Battle of Rovaniemi

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Battle of Rovaniemi
Part of the Lapland War of World War II
Rovaniemi burned.jpg
The town of Rovaniemi destroyed by the Germans
Date October 12–13, 1944
Location Rovaniemi, Finland
Result German retreat
Belligerents
Nazi Germany Germany  Finland
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Henrik Saussel Finland Ruben Lagus
Strength
500 men
3 tanks
1,500 men
20 tanks
Casualties and losses
52 dead
164 wounded
9 missing
1 tank
36 dead
101 wounded
4 missing

The Battle of Rovaniemi was an event during the 1944 Lapland War. The actual fighting between the components of the Finnish Armoured Division and Finnish 3rd Division against the troops of the German Twentieth Mountain Army took place at the vicinity of the town of Rovaniemi. The notoriety of the encounter derives from the near total destruction of the town.

Background[edit]

The town of Rovaniemi was the capital of Lapland, the northernmost province of Finland. During the Second World War it was an important transport hub since it lay on the road to the Petsamo area and the only free port in the north, Liinahamari.

When the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union started in 1941, the Finnish government allowed German troops from the German 20th Mountain Army in Norway to be stationed in Lapland to help defend the long border. The objective of the Germans was to control the nickel mines in Petsamo and to conquer the Russian port of Murmansk, cutting the Soviet Union off from Allied supply convoys. Rovaniemi was the German HQ in Lapland and also the base of Luftflotte 5 of the Luftwaffe.

Relations between the German garrisons and the local populace in Lapland were generally cordial during the war. However, when the Finns signed a separate peace with the Soviet Union, relations soured. The Germans had some 200,000 troops in Finland and they were still at war with the Russians. The Soviet Union demanded that the Finns remove all German troops from their territory in two weeks, which was a logistical impossibility. Rovaniemi was a critical transportation nexus in Lapland through which the sole railroad and several of the main roads passed making controlling it very important to the German evacuation effort.

Prelude[edit]

Already on 1 October Finns did moved against the Germans in the Kemi-Tornio region to convince the Russians of their intention to live up to the treaty. Simultaneously Finnish forces started advancing also along other roads towards north. The Finnish armoured division started its to advance north in the direction of Rovaniemi from direction of Ranua. Also once the fighting in Tornio region had ended Finnish 3rd Division's started to advance towards Rovaniemi on the road running alongside the Kemijoki river.[1]

Though Finnish forces advancing along the Kemijoki river were unable to advance swiftly enough to engage Germans same did not held true for the Finnish forces advancing from Ranua. Germans used a preset timetable for determining when ground should be given in order to maximize effectiveness of the evacuation and this called for the German force (218th Mountain Regiment) to delay Finnish advance. Finnish and German forces clashed several times along the road, first at Ylimaa and later at Kivitaipale without decisive results.[1]

Fighting near Rovaniemi[edit]

On 14 October the first Finnish forces reached the vicinity of Rovaniemi. These consisted of the troops of Jaeger Brigade (part of the Finnish Armored Division) advancing from Ranua. Finnish forces found out that one of bridges crossing the Kemijoki river was still intact and moved to capture it. German failure to demolish the bridge was due to the detonation of an ammo train at Rovaniemi station which exploded with enough force that in addition to devastating most of the town it also threw the explosives Germans had planned to use for destroying the bridge into the river even though the station was 3 km away. Finnish forces reached the bridge while it was intact however German rearguard managed to push Finns off the bridge long enough for the demolition. This stranded the Jaeger Brigade on the southern side of the river opposite of the withdrawing Germans since there were no other immediate means for crossing the river.[1]

Next Finnish unit to arrive was the 11th Infantry Regiment advancing along the road on the northern side of Kemijoki river on 15 October 1944. Its commander decided to encircle the remaining Germans and moved to cut the road leading from Rovaniemi towards Kittilä. Fortunately for the single German battalion (II of 12th SS Mountain Jaeger Regiment) Finns were at low on munitions and unable to support the encircling units which allowed the German battalion to escape nearly unscathed.[1]

Results[edit]

Fighting near Rovaniemi achieved very little on either side. Most notable part of the fighting is the devastation inflicted to the town just prior to the fight. With the German rear guard troops still in town, during the controlled destruction of governmental buildings fire was spread to the wooden houses in rapid progress despite German attempts to prevent it.[2][3] The German troops suffered many casualties, mainly caused by glass splinters.[4]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Ahto (1980) p. 250-253
  2. ^ Ahto (1980) p. 220-221
  3. ^ See Lothar Rendulic, Gekämpft, gesiegt, geschlagen, Welsermühl, Wels-Heidelerg, 1952, p. 306; J.H. Palokangas, "Kohtalokkailla Retkillä", in the military journal "Kansa Taisteli", Helsinki, 1965.
  4. ^ Franz Schreiber, "Kampf unter dem Nordlicht", authorized licence ed., Winkelried Verlag, Dresden, 2007, p. 305.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ahto, Sampo (1980). Aseveljet vastakkain - Lapin sota 1944-1945 [Brothers in arms against each other - Lapland War 1944-1945] (in Finnish). Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä. ISBN 951-26-1726-9. 
  • Lunde, Henrik O. (2011). Finland's War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Alliance in World War II. Newbury: Casemate Publishers. ISBN 978-1-61200-037-4.