Tag Archives: Finland

Deception in intelligence operations

2979Among the dispatches of the Finnish military on the 1st of January, 1940 was this statement:

The numbering of some of the Finnish divisions is changed in order to confuse Soviet intelligence.

Which got me thinking about deception operations and how intelligence analysts are supposed to account for them.  Deception usually gets a mention in analytical training but typically nothing more than ‘Make sure the information you’re using isn’t a part of a deception plan on the part of your foe.’ Not a whole lot on how to go about doing that.

Deception can be tricky all around.  After all, if your deception plan is too good you might fool your friends, allies and sympathizers which can be counterproductive.  In the example above, I imagine the Finnish armed forces had to do a lot of coordination ahead of time lest orders or supplies for Division X get delayed while some sergeant somewhere tries to figure out what happened to Division X and why there’s a Division Y all up in his business all of a sudden.

And when we think about deception we usually think about it as an intentional act caused by an opponent.  Sometimes, however, we unintentionally deceive ourselves.  Our minds often do a better job at deceiving us than an adversary ever could.

A great example of that at play can be found in movies and TV where a reoccurring trope is the zany mix up.  A conversation heard without context or misinterpretation of some information leads the protagonist to believe in a reality which at complete odds with what is actually happening.

A great example of that is the 2011 Horror/Comedy movie Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

YouTube Preview Image

The whole movie is based on all the characters misinterpreting the information they are receiving and deceiving themselves through their cognitive biases.  The actual attempts at deception (where Tucker and Dale decide to pretend to be the crazy hillbillies they are accused of being) don’t work nearly as well.

The movie does a great job of demonstrating how at some point we get so invested with a particular analytical line that we will ignore evidence (even highly credible and reliable evidence) to the contrary.  In that regard, that aspect of the film is more realistic that the filmmakers probably know.


Today in the Winter War


A clearly staged photo in the last days of the war…

The war is coming to a close quickly…Finnish defenses are collapsing and it’s increasingly clear that even the tenacity of the Finns has its limits.  Field Marshal Mannerheim recently told the Finnish authorities to negotiate a peace quickly while the Finnish military could still mount a credible defense.

Coming from the U.S. in the early 21st century it’s hard to put oneself in the shoes of the Finns in 1940.  The very existence of the country was in doubt and things must have looked grimmer than anything we Americans could appreciate unless one goes back, perhaps, to the Civil War.  Given current events in Ukraine I suppose we could understand if nations in Eastern Europe and around the Baltic are more than a bit nervous.

You really get the sense that things are in a death spiral if you read in between the lines.  Troops are either worn out (probably kept on the line too long) or raw (thrown into battle).  Losses are mounting and positions abandoned so quickly that it’s hard for a command element to figure out what’s going on and establish new plans and issue new orders.

The dispatches from 10 March, 1940.

The situation in Viipurinlahti bay remains critical: the Red Army is constantly funnelling new troops and equipment into the area.

The Russians are working to extend their bridgehead on the western side of the bay.

The aim of the Soviet troops is to use the bridgehead as a staging post to get round to the west of Viipuri and cut the Finnish troops defending the city off from their vital supply lines to the interior.

The enemy is attempting to take the city of Viipuri itself by a straight frontal assault, while the troops to the northeast of the city are making a drive towards Antrea.

During the course of the afternoon the enemy breaks through the Finnish defences in the western part of Nisalahti village and carries on three kilometres to the north.

The unfolding events in Viipurinlahti bay mean the Finnish troops have lost use of the main defensive positions on the Isthmus and will have to fight from now on in totally unprepared positions.

Some of the Finnish troops are suffering from battle fatigue, while others are raw, inexperienced troops; the chain of command and the responsibilities of the officers are also having to be constantly reworked.

Aerial reconnaissance reports 200 enemy assault tanks in Pullinniemi.

On the Karelian Isthmus, the enemy overruns the countryside around Leitimo manor on the Tali Isthmus.

The Soviet troops launch their assault in the morning and break through the Finnish defences to a depth of 4 kilometres.

Fresh troops are concentrated around Viipurinlahti bay, including a cavalry brigade from Ladoga Karelia.

