Tali-Ihantala 1944 (2007)

 

 

 

Director:     Åke Lindman and Sakari Kirjavainen  

Starring:     Rauno Ahonen (Lieutenant Colonel), Mikkomarkus Ahtiainen, Frank Biermann, Jussi Brech, Mikko Bredenberg (Captain Carl-Birger Kvikant), Riko Eklundh (Colonel Sven Björkman), Marc Gassot (Sergeant Reino Lehväslaiho), Marcus Groth (Major General Ruben Lagus), Johan Hallström (second Lieutenant Thorbjörnsson), Kari Hevossaari (Lieutenant Puhakka).

Black and white and color film. 

the Battle of Tali-Ihantala (June 25 to July 9, 1944) of the Continuation War (1941-1944)

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

The Continuation War.  June 17, 1941.  "Finland mobilizes its troops, about 530,000 armed men.  About 45,000 people are evacuated near the border.  There are about 200,000 German soldiers on the Lapland front.  Germany attacks the Soviet Union.  Finland attacks the Soviet Union, attacking until 1942 when both Finnish and Russian troops are entrenched in their positions.  June 1944. The war has lasted for five years.  At first, Germany was successful.  Now it has changed on all fronts.  Germany has been defeated in battles on the eastern front.  The Leningrad Blockade has ended.  According to a treaty between the US, UK and the Soviet Union, the Soviets have agreed to launch a massive eastern offensive.  At the same time, the Allied forces are landing in Europe.  June 6, 1944.  The Allied forces have landed in French Normandy.  A few days later, the Soviets launch a major offensive against Finland."

The Germans are interviewing on camera Finnish Lt. Talvitie and Senior Sergeant Borje Brotell.  A tank goes over a trench with two Finnish soldiers in it.  The camera men and interviewer go on to interview a regular Finnish soldier.  All of a sudden a lot of battle noise is heard and then Finnish soldiers come retreating right past the interviewing group.  

June 10, 1944.  The Karelian Isthmus.  The Soviet soldiers overrun the Finnish trenches.  And now the Finns are retreating as fast as they can run. 

Most of the Finnish troop movement is backwards, but four soldiers get off a truck and start to advance.  They hide their supplies and backpacks in a hole dug into the ground.    A Soviet tank followed by Russian soldiers goes right by the hiding place.  The Finns are also hiding in the hole in the ground and they watch as the Soviets rush by. 

3:50 p.m.  June 14, 1944,  General Ruben Lagus' command post, Kuuterselka. The Finnish general Lagus gets a call from Col. Puroma.  The general tells Colonel Puroma that he is to launch a counter-attack at 10:45 p.m.  Puroma says he swill send two Jaeger battalions:  Hynninen's 3rd and Leppanen's 4th.   Hynninen will lead the forward troops.  Taking point will be Kvikant's Armored Battalion.  (The general has a son named Olof who is a gunner in the Sturm Company, which will provide support for the assault.)

The Finns are trying to take back the VT-line along the Liikola-Kuuterselka Road.  The VT-line (for Vammelsuu–Taipale line) was a Finnish defensive line on the Karelian Isthmus built in 1942–1944 during the Continuation War. The line ran from Vammelsuu on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland to Taipale on the western shore of Lake Ladoga.

10:45 p.m.  June 14, 1944  The counter-attack of the armored division.  The Finns are using German tanks complete with swastikas.  A fellow named Kaho is one tank 19's crew member.  Now the Finnish soldiers engage the Soviets soldiers.  Tank number 19 finds the Soviet tanks and opens fire.  The crew destroys four Soviet tanks, but now their gun jams.  Another tank comes up behind tank 19.  A sergeant jumps out of his tank to go and congratulate the tank crew.  Olof Lagus was the one doing the shooting and the sergeant congratulates him on a find job.

Another Finnish tank engages a Soviet tank.  But this time the Finnish driver is killed.  The two other crew members jump out of the tank and run into the forest.  They get back to their lines quickly.  New orders arrive.  The Finns have to retreat.  The Soviets have broken through in the west. 

