Battles along the Railways in 1918
SAVO RAILWAY (SAVON RATA)
Even if the Whites were quite numerous and relatively well armed in direction of Pohjanmaa railway along the Savo railway the situation started much more difficult. Pretty much all weaponry that they had received from Germany before the war had been distributed to Pohjanmaa region and while the Suojeluskunta of Karelia were able to buy weapons in Viipuri and Petrograd the Suojeluskunta of Savo had neither source of weaponry. So acquiring the necessary weaponry for even the first moves was difficult. While disarming of Russian soldiers started in this area earlier than in Pohjanmaa region, Russian soldiers in small units that were disarmed were so few in number, so even disarming them didn't offer much of an improvement in weaponry-situation. The Reds had achieved popularity in this region mostly in the cities. These cities included especially the heavily industrialised Varkaus in middle of area supporting Whites, the city of Kuopio in the north and city of Kotka with its large harbour in southern end of the railway-line were their main areas of support. Red Guard in city of Mikkeli had rifles, but very little ammunition so it surrendered without a fight. The Red Guards in Kuopio and Varkaus on the other hand were not willing to give up that easily - White Army captured Kuopio only after battle and taking Varkaus demanded both battles and a siege.
PICTURE: Location of Savo front. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (130 KB).
PICTURE: Location of Savo front. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (130 KB).
Like elsewhere the first thing concerning railroads that the Whites did was destroying of selected railroad-bridges to stop possible troop transport trains of Russian Army. In this case they exploded two railway-bridges north of Kouvola (the railway crossroads station of Savo railway and Helsinki – Petrograd railway). Three improvised armoured trains White Army used early on in this railway were small, very lightly armed and failed to make a difference, while the improvised armoured trains build by the Reds locally and the one which arrived with Latvians from Russia proved quite a difficult opponents to the Whites. However effectiveness of the "proper" Fredriksberg-build armoured train that the Reds got in beginning of March turned out be rather disappointing after its first success. After early success attacks of the Reds turned out to be like trying to get through stonewall by hitting it with head repeatedly - painful and bloody but with very little success. The frontline then calmed down and didn't move until the Reds decided to retreat in late April because their retreats in other fronts had created dangerous situation also in this front.
The three improvised armoured trains by the Whites early on each had just one flatcar with parapets build from sandbags in them and locomotive pushing that flatcar. Armament of these trains was also light to the extreme - two of them had only rifles and the third one had only one machinegun in addition of rifles. Improvised armoured train of the Latvians had two flatcars and locomotive in between them. These flatcars had chest-high sides with two layers of planks and sand between those layers. Also Finnish Reds build at least three improvised armoured trains, which they used in this railway. From these three trains one known as Voikoski armoured train was based to the train that the Latvians had used - it had similar chest-high sides build to flatcars from two layers of planks and sand in between them. The Voikoski armoured train was also quite well armed for being just improvised armoured train, as it had at least one artillery piece and several machineguns. This train proved serious trouble to the Whites after they had recaptured Mouhu - it made fast attacks and proved remarkably successful in staying outside effective range of White Army guns at the same time. Finally the Whites established listening post to one of the railway carriages in the station. With the early warning received from there White artillery was ready and waiting when the Voikoski train attacked next time and succeeded destroying it.
Beginning of March the Reds received their first real armoured train to Savo railway. This train made in Fredriksberg Works in Helsinki had the usual configuration of two flatcars with armoured sides and armoured locomotive in between them. As usual the sides and ends of these flatcars had riveted armour plating and each of the two carriages contained two naval/coastal guns and several machineguns. Company from Helsinki Red Guards served as crew of this train, while the infantry unit assisting the train was from Red Guard of Kouvola, where the train was also stationed.
PICTURE: Map of Savo front. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (55 KB).
PICTURE: Map of Savo front. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (55 KB).
Battles along Savo railway:
31st: Some 300 men from Varkaus Red Guard commandeer a train from Varkaus and head with it towards Pieksämäki. The Whites found out about this and decided to stop this train by sending locomotive without a crew with full speed in the opposite direction to the same rail. However the Reds had also made precautions by adding three flatcars loaded with sand in front of their train. When the collision happened it derailed the flatcars loaded with sand, but failed to cause serious damage to the locomotive. After this train-accident-by-purpose the Reds were shaken enough that they decided to return Varkaus.
The same day the Reds succeeded already repairing Torasjoki railway-bridge (bit north of Kouvola), one of the two bridges that the Whites had exploded.
