Finnish Small Unit Tactics

29 11 2013

Finnish ski troops in Northern Finland in January 1940

The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends No. 6, August 27, 1942


The tactical doctrine of the Finnish Army presupposes an overwhelming superiority in numbers and materiel on the part of its potential enemy. To increase the effectiveness of their defense against such an enemy, Finnish tactics take advantage of the available natural factors: the characteristics of the Finnish people, and the nature and possibilities of Finland’s terrain.

Their long struggle with poor soil caused the Finnish people to develop exceptional physical strength, iron nerves, resourcefulness, and a stubborn will. These traits, together with the high level of popular education, general skill in arms, the expert use of skis, and familiarity with life in the woods make the Finnish soldier especially suited for independent action.

The Finns are naturally uncommunicative, like to go their own way, and are of a suspicious nature. Not easily aroused to enthusiasm, they are strong-willed, and once an idea is conceived it is held tenaciously. Finns are hard to lead, but, once having accepted a leader, are extremely loyal.


The country is largely covered with woods, thousands of lakes, and numerous rivers and swamps. The coastline is very irregular. Travel must be confined to roads since crosscountry communication is almost impossible. The roads are many miles apart and hemmed in by the forest. The clearings for agricultural purposes are few and small. It is a rolling country, with very few marked elevations.

Finns realized long ago that if war came to them, it would be a defensive conflict begun by an aggressor and fought from the very first day within their own boundaries. The general plan of defense assumes that the enemy will be unprepared by nature and experience to cope with conditions in Finland.


Although Finnish troops are organized into divisions, brigades, regiments, etc., in the same manner as other modern armies, their operations against an enemy emphasize use of small units: patrols, attacking groups, and detachments.

The basic tactical doctrine assumes that the enemy will follow avenues of approach which will make him vulnerable to encirclement, after which his forces are to be destroyed piecemeal. This is accomplished by forcing the enemy to follow routes outlined by either natural or artificial obstacles until he reaches the terrain selected for his annihilation.

The tactics of annihilation are carried out through the use of a “motti”. In original usage the word motti means a pile of sawn timber held in position by upright stakes driven in at intervals along its edges. In military usage, motti refers to an enemy group surrounded by Finnish patrols each of from eight to twelve men armed with automatic arms. Lines of communication are severed and the surrounded enemy is decimated by numerous raids, severe cold, and slow starvation. This encirclement may last several months, until the enemy force is completely destroyed.

A modern army invading Finland is to a large extent confined to the roads in order to move its mechanized units and weapons forward. Finnish light artillery is so emplaced as to force these moving columns off the road into the adjacent forests. The Finns then rush their machine guns and antitank guns through the forest on a special type of sled called a “pulka”; they attack and are off again before the enemy can take any counteraction.

Finnish winter uniforms are made of white skins and furs, and patrols wear a white cape with a hood attached. Against a snow-covered background they are almost invisible to the enemy. Materiel is also camouflaged to blend with the white background. For example, the Finns cover captured tanks with lime-wash to make them less conspicuous.

No Finnish unit, however small, is ever sent out upon operations of more than a few hours’ length without heating equipment adapted to its needs. Dugouts are constructed, lined with skins and roofed with birch logs capable of supporting several feet of snow. In each of these shelters there is a stove designed to burn without sparks or visible trace of smoke.

The Finns are experts on skis and rely mainly on their use in winter; material is transported on motor trucks, horse-drawn sleighs, and dog-team sleds. Ski troops have been known to travel over 65 miles a day.

The chief offensive weapon of the Finns is the Suomi machine carbine, similar to our sub-machine gun (see sketch). Ordinary Central European military tactics demands fire beginning at long ranges in the form of artillery preparation and increasing gradually in intensity over a considerable period of time. Something entirely different is required for warfare in the Finnish woods. Here the weapons must be located far forward and maximum fire power attained immediately. This demands an automatic weapon which is light and mobile. This weapon must be unusually well-balanced to ensure good aim under difficulties incident to forest fighting. The Suomi carbine is the weapon which fulfills all these requirements.

