LANDMINES PART 1:

 

Finnish Army and Landmines

 

THE SHORT EARLY HISTORY OF LANDMINES

The first war in which landmines in modern meaning of the term were used was Civil War of United States fought in 1860's. The first landmines used in it were commonly called as "infernal machines" and "landtorpedos". The landmines used in US Civil War were quite simple metal containers equipped with pressure activated fuses or fired by remote. After US Civil War many Armies introduced landmines to their own use, but their use remained rare and relatively small-scale until World War 1. Some use was reported during in Franco-Prussian War in 1870's. British Army used antipersonnel landmines in Sudanese Campaign and in Boer War. Russian Army used industrially manufactured landmines during Russian-Japanese war of 1904 - 1905. During World War 1 landmines were used, but especially in western front they had little importance in bogged situation resulting from maze of trenches, barbwire and machineguns. This war also paved way to new type of landmine - antitank mine developed for countering threat of tanks. The first antitank mines used during World War 1 were improvised designs like tarred wooden boxes containing explosives and artillery shells with special fuses, but before the war ended also the first purpose-build antitank mines were developed. After the war most industrial countries started developing antitank mines of their own. Best of the antitank mine designs developed mostly in 1930's entered mass-production and saw use in World War 2, in which huge number of landmines were used. After World War 1 most countries neglected development of antitank mines or training their soldiers to using or clearing them. This didn't change until in late 1930's and ultimately when World War 1 started most European countries found their military either lacking landmines, or having much less than what would have been needed.

 

FINNISH ENGINEER CORPS BEFORE WORLD WAR 2

When Finland became independent in 1917 it had not Armed Forces. In January of 1918 the newborn state fall into whirlpool of Civil War. In August of 1915 Germany had established military unit from Finnish volunteers, who seek military training for freeing Finland from Russian rule. This volunteer unit named "Könighlich Preussisches Jägerbataillon 27" (Royal Prussian Jaeger Battalion 27) contained also Engineer Company. When the Battalion was disbanded in 13th of February 1918 its Engineer Company was 152 men strong, from these men the Finnish Army created in middle of Civil War would get 46 officers, 103 NCO and 3 corporals. The main troop of Jaegers (as these volunteers became known) landed to Vaasa/Wasa in 25th of February 1918, when the Civil War had already been going on almost a month. In this war the Jaeger with engineer training found little demand for their special skills and knowledge - whole Finnish White Army had only one Engineer Company and six (12 - 14 men strong) Demolition Units. For duration of the war the large majority of them found themselves training and leading infantry.

Building of Finnish Armed Forces started after the war. Even if they had not been available during the war the need for Engineer units was soon recognised and the missions of engineer troops were first time determined already at 2nd of July 1918: Crossing water obstacles, demolitions and fortifying. The first Engineer unit of Finnish Army was Pioniirikoulutuspataljoona (Engineer Training Battalion) established in 2nd of July 1918. Considering the circumstances in Finland it is not surprising that the early equipment was German and captured Russian, while methods were early on based to the ones used by the Germans during Wolrd War 1. In 1920's Finnish military searched new perspective by sending officers to study abroad (mostly in France). In 1920's and 1930's Engineers (like the Army in general) started developing methods and equipment of their own more suitable to local conditions. The scope of training that was selected was also quite different than in many other countries - the soldiers serving in engineer units got extensive training for all tanks of Engineer Corps, but didn't receive individual specialist training for any particular task.

First time Finnish Army Engineer Corps gave training about landmines was in 1923.

During that same year book Hävitystyöt (= Demolition Works) of Ltn-Colonel E. F. Hanell was published, it contained basic information of landmine structure and their use, most of the info in it can still be considered valid. At that time the basic tools for building landmines included: fuse for fuse wire, concussion-fuse, electric blasting cap, explosives and know-how to improvise. Especially the know-how for improvisation later proved vital because the lack of proper equipment during Winter War. Hanell's book had important role in training of Finnish engineer corps, as it standardised the demolition methods used by Finnish engineers at 1920's.

