Tag Archives: military history

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.

Kvick Tänkare

Stoic Studio just recently released a viking themed game called The Banner Saga.  I’m not sure if this is a new trend or I’m just getting more selective in my gaming choices but Banner Saga places a high emphasis on story and mood, interspersed with more traditional game play. I really enjoyed how they captured the feel of the fatalism of Norse mythology.  Games like this give hints for where they can (and probably will) go in the future.  I suspect that story driven games may even become the cultural touchstones for the next generation.  Whereas, TV played that role when I was growing up (with half a dozen channels to watch, odds were good you and your friends and neighbors were watching the same thing), radio before that all the way back to the traveling storytellers.

YouTube Preview Image

Back when I was stationed in (West!) Germany in the late 1980s there was a reoccurring call for coins from the banks on post.  The problem was soldiers and their families did what everyone did…put their pocket change in a piggy bank of some sort until there was enough to make it worthwhile to cash in.  That meant coins were being taken out of circulation faster than they were being reintroduced into the system.  That, in turn, meant that the government had to ship coins from the U.S. to Europe to keep the military banks, PXs, etc. running.  A bag of pennies ($50) weighs around 30 pounds.  You don’t need to be a shipping genius to know that it’s not cost efficient to do that in bulk over and over again.

By the time I got to Afghanistan the U.S. government was not going to devote scarce cargo space to ship pennies in bulk, let alone other cash:

Shortly before the Iraq War, the military found that for every $1 million to currency sent to pay soldiers overseas, it as costing them $60,000 in security, logistics, and support fees.

So, the military handed out small cardboard tokens (known as POGS by children of the ’90s) and ‘$100 in quarters (5 pounds, 1 ounce), was reduced to 14 ounces in equivalent pog currency.

All of that was introduction to this piece about the history of military currency and, more specifically, pogs.

First Corinthians in a terrible PowerPoint presentation…I feel like I’ve sat through this many times and in many places.

YouTube Preview Image

Who Are the ‘Satanists’ Designing an Idol for the Oklahoma Capitol?

An awesome article about the ‘backpack nuke’ and some of the soldiers that were tasked with using it to stop a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

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

5 January 1940 – The Empire Strikes Back

(I have a bit of an amateur interest in the role of Finland in WWII)

On 5 January, 1940, the Soviet Union launch an air bombardment on the town of Mikkeli.  The town was a military headquarters and here’s what happened to the 3rd Division headquarters building:

3.DE:n rakennus liekeissä.

The attack was comprised of 40 Soviet aircraft.  I can’t find any listing of the aircraft type but seems reasonable to assume they were Tupolev SB types.

29 people were killed and 36 injured.  As you can see in this photo, soldiers had the time and wherewithal to remove office furniture (?!).

A couple of interesting things about this unit.

Just a few days previously, the Finns renumbered their units in order to confuse Soviet intelligence (more on deception operations in a future post).  The unit was previously the 6th Division.  I can’t find any information on if, or how, effective this operation was but I suspect that at least for a couple of days, Soviet intelligence was scratching their collective heads about the sudden appearance of a host of new units at the front.

On this same day, the 3rd Division took responsibility of part of the front from another division.  Conducting a battle hand off can be difficult even during peacetime maneuvers.  Doing so during combat operations AND when your headquarters is coming under attack can only make it more so.  In the Finns ‘favor’ was the fact that there was a blizzard going on at the time, thereby masking the movements of the two units.

According to Desertwar.net (unknown reliability):

The division’s front width of the block was now roughly 20 kilometers, the area had a total of 41 concrete fortress built in the unit.

Now, on paper, a Finnish division had a strength of roughly 14,000 personnel.  Of course, actual strength never reached those numbers but assuming 100% readiness a quick ‘back of the napkin’ estimate is that the front would have fewer than 700 soldiers per kilometer (and probably closer to 400-500 or fewer once you take out support troops, unfilled slots, injuries, etc.).  It’s important to keep in mind that Soviet doctrine generally called for attacking forces to outnumber defenders by a ratio of at least 3 to 1.

Elsewhere around the conflict:

Northern Finland: troops of the 9th Division set out to destroy the enemy’s 44th ‘Blue’ Division on the Raate road. H-hour is set for 8.30. The enemy is hard pressed but cannot be broken.

Central Isthmus: the troop replenishment at the main defensive position at Summa is successfully completed.

Enemy infantry assaults are successfully repulsed at Summa, Suokanta, Työppölänjoki and Lake Hatjalahti.

Gulf of Bothnia: at 13.00 hours the Soviet submarine Sts 311 sinks the Swedish steamer Fenris off the Swedish coast near Umeå.

Northern Finland: it’s a bitterly cold night on the Raate road, with a temperature of -40° Celsius. The Finnish force has only one or two tents and the troops have to spend the night in the open air.

President Kyösti Kallio is donating 100,000 markkaa as basic capital for a fund to assist impoverished relatives of the dead and wounded.

Sweden: the Soviet Ambassador in Stockholm, Alexandra Kollontai, protests to the Swedish Government over voluntary recruitment activities and other aid work on behalf of Finland, and also over articles in the Swedish press critical of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union also sends a similar note to the Norwegian Government.

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.

History mystery

One of my co-workers was hard hit by the recent Hurricane Sandy.  Her whole neighborhood was hard hit, actually.  Whole homes were washed away and debris was strewn everywhere.  She was recently cleaning up the mess when she found a number of photos in her yard that didn’t belong to her family.  They appear to have been blown or washed into her yard from somewhere else.  Most were traditional, run of the mill photos, the kind you’re likely to see in any (and every) household.

But then she stumbled upon this one (click for larger image):

I have absolutely no information to go with this picture.  What you see is what you get.  I was hoping one of my brilliant readers could make some educated guesses of where/when this picture was taken based on the uniforms and equipment in the picture.

Any guesses?