Battles in Ilomantsi in 10-16 December (22.12.) 1939

The battles in the Ilomantsi region advanced in three offensive wedges. Two of these reached the current area of Finland, and the southernmost battles were fought on the other side of the current border, in Tolvajärvi and Ägläjärvi. They are located east of Korpiselkä. Here, the Red Army 139th division made its offensive.

Further north, the 155 division crossed the old border in Megri and Iljanvaara, and proceeded on two tracks toward Ilomantsi. The southern offensive wedge starting from Megri, proceeded toward Möhkö, and the northern went via Ilajanjärvi toward Korentovaara, Lehtovaara and Kallioniemi.

The strength of the troops approaching Ilomantsi was about 14,000 men, 140 artillery guns and 45 tanks. The Finnish defensive troops consisted of about 400 men when the war started. They had to retreat, still fighting, to the Oinaansalmi – Kallioniemi line.

Should the enemy have kept the pace they had in the beginning in the Ilomantsi area, the entire Finnish IV Corps, engaged in battles north of Lake Ladoga, would have risked becoming sieged.

As the situation was dire, marshal Mannerheim deployed extra troops in the area. A new group of some 4,300 men and seven artillery guns was named the Talvela Group, after colonel Paavo Talvela, their commander. At the same time, Mannerheim made Talvela the commander of all troops fighting in the direction of Ilomantsi and Tolvajärvi. Their priority was to halt the Soviet troops and launch counteroffensives.

In the apex of the northernmost offensive wedge, a battalion of Russians made their way on the north side of Ilomantsi and crossed the river Koitajoki on the south side of the Kallioniemi ferry, and proceeded at the rear of the Finnish front line in the Tetrilampi grounds on 9 December. The next day, the Finnish troops surrounded the battalion and nearly destroyed it. On 22-23 December, the Finns made an attempt to attack and destroy the Soviet troops in Kallioniemi, Parissavaara. They failed. The front line stayed at Koitajoki for the remainder of the war. Via Karelia runs through these battle grounds on the north side of Ilomantsi, but there aren't any memorials.

Near Möhkö, a Soviet division pushed the delaying Finns first to Möhkö and then to Oinassalmi. 12.-13.12. The Finns tried to retake Möhkö, but did not succeed. At the same time, the Soviet troops crossed the lake Nuorajärvi to the grounds of Muikonniemi and Taivallampi, and cut the connections of the troops fighting in Oinassalmi to the Ilomantsi church village. After the Taivallampi battle on 15-16 December, the road connection to the rear was restored. After these events, the situation stabilised in this region for the remainder of the war.

In the Tolvajärvi direction, the Red Army troops entered the Tolvajärvi village. A counteroffensive to beat the 139th division was launched on 12 December 1939, and the Soviet troops were driven off the village. By 22 December, the 139th division had been pushed east of Ägläjärvi to Aittojoki, where the front line stayed for the rest of the war.

The Finnish defence line in the Ilomantsi direction run therefore in Tolvajärvi- Oinassalmi-Kallioniemi.

Memorials in the Ilomantsi area

There are two memorials for the Ilomantsi battles.

Both of them are by the Ilomantsi-Möhkö road (5004) and are closely connected.

The main memorial of the battles of the Winter War was unveiled on 30 August 1959 in Oinassalmi, by the Möhkö road, on a small hill at the junction of the road turning to the Petkeljärvi National Park. It says ”On the Tolvajärvi – Oinassalmi – Kallioniemi line, the Finnish men defended the freedom of their fatherland in the Winter War in 1939-40. The memorial includes a relief ”Parivartio” (two guards) by Veijo Jalava. By the memorial, there's a restored machine gun nest.

Some 6km away in the camping site of the Petkeljärvi National Park, you can find a restored part of a trench and a dugout. Unkept trenches can be found in other parts of the National Park. Nevertheless, the National Park area never saw battle.

Memorial of the Taivallampi battle is by the Möhkö road, at the Viitaranta junction, a couple of kilometres from Oinassalmi toward Ilomantsi. The memorial is a large stone, with an engraving: ”The Taivallampi battle on 14-16 December 1939. To the memory of the fallen”.