Summakyla sector of the Mannerheim Line. February 1940 / Zvezdochka gardening community. October 2020
Commander of the 90th Independent Combat Engineer Battallion of the 100th Rifle Division, Hero of the Soviet Union Captain Ivan Evdokimovich Korovin on top of Sk2 "Terttu" bunker of the Mannerheim line. He led the group of Soviet sappers which towed 3500kg of TNT on sleds under Finnish fire and blew 2 big holes in its roof on February 1-4, 1940. A British tourist on my Winter War tour courteously agreed to pose for the picture.
The loss of this "millionaire" bunker didn't immediately cause the breakthrough of the line, but when several more heavy bunkers were lost in the neighbouring Summajarvi sector a week later, the Red Army managed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. The Finnish army started gradually abandoning their positions along the entire line from the Gulf of Finland to Vuoksi river to avoid encirclements and retreating towards Vyborg to make another stand. Seven Red Army soldiers who captured and destroyed the bunker were awarded Hero of the Soviet Union ranks and medals.
From "Fighting in Finland, soldiers' memoirs. Part I". Voyenizdat, 1941.
Article by the Hero of the Soviet Union Mikhail Ivanovich Sipovich.
"In January our regiment was tasked with conducting a daytime reconnaissance in force in order to detect and map enemy firing positions in the sector. For this purpose a group of 30 scouts, 30 sappers and 8 signalmen was formed. Company 4 of my battalion was ordered to provide fire support for it. By crawling and short sprints the scouts reached the first line of barbed wire defenses and crossed it. What followed next were 4 rows of stone tank traps and within 50 meters from them there was a 5 row barbed wire fence. Sappers planted explosive charges in the wire; the forward platoon went ahead into the cleared passage and was immediately met by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. After making its way further the scouts found two bunkers. We used to take one of them for a regular hillock. It was the notorious Bunker #45 [Soviet designation of the Sk2 bunker - Alexander Shmidke], or the "Millionaire". This is how the Finns named their biggest bunkers. The rumour had it that one Finnish POW claimed that if we captured the "Millionaire", the "Gates of Hotinen" would open [Name of the area around the village Summa. Some of the heaviest bunkers of the Mannerheim line were located in this area, denying the enemy the access to the shortest route to Finland's second largest city - Alexander Shmidke] I don't know how true it was, but the "Millionaire" indeed appeared to the the key to the Hotinen area. Within the short distance of 200 meters Bunker #44 was located [Soviet designation of the Sk1 bunker, an infantry shelter - Alexander Shmidke].
Before we set out to capture the bunker we devised a detailed plan of actions, elaborated on all questions of cooperating with all auxiliary and supplementary units in our combat group. All soldiers were briefed on the mission details. They were explained that during the advance they had to stay as close to the creeping artillery barrage as possible, that lying in one place was dangerous, cause the enemy would be able to take aim and hit the lying ones. At 12.15 our artillery opened fire. Under its cover the 4th Company took the trenches we had prepared in advance. To the right of it was the 1st Battalion of our regiment.
On this day the 1st Battalion failed to accomplish its mission. Having occupied the anti-tank ditch near Seppanmaki, it wasn't able to advance any further under heavy enemy artillery fire. The two tank platoons that were allocated to support them were stopped by deep snow. However, the 4th Company continued moving forward. We chose such direction of attack that the enemy wasn't able to shoot at it from the front. This prevented it from taking big casualties. The company already passed across the lines of tank traps and wire defenses and sappers set out to do their work. But here we made a mistake. It can only be explained by the fact it was the first time we ever captured such large bunkers. The sapper platoon with sleds on which explosives were towed got stuck in the tank traps and took casualties. In the end it was forced to turn back without even making a passage for the tanks. This mishap taught us that in order to blow up tank traps only a small group of sappers has to be sent forward, while the rest of them should only start advancing with all their explosives after a proper passage in enemy defenses is cleared. The heavy burden of explosives encumbers the sappers too much, especially amid the rows of tank traps, and they become easy targets for the enemy... Finally, several passages were cleared and 5 tanks drove towards the bunker.
By this time the 4th Company had already "saddled" Bunker #45. It was supposed to advance further, leaving its 3rd Platoon, which was part of the blocking group, at the bunker, but it suffered serious casualties and was pinned down by enemy fire. Finnish artillery and mortars fell down on the "Millionaire", trying the shake the heroic company off its top. However, it held the saddled bunker firmly. The incredibly intense storm of fire the Finns unleashed upon it was a testament of the "Millionaire"'s value for them.
Here is the message of Senior Politruk Fomichev, which starkly characterises the tenacity of our soldiers: "There are 28 men left in the company. I'm requesting help. If none can be provided, I'll manage without it. The remaining ones are fighting just as good as the full company". A small group of courageous men attempted to blow up one of the embrasures, but they only had a small amount of explosives (the sappers didn't arrive yet), just a few dozen kilograms. The explosion did little damage to the embrasure. However, they managed to "blind" the enemy by plastering the slits with stones, lumps of dirt and snow. Threatening screams came from within the bunker. The garrison attempted to escape through the door, but it was met by a group of soldiers led by Senior Politruk Fomichev who had hand grenades at the ready.
