Battle of Tolvajärvi

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Battle of Tolvajärvi
Part of Winter War
Colonel Paavo Talvela
Date December 12, 1939
Location Tolvajärvi, north of Lake Ladoga, Finland
Result Finnish victory
 Finland  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Paavo Talvela General Beljajev
One regiment and separate battalions (4,000 men) Two divisions, 1 Tank Brigade (20,000 men)
Casualties and losses
100+ killed
250 wounded
About 5,000 killed. Over 5,000 wounded. 59 armored vehicles

The Battle of Tolvajärvi ['æ] was fought on 12 December 1939 between Finland and the Soviet Union. It was the first large offensive victory for the Finns in the Winter War.


After the Winter War broke out on November 30, 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 (now Tolvayarvi, Russia). The Soviet advance was a serious threat to the Finnish IV Corps' lines of communication. To counter this threat the Finnish high command assembled "Group Talvela" commanded by Colonel Paavo Talvela.


Colonel Pajari in front of Tolvajärvi's headquarters. SA-kuvat
  • Finnish "Group Talvela" consisting of the 16th Infantry regiment (JR 16) commanded by Aaro Pajari, "Detachment Räsänen" consisting of four separate battalions, ErP 9, ErP 10, ErP 112 and PPP 7 and one battalion from the 6th Artillery regiment.
  • Soviet 139th Rifle Division, commanded by General Beljajev, consisting of the 718th, 609th and 364th Rifle Regiments.


The Finnish plan was to encircle the Soviet division by two pincer-attacks over the frozen lakes Hirvasjärvi and Tolvajärvi (järvi means lake in Finnish). 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 northern group consisting 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 did not fulfill its objectives, it prevented the 718th from attacking the Finnish flank, and also from sending reinforcements to the south.

Destroyed Soviet armoured car is inspected by Finnish officers. SA-kuvat

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 regimental commander and all the regiment's papers.

The Finns withdrew over the lakes for the night. In the morning Colonel Talvela demanded a new attack and the Soviet 139th division was pushed back and later (20–22 December) destroyed around Ägläjärvi (now, Yaglyayarvi) (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. No major battles were fought after successful Finnish counterattack. Only few shots were fired occasionally. Finns held the line to the end of the winter war.

Two commanders from Finnish side were promoted. Paavo Talvela were promoted from colonel to major general in 12.18.1939. Aaro Pajari were promoted to colonel in 12.18.1939.

Coordinates: 62°17′17″N 31°29′18″E / 62.287976°N 31.488455°E / 62.287976; 31.488455