Battles along the Railways in 1918
RAILWAYS OF SOUTHERN FINLAND
Besides the main three north - south railways also the railways of southern Finland saw quite a bit of battles with armoured trains during April of 1918. That month two German units, whose arrival resulted from Finnish Senate requesting assistance from Germany earlier, landed to Finnish south coast. While this request for help pissed off General Mannerheim and considerably complicated political relations between Finland and western nations still fighting World War 1 against Germany the units sent by Germany to Finland also proved valuable assistance to White Army. Larger of these two German units was Ostsee Division (Baltic Sea Division) of about 9,500 men strong, which was led by Major-General von Goltz and landed to Hanko. The another smaller German unit was Brandenstein's Brigade named after its commanding officer Colonel Otto von Brandenstein. This unit about 2,500 men strong landed to Loviisa four days after landing of Ostsee Division. The Reds basically unprepared for these landings, which combined with their weak leadership, made their chanced for resisting the Germans very difficult. When in came to armoured trains of the Reds they didn't prove very effective against the Germans, likely at because of their better discipline, training and higher level of experience. In these battles the Red armoured trains adopted the role of rear guard, which protected the retreat of their infantry.
PICTURE: Offensive of White Army in Karelian Isthmus. Advance to White
Army units to Lahti from the north and advances of German troops to Helsinki and Lahti.
CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (135 KB).
PICTURE: Offensive of White Army in Karelian Isthmus. Advance to White Army units to Lahti from the north and advances of German troops to Helsinki and Lahti. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (135 KB).
Battles along Karelian railway:
15th: Poorly armed unit of the Whites attacks Taavetti railway station (in Kouvola - Viipuri railway) because of rumoured storage of weapons in the station. Instead of weaponry storage they found armed and ready Reds in the rail station. Battle ensues and during it the Reds get also (Russian) armoured train for their support. Facing all this firepower the weakly armed Whites have to flee leaving even they own wounded behind in open terrain.
3rd: German Ostsee Division (Baltic Sea Division) of about 9,500 men lands in Hanko. The first counter-move from leadership of the Reds didn't exactly impress - they published in all possible newspapers a claim that only some hungry fishermen had landed in Hanko. The Germans sent patrol by rail using railway trolleys from Hanko to bridges of Tammisaari, which the patrol captured after hour-long battle from small Red Guards unit. Capturing of bridges in Tammisaari secured disembarking of the whole division in Hanko harbour. Leadership of the Reds in Helsinki tried desperately to gather troops for stopping the Germans, but as they already had failed to find enough troops to sent for direction of Tampere, they found now themselves lacking troops even more. Originally the main planned main goal for Ostsee Division had been city of Riihimäki (important railway crossroads), but now that they found how short of troops the Reds actually were troops of the Ostsee Division received orders for new destination - Helsinki.
Among the units, that the Red General Headquarters in Helsinki succeeded sending against the German Ostsee Division was Armoured Train number 4, which was in Riihimäki. The General HQ commanded this armoured train to Tammisaari and ordered their HQ of Uusimaa region to sent all possible troops to Karjaa. But as they had already sent just about all possible troops willing to go from southern Finland to the fronts they found themselves without any large reserves. Weak leadership also made them impossible to transfer large amount of troops from any other front, so troops-wise they ended up scraping bottom of the barrel and even then succeeded cobbling up much too little troops for them to have any actual chance of success against Ostsee Division. They succeeded gathering only about 1,000 men to Karjaa. Considering German troops were much better trained and unlike the Red units sent to Karjaa had lots of combat experience the 1 to 9 combat manpower-ratio didn't leave much to guess what would happen. The outcome was so certain that General HQ of the Reds decided to evacuate whole Satakunta region before the Germans would be able to cut connections of the Reds to there.
