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Battle of Tolvajärvi

History -- Military history -- List of battles -- History of Finland -- Winter War

The Battle of Tolvajärvi was fought on December 12th in 1939 between Finnish and Soviet forces. It was the first big victory for the Finns in the Winter War.

Battle of Tolvajärvi
ConflictWinter War
DateDecember 12, 1939
PlaceLadoga Karelia, Finland
ResultDecisive Finnish victory
FinlandSoviet Union
Colonel Paavo Talvela General Beljajev
One regiment and separate battalionsOne division
Over a hundred dead Over a thousand dead

Table of contents
1 Prelude
2 Combatants
3 The plan
4 The battle
5 Aftermath


After the Winter War broke out on November 30th, the Finnish troops north of Lake Ladoga began a pre-planned retreat before the overwhelming opposition. It was not thought possible for the Soviets to deploy large number of troops in this rugged and almost roadless area, but the Soviets deployed an entire division which advanced along the road between Suojärvi and Tolvajärvi. The Soviet advance was a serious threat to the Finnish IV Corps' lines of communication. To counter this threat the Finnish high command assebled "Group Talvela" commanded by colonel Paavo Talvela


The plan

The Finnish plan was to encircle the Soviet division by two pincer-attacks over the frozen lakes Hirvasjärvi and Tolvajärvi. The northern attack over Hirvasjärvi was to begin at 8.00 and the second would start when the first had brought results. This was later changed and both attacks were to begin at 8.00.

The battle

The northern group consistíng of two battalions soon met Soviet resistance. In fact they met the Soviet 718th regiment which was preparing to make its own attack on the Finnish flank. By noon the Finnish troops withdrew to their own lines. Although this attack was a failure, it prevented the 718th from attacking the Finnish flank, and also from sending reinforcements to the south.

While the second battalion of the Finnish 16th infantry regiment (II/JR 16) was preparing to attack along the road it was interrupted by an attack from the Soviet 609th regiment. The Finns were still able to attack after they got some artillery support. The Finnish attack continued towards a hotel located on a thin isthmus between the two lakes. Pajari decided to commit his reserves in a pincer attack at the Soviet troops around the hotel. In the end the hotel was captured and in it were found a dead Soviet regiment commander and all the regiment's papers.

The Finns withdrew back over the lakes for the night. In the morning colonel Talvela demanded a new attack and the 139th division was pushed back and later (20 - 22 December) destroyed around Ägläjärvi (some 20 km from Tolvajärvi). Contact was also made with the 75th Soviet division which was sent as reinforcements.


Finnish losses were over 100 dead and 250 wounded. The Soviet losses are thought to be over 1000 dead and a lot of equipment: the guns of two artillery batteries, AT-guns, some twenty tanks (T-26s for example) and 60 machineguns. The battle was an important offensive victory for the Finns and was very important for the morale of the whole Finnish Army.