Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 124 Jan 2, 1940

Battle of Raate Road. Soviet 44th division now stretches 30 km, resembling a fallen tree. Siilasvuo’s 9th division sets about cutting it into mottis (Finnish word for logs), as they can destroy the column more easily by dividing it into isolated elements. At midnight, Captain Lassila’s battalion attacks a 500 meter section of Soviet artillery (parked 5 km East of Mäkinen’s roadblock). 6 Maxim MGs rake each end of the section, while infantry move up the middle and fan out East and West. Soviet gunners cannot fire back as the field guns face up the road and they cannot level antiaircraft MGs down at the Finnish troops. Lassila creates roadblocks at either end of the cleared section with felled trees and land mines. He brings up 9th Division’s only 2 Bofors antitank guns just in time to repel Soviet counterattack at 7 AM. 7 tanks are destroyed which further deepens the roadblock. While Soviet troop shiver in fear, the Finns relax in warmed tents with hot food.

Day 123 January 1, 1940

At 11 AM, U-58 sinks the neutral Swedish steamer SS Lars Magnus Trozelli with one torpedo, 50 miles northeast of Aberdeen (7 dead). The survivors are picked up Norwegian merchant Ask.

German Dorniers and Junkers bomb RAF Coastal Command (18 Group) at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, which flies Catalina and Sunderland flying boats in search of U-boats. Light cruiser HMS Coventry, also in Sullom Voe, is nearly hit by a bomb & damaged. Two Ju 88 dive bombers are engaged by Gloster Gladiators of RAF Shetland Fighter Flight from Sumburgh Aerodrome. One Ju 88 is shot down into the sea.

Battle of Raate Road. Resting most of his troops, Siilasvuo begins the destruction of Soviet 44th division. 1000 men under Captain Eino Lassila ski along the Winter Road, South of Lake Kuivasjarvi. After eating a hot meal, they move three miles north through thick woods and deep snow. At 11 PM, they are in position looking down on the Soviet column on the Raate Road.

Day 122 December 31, 1939

At 9.47 AM, U-32 sinks the neutral Norwegian vessel SS Luna (cargo of rubber hose and zinc plates from London to Trondheim) with one torpedo. The crew is picked up by the Norwegian steamer Colombia and taken to Kopervik.

Battle of Raate Road. Colonel Siilasvuo rests Finnish 9th division but sends scouting parties along his ice road on Lake Voukki, parallel with Raate Road to the South. Soviet 44th division is now stationary, stretched for 30 km along the Raate road. Finnish scouts find the largest concentration of tanks and artillery entrenched just East of the roadblock set up by Captain Mäkinen’s 2 machine gun companies, which has been holding 44th Division since Dec 23. Siilasvuo decides to begin his attacks here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 121 December 30, 1939

Battle of Suomussalmi ends. Finnish 9th division destroys the remnants of Soviet 163rd division retreating over the ice of Lake Kiantajärvi. A platoon led by Capt. Kuistio in 2 trucks (armed with 4 MGs, 1 twin antiaircraft-MG and various sub-MGs) harass the end of the Soviet column at the northern end of Lake Kiantajärvi, killing 500. Finnish artillery and Bristol Blenheim Mk I bombers blast Soviet troops, horses, trucks, guns and tanks through holes in the ice into the freezing water. An entire Soviet division is gone (estimated at 10-15,000 dead). Finnish casualties are 420 dead/missing and 600 wounded but they capture much valuable materiel. Finnish war booty from Suomussalmi include; 625 Rifles, 33 LMG's, 19 MG's, 2 AntiAircraft-MG's (four barrels), 12 AntiTank-guns, 27 Field and AntiAircraft-guns, 26 Tanks, 2 Armored cars, 350Horses, 181 Trucks, 11 Tractors, 26 Field kitchens, 800,000 rounds of 7.62 mm rifle ammo, 9,000 artillery shells, a field hospital, and a bakery. (These figures are items that were counted and transported away from the front. In addition, hundreds of rifles, LMG's and MG's were taken into use immediately and thus never counted.)