At early 1920's only landmines used were simple booby-traps made from 200g TNT charges designed to be used here and there. Finnish landmine doctrine didn't even yet know building organised minefields back then. Hanell's book introduced simple landmines build in wooden boxes, which could be used both as antipersonnel and antitank mines. Engineers started manufacturing not only these box mines but also some more exotic landmine types like observation-, earth- and stone mines (fougasse) and even some floating mines (which could be send downstream to destroy a bridge). In addition these obviously also the artillery shell with special fuse (concussion fuse equipped with lever activated by impact) already used during World War 1 was included to Hanell's manual. Typically these landmine designs used concussion fuses but also electrical blasting caps saw some use. Basically factory made mines really weren't available in Finnish use before Winter War. Wargames of 1937 were the first ones, in which Finnish engineers finally could build whole minefields for their training.

Other important military manuals published in 1920's and 1930's included:

  • Räjähdysaineoppi (= Explosives knowledge) by Jalo Wuorinen, 1928
  • Räjähdysaineiden varastoiminen (= Storing of explosives) by W. Lindqvist, 1931
  • Pioneerin taskukirja (= Engineer handbook) by E-E. Saarinen, 1931
  • Hyökkäysvaunumiina m/36 (= Antitank mine m/36), 1938
  • PICTURE: Three of the essential pre World War 2 published Finnish engineer corps manuals. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (101 KB).

     

    FINNISH LANDMINES, TRAPS, EXPLOSIVES AND FUSES BEFORE WORLD WAR 2

    Stone mine (Kivimiina):

    Also known as fougasse and stone shrapnel. This "mine" wasn't a real landmine in modern sense of the term. Basically it was hole in the ground filled with explosives and covered with stones, which the explosion turned into projectiles. This invention had been used already in 16th century Italy and was still in Finnish Army manuals of 1920's and 1930's. The Finnish version had about square meter size pit, which had been dug on side of the hill. About 3 - 5 kg explosive charge was placed in bottom of the pit, after which the pit was then filled with stones varying from size of mans head to fist size. Finally the whole thing was camouflaged and when the explosive charge was detonated the rocks flew from to pit towards the general direction to which the pit was pointing. This contraption even saw some use during Winter War, at least 3rd Platoon of 26th Engineer Company build two stone mines in early February of 1940 and detonated them against attacking Soviet infantry.

    Box mine (Laatikkomiina):

    This was real landmine, versions of which could be used as antitank mines or antipersonnel mines. They were build in wood boxes and used concussion fuse or electical-fuse (with battery) as detonator. Finnish engineer troops build these landmines before and during Winter War, in which they were used.

    PICTURE: Structural drawing of antipersonnel-mine version of box mine with concussion fuse. These were used in Winter War. Size of the mine in manuals was 60 cm x 60 cm x 20 cm. The size of explosive charge varied considerably. The antitank version commonly had 6 - 8 kg of TNT. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (46 KB).

    Stake pit (Sudenkuoppa):

    Not really a landmine either, this was a pit in the ground about two meters deep. Being shape of a consending funnel it was about 1.5 - 2 meters wide from its mouth and with smooth sides. In middle of the pit stood a sharpened wooden post. The trap was camouflaged with help of loose barbwire net. The basic concept for this trap was ancient - legionaries of Julius Caesar used this kind of traps already in Alesia at 52 BC and its unlikely, that they had invented it either. The Finns got the concept from German training Könighlich Preussisches Jägerbataillon 27 had received during World War 1. The trap was removed from Finnish military manuals in 1930's, but the concept was developed as an tank trap, which was larger hole with steep sides and without the wooden post. Few of these tank traps were build in Kollaa just before Winter War.

    PICTURE: Structural drawing of Finnish concussion fuse M/40. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (48 KB).

    Fuses and explosives:

