Thursday, March 8, 2018

Suomussalmi - continued.

I began a reply to Neil Patterson's comment upon my previous posting then discovered I was writing a follow-up article.  So I transferred the bulk of it here.

"This scenario, when played, will be very much cobbled together: the 'Finns' will be Germans, and the snow covered forests and fields will have a decidedly 'any other season' look... "

I'm basing my OOB loosely on Tim Gow's, but modified by what my researches indicate.

The temptation is to begin with the 163rd Division (81st and 759th Regiments, with maybe a battalion from 662nd, depending upon where the 163rd Div commander had ensconced himself) attack on the Suomussalmi garrison, the ROII - a border police unit 58 men strong.
The battle ground.  The thing has been filtered to give a
slightly more wintry look. 

Being so small, it would have a SP=0, but add 1 for defending a built up area (a thought).  But probably the best approach would be to begin at daybreak of 11 December 1939 with the Finnish attack upon the Suomussalmi-Raate road upon the length of which, stretching back from the former place, lies the 163rd.

At this point the 27th Finnish Rgt, plus a couple of local units, had practically no support weapons: no AT, no AA, not even any arty.  They did receive some later, ancient pieces of ordnance but welcome for that, and precisely two AT guns.

I am following Robert Edwards's narrative, here.  A number of scenario-specific notions suggest themselves

1.  It is clear that neither side was very well equipped.  The Finns lacked AT, AA and Arty.  The Russians had some support stuff, but generally, especially the 163rd, weren't a whole lot better off.

2. The Russians were not at all enthusiastic, from the Divisional  leadership on down.  The 44th was considered at the time something of an elite or crack unit.  It was not, even though, as Tim Gow's OOB indicates, it was a cut above the 163rd.

3.  Neither of the Russian Division commanders were up to much - "not a master of his subject" was how R. Edwards describes the commander of the 163rd.  Contrast this with Finnish leadership who combined determination with real ability.

4.  It seems that, ill-equipped for fighting in the snowy forests and fields, the Soviets could not operate off the roads.   I am considering a special scenario rule that allows the Soviets to move (or attack) one grid area off the road, but once off, if they move (or attack)  at all, it has to be back onto the road.  It is very noticeable from the narrative that the Soviets were simply road-bound - quite incapable of manoeuvre.  That appears to be why Capt. Makinen's 2-company ridge-line road block near Haukila was so effective.  I've 'Google Mapped' the area, and that ridge doesn't even cover half the gap between Kalvasjarvi and Kuomasjarvi lakes.

However, once reduced to SP=0, Soviet troops may attempt to escape across country.
The area around Suomussalmi town.  The lakes have been very rushed.:
I'll have to revisit those...

5.  In contrast, it is tempting to add to Finnish mobility by allowing the infantry to move TWO grid areas per turn, using skis.  I have been unable to discover what proportion of the Finnish troops in the area were so equipped.  Maybe they all were.  It would not surprise me.

6.  The lakes are pretty much frozen and permit movement at standard rates.  The road restriction still applies to the Soviets.

7.  Strength points.  At the moment I am looking at a standard SP-value for an infantry battalion to be 3 or 4, with the number of stands reflecting this (variations around 3 rifle and 1 support stand).  These values would be modified by quality (conscript/militia -1, veteran/crack +1), equipment (-1 poorly equipped, +1 extra well equipped), quality of leadership (in this scenario the Finns would get a +1 modifier and the Soviets, poor wights, a -1).  Robert Edwards allows that, considering the appalling disadvantages in all these regards, the individual Russian soldier acquitted himself well, and did not give up easily. Their defeat was due to an astonishing incapacity of the 9th Army high command, not helped by the stultifying 'political advisory' system.

Tentatively, then, I am looking at these values for the infantry battalions of:
163 Rifle Division: 4 stands (SP=4), conscript (-1), poorly equipped/led (-1) - SP=2
44th Rifle Division: 4 stands (SP=4), regular (0), poorly equipped/led (-1) - SP=3
27th (Finn) Infantry Regiment: 3 stands (SP=3), veteran/ highly trained (+1), well led (+1), especially familiar with the battlefield environment, compared with enemy (+1), poorly equipped (-1) - SP=5
Local (Finn) Units:  3 stands (SP=3), trained (0), well led (+1), especial familiarity with unusual battlefield environment (+1), poorly equipped (-1) - SP=4.

At this point, I am in two minds about subtracting the poverty of equipment on the Finnish side, as the starting SP of 3 is intended to reflect that (more like the absence of equipment, actually!).  But omitting that deduction will make the Finnish infantry formidable indeed!  Mind you, they would have to be!

8.  General comment on SPs.  My current thinking is that the standard SP value for a battalion of about 50 tanks (40-60, say) is 3, with modifiers for training/doctrine, experience/crew quality, 'scariness of kit' (in 1940-1, the Soviet T34 and KV1 would get a + modifier), and leadership.  The artillery would be given 1 SP per 12 guns, with modifiers by weight, doctrine and possibly skill/effectiveness.