Finland’s former president, P.E. Svinhufvud is in Berlin to seek help for Finland, but is unable to gain access to members of the German leadership.

The Finnish and Soviet negotiators meet for a second round of talks in the Kremlin at 2 p.m. today. The meeting lasts two hours.

Finland is in an awkward negotiating position. Contact with the Government at home has to be conducted via Stockholm and telegrams can take up to 12 hours to reach their destination.

The deadline of March 12 set by the Allies is also getting ominously close.

The Finnish negotiators attempt to haggle over the Soviet terms, but without success.

In Vuosalmi the enemy is concentrating its efforts on the Liete meadows to the northeast of Vasikkasaari.

The Soviet force in Ladoga Karelia is able to establish a good grip on the southern tips of the Lapoinniemi and Kuivaniemi promontories on the shores of Lake Ladoga.

As night falls, the defending Finnish troops withdraw.

Today in the Winter War

Ryssien lentokoneita pienennetään sulattamista varten Suomi-valimossa.

Nothing is wasted…A Finnish worker dismantles a Russian plane to return it to the foundry.

Things are going bad for the Finns at this point as the Soviets have finally gotten their act together.  Continued resistance on the part of the Finns is making the Soviets look weak and foolish on the world stage.

Early on in the war the Soviets wanted to impress the world through a masterful display of tactical expertise, similar to what Germany had displayed in Poland.  As a result they prepared an invasion plan that they confidently would be wrapped up in 12 days.  Now, almost 3 months later, they just wanted it over.  As a result, the Soviets went back to brute force tactics.

Official Finnish dispatches are beginning to reflect the grim situation.  Gone is the talk of counter-attacks and large totals of Soviets losses.  Instead, we read about withdrawals and deaths.

Reserve Corporal Korsola, a fighter pilot in the Finnish Air Force, is killed during the course of the morning.

The massive Soviet offensive continues across Viipurinlahti bay to Häränpäänniemi and Vilajoki.

Withdrawal from the intermediary and delaying positions in the Suur-Pero sector disintegrates into panic when enemy tanks get in among the Finnish troops.

The defending force manages to defeat the enemy detachments which have come ashore, but later in the evening Tuppura and Teikari islands are lost to the enemy.

The Finnish Government decides by 17 votes to 3 in favour of opening formal peace talks with the Soviet Union.

In Ladoga Karelia, the eastern Lemetti ‘motti’, also known as the ‘general motti’, is captured by 4 o’clock in the morning, giving IV Army Corps its greatest ever haul of captured enemy materiel: 71 tanks, 268 lorries and several lorryloads of guns and shells.

Brigade Commander Kondratiev, the general after whom the ‘motti’ was named, is killed along with his staff officers in a desperate attempt to break out. The enemy loses around 3,000 men altogether.

Reserve Second Lieutenant Nyrki Tapiovaara is killed leading a reconnaissance patrol on the Kollaa front. The 28-year-old Tapiovaara, a film director in civilian life, leaves behind an uncompleted film based on F.E. Sillanpää’s novel Miehen tie (A Man’s Way).

In northern Finland, a fierce artillery bombardment heralds the launch of the third attempt by Soviet troops to come to the aid of the surrounded 54th Division at Kilpelänkangas in Kuhmo.

In just the couple of hours before noon the enemy pounds the Finnish positions with around 3,000 shells.

The Finnish 7th Division, fighting in Taipale, has lost around 100 men a day. More than half these losses have come in February.

15 Finnish and 36 Russian fighters engage in a dogfight in the skies above Ruokolahti on the southeast edge of Lake Saimaa.

The battle lasts a little under half an hour. Several of the Finnish aircraft are damaged, and seven shot down. Lieutenants Huhanantti, Halme and Kristensen, the latter a Danish volunteer, are killed, and three other pilots are wounded.

There is heavy enemy bombing on the home front, in Turku, Haapamäki, Savonlinna and Kouvola. 132 bombers are counted in the skies above Kouvola.

Finland sends a note to the League of Nations over the Soviet Union’s military action against Finland’s civilian population.

