Salpa Line's history at Änäkäinen

Winter War Delaying Position at Änäkäinen
Fortification of frontline posts at Lieksa in 1941
Rukajärvi Forces Training Centre during Continuation War - Jukolan Motti
Reconstructed Salpa Line Frontline Post at Lieksa

Winter War Delaying Position at Änäkäinen

Fortification of the Position

The Änäkäinen Delaying Position was field fortified during the army's extra readiness exercises held October 10 - November 30 1939. Construction of fortifications was carried out, for the most part, by the local Separate Battalion 13 (about 1,000 men strong). The actual battle posts were built in the direction of Kivivaarantie road on the west shore of Lake Änäkäinen and on the south side f the road at Vornasenvaara. Depth was added to the position by building a frontline post almost 300 metres in front of the main delaying position and a reception post on the west side of the River Laklajoki.

Before the war broke out there was time to build battle trenches, connecting trenches in important areas and sheltered rifleman's cells along the road as well as barbed wire obstacles in front of the delaying position. Boulders were moved in front of the main position as well as the frontline post to act as anti-tank obstacles and vertical obstacles were erected on the slope in front of the post. Construction of sheltered dugouts was interrupted by the beginning of the war, and so tents dug into the ground were the only place to rest during delaying actions.

Battles At Delaying Position

The Winter War lasted 105 days 30.11.1939 - 13.3.1940. Soviet forces began there offence at Kivivaara on November 30 1939 immediately after 7 AM, trying at first to capture the Kivivaara Frontier Guard station. This did not succeed as Finns had taken very efficient precautions. The reinforced forces at the frontier guard post began their approach to the Änäkäinen delaying position primarily manned by Separate Battalion 13, and arrived there at days end. Finns were able to attain an aerial map from a fallen Russian soldier in initial skirmishes. The map immediately revealed the Soviet Union's war strategy at the very beginning of the war.

On the afternoon of December 1 1939 Finns initiated a planned counterattack on Soviet troops. The counterattack was carried out by Separate Battalion 13, which was joined by Separate Battalion 12, which had just arrived in the area. By day's end the counterattack dwindled at the Hattuselkonen intersection due to heavy defensive fire by Soviet forces. After this Separate Battalion 12 took over manning of the Änäkäinen delaying position and Separate Battalion 13 withdrew after the battle through the position to Nurmijärvi closely followed by the enemy. In the chaotic situation Finns lost the River Laklajoki reception post almost without a fight. The delaying action began in reality on December 2.

The artillery of the attacking Soviet troops was ready on the morning of December 3 at which point it began firing battles supporting attacks and firing interference fire constantly at Finnish posts. This firing continued for the length of the entire delaying action until December 8. The offences with supported by fire battles continued daily, but Finns were able from the considerably good positions to block them. Constant interference fire by the artillery was by far the worst part of the attacks, as the rocky terrain caused high casualties and prevented Finnish forces, who were not as accustomed to battle, from getting any rest.

On December 3 the manning of the delaying position was changed. Separate Battalion 13, which had built the delaying position, took over manning it again and Separate Battalion 12 immediately moved to Puuru 4km away to fortify a defence position there. Delay actions at Änäkäinen were henceforth supported by both battalions' grenade thrower divisions.

The frontline post was lost during an offensive by Soviet forces on December 7. The same day the Finns in turn were able to destroy a strong Soviet patrol group, in the Kaksinkantaja area, the leader of this group gave the Finns precise information on where Soviet forces would attack. Reinforced infantry regiment JR 529 attacked in Pielisjärvi (present day Lieksa) shielding the 54th Division, which was heading for Kuhmo, on its south flank. JR 529 was over 6,000 men strong, of which 4,500 were actual combat forces. The regiment was reinforced with 40 cannons and 20 tanks. The objective of this offensive was to seize Lieksa already on December 6 and Nurmes on December 10, after which the offensive would have continued towards Kajaani.