5th: First time the Germans fight against armoured train in Finland. Armoured train number 4 was waiting troops of the advancing Ostsee Division in Raasepori railway station. While this armoured train was Fredriksberg-made, it was smaller than usual - it had 100 men, one artillery piece and 2 machineguns. The battle, which ensued, was rather short - the front troops of Germans brought artillery piece near the tracks and opened fire over open sights towards the train after which the train retreated. The Germans continued their advance, but they were to meet the armoured train number 4 soon again.
Three kilometres before Karjaa the Germans faced the armoured train number 4 again and this time it had a friend - another armoured train. The two armoured trains started delaying German advance.
6th: Front troops of Ostsee Division break defence of the Reds in Karjaa. Once the Red lines had broken and Germans captured Karjaa main troop of the Reds retreated towards Salo, while smaller number of the Reds retreated towards Hyvinkää. At that same day the main troops of Ostsee Division were just marching from Hanko towards Tammisaari. Just like infantry of the Reds also their armoured trains separated - one of them followed the evacuation trains to Hyvinkää while another train headed to Helsinki using railway along along the coast.
Political and military leadership of the Reds in Helsinki had no longer false illusions about the situation. Already the same day Council of People's Representatives (Kansanvaltuuskunta, government of the Reds) fled from Helsinki to Viipuri already the same. However they were not the first, some leaders of the Reds had left Helsinki already two days earlier. The next day also General Headquarters of the Red Guards left Helsinki and headed to Viipuri.
7th: Second landing of the German troops to Finland begins. German Brigade lead by Otto von Brandenstein landed in Loviisa in Finnish south coast. Reds had in Loviisa unit of only 50 men, which had no chance against the Germans. Before the Reds succeeded sending even first of their units towards Loviisa about 1,100 men from Brandenstein's Brigade had disembarked. Germans were lucky for the slow reaction capability and small number of reserves of the Reds, because the frozen sea and small number of available ships delayed German transports from Tallinn, which took several days. Once troops of the Brigade had all landed in Loviisa they started the march towards inland. Their main target was Kouvola - Lahti railway, capturing of which would effectively cut railway connection of the Reds from southern Finland to Karelian Isthmus and to Petrograd. For this task Brandenstein's Brigade received assistance when Suojeluskunta unit (White Army volunteers) of about 400 men lead by T.J. Ketonen arrived from the nearby islands and joined it.
8th: The Reds succeeded blocking tempt of advance, which vanguard of Brandenstein's Brigade made towards nearby city of Kotka, that had bigger harbour. However this proved to be their only success against the Germans in this area. While the Red Guards succeeded bringing some units to the area they failed organising these units under one leadership and because of this they didn't succeed creating effective defence. The Germans beat them piecemeal and the Reds could only retreat after retreat.
9th: Troops of Ostsee Division, which had landed in Hanko, continued their march towards Helsinki. The Reds tried stopping them again in Kirkkonummi and again they had armoured train supporting their defence. However also the ineffectiveness of armoured train and weakness of their defence also continued. Like in Karjaa they succeeded delaying German advance, not failed in stopping it. Soon troops of Ostsee Division continued their march.
PICTURE: Engineers from German Ostsee Division repairing tracks demolished
by the Reds. Photo taken during advance of Ostsee Division towards Helsinki. Photo from Suomen
Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (83 KB).
PICTURE: Engineers from German Ostsee Division repairing tracks demolished by the Reds. Photo taken during advance of Ostsee Division towards Helsinki. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (83 KB).
12th: Troops of German Brandenstein's Brigade for the first time run into fairly well organised and effective defence. 300 Reds in Eskilom had taken positions in forest-covered hills, which offered them rather good defensive positions. It took several hours, artillery support and some close quarters combat until the Germans took the hills.
However the main even of this day was beginning of German attack to Helsinki, Finnish capital, which had been in hands of the Reds for duration of the war this far. The attack started from around Huopalahti in the morning and continued with heavy fighting east of Huopalahti. Fiercest combat took place in Ilmala on hill of meteorological station and on rocks of Pasila. Also area around Fredriksberg Engine Works (where most armoured trains of the Reds had been built) was fight over and the Germans captured it around 1 PM. In Pasila the Germans succeeded ambushing train full of Reds coming from the Helsinki railway station.