    Fuse for fuse wire was a copper tube closed from one end, it came in 10 sizes from which number 8 was the most often used. Number 8 fuse for fuse wire had diameter of 6-mm, length of 50-mm and had 2 grams of explosive. It was ignited with fuse wire, concussion fuse or some other tool sending a spark of fire in from open end of the fuse. Concussion fuse m/37 had brass piping case. When Winter War started it become immediately obvious, that the amount of concussion fuses available was way too small and production of m/37 would be slow. This was solved by introducing a new M/40 concussion fuse, which had its body made from cartridge case of 7.62mm x 54 R rifle-cartridge, some 275,000 of these were manufactured already by end of Winter War. M/40 concussion fuses made by different manufacturers had slight variations, but all of them had the same basic structure and worked the same way. Concussion fuse M/40 was manufactured in huge numbers during World War 2. Also sensitised version of m/40 concussion fuse was manufactured and used. Liquid-fuse and friction-fuse were another Finnish World War 2 era fuse designs. Liquid fuse had can-line bakelite body, which contained concussion fuse which when primed had acid in its acid-container. The delay of liquid fuse varied between few hours - 21 days depending how powerful acid had been installed to the fuse. Thanks to no-metal structure the liquid fuse could not be even found with mine detector. Friction fuse was build from cartridge case of 7.62 mm x 54R cartridge and D166 bullet, which contained the friction mass and had been pushed inside the cartridge case tip first.

    PICTURE: Structural drawing of Finnish number 8 fuse for fuse wire.

    The explosives Finnish military commonly used in 1930's included TNT (aka trinitrotoluene, also known as tolite), picric acid, soluble gun cotton and chlorate. Number 8 fuse for fuse wire could be used to detonate all of them (exception: soluble gun cotton had to be dry, otherwise it would not detonate). Fuse wires used included not only the normal fuse wire, but also fast fuse wire and detonating cords. Ordinary fuse wire burned with rate of 1 cm/second, fast fuse wire 90 - 150 meters/second and detonating cord as fast as the explosive used in it. TNT became favourite explosive of Finnish military for World War 2. Domestic manufacturing existed for it, TNT was fairly cheap, quite effective and reasonably safe to use. Besides all these other good qualities TNT was also suitable for very versatile use. However Finnish industry proved unable to produce enough TNT for the military, so amatol was adapted as its large-scale substitute of TNT. Amatol is mix of TNT and ammonium nitrate. Most of the war years (1939 - 1942) the mix contained 60% TNT and 40% ammonium nitrate, but in 1943 the mix was changed to 53% TNT and 47% ammonium nitrate.

    WINTER WAR (1939 - 1940)

    Winter War started with Soviets attacking Finland without declaration of war 30th of November 1939. In Carelian Isthmus Finnish troops retreated to Mannerheim-line, where Soviet attacks were stopped. North of Lake Ladoga the frontline was less spastic by nature and Finnish troops managed surrounding several Soviet divisions in several "motti" and after destroying them piecemeal capturing large part of their equipment. 14th of February 1940 Soviet troops managed to break through Mannerheim-line in Summa. Finnish troops retreated in southern parts of Carelian Isthmus and when the war ended in 13th of March 1940 the battles were already fought in suburbs of Viipuri and in Viipuri gulf.

    For Finnish military Winter War started with shortage of about everything and equipment needed for engineers were not exception to this. Finnish military had no industrially manufactured antipersonnel mines at that time. It concentrated manufacturing only antitank mines, which were the priority. As the industry didn't have capacity for manufacturing antipersonnel mines Finnish engineer units developed and manufactured antipersonnel mines for their own use. The antipersonnel mine designs they manufactured contained both designs introduced earlier in military manuals (such as box mine and "trap board") and also their own designs (such as "Luhas trap" and pipe mines). From these designs the box mine was suitable for both antipersonnel and antitank use - maybe partly for this it also seems to have been the most popular design. During Winter War Finnish use of landmines concentrated to Carelian Isthmus. Typically engineers did their work in frontlines at night, when the cover of darkness allowed them to get into no-mans land for building minefields. When the resources allowed Finnish troops could build minefields also inside their own positions to likely routes of Soviet armour.

    Luhas trap (Luhas-ansa):

    This antipersonnel mine for intended for wounding or killing enemy soldiers skiing or walking through snow. It was invention of Lieutenant O. Luhas (of 24th Engineer Company) designed in Kollaa at December of 1939. The mine contained "jaws" formed by two pieces of plank, explosive charge (typically 200 grams of TNT, but also 1 kg TNT charge was sometimes used) and concussion fuse. Applying pressure on top of the "top-jaw" closed them, which pulled pin from the concussion fuse (the fuse type most commonly available for improvised landmines at that time). With typical 200-gram explosive charge the whole landmine weights only 400 grams. This mine was very rare and presumably used only by IV Army Corps in Kollaa sector - all the white canvas used in these mines for keeping snow from getting between the "jaws" was cut from curtains of Loimola Suojeluskunta (Finnish Civil Guard) house. While rare, this landmine proved highly successful.