The Finns started to seep towards the captured structure discreetly, using the trench that led to the Bunker #44. Probably they hoped to destroy the remnants of the company in a surprise attack and free the bunker. Having noticed motion in the trenches, Senior Politruk Fomichev was the first to dart at the enemies and pelted them with his hand grenades. Soon other soldiers crawled towards the trenches and forced the Finns to fall back. Tanks and a machine gun company were a great aid to us. Then it got dark. Sappers delivered their supplies and prepared for the demolition. It was decided to "uncork" the bunker from the top. Its roof was cleared of a thick layer of earth and stones by our artillery during its numerous shellings. More than 1 500 kilograms of TNT was placed on bare concrete.
Shortly before the demolition the company was ordered back to the tank traps. It took cover behind them in shell craters. Only the commander of the sapper battalion Comrade Korovin (now the Hero of the Soviet Union) remained near the bunker. He was the one to light the time fuse. A deafening explosion thundered. The bunker was so huge that even 1,5 tons of explosives only damaged a part of it. Its left part was still alive and maintained interlocking sectors of fire with Bunker #44. Immediately after the explosion the company got back to its positions on top of the bunker.
My battalion received an order to continue with its mission. Having left the 4th Company near Bunker #45, I ordered to the 5th Company to join the operation. On February 2, just as it became dark, the battle for Bunker #44 began. We called for an artillery barrage which was laid down by the guns of our division. All 5 tanks opened rapid fire at the area of Bunker #44 and the adjoining trenches. All machine guns at my disposal started firing as well. The first platoon of the 5th Company had to approach the bunker by moving along the trenches and "saddle" it. The platoon went forward, followed by 3 tanks which methodically fired at the bunkers and the outskirts of a grove nearby. The remaining platoons of the 5th Company advanced behind the tanks. One ton of explosives was towed on sleds by tanks. Two tanks remained next to Bunker #45 in order to cover its firing embrasures with its armour in case it came alive.
A short fight in the trenches ensued. The Finns, unable to resist our onslaught, fled to the forest. Having taken this opportunity, the 1st platoon went around the bunker along the rear trenches, "saddled" it and jammed its firing slits. It order not to let the enemy recover from this shock, we decided to blow the bunker up right on the spot. Explosives from the tanks, which stopped 50 meters away from the bunker, were passed hand to hand along a chain of soldiers who stood in the trenches. The Finns shot at us from the forest, but their fire was disorganised and haphazard, and caused us no harm.
In the nigh Bunker #44 went up in the air. Only its casemates survived, which were used by Junior Lieutenant Stupak for his command post. From time to time soldiers came inside of it to warm themselves up... As expected, the capture of two bunkers, especially Bunker #45, attracted a lot of enemy attention. The Finns started feverishly pulling their reserves to the forest nearby. Later we learned from the POWs that up to one battalion of infantry, two machine gun companies, many mortars and artillery pieces were concentrated there.
That night the Finns tried to encircle and destroy us twice. It even came to hand to hand fighting in the trenches of the 5th Company. The Finns infiltrated them by using the trenches that led from the forest. Red Army soldiers defended stubbornly and clashed their bayonets with the Finns several times. Junior Lieutenant Selifontov grabbed the grenades the enemy lobbed at him and tossed them at the attackers. The enemies tried to dislodge us all night but without success. A great part in resisting enemy counterattacks was played by our machine guns. Every time the Finns came under their fire they fell back to the forest.
On February 3 the Finns fired their artillery, machine guns and rifles at the sector we captured. The fire was so intense that the phone wires that connected us to the battalion and regimental headquarters got torn nearly every hour. Fixing them under enemy fire cost us a lot of effort. Sometimes we had no communications for several hours. Our messengers were killed en route, and our radios were immediately detected by the Finns the moment they started working.
There were no other way to send messages except the dogs, and this is where they helped us out a lot. I remember how scornful I was towards this kind of communications in peacetime, and now I'm feeling ashamed. The four-legged signalmen came out to be ideal messengers. Sometimes a dog would get its message, look at you with a pitiful look and obediently crawl back under enemy fire. Not a single one of them was killed or wounded.
Delivering food was extremely risky and difficult for us, because the Finns kept all approaches to our location within their line of fire. And yet our daredevil cooks didn't leave the men without their meals. The brought us dry rations on sleds towed with a rope they held in their hands. The cook Kotov fed his company with hot food, delivering it by crawling with thermoses on his back.
After 3 days of ceaseless fighting we managed to prepare two more demolitions of Bunker #45. Each of them required up to 2 tons of explosives. On that night the "Millionaire" turned into a heap of debris.
This is how the breach into the "Gates of Hotinen" was made.