9th division commander Colonel Siilasvuo turns his attention to Soviet 44th, stationary on the Raate road. After 6 days of inactivity, their engines are seized and gun-oil in the standard Red Army 1902 model Moisin-Nagant 7.62 mm rifles is frozen. Men and horses huddle for warmth.

Day 120 December 29, 1939

After being trapped and constantly attacked in Suomussalmi for 22 days, Soviet 163rd division evacuates on an ice road ice over Lake Kiantajärvi. 2000 men, 48 trucks, 20 field guns and 6 tanks head 20 km northeast towards their own lines in a 4 km long column. Finnish 9th division moves into Suomussalmi, killing Soviet delaying forces in the deserted village and stragglers on the frozen lake. Overnight, the Finns start to chase the slowly-moving column.

Stalin endorses Chief of the Staff Shaposhnikov’s plan for a massed attack on the Karelian Isthmus towards Viipuri and Helsinki. Commander of Kiev Military District Semyon Timoshenko volunteers to lead the new operation. Kirill Meretskov, his all-frontier plan having failed, is demoted from overall command to lead 7th Army on the Isthmus. Meretskov survives this humiliation and finds glory defending Leningrad and, ironically, fighting Germans in Finland. He will become a Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 119 December 28, 1939

The Soviet invasion plans assumed the political & military collapse of Finland in 12 days but they have few gains to show after a month of fighting. Only 14th Army in Lapland has achieved its objectives. Stalin pragmatically & ruthlessly abandons Meretskov’s plan & orders a ‘temporary defensive posture’ prior to concerted attacks on the Mannerheim Line. He similarly abandons the elements of the Red Army currently on the border from Lake Lagoda to Lapland. 14th Army & 9th Army (122 Div) held in Lapland, 9th Army (163 & 44 Div) trapped around Suomussalmi and 8th Army held North of Lake Lagoda are left to the mercy of the Finns. There is no plan to reinforce, resupply or evacuate them; retreat or surrender will be punished by death when they return to the Soviet Union.

Outer Hebrides, Scotland. 4 AM, U-30 sinks the British antisubmarine trawler HMS Barbara Robertson (1 dead) and asks Swedish merchant Hispania to pick up survivors. 3.45 PM, U-30 hits the British battleship HMS Barham with one torpedo (4 dead) and is chased off by her escort destroyers HMS Isis and Nubian. HMS Barham limps to dock in Liverpool but is out of action for 6 months for repairs.

Day 118 December 27, 1939

Finland. Soviet 4th division desperately tries to reinforce it’s bridgehead on the Finnish side of the Suvanto River, at the Eastern end of the Karelian Isthmus. Thousands of Soviet troops cross the ice in bright moonlight and are punished by Finnish artillery & machinegun fire, leaving the ice “littered with piles of bodies”. In response, Finnish artillery shells the dug in Soviet troops on the bridgehead. Finnish 6th separate battalion attacks at 11.45 AM & clears the trenches in several hours of close combat. Battle of Kelja is over at 6 PM with 2000 Soviets dead. Finns have 400 dead and wounded but capture 6 anti-tank guns & hundreds of machineguns & rifles.

In Suomussalmi, Finnish 9th division with artillery support moves in on the trapped Soviet 163rd division. Despite cold, hunger and poor leadership, the Soviet troops hold out in fierce hand to hand combat. 44th division hears the battle but again fails to march to the sound of the guns.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 117 December 26, 1939

Pembroke, Wales. Royal Australian Air Force personnel arrive by boat for anti-submarine duty in Sunderland flying boats with No. 10 Squadron.

Finland. Finnish 9th division receives artillery support and begins bombarding the beleaguered Soviet 163rd division trapped in Suomussalmi, in preparation for the final assault.