1st: Improvised armoured train with 800 Reds in it headed from Kouvola north towards Mikkeli. In Hillosensalmi they faced one of the two railroad-bridges, which the Whites had demolished earlier and started repairing it. The Whites had found out what was coming their way and left with three small improvised armoured trains and passenger train to their way. Each of these three improvised armoured trains had only one flatcar with cover made from sandbags and locomotive pushing it. The Reds had just successfully repaired the bridge when the improvised White armoured trains arrived and opened fire. The battle continued until the only machineguns that the Whites had with them jammed. As the Reds now had clear advantage in firepower the Whites decided to retreat - their main force returned all the way to Mikkeli. The Reds continued their advance by rail taking over train stations of Voikoski and Mouhu before stopping to wait for their reinforcements and to make preparations for continuing their attack towards Mikkeli.
2nd: Eklund's ("flying") unit (White Army) takes over Mäntyharju railway station 70-km north of Kouvola and 40-km south of Mikkeli this day.
3rd: Eklund's unit sent patrol from Mäntyharju to Mouhu station, but also the Reds patrols made probing attacks to Mäntyharju. The Whites had succeeded gathering 100 men to Mäntyharju. Spåre was the leader of the Whites, who made the decision for retreat to Mikkeli even if they were not under serious attack. Luckily for them the Reds did not notice this retreat of theirs and they could return to Mäntyharju station the next day.
The Whites also exploded the railway-bridge in Kieppi (2-km north of Mäntyharju railway station) sometimes between the 1st – 4th of February. Unfortunately the sources give at least three dates for this. In either way they exploded the bridge by 4th of February, but the damage the exposition caused seems to have been relatively small.
7th: About 1,000 Reds stepped into three improvised armoured trains and headed towards Mäntyharju (which was held by White Army). Among the Reds was also veteran unit of some 200 Latvian red riflemen, which had arrived to Finland with improvised armoured train of their own. The Latvians were from 6th Latvian Regiment (Tukkum/Tuckum Regiment) and were commonly known as elite-troops of the Russian Bolsheviks. They had arrived to Finland three days earlier. The Finnish Reds had locally constructed the other two improvised armoured trains. The Latvian Company in its train led the attack to Mäntyharju railway station. The Whites had set ambush near the tracks on rocks in south of Mäntyharju station, first it stopped attack of the Reds, but then the Latvians disembarked and the Whites were unable to stop their attack or keep their positions. The Whites retreated behind Kiepinsalmi railway-bridge and exploded the bridge second time trying to destroy rest of it. The Latvians gave their 8 prisoners of war to Finnish Reds, who executed these almost immediately. Advance of the Reds ended to Kiepinsalmi bridge, which the Whites had exploded.
11th: Some 800 Reds, among them about 200 Latvian riflemen, attacked over Kiepinsalmi bridge towards Mäntyharju. Suojeluskunta unit originating from Jyväskylä gave them fierce resistance killing 16 Latvians and threw back the attacking Reds. The Latvians had not liked the way the Reds had killed their prisoners and the supplies situation was not too great either, so when they suffered these casualties it proved to just too much for them. The Latvians decided to return Russia with their train. According claim of the Whites the Latvians actually acted as high-prized mercenaries, whose salaries were in whole different level than what the typical soldiers of both sides were paid.
12th: After Whites had retreated behind exploded Kiepinsalmi railway-bridge the Reds had started repairing it and even received specialists from Helsinki for this work. The Whites decided to explode the bridge once again. Even if they no longer had the bridge in their hands their positions near northern end of the railway-bridge uphill from the bridge. They decided to use it for their advantage by loading railway carriages with explosives and sending them towards downhill to the bridge. However this plan failed - the explosives destroyed some 20 metres of tracks, but did not produce any damage to the railway-bridge.
The same day the Reds and the Whites fought several small battles between Mäntyharju and Mikkeli. The Whites succeeded surrounding the Reds already, but then the Reds succeeded breaking through and escaping.
14th: The Whites attacked successfully capturing Mäntyharju and the Reds made several counter-attacks to take it back, but failed. After battle of nine hours the Whites kept Mäntyharju. Leader of the Reds considered the situation so dangerous that he decided to retreat back to Mouhu, which they started fortifying. Repairing of Kiepinsalmi railway-bridge continued, but this time it the Whites who were repairing it. However the damage they had succeeded doing it was so extensive that the repairing the bridge wasn't ready until 12th of March - this seriously limited their capability for transporting weapons and supplies to the frontline until fixing the bridge was ready.