Today in the Winter War

The war is about two-thirds of its way to completion but, of course, no one could know that at this point.  The Finns had done pretty well for themselves by this point but that wasn’t going to last.  The Soviets were preparing for a big offensive to end this international embarrassment.

Tukikohta Tovissa odotellaanThese pictures are pretty poignant for me.  Dated 1 February, these guys are about to be on the receiving end of and incredible amount of men and munitions for the next 50 or so days.

Elsewhere, the signs of the growing storm are starting to appear.

Karelian Isthmus: fighting intensifies on the Isthmus. At 10.50 in the morning the Russian artillery begins shelling the main defensive position of the Finnish 3rd Division in Summa, and later on also shells positions further back.

Preparations for the pending enemy offensive involve an unprecedented number of bombers.

Shortly after noon the enemy begins a massive offensive supported by tanks and aircraft. The enemy infantry follow the tanks, either by running or by creeping along behind armoured shields drawn by the tanks.

12 Squadron locates about 100 enemy artillery batteries in the Kuolemanjärvi-Kaukjärvi-Muolaanjärvi-Summa area of the Isthmus.

Enemy aircraft strafe the area around Pyhäjärvi railway station.

The Taipale sector is bombed by at first 50, and then 80 aircraft. At the same time another 30 aircraft bomb Haparainen village.

The enemy also bombs the southern coastal towns of Hamina, Loviisa, Porvoo, Hanko, Karjaa and Tammisaari.

Southern Ostrobothnia: the 1940 session of Parliament opens in Kauhajoki.

Abroad: the Board of the Swedish Red Cross urges the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate attacks on Finnish civilians by the Soviet Air Force and to consider possible countermeasures.

The Soviet news agency Tass claims Sweden has emptied its prisons to allow convicts to go off to Finland as volunteers.

Today in the Winter War

Check out this picture dated 29 Jan 1940.

Ruotsal.Pun.Ristin ambulanssiasema.

A pretty graphic picture when you consider the sanitized version of war we get today in 2014.  It was 2009 before news outlets were allowed to photograph military coffins and while I don’t have any details my recollection is that we rarely saw images of wounded soldiers (or civilians) throughout most of our two most recent wars.

I have no idea if this photo was released or viewed by the general public but you could certainly imagine the arguments against doing so.  Finland was fighting for its very survival and the last thing you might want the public to see is an image of a seriously wounded soldier.  Especially when virtually all the military aged males were called into service.

Elsewhere in the war:

Molotov announces through the Swedish Foreign Minister that the Soviet Union is in principle willing to discuss peace.

Northern Finland: at 5 o’clock in the morning Colonel Siilasvuo’s 9th Division launches a counteroffensive to destroy the Russian 54th Division in Kuhmo.

Central Isthmus: in Summa, the enemy carries out a probing assault preceded by heavy preparatory artillery fire in the Hanhiojansuu sector. The Finnish defences repulse the assault.

Eastern Isthmus: in Taipale, the enemy breaks through in the Terenttilä area. Intense fighting is still going on.

Ladoga Karelia: Finnish troops continue their attacks on the West Lemetti ‘motti’. Six Blenheim bombers from 10 Squadron bomb enemy transports at the mouth of the River Taipaleenjoki. When one of the aircraft has to make a forced landing, the others land on the ice and rescue the crew.

Karelian Isthmus: Finnish fighters shoot down two enemy fire control planes.

Häme: an enemy bomber makes a forced landing on Lake Iso Roinevesi in the municipality of Hauho. The Finnish air Force inherits a completely undamaged Russian DB-3 bomber.

Ladoga Karelia: Soviet aircraft bomb Mantsi Fort.

Turku: a late air-raid warning allows enemy bombers to catch the city by surprise and 36 people are killed on their way to the air-raid shelters; most of the victims are hit in front of the main post office.

Finland’s Minister of Social Affairs K.-A. Fagerholm travels to Oslo to appeal to Norway to send troops and fighter aircraft to Finland.

I imagine these dispatches (or whatever the public got) had to be read with a level of focus which most of us will never experience.  A defeat or enemy advance wasn’t happening half a world away but, potentially, could result in the enemy being outside your window in days or even hours.  Without an internet, Twitter, 24 hour news station you got your news infrequently (whenever the radio put it on…if you were near a radio) and, most likely, through a whole lot of RUMINT.