Taipale sector, near Lake Lagoda, on the Eastern end of the Karelian Isthmus. Soviets and Finns battle over the Soviet foothold on the Finnish side of the Suvanto River near the village of Kelja. Soviet infantry supported by tanks attempt to cross the frozen river but are turned back by shelling from Finnish artillery and shore batteries at the Kekinniemi fort. The Finns attack twice in company strength at 07.30 and 16.15 hrs but fail to dislodge the dug in Soviets.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Day 116 December 25, 1939

After a lull in the fighting since Dec 17, Red Army resumes attacking the Taipale sector of the Isthmus. At 5-7 AM in darkness, snow and mist, Soviet 4th Rifle Division crosses the frozen Suvanto River and gains 3 bridgeheads. Finnish artillery and machineguns take a heavy toll and Soviet troops are pushed back across the ice at Patoniemi and Volossula. The Soviets dig in on the shore near the village of Kelja (now Kelya in USSR) and hold on throughout the night.

Soviet 163rd division attempts another break out but is again penned up in Suomussalmi. Some desperate Soviets try to cross frozen Lake Vuonanlahti to escape West further into Finland. They are rapidly picked off by the Finns due to their dark clothing. The forward elements of 44th division on Raate Road, still with no artillery support, again fail to come to the aid of the trapped 163rd division.

Day 115 December 24, 1939

The Red Army has little to show for 24 days of fighting, only having pushed the Finns back to prepared defenses on the Isthmus. Stavka had planned 12 days to conquer Finland, making political assumptions that the Finnish populace and army would rebel against the Capitalist government and welcome the Soviet liberators. Consequently, the Soviet troops are running out of food, fuel and ammunition. Worse, they do not have winter clothing. Not only do they freeze but their dark uniforms stand out clearly against the snow making easy targets.

Soviet 163rd division tries to break out of Suomussalmi but is pushed back. 44th division, now stationary for miles along the Raate Road, hears the guns but inexplicably does not move out in support. Finnish "Group Talvela" pursues beaten Soviet 75th and 139th divisions back across the Russian border. The Finns are briefly in possession of Soviet soil.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 114 December 23, 1939

At 6.30 AM, 4 Finnish divisions counterattack on a 28 mile front on the West side of the Karelian Isthmus, trying to trap resting Soviet forces in a massive encirclement. They immediately run into the Red Army in force and are repulsed. Soviet tanks are brutally effective against Finnish troops without antitank or artillery support. General Öhqvist calls off the attack at 2.40 PM, at a cost of 1300 dead and wounded (+ 200 cases of frostbite).

The Finns have more success further North. Captain Mäkinen’s 2 machine gun companies (9th division) attack the arriving Soviet 44th division, consisting of about 15,000 men, strung out over several km of the Raate road. 44th is back to front; 25th rifle regiment leads, followed by artillery and tanks, with mobile reconnaissance units at the rear. 25th regiment, unsure of Finnish numbers and unable to bring up guns and armor, stops and takes up defensive positions. The whole column grinds to a halt, never to move again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 113 December 22, 1939

Finnish 9th division chips away at Soviet 163rd division entrenched at Suomussalmi. 163rd has put up solid resistance despite having been surrounded for 10 days; however, time is on the Finns side as temperatures drop and Soviet supplies run out. Soviet 44th division is within a few km of Suomussalmi, having struggled 9 days up the road from Raate to relieve 163rd.

Finnish "Group Talvela" overruns Soviet 75th division in hand to hand combat at Ägläjärvi. 75th division retreats pell mell back down the road towards the Russian border. Group Talvela, part of IV Corps, has now put 2 Red Army divisions to flight in 10 days.

As Red Army attacks on the Karelian Isthmus falter, Finnish Commander in Chief Field Marshall Mannerheim takes the initiative. He hastily agrees to Öhqvist and Österman’s plan to counterattack to deal a demoralising blow to the weary Soviet forces.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 112 December 21, 1939

Stalin’s 60th birthday (official).
Soviet attacks on the Mannerheim Line weaken. Finns attack at Suomussalmi and Ägläjärvi. In Lapland, Soviet 122nd division is stopped at the villages of Pelkosenniemi and Kemijärvi (having advanced 45 miles since Nov 30) and will gradually be pushed back 20 miles to Salla (Battle of Salla). The Red Army had planned to be in Helsinki by Stalin’s birthday but the Finns clearly have the advantage. General Hugo Österman, Finnish commander on the Karelian Isthmus, boldly presents CiC Field Marshall Mannerheim with a plan for a counterattack on the Isthmus (prepared by II Corp’s commander General Harald Öhqvist).

