The British supply anti-tank bombs for the Winter War

Soviet-T26-tank

A Soviet-T26-tank destroyed by a Finnish satchel charge

Malcolm Munthe was of Anglo-Swedish origin. On the outbreak of war he joined the British army and was almost immediately recruited by the War Office for special operations in Scandinavia. This was an irregular operation set up even before the establishment of the Special Operations Executive. Sent to Finland to arrange the supply of munitions to the Finnish Army, and to act as an advance party for British volunteer forces, he took with him some experimental explosive devices.

… I was to instruct some Finns under a lieutenant, whose name was Antila, in our anti-tank devices. We went west to Rovanjemi, and for some days to Kemijarvi, and then onwards by sledge. We were near a lake, beyond which were the Russian lines. I never saw a battle while I was there.

Antila spoke no English, but we conversed to the best of our ability in Finnish-Swedish. His ski patrol was to be used for special raids to harass the enemy lines.

We slept fourteen in the tent, a circular contraption strung up on a central stovepipe, which carried away the smoke from the woodburning stove in the middle of the floor. Christmas-tree branches covered the ground; they gave out a delicious smell when the place grew hot. We lay, feet to the middle and heads to the tent wall, with the equipment and rucksack of each man next to his head. I was put between Antila and his second in command, who was a sergeant. It was a tight fit. As I roll around in my sleep, I used to fling out an arm and hit one or other of them, but luckily Antila was just as bad. When we woke at reveille the appalling muddle would have to be straightened out.

Antila was sturdy, with thick dark hair and a permanent grin on his sallow, Mongolian face. I imagine he was only a little older than I and it soon became obvious they had orders to coddle me. I was never allowed to accompany them on raids and was generally protected from even the mildest dangers.

I spent my time making” clams” to blow up tanks. ’808′ or ‘plastic’ was the explosive used for these charges, with a block of guncotton to hold the detonator and fuse. The whole was then wrapped in a piece of mackintosh, proof against damp, and fitted with magnets so as to make it cling, clam-like, to the tank. The tent was redolent with a smell of almonds and geraniums emanating from the explosives, and I got rather bored with sitting cross:legged on my palliasse and gradually covering it with neat little rows of these samples of my handicraft. When I protested, Antila patted my hair and asked with a superior air, “Want to die young?”

One freezing cold day after a particularly severe air raid out of an icy blue sky, I was sent back to Kemi, where a charming, spirited lady of the Swedish Red Cross drove me around in her lorry to some first-aid centres and field hospitals. She spoke excellent English. At one of the posts she introduced me to a Swede who was roaring down the telephone. “You must send them along to us more or less straightened out; otherwise, when they arrive here stiff, we have to spend hours limbering them up again before we can get them to fit into the coffins.”

See Malcolm Munthe: Sweet is war, later republished as Sweet Is War to Them That Know It Not

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