PICTURE: Troops of German Ostsee Division with their
Maxim M/08-15 machineguns in Huopalahti during their attack to
Helsinki. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL
TO SEE LARGER PIC (85 KB).
PICTURE: Troops of German Ostsee Division with their Maxim M/08-15 machineguns in Huopalahti during their attack to Helsinki. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (85 KB).
Outside the city the Reds had armoured train and concentration of troops (which had never served in front) from local Red Guard defending Tikkurila railway-station. When the Germans attacked this station they basically mowed down the inexperienced Reds with their machineguns and finished the rest with a bayonet charge. The Reds lost about 100 men dead and about 50 became prisoners of war, while the Germans lost only two men in this battle. The armoured train and some other trains however succeeded to escape and rolled from the battleground towards north.
Once the Germans captured Malmi city sector this day the Reds lost their railway connection from Helsinki towards north. Still the same day the Reds tried opening the connection again by attacking with armoured train from the north and continued these attacks also the next day. But their attacking troops were small and failed to achieve any success
At afternoon the German attack reached centre of Helsinki Suojeluskunta (volunteer troops of Finnish White Army), which had hid in the city all the time since beginning of the war, joined them for rest of the battle. Helsinki Suojeluskunta had succeeded in secrecy forming 2 full strength battalions and third battalion, which had two companies. Rather amazing is that this local Suojeluskunta, which had been hiding right under noses of the Reds had also succeeded acquiring 1,500 - 1,700 rifles, 500 pistols, 11 machineguns, 1,500 hand grenades, quarter of a million cartridges for rifles and 60,000 cartridges for pistols. While the Germans had been marching towards Helsinki its Suojeluskunta had started making preparations for capturing parts of the city. However the Reds noticed these preparations and some small battles broke out between small units of Suojeluskunta and the Red Guards already day before the German troops arrived. Now units of Helsinki Suojeluskunta helped the Germans for capturing centre of the city. That same afternoon the Germans also landed troops to Katajanokka point, where much of the Russian Navy had been anchored just days before.
PICTURE: One of the units of Helsinki Suojeluskunta during battle of Helsinki.
Photo from Suomen Vapaussodan historia (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL
TO SEE LARGER PIC (90 KB).
PICTURE: One of the units of Helsinki Suojeluskunta during battle of Helsinki. Photo from Suomen Vapaussodan historia (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (90 KB).
At least two armoured cars supported the Reds in street battles of Helsinki. Turku garrison (Turun kasarmi), Swedish theatre (Ruotsalainen teatteri), National theatre (Kansallisteatteri), Smolna, railway station (rautatieasema), Guard's garrison (Kaartin kasarmi) and Senate building (Senaatin talo) were the strongholds, which the Reds defended most fiercely. Reds defending the both theatre buildings surrendered at the evening, but Turku garrison proved to be so costly to take that the Germans set its buildings on fire to force the Reds shooting from there outside. Fire destroyed the garrison and Reds rushing out were shot.
13th: Centre of Helsinki only Smolna, parts of railway station and Senate building remained in hands of the Reds. However they still had also parts south of Unioninkatu street plus quarters of Kruununhaka, Siltasaari, Kallio, Sörnäinen and Hermanni. Battle of Helsinki continued, but there was no uncertainty about who would win it. The Reds who had barricaded themselves to Smolna decided to surrender already at morning. Ships of German Navy took part in capturing Borgström's tobacco factory and Main guard (Päävartio) assisting with gun fire. At afternoon the Germans attacked to Hermanni district from eastside of Kallio district. German artillery firing over Töölönlahti bay from place where the Opera house is today got several hits to People's hall (Työväentalo) in Hakaniemi and the building burned.
PICTURE: Smolna in Helsinki nowadays. Finnish Reds named the building as Smolna after
building, which had been important to Bolshevik revolution in Petrograd (nowadays St. Peterburg).