    PICTURE: Picture of Luhas trap (photo source: "Miinat ja ansat"-article).

    The trap board (Loukkulauta):

    Antipersonnel mine design pretty similar to Luhas trap, but introduced already in pre-war military manuals. In some manuals it was also with name Mousetrap (Hiirennakki). The mine contained two pieces of plank, concussion fuse and 200-gram piece of TNT. When pressure was applied to upper piece of plank it acted a lever, which pull the pin from concussion fuse. This triggered the concussion fuse, which detonated the explosive charge. The whole mine weight about 400 grams.

    Pipe mine (Putkimiina):

    Pipe mine was another antipersonnel mine type which Engineer units invented at the front and introduced to their own use during Winter War. In its common form pipe mine was simple piece of water pipe (or other similar iron/steel pipe) filled with explosives, its both ends were closed and another end was equipped with concussion fuse and trip-wire. Walking, driving or skiing to this wire pulled the pin off from concussion fuse, which detonated the mine with the metal pipe turning into shrapnel. When used on dry land the mine was usually installed at about half a meter height at side of a tree or wooden post and trip-wire from pin of its concussion was tied into another nearby tree or wooden post (wire was typically in about knee height). During Winter War this type of mines were build in variety of places for engineer units of Finnish Army and as a result there was no standard design for pipe mine yet at that time. Length of pipe mines build during Winter War varied in between 0.3 - 3.0 meters and they were filled with variety of explosives, from which combination of chlorate-resin and TNT was maybe the most common. According reports explosive charge containing only chlorate-resin proved less lethal, while mines filled with only TNT or combination of the two proved notably more effective. Maybe the most common size was built using section of water pipe half-meter long, weight about 1.3-kg and contained 300-grams of explosives. During Winter War pipe mines proved to be very effective and were used in forests, barbwire obstacles, antitank-obstacles on frozen lakes and other similar places. It seems that short pipe mines (0.3 - 1.0 meter long) were typically used as antipersonnel-mines on dry land and tied into tree trunks, wooden posts, barbwire obstacles etc. on vertical position. While longer pipe mines (1.5 - 3.0 meter long) were typically installed horizontally on ice. When used on ice pipe mine 3 meters long proved capable of making hole about 8 meters in diameter - in other words large enough for a light tank to fall through ice and sunk. Both "fisherman's thread" (thin cotton thread) and thin iron-wire were used as trip wires during that war, from those two thin iron-wire proved superior, since it wasn't moisture didn't damage it as easily. These mines proved so effective that after reports concerning their use gathered after that war repeatedly ask them to mass-produced. After Winter War ice mine m/41 replaced large pipe mines used on ice, but pipe mines continued to be used as anti-personnel mines and their development continued until it resulted into introduction of mass-produced pipe mine M/43.

    PICTURE: Picture of early non mass-produced version of Finnish pipe mine. During Winter War Finnish Army used this sort of improvised pipe mines manufactured in small scale. (photo source: "Miinat ja ansat"-article).

    Slide mine (Liukumiina):

    The idea for this electically triggered improvised antitank-mine among Finnish troops at front during Winter War. Presumably some Finnish soldier in his foxhole watching Soviet tanks pass without able to do anything at them got idea for this highly unusual antitank-mine. Structure of the mine contains two pieces of plywood connected to each other from both ends, between these two plywood pieces is 2 kg explosive charge. Several mines were connected as a string with specially made attachment plates. The operating principle was rather simple: The mines slide in snow, so the string of mines are pulled in path of a tank by using cable or wire attached to end of mine string. The tank driving on top of mines pushes the two pieces of plywood closer together from the middle also, so the metal clippings attached to both parts of plywood get connected closing the circuit. Electrity coming from attached battery goes through the closed circuit setting of the electronical fuse, which detonates the mine. Typical slide mine had three mines in string and weight about 6 kg. Later Finnish military manuals contained also improved "slide mine", which basically was conventional German antitank-mine attached on top of small skis.

    PICTURE: Picture of slide mine as used in Winter War. Structure: A- piece of plywood, B- explosive charge and C- metal clippings. The battery with wire is visible on the right. (photo source: "Miinat ja ansat"-article).

