Tag: Poland

Battle of Raate Road in the Winter War 5 January 1940

Background

Just prior to WWII in Europe, the Soviet Union (Russia) and Germany jockeyed for strategic ground running from the Arctic Ocean through eastern Finland, through the Baltic states, splitting Poland, and down through Romania to the Balkans. The part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact) that agreed to split Poland is better known, but the Baltic states and Finland were to be part of this process too. The Baltic states were too small to fight off the Russians and gave in to lop-sided agreements. The Finns stood up for their borders and refused to give the Soviet Union the access to bases that they wanted. The Soviet Union invaded eastern Finland in late November 1939. The Russian goal was to secure the Gulf of Finland, the strategic rail lines from Murmansk to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and the area around Lake Ladoga north of Leningrad. The Winter War would last a little over three months to early March 1940.

Battle of Raate Road

On 5 January 1940, The Finns began a counter-offensive on the Raate Road, near Suomussalmi that ended up destroying or capturing most of the Russian 44th Rifle Division. In an attempt to relieve the over-extended 163rd Rifle Division near Suomussalmi, the 44th had been halted at a roadblock southeast of Suomussalmi around the present day intersection of roads 912 and 843. The Russians hunkered down along the road between Suomussalmi and Raate in what the Finns called motti formations, a logging term doubling in meaning that the 44th’s sub units could be broken into smaller chunks, enveloped, and cut up individually like so many logs. The Finns operated in small units all along the road and spent days conducting close range grenade attacks and terrifying the Russian officers with highly selective sniper fire. The Russians were out of their mind with cold, hunger, and fear. A single sniper round fired by a Finn marksman would unleash totally undisciplined “mad minutes” from the Russians, normally killing nothing, but trees. Soon, ammunition ran short and re-supply from the air turned the starving troops into in-fighting hordes. After 2 days of this nightmare, the 44th dissolved in death, capture, or flight. It was the high water mark for the Finns and showed the Russians that taking the grossly outnumbered, but skilled Finns would not be a cake walk. Although the Finns lost the war and had to concede land within their borders to the Soviet Union, they retained their sovereignty. The weakness of parts of the Soviet Army also planted the seed of contempt in the German Army’s mind that would later lead the Germans to break the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and invade Russia in the summer of 1941. In his history of the Winter War entitled, Frozen Hell, William R. Trotter has an entire chapter dedicated to the Battle of Raate Road.

Battle of Raate Road Motorcycle Ride

If you find yourself in Finland, try following the road from Kemi to Suomussalmi and on to Raate for a daylong ride. I rode the E75 from Kemi to Oulu and on to Helsinki a few years ago and I can highly recommend the area. If finishing around Kemi look for campgrounds on the Gulf of Bothnia between Oulu and Kemi. Its a beautiful place to wake up (in the summer anyway).

The Second / Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes 7-22 Feb 1915

WWI started in the east with the German declaration of war on the Russian Empire in 1914. However, the heaviest fighting soon shifted to the western front in France, but it became static very quickly. Paul von Hindenburg, Commander-in-Chief of the German armies in the East, and his Chief of Staff, Erich Ludendorff, came up with a plan. The idea was to decisively defeat the Russians in East Prussia, so that overwhelming power could then be transferred to the Western Front.

Second / Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

On 7 February 1915, Hindenburg attacked in the south lakes in a blizzard. He quickly pushed the Russians back by 70 miles and out of most of east Prussia. Two days later he attacked in the north lakes and had the Russians on the run. However, one corps of the Russians fell back into the primeval forests around Augustow (present day Poland) and held on for another 10 days before surrendering. This delay allowed three other corps to escape the German encirclement. Shortly thereafter, the Russians counter-attacked and ended the German initiative. The Russians took horrendous numbers of casualties and captured, but their willingness to take great pain had stopped a total rout.

Hindenburg was a viewed as the saviour of East Prussia to a weary German nation, but his grand plan of delivering a crushing blow that would remove the need for heavy forces in the east had not been completed. In the south, near the Carpathian mountains, the offensive had stalled early. The Germans had to continue on two fronts for most of the remainder of the war. Hindenburg’s great rival, Falkenhayn, the German Chief of Staff, was against the plan, but had to concede under a withering attack on his reputation by Hindenburg himself. Eventually, Hindenburg would ascend to take Falkenhayn’s place, with Ludendorff becoming the Quartermaster General.

Battle of the Masurian Lakes Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I have had a great ride in this area, but I was lost worse than Cooter Brown somehwere west-northwest of Suwalki, near the Russian border, in the area that Hindenburg’s northern prong would have attacked through on 9 February 1915. A buddy and I spent 3 hours riding through some beautiful country, but I can’t tell you where exactly. However when we did find ourselves again, we travelled through the Augustow area, then west through the middle of the lakes and on to Germany and can highly recommend it as well.

1 August 1914 – The German Empire Declares War on the Russian Empire Setting Off WWI

On 1 August 1914 for reasons still debated today, the German Empire declared war on the Russian Empire to set off World War I. I’ve written about some of the battles between the Germans and Russians early in WWI here.

Map credit above: By historicair (French original)Fluteflute & User:Bibi Saint-Pol (English translation) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Second / Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes 7-22 February 1915

With the war on the Western Front stalemating, Paul von Hindenburg, Commander-in-Chief of the German armies in the East, and his Chief of Staff, Erich Ludendorff, came up with a plan. The idea was to decisively defeat the Russians in East Prussia, so that overwhelming power could then be transferred to the Western Front. The battle that ensued was called the Second / Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

On 7 February 1915, Hindenburg attacked attacked in the south lakes in a blizzard. He quickly pushed the Russians back by 70 miles and out of most of east Prussia. Two days later he attacked in the north lakes and had the Russians on the run. However, one corps of the Russians fell back into the primeval forests around Augustow (present day Poland) and held on for another 10 days before surrendering. This delay allowed three other corps to escape the German encirclement. Shortly thereafter, the Russians counter-attacked and ended the German initiative. The Russians took a horrendous number of casualties and captured, but their willingness to take great pain had stopped a total rout.

Hindenburg was a viewed as the savior of East Prussia to a weary German nation, but his grand plan of delivering a crushing blow that would remove the need for heavy forces in the east had not been completed. In the south, near the Carpathian mountains, the offensive had stalled early. The Germans had to continue on two fronts for most of the remainder of the war. Hindenburg’s great rival, Falkenhayn, the German Chief of Staff, was against the plan, but had to concede under a withering attack on his reputation by Hindenburg himself. Eventually, Hindenburg would ascend to take Falkenhayn’s place, with Ludendorff becoming the Quartermaster General.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I have had a great ride in this area, but I was loster than Cooter Brown somewhere west-northwest of Suwalki, near the Russian border, in the area that Hindenburg’s northern prong would have attacked through on 9 February 1915. A buddy and I spent 3 hours riding through some beautiful country on a Sunday morning, but I can’t tell you where exactly. However, when we did find ourselves again, we travelled through the Augustow area, then west through the middle of the Masurian Lakes on the way to Olsztyn and can highly recommend it as well. Here’s a map of where I think we traveled. As they say, that was when the road-trip ended and the adventure began.

Map credit above: By historicair (French original)Fluteflute & User:Bibi Saint-Pol (English translation) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

© 2018 Battlefield Biker

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