During Finnish Civil War Smolna was the building used by People's Council of Representatives,
as they called their government. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (92 KB).
PICTURE: Smolna in Helsinki nowadays. Finnish Reds named the building as Smolna after building, which had been important to Bolshevik revolution in Petrograd (nowadays St. Peterburg). During Finnish Civil War Smolna was the building used by People's Council of Representatives, as they called their government. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (92 KB).
Finally the Reds had only Kallio and Sörnäinen districts and they decided to surrender. This surrender happened in Pitkäsilta-bridge. But even after this formal surrender of Red Guards located in Helsinki some of their units continued battle in Uusimaa garrison (Uudenmaan kasarmi) and building of Swedish upper secondary school. Rest of the Reds in Uusimaa garrison surrendered after the Germans threatened to use artillery firing on open sights against its defenders. Neither Helsinki Suojeluskunta nor the Germans had dared to attack forcefully against the Swedish upper secondary school as the Reds had there the members of Helsinki Suojeluskunta, which they had succeeded capturing earlier. Because of this it became the last building to surrender in whole Helsinki - around 5 PM. The Germans and the Whites now had whole Helsinki under their control, but every now and then the shots fired by the Reds still hiding in the city rang in its streets during the next few days. In the end the battle of Helsinki resulted lots of prisoners, but only relatively small number of dead. The major factor for this seems to have been fleeing of their leadership to Viipuri - information concerning it spread very fast among ranks of the Reds and did considerable damage to their will to fight. In this battle died about 300 Reds, 54 Germans and 17 men from Helsinki Suojeluskunta. The number of Reds captured prisoner was around 6,200. Now when the Germans had captured Helsinki they headed for the next target - Riihimäki, one of the most important railway crossroads in southern Finland.
The same day White Army units captured city of Pori. The Reds fled from there to other nearby areas, which were still under their control.
14th: Troops of Brandenstein's Brigade advancing towards north reach Hyvinkää - Kouvola railway in Kausala and Uusikylä. In Kausala their control of this railway didn't last long because of Red armoured train, which attacked and forced them to leave the railway. But Uusikylä, which the Germans captured after short battle, proved much more difficult nut to crack for the Reds. The Reds attacked the railway-station from the west, but they were expecting another of their armoured trains to attack from the east. The Germans did proper job in damaging the tracks before the station, so when they also had well-placed artillery along the railway the Reds were to find recapturing Uusikylä railway station to demand formidable effort. They started the attack for recapturing it with support of Panssarijuna number 4 and two guns already the same day, but thanks to damaged tracks and artillery could not effectively use the armoured train.
15th: The Reds attack to Uusikylä station again - this time with force. The first attack of the day failed and when the armoured train supporting the attack retreated to get more water for its steam engine the infantry it had supported snuck after it leaving their lines. After a while the Reds got their act back together and started their second attack for the day. This attack supported by Armoured train number 4 and 3 artillery pieces went first well with Reds capturing the railway cutting and tank tower in the railway station, but the Germans succeeded keeping actual station buildings. However the situation wasn't easy for the Germans either, so the next night they evacuated their troops and left the railway station to the Reds, who had reason to celebrate when they found the station empty next morning. Once they recaptured the railway station the Reds also found out what had happened to their another armoured train, which was supposed to attack the station from the east - thanks to damaged rail it had spent the whole battle derailed without being able to contribute anything. Recapturing these two railway-stations restored their railway connection from southern Finland to Viipuri (and Petrograd) - even if this were not to last long.
The Germans had retreated to Kuivanto, but they had not lost their will to fight nor ability to take initiative. Once their reinforcements had arrived they headed towards city of Lahti - which was also located by the Hyvinkää - Kouvola railway.