Between 7.25 and 10.16 AM, U-21 sinks 2 small neutral Swedish merchant ships SS Mars and SS Carl Henckel with one torpedo each. picks up no survivors and 28 men die overnight. 1 survivor from Mars and 7 from Carl Henckel are picked up the next day and taken to Kristiansand.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 111 December 20, 1939

Finnish 27th regiment, now reinforced and renamed 9th division, continues finishing off Soviet 163rd division at Suomussalmi and awaits the arrival of Soviet 44th division from Raate.

Finnish "Group Talvela" (16th Infantry Regiment plus four separate infantry battalions and one battalion of Artillery) attacks Soviet 75th division surrounded at Ägläjärvi.

Red Army continues attacking the Mannerheim Line but lose the initiative in the First Battle of Summa. With temperatures as low as -20C (-4F), the engines of tanks and other vehicles have to be run continuously to prevent freezing up. Fuel runs out, tanks are stranded and Red Army infantry goes forward unsupported. Taipale sector of the Line is noticeably quiet after daily WWI-style artillery/infantry attacks abruptly stopped on Dec 17. From Nov 30, Red Army troops have been marched into a terrible slaughter of accurate Finnish machinegun, mortar, field artillery and coastal battery fire on well-plotted ground.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 110 December 19, 1939

Finland. Soviet tanks exploit a swampy gap near Summa to get behind the Mannerheim Line. Without infantry support, they are quickly destroyed with satchel charges & Molotov cocktails. As Soviet 44th division advances slowly up the Raate Road to rescue the 163rd division trapped in Suomussalmi, the Finns build a hidden ice road parallel on the lake. Another Soviet division starts to disintegrate as Finns surround 75th div. at Ägläjärvi.

Using the mine recovered by Ouvry & Lewis on Nov 23, British scientists Goodeve & Bullard devise a method demagnetize ships to prevent from detonating magnetic mines (“degaussing”).

Captain Hans Langsdorff shoots himself in Buenos Aires. He symbolically goes down with the Graf Spee (writing in his final letter “for a captain with a sense of honor …. his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship”), an honorable death for a man who sunk 9 ships with no lives lost and spared the lives of his crew. History will brand him incompetent for taking on Harwood's cruiser squadron and a coward for failing to fight out of Montevideo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 109 December 18, 1939

Finland. Soviet assaults on the Mannerheim Line around the village of Summa gain no ground with further heavy losses. North of Lake Lagoda, the line at Kollaa holds and Finnish IV Corps pushes Soviet 75th and 139th divisions back to Ägläjärvi. In the far North, 3 Finnish companies under Captain Pennanen (retreating since Nov 30) hold Soviet 52nd division at Höyhenjärvi where they will stay frozen for two months.

Battle of Heligoland Bight. 22 RAF Wellingtons (9, 37, 149 Squadrons) are sent in daylight to bomb ships off the German North Sea coast (site of the famous WWI naval battle). They reach their target safely but find only ships in harbor which they do not bomb find to avoid German civilian casualties. Returning home, they are attacked by about 50 Messerschmitt fighters. 10 bombers are shot down, 2 ditch flying home and 3 crash land. 2 Messerschmitts are also shot down. RAF suspends daytime bombing until April 1940.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 108 December 17, 1939

