Battle Of Tolvajarvi

The Soviets sent a large number of troops around the Karelian Isthmus on the northern side of Lake Ladoga, which surprised the Finnish high command most unpleasantly, as the vast majority of available troops were defending the isthmus itself. A Russian force of 20,000 men, 45 tanks and 150 guns was deployed in this area, opposed by 4000 Finnish regulars.

The Soviets brushed aside weak resistance until an attack across a river was foiled on the 7th December by the few Finnish field guns available, as well as by cracks in the ice which stopped progress. A second attack in the afternoon of the 7th was more successful however, and the Finns were driven back to the strategically important road crossroads at Korpiselka.

A new Finnish commander, Colonel Talvela, was sent to the region by Mannerheim to revitalise the troops there, and he decided to attempt to gain the initiative by launching an attack of his own on the 11th. The Soviets were at this time attempting to pincer the Finnish position by sending two battalion sized forces around the lakes that dotted the battlefield, but one of these forces blundered into a hastily organised unit of 100 Finns that were sent to counter, and were ambushed in the forests. About 100 Soviets were killed in exchange for 20 Finnish dead and 55 wounded. The other battalion fared no better, falling victim to a counterattack which killed another 100 Soviets for 20 Finnish casualties. The main Soviet thrust went ahead anyway (fortunately after the pincers had been fought off) but was beaten back, leaving the ground littered with hundreds of corpses and burned out tanks.

The Finns were massively outnumbered and couldn't hope to defeat the Soviets head on, and so launched a pincer of their own to try and cut off and defeat a chunk of the Soviet force. Much ill luck, including one Finnish unit getting temporarily lost and the other running into a Soviet force just preparing for an attack, caused both sides to lose cohesion and the battle turned into a confusing collection of small battles, in which the Finns came out on top despite heavy casualties.

Both sides had fought themselves to a standstill, but the numbers favoured the Finns, with 1000 Soviet deaths in exchange for a couple of hundred Finns. Initiative remained in Finnish hands, and the Soviets were slowly pushed back in the coming days. While relatively small this was the first significant Finnish victory of the war and was a great boost to Finnish morale.

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