19th: Troops of German Brandenstein's Brigade attacked to city of Lahti and conquered most of it. The Reds had made the mistake to leave its railway station unguarded, which made it easy pray for German bicycle battalion. However the battle about southern parts of the city continued whole day. 8 PM the Germans started their against Reds in Radioasemanmäki hill and cemetery. Red Guards left Radioasemanmäki hill but one of their units kept the cemetery until next morning. German troops captured 34 machineguns and 12 artillery pieces in Lahti. Now railway connections of the Reds to the east had been cut again. However as large amounts of Reds retreating from south-west Finland started to pile up west from Lahti the relatively small troops, which Brandenstein had in Lahti were in real danger of being overrun once the Reds west from the city would started their imminent attack.
The same day east of Lahti in Villähde some 300 Reds and armoured train supporting them tried to stop one of the units belonging to Brandenstein's Brigade from advancing. But the Germans had already noticed weaknesses of the Reds - Red Guards had poor teamwork between their different units and moral of their infantry depended support weaponry to be there. So the Germans hit the armoured train (which lacked infantry escort) with everything they had. Once crew of the armoured train got scared the train retreated leaving just the infantry to battlefield, which made the moral backbone of the infantry to fall down and infantry went running after the train.
20th: First contact between White Army advancing towards south and Germans advancing towards north. This contact was first achieved in city of Lahti. First White Army unit to arrive Lahti was 1st Battalion of Pohjois-Häme lead, a Suojeluskunta-unit led by Captain Hans Kalm. By advancing to city of Lahti Captain Kalm intentionally failed to follow the orders given to him, but due great fame and military victories his battalion had achieved instead of being court-martialled he was soon promoted as Major.
Troops of German Ostsee Division marching from Helsinki towards Riihimäki face defence line of the Red Guards in Hyvinkää. The Reds had organised their defence in Hyvinkää to Åvik ridge behind bridges of Kriss. As usual supporting the defence was also armoured train, which every now and then rolled in ahead of to the frontline machine-gunning and bombarding the enemy for a while with its weaponry and then rolled back behind its own infantry. Germans attacked, but failed to gain ground.
20th - 21st: East from city of Lahti the frontline was in Villähde, where the some 1,300 Reds were attacking against troops of German Brandenstein's Brigade and reopen their railway connection to western parts of southern Finland. Supporting these attacks during these two days were also two armoured trains. However the support they gave proved somewhat ineffective as they fought in this front only these two days and even then damage that the Germans had done to the tracks prevented them from leading the attack far. Also one of the two trains was damaged in these battles, for which it had to be sent it to Viipuri for repairs. Once also the second armoured train left this front, as typical, the fighting moral of about Red Guards collapsed after which they left their lines and started their retreat.
Morning of this day the German troops of Ostsee Division succeeded outflanking the Reds in Hyvinkää, after which the Reds started their retreat towards Riihimäki. Also the armoured train, which had been supporting them retreated to Riihimäki and made several attacks from there against the advancing Germans.
PICTURE: Cavalry of the Reds in Riihimäki. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota
kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (79 KB).
PICTURE: Cavalry of the Reds in Riihimäki. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (79 KB).
22nd: Troops of German Ostsee Division attack city of Riihimäki in strategically important railway crossroads. One of their artillery shells fired towards Riihimäki train station hits boxcar loaded with artillery ammunition, which then explodes causing considerable damage in the railway yard. After little fighting the Reds left Riihimäki retreating towards Lahti with three trains. The Germans captured Riihimäki.
The Reds started their attacks from the west to city of Lahti started this day. Some 28,000 - 30,000 Reds and civilian refugees had piled up west of the city. Maybe 12,000 - 14,000 these were very close to Lahti and about half of them were armed combatants of the Red Guards. As the Reds often retreated by rail this great retreat had gathered some 20 locomotives and hundreds of railway wagons to railway station of Herrala west from Lahti. With the Reds were also two armoured trains. Lucky for the relatively small German (from Brandenstein's Brigade) and White troops defending Lahti Commander of Ostsee Division Von Goltz had succeeded sending reinforcements for them via Porvoo. These reinforcements arrived just day before the attacks to Lahti started.
