British Minelaying, Finnish tactics in the Winter War

Finnish troops defend their country against Russian forces

The Naval, Military and Air Situation up to 12 noon on January 11, 1940, as reported to the War Cabinet:

Naval Situation

Home waters

1. A force of heavy ships has been operating to cover the Northern Patrol and the convoys to and from Norway.
H.M. Submarine Trident is returning from a patrol off Murmansk, where she has been observing shipping activity.
H.M. Submarine Seahorse is more than 48 hours overdue at her base, from patrol in the North Sea, and a search along the route of her intended return passage is being carried out by aircraft, so far without success.

2. During daylight on Tuesday, 9 January, enemy aircraft attacked isolated ships, not in convoy, off the East Coast, with bombs and machine guns. Three small British ships were sunk and two Danish steamers were badly damaged. One ship was attacked in a similar manner on Wednesday, 10 January. Our own aircraft failed to intercept any of the raiders owing to poor visibility.

British Minesweeping.

14. Fog continued to interfere with minesweeping during the past week. Nevertheless, 17 more mines were swept up in the Tyne area.

Trials were carried out by the “mine-bumper” H.M.S. Borde, and on the first day she exploded a magnetic mine about 140 feet ahead of her. The only damage she sustained was one or two broken instruments and smashed crockery. On the 9th January H.M.S. Borde exploded four mines laid in a line 030° from the North Goodwin Lightship. The fourth explosion appears to have damaged her, and she is now in dock for examination and fitting out with proper living accommodation.

A Wellington bomber fitted with an electromagnetic coil and a dynamo, flying 40 feet above the water, successfully exploded one German magnetic mine lying in 10 fathoms off the Tongue Light Ship in the Thames Estuary, and more aircraft are now being equipped in the same manner.

British Minelaying

16. Up to and including the 31st, December, 1939, the following numbers of mines were laid: —
September…………..5119
October ……………..3996
November …………..1368
December …………..1911
………………………………….
Total ……………….12,394

The large number of mines laid in September and the comparatively large number in October, is due to the laying of the Dover Barrage and other defensive minefields for which plans and material had been prepared in peace. The number of the November figures represent the reaction after this initial activity, but the upward tendency in December reflects the formulation and implementation of a policy based on:–

(a) the accumulation and interpretation of enemy intelligence;
(b) the freedom of movement of our own forces; and
(c)the protection and control of Allied and neutral shipping.

Mines have recently laid inside the declared German minefields, in the passage through which U-boats have been reported to pass.

Military situation

20. The 4th Infantry Brigade is now in the frontline of this sector allotted to the British on the Saar front.
600 mules from India, in charge of the party of 150 Indian drivers, arrived in Marseille on 6 January. This completes the concentration of the animal transport required for the B.E.F.

21. Enemy activity has been limited to minor raids on French posts, desultory three artillery fire and active patrolling. On one occasion, a party of Germans dressed in white clothing approached the French line across the snow. Their white clothing did not prevent them from being seen, and they were driven off with several casualties.

Air situation

29. Owing to severe weather conditions Bomber command units have only been able to conduct reconnaissance sweeps on two days during this week.

Russo-Finnish Hostilities

42.

A striking feature of the fighting has been the success of the Finnish anti-tank defence, despite a shortage of weapons. Various methods, such as the flinging of incendiary bombs, bundles of hand grenades and bottles of petrol at the tanks have been employed. A new and ingenious tank obstacle has been produced by means of pit props, coated with ice and placed on the frozen ground. These props rotate under the tracks of the tank, which can make no headway. As an example of the success of Finnish tactics the case may be quoted of the commander of a Soviet tank brigade who surrendered after one big attack on the Mannerheim Line because, as he put it, he could not bear to go back knowing that he was responsible for the awful losses his brigade had suffered. One might add that he probably had a shrewd idea of the type of welcome he would have received, had he gone back. The Finns claimed to have destroyed 310 Russian tanks even before the recent destruction of the 44th Soviet division at Suomussalmi.

The Finns have also proved superior in forest fighting, where their favourite tactics is to lure the Russians into a selected clearing and then mow them down by fire from three sides. This ruse works well as the Russians have been to train to press forward through the soft spots; and, if the Finns hold the front on either side of the clearing in some strength, the Red soldiers all stream forward into the trap. As many as three companies have been destroyed at a time in one of these clearings.

See TNA CAB/66/4/47

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