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"Finnish Artillery Doctrine during the Winter War" Topic

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420 hits since 25 Oct 2018
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Achtung Minen25 Oct 2018 3:04 p.m. PST

Saw Tango's post about French Military Doctrine and it reminded me of a question I have been meaning to ask… how would you define Finnish Artillery Doctrine for company-scale wargaming purposes? Specifically, I had in mind an excellent old article by Richard Clarke in the Lardies' 2004 Christmas Special on rating national artillery doctrine where he defined the game effects of artillery doctrines by:

Impromptu Fire: Is artillery support without pre-registered points allowed? How long does it take to arrive and how accurate is it? How common is this?

Pre-registered Fire: How long does it take to arrive and how accurate is it? How common is it?

Deviating from Pre-registered Fire Points: How long does it take to arrive and how accurate is it? Is deviating from preset coordinates even an option?

Forward Observers: Are there models on the table that can correct fire and if so, how often are they available? Are they dedicated FO's or can any officer do it? Do they use radios (and thus may move) or do they used fixed posts with cable telephone (and are thus immobile during the game)?

Pre-game Stonks: How large are pre-game bombardments? How complex are the patterns? How often is this available?

Limitations: What other limitations existed? Fixed cable lines or portable radios? Limited ammunition making artillery support in general rare? Defensive emphasis over offensive or vice versa? Pre-battle stonks over reactive fire? Limitations in calibre or type of guns/mortars?

From these categories, I will tentatively attempt to define Finnish artillery doctrine in '39/'40 and hopefully others will come in and correct and add to this.

Impromptu Fire: I am going to say by FO only and probably very rare. Another problem is that Finns appeared to divide up their guns among the infantry divisions (like the Germans did) and thus would have small batteries with fewer and lighter guns (mostly 75mm?).

Pre-registered Fire: I am going to guess that this was the default and would be used for defensive positions only and for the most part on the Karelian Isthmus (less so on other fronts, with probably little to no artillery support in the Lapland).

Deviating from Pre-registered Fire Points: I'm guessing this wasn't available, or if it was, it would take a few minutes… maybe 5+ minutes? Less accurate too, but not terribly so.

Forward Observers: I'm going to say almost never, and where it did exist, only with cable telephone lines to fixed observation outposts (that is, immobile FO's).

Pre-game Stonks: This is probably the most common type of artillery support and only for attacking forces. Probably pretty small/weak affairs, due to the aforementioned practice of parcelling out the artillery, but Finns were also known for well-planned and coordinated maneuvers, so perhaps their pre-battle stonks would use adhoc artillery groups assembled from all the guns in the area.

Limitations: The most obvious other limitation to me would be the very low ammunition at the start of the war, making artillery support rare and relatively weak during the Winter War, apart from signification offensive operations and important defensive lines (like the Mannerheim line).

Any thoughts?

Achtung Minen26 Oct 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

Ok, I've found a really useful resource ( Here are a few useful links:

link (A thorough discussion of the history and practice of Finnish artillery before and during the Winter War)
link (Lists artillery units and their armament) (Discusses tactics, including using artillery on the offense or defense)

After reading and digesting all of that, here is my new evaluation of Finnish artillery doctrine during the Winter War for IABSM:

Finnish Artillery Doctrine during the Winter War
Impromptu Fire: Available when an FO is present, but usually weaker than normal due to strict ammo conservation policies (see limitations for a "half-barrage," below). Arrives after 4 turns with 3d6 deviation.

Pre-registered Fire: The most common type of artillery support on the defense. Arrives one turn after it is requested. Any officer may request this fire, if it is available, as long as he is near the forward observer post (which could simply be a communications bunker in hardened defensive positions).

Deviating from Pre-registered Fire Points: Like pre-registered fire, but arrives 2 turns after it is requested with 2d6 deviation.

Forward Observers: Each battery had at least one forward observer. FO's used fixed outposts with cable lines and are thus immobile.

Stonks: Rare and relatively weak offensive artillery support, as the Finns saved most of their ammunition for defensive fire. On the Karelian Isthmus front, the Finnish doctrine was to mass artillery and use the artillery battalion as the basic firing element (producing three stonks in a line). Smaller fire missions would have been more typical north of Lake Ladoga, where guns were few and had to be parcelled out to support the frontline units. In the latter case, an attacking company-sized force could be supported directly by a single battery (one stonk).