    Blaze trap (Valoansa)

    While not really a landmine, this little invention was nasty surprise for Soviet infantry trying to sneak unnoticed in darkness of arctic nights and made things bit easier for Finnish soldiers standing on guard. The flammable cardboard box had V-shaped fragile glass tube containing sulphuric acid attached to its lid. The trip-wire was attached to this glass tube, which once broken spilled its acid on top of flammable box immediately setting it on fire.

    When Winter War started the material situation with antitank-mines was not much better than with the antipersonnel mines. Only industrially manufactured antitank-mines readily available when Winter War begun were 5,000 antitank-mines m/36. Due to sheet metal body manufacturing of antitank-mine m/36 was quite complicated. So the need existed for easier to manufacture antitank-mine. That easier to manufacture antitank-mine was m/S-39 designed by Major Saloranta (who had earlier taken part in designing Lahti-Saloranta light machinegun). Antitank mine m/S-39 was build in a wood box, so even furniture factories could easily build them. However, manufacturing of m/S-39 didn't start until about three weeks before the war, so very few of them were available early on. Later improved design called m/S-40 was introduced to production. New easier to manufacture antitank mine with sheet metal body was also introduced to production - m/39, but Finnish troops didn't start receiving them until after beginning of war in December of 1939. Besides these officially approved and factory manufactured antitank mines Finnish troops also invented some antitank mine designs of their own (such as "slide mine") and manufactured them in small scale. As mentioned in addition Engineer units used the same basic design of box mine for manufacturing of both as antipersonnel and antitank-mine to their own use. During early Winter War the antitank version of box mine was the most numerous of Finnish antitank-mines. As the war continued the industrially manufactured antitank mines such as m/39, m/S-39 and m/S-40 replaced them.

    Before Winter War the domestic production capability of TNT (trinitrotoluene) was nowhere near the wartime needs. The Finns tried solving the problem by buying TNT from all possible sources. During Winter War the countries selling TNT to Finland included France, Sweden and Norway. However even these acquisitions could not alone fix the shortage. 15th of December of 1939 Engineer Office of Ministry of Defence established TNT-foundry to Harviala. The plant manufactured amatol, which was used as substitute of TNT. The materials it used for this were ammonium nitrate intended for agriculture and TNT in powder-like form. Early on the plant produced 50 - 80 kg of amatol per 8-hour shift, but when the production got in full swing and the plant worked with maximum capacity 24/7 the production of 8-hour shift varied around 150 - 240 kg.

    PICTURE: Finnish sappers with captured Soviet mine detector and prod built from stick and captured rifle bayonet. Photo taken in Kiteenjoki August of 1941. (SA-kuva archive, photo number 32738). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (168 KB).

     

    CONTINUATION WAR (1941 - 1944)

    Finnish Army went through large changes between Winter War and Continuation War. Germany attacked Soviet Union 22nd of June 1941 and Soviet aircraft started bombing Finland the same day. Due to this Finnish government stated that Finland was in war with Soviet Union in 25th of June. Finland became German co-belligerent. Finnish troops started their offensive to Soviet Union in July of 1941. The Soviet troops fought but failed to stop Finnish advance. In Carelian Isthmus Finnish troops captured the areas lost in Winter War and in September they stopped about the pre 1939 border and stayed there until June of 1944. North of Lake Ladoga Finnish troops advanced beyond pre 1939 borders to line of three isthmuses (river Syväri/Svir - Lake Ääninen/Onega - Poventsa - Lake Seesjärvi/Segozero - Lake Rukajärvi line), which was favourable to defence. Finnish Army reached this line by December of 1941 and then stopped. Also in this line the war changed to trench war and the Finns remained pretty much to same trenches until summer of 1944. 9th of June 1944 Soviet troops launched massive offensive in Carelian Isthmus and broke through Finnish lines the next day. Finnish troops in Isthmus retreated to unfinished VT-line, which Soviets broke through also in 14th of June. After this Finnish troops retreated to non-fortified VKT-line, where they managed to stop Soviet troops in battles of Tienhaara, Tali-Ihantala, Viipuri gulf and Vuosalmi. Finnish Army transferred two divisions from north of Lake Ladoga to Carelian Isthmus, where they played decisive role in battles of VKT-line. However, this transfer left the Aunus Group north of Lake Ladoga too weak to keep their positions against expected Soviet offensive, so decision was made for it to retreat. Soon after this the Soviet offensive north of Lake Ladoga started (21st of June). The Aunus Group continued its retreat to PSS-line, but the Soviets managed breaking through it and also landing troops behind the defence line so the Finns had to continue retreat already 24th of June. In July of 1944 Aunus Group managed stopping the Soviet offensive in U-line. The last large battle between Soviet and Finnish troops was fought in Ilomantsi in June - August of 1944. Continuation War ended to Armistice 4th of September 1944, which was followed by signing of Truce Agreement in 19th of September 1944.

