Battle of Tali-Ihantala
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
On 9 Jun 1944, the Soviet Stavka ordered a general offensive against Finland to begin, a date chosen in coordination with the Western Allies' invasion of France at Normandy. Soviet Colonel General Dmitrii N. Gusev pushed 15 divisions, including veteran Guard units, against the Finns and quickly pushed the front back to the Vammelsuu-Taipale Line by the next day. On 12 Jun, Finnish leader Carl G. E. Mannerheim appealed for German reinforcements. On 14 Jun, the Finns attempted a counterattack and failed, leading to the Vammelsuu-Taipale being breached in return. On 16 Jun, the Flight detachment Kuhlmey (with about 60 aircraft) arrived in Finland, followed by 303 Assault Gun Brigade and the 122nd Division Grief in the next few days. The Finnish city of Viipuri (Vyborg) was captured by the Soviets on Jun 20. On 21 Jun, Finland attempted to start a peace negotiation, but Moscow in essence rejected it, demanding nothing but an unconditional surrender. On 22 Jun, German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop arrived and demanded that Finland would fight until the end, which was accepted by President Risto Ryti of Finland. On the same day, Soviet tanks and infantry advanced at the village of Tali (Paltsevo) and village of Ihantala (Petrovka), east and north of Viipuri, respectively.
The terrain where the Soviets advanced was the only flatlands suitable for an offensive by armor on the Karelian Isthmus. Only 10-km wide, the site of battle was flanked by lakes and the Vuoksi River. At this site, the later-named Battle of Tali-Ihantala was to be the largest battle in Nordic history.
The Soviet advance was met by the Finnish 18th Division, 3rd Brigade, and the ethnically-Swedish 3rd Battalion. The Soviet spearheading 97th and 109th Corps, supported by the 152nd Tank Brigade, attacked fiercely, but the Finns held their ground for five days.
At 0630 on 25 Jun 1944, a heavy artillery and air bombardment was conducted by the Soviets, and a major three-prong offensive against Tali began at 0730. The eastern prong east of Lake Leitimojärvi was stopped by the Finnish 4th Division, but on the western prong was able to breach Finnish defenses at Portinhoikka crossroads set up by Regiment JR48 with the aid of tanks from the 27th Tank Regiment; the third prong, an attack across the Saarela Strait by the Soviet 178th Division, was defeated by the Finnish Regiment JR6's 1st Battalion. Although only one of the three prongs succeeded, the Finns were now in danger of being cut off. Realizing this, the Finns gathered their reserve troops and mounted a counter attack which pushed the Soviets west of Lake Leitimojärvi back to the starting point, destroying the Soviet 27th Tank Regiment in the process and capturing several tanks.
By 27 Jun, both sides had bolstered their forces with reinforcements. The Finns attempted a large counter attack, with tanks and aircraft (both Finnish and German), east of Lake Leitimojärvi, but heavy Soviet defenses and Finnish communications breakdown caused the Finnish offensive to fail. On 28 Jun, Finnish commander Karl Lennart Oesch ordered the Finns to fall back to the Vakkila-Ihantalajärvi-Kokkoselkä-Noskuanselkä Line; seizing this opportunity, the Soviets attacked during the transition, nearly routing the Finns by inflicting heavy casualties, but the Finns were able to re-establish a strong defensive line once again by 29 Jun.
On 2 Jul, Soviet 63rd Division and the 30th Armored Brigade received an order to attack Ihantala on the next day. This message of intercepted by the Finns, allowing the Finns and the Germans to stage an aerial attack at 0358, two minutes before the planned attack, and the 40 Finnish and 40 German bombers defeated the momentum of the Soviet attack before it was ever gained; 4,000 artillery shells from 250 guns were also fired in support. This concentrated pre-emptive strike delayed the Soviet attack until 0600; the attacking Soviet troops, supported by 200 aircraft, briefly disrupted Finnish lines. For the next several days, Soviet troops continuously tested Finnish defenses, but each time they were thrown back from concentrated and effective Finnish artillery bombardment.
Slightly away from the Tali-Ihantala region, on 4 Jul, Soviet 59th Army attempted an amphibious assault across the islands of the Bay of Viipuri in indirect support, but the invasion on the mainland were eventually pushed back into sea by the German 122nd Division on 10 Jul. Also on 4 Jul, Soviet 23rd Army attempted to cross Vuoksi River at Vuosalmi, which was promptly held within its small beachhead by the smaller Finnish 2nd Division.
By 9 Jul, the Soviets began sending in trucks to transfer away some troops to the Estonia front against German troops, which effectively ended the main portion of the Battle of Tali-Ihantala. On 12 Jul, Moscow ordered all offensives to cease in the area and began to probe Finland for possible peace terms.
Although the Finns were out-numbered three to one at the start of the battle, effective defensive planning, particularly the heavy concentration of artillery (which was the greatest in Finnish history), led to a decisive Finnish victory. The Soviets suffered about 5,000 killed and 14,000 wounded, while the Finns suffered about 1,100 killed and 6,300 wounded. The Soviets also lost several hundred tanks and aircraft during the fighting. The Soviet defeat at Tali-Ihantala was the key event that convinced Moscow to maintain the status quo on the Finnish front, and concentrate on Germany instead. The Battle of Tali-Ihantala was to become the final major engagement in the Continuation War before Finland and the Soviet Union entered in a cease fire agreement on 4 Sep 1944.
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Winston Churchill, 1935