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(Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon der Waffen-SS)

Why did Finns join the German Army?

In 1939 the vast might of Soviet Russia demanded that Finland hand over large areas of territory. The Finns refused. Stalin massed a huge army supported by tanks, artillery and bombers to invade Finland. A victory parade was planned to take place in "10 to 12 days" in Helsinki. The Finnish army was mostly light infantry, reservists and border guards with a few obsolete artillery pieces. In November 1939 Russia attacked, including the bombing of Helsinki. The Finns held the Russians on the Mannerheim Line and in the north would isolate and cut off Russian Divisions in the winter forests, after the freezing weather and hunger had done their bit they would destroy them. The Russians died at a rate of 10,000 a day. February 1940 Stalin ordered 600,000 men to attack the Finnish lines. Heavy bombing and shelling took place (in one typical sector the Russians had 440 canon, the Finns had 16) and on Feb. 6th the main assault took place. Russian Divisions were cut down but fresh ones just advanced over the dead. Eventually the Russians deployed more men than the entire male adult population of Finland. Finnish units lost a third to a half of their strength, but in a nation of 4 million they could not replace them. Finally a Russian breakthrough was made. Ammunition was all but exhausted. Desperate for men and supplies the Finns looked to the world for aid. Although there was huge sympathy, besides a few foreign volunteers and some weapons and ammunition, none came. March 1940 a Finnish delegation went to Moscow to discuss terms. 13th March 1940 an armistice was signed. Russia took Viipuri (Finland's second largest city), Petsamo on the Arctic Ocean, the Hanko area, Lake Ladoga and the Karelian Isthmus; 22,000 square miles of Finland. Around 440,000 Finns living in Karelia, left their homeland rather than live under the Russians. A Russian general stated, "We have won enough ground to bury our dead." Later Khrushchev stated that Russia lost one million men, 1000 aircraft and 2300 tanks and armoured cars in the war. Finland was in a state of shock and mourning. They had not been defeated but had lost so much to brute force and aggression.

Impressed by the performance of the Finns during the Winter War, in March 1941 Germany proposed to raise a Finnish volunteer unit in the German Army and after some guarantees to the Finnish Government the proposal was accepted. But conditions were set by the Finns. The two most important being that the unit could only be deployed on the Russian Front and the unit could be recalled by the Finnish Government at any time. The Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was responsible for recruitment and the first transports left for Germany in the spring of 1941. These first 400 men were posted to units in the SS-Division Viking and took part in the invasion of Russia. The remaining 800 men arrived in Germany in June 1941 and formed the Finnish Volunteer Battalion. After training the Battalion left for the Ukraine in December 1941 where it joined the Viking Division as IVth Nordland Regiment. The Battalion fought in the Ukraine and the Caucasus, suffering a high casualty rate but gaining a high reputation. In June 1943 the Battalion returned to Finland on leave. For political reasons Field-Marshall Mannerheim wanted the Battalion disbanded and in July 1943 Germany reluctantly agreed. 256 Volunteers had been killed in Russia and another 113 of them would fall fighting on the Finnish front. After the war the situation for many of these men was difficult. But can anyone really blame them for wanting to continue the war against the Russians?

(sources: "A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940" by William R. Trotter. "Dritte Nordland" by Olli Wikberg)

Flag of the Finnish Volunteer Battalion
Top left: SS runes. Top right: Cross of the Finnish Order of Liberty.
Bottom left: German Iron Cross. Bottom right: badge of the 27 Jägers.*

Arm shields of the Finnish Volunteer Battalion

Oiva Vaito Walentin Heikanen

Heikanen, Oiva Vaito Walentin
Born 25.08.1921 in Paattinen.
Died 06.11.1991 in Espoo.
Transport manager, entrepeneur.
Wife: Maire married 1950.
Children: Kristiina born 1950.
Jaana born 1962.
Enlisted in Turku.
Returned from SS-Battalion: to Hanko.
Continuation War: Rukajärvi.
Honours: Medal of Liberty 2nd class.
Iron Cross 2nd class.

Pages from Oiva Heikanen's service book:
Note service in 'Finn Frei. Btn der Waffen SS. SS Batalion.

Oiva Vaito Valentin Heikanen was born in Paattinen on 25th August 1921, the son of Valentin Heikanen. He was an office worker when he enlisted in the army at Turku. After service in the Winter War he volunteered for the Finnish Volunteer Battalion Waffen-SS. He received the East Front Medal 1941-42 and the Iron Cross 2nd class (both recorded in his service book). On his return to the Finnish Army he served with the 9th Company 52nd Jäeger Regiment and was wounded at Ontajoki 26th June 1944. After the war he served as a Reservist of the Finnish Army.

Oiva Heikanen's medals:
Medal of Liberty (2nd class) : Winter War Medal : Continuation War Medal : Blue Cross (reservists) :
14th Division Cross (with Rukäjarvi clasp) : Finnish SS-Volunteers Cross : East Front Medal : Iron Cross (2nd class)

Below is an example of the diploma for the SS-Volunteers Cross
(this one is named to Kaarlo Rautio)

Weljesapu ry. gives you Kaarlo Rautio a memorial cross and this diploma as a commemoration
of Finnish Volunteers who served in the German Military Forces during the 2nd world war years 1941-1943

A photograph of Finnish Volunteers marching (note the arm-shield)

Probably the most famous of the Volunteers was Lauri Törni. Born at Viipuri in 1919 he served as a Captain in the Finnish Army during the Winter War. He commanded a small unit that mounted attacks on Russian columns and was so successful that the Russians put a price on his head. After the war ended he volunteered for the Finnish Waffen-SS Battalion and on its return to Finland rejoined the Finnish Army for the Continuation War, winning the Mannerheim Cross (equivalent to the Victoria Cross). After the war he went to America. Under then name Larry Thorne he enlisted in the American Army and was selected for Special Forces training. In 1964 he went to Vietnam as part of 7th Special Forces A-734 and was based at Tinh Bien. During his second tour of Vietnam, attached to Special Detachment 5891, the helicopter on which Thorne was a passenger crashed near Da Nang on 18th October 1965. The remains of the Vietnamese crew were found, but there was no sign of Larry Thorne. In 1999 excavations of the crash site uncovered his remains, confirmed by DNA testing, and in June 2003 his remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with representatives of the Finnish Defence Forces attending. Today he is seen as a hero in Finland and the veterans of the Finnish Volunteers continue to wear their medals (which have not had to be 'de-Nazified').


* From 1809 Finland was a Grand-Duchy of the Russian Empire. As part of preparations for independence, many Finns went to Germany to join the army, under a special agreement with the Imperial German Government. The idea being that they would form the officer-corps of a future Finnish Army. These men formed the 27th Jäger Battalion and fought on the Baltic Front during World War One. In 1917 the Finns saw their chance and declared independence. Early in 1918 the "Red" Finns and Russian Bolsheviks siezed Helsinki and other areas in the south. The "White" Army was joined by the Finnish Jägers and the German Baltic Division who landed in April 1918. This German assistance in the Liberation War fostered a close relationship between the two countries.

above: badge of the 27th Jägers.

left: Major Unio Sarlin, in the uniform of the
Helsinki Civil Guard, wearing his Jägers badge