Hitler cables Captain Langsdorff to fight his way out of Montevideo or scuttle Graf Spee instead of internment in Uruguay. As he can only leave port between 5 - 8 PM and cannot outrun the superior British forces, he decides to save his crew and scuttle Graf Spee. Most of the crew transfer to German merchant vessel Tacoma. At 6.15 PM Graf Spee sails 4 miles out and is blown up at sunset in 7 meters of water, her topside protruding above the water for many years. Langsdorff and his crew are taken to Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Finland. Red Army has made little progress on the Karelian Isthmus since the Finns fell back to the Mannerheim Line on Dec 6. Soviets assault the village of Summa, which provides road and rail access North to the centre of Finland (“gateway to Viipuri”). Despite heavy artillery bombardment, the Finns are ready and mow down the advancing Soviet troops. Some Soviet tanks penetrate Finnish defenses but are isolated and destroyed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 107 December 16, 1939

In Montevideo, British diplomats play for time to contain Graf Spee, dispatching another merchant vessel from Montevideo at 5 PM to prevent Graf Spee sailing for another 24 hours. However, Uruguay insists the British cease this ploy as Graf Spee’s stay of 3 days expires at 8 PM tomorrow. Graf Spee continues her rapid repairs. Commodore Harwood refuels his ships in anticipation of renewed battle. Harwood receives news he is promoted to Rear-Admiral and knighted.

A signal from the Admiralty stated Commodore Henry Harwood was promoted Rear Admiral from the 13th. of December, and the King bestowed the Knight Companion of the Bath ( KCB ) on him, and the Companion of the Bath ( CB ) on the three cruiser Captains, C.H.L Woodhouse in Ajax, W.E. Parry in Achilles, and F. S. Bell in Exeter. Much rejoicing in the British ships lying in wait off the River Plate.


In Finland, Soviet ‘road strategy’ fails to get men and equipment in force to the point of contact. Finnish resistance becomes a rout in places. Finnish IV Corps, having scattered Soviet 139th division in Tolvajärvi on Dec 12, meets Soviet 75th division marching to the rescue and puts them to flight also. As the Finnish noose tightens on the surrounded 163rd division in Suomussalmi, Soviet 44th Division advances slowly up the Raate Road to rescue them. Disaster awaits them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 106 December 15, 1939

Graf Spee has 2 days to leave Montevideo. Captain Langsdorff buries his 36 dead sailors; released British prisoners lay wreathes at the funeral. Graf Spee readies to leave, taking on fuel from a German tanker while the crew repairs damage. As only HMS Cumberland and the damaged light cruisers Ajax and Achilles are positioned to prevent a break out, British diplomats spread rumors that several vessels including battleship Renown and aircraft carrier Ark Royal are nearby. British ships start leaving Montevideo at regular intervals to prevent Graf Spee sailing (she is required to give enemy merchant ships 24 hours head start). SS Ashworth sails at 5 PM.

Southwest of Ireland, U48 stops neutral Greek steamer SS Germaine. The crew is ordered into the lifeboats and rescued by Norwegian SS Vinland. As her cargo is destined for Britain, Germaine is torpedoed.

Finland. Entire Soviet divisions are surrounded North of Lake Lagoda near Tolvajärvi and Suomussalmi.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 105 December 14, 1939

Battle of the River Plate. Capt. Langsdorff releases 61 prisoners held on Graf Spee. He requests two weeks for repairs in Montevideo. British naval attaché, Henry McCall, presses Uruguay to expel Graf Spee within 24 hours, per international law. Uruguay compromises and gives Graf Spee 3 days. Royal Navy’s Harwood is furious at the prospect of Graf Spee sailing against his depleted cruiser force. Fortunately, heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland arrives at 10 PM to replace the damaged HMS Exeter, sailing directly from the Falkland Islands in 34 hours.


League of Nations expels USSR for the invasion of Finland in violation of Soviet-Finnish non-aggression pacts (1932 and 1934) and the League of Nations Charter (signed by USSR in 1934).