Now that the Whites had succeeded stabilising the situation of front along Savo railway they could finally concentrate destroying the last concentration of Reds behind their own lines - Varkaus. Since the Whites had succeeded capturing city of Kuopio 8th of February they had also successfully besieged Varkaus. The remains of Varkaus Red Guard surrendered 21st of February.
20th: The Whites attacked to Mouhu, which had the next railway station southwards from Mäntyharju. Their troops surrounded Mouhu station from three sides and the Reds in the station were about loose the battle, when the improvised armoured train arrived to their salvation. Its firepower changed course of the battle causing the Whites great number of casualties and forced them to retreat.
3rd: Three companies of White Army infantry attacked and captured railway section between Mouhu and Hillosensalmi. The Reds sent company of infantry and field gun against them from Mouhu in the north. However the counter-attack coming from the north was not the biggest threat for the Whites. Unknown of them the Reds was to receive their first proper armoured train (Armoured Train 2) just that day to Savo railway and now this train made in Fredriksberg works was closing them from the south. Once the train arrived the Whites found themselves receiving fire from both directions and suffered serious casualties, so they had to retreat from the railway leaving it to the Reds.
This really was not a good day for the Whites in Savo railway. Like the previous would not have been enough their supply column run into ambush, during which a chance bullet hitting exploded sledge-full of explosives killing several dozen men. Only remnants of the supplies column succeeded returning back to their own troops.
Still this proved to be poor day for the Reds also. The Whites attacked Mouhu again and the Reds succeeded defending it successfully until their leader Teikari did the fatal mistake of deciding to move trains from the railway station to south side of it to make sure they would not be damaged. Those of the Reds, who were in the station thought that this indicated retreat and came afraid that the trains might leave them behind. So they rushed to the trains and refused to dismount. This fatal mistake didn't leave leadership of the Reds any other change than pull out all their troops, load them into the trains and flee by train towards Voikoski station in the south. If the Whites would have used this opportunity and continued their attack swiftly they might have achieved great victory, but they failed to use it.
PICTURE: Maxim machinegun of White Army in Mouhu. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2
(edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (84 KB).
PICTURE: Maxim machinegun of White Army in Mouhu. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (84 KB).
5th: The Reds attacked to Mouhu station with their new Fredriksberg-made "proper" armoured train and improvised armoured train. The attack was lead by infantry unit from Helsinki Red Guard. White Army artillery scored first wagon of the "proper" armoured train a direct hit, which killed commander of the train Aleks Nyholm and 6 other crewmembers. Crew of the train did also mistake of disembarking the train inside effective firing range of the Whites, which caused them suffer further casualties. The train was so severely damaged that it had to return Kouvola for repairs. This attack failed also otherwise and the Whites kept Mouhu station. Even after repairs the Fredriksberg-made train proved to have quite a poor luck.
11th:The Reds had decided to try outflanking the Whites by attacking to villages of Turkki and Valtola in eastside of the railway-line with 1,000 men. Their goal was to continue attack by road from these villages to Kinni and by capturing railway near Kinni cut the railway connection of the Whites towards north. Even if the Whites early on had much less men they succeeded delaying the Reds until their reinforcements arrived that they succeeded stopping the attack in between villages of Turkki and Kinni.
After this the frontline remained the same until developments in other fronts changed the situation, but that didn't happen until when the Red Guards started crumbling in end of the war. The Reds tried still another attack 20th of March and the Whites in 5th of April, but neither of these attacks was successful.
12th: The Whites finally got the repairs of Kieppi railway bridge finished. Now that they had railway connection up to Mouhu they could much better supply their frontline.
25th: The overall situation had developed dangerous for the Reds in this front. They troops in other fronts had retreated creating situation in which the Whites could have easily outflanked them and after troops in east side of Lahti also started to retreat their rear didn't look too secure either. In this situation their leadership decided to pull out their troops and retreat to new easier defence line. As part of this retreat they their troops located to Savo railway retreated this particular day from Voikoski to southern end of Hillosensalmi railway-bridge, which they now in their own turn demolished.
30th: The Reds guarding southern side of Hillosensalmi leave their positions at night of 30th of April - 1st of May and head south towards Kymenlaakso region - the only area still in their hands and due to Kotka harbour in there still possible escape route by sea to Russia.
PICTURE: White Army soldiers repairing Hillosensalmi bridge on their own turn
after the Reds had demolished it 25th of April. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition
published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (86 KB).
PICTURE: White Army soldiers repairing Hillosensalmi bridge on their own turn after the Reds had demolished it 25th of April. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (86 KB).