Killed in action on 15.9.1942 at Krivi. Luutn. A. Kekkonen
This termination of service record was premature, of course. My father, 21 years of age at the time, was almost, but not quite entirely unalive, and eventually he survived to live 50 more years, despite horrific injuries suffered on this day, and returned to service and sustained another wounding in the great battle of summer 1944. I was born almost a quarter of a century after the date. But on September 15, it was a close shave.
|A house in village of Krivi|
In February 1942, Finnish 3rd Brigade straightened the frontline in the Maselga front in an attack that wiped out an entire Russian division (367.D) and conquered the very modest village of Kriv (Krivi) which contained a few picturesque Karelian houses and not much else. Russian death toll in this battle was 2417 soldiers; the Finnish was 121. This ratio was on the high side but not unique in the Russo-Finnish conflict, particularly in the early stages; Russians threw lots of living force to battle, regardless of losses. Finnish troops were better trained and effective. And Russians would not surrender.
This attack took 3rd Brigade slightly too far to an unfavourable defensive position, but the contemporary doctrine was to not give back any territorial achievements. On its left flank, the brigade had infantry regiment JR 5 ; to its right it had Er.P.22 which was a large-scale "Dirty dozen": an entire battalion composed of men serving prison terms for violent crime, commanded by Nikke Pärmi, himself both a professional soldier and ex-convict who had done time for manslaughter.
So here was 3rd Brigade, on a strip of land between two puny lakes far in Eastern Karelia. Trench warfare took its toll, with snipers, surprise barrages and nightly raids. My father was in the 8th Company (8K), which was the machine-gun company of II Battalion. He was operator for a Maxim M/32-33 machine gun which was the standard issue weapon for machine-gun companies in the Finnish army during the Second World War. He had an assistant to help feed ammunition, and the rest of the squad were equipped with ordinary rifles, with tasks assigned to carry various parts of the heavy machine gun when moving it. In stationary war, this was the easy part because you needn't carry it a lot.
Suomi-KP m/31, the Russians a PPSh-41. Bayonets, spades and knives would be used in face-to-face combat.
My father took cover as a hand grenade was thrown at him in the trench, and the grenade exploded next to his right leg, tearing away large pieces of flesh, breaking bones and cutting arteries. But he was lying low and his comrade come from behind the next corner to repel the attacking Russian gunman so he wasn't shot and the Russians were thrown back. Battle continued for about 4 hours and by noon, Finns had their old positions, and the Russians had been killed or driven off. My father's comrades started to take him to the first aid station which was handling numerous wounded by now.
At the first aid station, the emergency procedure in war, when the wounded pour in, is called triage. It is similar to the procedure in relief work at natural disasters today. Incoming patients are sorted to four categories: can wait, has to wait, cannot wait and lost.
There were very many "cannot wait" wounded at the aid station. My father had lost so much blood that he was categorized as "lost". Hence, lieutenant A. Kekkonen was informed, and he closed the service record at the end of the day. The "cannot wait" load was lifted to a truck that was to be driven on crudely constructed roads to Karhumäki (Medvezhegorsk) which had a military hospital. But there was still room for one. "Hey, take this lad along". And my father was taken to hospital. Nobody told the lieutenant who started to draft a letter that he would send to my grandmother.
My father got a blood transfusion of O- type blood. This was good because his type was O-, as is mine. The severed arteries were sewn to not bleed any more. He was transferred to another hospital in Siilinjärvi; the infected wounds were burned with a bunsen lamp to contain the infection - there was no penicillin, of course. It is hard to imagine how painful that was, although there probably was some morphine.
He was transferred to Vierumäki sports academy which also served as hospital, and he learned to walk again, first with the help of a walking stick. He was greeted by Marshall Mannerheim who toured the hospitals, giving walking sticks to men wounded in the legs. Then he got to have a time of vacation to go and greet the family, before reporting back to his unit on October 13, 1943.
Despite these words, the numbers are crushing for Russians. Finnish casualties were 63 dead. Russians lost about 1800 men as killed in action; the number of wounded is difficult to know.
After returning to service in 1943, my father was with 3.Pr in Salla in Northern Finland until beginning of June 1944, when the Soviets launched their strategic offensive against Finland, intending to push through Karelian Isthmus and capture Helsinki. The brigade was rushed to battle: two days of train travel, night and day, and then directly from train carriage to front-line. 450 000 Russian troops were on attack, against initially 75 000 and finally 100 000 Finnish troops.
My father was wounded again in Summa on June 18th, this time more lightly. It was a desperate battle. The company went on for three days and nights without any food supplies. There were Russian tanks running rampant in front of their position, shelling at will, but as Finns stuck to their foxholes, the supporting Russian infantry couldn't get through, and the tanks were destroyed one by one using the new miracle weapons from Germany, Panzerfaust. These were rushed in from Germany after the Ryti-Ribbentrop deal, and given straight to front-line troops - the first training was "I know you don't read German, but here's this bazooka, and the instructions do have a few drawings, so go ahead now and destroy that tank 30 meters away before it kills us. Please hurry."
My father returned to service in just two weeks, because he could use his hand again and by now the army was really short of men, and the decisive battle of Tali-Ihantala was starting. And 3. Pr was again thrown against huge odds, and again it held its lines, although at high cost - at one point, all the officers in my father's company had been killed or wounded badly, so the company was commanded by a staff sergeant.
Then the storm was over. Russians realised they would need weeks and months to get through, and there was Berlin. They wanted to get to Berlin before Americans, so troops were pulled away from Karelian Isthmus and the Continuation War was nearing its end. On September 4th there was armistice, and on November 1st, 1944, my father was discharged from the army. I was to be born 22 years later. My father would would have caused a beep at every airport security check gate if he'd been here to walk there with me today - he had so much metal shrapnel in his leg. But he passed away in 1992, after having seen five of his grandchildren.