The Finns have lost the VT line.  General Oesch is given the command of the Finnish troops in the Karelian Isthmus by the field marshal.   He asks the general with him:  "Could our defenses hold at the old Mannerheim line?"   No, because that line was wiped out by the enemy in the Winter War.  He suggests they make a stand at the Viipuri-Kuparssari -Taipale line.  The field marshal says that line is too far back and has not been fortified at all. 

A tank crew talks about the swastikas on their tanks.  One crew member asks if the swastikas are there because of Hitler?  Another crew members says:  "Bollocks.  We used it first.  Hitler stole it from us, and made the cross crooked. "

June 25, 1944.  The great Russian tank breakthrough, Portinhoikka.  Two friends, Eero and Major Jouko Hynninen, encourage each other's hopes.  New orders arrive for a Finnish counter-attack.  The 3rd Jaeger Battalion will attack the Russian line through Portinhoikka to the Tali Brook.  Hynninen's troops will be on their left side.  An order is given:  "Detachment Leppanen!  Forward!"  They run forward, but are hit by lots of explosions around them.  They are losing too many men and the sergeant tells the men to fall back to the edge of the forest!  Eero is badly wounded in the brief advance.  He asks his friend Jouko not to let the men carry him.  He adds:  "Carry those who have hope."  He dies. 

The major orders another advance.  He escapes death with the help of Captain Hetemaki from the 50th, who helped kill a Russian soldier. 

Vanya's (Finnish nickname for Russians) tanks have broken through Portinhoikka.  The Finns are going to attack the forward group.  Driver Virtanen is told to slow down before the bend.  Very quickly they run into the Russians.  They knock out the first Russian tank. 

Two terribly dirty Finnish soldiers come slowly retreating and tell the major that there are Soviet tanks just around the bend.  The soldier says they have to retreat.  The major, however, has no intentions of retreating.  A Russian tank comes at them and is knocked out by the Finns.  Now they move forward.  Very soon they come close to another Russian tank.  They knock out the tank.  Virtanen is told to stop the tank.  The man in charge, Lehvaslaiho, says Teppo, Virtanen and he will go forward and check out that junction where something is burning.

5:30 p.m. June 25, 1944.  Portinhoikka junction.  The three men crawl forward and realize that they have captured the Portinhoikka junction.  Virtanen jumps into a knocked out Russian tank and grabs some American tinned meat.  They return to the major now and tells him that they saw no Russian infantry at the key junction.  The major says that he wants them to take the sotka (T-34 medium tank) and secure the juncture.  Their guns are to be pointed toward Tali and the Vyborg Road. 

The sotka runs out of shells and then runs out of fuel.  And all around them are Soviet troops.  Lehvaslaiho stars firing his sub-machine gun weapon at the soldiers, but he is hit in the cheek.  The crew bandages him up and now he jumps out of the tank and gets behind a rock to shoot at the Russians.  Other Finns rush out to rescue the stranded tank and crew. 

June 25, 1944.    Command post of the Swedish volunteers.  Two miles north of the Tali parish village.  The Swedes arrive and Lt. Osmo Mustakallio, commander of the First Independent Anti-Tank Battalion, introduces himself to the Finnish officer. 

The Swedish battalion is given the order to return to Talinmylly to take back the defensive line.  The Swedes fire an anti-tank rocket (a Panzerfaust bazooka) at a Russian tank.  But then another Russian tank opens up with machine gun fire and kills quite a few of the Swedes.  Russian troops are headed their way.  A Swede, who couldn't understand the Finnish explanation of how to use the rocket properly, fires and hits a Soviet tank, but since he was holding the exhaust end up to his chest, he dies from a hole blown through him.  The Russian tanks start retreating. 

Olof Lagus gets wounded when he and others are outside their tanks conversing about what to do next.  The wound is not going to kill him. 

Gen. Lagus is told by the radio man that the enemy's 30th Armored Brigade is now in a hedgehog defense north of Talinmylly.  He adds:  "The offensive may fail."  Lagus comments:  "That's a risk I have to take." 

