Tag: Russia

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).

Blucher Defeats Napoleon at Battle of Laon 9-10 March 1814

Map Credit:By Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Napoleon on the run

After defeat in Russia in 1812, Napoleon was being chased by the European Allies across central Europe and into France by early 1814. The Prussian and Russian forces were led by the Prussian Marshal Blucher and were threatening Paris by early 1814. Napoleon was fighting for his very survival.

After several battles on the trot, some won, some lost, Blucher occupied the town of Laon. Laon was strategically important because it was a major communications crossroads near Paris. Holding Laon would give Blucher the logistical base to attack into Paris. Napoleon obviously felt it could not remain held by the enemy. Laon was also a tactical stronghold due to its placement on a plateau with steep slopes for defense.

The Battle of Laon

On the first day of the battle (9th), both sides fought skirmishes for the small towns around Laon. Both sides missed opportunities for exploitation, but the sun set on the Allies holding the town. On the second day (10th), Napoleon decided to try the ploy that had worked at Craonne a few days earlier. Napoleon sent Marshal Auguste Marmont to deliver the flank attack. Blucher saw what was happening and threw a decisive counter-attack at Marmont and nearly annihilated his forces were it not for an exceptional defense by a small number of the Old Guard. The battle continued, but Napoleon could not dislodge Blucher from Laon and decided to retire.

The loss at the Battle of Laon was not the end of Napoleon in France, but Blucher and the Allies were tightening the ring around Paris and the Battle of Laon would provide an important link.

Battle of Laon Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out the wooded circular route on the “D” roads south of Laon. If you are looking for more rides in the area, try the Battle of Neuve Chapelle ride to the north of the Battle of Laon.

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