Battle of Suomussalmi

Battle of Suomussalmi
Part of the Winter War
DateDecember 7, 1939 to January 8, 1940
LocationSuomussalmi, Finland
Result Finnish victory
 Finland  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Hjalmar Siilasvuo Ivan Dashitsev
Three regiments and separate battalions (11,000 men) Elements of 9th Army: Two divisions, one tank brigade (45,000–55,000 men)
Casualties and losses
1,000 dead or missing[1]
1,000 wounded[1]
13,000–27,500 dead or missing[2]
2,100 taken prisoner
43 tanks captured

The Battle of Suomussalmi was a battle fought between Finnish and Soviet forces in the Winter War. The action took place from around December 7, 1939 to January 8, 1940. The outcome was a Finnish victory against superior forces. Suomussalmi is considered the clearest, most important, and most significant Finnish victory in the northern half of Finland.[3] In Finland, the battle is still seen today as a symbol of the entire Winter War itself.

Course of battle

Diagram of the Battle of Suomussalmi from November 30 to December 8, 1939. The Soviet 163rd Division advanced to the town of Suomussalmi.

On November 30, 1939, the Soviet 163rd Rifle Division crossed the border between Finland and the Soviet Union and advanced from the north-east towards the village of Suomussalmi. The Soviet objective was to advance to the city of Oulu, effectively cutting Finland in half. This sector had only one Finnish battalion (Er.P 15), which was placed near Raate, outside Suomussalmi.

Suomussalmi was taken with little resistance on December 7 (only two incomplete companies of covering forces led a holding action between the border and Suomussalmi), but the Finns destroyed the village before this, to deny the Soviets shelter, and withdrew to the opposite shore of lakes Niskanselkä and Haukiperä.

The first extensive fight started on December 8, when Soviet forces began to attack across the frozen lakes to the west. Their attempt failed completely. The second part of Soviet forces led the attack to the northwest on Puolanka, that was defended by the Er.P 16 (lit. 16th detached battalion), that had just arrived. This attempt also failed.

On December 9, the defenders were reinforced with a newly founded regiment (JR 27). Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo was given the command of the Finnish forces and he began immediate counter-measures to regain Suomussalmi. The main forces advanced on Suomussalmi, but failed to take the village, suffering serious losses.

On December 24, Soviet units counterattacked, but failed to break through the surrounding Finnish forces.

Reinforced with two new regiments (JR 64 and JR 65), the Finns again attacked on December 27. This time, they took the village, and the Soviets retreated in panic over the surrounding frozen lakes. A large part of them managed to reach the Russian border along the Kiantajärvi lake.

During this time, the Soviet 44th Rifle Division had advanced from the east towards Suomussalmi. It was entrenched on the road between Suomussalmi and Raate and got caught up in the retreat of the other Soviet forces.

Between January 4 and January 8, 1940, the 44th Rifle Division was divided into isolated groups and destroyed by the Finnish troops (in a tactic known as motti), leaving much heavy equipment for the Finnish troops.[4]


The battle resulted in a major victory for the Finns. If the Soviet Union had captured the city of Oulu, the Finns would have had to defend the country on two fronts and an important rail link to Sweden would have been severed. The battle also gave a decisive boost to the morale of the Finnish army.

In addition, Finnish forces on the Raate-Suomussalmi road captured a large amount of military supplies, including tanks (43), field-guns (71), trucks (260), horses (1,170), anti-tank guns (29) and other weapons, which were greatly needed by the Finnish army.

Alvar Aalto sculpted a memorial for the Finnish soldiers who died.[5]


The battle of Suomussalmi is often cited as an example of how a small force, properly led and fighting in familiar terrain, can defeat a vastly numerically superior enemy. Factors which contributed to the Finnish victory included:

See also



  1. 1 2 Kulju 2007, p. 195. The first Finnish reports estimated 600 dead, 162 missing and 1,200 wounded, but later some men died of their wounds.
  2. (Finnish)(Russian) Suomalaiset ja venäläiset tutkijat etsivät yhdessä totuutta talvisodasta
  3. Trotter, William (January 2000). A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939–1940. Algonquin Books. p. 171. ISBN 1565122496.
  4. The Mighty FinnWar Nerd, the eXile, Issue 254, December 29, 2006
  5. Chilvers, Ian (2004)
  6. Snow and Slaughter at Suomussalmi – Hughes-Wilson, John – Military History, January/February 2006, page 50
  7. World War II – Willmott, H.P. et al., Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd, 2004


  • Chilvers, Ian, ed. (2004) [1988]. "Aalto, Alvar". The Oxford Dictionary of Art (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-19-860476-9. 
  • Kulju, Mika (2007). Raatteen tie : Talvisodan pohjoinen sankaritarina (in Finnish). Helsinki: Ajatus kirjat. ISBN 978-951-20-7218-7. 

External links

Coordinates: 64°53′18″N 28°53′20″E / 64.88833°N 28.88889°E / 64.88833; 28.88889

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