9.  Of 163rd Division, it would appear that two battalions of the 662nd Rifle Regiment were operating a considerable distance north of Suomussalmi - well off the map area (see previous posting).  So only two Regiments (81st from the north and 759th from the east) had captured and occupied the town - 6 battalions, with possibly a seventh - the remaining battalion of 662 that was held in reserve by the Division commander.

10.  Forty-fourth Rifle Division was called up from the Soviet side of the border near Raate, only after 163 Div had been under serious attack for two days (beginning December 11th), and the road east had been cut off.


  1. Ion,

    I will try and post something tomorrow; there's quite a good Finnish OoB in the Osprey on the Finns. In addition on the bookshelves I have titles on the Winter War by Finnish and Russian authors.
    One of the Soviet divisions was Ukrainian;it seems their fate contributed to the ill feelings that continue until the present.

  2. The 44th, I believe were Ukrainian, at least Robert Edwards indicates at least some Ukrainian element. Interestingly, it was considered at the time (before it got into action) something of an elite formation. The feeling was not shared by the Division's personnel.

    A reliable OOB would come in handy, yes, please! I know of 27th and 64th Regiments on the Finnish side, and there seem to have been several militia/ home guard/ border police units kicking around. Artillery support was entirely lacking for several days.

    The 163rd Division comprised 81st, 662nd and 759th Regiments, plus supporting arty and such. However, at least two battalions of the 662nd, and possibly the third as well, was not present at Suoomussalmi, but operating a considerable distance (50km or so?) north of there. I don't know the composition of the 44th Div.

    I've pretty much decided to begin the action on the 11th December, with 163rd Div huddled around Suomussalmi and the roads north and east, under attack from what seem to be company to battalion sized units from the north and west, and IR27 about to launch its attacks along the road east out of the town.

    44th Division arrives march up the road through Raate on the 13th, and the IR64 attacks from the south-east subsequently.

    That's the broad brush of the action. I'll probably add what I've said here to the next posting.


  3. That looks like a tricky one. I think your best bet is to pick a solution and then see how it stands up in playtest.

    1. I think you are right. The table is set up, and preliminary OOBs laid out. Have yet to work out the full timetable, but getting there. Originally I was just going to do a version of Tom Gow's Megablitz scenario, but I went all ambitious, eh?

  4. Finnish OoB Suomussalmi

    Task Force Susi

    Separate Inf Btns 15 & 16
    Bicycle Btn 6 (could be ski troops; Jaeger used bikes in summer, skis in winter)
    2x Civil btns
    1x frontier company

    9th Division (formed 21/12/1939)
    Inf Regts 27, 64 & 65
    Guerrilla btn 1
    Reconnaissance btn 2
    Pioneer btn 22
    Replacement btn 4
    Artillery Regt 4 (elements)
    c17,000 men 11 field guns

    Inf btn had HQ, mortar, MG and 3x Inf companies

    Guerrilla btns lacked HQ and MG and were 1/2 size of normal btns
    Called Sissi intended to act as guerrillas. Older men, probably ski troops

    Independent and frontier btns were local troops from border area.

    Civil Guards were parallel Paramilitary noted for use of skis.

    Will have a look for Soviets.


  5. Soviets

    A good OoB of 163 Rifle Division (as well as a lot of other good info) is here:

    81 Mountain rifle regt were detached from 54 Mtn Div and were noted as good troops who were used to the terrain (although not much snow when they attacked).

    44 Rifle Division (motor rifle?)

    25 Rifle regt
    146 Rifle regt
    305 Rifle regt
    122 Artillery regt
    312 detached tank btn
    56 AT btn
    61 Sapper btn
    4 detached Scout btn

    In area
    3 NKVD Border regt

    44 div were Ukrainian. They developed a terror of Finnish ski troops, often running away at the sound of skis (real or imagined). The official view put the blame on the officers who were executed after deserting their men. I've read the division deployed on the road whilst the officers and political officers were still in the USSR. More telling is perhaps the fact that they were equipped with enough skis but none of the personnel had any training in their use.
    It is alleged that any POWs from the division returned to the USSR were executed by the NKVD, hardly likely to help Ukrainian Russian relations.

    The above OoBs may be incomplete; what snippets I have are given and the link gives more on 163 RD than I had.

    1. Thanks for these, Neil. I also found some sources in re the Soviet side. I'll mention these in my next article. As it happens, I used a fairly abbreviated OOB for the action, and most interesting it was.

      Unsure about whether the Finnish 65th regiment participated in this battle, I left them out. On the Sovier side, it seems that none of 662 Rgt was present at Suomussalmi. One OOB I have seen suggests there was a tank Bn integral to 163rd Div (365th) but I have subsumed that into a recon (armoured car) unit.

      The wargame as constituted, despite the disadvantages under which the Soviet forces laboured (I had special rules for this scenario), proved a tense affair, heavy losses on both sides, with the result very much in doubt until the end Incidentally, 81st Regiment lived up to its historical billing, its remnants still occupying Suomussalmi after 7 days of battle.

      You might find this article interesting:
      This is an Ukrainian view of twhat happened to 'their' 44th Rifle Division.