This story is written in a style of a novel, but it is true. When the book was first published, in 1957, the author used a pseudonym “Mänty”; I have chanced it to his real name, Lehväslaiho.
This is my own translation, so mistakes are mine, too!
Source: Reino Lehväslaiho: "Panssarisotaa" (Panzer war). 1957
Panzer war in Finland, summer 1944
... Behind enemy infantry the Russian panzers broke through in direction of the road. Men in positions in Konkkala-hill saw, how heavy panzers drove from the edge of a forest to the field. Tens of panzers were in line, which was pushing towards Portinhoikka with considerable speed.
The men of the heavy Panzerkompanie were sitting beneath the tents or on the hulls of their panzers eating porridge.
“I think we will get a longer rest. I suppose the infantry is managing by themselves in the Front-line.”
“Listen to that artillery fire! “
“Yes, I hear it.”
“Then don’t talk anything about resting. They have hard times there.”
“So it always is at war. This is no party. We are just trying to live a day at a time.”
Sound of a motorcycle could be heard. Eating halted. Spoons stayed between their mouths and the field-pots. A quick look at the neighbor and some wrinkling of forehead was all they did. The sound of the motorcycle came closer and louder.
“Eat up the food fast!”
They walked towards the orderly. He drove between the tents and waved his hand. That explained a lot. Men knew that it is time to move on.
“The company is to prepare for action to destroy the enemy panzers that have broken through.”
They run to their T34/76s; bread bags were thrown to the bottom of the panzer along with their overcoats. They sat on their positions and had a quick look around; everything was in order. Ammunition shined clean in their places and the Dektarjev-light MG-magazines were in line. There was quite an excitement in the air. Now they knew that there would be T34/85s against them. They kept long distances between panzers because of the dust that the Vehicles aroused. The Battalion Commander drove with his T50 with the Kompanie, and took the Command.
Driver Virtanen was first with his T34 /76. The tank arrived to the Saimaa-Canal. Sweaty men came towards, whom, with their last strengths, running backwards with horror in their eyes.
“Something has scared them.”
“It is not ‘Something’, it’s the enemy. Just be alert there in the turret!”
The first panzer crossed the pontoon bridge, and halted to wait for the others to follow. Men opened the hatches and looked around. Someone shouted behind the canal:
“Don’t stand there! The others will follow. Just keep on going!”
Hatches were closed and the driving continued. After less than a kilometer they saw a junk of a truck. “Stop the tank!”
They noticed that a grenade has not destroyed it, but that it was driven over by a panzer. The truck was totally flattened, and there were marks of tracks on the road.
“@#%! The enemy cannot have penetrated this far behind our lines, or?”
“Of course not, there are eight km to the lines. What the hell has been driven here? Someone must have driven with war-bounty panzer over the truck, which had been destroyed earlier.”
“Move on, who cares.”
After 300 meters they saw a curve on the road.
“Slow down. You’ll never know…”
There were still 100 meters to the curve, when a Long-barreled T34 appeared using its best speed.
“It is one of our own panzers!"
“No, its not!”
Although their panzer was still moving, the gunner fired. Simultaneously the driver drew the clutches back, and the panzer halted. It stopped so suddenly, that the platoon leader-loader, Lieutenant Teppo - a former Finnish SS-soldier, by the way - and the gunner, Staff sergeant Lehväslaiho, were about to fell off their seats. The Finnish grenade hit the tracks of the enemy; it swung, and turned sideward at speed. The big white number and a red star were clearly visible at the turret. The Staff sergeant fired rapidly three grenades in a row; every one was a hit. The breathing of the men in the turret halted for a moment. A shell was stuck in the barrel, while two more enemy panzers were appearing to the curve. There was no time to think, when hands were rushing. They tried the Shell-remover, but it slipped, and fell to the floor. Also the hammer and the screwdriver went down there. Hands of the gunner were bleeding, because of the bolts and the tools slipping off the shell. It did not move a bit. Lehväslaiho threw the last tool down with such a force, that it was obvious, that his nerves were about to crack. Fortunately, the destroyed Russian panzer was blocking the road, so the newcomers could not shoot them.
Lehväslaiho jumped out, and took the gun bore brush, and pushed it to the gun barrel. A clinging sound from inside was heard, when the shell fell to the floor. A strong pull and the rod flew to the road. Staff sergeant jumped back to his bench. He shot rapidly again, as to pull pressures away. Finally grenades started to come also from behind. Own panzers had finally arrived. The two enemy panzers withdrew behind the road curve to the covering woods. Staff sergeant leaned his head to the head-cover and breathed deeply. Sweat was dripping down his face. Lieutenant Teppo and Lehväslaiho shook hands; it was a long handshake.
