When Finland mobilised its wartime army on 14th October 1939, the vast majority of units were the Infantry Regiment. In 1935 a regional mobilisation system was established in order to efficiently mobilise a war time army if needed. It was broken into military provinces, with each province corresponding to a Division. This meant each Province was tasked with raising three infantry regiments, one artillery regiment, as well as associated combat support and logistics troops. As the additional refresher training started the nine divisions established according to the mobilisation plan included 27 infantry regiments and nine field artillery regiments.
Make up of a Finnish Infantry Regiment
A Finnish Infantry Regiment had Regimental Staff, Headquarters Company, Three Infantry Battalions, Mortar Company and Regimental Column.
The Regimental Staff contained the Regimental Commander who held the rank of Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel, a Command Office containing Adjutant, Intelligence Officer, Signals Officer and Gas Protection Officer, and a Logistics Office containing Logistics Officer, Paymaster, Chief of Regimental Column, Weapons Officer, Armourer, Chief Medical Officer, Veterinary Surgeon and Chaplain.
The Regimental Staff were assisted by the Headquarters Company. This consisted of the Company Commander, Command Platoon, Signals Platoon, Engineer Platoon and a Supply Platoon. Together the regimental staff and headquarters company had one car, two motorcycles, 60 horses, 30 horse carts and 35 bicycles.
An Infantry Battalion, of which an Infantry Regiment had three of, contained a Battalion Staff, a Battalion Headquarters, three Rifle Companies and a Machine Gun Company.
The Battalion Staff contained the Battalion Company who was a Major or Captain, Adjutant, Signals Officer, Gas Protection Officer, two Medical Officers and Logistics Officer.
The Battalion Staff were supported by the Battalion Headquarters which were commanded by the Signals Officer of the Battalion Staff. A Command Platoon, Signals Platoon, Gas Protection Section, Medical Section, Ammunition Section and a Supply Platoon. The Battalion Headquarters had 45 horses, 30 horse carts and 15 bicycles.
A Rifle Company, of which an Infantry Battalion contained three of, was broken down into a Command Section, four Rifle Platoons and a Supply Platoon.
The Rifle Company was commanded by a Captain or Lieutenant supported by a 14 strong section which had gas protection men, runners and senior NCOs.
A Rifle Platoon was commanded by a Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant who was assisted by a senior sergeant and two runners. There were two Rifle sections, each being commanded by a Corporal or Sergeant and having 9 other ranks. There was also two Light Machine Gun sections, each being leg be a Corporal or Sergeant and having 6 other ranks. A Rifle Company’s Supply Platoon would be commanded by a Master Sergeant or Sergeant Major and assisted by a clerk. It would contain a 6 man medical section, a 3 man ammunition section and a 13 man logistics section. A Rifle Company had 10 horses, 9 horse carts and 5 bicycles.
The Machine Gun Company contained a Command Section, three Machine Gun Platoons and a Supply Platoon.
The MG Company was under the command of a Captain or Lieutenant supported by a 19 strong team containing specialists in rangefinding, gas protection, runners and senior NCOs.
A Machine Gun platoon was commanded Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant who was assisted by two runners. A platoon was broken into two half platoons with two machine gun sections under the command of a senior sergeant. A machine gun section was led by a Corporal or Sergeant and 5 other men.
The Machine Gun Company’s Supply Platoon would be under the command of a Master Sergeant or Sergeant Major and assisted by a clerk. There would be a 3 man medical section, a 29 strong ammunition section and a 12 man logistics section. The Machine Gun Company had 25 horses, 20 horse carts and 2 bicycles.
The Mortar Company was under the command of a Captain or Lieutenant and his 5 man command section. The company contained two mortar platoons under the command of a Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant who had a runner assigned to him. There is a Fire Control Section containing a Mortar Fire Controller, an Observer and 3 runners. Each platoon has two mortar sections, each with a 10 man team.
The Mortar Company also contains a Supply Platoon under the command of a Master Sergeant or Sergeant Major and assisted by a clerk, Medic, Armourer and runner. There is two supply sections of 10 men each within the Supply Platoon.
The Regimental Column brought supplies from the Divisional Depot to a Regimental Depot. It was under the command of Chief of Regimental Column, who was part of the Regimental Staff. It was broken into three groups, Ammunition Column, Logistics Column 1 and Logistics Column 2. The Ammunition Column was split into 3 platoons that ferried the ammunition to the depots, and a supply platoon that took care of the Column. The Logistics Columns were organised in the same way. There were 135 horses and 125 horse carts in the Regimental Column.
The entire Regiment’s strength was 2, 955 men of all ranks. The regiment’s armament was 2,325 (the standard issued rifle was the 7,62 mm Infantry Rifle M/27), 72 Light Machine Guns (the standard issued LMG was the 7,62 mm Lahti-Saloranta M/26), 72 Submachine Guns (the standard issued SMG was the Suomi M/31), 36 Machine Guns (the standard issue MG was the 7,62 mm Maxim M/09-21 or M/32-33), 6 81mm Mortars.
It is worth noting that these are paper strengths and that during mobilsation, it wasn’t uncommon for some regiments to find themselves short of certain bits of equipment or men.
Deployment of an Infantry Regiment
An Infantry Regiment would be under the command of a Division. As one of three regiments, it would see itself either held back in reserves or rotated into the frontline. When a regiment was deployed to the front, two of its battalions would placed into the frontline and the third would be held in regimental reserve to help reinforce any area during an assault or to help cover a retreat. When deployed on the main defensive line, the battalion on the frontline would have several forward positions held by rifle sections. These had the task of preventing enemy probing and reconnaissance.. Behind them were ‘outposts’ held by one or two sections, either rifle or light machine gun, they would normally be positioned in key points, like hills, rocky outcrops etc. They would cover the forward positions and delay enemy advances. Behind them would come the main defence line, this would be held by platoons or companies. They would be the main resistance against advances. They would be supported by a reserve platoon that could plug holes that appeared in the line or cover a retreat. Behind them would be a second line which would hold a company reserve. They would cover retreats or contain any breakthroughs.
The Machine Gun Company wouldn’t operate as a single unit but would be broken down, seeing its platoons or half platoons being assigned to individual rifle companies. These would almost always be put into the main defence line as putting them forward of that risked losing the weapons if an enemy forces the position to withdraw suddenly. Mortar companies would be spread across the Regiment’s deployment, an Observer would be placed within a platoon or company and would direct fire from his mortar platoon either through field telephone or runner.
As not all fighting took place within the mainly static defensive positions of the Karelian Isthmus, the tactics were different in the forests north of Lake Ladoga. While the same system of Divisional deployment of regiments was adhered to when possible, the deployment of a regiment’s organic units were not the same. As Finnish officers had a lot more leeway when it came to executing maneuvers, it wasn’t uncommon to see platoons or sections, supported by a machine gun section or platoon hold up a Soviet regiment, while the rest of a company or even battalion was deployed to the flanks in a pincer movement.
YlelsellkuntamaJurl V. Koppinen, Jalkaväkirykmentin organisaatio sotakokemustemme valossa tarkastettuna
Tuunainen, Pasi. Finnish Military Effectiveness in the Winter War, 1939-1940 (2016, Palgrave Macmillan)