Finnish Armed Forces 1941-1944

Strength and Organization of the Army, Air Force and Navy of Finland in the Continuation War against the Soviet Union.

Finnish Army on march
The Finnish Army on the march.

The Finnish Armed Forces in the ‘Continuation War’ from 1941 to 1944.

Finnish Army

Although the signing of the Moscow Treaty in March 1940, which ended the Winter War, guaranteed Finland her borders with the Soviet Union, the Finnish Government remained uncertain of Soviet intentions towards the independence of Finland.

So when Hitler informed the Finns of his impending invasion of the Soviet Union they readily cooperated with Germany to secure the contested Karelian region and the strategically important center of Murmansk.

On 10 July 1941 the Finnish Army attacked Soviet troops deployed around Lake Ladoga for the protection of Leningrad. But when they had fulfilled their objective of recovery of territories lost in 1939-40, the Finns halted their advance. On 12 December Mannerheim ordered his men to go over to the defensive, and the Finnish Army played little part in the fighting until the Soviet offensive of 1944. Finnish casualties in this phase of the war amounted to 25,000 killed and more than 50,000 wounded.

Finnish Army Organization

Finnish Orders of Battle at the Eastern Front, 1941:

South-Eastern Army (Karelian isthmus in front of Leningrad) II Corps (Reserves: 2 Coast Artillery Bde)2 Infantry Division 7, 28, 49 Inf., 5 Art., 8 Recce Bde.
10 Infantry Division 1, 22, 43 Inf., 9 Art., 12 Recce Bde.
15 Infantry Division 15, 36, 57 Inf., 12 Art., 16 Recce Bde.
18 Infantry Division 6, 27, 48 Inf., 19 Art., 6 Recce Bde.
IV Corps4 Infantry Division 5, 25, 46 Inf., 1 Art., 9, 14 Recce Bdes.
8 Infantry Division 4, 24, 45 Inf., 11 Art.
17 Infantry Division 13, 34 Inf., 8 Art., 19 Recce Bde.
Karelian Army (east of Lake Ladoga along river Svir) VI Corps (Reserves: 1 Jager Bde.)1 Infantry Division 14, 35, 56, 60 Inf., 5 Art., 8 Recce Bde.
5 Infantry Division 2, 23, 44 Inf., 3 Art., 4 Recce Bdes.
11 Infantry Division 8, 29, 50 Inf., 4 Art., 10 Recce Bde.
German 163 Infantry Division
VII Corps (Reserves: Cavalry Bde., 2 Jager Bde.)7 Infantry Division 9, 30, 51 Inf., 2 Art., 15 Recce Bde.
19 Infantry Division 16, 37, 58, 61 Inf., 10 Art., 18 Recce Bde.
subordinated to German Army Headquarter Norway (v.Falkenhorst), LaplandIII Corps3 Infantry Division 11, 32, 53 Inf., 16 Art., 5 Recce Bde.
subordinated to German XXXVI Corps6 Infantry Division 12, 33, 54 Inf., 14 Art., 3 Recce Bde.
for siege of Hanko14 Infantry Division 10, 31, 53 Inf., 18 Art., 2 Recce Bde.
Army reserve12 Infantry Division 3, 26, 47, 55 Inf., 7 Art., 1 Recce Bde.
new units raised 1943-44Armoured Division (August 1943) I, II Tank Bdes., Assault gun Bde., Jager Bde. (2,3,4,5 Bns.), 14 Art Bn., AT Bn.
200 Infantry Regiment (February 1944): 3,000 Estonian volunteers, one Swedish volunteer battalion

On 9 June 1944 the Soviet Army launched its attack on Finland deploying five armies totaling 450,000 men and 10,000 guns. The Finnish Army was caught by surprise, largely because of the complacency of the Finnish High Command which had failed to take the necessary defensive precautions during the preceding years. Indeed, the long period of static positional warfare had undermined the morale of the troops and made the Red Army’s attack all the more successful. The powerful Russian onslaught caused some units to panic and the Finnish Army withdrew towards its own territorial boundaries. After a month’s hard fighting the Soviet advance was held and the front stabilized, but Mannerheim realized that his small forces had no chance against the five armies facing him: on 5 September 1944 there was a cease-fire. Casualties during the whole of World War II were 90,000 killed. German troops evacuated Finland peacefully, apart from an unsuccessful attempt to take the island of Sur Sari.