“That was the one, who destroyed the truck.”
“That one, of course, it is obvious.”
“What if we would have driven to that curve before the enemy?”
“That would have been it!
“You’ve said it.
The Major drove beneath the first vehicle. The Commander’s hand swung as a sign of approval. Lehväslaiho also raised his hand to salute. He had not noticed that his tanker’s-helmet had been fallen. The major waved his hand: Forwards!
There was a deep silence in the spearheading panzer, because they knew, that in a situation like this, attacking panzer is always destroyed in a curve, when there are panzers against you. The Platoon commander piled ammo on his laps and the stuff sergeant squeezed his nose. They were ready to advance. Lehväslaiho had his eye on the bore-sight and had some deep breaths. That was the only medicine against the paralyzing fear.
“Drive to the woods, to the right!”
Virtanen drove off the road. He continued about 30 meters, when the panzer stopped and the driver shouted:
“A tank ahead!“
The gunner saw nothing but trees and bushes. He got nervous.
“Where in the hell?"
“There, right in front of us. Fire!”
Finally the gunner saw in left front a dark shadow behind the bushes. Rapidly, the crosshairs were stationed and a shot burst out. Another followed immediately. Something was flying around behind the bushes. After the smoke from the discharge faded, they saw, that they had shot a pile of logs to pieces. There was hysterical laughter inside der Panzer. It was something between cry and joy. Virtanen laughed twisted on his bench, laughed and coughed. Finally the radio-operator had to hit sergeant's back to calm him down.
“If we tell this to the guys, they will get a good joke out of it.”
“Let’s just keep our mouths shot; otherwise they laugh to us the whole year.”
Virtanen drove back to the road. There they got a signal to stop.
“What is it over there?”
“We were only sighting the gun, Major, sir!”
A couple of men run to the edge of the forest to observe. They came back telling, that there were six T34s rolling in the field, all their barrels pointing to the road curve. The Finns stayed still waiting for an own KV1 to arrive. Its crossing of the channel was slow. It had a specially strengthened armor. The KV1 was now to take the lead.
Own soldiers started to arrive with their hands up. They tried to surrender, because they were so exhausted, that they thought the Finnish T34s as enemies. They were calmed down and ordered to secure the tanks. The ‘Klim’ came, and the infantry got its instructions. The ‘Klim’ commander’s cheeks started to bloom, when he heard about the situation. He watched the destroyed enemy T34 /85 for a while, closed the hutch, and started to advance.
The KV1 rolled slowly along the left side of the road. The vehicle turned to the curve. Suddenly, there were two flashes in its frontal amour. Armor was strong enough to take the hits, but the trembles were hard enough. The periscopes and the optics were mixed up. All the Commander could see from his Periscope was the sky. The driver pulled back to the cover of the curve. The hutches threw open, and the men jumped out to the road. They looked around like trying to orientate, then they started to run along the road. Their ears and noses were bleeding. It was no proper time for a laugh, but their running could not be watched without smiling. The men tried to run as fast as they could, but their steps were not very firm. The Death had been knocking on them real hard!
The covering infantry saw and heard the hits to the ‘Klim’. Only bushes swayed, while they started running back.
For the first time during the war, there were no volunteers to drive through the curve. Der Major did not want to order anyone, either. Everyone was waiting on the road. Information from the forest edge came, that the Russians had withdrawn, obviously because their infantry had been fought off. Virtanen started to advance, and the others followed. Their brains almost froze, when they arrived to the curve, and the field lay ahead. One enemy panzer was badly tilted in a ditch, its gun pointing to the ground. Another one was on the road. Lehväslaiho fired a shot. It penetrated under the turret. There were wide scrolling marks in the field. The men wondered why the enemy did not shoot. Only later they found out, that the enemy had abandoned the panzers. (If left without infantry support, it was quite common, that the Russian tank-crews abandoned their panzers. In the July 1944 Finns got seven completely intact T34 /85 in their hands. For example the T34 /85 in the Finnish panzer Museum had been used only 61 hours, before The Finns overtook it.) The advance continued. The self-confidence of the spearheading crew was regained; we can manage through this anyhow. Virtanen drove with full speed. A large field was crossed. The cloud of dust showed, where the T 34 advanced. They were advancing another curve, and slowed down. There were bushes in the right side of the road.
