Plans, preparations, and deployments

War Aims

It is relatively easy to determine Germany’s war aims vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. They are spelled out in the Barbarossa Directive.

The mass of the Russian Army stationed in Western Russia is to be destroyed in daring operations, by driving deep armored wedges, and the retreat of units capable of combat into the vastness of Russian territory is to be prevented. In quick pursuit a line is then to be reached from which the Russian Air Force will no longer be able to attack German Reich territory. The ultimate objective of the operation is to establish a defense line against Asiatic Russia from a line running approximately from the Volga River to Archangel. Then, in case of necessity, the last industrial area left to Russia in the Urals can be eliminated by the Luftwaffe.1

The German objective was to destroy the military and economic potential of the Soviet Union by conquering and occupying permanently vast regions of that country, including some areas that were to be given to Germany’s allies. It was a life and death struggle between two totalitarian systems. It is relatively easy for a dictatorship to set and maintain war aims since public opinion does not factor much into the equation.

It is much more difficult to discern the true Finnish war aims or what the Finns expected from their participation in the war. There are several reasons for this. First, the Finnish civilian and military leaders were careful—as they had been in their dealings with Germany leading up to the war—not to leave a paper trail. Since their statements at the war guilt trials have little credence, we are forced to look at their statements and actions before and during the war. Secondly, Finland was a democracy and public opinion played a large role in setting and sustaining war aims. Like the public in most democracies, the war aims changed with the ebb and flow of the fighting. Success tended to lead to an expansion of war aims while deteriorating military situations often lead to pressure to reduce the scope of those aims and even to terminate the war. This issue is addressed throughout this book. Finally, it is difficult to learn what the motives were since various writers tend to emphasize, de-emphasize, or dismiss some statements and events depending on their political persuasions.

The stated Finnish war aims were limited to the recovery of territories lost during the Winter War; hence they refer to the conflict from 1941 to 1944 as the “Continuation War.” However, it is patently obvious from statements and events both before and during the war that they hoped to come out of the war with much more than the territories lost in 1940.

The most ambitious statements of Finnish aspirations appear to be those given by President Ryti to Ambassador Schnurre in October 1941.2 He let it be known that Finland desired all of the Kola Peninsula and all of Soviet Karelia with a border on the White Sea to the Gulf of Onega (Ääninen). Also included in his wishes were Ladoga Karelia and that the future border should then proceed along the Svir River, the southern shore of Lake Ladoga, and finally along the Neva River to where it entered the Gulf of Finland.3 Within a couple of weeks of this statement, Ryti told Ambassador Blücher that Finland did not want a common border with the Soviet Union after the war and he requested that Germany annex all territory south of the Archangel region.4 The views that Ryti expressed in October 1941 may be what prompted Hitler to tell Foreign Minister Witting the following month when he came to Berlin to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact that Germany favored an expansion of Finland to the east, to include the Kola Peninsula as long as Germany shared in the mineral resources. Witting told Blücher after his visit to Berlin that it was necessary for Finland’s security to hold on to the captured territories.5

This brings up the thorny question of East Karelia (or Far Karelia) and the concept of Greater Finland (Suur-Suomi). The Karelian issue is long-standing and complicated, too much so to allow proper coverage in this book. Suffice it to say that the Karelians were related to the Finns both linguistically and culturally but their area had never been under the control of Finland or Sweden so Finland had no valid historical claims to that part of the Soviet Union.

The fate of Karelia had been a very contentious issue during the War of Independence in 1918. The issue was complicated by a division of opinion among the Karelians themselves. Some wanted to remain under Soviet rule. Others favored outright independence, while still others—mostly conservatives—favored a union with Finland. The issue was further convoluted at the end of the War of Independence—which was in many respects a civil war—by the presence of British and German troops.

General Sir Charles Maynard commanded the Allied Expeditionary Force in Murmansk from March 1918. He did not favor either political independence for the Karelians or the absorption of Karelia by Finland.6 His views were naturally colored by the presence of German troops in Finland under the command of General Rüdiger von der Goltz. They were there to aid the anti-Bolshevik forces under Mannerheim but remained in the country for some time after hostilities ended.

However, General von der Goltz also opposed the absorption of Karelia by Finland. His goals were to recreate a conservative Russian regime friendly to Germany and to make Finland a dependable German ally. Separating East Karelia from Russia would be as unacceptable to a new conservative Russia as it was to the Soviets. Finland could never achieve a durable independence or security by making claims on territories Russia considered vital to its interests.7 Despite von der Goltz’s views the Finns laid claim in 1918 to the province of Viena and the Murmansk coast. Von der Goltz is alleged to have warned the Finns privately that it was not wise to seek control of Russia’s only ice-free port. The German High Command echoed these views by stating that it could not support a boundary dangerous to the vital interests of Russia.8

Mannerheim’s relationship with General von der Goltz is described as cool and the reason may well have been the German’s view on East Karelia. If Mannerheim harbored a burning desire to bring East Karelia into Finland he did not prevail during the War of Independence. His resignation on May 31, 1918, may well be traced back to his differences with the Germans and members of the Finnish government who shared their views. While the Finns did not renounce their claims to East Karelia they did not pursue that objective and it remained within the Soviet Union.

Mannerheim’s memoirs are surprisingly quiet when it comes to Finland’s war aims. However, there are several bellicose orders of the day from both the time of the War of Independence and the Continuation War which indicate that he may at least have shared some of the views of those who argued for the conquest of East Karelia. A couple of examples that proved somewhat embarrassing both during and after the war are illustrative. Part of his order of the day on June 28, 1941, reads:

I call upon you to take part in a holy war against the enemy of our people. Our dead heroes are rising from their fresh, green graves at this moment in order to rejoin us as brothers-in-arms of mighty Germany in a crusade against our enemy to secure the future of Finland. Brothers-in-arms: Follow me for the last time, now that Karelia is rising, and Aurora will light a new day for the Finns.9

Finnish radio carried another order of the day on July 7, as the main offensive was about to begin. It proclaimed his intention of conquering the provinces of Viena and Aunus:

We promise the Karelians that our sword will not rest until Karelia has been liberated. The provinces of Viena and Aunus have waited twenty-three years for the fulfillment of this promise, and since the winter campaign of 1939–40 Karelia has waited for the dawn of the day that is to bring her freedom. Her battalions are now marching in our ranks.