June 27, 1944.  The Finnish counter-attack, Talinmylly.  The Finnish tanks battle it out with the Russian tanks.  The radioman tells Gen. Lagus that he has Colonel Bjorkman on the line.  The general asks if Laxen's attack succeeded?  The colonel says the attack failed due to heavy resistance.  They lost two Sturms and Vaino Mikkola.  Dad asks about his son Olof and the colonel says he was wounded, but it's nothing serious.  He's in the hospital now. 

The colonel now calls Laxen and tells him:  "Return to your initial positions and hold them."  The Finns start moving forward.  They meet heavy resistance and have to fall back.  A couple of the Swedish soldiers are missing and one of the Swedes goes back for them.  The missing guys are pushing along a wounded man laying over a bicycle's handlebars.  The unit decides to push through a marsh headed east.  The group stops when movement is seen ahead, but after checking the situation out through binoculars, the finding is that they are coming up on their own troops.

The major stops alongside a lone line of marching men and tells the second lieutenant to takes the submachine guns from them, because that firepower is need at the front.  The major says that the rest of the battalion is still headed to Pyorakangas. 

Major General Einar Vihma's 6th Division, Ihantala.  Soldier Savukoski learns that his youngest brother, only 18 years old, was killed.  He says:  "My five brothers are on the front too." 

The field marshal tells his staff that they will lose in Tali.  He asks Lagus about the state of his troops.  The general replies that the Armored Brigade is fine, but the Jaeger Brigade has suffered heavy casualties.  In fact, his units have suffered 2,000 casualties.  The field marshal tells him that his troops can rest.  But he wants Einar Vihma to move the front line to a certain point and that point must be held.  Vihma says his 12th Jaeger Regiment is ready and other forces will be arriving within a few days. 

The group of men who hid in a large hole run across the railway line as a locomotive approaches in the distance.  The Russian train is carrying more tanks, men and supplies to the battlefield. 

June 28, 1944.  The Russians advance along the Tali-Ihantala Road.  A Finnish soldier, Corporal Vaisanen, with two anti-tank rockets, knocks out two tanks.  Vihma is doing area reconnaissance and comes upon the group responsible for the destruction of two Russian tanks.  The general learns that Corporal Vaisanen did it by himself.  Vihma gives the corporal a ride with him, while the others are to secure the area.  He drops the corporal off and tells the man in charge at the post to get the corporal some food and some Panzerfaust bazookas.

Now the general goes to talk with von Essen.  He tells von Essen that he has brought more Panzerfausts and Panzerschreck grenades.  In fact, they are in the back of the general's staff car. 

June 29, 1944.  12:30 p.m.  Finland's counter-attack, Ihantala.  The counter-attack meets resistance.  The Russians charge the Finns, who now fall back.  The Finns start losing one man after another.  The order is given to fall back to the churchyard.  They are now on the VKT line. The general says:   "Doesn't look like much, but it is occupied."

Russian airplanes start bombing the VKT line.  The Russians once again charge the Finns.  The order is given to fall behind the hill. 

June 30, 1944.  The old graveyard, Ihantala.  The Russians come charging ahead once again  But this time, the Russians don't make it to the Finnish position.  An officer is shot through the hand, in hand to hand combat.  A regular soldier kills the Russian, thereby saving the officer.  The officer thanks Heino. 

The Russians are advancing and the Finnish front line needs artillery support.  The problem is that the radio is not working.  The radioman finally gets through and the request is made for artillery support.  The shells hit just the right spot. 

The battalion is responsible for the Vanhatorppa clearing and two areas close to it.  They call the planned barrage Mekka One and Mekka Two for right and left sides.

Pyorankangas, Ihantala. The Russians open up their own barrage and the Finns think this will hurt their planned counter-attack.  So the "all Mekka" barrage is requested.  A tank is heading toward the Finnish lines.  It is stopped by the Finnish artillery.  A reverend comes over to the front lines to ask for a fire observer for the 35th.  They give him Risto Miiki. 

