay of Vyborg and the Vuosalmi. However, the Finnish army was able to hold their positions on these sectors of the front. On 15 July, the Red Army troops were ordered to assume a defensive posture, and offensive elements (mostly armour) were transferred to the German front for use in Operation Bagration.
The Finnish army had previously withdrawn most of its forces from the southern shore of the
Svir River, so when the Red Army offensive started on 20 June, it did not achieve the desired surprise. The Karelian Fronttroops crossed the river the following day and secured a beachhead 8 km deep and 16 km wide. On June 23, a Northern Fleet naval infantry brigadeattacked and captured a beachhead behind the Finnish lines between the Viteleenjoki and Tuuloksenjoki rivers, thus severing the main road along the shore of Lake Ladoga. Olonetswas liberated on June 25, and on June 29, one of the main operation goals was achieved with the liberation of Petrozavodsk.
The Finnish army retreated further, delaying the Karelian Front advance, allowing for the
U-line, running northwards from Pitkäranta to Loimola and Kivijärvi, to be reinforced. The first Karelian Front units reached the U-line on July 10, but were fatigued following the long offensive, and failed to breach the defence line.
The last attempt to resume the offensive was made further north, where two Soviet divisions advanced towards
Ilomantsi. Their attack was initially successful, and these divisions reached the border of 1940 on July 21, (the only Soviet units who did so in the offensive), but during the ensuing battle these divisions were defeated and forced to retreat east.
The Stavka offensive succeeded in reclaiming East Karelia and driving the Finnish army to the northern side of the
Bay of Vyborgand River Vuoksi. It also reopened the Kirov railroadand the White Sea Canalto Karelian Front forces.
However, the offensive failed to breach the
VKT-lineand Salpaline, and it did not succeed in destroying the Finnish army. In fact, despite the losses suffered, the Finnish army was better equipped after the offensive than before, thanks to the material delivered from Germany. The Soviets did not manage to surround units larger than a battalion in size, and even those managed to escape through forests by abandoning their heavy equipment. [Opinion in Finnish HQ was that pocketed units are wasted and should therefore try to escape.] Soviet combat practice helped the Finnish army; the official history of IR 58 which fought against Red Army starting from Valkeasaari to Vyborg, notes that several times Finnish units were able to survive only because of the rigid adherence to operating area boundaries by the Soviet units, and inappropriate micromanagementby Red Army commanding officers. [Leo Saressalo et.al.: "Kutsui ääni isänmaan, Jalkaväkirykmentti 58", JR58:n asevelitoimikunta, 1983]
The psychological effect of the offensive on the Finnish leadership should not be underestimated. Peace had to be achieved even under harsh terms. On the other hand, the Finns had stopped the offensive after only 100km at the Karelian Isthmus, and the
Battle of Ilomantsihad shown that Finnish army was still a viable fighting force. The only Stavka military solution to continued offensive would need fresh divisions from the reserve or the German front. To reach a conclusion to the conflict with Finland, instead of offering unconditional surrender as was done June 20, or following Marshal Kliment Voroshilov's proposal where the border would had been moved to the River Kymijoki, Stalin offered the same treaty as in February with minor concessions, to secure the peace.
* Bergstrom, Christer. (2007). "Bagration to Berlin - The Final Air Battles in the East: 1944 - 1945", Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-903223-91-8
*S.P. Platonov: "Bitva za Leningrad"
*Ilya Moshansky: "Sturm Karelskogo Vala. Vyborgsko-Petrozavodskaja strategicheskaja nastupatelnaja operazija 10 ijuna - 9 avgusta 1944 goda.", "Vojennaja Letopis", BTV-MN, Moscow, 2005.
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