The freedom of Karelia and the Greater Finland is the goal that beckons us in this mighty whirl of historical events. For us this war is a holy war against the enemy of our nation and at the side of mighty Germany we are firmly determined to bring this crusade against our common foe to a victorious end in order that Finland’s future may be assured.10

What we don’t know is whether such statements were only for the purpose of firing up the fighting spirit of the troops or whether they represented the views of a significant segment of the Finnish military and civilian leadership.11 While only speculation, such expansionist views would explain why certain circles in Finland were so willing to become involved in the military adventure that Hitler was about to launch.

Ambassador Blücher writes that strong differences of opinion existed both in the officer corps and political circles in Finland on the issue of conquering East Karelia and moving as far as the Svir River. Even in September 1941 the Finnish government tried to avoid a discussion of war aims since it would demonstrate publicly the divide that existed between conservatives and liberals. Only great success on the battlefield by Germany and Finland could solve this dilemma.12

General Erfurth believed that the majority of Finns at the beginning of the conflict were interested primarily in recovering the territories lost in the Winter War. Those who harbored hopes for a Greater Finland were primarily among the military and younger academics. However, after the great military successes in 1941 and the apparent unstoppable drive of the Germans deep into the Soviet Union, the ranks of the more ambitious increased.13

It is rather amazing that the Finns appear not to have realized—by their refusal to participate in operations against the Soviet Union after they had secured the lost territories and East Karelia—that the achievement of their own goals was totally dependent on Germany achieving its goal of destroying the Soviet Union. Germany’s failure to do so either because of a military defeat or because of a negotiated settlement would jeopardize Finland’s position. If Germany lost the war the very existence of Finland came into question. It therefore made virtually no difference what the Finnish war aims were as they were intrinsically linked to those of Germany.

It is nevertheless extraordinary that the Germans did not press the Finns for more definitive answers regarding their participation in achieving the two main German objectives—operations against Leningrad and the cutting of the Murmansk Railroad. The failure to do so became a major bone of contention, as should have been anticipated. Karl von Clausewitz wrote: “No war is begun, or at least, no war should be begun, if people acted wisely, without first finding an answer to the question: what is to be attained by and in war?”14

While the Finns appear to have limited themselves to stating to the Germans that they were only interested in regaining their lost territories, the Germans were probably well aware that a sizable part of military and political circles in Finland had more ambitious ideas. This became obvious when Finland moved into East Karelia. The strong expectation of a short war was probably a major factor in keeping the Germans from insisting on a harmonization of war aims and plans.

It was a grave mistake for the Germans not to insist on a clear understanding about Finnish participation in the achievement of the dual objectives—capture of Leningrad and the cutting of the Murmansk Railroad—before placing some 250,000 troops in a war theater where they would to a large extent be dependent on the actions of their newfound brothers-in-arms. If the Finns had balked at such an understanding, it would have been wise for the Germans not to waste precious resources in this theater of war.

Deficient Command Structure

The OKW was given the responsibility under the Barbarossa Directive to make the necessary arrangements to put Romanian and Finnish contingents under German command. There is no evidence that this was seriously tried with respect to Finland. Command and command relationships were discussed during the Finnish delegation’s visit to Germany in May 1941. The Germans wanted General Falkenhorst to command the forces in north and central Finland while Mannerheim would command in the south.

German planners had previously assumed that Mannerheim would be given overall command in Finland.15 This is reflected in the OKW directive on April 7, 1941 (see below). That idea was now dropped, and their chance of bringing Mannerheim, a rather independent individual, under their control was lost as well. In doing so the Germans disregarded another well-known warning of their military philosopher and theorist Clausewitz that the worst situation is where two independent commanders find themselves operating in the same theater of war.

Ziemke and Erfurth speculate that this change came about because of an OKW desire to command in an active theater of operations. There was probably another and more practical reason. Hitler became exceedingly worried about the security of northern Norway and the iron and nickel mines in Sweden and Finland after the British raid on the Lofoten Islands in March 1941 (see below), and began a major force build-up. Mountain Corps Norway was an integral part of the defense of north Norway and Hitler and the OKW may well have been reluctant to place a good part of this area under Finnish command. Falkenhorst was still the German armed forces commander in Norway and it made some sense to also have him as commander in central and northern Finland.

Mannerheim wrote after the war that he received indirect feelers—from General Erfurth to General Heinrichs—about assuming overall command in Finland. There is some confusion in the sources as to when these feelers were made. Mannerheim gives the time of the offer as June 1941 while Erfurth places it in June 1944.16 Mannerheim writes about the 1941 offer that he was not attracted by the idea and gives as his reason a reluctance to become too dependent on the German High Command. Mannerheim does not mention the 1944 offer in his memoirs but Erfurth writes that Mannerheim replied to it on June 29, 1944, with the statement that he was too old to take over the additional responsibilities that the position of commander in chief of all forces in Finland would entail. The 1944 offer, if made, was probably an attempt to tie Finland firmly to Germany at a time when it was beginning to go its own way.

In addition to failing to settle on an overall commander, operations in Finland came under two separate German headquarters. The German commander in chief in northern and central Finland, whose main focus was on isolating Murmansk, reported to the OKW after Hitler’s changes to the command structure following the Lofoten raid in March 1941. OKH—responsible for operations on the Eastern Front—was left to deal with operations in southern Finland. The axiomatic belief in both Germany and Finland that the looming war would be short was probably the greatest contributing factor to this deficient command arrangement. This short-war scenario undoubtedly made many feel that no elaborate command structure or long-range plans were necessary.

There was no joint German–Finnish campaign plan much beyond the initial attacks. The loose and informal nature of the coalition, the lack of long-range planning, and an ineffective command structure posed increasing problems as the war dragged on. These massive violations of long-standing military principles could have been rectified by Hitler and the OKW, but they failed to act.

