Contact me at

to see how YOU
can advertise here...
Mainly 28s...
The specialist 28mm wargames review site.
 Home  |  Reviews  |  Free Rules  |  "Blog" 

The Lappland War, 1944

The German withdrawal from Finland, summer 1944
The German withdrawal from Finland, summer 1944.

October 1 1944 to April 25 1945

The Lapland War (Finnish: Lapin sota) is the name given to the hostilities between Finland and Nazi Germany between September 1944 and April 1945, fought in Finland's northernmost Lapland Province.
The war is notable in that the Finnish army was under pressure to demobilize their forces while fighting the German army off their lands. Despite the odds, the Germans got the worst of the fighting and suffered heavier casualties.


Since June 1941, Germany and Finland had been at war with the Soviet Union, co-operating closely in the Continuation War. As early as the summer of 1943, the German high command began making plans for the eventuality that Finland might make a separate peace agreement with the Soviet Union. The Germans planned to withdraw their forces northward in order to shield the nickel mines near Petsamo.
During the winter of 1943-1944, the Germans improved the roads from northern Norway to northern Finland by extensive use of POW labour. Casualties among the POWs were high, due in part to the fact that many of the POWs had been captured in southern Europe and were still in summer uniform. In addition, the Germans accumulated stores in the region. Thus, they were ready in September 1944, when Finland declared the Moscow Armistice with the Soviet Union.

Progress of operations

While German ground troops withdrew northward, the German navy mined the seaward approaches to Finland and with Operation Tanne Ost attempted to seize Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland. The sailors on Finnish ships in German-held ports (including Norway) were arrested, and in the Baltic Sea, German U-boats sank several Finnish civilian vessels. Although some Wehrmacht and Finnish army officers tried to organize a relatively peaceful withdrawal, fighting broke out between German and Finnish forces even before the Soviet-Finnish armistice was signed. Fighting intensified when the Finns sought to comply with the Soviet demand that all German troops be expelled from Finland.
The Finns were thus placed in a situation similar to that of Italy and Romania, who, after surrendering to the Allies, had to fight to free their lands of German forces. The Finns' task was complicated by the Soviet demand that the major part of Finnish armed forces must be demobilized at the same time, even during the campaign against the Germans.
General Hjalmar Siilasvuo, the victor of Suomussalmi, led the Finns against the Germans under General Lothar Rendulic. Striking first at Kemi-Tornio and in October and November 1944, Siilasvuo drove the Germans out of most of northern Finland. Hard battles were fought at Tankavaara and Kaunispää, where the Germans made a stand to cover their retreat towards Norway.
Most of the civilian population of Lapland, totalling 168,000 persons, was evacuated to Sweden and Southern Finland prior to start of the hostilities, with the exception of the inhabitants of the Tornio area. The evacuation was carried out as a cooperative effort of German and Finnish authorities. However, they conducted severe scorched earth warfare, burning most buildings in the province. The town of Rovaniemi was destroyed completely, all important bridges demolished and the roads extensively mined. On the other hand, hundreds of women who had been engaged to German soldiers left with the German troops, meeting diverse fates.


In their retreat, the German forces under General Lothar Rendulic devastated large areas of northern Finland using scorched earth tactics. A total of 40-47% of the dwellings in the area were destroyed, and the provincial capital of Rovaniemi was burned to the ground, as well as the village of Savukoski. Two thirds of the buildings in main villages Sodankylä, Muonio, Kolari, Salla and Ivalo were demolished.
675 bridges were blown up and all main roads were mined, 3,700 km of telephone lines were destroyed. In addition to the property losses, about 100,000 inhabitants became refugees, a situation that added to the problems of postwar reconstruction. (After the war the Allies convicted Rendulic of war crimes, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released after six years.)
The last German troops were expelled in April 1945. By that time only 600 Finnish troops, mostly fresh recruits, were left facing them due to the Soviet demand for demobilisation of the Finnish army. Because of this, the latter half of the Lapland War is known in Finland as the Children's Crusade.

Military casualties

Military casualties of the conflict were relatively limited: 774 KIA, 262 MIA and about 3,000 WIA for the Finnish troops, and 1,200 KIA and about 2,000 WIA for the Germans. 1,300 German soldiers became POWs, and were handed over to the Soviet Union, according to the terms of the Moscow Armistice with the Soviets.

Major Operations

Operation Tanne Ost, 15 September 1944

Operation 'Tanne Ost'
Operation 'Tanne Ost'

Operation Tanne Ost ("Fir East") was a German operation during World War II to capture the island of Suursaari (Swedish Hogland, Russian Gogland) in the Gulf of Finland before it could fall into Soviet hands. Suursaari was especially important because it worked as a lock in the Finnish gulf guarding the minefields keeping the Soviet Baltic Fleet in Kronstadt.
The operation was initially planned with another operation to capture the Âland Islands (Operation Tanne West), which was not carried out.
On September 15 1944, a first wave of 1400 men from both the Wehrmacht and the Kriegsmarine were loaded on ships in Tallinn. Before the assault, the German commander tried to negotiate with the Finnish commander on Suursaari, as he thought the Finns might leave without resistance. The negotiations were a complete failure and the invasion had to begin. When the German ships approached Suursaari, the Finnish crew on the island opened fire. However, most of the troops made it to the beaches, but there the difficulties continued, somewhat because of the Finnish defense being much more numerous than expected. Two Finnish patrol boats were trapped in Suurkylä harbor and sunk. After sunrise, the Soviets made bombing runs on the German ships and later bombed both German and Finnish positions in the island. A second wave of untrained Kriegsmarine troops was withdrawn before they could land. Finnish Navy motor torpedo boats sank several German vessels. After that, German ships decided to leave because they failed to make radio connection to the landed troops. The operation ended in a complete failure, with the Finns capturing 1231 German prisoners.
the Soviet Air Force made three attacks against German positions and ships. The attacks also caused some Finnish casualties. The Germans didn't let the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen support the invasion, as Soviet air threat in the area was shown by these attacks.
This operation marked the beginning of hostility between German and Finnish troops, known as the Lapland War. Before this, the Germans had conducted their withdrawal from Northern Finland without incident.

Finnish order of battle

Finnish forces consisted of Coastal Artillery Regiment 12 (RTR 12). Defence was organized into four sections as follows.

Northern section, 1st Battalion (strength 340 men)

Mountain section, 2nd Battalion (strength 475 men)

Middle section, Coastal Infantry Battalion 7 (strength 295 men)

Southern section, 3rd Battalion (strength 418 men)