Finnish Army Divisions:

Infantry DivisionArmoured DivisionCavalry and Jaeger Brigades (elite mobile troops)
Total units161 3 (1 Cavalry, 2 Jager)
Infantry regiments3 (Mosin-Nagant M1928 rifles)1 Jager Bde. with 4 Bns.4 battalions
Total men 14,200 ? c. 5,000-6,000
Machine guns 116 (plus 250 Suomi sub-machine guns)c. 52c. 52
Mortars 18 (81mm) c. 8c. 8
Howitzers and Field guns36c. 12?
Anti-tank gunsc. 10c. 12?
Tanks- c.225 (150 tanks- mainly captured T26 and c. 75 StuGIII and captured BT-42 assault guns) captured T26, T-37 and T-38 (strength of total 3 battalions)
Vehicles?Jaeger Bde mounted on lorries and bicycles cavalry in June 1941 in process of motorization and in winter in action as ski troops, Jaeger mounted on lorries and bicycles"

Finnish anti-tank gun crew
A Finnish anti-tank gun crew in summer field uniform with a mixture of Czech, German WWI and Italian helmets in 1942.
During the period leading up to the Soviet invasion of 1944 there were no major changes in the organization of the Finnish Army. German aid helped to give a more modern face to the armed forces but the disasters on the Eastern Front ensured that this help was necessarily limited. By May 1944 the front-line strength of the Army stood at 270,000 soldiers, 1900 guns and 800 tanks now organized into a full armored division.

The inadequate Finnish artillery had been overhauled so that the Army was supported by modern field pieces adequately supplied with munitions. Despite these improvements, however, the Finnish Army was still basically an infantry army and was woefully lacking in the support services (especially radio communications) that were commonplace in most modern armies. The Army compensated for these deficiencies by the overall quality of its officers and men, although the war was to prove that Fins fought better when defending their homeland than in initiating offensive operations.

The Army still suffered from two critical shortages: too few aircraft to protect the ground forces and inadequate anti-tank weapons to use against the well-armored Russian T-34 and KV heavy tank. The Army of 1944 was much as it had been in 1941 – well-trained and led but lacking in sufficient modern equipment.

Finnish Air Force

Finnish Curtiss Hawks 75
The Finnish Air Force received 36 Curtiss Hawks 75 of various sub-types captured by the Germans in France and overhauled by them. The Finns also used British Hawker Hurricane I, Gloster Gladiator II, American-built Brewster Buffalos, Dutch Fokker D XXI fighters and captured Russian Polikarpov I-153, most of them delivered during or shortly after the Winter War 1939-40.
The Finnish Air Force had put up a stiff resistance to the numerically stronger Red Air Force during the Winter War (November 1939 – March 1940) and in so doing had gained invaluable experience. Although small, with about 222 front-line aircraft (other sources are speaking about 307) in June 1941, the Finnish Air Force was a useful addition to German air strength on the northern sector of the Eastern Front.

The Air Force was part of the Army but commanded by the Chief of Flying Troops. It was organized in five flying regiments and a number of independent units. Anti-aircraft artillery which in 1939 had been about 192 anti-aircraft guns of various calibers, had increased to nearly 700 by June 1941.

During the Continuation War the Finns split their units into smaller flights of about ten aircraft which could be deployed nearer the front and in the vicinity of the sector where they were required.
By spring 1944, the Air Force had about 223 fighters and 106 bombers of various types, many old-fashioned, but at least four flights flew Me 109G s.
Following the September 1944 armistice with the Allies the Finnish Air Force was used against its former ally in Finland and northern Norway.

During the Continuation War the Finnish Air Force and anti-aircraft artillery claimed 2,674 enemy aircraft destroyed. Losses were 366 combat aircraft and 361 men.

Finnish Navy

Finnish submarine 'Vetihinen'
The Finnish submarine ‘Vetihinen’ in crusted weather conditions.
During the Continuation War the Finnish Navy was reactivated and equipped with vessels left by the retreating Red Army. Finland possessed a Minister of Defense and a C-in-C Naval Forces, Major-­General V.L.R. Valve. The Coastal Fleet, which was organized in flotillas and divisions, was commanded by a seagoing flag-officer, Commodore E. A. Rahola; personnel totaled 4,500.