Directive No. 21—The German Strategic Plan

The planning for an operation against the Soviet Union began as soon as Hitler briefed his military advisors at the end of July 1940. The initial planning effort for the invasion was led by Major General Erich Marcks who was in charge of planning at OKH; he developed the first draft which was presented to OKH on August 5. Major General Friedrich von Paulus replaced Marcks in September when he became assistant chief of staff for operations at OKH. In addition, there was an independent operational study going on at OKW by Lieutenant Colonel Bernhard von Lossberg. While the final OKW position did not differ significantly from the OKH plan presented to Hitler on December 5, the earlier efforts focused on trying to change the overall strategy and therefore the roles assigned to the forces on the northern front.

Finland offered at least two operational possibilities for the German planners.

1. An offensive to isolate Murmansk.

2. An offensive on both sides of Lake Ladoga against the right flank of the Soviet forces in the Leningrad area.

General Marcks undoubtedly recognized the importance of the Murmansk Railroad in providing a link between the Soviet Union and the outside world. Finland, however, did not figure prominently in General Marcks’ scheme of things. He envisioned the main assault on the Soviet Union to take place in the south and center. Northern Russia did not figure into the initial assault. He recommended postponing Finnish participation until later since a major German drive through the Baltic States to Leningrad was not part of his overall plan.

A plan that the National Defense Section of OKW submitted to General Jodl on September 19, proposed a significant change to the plan initially worked out by General Marcks. This proposal, probably worked out by Lieutenant Colonel von Lossberg, coincided with General von Paulus taking over General Marcks’ job at OKH. The National Defense Section recommended a significant increase in the strength of the German Army’s left wing driving northward through the Baltic States towards Leningrad. This strategic change increased the importance of Finnish participation. The altered plan called for almost all German and Finnish forces to concentrate in southeast Finland. These forces would either attack across the Karelian Isthmus in the direction of Leningrad or on the east side of Lake Ladoga in the direction of Tikhvin.

The OKW’s proposed revisions to the plan made excellent sense. However, strategic and practical problems led to its abandonment. The Finns would probably resist such a deployment since it would leave central Finland virtually defenseless unless they moved sizable forces to that area. Concentrating the bulk of German forces in southeastern Finland would also cause serious transportation and supply problems. The communications network in southeast Finland would be severely strained to support both the Finnish Army plus a number of German divisions. Finally, it would be nearly impossible to have a large buildup of German forces along with the necessary supplies in this area without alerting the Soviets to a pending attack.

Brauchitsch and Halder presented the army plan for the campaign against the Soviet Union to Hitler on December 5, 1940. Hitler approved the plan and Jodl instructed the National Defense Section on December 6 to prepare a directive based on the approved plan.

From the incomplete records of the conference on December 5 and the more complete record of a meeting between Halder and Falkenhorst on December 7 we get a rather clear idea of what the planners had in mind. The plan for a main German effort in the southeast was dropped, undoubtedly for the reasons mentioned above. The plan that was settled on was one that dissipated the offensive and left the important operations in the southeast totally to the Finns. The German offensive was fragmented. Two mountain divisions would cross the Finnish border in the Pechenga area and conduct operations in the direction of Murmansk. Two additional divisions from central Norway were to cross Sweden by rail. This force would launch operations in the Salla area and advance towards Kandalaksha (Kantalahti) and cut the Murmansk Railroad to isolate Murmansk.

Hitler signed Directive No. 21, the strategic plan for Operation Barbarossa, on December 18, 1940. It is a very concise document (nine typed double-spaced pages) when one considers the fact that it was the blueprint for the most gigantic military operation in history. The directive, which the OKW issued as the basis for operational planning by the services, reads as follows regarding operations in Finland:

Finland will cover the advance of the Northern Group of German forces moving from Norway (detachments of Group XXI) and will operate in conjunction with them. Finland will also be responsible for eliminating Hango [Hanko].

It is possible that Swedish railways and roads may be available for the movement of the German Northern Group, by the beginning of the operation at the latest.

…The most important task of Group XXI, even during these eastern operations, remains the protection of Norway[emphasis in Trevor-Roper’s translation]. Any forces available after carrying out this task will be employed in the North (Mountain Corps), at first to protect the Petsamo area and its iron [nickel] ore mines and the Arctic highway [Arctic Ocean Highway], then to advance with Finnish forces against the Murmansk railway and thus prevent the passage of supplies to Murmansk by land.

The question whether an operation of this kind can be carried out with stronger German forces (two or three divisions) from the Rovaniemi area and south of it will depend on the willingness of Sweden to make its railways available for troop transport.

It will be the duty of the main body of the Finnish Army, in conjunction with the advance of the German North flank, to hold down the strongest possible Russian forces by an attack to the West, or on both sides of Lake Ladoga, and to occupy Hango.17

The whole German effort in the north was directed at isolating Murmansk—whether in a drive from Pechenga, from Rovaniemi, or from both. The operations in the south and southeast became a Finnish affair.

Paul Carell writes in Hitler Moves East 1941–1943 that “The very first drafts for ‘Operation Barbarossa’ list a surprising objective—Murmansk.18 This little-known place was named alongside the great strategic objectives like Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and Rostov.”19 It is true that the Germans contemplated a drive to capture Murmansk but the capture of that city is not listed as an objective in the final version of Directive No. 21. The task of the forces in the north was to cut the Murmansk Railroad and thus isolate Murmansk.

Murmansk became extremely important to the Allied war effort as the major port for bringing supplies and equipment for the Soviet armed forces. But this development was not foreseen by Hitler and the German High Command and was therefore not the reason for according that port on the Arctic Ocean with a population of about 100,000 such importance. The Germans anticipated a quick knockout blow in World War II and the importance of Murmansk as a supply port was considered very minimal in their short-war scenario.