Long-range rifles are not suitable for forest warfare because of the very limited fields of fire.

In Finnish practice, the place of the bayonet is taken by the “puukko” (see sketch). The best puukko, or Finnish knife, comes from Lapland. It usually has a straight blade 7 1/2 in. long, tapering to a point in the last 1 1/2 in. Its handle is 4 1/2 in. long and made of polished wood. It is generally enclosed in a scabbard of tooled leather. The puukko is a weapon for the silence and darkness of the woods. It is carried by most Finnish troops and particularly adapted to night raids.

Finnish PUUKKO

Activities of Patrols.

Against massed troops and columns of the enemy, Finnish patrols employ fire from automatic weapons, trench mortars, and light artillery. However, columns are annihilated chiefly by swift movement and automatic fire. For this purpose ski troops are held in readiness and are put into action at the proper time. These ski troops attack a column on the flank, move rapidly along the whole length, and inflict casualties with automatic weapons.

When decisive action is expected to take place in woods, machine guns, as a rule, are not taken along. These have little effect in woods and may easily fall into the hands of the enemy. On the other hand, the Finns recognize the fact that fire of lighter automatic weapons increases the momentum of attack in the woods and employ them in unusually large numbers.

The Finns do not attack large bodies of enemy troops. They devote energies primarily to three specialized tasks: a) depriving the enemy divisions of their command by attacking and destroying regimental and brigade headquarters; b) concentrating on the destruction of the field-kitchens; and c) attacking communications.

When the enemy lines of communication are extended, they are subjected to incessant harassing. For this purpose detachments of picked ski-runners are considered most suitable.

A condition for success of the raid is that such detachments receive clear, and very often detailed instructions. Orders to such detachments must therefore be issued by an experienced officer, either a battalion or regimental commander.

During very cold weather, night attacks yield better results against hostile troops if these have had to halt in the open for lack of suitable bivouacs. The mere fact that the activities of patrols and aircraft prevent the enemy from lighting fires causes many frostbites and severe colds, and makes him more vulnerable to attacks by major forces. Patrols are equipped with machine carbines, hand grenades, and materiel for destroying armored vehicles and for burning trains, supplies, etc.

In addition to inflicting direct casualties, patrol activity creates a feeling of uncertainty among enemy troops and forces them to take excessive measures of precaution. For example, as a result of such activity by Finnish patrols, the commander of a Russian tank corps ordered an entire tank brigade to reconnoiter the terrain far to the rear of the Russian positions.

For the destruction of armored vehicles, and for burning trains, Finnish patrols are provided with “partisan incendiary grenades” (see sketch). These contain about 300 grams of thermite. Arming is effected by striking the friction surface of a match box against the friction surface at the end of the handle. By means of a fuse card the thermite is ignited 5 or 6 seconds later.


Antitank Defense.

During the first Russo-Finnish War (1939) great losses were suffered by Russian tank units attempting to penetrate Finnish antitank defenses.

The first Russian attempt to attack with tanks was stopped and disorganized by fields of mines arranged inside the frontier. The mines were placed on all the roads, paths, and bridges, and caused severe losses among the tanks.

These mines were not placed in fixed positions. During the night Finnish patrols would replace destroyed mines, particularly on roads over which some Russian units had already passed. Many tanks were destroyed in this way.

In order to prevent the removal of mines by the enemy, mine fields are kept under constant observation and are covered by infantry fire.

The Finns construct tank obstacles of various types, and mine the weaker points in the lay-out of obstacles. One of these obstacles is an abatis. An abatis is at least 30 yards in depth and made of trees with trunks measuring over 8 inches in diameter. Trees are cut from 3 to 4 feet above the ground but left attached to their stumps. The tops are pointed toward the defender. The trees are attached to one another with steel wire, large nails, or hooks, and barbed wire is interlaced in all directions. With traps inside such barriers, their removal is rendered very difficult. The tops of these trees must not be parallel but should partly cross one another so as not to allow passage between the trunks.