The situation at Änäkäinen delaying position became nearly unbearable during the first week of December as the troops grew weary and the situation in Kuhmo accumulated. In Kuhmo the Sivakka intersection area had already been lost to the Soviets during the first days of December, which meant that the Soviets had a road route to Nurmijärvi behind the Änäkäinen position. In this situation on December 8 Separate Battalion 13 was given permission to withdraw from Änäkäinen. The Puuru defence position had at this point been hastily and quite poorly fortified and in the early morning hours of December 9 the last member of Separate Battalion 13 had withdrawn past the Puuru defence position into the Nurmijärvi area.

The delaying action at Änäkäinen had afforded enough time and the opportunity for the Puuru defence position to be built. This is where the Soviet offence had to be put to an end.

Fortification of frontline posts at Lieksa in 1941

The actual Salpa Line led across Lake Pielinen in Lieksa from Ahveninen to the narrow Nurmes water-system.

During the Interim Peace Lieksa was in the area the IV Army Corps was responsible for defending Experiences gained during the Winter War and the development of technology made the army corps pay special attention, already in the spring of 1941, to the tracks leading across the border on the front side of Salpa Line. Delaying positions and defence posts were planned for along there tracks. The enemy had to be stopped in the spruce mires or it had to be delayed as much as possible and its fighting capability exhausted before it reached a good road network or the railroads.

In the end this sort of posts were built along almost every track coming from the border from Saimaa northward. This was the beginning of Salpa Line frontline posts. In the Lieksa area frontline posts were built along all those tracks along which or from the direction of which Soviet forces had progressed during the Winter War.

Construction of fortifications was initiated at locations near the national border in the autumn of 1940. Construction workers were, for the most part, civilians employed by the army's Fortification Office and service men. Those tasks requiring specific skills, such as mining, transportation and placement of anti-tank obstacle rocks, as well as heavy fireboxes, bunkers and special structures, were appointed to skilled civilians. Service men built battle and connecting entrenchments, normal rifleman's cells, dugouts and barbed wire obstacles as well as cleared firing fields. Army corps areas' were divided into work districts and their subordinate working groups. Working district 420 operated in the Lieksa area and work groups 421, 422 and 425 worked on construction there.

Salpa Line Frontline post at Änäkäinen

Work group 421 constructed fortifications along Kivivaarantie road and were the group to build the massive fortifications at Änäkäinen and Puuru. Service men who were working on fortification building sites in this area came from the Märäjälahti garrison on the south side of Lieksa, where the 10th Brigade's first battalion was situated. The battalion's commander was Major Arnold Majewski.

The basic construction of the Änäkäinen Position was done during the army's extra readiness exercises, which were held just before the beginning of the Winter War and during the war itself. The Salpa Line frontline post was built during the Interim Peace for the most part on these same fortification structures. The frontline post had an exceptionally large amount of fortifications carved straight into cliffs and for this reason it was an extraordinarily strong frontline post.

The width of the post in its entirety running on both sides of the road was 3 km and it continued to the south in the form of smaller separate fortifications and bases all the way to the River Hanhijoki water system (approximately 3 km). Construction of the post was almost completed in the spring of 1941, before the start of the Continuation War and finishing touches were still be made in the autumn of 1944. The grotto position at Vornasenvaara ended up shorter than first planned and some of the cave fortifications and secure sectors remained uncompleted. For the most part the fortifications were ready and built completely up to Salpa Line requirements, as well as taking into consideration experiences gained during the Winter War. The trenches and slope cuts were almost completely shielded by tree, the machinegun cells were covered, dugouts were practically completed and barbed wire obstacles in front of the position were complete.

The boulders that remained in the stone quarry compose a 'rocky road'. Photo: Katri SuhonenThe position got new depth in the direction of Kivivaarantie road by manning the Winter War delaying position's frontline post, which was about 300 m in front of the actual position. Rock anti-tank obstacles were built in three levels and were reinforced with slope cuts. The rocks were at first carved from beside the road behind the position, but the aggregate was found to be poor and a new mining sight was established on the west edge of Vornasenvaara. The boulders used as obstacles had to be up to Salpa Line requirements, weighing about 3,000 kilos and measuring almost 2 metres in height and were planted solidly in the ground. Additionally, the boulders had to be wedge shaped on their front side, which made it more difficult for the enemy to destroy them with, for example, automatic firing by tanks.