The Russians had begun the construction of an 1,350-kilometer railway line from St Petersburg (Leningrad after the communists seized power) to Murmansk in 1914. This gigantic construction project, completed in 1917, was undertaken by the Russians for the purpose of making use of the only port in that country which had an unrestricted connection to the oceans of the world. Murmansk, located at approximately the same latitude as Point Barrow, Alaska, was ice-free throughout the year with open access to the Atlantic. The other major port on the White Sea, Archangel, was ice-bound for several months each year. The Russians initially used a convict work force but after World War I began, they used some 70,000 captured German and Austrian prisoners. Carell describes the deplorable conditions under which these prisoners worked:

The hardships of the prisoners-of-war defied description. During the short scorching summer they were mown down by typhoid, and during the eight months of the Arctic winter they were killed by cold and hunger. Within twenty-four months 25,000 men had died. Every mile of the 850-mile long line cost twenty-nine dead.”20

To Hitler, the danger from the Murmansk Railroad was the ability it gave the Russians to move large military forces from central Russia to their border with Finland along the Arctic Ocean. A major reason for Hitler’s invasion of Norway in 1940 was to secure the iron ore from the mining districts in northern Sweden. The nickel mines in Kolosjoki near Pechenga, only 100 kilometers from Murmansk, were also important to the German war industry and a significant reason for Germany’s interest in Finland. Of grave concern to Hitler was the possibility that Russia might use the Murmansk Railroad to quickly move significant forces to threaten these valuable sources of iron and nickel. Another worry was that the British would land forces in that area.

Hitler had reason to be concerned. German aerial reconnaissance of the Murmansk area revealed extensive army and air force installations. These, along with massive rail and harbor facilities made Murmansk an ideal Soviet marshalling area for an offensive against northern Finland and Norway. Hitler not only viewed this as a threat against the nickel that the Germans needed in their steel industry but as a strategic threat to the success of Barbarossa. Kirkenes in Norway, only 50 kilometers from Pechenga, was an important German base. If the Soviets reached that far, the line of communications to northern Finland would be cut and the whole Finnish front would be outflanked from the north.

Group XXI’s Staff Study

The next step in the planning process was the development of a staff study by Group XXI (Army of Norway) for operations in Finland based on Directive 21. The study was expanded by Marshal von Brauchitsch on January 16 to include examining the feasibility of a German–Finnish southeast drive in the area of Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega, and the White Sea. The Army of Norway was asked to make recommendations for supply operations and command relationships. This study, begun in late December, was completed on January 27, 1941, and given the code name Silberfuchs (Silver Fox).

The Finnish Army would carry the main burden of the attack. The bulk of their forces would be concentrated in the southeast for an attack east of Lake Ladoga towards the Svir River. The Finnish Army was to defend the frontier north of Lake Ladoga with relatively weak forces, and additionally was responsible for the security of the coast and the Åland Islands. The staff study assumed that the overall command in Finland would be given to the Finns because they were providing the preponderance of forces.

The planning and preparation for Renntier was not wasted, but expanded by making it part of the operations assigned to Mountain Corps Norway. The main German attack was a drive from Rovaniemi through Salla to Kandalaksha on the White Sea. This drive would cut the Murmansk Railroad and sever lines of communication between Soviet forces in Murmansk and on the Kola Peninsula from the rest of the Soviet Union.

The forces allocated to the main drive consisted of one German and one Finnish corps. The German corps—XXXVI Corps—consisted of two infantry divisions and SS Kampfgruppe Nord reinforced by a tank battalion, a machinegun battalion, an antitank battalion, an artillery battalion, and engineers. Kampfgruppe Nord would provide security for the assembly of the two infantry divisions. Part of the German forces would turn north when they reached Kandalaksha. In conjunction with one reinforced mountain division advancing from Pechenga towards Murmansk, the forces that turned north would destroy the Soviet forces on the Kola Peninsula and capture Murmansk.

The Finnish corps—III Corps—consisted of two divisions (3rd and 6th) plus border guards. Its main mission was to launch a secondary attack on the German right flank against Ukhta (Uhtua) and then on towards Kem (Kemi) on the White Sea. This drive, if successful, would also cut the Murmansk Railroad. The bulk of the German forces advancing on Kandalaksha would turn south after reaching that town and link up with the Finns in the Kem area for a joint drive southward behind the left wing of the main Finnish Army.

The operations proposed in the Silberfuchs staff study assumed that Sweden would allow German troops and supplies to cross its territory from Norway to Finland. It was planned that five divisions (later increased to seven) would be left in Norway for its defense and that the Army of Norway would supply all German units. This would involve large supply, construction, and transportation assets and many of these would have to come from Germany.

The OKH Operation Order

The German Army issued an operation order at the end of January for operations in Finland using the Army of Norway staff study as its basis. Hitler approved the order on February 3, 1941.

The OKH order assigned the defense of Norway as the highest priority of the Army of Norway. Only forces over and above the requirement for the priority mission would be used in Finland where the mission of German forces was limited to the defense of the Pechanga area until Finland entered the war. At that time the order laid out two possible courses of action. The first was that proposed in the Army of Norway staff study, while the second would come into being if Sweden refused transit of troops. If this materialized, the Germans would launch an attack through Pechenga with the mission of capturing Murmansk.

As far as the mission of the Finnish Army, some disagreements had developed and certain things remained unresolved. Finnish participation in the planning had been indirect and remained so because Hitler’s order on February 3, 1941 specified that all potential allies should be brought into the planning process only when German intentions could no longer be disguised. The Army order gave the Finnish Army the mission of covering German deployments in central Finland and the capturing of Hanko. The Germans wanted the bulk of the Finnish Army to undertake offensive operations towards the southeast when German Army Group North crossed the Dvina River. The Germans accepted offensives on both sides of Lake Ladoga as long as the main effort was made on the east side of that lake. The Finnish Army was expected to make a sweep around the eastern shore of the lake and isolate Leningrad by affecting a junction with Army Group North in the Tikhvin area.

The Finns, however, preferred to undertake an operation west of Lake Ladoga with the limited goal of recovering the important territory on the Isthmus of Karelia which they had lost in the Winter War. The missions of the Finnish Army were thrashed out in the meeting between General Halder and General Heinrichs on January 30, 1941. The Finns would launch their offensive not later than when Army Group North crossed the Dvina River. The offensive was to take place on both sides of Lake Ladoga with five divisions on the west side and three divisions in the east. The Finns would use two divisions against Hanko. Heinrichs also answered the question that Halder had asked General Talvela in December about Finnish ability to mobilize without drawing attention. Heinrichs stated that to mobilize without causing some attention was not possible.