Don’t mess with the Man(nerheim)!

Sotamarsalkka Mannerheim.Carl Gustaf Mannerheim.  The guy who saw Finland through its independence, Civil War, two wars with the Soviet Union and then navigated the difficult terrain of the post-war world.  Add to that a long career as a soldier (and spy) and you’ve got an action hero ready to go.

But more than that I always find it fascinating what it must be like to have a person who is, for all intensive purposes, a father to his country within living memory.

On this day on 28 January 1940 during the Winter War:

Karelian Isthmus: a reconnaissance patrol from the Finnish 1st Division has returned from a successful two-day mission along the railway line to Raivola and back along the frozen Gulf of Finland.

Ladoga Karelia: Detachment Pajari repulses the Soviet offensive on the River Aittojoki.

During the afternoon, the Soviet troops in Vieksinki voluntarily withdraw from the village, leaving behind over 200 fallen comrades.

The Finns take the Kelivaara ‘motti’.

The assault on West Lemetti ‘motti’ is unsuccessful.

In the Ilomantsi sector the enemy makes several attempts to take Petkelniemi.

Karelian Isthmus: enemy bombers hit a field hospital marked with a red cross in a vicarage in Johannes. The bomb kills 20 patients, two members of the women’s auxiliary defence forces and two nurses. Several others are wounded in the attack.

The enemy also bombs the coastal towns of Kotka, Loviisa, Hanko and Rauma.

29 fallen servicemen are buried in a joint service in Uurainen church.

The crew of a Blenheim bomber on a transfer flight from Tampere to Luonetjärvi are killed when the plane crashes in Siikakangas

This day in the Winter War

Lemetin tiehaaran seutu. Ammuskärryt pysähtyneetHorses that formed part of a convoy killed – 22 January 1940

I’m unsure if these are Russian or Finnish casualties but suspect the former.  As I’ve been looking at the database of Finnish war photos, I haven’t seen too many pictures of wounded/killed Finns on the battlefield.  There have been pictures of troops recovering in (very) clean hospitals and the occasional funeral but I suspect photographers at this stage were discouraged from taking pictures that mixed the horrors of war with Finns on the battlefield.

That being said, for the Finns, the Winter War was a total war (even if it wasn’t for the Soviets) and everyone (and everything) had to  be pressed into service.  This included horses.

During the mobilization, 60 384 horses were confiscated to the army, to strengthen army’s original number of 4 000. (There were about 300 000, over 3-year old horses, in Finland. From these, 152 000 were rated as fit for service) .

This was a big deal for many Finns who worked on small family farms.  Not only were the men mobilized but loss of a major source of muscle power (the horse) meant that what remained of the families (women and children) had to make up for the losses in labor in addition to their other tasks.  I imagine the life of a farmer and farmer’s wife is hard enough for for one person to do both jobs (and often hold a family together) for an extended period of time must be a whole new level of grit, or, as the Finns would say, sisu.

One source identified a huge number (35,000) of sick or wounded horses on the Finnish side.  If that number is correct that would be a casualty rate in excess of 50% for a war that lasted just about four months.

Events of the war that day:

Ladoga Karelia: Soviet troops continue their offensive at Kollaa, on the River Aittojoki and in Ilomantsi.

Mikkeli: General Headquarters turns down the proposal by the Lapland Group to continue their advance to Märkäjärvi. The available forces are to be concentrated to consolidate the ground already taken.

Sortavala in Ladoga Karelia and Ivalo in Lapland are the focus of enemy bombing.

Three Soviet spies dressed in Finnish-style military uniforms have been captured off Ylläppäänniemi on Lake Ladoga.

Finland welcomes foreign volunteers willing to serve in the Finnish armed forces.

Abroad: in Leningrad, staff officers are executed for failing to provide proper protection for field kitchens.

The Norwegian rucksack collection for Finland reaches its goal of 50,000 filled rucksacks, which are duly surrendered to the collection committee.