Hitler orders OKW to plan for an invasion of Norway (codenamed Studie Nord) to protect crucial supplies of iron ore from Sweden.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 104 December 13, 1939

Battle of the River Plate. Graf Spee spots British cruisers HMS Exeter, Ajax & Achilles. Intent on battle, Capt. Langsdorff closes rapidly ignoring safer options (pick off the smaller ships with his longer range guns or outrun the warships). At 6.18 AM he opens fire on the heavy cruiser Exeter from 11 miles. Commodore Harwood’s plan is to spread his ships & split Graf Spee’s fire. All three cruisers return fire by 6.23. Ajax & Achilles 6-inch shells rake Graf Spee’s topside but do not penetrate Graf Spee’s armor. Achilles is hit (4 dead) & Exeter is badly damaged by seven 11-inch shells (61 crew killed) but continues firing. At 6.38, 8-inch shell from Exeter penetrates Graf Spee’s armor, wrecking her fuel processing system. With only enough fuel for 16 hours, Graf Spee is forced to flee to the port of Montevideo, Uruguay, pusued by HMS Ajax & Achilles.

In the North Sea, Submarine HMS Salmon torpedoes German cruisers Leipzig & Nürnberg. Both stay afloat and will be repaired. Leipzig is so badly damage that she will never again be fit for combat duty and is only used as a training ship.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 103 December 12, 1939

9 miles off the coast of Scotland at 4 AM, battleship HMS Barham collides with an escorting destroyer in dense fog. HMS Duchess is cut in half and sinks (124 lives lost, 25 survivors).

Graf Spee and Royal Navy cruisers converge on the River Plate estuary from different directions. Despite orders to avoid battle, Captain Langsdorff expects escorted convoys. As Graf Spee will return home to refit engines and other systems after 4 months at sea and thousands of miles, he is willing to take minor damage. He strips Graf Spee for battle, removing fake funnels and dumping damaged equipment such as the Arado seaplane’s engine.

Submarine HMS Salmon tries to stop the German liner SS Bremen (which is known to have no passengers) off Norway but an escorting seaplane attacks forcing her to dive. Salmon does not torpedo the liner to comply with existing Anglo-German naval treaties, a decision that likely delays German unrestricted submarine warfare.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 102 December 11, 1939

Finland. Soviet 163rd division’s nightmare begins, having advanced 10-30 km since crossing the border. 662nd regiment is held at the North end of Lake Piispajarvi by Finnish 16th battalion. To the South, 81st and 759th regiments are held up in Suomussalmi by a company of 58 Finnish border police, since Dec 7. Suomussalmi village is a critical road junction sitting in a network of lakes. Beyond, easier terrain and a rail junction at Puolanka provide the Red Army access to the Gulf of Bothnia. To prevent this, Finnish 27th regiment (4500 men traveling on skis, no artillery, no anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns) attacks the Soviet supply line along the Raate Road, isolating Soviet troops in Suomussalmi.


Battle of the Atlantic. U-38 commits a political blunder, sinking neutral Greek freighter SS Garoufalia (4 lives lost) in neutral territorial waters of Norway. 25 survivors, including 2 Norwegian pilots, are picked up by Norwegian steamer SS Tellus and report the sinking.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Day 101 December 10, 1939

Finland. Despite primitive construction, the Mannerheim Line is remarkably effective. Cleared paths in the forest funnel Soviet troops into minefields and fields of fire pre-ranged for both machine guns and the limited Finnish artillery. Adjacent pill boxes provide mutually-supporting fire. Granite blocks and other obstacles block the killing fields to prevent tanks advancing on the Line. 7th Army on the Soviet left flank is also shelled by coastal batteries on the island of Saarenpää. Soviet battleship Oktjabrskaja Revolutsija shells Saarenpää but misses the batteries in dense fog. The Finnish batteries on the islands in the Gulf of Finland prevent the Soviet Baltic Fleet from landing troops behind the Mannerheim Line.

Baltic Fleet submarines sink three ships including two German vessels; SS Reinbeck in the Gulf of Finland (off Helsinki) and SS Bolheim in the Gulf of Bothnia. Most ships attacked by Soviet submarines are German although USSR and Germany are allies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 100 December 9, 1939

Battle of the River Plate. Graf Spee sails towards the River Plate estuary (separates Uruguay and Argentina) to attack a convoy of 4 ships tought to be leaving Montevideo. Graf Spee’s Captain Hans Langsdorff is acting on information captured from British steamer SS Streonshalh (sunk on Dec 7).