Resource problems now began to affect the plans in the north. OKH informed the Army of Norway that only a part of the support personnel and transport resources requested in the Silberfuchs staff study would be available. In addition, Kampfgruppe Nord was withdrawn from Falken horst’s order of battle for Finland.21 The Army of Norway was asked to investigate if it could carry out the OKH order with these limitations. The Army of Norway replied that while the occupation of Pechenga could be carried out, an attack against Murmansk from the Pechenga area alone was not possible because the large force required could not be supported and operational possibilities were also poor. The destruction of Russian forces defending Murmansk was possible providing full use of Swedish territory was granted for both supply and troop movements.

The Army of Norway proposed to execute the plan in the Silberfuchs staff study but to delete that part of the plan that called for a southward turn to support the Finnish Army in the Lake Ladoga area because of inadequate logistic and transportation assets. The Army of Norway stated that an operation to the south would be possible only after an adequate supply base had been established in the Kandalaksha area. The OKH accepted the Army of Norway proposal on March 2, 1941.

The Lofoten Raid

On March 4, 1941 the British carried out one of the first commando operations of World War II in the Lofoten Islands in Norway. The operation was code-named Claymore and the mission was to destroy a number of fish oil factories that produced glycerin for use in munitions. The factories in the Lofoten Islands accounted for about half of the total production of glycerin in Norway. The naval component of the force consisted of two cruisers and five destroyers. After bombarding the town of Svolvær and sinking several ships in the harbor a force of about 800 was landed. This force consisted of 3rd and 4th Commandos and a force from the Norwegian Army in the UK under the command of Captain Martin Linge.22 The main factories were destroyed after minor fighting.

The raid had little military significance but it had a considerable psychological effect on Hitler and led him to take action impacting planned operations in Finland. Hitler was extremely proud of having pulled off what he labeled the “sauciest” military operation of the war by his conquest of Norway against virtually all military principles and the views of the German General Staff. He undoubtedly considered Norway a trophy attesting to his military genius and wanted to protect that trophy at nearly any cost. Hitler continued to maintain, “Norway is the zone of destiny in this war” and demanded unconditional obedience to all edicts pertaining to its defense.23

Hitler called a conference on March 12 to evaluate the situation in Norway. He expressed the view that the British would start their offensive against the long Norwegian coastline as the German campaign began against the Soviet Union. He expected British action to consist of a number of small raids that would be difficult to counter because of poor internal lines of communication in Norway. These raids could develop into major operations. In view of this danger and the need for the Army of Norway to maintain total security for Norway Hitler made several decisions that impacted on the planned operations in Finland:

1. Strengthen the defenses in Norway with 160 coastal artillery batteries and two garrison divisions.

2. Reduce the number of forces from Norway that had been planned for use in Finland.

3. Re-evaluate the plans for German operations in Finland since Swedish attitude with respect to transit was in doubt.

Hitler’s orders led to a revision of the command structure and the OKH order for Barbarossa. Falkenhorst had reported to OKW as armed forces commander in Norway and to OKH as commander of the Army of Norway and the planned operations in Finland. Falkenhorst was now placed under OKW in both areas. The additional batteries for coastal defense were to be in place by the middle of May along with increased troop strength in north Norway. The occupation and defense of the Pechenga area was reaffirmed but the planned operation against Murmansk was changed. Murmansk was not to be attacked directly at this stage but only isolated from the rest of the Soviet Union.

The British raid in Lofoten caused the Army of Norway to practically stop its planning for Barbarossa while waiting for its missions to be clarified. Some deployments of forces did take place during March. The movement of the 2nd Mountain Division to the vicinity of Kirkenes was begun. The OKH’s earlier withdrawal of SS Kampfgruppe Nord from participation in operations in Finland was now rescinded, and the lead elements of this organization were prepared for transport via Sweden to the Kirkenes area. The Swedes were told that the unit was being moved as part of a replacement operation. From Kirkenes Kampfgruppe Nord would proceed south along the Arctic Ocean Highway to its assembly area near Rovaniemi. The reason this unit was again assigned to operations in Finland was that it was the only motorized unit available to the Army of Norway and this facilitated the long trek from Kirkenes to Rovaniemi.

The Army of Norway Operation Order

An OKW directive of April 7, 1941, which implemented the revised OKH order broke the logjam that had existed the previous month and allowed planning and preparations to proceed. The directive provided for the reinforced 2nd Mountain Division to be ready to occupy Pechenga provided its commitment did not reduce the forces available to defend the Narvik-Kirkenes area to below the 18 battalions that had been decided on earlier. It was not certain that enough forces could be gathered for a drive to Polyarnyy to block Kola Bay above Murmansk, but preparations for this possibility were to be made.

The capture of Kandalaksha was still viewed as the first step in isolating Murmansk from the south. Operations after the capture of Kandalaksha would depend on the circumstances at the time. It was assumed that transit through Sweden for the buildup in central Finland would not be possible and other provisions were made. One infantry division was to be sent by sea to Finland and the XXXVI Corps Headquarters and its attachments would come by sea from Norway. An additional division would be sent by rail from southern Norway if Sweden granted transit after the start of the war against the Soviet Union. Again, it was planned to offer the command of all forces in Finland to Marshal Mannerheim.

The Army of Norway submitted its plan of operations to the OKW on April 17 and followed this up a few days later by issuing orders to the Mountain Corps Norway and the XXXVI Corps. The strength of the enemy that these units were expected to encounter was estimated at five infantry divisions and two understrength armored units.

Hitler had a meeting with General der Gebirgstruppe Dietl, the commander of Mountain Corps Norway, in Berlin on April 21. Dietl was an ardent supporter of Hitler, and Hitler was fond of this plain Bavarian who had proved his loyalty by his tenacity at Narvik the previous year. He explained to Dietl the importance of eliminating the threat from Murmansk at the very outset of operations by seizing that city. Dietl explained the difficulties involved in an attack on Murmansk—long and difficult lines of supply, atrocious terrain, severe climate, lack of roads, and the lack of various support troops in his command to overcome these obstacles.

Dietl agreed with Hitler that the Soviets might attack Pechenga since it was much easier for them to do so because they had lateral lines of communication and large supply depots close to their forward positions. He pointed out that it would be much easier for the Germans to cut the Murmansk Railroad further south and that this would place the Soviets at the same disadvantage as the Germans.24

Hitler was impressed by Dietl’s arguments and asked him to leave his papers so he could think about what Dietl had proposed. While we don’t know what caused Hitler not to adopt Dietl’s recommendations, the final decision by OKW was, as we shall see, a poor compromise.