“What is that guy in the rocks waving at?”
There was a grenadier behind a rock on his knees. He waved enthusiastically to the panzer.
“Stop the tank!" The man has something to say.”
“Wait a minute, I will go and ask.”
Lieutenant Teppo jumped down. Virtanen drove the panzer to the bushes.
The grenadier explained:
“Don’t drive to the curve. There is The Father of all the panzers lurking. It is big as a barn, and the gun is enormous. It has its track broken down. “
They took smoke grenades and Tommy-guns with them. Thereafter they followed the grenadier in a row, like as children, when they had gone to steel apples from neighbor’s garden. They walked about 100 meters in the rocky terrain. Then they saw ‘the Father of all the panzers’ on the road. At the brink of a ditch there was a heavy Assault-gun. Its track seemed to be broken, as the grenadier had already told. Its six inch-gun pointed straight to the curve of the road. They easily found out from which direction the JSU-152 could be approached. In the cover of rocks and bushes they sneaked almost to the road. They tied two smoke grenades together with a string of cable. The first throw was successful, and the boxes hang at the back of its gun barrel. Simultaneously Russians threw hand grenades from the Vehicle, and its MG fired. The smoke grenades burned out. The smoke did not seem to have any impact to the insiders. From the Vehicle you could see up to the Portinhoikka-crossing. On the road there were three enemy’s T34. The foremost was in fire. From the direction of the Ihantala-road, they heard heavy shooting. Virtanen and Lehväslaiho were in a ditch by the road. Behind the JSU-152 they saw Lieutenant Teppo with a couple of staff officers. Right behind the Vehicle were also two grenadiers on their knees. They were circulating the Vehicle and waited for the hatches to be opened. When you approached from a wrong direction, hand grenades were thrown and MPs fired. Virtanen went to check the broken track and returned to Lehväslaiho. The officers seemed to throw more smoke grenades under the Assault-gun. They could hear coughing from inside, and it appeared to become more frequent. One officer shouted:
“Be alert over there, they can come out any time now!”
Virtanen and Lehväslaiho withdrew from the ditch behind a big rock.
“Jesus, what a job; we must fight with a MP against a 50 toner.
“Well, we have stones to use, too.”
Virtanen took a fist-sized stone and threw it to the side of the Vehicle. A burst of MP fire was the response to that; splinters flew from the rock, which the two men were kneeing behind.
“Don’t irritate them, you fool!”
More smoke grenades were thrown under the Vehicle. They did not notice, when the hutches were opened, but in a blink of an eye the enemies jumped down to the road firing with their MPs all around.
That didn’t seem to be the intention of the enemy. They stood straight on the road and continue their fire. For a moment there was a heavy crossfire, MP bursts from both sides. The crew of the Assault-gun fell where they stood. The Finns went to the vehicle, but they did not feel a great enjoyment, although the got the vehicle. They were quiet, and carried the fallen Russians to the roadside. Virtanen went into the vehicle, and came back with a fabric bag. Lehväslaiho asked:
“What do you do with that magazine bag?”
“Magazines all right, but a little different than usual.”
The bag was full of tin cans. They rapidly hid it into the bushes. The officers were inspecting and admiring the Assault-gun. The two Sergeants started to walk forward. They passed the burning T34 /85 by the ditch. They heard firing from several directions. The other T34 seemed to be intact.
“I will try, if it starts.”
Virtanen climbed to the driver’s seat. The vehicle started with the first try. Virtanen was smiling on the bench. Lehväslaiho run fast to the driver’s hutch.
“Get out of there at once!”
Virtanen returned to the ditch and wondered:
“Why are you so nervous? We cold have driven it back. It is completely in working order.”
“Stop the nonsense. Now we go.”
They had crawled in the ditch about 20 meters, when they heard a huge explosion. They looked back. The intact T34 /85 was shot in flames.
“How did you know?”
“The war is a good teacher.”
A Russian T 34 /85 had been lurking in the edge of the forest, and shot….