Limitations: Artillery support is rare outside of major operations or significant defensive positions (like the Mannerheim line), due to a crippling shortage of guns and ammunition. The Finnish doctrine held that forward observers and artillery commanders were to work closely with infantry commanders, meaning that if the overall Finnish commander is within 4" of the forward observer (and thus his cable telephone), he may request artillery support on his card. Nevertheless, Finnish infantry commanders had very little experience with combined arms warfare and artillery prior to the Winter War, and often failed to use it effectively, particularly in the first half of the war. If you would like to model this in a scenario, then treat the overall Finnish commander as a Hesitant Commander for the rest of the turn after a Finnish fire mission is resolved.

Finnish artillery mostly consisted of light 76mm guns, with 122mm howitzers used as well (although only about a quarter as often as the lighter guns). Moreover, ammo conservation regulations meant that that fire missions were shorter and often fired half as many rounds as normal or even fewer. In game terms, this means the number of barrages is limited by the scenario (often as little as a single fire mission), continuous barrages are not allowed (a second volley on the same target must be requested separately as per pre-registered fire) and the scenario might stipulate that only a half-barrage is used (treat as 1 or 2 guns firing instead of 3 or 4).

Finally, given the variability of weather during the Winter War, a scenario may increase deviation by one or two dice. This would be most evident in the northern fronts, where the weather was worse, accurate maps were not available, and the meteorological service was slow to establish itself.

How does that look?

Lonkka1Actual27 Oct 2018 12:54 p.m. PST

During Winter War our artillery notoriously had humongous shortage all throughout the war.

This meant that ammo would be conserved like crazy. So no trivial firing and when firing just few odd round.

Luckily the fire tended to be rather accurate.

Lonkka1Actual27 Oct 2018 1:00 p.m. PST

One thing that is always ignored is that in late Continuation War Finns were using their own invention, Fire Correction Circle, to co-ordinate massed artillery in extremely simple and quick manner. Something no one else could do as quickly or effectively.

The biggest number used was in '44 during the Soviet Offensive when 66 batteries were used. Imagine that amount of fire hitting the target quickly and at the same time!

Naturally none of this tends to be reflected in the rules. Can't have some pesky Finns be more able than anyone else!


Achtung Minen30 Oct 2018 3:58 a.m. PST

Very true, Finnish artillery seems to have advanced by leaps and bounds during the Continuation War, mostly thanks to radios becoming more common and artillery doctrine evolving to match the new equipment.

Their artillery doctrine during the Winter War was not bad, per se, and one could say that the basic elements were there for it to develop into what we see later. It was fairly fast, fairly accurate and in theory was coordinated well with the frontline units as it could be subordinated directly to even low-level infantry commanders. That matched the combined arms approach of the Winter War Finns, where adhoc tactical subgroups allowed for flexible force organization tailored for a particular mission. The biggest problems were: appalling low ammo (due to meager pre-war budget), lack of equipment (radios and heavy howitzers) and lack of infantry experience with artillery coordination (the Finnish artillery arm was still new in 1939). Much of that was starting to be corrected by 1941.

Griefbringer30 Oct 2018 5:25 a.m. PST

Artillery of all sorts (field, anti-tank or anti-aircraft) was low in priority when it came to military spending in Finland in the 20's and 30's. Granted, the defense budget was limited, but in material purchases navy was at one point given quite a high priority.

A good number of the field artillery pieces dated back to late 19th century, and these tended to have relatively low rate of fire. Regarding munitions, the only problem was not their quantity, but also the reliability of fuses on very cold weather – though this to my understanding affected both sides. I have seen estimates that up to 25 % of the ordnance fired could fail to explode when landing on target.

As regards accuracy of artillery fire, I have read an account of a forward observer who managed to direct the fire of his battery (firing single shots only) to land a direct hit on an enemy tank after a couple of adjustments. Apparently the tank crew was not sufficiently concerned about ranging shots landing near by to change their position.

Infantry at least had a decent allocation of 81 mm mortars, which proved pretty effective in Finnish conditions. Unlike many other European militaries, Finnish army had not adopted any of the 40-60 mm mortar designs that were so popular in the interwar years (and became less popular as the war progressed), though a number of Soviet 50 mm pieces were captured during the war. Actually in Finnish terminology the 81 mm mortar is considered "light" mortar, while in many other forces it would be called medium.

As for heavy mortars, a Finnish company had developed a 120 mm version in the 30's, but at the time Finnish military was not interested in purchasing any – though this opinion changed after Winter War, and by 1941 these would be found in the regimental mortar companies. This was not a copy of the Soviet 120 mm design (which the Finns were also happy to employ when cpatured).

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