Mountain Corps Norway had several missions under the Army of Norway operations order. First and foremost was the defense of Norway north of Narvik. The second mission was to execute Operation Renntier as discussed earlier. The forces should be ready to carry out this mission on 72 hours’ notice. This mission would either be executed separately (in case of a Soviet attack on Finland) or as part of the third mission which was to undertake an offensive along the Arctic coast to Polyarnyy to close Kola Bay north of Murmansk. This operation was code named Platinfuchs (Platinum Fox). If conditions allowed, Dietl’s forces were to cross Kola Bay and occupy Murmansk.

Dietl had the following forces available for his primary mission, the defense of Norway north of Narvik:

1. The 199th Infantry Division.

2. The 9th SS Regiment.

3. Three machinegun battalions.

4. A police battalion.

5. Some naval units.

6. Coastal artillery.

Dietl had the following forces available for the execution of Renntier and Platinfuchs:

1. 2nd Mountain Division.

2. 3rd Mountain Division.

3. A reduced-strength antiaircraft battalion.

4. A communications battalion.

5. Two batteries of 105mm guns.

6. A rocket launcher (Nebelwerfer) battery.

7. A construction battalion.

8. An attached Finnish unit of three infantry companies and a battery of artillery. It was referred to as the Petsamo Detachment or the Ivalo Battalion.

The main German attack was to be carried out by the XXXVI Corps against Kandalaksha, code named Polarfuchs (Polar Fox). The concept of operations called for the assembly of XXXVI Corps east of Rovaniemi. The corps’ main attack would envelop and eliminate the Soviet strongpoints in the Salla area and then drive towards Kandalaksha along the road from Rovaniemi. After taking Kandalaksha and securing its southern flank the corps would push northward along the railroad to take Murmansk in conjunction with Dietl’s Mountain Corps.

The following forces were assigned to the XXXVI Corps by the Army of Norway operations order:

1. The 169th Infantry Division.

2. SS Kampfgruppe Nord.

3. 6th Finnish Division, detached from III Finnish Corps.

4. Two tank battalions.

5. Two motorized artillery battalions.

6. A heavy weapons battalion.

7. A communications battalion.

8. Two batteries of antiaircraft artillery.

9. A rocket launcher battery.

10. Two construction battalions.

11. A bridge construction battalion.

All details involving Finnish participation had not been resolved when the Army of Norway issued its order and the part of the order pertaining to Finnish units was therefore tentative.

As described in Chapter 1, on May 25 the OKW began a three-day conference with a Finnish military delegation headed by General Heinrichs. This conference was continued on June 3 in Helsinki. Command relationships in Finland were decided at these meetings. Falkenhorst would command in northern and central Finland (Silberfuchs) and Marshal Mannerheim would command in southern Finland. This was a change from earlier German intentions to offer Mannerheim the overall command in Finland.

The Army of Norway issued a supplement to its April order after the problems involving Finnish participation were resolved on June 11. This included an order to the Finnish III Corps,25 which became attached to the Army of Norway on June 15. The combat elements of III Corps consisted of two infantry divisions and border guards. However, one division—the 6th—was attached to XXXVI Corps. The III Corps (3rd Division plus border guards after the detachment of the 6th Division) was directed to provide security for the right flank of the XXXVI Corps through offensive operations. Its main force was to attack from Suomussalmi towards Kem by way of Ukhta. A secondary attack would be launched against Loukhi (Louhi) via Kestenga (Kistinki). The 6th Finnish Division—attached to XXXVI Corps—would begin its advance from the Kuusamo area towards Loukhi but instead of going directly to that town, it would swing in a northeast direction east of Salla to Alakurtti on the Tuntsa River. The southern border of the Army of Norway’s responsibility was along a line running from Oulu to Belomorsk.

The roles of the German Navy and the Luftwaffe in Operation Silberfuchs were limited. Admiral Erich Raeder, the commander in chief of the German Navy, was eager to capture Polyarnyy and Murmansk early. He viewed this as the most effective way to neutralize Soviet naval supremacy and reduce the chances of British naval operations in the north. The navy expected that supply operations along the coast of north Norway might have to be curtailed until Polyarnyy was captured and Kola Bay sealed.

The Luftwaffe participation was very inadequate. The 5th Air Fleet in Norway held back about 200 aircraft for the defense of Norway, its primary mission. A measly 60 aircraft were made available to support Silberfuchs. Only 10 of these were fighters. The rest were bombers (40), and reconnaissance aircraft (10). These very small air assets had the nearly impossible missions of providing close air support, destroying the port facilities at Polyarnyy and Murmansk, interdicting the Murmansk Railroad, destroying Soviet airfields, and of operating against the Soviet Navy in the Arctic Ocean.

Marshalling of Forces

The concentration of the Army of Norway forces for Silberfuchs was itself a major undertaking. In the far north, only the 2nd Mountain Division was already in the Kirkenes area. Most units that became part of Mountain Corps Norway for defense of north Norway and for Platinfuchs had to be transported from southern Norway. Sea transport was the only practical way since Route 50 south of Narvik had to cross several fjords before reaching Bodø and for the 140 kilometers that separated Bodø from Narvik there was no road at all. Route 50 north of Narvik was impossible to keep open in winter with available snow removal equipment. From April to June much of this road became impassable because of the thaw.

The 3rd Mountain Division was already in the Narvik area but had to be brought from there to Kirkenes. The last elements of this division did not reach their assembly area south of Kirkenes until June 17. The 199th Infantry Division, the staff of the 702nd Infantry Division, and various miscellaneous units amounting to several thousand troops had to be transported from southern Norway. The transfer of these units was completed by the end of May. The 8,000-strong motorized SS Kampfgruppe Nord came from southern Norway through Sweden to Narvik and had to be moved from there to Kirkenes. It reached its destination on June 6 and started the long trek via the Arctic Ocean Highway to Rovaniemi on June 7. It reached Rovaniemi on June 10.

The assault elements of Mountain Corps Norway (the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions plus combat support troops) numbered 27,500 men. Mountain Corps Norway was to draw its supplies from a one-year stockpile Hitler had ordered established in Norway in the fall of 1940. These supplies were, for the most part, brought to Kirkenes by ships.