This day in the Winter War

Finland – 31 December 1939

Sankarihautaus Savonlinnassa.A funeral for fallen Finnish soldiers.  Based upon the sparse caption along with the photo and my reliance on Google Translate, it appears this funeral took place in Savonlinna.

In dispatches from around the conflict on that day:

Northern Finland: the enemy is pushed back across the border in the Kuhmo sector.

Fighting continues at Suomussalmi.

Finnish forces halt the Russian offensives in all sectors along the front.

Jyväskylä and Vaasa are subjected to fierce enemy bombing killing 21 civilians in Jyväskylä and four in Vaasa. Both towns suffer serious damage.


President Kyösti Kallio hosts a reception to celebrate the New Year. Those present include the Speaker of Parliament, Väinö Hakkila, Prime Minister Risto Ryti and Members of Parliament.

Foreign Minister Väinö Tanner gives an interview to the Swedish newspapers’ telegraph office, TT, in which he welcomes Swedish volunteers to Finland.

The Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) publishes its New Year message to Finnish workers. The SAK emphasizes the trade union movement’s determination to defend Finnish independence and democracy.

I love this bit of foreign news.  One wonders how this got reported up the chain of the various apparatchiks with fear and loathing by all involved about where the blame would eventually fall.

Abroad: in Amsterdam, persons unknown raise the Finnish flag on the mast of the Soviet steamship Joseph Stalin.

I’m guessing someone was soon on a one way trip to a gulag after this.

Nordic roundup

Absolutely, amazing site by Helsingin Sanomat that takes pictures from early 20th century Helsinki and compares them with modern views of the same places.  Time sink alert!

You know Stellan Skarsgård.  He played ‘Bootstrap’ Bill Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean and was in Mamma Mia.  Well, he gives an interview which, I think, provides an outsider’s view of America that probably isn’t too unique among our European cousins.

…there are a lot of fantastic things about America, and half of Americans are pretty sane. You have a lot of interesting culture, writers, filmmakers, and intellectual debate, which is fabulous. But it is difficult to accept a system where the level of the political debate is such that Republican senators or congressmen that have gone to great universities can stand up and say, “If you get healthcare it is socialism and your grandmas will be shot.” And nobody says anything!

But elitism isn’t dead among the Swedish political classes.  The mayor of Hörby had a mural painted in the municipal building and had his face painted on the image of a Roman legionary. A local police officer had his face placed on a legionary escorting Christ.

Insert your own interpretation of what that means and if that is the sort of imagery you’d want your local law enforcement to demonstrate.

The mural sounds like a hot mess with allusions not only to Christ but also the the Arab Spring, a 17th century anti-Swedish insurgent movement of Danes.  I apologize for not finding an image of the mural but, upon reflection, perhaps it’s best I didn’t.


Nordic roundup

What do you do when you’re the national intelligence service and you’ve had a busy 12 months with an attempted terrorist attack in the capital city, another plot in one of the nation’s major cities and a reorganization?sapo.jpg


Well, if you’re Sweden’s Säpo you take about $800,000 and throw a James Bond themed party for all your employees.


“This was a unique and extraordinary time and we’d been subjected to extreme pressure. We thought that we needed a special gathering for the whole security police team,” he told the paper.

I don’t know much about Säpo but I need to get a job with them…

The Finns, on the other hand, are up to their regular, no-nonsense selves.  There appear to be some threats on unidentified Finnish-language forums that are threatening the Finnish parliament.

Finally, keeping with the Nordic security theme (and part of the reason why the Finns give a damn about what any says on the interwebs) we have the Norwegians and Andres Breivik.  Here in America it goes without saying that he’d get the death penalty, even if there was compelling evidence he was insane (but, based on my imperfect understanding of this case, he doesn’t appear to have crossed that threshold into non-culpable insanity).  Personally, I’m not much in favor of capital punishment but Breivik makes about the best case for it you can find.

Max Fisher over at the Atlantic does a pretty good job of explaining not only how the Norwegians view criminal justice generally but also how that applies to Breivik specifically.  It does provide what appears to be a sensible alternative to our system of locking people up for long periods of time in conditions that seem to do little other than make them more dedicated (and violent) criminals.