From June 1941 onward, when Finland fought alongside Germany, Finnish naval forces contributed one large coastal defense vessel and around 30 gun-boats, minesweepers and motor torpedo-boats to the Axis naval force in the Baltic. There were also an additional 432 vessels comprising the Finnish Mercantile Marine.

Throughout the Continuation War the tiny Finnish Navy operated in conjunction with German and Finnish land forces, rather than as an independent sea-going force. Its principal tasks were mine laying, transportation and evacuation of friendly troops, and attempts to cut enemy coastal lines of communication and supply.

The Lake Ladoga Flotilla was also reactivated in 1941 and equipped with 41 craft seized from the Red forces. Other inland flotillas were formed on Lake Segozero (one tug), Payazero (two tugs and motor boats) and Onega (130 vessels). All were later abandoned during the subsequent retreat.

Finnish losses in the Continuation War were two mine layers, 16 minesweepers, one yacht, two motor torpedo-boats and various other small vessels. At the end of the war the Soviet government seized the one remaining armored coastal defense ship and five submarines.

References and literature

The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)
Der Grosse Atlas zum II. Weltkrieg (Peter Young)
Germany’s Eastern Front Allies 1941-45 (Peter Abbott, Nigel Thomas)

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6 thoughts on “Finnish Armed Forces 1941-1944”

  1. [email protected]
    What are you able to tell me of Italian Carcano rifles that were ordered/used by Finland? I have seen one, 7.35, dated 1939. I have a 6.5 that is dated 1942.
    It’s serial number is SA 40XX.
    Any help?

  2. It’s Suursaari, not Sur Sari. Also, the submarine is Vetehinen, not Vetihinen. There was also fighting in Lapland between Finnish and German troops 9/15/1944 – 4/27/1945

  3. Your 1941 infantry division strength list is for 1939.
    In 1941, the authorized strength of a Finnish infantry division was:
    16,348 personnel
    48 field guns and howitzers (76–152 mm)
    24 anti-tank guns (37–45 mm)
    102 anti-tank rifles (8–20 mm)
    6 anti-aircraft guns (20 mm)
    27 mortars (81 mm)
    18 mortars (120 mm)
    126 heavy machine guns (7.62 mm)
    432 light machine guns (7.62 mm)
    1,511 sub-machine guns (9.00 mm)
    12,700 rifles (7.62 mm)
    2,088 horses
    470 motor vehicles
    584 telephones
    147 radios

    In 1939, the authorized strength of a Finnish infantry division was:
    14,200 personnel
    24 field guns (76 mm)
    12 field howitzers (122 mm)
    12 anti-tank guns (37 mm)
    12 mortars (81 mm)
    112 heavy machine guns (7.62 mm)
    250 light machine guns (7.62 mm)
    250 sub-machine guns (9.00 mm)
    11,000 rifles (7.62 mm)
    3,200 horses
    46 motor vehicles

    1. Source ?
      I have two which support the information given in the article (The Armed Forces of WWII/Andrew Mollo and WWII Statistical Survey/John Ellis)

      1. Page 542, Table 82, from Kronlund, Jarl, Suomen Puolustuslaitos 1918-1939, Porvoo: WSOY, 1988, ISBN 951-0-14799-0.

        Corrections: authorized mortar strength for a Winter War infantry division was 18 examples, not 12. Light field artillery caliber varied from 75-105 mm and heavy artillery caliber from 107-155 mm.

        All divisions at the start of the Winter War were fully equipped with rifles, SMGs, LMGs and HMGs.

        At the beginning of the Winter War the inventory was:
        250,628 rifles
        4,872 LMGs
        2,479 HMGs
        19,252 pistols
        4,963 SMGs
        113 anti-tank guns
        292 mortars

        On 13 March 1940 the stock was:
        393,232 rifles
        10,635 LMGs
        3,754 HMGs
        24,992 pistols
        6,134 SMGs
        100 anti-tank rifles
        279 anti-tank guns
        606 mortars

        Source for inventories: Page 552, Table 84

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