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KEV OS.4 Winter War Unit HISTORY 1939-1940
The Story of the 2nd Corps 4th Division 4th Light Unit (Kev Os.4) Army Of The Isthmus
during the Winter War 10/16/39 - 3/13/40
TALVISOTA "The Winter War"
Formed: Helsinki 10/10/39 Under 4th Division Military District Of Uusimaa
Article and pictures provided by Juha Sulander for use by the KevOs4 group.
|On 10/16/39 Light Unit Number 4 (
KEV OS.4) was sent into the Western Karelian Isthmus with the rest of the
Division under command of the 2nd Corps of the Army Of The Isthmus. This area
was known as the Viipuri Gateway. This was the key area in the protection of
Viipuri, the second largest city in Finland. The Finns knew that the city of
Viipuri would be one of the main goals of the feared Red Army invasion, as its
loss would be substantial blow to the entire nation. KEV OS.4, and the rest of
the 4th Division, settled into their new homes knowing that war might come at
any time. They further knew that if the Red Army were to come, they would have
to come through the 4th Division and KEV OS.4. On 11/30/39 the Red
Army invaded the Isthmus 200,000 strong and the Winter War had begun.
Belaya Smjert (Russian for White Death)
|The first attacks took the Finns by
surprise and they were forced to give up ground; however, the Finns
regrouped and quickly stopped the Soviets in their tracks. KEV OS 4
was located on the vulnerable western flank during these early attacks in
the area of Halilänjarvi. The fighting in this area was fierce but KEV OS.4 held its ground
and contained the Russian attack.
Finnish Ski Trooper during the Winter War
KEV OS.4 was a fleet unit that consisted of light infantry, cavalry, and ski troopers (bicycle units in the Summer). They were used as a tank killing unit as well as taking on scout/recon duties. The speed of KEV OS.4 was their main advantage, as they could rapidly engage targets and then slip away into the rough landscape. These quick strikes earned this type of unit the name Belaya Smjert , Russian for White Death. KEV OS.4 used these tactics against the massive attack of Russian armor, as the Red Army lost 108 tanks in this region in only two weeks of fighting. KEV OS.4 became known as the Unit Of Death in this time frame, due to the huge numbers of kills they were able to make. To signify this title many in the 4th Division painted skulls on their helmets, with KEV OS.4 taking the lead in this practice. The Russians learned to fear the Finns with the skulls on their helmets, as there were many rumors that made their way through the Russian ranks about these Finns with skulls. One such rumor was that KEV OS.4 took no prisoners and killed all Russians that they came across. This rumor was untrue, but it was quite effective in spreading apprehension through the enemies’ ranks. The brave deeds of the 2nd Corps, KEV OS.4 included, forced a stalemate in this region. The far-outnumbered Finns stopped all Russian advances. The moral was quite high on the Finnish side, while the Reds were cold, hungry, or dead.
The stalemate in the Gateway went on for six weeks, as all the Russian attempts to advance were thrown back by the Finns. In this time frame KEV OS.4 was very active in the region, as they again used their speed and mobility to inflict staggering losses on the Russians. KEV OS.4's speedy action is quite remarkable as they had released their horses from service due to the cold Finnish Winter ( -42 C ). The Russian tankers in the area became quite worried about their safety, as KEV OS.4 and other units attacked and killed tank crews in the dead of night in hostile weather conditions. Their tanks became known on both sides as , “boxes of death.” The fear of these tank crews became so great that they circled the tanks at night and randomly fired their heavy guns. It was their hope this would keep KEV OS.4 from killing them, but this plan of action did not work. KEV OS.4 loved the night and made good use of it. The Russians feared the night, as they knew it could be their last. KEV OS.4 was also called on to perform recon duties for the 4th Division in this sector, as their stealth and speed of movement was unmatched. During these operations KEV OS.4 harassed the Russian troops when the opportunity presented itself. These operations, many times at night, further demoralized the Russian troops.
LUN4 ( Kev OS 4 ) Guarding the entrance to the Viipuri Gateway
This is where the Russians made the main armor push in the Winter War ( 1940 ). This was the key position in the lines. The areas of water in the area were frozen over, so the Reds could attack with armor over this frozen mess.
|During this six-week stalemate, the Red Army was reorganized and placed under new command. It was also during this time frame that many fresh troops were massed for the next great Russian push. The Finns were still under constant artillery and air attack, but they dug in awaiting the Red Army’s return. This massive attack came when 600,000 fresh Russian troops poured into the Finnish lines. The entire 2nd Corps was pushed back in this renewed round of fighting. KEV OS.4 was called into action to stop this massive attack, but the odds were stacked against them. The overwhelming number of Russian troops, tanks, and planes were too much and all of the 4th Division was forced to fall back. KEV OS.4 was ordered to cover this retreat and the acts of bravery performed in this duty rank with any in military history. KEV OS.4 used hit and run tactics, as well as ambush and sabotage, to harass the Russian advance. This delayed the Russian armor and 4th Division was able to retreat in some order. These deeds could well have saved the 4th Division from complete and total destruction.||
KEV OS.4 in the upper section of the Gateway. This is in the later section of the Winter War. They held these positions till War's end.
On 2/17/39 KEV OS.4 moved into the Sector of Viipuri, with the mission of slowing the Russian advance. KEV OS.4 fought in the areas around the towns of Makslahti, Revonsaari, Vatnuori and in the frozen hell on the Island of Tuppura. The Russians used the frozen waters of the Gulf Of Finland to advance on Viipuri, so KEV OS.4 was forced to fight on this harsh landscape. KEV OS.4 served with distinction in all these battles as they inflicted heavy losses on the advancing Russians, making them pay for every yard of Finnish land they took. KEV OS.4 also sustained heavy losses of their own, as they were severely outnumbered. These battles did slow the Russian advance, which allowed the 2nd Corps to regroup and reinforce the Viipuri area. These gallant deeds gave the Finns time to solidify their positions, so that they could sue for peace while still having an army to fight with. When the Winter War ended on 3/13/40, KEV OS.4 was still on watch in the Viipuri sector holding their positions. This is a true testament to their grit and determination.
The history of KEV OS.4 in the Winter War is one that reflects honor, skill, and bravery. KEV OS.4 was in nearly constant fighting against Russian armor from 1/15/40 till the end of the War. The rapid movement of KEV OS.4 made it one of the most active units in the entire War, as they were constantly moving on to a new battle with the Red Army. KEV OS.4 was the quick strike weapon of the 4th Division, they served as recon/scout units, guerilla fighters, and tank killers with little to no support. They also did much of this work in darkness. KEV OS.4 was one of the most feared and effective fighting units that the SA fielded in battle during the Winter War. The fear that the Russians felt when they saw the Finnish soldiers with the skulls painted on their helmets was the ultimate show of respect.
Text © Juha Sulander
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Revised: June 23, 2012 .