The movement of the main force of XXXVI Corps to Finland was carried out in two sea transport operations: Blaufuchs (Blue Fox) 1, and Blaufuchs 2. Blaufuchs 1 brought the 169th Infantry Division and assorted support units (20,000 men) from Stettin to Oulu. Blaufuchs 2 brought the XXXVI Corps Headquarters and corps support troops (10,600 men) by ships from Oslo to Oulu. The first ships sailed on June 5, 1941, and the transfer was completed on June 14.

These large-scale troop movements could not be concealed and their purpose was explained as a relief operation for north Norway. The XXXVI Corps was ordered not to turn eastward from the route Oulu–Rovaniemi until June 18.

The strength of the XXXVI Corps was 40,600 men. This did not include the attached Finnish units. Stockpiles that the corps could draw on had been established with rations for three months, ammunition for more than two months, and petroleum products for two months. The supply operations for both Norway and Finland were managed by Heimatstab Nord (Home Staff North). This organization was renamed Heimatstab Übersee (Home Staff Overseas) in June 1941.

Negotiations for the transit of one division to Finland across Sweden from southern Norway began in Stockholm on June 23, 1941. The Swedes consented to the transit on June 25 and the 163rd Infantry Division began moving out of Oslo on June 26. The 163rd was replaced in Norway by the 710th Infantry Division from Germany. The intention had been to use the 163rd Division against Hanko but OKW ordered it attached to the Finnish Army in the south where it became Mannerheim’s reserve for operations in the Lake Ladoga area.

Seven divisions (about 150,000 troops) were left for the defense of Norway and they were organized and stationed as follows:

1. LXX Corps of three divisions had its headquarters in Oslo.

2. XXXIII Corps of two divisions had its headquarters in Trondheim.

3. Provisional Corps Nagy of two divisions with its headquarters in Alta. This organization was originally part of Mountain Corps Norway but was detached on June 28 and thereafter came under the command of the Army of Norway in Oslo. It had 160 batteries of army coastal artillery, 56 batteries of naval coastal artillery, 6 police battalions, an SS-Regiment, and 3 motorized machine gun battalions.

In an elaborate cover operation to shield the upcoming attack on the Soviet Union units in Norway were assigned to an operation called Harpune Nord (Harpoon North). Units in Denmark and France were also part of the deception plan (Harpune Süd—Harpoon South). The intention was to depict an invasion of England in the making, timed for about August 1, 1941.

Timing of the Attacks

The timing of the attacks out of Finland was left undecided in the operational orders. With respect to the timing of the Finnish attacks in the southeast this was probably due to the fact that the Germans did not want to reveal the starting date of their own operations against the Soviet Union. Another reason was that the Germans wanted to time the Finnish attack for maximum impact in relation to the advance of Army Group North. The Finns requested of the Germans on June 16 that the main Finnish attack be delayed until a few days after Silberfuchs started. Erfurth explained that the reason for the Finnish request was that “The Finns wanted to create the impression among their own people and people’s representatives of being drawn in by the course of events.”26

Finland declared neutrality when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. This official position was maintained until the evening of June 25 despite the fact that German aircraft began operations from Finnish airfields on June 23 when the Luftwaffe flew missions against Murmansk and Salla. The Russians retaliated with attacks on Pechenga, Kemijärvi, and Rovaniemi. The Soviets began massive air attacks against cities in southern Finland on June 25 and that night the Finnish government declared that since the country had been attacked, a state of war existed between Finland and the Soviet Union.

Much focus has been directed at the fact that the Soviet Union initiated attacks on Finnish cities before Finnish military operations against the Soviet Union had begun. The Soviets were well aware that strong German military forces were present in Finland and that the Finnish armed forces were mobilized and deploying with the logical intention of joining the Germans in offensive operations. The Finns later admitted that the presence of German forces in the country gave the Soviets compelling reasons for attacking. Tanner recounts a conversation with Mannerheim, Prime Minister Linkomies, the minister of defense, and the chief of staff on August 9, 1943:

The conclusion of the exchange of opinions can be said to have been that…Germany having attacked Russia on June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union had begun bombing places in Finland because there were German troops in the country.27

The German Army made its decision as to the location of the Finnish attack on June 24 and this differed somewhat from what had been agreed to earlier. Erfurth was instructed to tell the Finns to prepare for an operation on the east side of Lake Ladoga with at least six divisions, with the weight of the attack on the left. The Finns submitted plans which agreed with the German wishes on June 29. General Halder, based on the fact that Army Group North was approaching the last major obstacle south of Leningrad—the Dvina River—decided on July 4 that the Finns should start offensive operations on July 10.

The Mountain Corps Norway executed Operation Renntier on June 22 by crossing the Norwegian–Finnish border with the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions. The Finnish border guards had orders to cooperate and there were no incidents. Mountain Corps Norway stopped short of the Finnish–Soviet border with the 2nd Division on the left and the 3rd Division on the right. Orders were issued to Mountain Corps Norway by the Army of Norway not to cross the Soviet border until June 29. The German move into Pechenga was undoubtedly observed by Soviet forces on the Rybachiy Peninsula at the entrance to Pechenga Bay.

The Army of Norway also issued orders to the Finnish III Corps and the German XXXVI Corps on June 22. The III Corps was ordered to begin cross-border operations at 0200 hours on July 1 and XXXVI Corps was ordered to begin its operations at 1600 hours the same day. The staggered timing in each sector was necessitated by the scarcity of air resources. The air operations in support of Mountain Corps Norway could take place from airfields in Norway—Kirkenes and Banak—but the operations had to switch to Rovaniemi for support of the two corps in the Salla area.

Supply Lines

Some of the serious problems for the Germans with respect to lines of communication were touched on when we discussed the marshalling of their forces. The main supply and support bases for German operations out of Finland were in Norway and the poor lines of communication in the northern part of that country presented the Germans with almost insurmountable problems. There were basically four routes for the Germans to support their forces in Finland:

1. By sea around the northernmost part of Norway to the ports of Kirkenes and Pechenga. This route was exposed to British and Soviet naval attacks and the entrance to Pechenga harbor was within range of Russian shore batteries on the Rybachiy Peninsula.