These attacks of the Reds from the west to city of Lahti will fail. Rather ironically the area south of the city is almost unguarded and if the Reds had concentrated their attacks there they could have been able to get through towards the east. However their leadership was so focused to the railway going through the city, that they were unwilling to divert units to other directions. During the following days maybe about 2,000 Reds succeeded to continue their trek towards east through this poorly guarded area south of the city. The others however don't get that far.
29th: The Whites attack against lines of the Reds in between train stations of Tani and Pulsa in Kouvola - Viipuri railway. Defence of the Reds is just about to collapse, but then their armoured train arrives and its fire support boosts their fighting moral. However after White Army 7th Karelian Artillery scores several direct hits to the armoured train it retreated to Tani railway station, but wasn't a wise move. When the armoured train had arrived to Tani station the same White Army artillery battery hit it again, this time the shells wrecked one of the trains two artillery wagons maiming crew of the wagon. The seriously damaged train limped off the battlefield towards Kouvola railway station. Once the Reds no longer had the armoured train supporting them it collapsed the battle moral of their Red infantry and their defence turned into chaotic flight.
30th: Troops of German Brandenstein's Brigade capture parish village of Hollola northwest from Lahti. This blocked the route of retreat from the Reds trying to get towards Lahti from the northwest.
1st: Disintegration of the remaining Red Guard units turns into surrenders in mass. West from Lahti the Whites and Germans took about 30,000 prisoners and capture 20 locomotives, 350 railway wagons, 30 cars, 2 armoured cars, about 50 artillery pieces and some 200 machineguns. In this area the Germans captured one armoured train in Herrala and another in Okeroinen.
East from Lahti the Reds had retreated to region of Kymenlaakso. Now that they had lost also Karelian Isthmus and Viipuri they no connection to Russia by land. Apparently small number of Reds still succeeded getting from Kotka to Russia by rail, but the great majority in Kymenlaakso had no alternative than to die or surrender - from these two options all the Reds but few decided to prefer surrendering.
3rd: White Army units commanded by Colonel Linder capture Kouvola. In Kouvola railway station they found abandoned the armoured train, which their 7th Karelian Artillery Battery had seriously damaged few days earlier in Tani. They capture the train and remove the wrecked artillery wagon from it. Rest of the train Colonel Linder gives to the Germans, who sent it to contact Colonel Brandenstein in Lahti.
PICTURE: Fredriksberg-build armoured
train in use of the German troops in Finland at May of 1918. This photo gives idea what these
artillery wagons looked like from the inside. The guns seem to be either 47-mm or 57-mm naval
guns. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934).
CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (79 KB).
PICTURE: Fredriksberg-build armoured train in use of the German troops in Finland at May of 1918. This photo gives idea what these artillery wagons looked like from the inside. The guns seem to be either 47-mm or 57-mm naval guns. Photo from Suomen Vapaussota kuvissa 2 (edition published 1934). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (79 KB).
4th: Fighting moral of the Reds in Kymenlaakso had collapsed totally. Their units surrender to first White Army unit, which arrives no matter its size. Their units in Inkeroinen, Hamina and Kotka surrender to White Army units, which arrive there by rail. The Whites have captured armoured trains (at least one armoured train captured in Tampere and the "armoured train of riflemen" + Putilovian artillery wagon combination captured in Kavantsaari of Karelian Isthmus) with them, but find them little use as the Reds usually surrender without the fight. However some small battles are still fought here and there - for example in city of Kotka the female combatants of Red Guards still fight the last desperate and useless battle against the White Army unit, which captures the city.
5th: Last unit of the Red Guards surrendered in Kymenlaakso region. The Whites took about 9,000 prisoners in Kymenlaakso. The Civil War is all over for the Reds. Nine days later the Russians evacuate their last military base (coastal fort of Ino in Karelian Isthmus) in Finland the Finnish Civil War ends. The relations between Finland and Bolshevik Russians remain strained and the official peace Finnish - Russian peace treaty is not signed until year 1920.
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