The War Illustrated No 28 Vol 2 March 15th 1940

226 The War Illustrated March loth, 1940 Viipuri’s Agony in the Front Line of Battle For three months Finland fought against what might seem to be impossible odds for three months she was able to claim that in nearly every sector her troops had repelled the invader. But the terrific onslaught that constituted the battle o f Viipuri compelled the abandonment o f part o f theM annerheim Line. With the coming of March Finland suffered her first real reverse in the war with Russia. Retreat in the K arelian Isthmus was inevitable when the guns of the forts a t Koivisto, which for three months had upheld the Russian advance towards Viipuri, were silenced and either blown up or carried away by the survivors of the garrison to fresh positions on the mainland. From Koivisto the Russians were able to deliver a flanking fire on the Finnish defences between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Muolaa, and another factor of great importance in the changing situa­tion was the increasing efficiency of the Russian heavy artillery, for many of the dug-outs and pill-boxes of the Mannerheim Line were demolished by direct hits. So the order to withdraw was given, and, fighting doggedly all the way, the Finns retreated gradually on Yiipuri, in the neighbourhood of which they had already constructed newlines of considerable defensive strength. By now Viipuri was little more than a b urnt-out shell of the city which only a few weeks before had ranked as second inF inland’s list of towns. After being bombed and shelled for weeks on end its black shell of desolation, wrote Mr. C4eorge L. Steer, Special Correspondent of the “Daily Telegraph ”in Finland, was like the broken towns of Flanders and Northern France after 1914. The destruction wrought was greater than anything done even in Madrid during the Spanish civil war. All its 75,000 people had fled, and now not a living soul found habitation within its walls. Its fine modern buildings were foul with smoke in two months,” wrote Mr. Steer, “the destructive force of Stalinism has shorn away the social reconstruction of two decades.” Seventy percent of the houses were wrecked, but the gold-handed clock i .then cathedral tower was still working, and from the stubby-domed keep of the old granite castle Finland’s war flag—a golden lion, sword in hand, blazoned 011 a white banner—still floated in defiance of the enemy which was hourly drawing evermore near. Only one of the city’s many churches was undamaged. One church where 200 Commander o f the British con tin gent of the International Volunteer Force formed to help Finland, Col. Kermit Roosevelt is a son ofT h eo d ore Roosevelt, President of the U.S .A .from 1901 to 1909, and a distant cousin of the present President. Photo, L .N.A .Finns slain in the Summa battles had been laid had been burnt to its vaults across still stood above the ruins, but the wrecked interior, where the Viipuri fire brigade had done its best to subdue the flames, was a fantastic marble slab of ice. The streets were strewn with furni­ture hurriedly abandoned as the last of the civilian population fled a week before, when twenty 'separate formations of Russian ’planes wheeled above the town, blowing it to pieces and burning it up in systematic fashion. Sewing -machines stood before the open doors of houses left desolate. In one house which Mr. Steer visited, the only house in a street which had survived the flames, “abed lay there rumpled as it had been last Iain in. A big tin alarm clock which had awakened the owner still faced the pillow. An open chest off drawers disclosed the hurried rummage for necessary warm clothes. Lighter linen was left there forever.” But the fall of Viipuri will not mean the end of the war. From Viipuri to Helsinki is 150 miles, and north of the narrow coastal belt is the great bulk of Finland with its 60,000 lakes. When the snow melts, as it soon will, vast stretches of the thickly forested country­side will be converted into swamps, which cannot but prove a formidable barrier to the progress of Russia’s tanks. Meanwhile, the snows are still proving F inland’s most doughty ally, and a t the beginning of March came the news of the destruction of yet another Russian force—Moscow’s 34th Heavy Tank Brigade, one of the crack regiments of the Red Army—which for weeks had been embedded in the snowr drifts near Kitelae, north-east of Lake Ladoga. Some weeks before, the brigade had been sent to the help of the ill-fated 18th Division (seepage 165), but the tanks were cutoff by Finnish patrols and “made la ag er”in the snow-covered fields. Apparently no attempt was made a t breaking out, and this in spite of the fact that the Finnish attackers were, comparatively speaking, a mere handful. On February 22 ,L. V U 0K SI =EPiisml$£ KOIVISTO. Tm= K O I VIST0*3e M!l UURiLA ISLAND .FINLAND XIV I N i E M I f i ,"L .V U 0K S I piism i'ja k o i v i toTs IU R INS A H I,R K C IV OTIS i TERUOKI LS‘ R °uH F FIIVLAND Since the beginning o f the R usso-Finnish w aron Nov ember 30, V iipuri (or V ib org, to use the S w edisli style )has never been far from the firing line, but early in March fighting was taking place in its suburbs. By then the city was reduced to an empty ruined shell. The progress of the battle for V iiou ri is illu str a ted in these two maps :left, the p ositio nat the end o f February 1940 and, right, oft March 5, when the town wafs invested ,when A yrap aa had became almost a Finnish Verdun, and Red trooDS had effected landings on the mainland to" the west.
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