    Finnish antitank-mine inventory 1st of December 1941:

    Antitank-mine:

    How many:

    m/36

    516

    m/39

    5385

    m/s-39

    7630

    m/40

    6216

    m/s-40

    1323

    m/41

    149861

    total

    170931

    Source: Finnish National Archives, Sörnäinen (previous Finnish Military Archives), archive folder T19187. Acquisitions, Engineer Department of Finnish GHQ.

    The TNT shortage did not end to Winter War, but after it the countries selling explosives to Finland changed due to shift in political situation. After Winter War ended and Germany invaded Norway, Germany basically became the only possible source for military explosives. The first shipment of TNT and nitrolite from Germany arrived in December of 1940. Due to large spending also Finnish landmine inventory had been almost emptied by the war. With Finnish Army starting its offensive in June of 1941, it had little need for landmines during the first months of Continuation War. But once the offensive was stopped and all Finnish troops took defensive stance by December of 1941, landmines were needed again to boost the defences. January of 1941 arrived the first shipment of German antitank-mines ("Panssarimiina m/41"), which achieved important role in Finnish landmine inventory for Continuation War. In fact when it comes to antitank-mines the Finnish production almost ended for duration of Continuation War and the imported German antitank-mines clearly outnumbered earlier Finnish designs. The situation with antipersonnel mines was bit different. Finnish military acquired the most deadly of German antipersonnel mine designs (S-mine 35) in large numbers, but also designed and manufactured its own antipersonnel mine designs. Among these was Finnish smaller size version of Schutzenmine 42 - laatikkomiina m/43. Earlier pipe mine designs were improved until finally pipe mine m/43 was approved for mass-production in 1943. Another mass-produced Finnish antipersonnel mine design was "jar trap m/42", which later proved to have serious reliability issues if left to terrain for a long time - something which became an issue as the frontlines mostly remained about the same place from winter of 1941 - 1942 to June of 1944. Ice mine was introduced to mass production and proved valuable help in guarding frozen rivers and lakes in wintertime. Engineer Department I in Finnish Armed Forces HQ was responsible designing new equipment for Engineer Corps. Between 1941 - 1945 the Department head was Colonel H. Uimonen, while Colonel I.A. Kauranen served first as Inspector of Engineers and later designed Engineer equipment. Besides actual landmines Finnish military kept using and refining the blaze trap (valoansa) and bang-alarm (paukku-hälytin), which were typically installed to barbwire obstacles and when activated by trip-wire, alarmed the soldiers keeping guard. The manufacturer for both blaze trap and bang-alarm was Oy Nils Dahl Ab, Finnish fireworks manufacturer, which during the war manufacturer also flare gun ammunition. Finnish troops used both blaze trap and bang-alarm in huge numbers. These two items also gained some export success when in October of 1943 Krigsmaterialverket of Swedish Army bought 500,000 blaze trap m/43 and 200,000 bang-alarm m/41 from Finland.

    PICTURE: Sapper lieutenant is inspecting mine detector m/41 (miinaharava m/41) manufactured by Oy Radiotekno Oy. Photo taken in Koivisto May of 1942. (SA-kuva archive, photo number 87163). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (167 KB).