Antitank defense companies are employed for destruction of tanks which may break through the main line of resistance. Such missions require alert and aggressive men.

The antitank defense company consists of 3 platoons of 4 sections each; a section includes a leader, an assistant leader, 5 men, 3 men in reserve. The company is equipped with several cargo trucks for various types of mines and Molotov cocktails.

The company performs on the principle that observation from a tank is limited and that it cannot fire at an object within a radius of 3 to 4 yards. A section operates in the following manner:

Men are placed in pairs, one on each side of the road over a distance of 75 to 100 yards. Each man digs a shelter for himself and thoroughly camouflages it. Tanks, which generally drive along the road in platoons of 5 vehicles each, are allowed to advance to a point where the first tank is abreast of the last pair of men. Here it is destroyed by a mine drawn across the road in its path. This is usually a signal for the other pairs of men to take advantage of the resultant confusion and simultaneously destroy the other tanks. To accomplish the destruction of such a tank group, terrain is selected where it is difficult for the tanks to leave the road, as in dense woods or on stony ground.

A mine drawn across the road is constructed of four ordinary tank mines coupled together with wire, the distance between each mine being about 1 inch. A wire about 25 yards long is attached to each end of the series of mines, and by means of this wire they are drawn across the road. The parts of the wire lying on the road are camouflaged. Since the bottom of the mine is indented and does not slide easily, a plank or strip of tin must be placed underneath. As the tank approaches, the mines are drawn onto the road in front of it.

Stopping of the first tank in the column is the signal for a general attack. An antitank mine is thrown in front of the track of each tank and combustible bottles are thrown simultaneously. Immediately after the detonation of the antitank mine and the immobilization of the tank, a grenade thrower jumps or climbs onto the tank and throws a hand grenade through the roof shutter of the turret.

The audacity of antitank defense personnel can best be illustrated by reports of their action north of Lake Ladoga against Russian tanks. Lacking other tank-destroying equipment, Finnish soldiers were reported to have bent the barrels of the tank machine guns by hitting them with trunks of birch trees.

Antitank defense platoons cooperate with the antitank gun platoons whenever possible. When the latter hit a tank they signal the antitank defense personnel to destroy it.

Possessing very few antitank guns, the Finns became experts in the accurate delivery of fire, and strategic emplacement. They realized that antitank guns located on the main line of resistance are destroyed either by the fire of hostile tank guns or by being overrun by attacking tanks. Finnish tactics stress that antitank guns, when possible, should be located on reverse slopes, on ground interspersed with boulders, under cover of terrain difficult to pass, or under protection of mines placed well forward. A frequent change of positions is also a method of avoiding destruction.

Their best defense against air attacks, and one utilized to great advantage by Finnish troops, is the natural cover and concealment afforded by local terrain. Thick forests and the excellent camouflage of troops and materiel make air observation very difficult.

In addition to the use of basic infantry weapons on enemy aircraft, the Finns employ the 76-mm., 40-mm., and 20-mm. antiaircraft guns and the 7.62-mm. antiaircraft machine gun. Of these, the 40-mm. antiaircraft gun proved to be the most efficient in the ratio of ammunition expended to the number of planes downed. Small-arms antiaircraft fire is delivered only by platoons.

It has been reported that during the Russo-Finnish War, the Finns found the use of Stokes mortars effective against dive-bombing attacks. The mortars were placed in batteries of four, under the command of an officer. The future position of the target was estimated by the gunners. Mortar shells were kept ready at charges 1, 2, and 3. The officer selected the charge and gave the initial order to fire. Although the number of planes brought down by this method was not great, the fire interfered with the aim of the bombers and kept them at a respectful distance. This expedient was originally improvised by infantry units which had no other means of antiaircraft defense.




One response

6 12 2013

The Finns are naturally uncommunicative, like to go their own way, and are of a suspicious nature. Not easily aroused to enthusiasm, they are strong-willed, and once an idea is conceived it is held tenaciously.

Look like my folks:-)

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