ARMOURED TRAINS

Part 1.3

Battles along the Railways in 1918

 

 

KARELIAN RAILWAY (KARJALAN RATA)

In many ways the White Army front in Karelia was different than the other fronts of Finnish Civil War. The railway leading from southern Finland through Viipuri to Petrograd was vital route of supplies to the Finnish Reds. Even if it offered tempting target to the White Army it was not an easy pray. City of Viipuri had Russian garrison, which had early on proved to be on side of the Reds and reinforcements sent by Russian Bolsheviks were streaming from Petrograd all the time. Unlike in other fronts besides plenty of weaponry and ordnance these reinforcements included also lots of volunteer units, which the Bolsheviks had raised among Russian military. As there was no certainty how many units the Bolsheviks could send to this front Mannerheim's Headquarters decided to select Tampere as goal for the first decisive White Army offensive. Suojeluskunta-units of Karelia had succeeded buying some weaponry before the war in Viipuri and Petrograd and in beginning of the war they succeeded acquiring some more by disarming Russian military units in their area. Still, when the actual fighting started they were rather small and had serious shortage of weapons and ammunition.

PICTURE: Locations of Antrea front and Kiviniemi railway bridge. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (130 KB).

Since General Mannerheim's HQ decided to concentrate its resources towards Tampere the White Army units in faraway Karelia basically ended up in status of a stepchild. The Headquarters didn't send any reinforcements from its own troops or from other fronts no matter how dangerous developed in this front. Instead it had to find its reinforcements among the nearby areas and take care of training them for battle. As far as artillery weapons were concerned the White Army units in this front also had to do what they succeeded capturing. Because of this the White Army troops in Karelian Isthmus were much weaker when it came to artillery than their Red opponents did. So when they finally captured good amount of artillery in Rautu they were unwilling to yield the much needed to Artillery School (located Pietarsaari in Pohjanmaa), as they had good reason to believe that they might never see these guns again if they would do so. Middle of April the situation changed considerably - White Army had succeeded capturing city of Tampere and now Mannerheim wanted it to strike another decisive blow in Karelian Isthmus at April. This meant bringing there most of the White Army combat units and large amount of artillery, which finally gave the Whites also numeral superiority in Karelian Isthmus. Leadership of this front was also quite different from other fronts for the White Army - while other fronts were commanded by Colonels and Generals most of the war this one had Captain commanding it. Quite unusual was also the amount of freedom given to Jaeger-Captain Aarne Sihvo to lead this front the best way he saw fit. One could say that while Mannerheim's HQ didn't give reinforcements or much of supplies to its benefit it also didn't impede him from improvising and using the limited resources most effective way possible.

PICTURE: Captain Aarne Sihvo and staff from his HQ of Karelian troops. Sihvo is in the middle wearing darker uniform than most. The other officer in darker uniform (third from the left) is Lieutenant Waldemar Hägglund. Both of them Jaegers, who became Generals of Finnish Army. Sihvo would serve as Commander of Finnish Armed Foces twice - first in 1926 - 1933 and second time in 1946 - 1953. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (72 KB).

For the Finnish Reds this front was "Eastern front". They had one of their leading three Headquarters (the other two were in Tampere and Helsinki) located in Viipuri. Assisting it was assisted "HQ of Russian troops located in Finland" also in Viipuri created from Russian Bolshevik-minded officers. Like Captain Sihvo and his staff also these Red Headquarters seem to have lead their front in rather independent manner. Among Viipuri HQ the Reds had also ill-reputed General Kaljunen, who was known of his pompous behaviour and executions of civilians.

Unlike other fronts this one also had two railways going through frontlines. But thanks to Kiviniemi railway bridge that the Whites destroyed when the war begun the more northern railway was not as important as the one, which went through frontline in Antrea. This was also the only front in which the Whites succeeded building the only somewhat proper armoured train of theirs - Antrea armoured train also as Saviour of Karelia (Karjalan pelastaja). This train contained only one improvised artillery wagon and locomotive pushing it. While the G1 (later called Sk1) series locomotive was armoured the artillery wagon it was pushing had 76 VK/04 mountain gun with gun shield on naval mount and sides build from two layers of planks with bricks in between these layers. Also the Reds used their armoured trains actively in Antrea railway. Once the both sides had their armoured trains patrolling the railway neither side could use its infantry freely and centre of battles moved further away, where village of Hannila after constant and bloody battles lasting 9 weeks gained nickname "Verdun of Finland". At that time both sides tried seeking solution to this deadlock by trying to outflank each other and cut each other's railway-connections to the frontline. In addition the Whites tried exploding the tracks behind the Red lines for the same basic purpose. Along the Rautu railway the Whites were first in serious difficulties with the much stronger attacking troops of the Reds, but then succeeded

Stabilising the situation until in beginning of April they wiped out Finnish Red Guard and Russian units in their area capturing their plentiful weaponry. In middle of April White Army transferred large amount of troops to Karelian Isthmus for its second large offensive of this war. This second attack rolled across Isthmus to the south first cutting Viipuri - Petrograd railway and moved to capture Viipuri. Once operations of White Army ended in Karelian Isthmus it controlled the area totally and the last remaining units of Red Guards located to Kymenlaakso had no land connection to Russia.

First (and last?) improvised armoured train that the Reds manufactured in Fredriksberg Works, the so-called "armoured train of riflemen", was sent to this front. Crew of this train was from Helsinki Red Guard. Early on this train contained (presumably) only thin-skinned locomotive and boxcar, whose walls had been reinforced and loopholes added to its walls for rifles. Later in the front the Reds added the train artillery wagon (likely Ukrainski Revolutsija / Putilovian) and separate box wagon (used to transport ammunition). In beginning of March the Reds in Antrea received also more standard-like armoured train build in Fredriksberg. Besides these Finnish made armoured trains most of the war likely also Russian heavy armoured train stationed in Viipuri operated in Karelian Isthmus.

PICTURE: Karelian Isthmus and railways in it at 1918. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (144 KB).

Battles along Karelian railway:

January

February

March

April

May


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