A request for Mekka Two is put in.  The fellows in one area are worried that the Russians have pinpointed their location and now request "All Mekka, fire."  The radio operator tells the officer, Holsti, that he heard an order that the entire division is to retreat.  Holsti can't believe it, so he listens to the phone.  He then tells the radioman that this order is not from Vihma.  Another soldier wonders if it is a trick used by the Russians.  The radioman once again calls for all Mekka  fire.  A Russian shell lands very close and two (Haapanen and Kerkkainen) of the three men are wounded.  Now the Russians open up with all they have on Holsti's position.  Another officer at the front line yells for the men to retreat.  And now the Russians overrun the front line with another offensive. 

July 2, 1944.  Radio reconnaissance center, Sortavala.  The operator intercepts a Russian message.  It says:  "From the 30th Armored Brigade to the 21st Army Corps.  Have received orders to attack Ihantala. Must be ready by July 3rd at 0400 hours.  The infantry will try a rear attack in Ihantala."  The message is relayed up the line to the top.  For once, the Finns have some time to prepare for an attack. 

July 2, 1944, 11:15 p.m.  Orders are relayed to the commanders in the area.  Vihma tells von Essen about the coming 4 a.m. attack.  He has von Essen have his men go back to the front line.  He also tells von Essen to tell his men that this time they will have a lot more support.

On the line there is the fear that if the Russians break through, they will be able to saunter into Helsinki. 

The Finns bring up artillery and place it on the main road with the barrels pointed at tank level.   

July 2, 1944, Onttola airfield. The Finnish airplanes plan to strike at the Russians at Vakkila-Ihantalanjarvi. 

July 3, 1944, Immola airfield.  The hangar doors are opened.  The pilots get their instructions and start taking off. 

July 3, 1944, headquarters of the 4th Army Corps.  Vihma, accompanied by Col. Bjorkman and two other men, wants to get closer to the action so they walk down a path toward the front.  Bjorkman advises that this is not a good idea.  Russian artillery could open up at any time and they will be in the line of fire. 

Russian artillery opens up its barrage.  A soldier named Eino hallucinates that a woman is on the field.  He runs to get her.  The other soldiers yell at him not to go.  An artillery shell lands near Eino and kills him. 

General Vihma wants to reach the top of a nearby hill, saying:  "I want to see how we kick the Russkies' asses." 

The Russian attack begins.  The Finnish artillery begins shelling the Russians.  The general looks through his binoculars.  A Russian shell lands nearby and Bjorkman yells to Vihma:  "This is crazy, we can't make it there!"  The general tells the other officers to go, while he will take another look.  Bjorkman can hear a round headed for them and yells at Vihma to get down.  Vihma says the round is going to go over their heads.  Actually, the round lands very close to Vihma and he is killed. 

A total of 21 batteries (250 guns and mortars) are firing away at the Russians.  The Finnish soldiers feel it is safe enough to raise up their heads and watch the damage. 

July 3, 1944.  4:55 a.m.  Headquarters Mikkeli.  The good news arrives for the field marshal.  The Russian attack has been repelled. 

The Russians are withdrawing their soldiers, tanks and equipment. 

July 9, 1944.  Finland achieves a defensive victory in the major battle of Tali-Ihantala. 

July 10, 1944.  Win another defensive victory in the Battle of Vyborg Bay.

July 16, 1944.  Win a defensive victory in the Battle of Nietjarvi.

July 17, 1944.  Win a defensive in the Battle of Ayrapaa-Vuosalmi.

August 13, 1944.  Win a defensive victory in the Battle of Ilomantsi.

"The advancement of the Red Army has been stopped on all fronts." 

September 19, 1944.  An armistice is signed by Finland and Russia in Moscow. 

 

Good movie, but sometimes it dragged because it seems they covered every assault by the Russians and every counter-attack of the Finns.  I was getting tired of seeing one or two tanks knocked out at a time.  And there were way too many characters to follow.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film.  And I learned of an impressive series of Finnish defensive victories.  The focus here was on the Battle of Tali-Ihantala, the first battle of the series of victories for the Finns.  I don't think there were any women in the film at all.  Therefore, I'm glad I saw the Finnish film Lupaus (Promise) (2005) about the Finnish women's Lotta Service with its quarter of a million participants during WWII through the eyes of three young women.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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