Meanwhile, Royal Navy Force G (light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles) is already heading to River Plate, following Commodore Henry Harwood’s hunch that Graf Spee will try the busy shipping lanes of South America. Harwood makes the wise decision to order the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (currently refitting in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands) to join them in the River Plate estuary. Another heavy cruiser, HMS Cumberland, remains refitting in Port Stanley.

Western Front. Corporal Thomas Priday (King's Shropshire Light Infantry) becomes the first British soldier killed in action in WWII, a victim of “friendly fire” while on patrol.

Day 99 December 8, 1939

Before dawn, Belgian steamer Louis Scheid (which rescued 62 survivors from Tajandoen on December 7) runs aground in front of the Thurlestone Golf Club, Warren Point, Devon, England. As she breaks up in very heavy seas, all survivors from Tajandoen and Louis Scheid are rescued by the Salcombe lifeboat.


At 11.55, U-48 sinks a straggler from convoy OB-48, SS Brandon (9 lives lost). Survivors are picked up by 2 Belgian trawlers and landed at Milford Haven, Wales.

Finland. The Red Army is at a standstill. 7th and 13th Armies are held on the Mannerheim Line, a series of unconnected concrete bunkers and granite/earth/timber forts between the lakes on the Isthmus (meager compared to the mighty Maginot and Seigfreid Lines). 8th army stalls at the River Kollaa. 9th Army’s thrusts across the frozen lakes out of Suomussalmi are repulsed. Only 14th Army makes progress in the far North region of Petsamo, against 3 Finnish companies led by Captain Antti Pennanen.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 98 December 7, 1939

800 miles East of Rio de Janeiro, German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee sinks her last victim 3,895-ton British steamer SS Streonshalh (cargo of wheat). Graf Spee stops Streonshalh and takes the crew of 32 on board before sinking her with scuttling charges and 6 inch shells fired at the waterline. Papers captured from Streonshalh tell Graf Spee’s Captain Hans Langsdorff that a convoy of 4 ships is leaving Montevideo on December 10. He heads for the estuary of the River Plate to intercept them.

Captain Langsdorff has followed the rules of sea warfare throughout and no lives have been lost on any of the 9 ships sunk. 61 prisoners now held on Graf Spee (crew of Streonshalh plus the captains and officers of the other 8 ships) are in for a stormy ride. 305 more British Merchant Navy crewmen are held on the Altmark in mid-Atlantic.

5 AM, U-47 mistakes neutral Dutch freighter MV Tajandoen (cargo, cement, iron and steel) for a tanker and sinks her with one torpedo (6 lives lost) 50 miles south of Land’s End. Belgian steamer Louis Scheid rescues 62 survivors and, in fear of being torpedoed, runs for the shallows off the Devon coast in a gale.

5 PM, U-38 sinks British freighter SS Thomas Walton (13 lives lost) 80 miles from Narvik, Norway. U-38 also fires a torpedo at the German ship SS Sebu which rescues 31 survivors, taking them to Bodo, Norway.

Finland. Having advanced 40km in 7 days above Lake Lagoda, Soviet 8th Army (7 divisions) threatens to turn the Mannerheim Line but is held by 2 Finnish divisions at the River Kollaa. Here they will remain until the end of the Winter War; “Kollaa Holds” becomes a rallying cry for the Finns. Further north, Soviet 163rd division (part of Dukhanov’s 9th Army) takes the village of Suomussalmi, sparking the worst Soviet disaster of the Winter War.

Day 97 December 6, 1939

Winter War Finland. Fighting continues in the Karelian Isthmus as the Finnish forward defensive troops fall back to the Mannerheim Line. The Soviets already have a taste of the Finnish defenses as their losses mount attempting to cross the Taipale River at the eastern end of the Mannerheim Line.