    Continuation War started with the first large minefield clearing operation for Finnish engineers. In 1941 Finnish Army on offensive, so as far landmines were concerned the focus was in clearing Soviet minefields. By 1st of January 1941 Finnish troops had removed 242,772 landmines and also 537 explosive charges, which the Soviets had wired in buildings and bridges. The mine clearance equipment inventory of Finnish military was rather short. Only few Soviet mine detectors were captured Winter War and apparently Finnish Army had no mine detectors before these, so early on the basic tool for searching landmines was a prod, basically a thin sharp stick. Finnish minedetector m/41 (miinaharava m/41 manufactured by Oy Radiotekno Ab was introduced in summer (probably August) of 1941, but it took some time to get it manufactured in large numbers. Even then prod remained as important tool, since it suited into checking possible mines located with mine detector and would find also those landmines, which had little or no metal. When it came to equipment of clearing route through minefield while under fire the only available equipment was bangalore torpedo. Unlike larger countries during World War 2 Finnish military lacked have especially equipped armour vehicles for this work. In some individual cases (like in battle of Tuulos in 1941) Finnish tanks would intentionally drive through fields of antipersonnel mines to open route of advance to infantry, but lacking special equipment they were only able to clear safe paths as wide as their tracks. Winter of 1941 - 1942 Finnish Army stopped its offensive and moved on to defensive. This change was also visible in amount of landmines Finnish troops used. New positions demanded new minefields for their protection. Even if building minefields to no-mans land often was not exactly easy Finnish troops still managed to build quite good minefields in front of the their positions. When the Soviet offensive in Carelian Isthmus started in June of 1944 Finnish minefields in front of main positions in there contained 80,000 - 100,000 antipersonnel mines and about 25,000 antitank mines. When the Finnish main position in Carelian Isthmus in beginning of June 1944 was only about 70 - 80 km long in paper it had more than one landmine per frontline meter. But, as many of the minefields had been build years ago, their true remaining effectiveness was questionable.

    PICTURE: Finnish sappers are mining a road in Uuksujärvi July of 1944. The antitank-mine for which they are apparently installing anti-lifting fuse is German-manufactured antitank-mine m/41. Next to the antitank-mine are two pipe mine m/42 type anti-personnel mines. (SA-kuva archive, photo number 158231). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (164 KB).

     

    LAPLAND WAR (1944 - 1945)

    Finnish-Soviet peace truce agreement, which ended Continuation War included demand for the Germans to leave from Finland in impossibly short period of time. In case the Germans would fail to leave in time the Finns were obliged to intern them and give them to the Soviets. To avoid the needless fighting Finnish and German officers arranged a fake war - the Germans would retreat little, the Finns would bombard the empty area with their artillery and capture it. The plan was to repeat this basic "fake battle" again and again. Unfortunately the Soviets find out about this and gave Finns an ultimatum claiming that if Finnish military would not start fighting for real they would consider the whole thing breech of truce agreement (which would have been valid reason for them to restart war against Finland).

    When Finnish troops landed to Tornio in September of 1944 just barely before the Soviet deadline the fighting in Lapland started in between the Finns and the Germans. When the Germans retreated from Finnish Lapland towards Norway they destroyed buildings, bridges, roads and even telephone lines. Besides doing all this destruction they also laid huge number of landmines and more or less improvised booby-traps. From industrially made landmines they commonly used various antitank-mine models, Schrapnell mine 35, wooden antipersonnel mines (such as Schutzenmine 42) and Stockmine 42. In addition the German troops used also some Norwegian landmines and improvised booby-traps build from artillery- and mortar-shells, explosive charges, satchel charges and hand grenades. During their retreat in 1944 - 1945 the German troops left behind estimated 170,000 landmines to Soviet and Finnish Lapland.

    One of the demands of Finnish-Soviet truce agreement was also demobilisation of Finnish Army, which happened in December of 1944. Because of this after that the Finnish Army basically fought against the Germans in Lapland with only with its new recruits, as the more experienced soldiers had been sent home. As part of fighting the war Finnish troops started clearing German landmines, but the losses of inexperienced soldiers were high in this work. By end of 1944 Finnish Army removed about 16,000 landmines that German military had left behind. Year 1945 Finnish Army removed additional 15,000 German landmines, 664 aerial bombs and about 5,700 artillery shells. The mine clearance work in Lapland proved too large and difficult for the peacetime Finnish Army. Only small number of new recruits had good training for clearing landmines (Finnish peacetime Army had only one Engineer Battalion) and the high losses (30 dead and 35 wounded) that the soldiers suffered in this work gave more than enough reason to establish special Mine Clearance Organisation (Miinanraivausorganisaatio). This organisation was created from personnel hired for it. Most of them had served in engineer units of Finnish Army during the wars and had plenty of personal experience about landmines. Besides their usual pay the persons working in Miinanraivausorganisaatio received also small bonus from each landmine they successfully cleared. By early 1950's the organisation removed about 80,000 German landmines. This brought the total number of landmines cleared by the Finns in Finnish Lapland around 120,000.