Sergeants returned to the JSU-152. More soldiers had gathered around it. Everyone appeared as they themselves had destroyed the vehicle. Sergeants worked for two hours by themselves to fix the track. It was easier already then to breath, because they knew, that the own Sturmgeschützen were starting an attack. Grenadiers were marching in a double row towards Portinhoikka-crossing. Three StuG IIIs started advancing. Own infantry at the Konkkala-hill had retreated. The Finnish artillery gave a heavy concentration to the front. The grenadiers stormed across the field. The StuG IIIs were attacking along the road. The Finnish T34 /76 -men were leaning to their panzers and listened the shooting ahead satisfied with the work, they had done.
“Virtanen. Get that magazine bag from the bushes!”
There were several kinds of tinned food. They sat on the deck, ate with dirty fingers liver paste, and licked their lips.
“Look, what there is written: Chicago!
“Yes. It’s stuff from those fat-kings. They just did not realize that the Finns would be eating them.
Hours passed. They listened to the battle noises and had some rest.
They drove through the same road, which the Finnish StuG IIIs had advanced earlier. The Panzers shot few rounds to the Konkkala-hill. Some enemy prisoners appeared to the road. First panzer drove between quarried cliffs. The StuGs and grenadiers were seen far ahead in the open. They heard some shooting. The platoon-commander's tank was sent to help the spearhead. Virtanen started his machine and gassed down a long hillside. They saw russische Panzern destroyed by StuG IIIs along the road. Vehicle passed them. The men had no time to count them, but enemy had seemingly lost quite a few of them.
“Let us stop here!”
The T34 halted. Two of our own StuGs was in front of it, and another behind. They saw nothing special in front of them, but still they were much exited. Lieutenant Teppo would have liked to drive off the road, but they stayed, because the StuGs were there, also. From time to time an artillery observation lieutenant appeared out of the hutch of the Vehicle nr 2 to use his binoculars. It was a twilight time of summer turning to a night. They observed closely especially to the right front, because there was a dark edge of a forest. They saw nothing, although they watched so intensively, that their eyes begun to bleed. They, only keeping still, and staying over there, and waiting began to affect to their nerves.
“Why wouldn’t we go somewhere, at least? What is this lurking stuff actually?”
“Drive beneath the second StuG!”
T34 advanced few meters and then stopped. Suddenly they heard a big explosion from right and a ten-meter high phosphoric flash burst out from the frontal Armour of the StuG nr 2. They saw, how the upper hull amour had bended in. 152-mm grenade had hit the Vehicle.
“Drive by the first StuG!”
They advanced, and looked back. They saw two men jumping down to the road and laying still. From the first StuG, a Staff sergeant popped up. He waved his hand to the right front and dropped back down to his vehicle.
“He meant something, but I don’t see a thing.”
“There is a darker spot, 50 meters to the right from the road. Shoot there!”
The StuG was firing the same spot as the T34. At once flames rose up to the treetop level. The enemy Panzer was on fire. The commander of the StuG popped up from his hutch again and laughed. He had also been at war right from the beginning and his nerves seemed to be all right. The Staff sergeant went down, and again his StuG fired. So did the T34. The two vehicles shot rapid fire to the forest. The gunner saw the shadow a heavy Assault-gun. It was well visible in the flames of the burning enemy panzer. The enemy tank tried to reach the road. It halted near the ditch. Grenades had cut its track. They fired a couple of more shots, but the Vehicle did not start to burn. The StuG commander popped up again, clapped his hands and waved to the T34 men. He was laughing his mouth wide open. They still kept observing the forest, but seeing nothing, part of them went to the destroyed own StuG III. A medic was there to help the wounded. Both of them were unconscious.
“What happened to the others?”
“Have a look down the hutch!”
Men climbed on to the StuG. The insides of the vehicle were a mess. The artillery lieutenant lay dead at the floor.
The crews sat in their vehicle yet another half of an hour, and some shots were fired every now and then. They heard Panzers roaring further ahead. Waiting made them sweat. An order came from behind:
T34 turned around and started moving. There was a destroyed enemy Reckon-tank on the road. They attached hooks and towed the enemy-vehicle near the Portinhoikka-crossroads.
They were waiting again near the Kyöpeli-hill satisfied with the work they had done. The T34s and StuGs had destroyed nearly 30 enemy Panzers.
Behind the vehicles, they saw a man kontata a ditch. By the T34 he stood up to the road. He was an unknown Lieutenant, but a Panzerofficer he was. He took a notebook from his pocket, watched it and the number of the vehicle.
„Who is the gunner of this tank?”
“I am, Staff sergeant Lehväslaiho, Sir.”
“You have not distributed all the empty shells; there are some 200 of them missing.”