2. Route 50 from Narvik to Kirkenes. This road did not have an all-weather surface in 1941 and the snow removal equipment proved inadequate to cope with the heavy snowfall.

3. The land route from Norway through Sweden. Reliance on this route was dangerous because its use hinged on Swedish permission. The Swedes became increasingly reluctant to grant permission for its use as the war progressed. Finnish railroads were built to Soviet gauge while Swedish railroads used western gauge. For that reason rail shipments from Sweden had to be trans-loaded at the border.

4. The sea route through the Baltic, either from Norway or Germany. While this route was relatively safe, it was long and presented problems of its own. The Finnish port capacity in the Gulf of Bothnia was limited and the ports were ice bound for up to five months each year.

The internal lines of communications in Finland were also inadequate. Almost none of the roads were improved by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the bridges were not built to carry heavy military equipment. The Arctic Ocean Highway was exceedingly important to the Army of Norway as it was the only road link between Rovaniemi and Pechenga and on to Kirkenes. However, it was inadequate for the increased demands and of marginal usefulness since trucks consumed nearly the weight of their cargos in fuel on the 600-mile round trip from Rovaniemi to Pechenga.

Terrain and Weather

Severe climate and extraordinarily difficult terrain characterized the Mountain Corps Norway zone of operations. At Pechenga Bay the influence of the Gulf Stream is still strong enough to permit some summer vegetation near the bay and along the river valley. East of Pechenga the coast is bare. The terrain is a mass of low, rocky hills, and depressions with giant boulders left over from the last ice age. Many valleys have no outlets and the melting ice forms hundreds of lakes. This belt of tundra is rather narrow at Pechenga but as one moves east the effects of the Gulf Stream weaken and the belt increases in width to nearly 100 kilometers or more near Kola Bay and Murmansk. Dietl described the terrain around Murmansk as follows when he talked to Hitler on April 21:

The landscape up there in the tundra outside Murmansk is just as it was after the Creation. There’s not a tree, not a shrub, not a human settlement. No roads and no paths. Nothing but rock and scree. There are countless torrents, lakes and fast-flowing rivers with rapids and waterfalls.28

Dietl goes on to describe the tundra belt around Murmansk as one big wilderness and the pathless desert of rocks as impenetrable for military formations.

Inland from the tundra the terrain gradually becomes characterized by coniferous forest. There are mountains with elevations of up to 2,000 feet but the valleys are swampy with numerous streams and lakes. This is the type of terrain found in the Salla area.

The winter lasts from October to May on the Arctic coast. While the temperatures are not as severe as found further south, away from the influences of the Gulf Stream, the winters are characterized by almost continuous storms and blizzards. The temperatures inland frequently reach -45° Fahrenheit in the Rovaniemi-Salla area of southern Lapland and -40° Fahrenheit in Karelia and South Finland.

The summer usually brings a month or more with an average temperature over 50° Fahrenheit. Swarms of mosquitoes thrive in the swampy forests of the interior. Patches of snow and ice survive the summer despite the fact that temperatures may occasionally reach as high as 80° Fahrenheit. The coastal winds bring in banks of fog that persist from a few hours to weeks.

The Plans in Retrospect

A close look at the planning process for German operations out of Finland is quite revealing. Perhaps most important is the fact that the allocation of resources, particularly air assets, reveals that German capabilities were already showing evidence of being overstretched. Germany was not only about to become involved in a life and death struggle with the Soviet Union but had large forces tied down in the Balkans, in North Africa, and in the defense of western Europe. The scarcity of forces may also have contributed to the hesitant planning and frequent changes leading up to and subsequent to the launching of the attack.

Hitler’s fixation with the defense of Norway and assigning that the top priority on the northern front severely reduced the forces available for operations in Finland. The ground forces sent to Finland represented only slightly more than half of what was held back for the defense of Norway. The danger he saw to his hold on Norway was in the form of a British attack. It is difficult to square this with Hitler’s stated view that Great Britain was defeated and only the hope of Soviet and US help kept its hopes alive. However, there is some validity to Hitler’s argument that the garrison troops in Norway were not suited for operations in the Arctic.

The fragmentation of the German effort did not augur well for overall success. While operations began with the main effort correctly identified as the operations of the XXXVI Corps, the allocation of resources failed to underscore this decision. Attacks by the Army of Norway were launched in three sectors with about two divisions in each sector. Generals Hans Feige (commander of XXXVI Corps) and Dietl both argued that the main effort should be made against Kandalaksha and that the forces in this area should be strengthened for that purpose. Dietl even suggested suspending operations in the Mountain Corps Norway sector to achieve a concentration in central Finland. As we shall see, instead of doing so the Army of Norway took action to effectively shift the main effort to the sector of the Mountain Corps. It is curious that the OKW and the Army of Norway continuously violated some of the teachings of Clausewitz, such as concentrating striking power at the decisive point through the reduction of forces elsewhere.

While strategic logic dictated that the main effort should be made in the drive to Kandalaksha, it was important to maintain pressure in other sectors so as to prevent the Russians from shifting forces laterally behind their front from one to the other. They were able to do so because of the Murmansk Railroad. OKH did not become involved in the arguments about a strategy in Finland since the Army of Norway came directly under OKW after the Lofoten raid and because the OKH considered the operations in Finland, except for those of the main Finnish Army, a waste of precious resources.

The Germans allowed themselves to enter into a very imperfect coalition by failing to insist upon the harmonization of objectives and plans. To them the war was total but not to the Finns. These differing aims created difficulty for the cobelligerents from the very start. The greatest potential of the Finnish effort from the standpoint of the Germans was twofold: 1) the quick isolation and capture of Leningrad so that forces tied up in that gigantic operation could be used in other areas and 2) in providing assistance in severing the Soviet Union’s overseas supply route. It was up to the political leadership in Germany to achieve a formal agreement from Finland on these points and it was up to the OKW to take steps to establish an effective command structure. Hitler did not intervene and OKW failed to take these rather obvious actions. Without them it was virtually impossible for the Germans to achieve an effective strategic relationship with Finland and its more limited—and politically unstable and shifting—war aims.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!