Battle of the Atlantic. Before heading to Germany for repairs, Graf Spee goes hunting in shipping routes of the River Plate estuary (South America). However, the Admiralty has learned of Graf Spee’s sinkings near St. Helena, off the coast of Africa (December 2 and 3). Commodore Henry Harwood, Royal Navy’s expert in engagement of a battleship by smaller vessels, guesses correctly that the German raider will head to the River Plate. He sails his cruiser squadron Force G (HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles) from the Falkland Islands.

U-47 sinks the neutral Norwegian ship MV Britta 50 miles off Land’s End, England (6 dead). 25 survivors are picked up by the Belgian trawler Memlinc.

Day 96 December 5, 1939

After sinking Royal Oak on their amazing Oct 14 sortie into Scapa Flow, Gunther Prien and U-47 are at sea again. Departing Kiel on November 16, U-47 is now in the Bristol Channel just South of Ireland. U-47 sinks British merchant ship SS Navasota (in ballast from Liverpool to Buenos Aires) in convoy OB-46 with one torpedo (37 lives lost). 37 others are picked up by HMS Escapade. 8 more, rescued by British steamer SS Clan Farquhar, are taken to Capetown, South Africa 22 days later. One survivor, Albert Newbury of Wales was previously torpedoed on board SS Lochavon by U-45 on October 14. Whether Albert stayed in Capetown or returned to sea is unknown.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 95 December 4, 1939

Finnish terrain of deep impenetrable forests and long parallel glacial lakes forces Red Army onto the few roads, churned into frozen ruts by heavy tracked vehicles and clogged with horses, men and machines. This road strategy slows their advance everywhere and, worse, forces them into minefields and ranged killing zones in front of the Mannerheim line on the Isthmus. The Soviets grind forward days behind schedule, their hopes for blitzkrieg dashed. North of Lake Lagoda, Soviet 8th Army advances slowly with little resistance but comes in range of Finnish shore batteries at Taipale which pulverise them with higher firing rate and greater accuracy than mobile artillery.

U-36 is two days out of Wilhelmshaven (heading to the Kola Peninsula 25 miles from Mumansk to scout a proposed submarine base) when she is sighted on the surface by British submarine HMS Salmon near Stavanger, Norway. Salmon sinks U-36 with one torpedo (all 40 lives lost).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 93 December 2, 1939

Finland. Red Army advances slowly on the Isthmus with massive casualties. In the far North, a handful of Finnish troops (10th Separate Company and 5th Separate Battery, part of the Lapland Group) face 2 Soviet divisions (104th crosses the border on foot while 52nd takes Petsamo by boat). International Olympic Committee cancels the planned 1940 Helsinki Summer Olympic Games.

Battle of the Atlantic. Near St. Helena again, Graf Spee’s Arado seaplane spots British freighter Doric Star (cargo of meat, dairy products and wool). Doric Star is stopped with 2 long distance shells but the crew radios a distress message and sabotages her engines. After transferring her crew, Graf Spee sinks Doric Star with shell fire and a torpedo.

German liner Watussi is stopped by battleship HMS Renown and cruiser HMS Sussex and scuttled 80 miles South of Cape Town. Watussi’s crew of 155 and 43 passengers are rescued by HMS Renown and will spend the rest of the war in South Africa.

Day 92 December 1, 1939

Finland. Stalemate continues on the Karelian Isthmus as Red Army infantry advance though dense mine fields and are mown down by Finnish crossfire. Soviet tanks operate independently from infantry, occasionally penetrating Finnish defenses (Finnish soldiers have never seen tanks before and often are terrified) but to little effect.

North of Lake Lagoda, Finnish forces panic and retreat, presenting a dangerous opportunity to the Red Army. A Soviet flotilla sails towards Taipale on Lake Lagoda, at the eastern end of the Isthmus. They are to shell Finnish shore batteries and land at Taipale, turning the Mannerheim Line. However, the Finnish guns fire first, forcing the battleship Orangenbaum onto a sandbar (she remains useless for several weeks).

Similarly, Soviet cruiser Kirov is shelled at a range of 24km trying to attack Finnish coastal batteries on the Hanko Peninsula. Damaged by near misses, Kirov returns to Liepāja for the rest of the Winter War.