During the battles, they had had a meter thick pile of shells at the bottom of the panzer. They had thrown them out to the roadsides. Virtanen came by.
“What is he asking for?”
“Only empty shells. Lieutenant, we cannot return them now, but I know the place, where they are.”
“Good. Go and fetch them immediately!”
“Well, I think it is impossible right now. There is Private Iwan over there. Shells are along the Tali-road.”
When the lieutenant understood, what he was told, he started to yell. With his face red, he promised field court-martial, if the shells don’t show up. Both sergeants stood in some kind of an attention and looked smilingly at the shouting officer. Suddenly the hell broke loose. The shouting was cut short. Enemy artillery salvos were hitting the area. You could not hear single explosions, only continuous thunder. Again..., yet again… Enemy gave an enormous artillery concentration. The men lay under their panzers pressing their heads under their arms. It was difficult to breathe. Gravel and earth was pouring on to the panzer, smoke covered the road. The ground seemed to be swiveling. They couldn’t think anything, the blasts felt like going through their whole bodies. Salvos moved direction. The air was gray from the smoke. The Panzers were covered with gravel. The Leutnant had disappeared.
“Let the gravel stay. It is a good camouflage.”
“Some have duties. One searches for shells, other missing gloves.”
“It is tough war, the paper war also. Don’t you care!”
The T34s were in line behind a curve like watchdogs ready to go, if somebody interrupts. A truck came from behind. Rapidly they supplied diesel and ammunition. They even returned some 20 empty shells. The Weapons-NCO mumbled something about the missing shells, but was silenced, when he heard:
“Go, and fetch them. There they are near Lake Leitimo. All we want is that you bring us steel. We throw it to the necks of the Russkies. We are loosing much more than empty shells.”
The men jumped over a ditch and lay down on the ground to have some sleep. They woke up, when someone was pushing them. The orderly laughed.
”All you do is sleep. Ready for a counter-attack! The enemy is coming through.”
“Don’t you Antti open up your mouth too much! We have not slept decently for days.”
The orderly was the eldest NCO of the Company. He was always on his way somewhere. He kept on smiling all the time. During the years Corporal Toukola had been renamed as ‘the shuttle-Antti’.
Mouths felt dry after awakening. They drank water from their canteens and climbed to their panzers. A battle was going on in the front. They saw, how the enemy infantry rushed from Konkkala-hill towards Portinhoikka. They drove to the crossroads, and then a little while towards Viipuri, where they fired their gun-barrels hot. Enemy attack halted under the fire of the panzers. A part of the enemies could retreat to the cover of a forest from the open. They shot a few more grenades after them and then drove rapidly to the cover of a curve. They felt hungry again. The tin food was eaten a long time ago. Virtanen took a couple of field cans, and walked back to a place, where some porridge was supposed to be. He looked around, but saw no big kettle they used. In the field there were huge grenade and bomb holes. On the road there was a half-meter high pile of gravel. The sergeant kicked it. He was very amazed. Someone had poured a big kettle full of porridge to the road. Grenades had covered it with sand and ground. He pushed his hand through the hole he had kicked – the porridge was still warm from inside – and grabbed the field cans full of porridge.
“Was there any porridge?”
“As you can see, there it is down the road.”
Men left running. When they had disappeared, Virtanen broke to laughter and told Lehväslaiho how the things were.
The men came back empty handed. There was coursing for a while, but then laughter broke through.
“Here we have our supply guys. Damn them all!”
Well, they ate the porridge, being careful and picking the stones off. Sand got to their mouths anyway.
“The spices are strong.”
“Yes, strong enough. When we tell this some day no one believes.”
Later they found out that their Company did not ruin that porridge. Some others had poured it to the ground. The Sergeant Major Lehtinen came to the vehicles. He had been a tank driver during the attacking period, in the beginning of the war. During the years he had been promoted from corporal to Sergeant Major. He and his men had to keep the T34s in fighting condition. Almost all the time, one of the fitters was in a panzer with his tools. They had no spare time. After he had heard about the porridge, Lehtinen got a car from somewhere, and drove to the Company’s supply-post.
“Food to the boys, at once!”