    The results and losses of "Miinanraivausorganisaatio":

    Cleared

    Personnel losses

    Year:

    Troops: (*)

    landmines:

    aerial bombs:

    ordnance:

    dead:

    wounded:

    1945

    78 + 103 + 1200

    71000

    1160

    250000

    54

    107

    1946

    42 + 62 + 380

    7030

    1220

    249000

    15

    33

    1947

    8 + 16 + 60

    430

    614

    24500

    1

    0

    1948

    3 + 4 + 27

    314

    105

    23900

    2

    3

    1949

    3 + 3 + 19

    104

    97

    15600

    0

    0

    1950

    3 + 4 + 14

    27

    54

    27300

    0

    1

    1951

    3 + 3 + 16

    47

    31

    7200

    0

    0

    1952

    1+ 1+ 11

    32

    20

    3000

    0

    0

    Total

    78984

    3301

    600500

    72

    144

     

    The landmines Germans used in Finnish Lapland killed about 1,000 civilians after the war and wounded many more. Unlike typical for them the Germans didn't seem to have spent much effort in planning their use of landmines in Finnish Lapland in 1944 - 1945. In this case they didn't make maps of the minefields and the way landmines were used also indicates that installing the mines must have often been done quite hastily. The rather obvious signs included individual antipersonnel mines and booby-traps, which were found all over the place long way from any road and landmines with their fuses being installed the wrong way found by the Finns. The number of mixed booby-traps was also very large among the found landmines. These factors made clearing the German landmines even more difficult than usual. During Lapland War the number of mine detectors in Finnish use proved too small for the monumentally large effort, but then the problem as at least partly solved with mine detectors, which were bought from Sweden. Also dogs trained for finding landmines were used - some of them proved good, but most were quite useless in this work.

     

    AFTERMATH (1944 -)

    One of the Soviet demands listed in Finnish-Soviet Truce Agreement was Finnish Army taking part in clearance of the minefields and barbwire obstacles they had build in areas belonging to Soviet Union after Continuation War. The Finnish soldiers selected for this duty didn't get any chance to choose - they were ordered for it. While other men from their units either went to Lapland War or were sent home they had to return Soviet territory for this very perilous duty. The Finnish soldiers sent to this work were unarmed and understandingly most Soviet soldiers, who were closely guarding them, were openly hostile. Besides the "normal" dangers of clearing minefields the Finnish soldiers also had to suffer helpless the threats of their recent enemy and uncertainty concerning if the Soviets would allow them to return back to Finland or not.

    Typically they had been selected from the Engineer Battalions who had originally build the minefields they now had to clear. Standard procedure of Finnish Army for building minefields ordered making detailed maps when the minefield was build, but in some cases the minefields had be build in extreme hurry, which lead to missing or sketchy documentation. The experiences Finnish troops got in this forced mine clearance work revealed just how vital documenting the minefields well while building them really was. For example 7th Division, 14th Division and IV Army Corps each created about Battalion-size mine clearance units, which worked in the areas they had build minefields during the war. However even with the best-documented minefields the work was still very dangerous. What made it even more dangerous than usual was the fact that Soviets did not allow Finnish engineers ordered to this work to use explosives in clearing mines. This meant that even those landmines, which Finnish soldiers considered so dangerous that they would have demolished them with explosive charge in normal situation, now had to be disabled by hand. Combined all the Finnish units in this work cleared 78,569 landmines while they suffering losses of 10 dead and 110 wounded. The losses among officers were unusually high in this case - indicating that in typical Finnish Army tradition the leaders often preferred rather taking themselves the ultimate risks instead of endangering their men.

     

    NEXT: PART 2, Antipersonnel Mines


    Last updated 18th of August 2013
    Webmaster: JTV jtvalias@hotmail.com
    Copyrights (pictures, text and graphics): Jaeger Platoon Website.