There were also rock obstacles in the Änäkäinen area built before the Winter War of loose gravel transported to the area, which are good comparison points to the massive boulders carved out of cliff walls. The rows of rock obstacles built to be 4 layers thick on both sides of the road and 2 layers thick on the sides. The rock obstacles were reinforced with both a front and back slope cut.

A large cave base mined into the cliff wall at Vornasenvaara housed a vast troop shelter and a two storey rifleman's cell with secure sectors. It is likely that originally an anti-tank cannon was meant to be housed in the cave's combat section at its lower level and a machine gun was to be situated on the upper level, but time run out and a quick fix solution had to be made. A second rifleman's cell was carved into the cliff on the east slope of the hill, and a cave base was carved into its north side, which was to act as either an open anti-tank cannon post or rifleman's cell with secure sectors. This position remained uncompleted. The anti-tank cannon posts were built for heavy 75 mm cannons as well-shielded side posts.

The artillery's firing positions which supported the frontline post were situated 3-4 km away the Puuru and Nurmijärvi areas.

The strength of the Salpa Line fortunately never had to be tested. During the Continuation War (June 26 1941 - September 5 1944) there were no battles at Änäkäinen, because the Finnish front line held its own until the end of the war at Rukajärventie some 200 km from Änäkäinen.

Rukajärvi Forces Training Centre during Continuation War - Jukolan Motti

A training centre, which operated during the entire length of the Continuation War (26 June 1941 - 5 September 1944), was situated about a kilometre to the west of the Änäkäinen area. It was named Jukolan motti, because of the seven large identical barracks that stood there. The name originates from the Finnish classic novel Seven Brothers, by Aleksis Kivi, which tells of seven brothers named Jukola.

The training centre housed Replacement Battalion 12 (about 1,000 men), the main task of which was to train reserve forces for the 14th Division fighting in the direction of Rukajärventie. The battalion's other tasks included securing the rear, which meant chasing and destroying Soviet patrol and partisan units. The battalion was made up for the most part of service men.

The area situated on the north side of Kivivaarantie road was like a large village. Jukolan motti consisted of a lodging area and a complete garrison, with plenty of buildings related to lodging and maintenance, such as a cafeteria, a canteen, a hospital, a delousing sauna, a stable and a sports field.

Columns and all traffic to "Rukajärven tie" were checked at the area's gates by the main guard building and, for example, those men leaving the front to go on holiday only left their weapons when they arrived at Jukolan motti due to the threat of partisan attacks. The battalion at the training centre, for the most part, was at constant readiness to man the Salpa Line frontline post at Änäkäinen.

In place of Jukolan motti beside Kivivaarantie road today there is an information board, which features the layout of the training centre. Today the location of the training centre is barely visible in the terrain.

Reconstructed Salpa Line Frontline Post at Lieksa

On the east side of the parking area's information boards there is a model army base, which was constructed in 2005. It is built according to drawings of Salpa Line of all available wood. The base includes a camouflaged connecting trench and a battle trench. In the part closest to Kivivaarantie road a dugout has been built for an anti-tank weapon. Next to this there is an open rifleman's cell with secure sectors and in the entrenchment there are two separate infantry firing posts. Furthest from the road is a sheltered rifleman's cell with secure sectors, and its connecting trench which is equipped with a splinterproof shelter.

North Karelian Boarder Guard infantrymen building the reconstruction site in 2005. Photo: Minna Maukonen

The structures are in accordance with the Salpa Line's security requirements: the trench's protective cover which shielded troops was a bit lower than its front edge. This prevented enemy shells from exploding directly at the edge of a trench. Battle and connecting trenches also had to be made as narrow as possible to decrease the likelihood of a direct hit. All the openings of rifle cells were slanted and situated behind a secure sector from the attackers' perspective. Attackers could not shoot directly at a rifle cell without the defenders being able to block it from their own sector. Additionally machine guns had to be aimed in the direction of the front side of the anti-tank obstacles. This was to prevent the enemy from being able to use the obstacles as shields.