Battle of Tolvajärvi

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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.


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 08:00 and the second would start when the first had brought results. This was later changed and both attacks were to begin at 08:00.


The northern group consisting of two battalions soon met Soviet resistance. In fact, they met the Soviet 718th Rifle Regiment of the 139th Rifle Division, 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 Rifle 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 Soviet 75th Rifle Division, which had been sent as reinforcements.


Finnish losses were over 100 dead and 250 wounded. The Soviet losses are thought to be over 5000 dead and a lot of equipment: the guns of two artillery batteries, AT-guns, some twenty tanks (amongst others T-26s) and 60 machine guns. 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 in this region after the successful Finnish counter-attack. Only a few shots were fired occasionally. The Finns held the line to the end of the Winter War.

Two commanders from Finnish side were promoted. Paavo Talvela was promoted from colonel to major general on 18 December 1939. Aaro Pajari was promoted to colonel on 18 December 1939.

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