He loaded bread, butter and marmalade to the back trunk of the car, and started driving back to the Company. Enemy artillery-grenades begun to explode along the road. Lehtinen gassed on. Speed exceeded 100 km per hour. Gravel was falling to the road. A six-inch grenade hit the road, and started to roll. It was a blank. On a narrow road there was no room to avoid it. Front tire hit the grenade. The car started to fly in the 100 km speed. After ten meters flight, it fell to the ground upside down. Crash! The sergeant major was beginning to recover out from the blast. His head was mixed up and something seemed to bleed in his neck. Lehtinen wondered how badly he was hurt. Slowly he touched his neck and cheeks with his hand. He looked at his hand; there was marmalade in his fist. He had a grim laugh and crawled to the road. Butter and marmalade were splattered all over the car; there they were amongst the splinters of glass. Lehtinen was cleaning marmalade from his clothes, when an own KV1 arrived.
“That car of yours is blocking our way. Could you move it?”
The hand of the Sergeant Major moved like a lightning.
“Drive over! The hell with it!”
Klim’ rolled over the car flattening it totally.
Lehtinen arrived to his panzers and explained, what had happened. Men were laughing:
“It seems that you have eaten those marmalades by yourself. You still have some of it on your chest.”
“T34s. Prepare for a counter-attack! We are going to support a Panzer Grenadier Battalion.”
The Vehicles swung on the road towards Tali. Grenadiers attacked on both sides of the road. The panzers fired fiercely to the woods. So the grenadiers managed to cross the field.
They kept on firing another half an hour, and then came cease fire order. They could hit own grenadiers by now. The Vehicles returned to stand-by positions to the roadside bushes. Enemy airplanes were attacking continuously and artillery fire torn the ground. Sand and smoke were rolling in the air. In a wide area the air was gray from the explosions; the earth quaked. The men were lying under the Vehicles and waited.
All the tank-companies were involved in heavy battles. Every day vehicles and men were out of action. From one counter-attack to another, those, who were left in service, pulled their strength to fulfill the orders a certainty in their minds that even the route of the veteran-fighters will come to an end in these battles. Tuff and merciless to themselves the tankers kept on fighting. There were no deserters in this Company. The loss of veterans of the Company came to everybody’s knowledge. Captain Mikkola was deadly wounded. Also First lieutenant Torp was wounded, etc… Young men replaced the casualties, and the war went on. One km forward, two backwards. More ammunition, petrol, and again the tanks attacked. The men were tired and filthy. Everything seemed to be egal.
“I wish that I would receive a total hit. What a fast way to go!”
They didn’t talk much anymore. When the order came, they sat on their seats, drove, and fired the gun-barrels hot. That was the duty of the tank men. For a moment they slept behind their Panzers, and soon a shout was heard: Counter-attack!
Even the orderly stopped smiling seeing, how exhausted the men were. They looked ahead. The Portinhoikka-crossroads was in a constant storm of fire. They knew that up there they would go again…
…The over nervousness made the blood circulate. They didn’t even feel the hunger, although they had not been eating for a days. Move on! They drove to a cover of a sand hole and joined the shooting. Grenades were not saved. With seriousness they looked at the Ihantala-road. Near to the road there were small forest areas. They disappeared. The blasts of explosions raised high and smoke covered the neighborhood. Amidst the smoke you could see trees flying to the field. There were 50 meters to the nearest forest area. It also got its share of the salvos. The trees were torn off with their roots to the field. When the artillery concentration came even closer, they began advancing rapidly. It was like driving in the midst of a cloud of smoke and dust. They looked back. The sand hole was pouring by the salvos. There were constant explosions in the open area. Halfway they stopped and fired, and then the advance continued. Virtanen drove as a spearhead again. He halted the Panzer close to the Konkkala-hill quarried cliffs. They fired in turns to the left and to the right of the hill. Enemy infantry was retreating. They looked around. Own men had abandoned a Pak on the road. Lehväslaiho shoot it to pieces. At the same time he shot an own truck and a gun-tower to flames. On the road side there was a bomb-crater, so huge, that you could have put six T34s in it. Enemy infantry reappeared from behind the heights, both sides of the road. The Finns kept on firing to the left and right. The blasts were flashing and there was a lot of smoke in the forest. Gunpowder gases gathered into the panzers making eyes weep and the men were coughing. They didn’t see their own grenadiers.
“The forest is full of Iwans.”
“So it seems, and soon they come out of there. Let us shoot the enemy with charges first, if we can. The range is so short.”
Lehväslaiho was scared. He had been scared throughout the whole war… During the years he had lived in it, slept in it and even thrown out it. Now this Staff sergeant had fought himself free from it. He felt, how the heavy burden slipped off from his shoulders. But there was still some part of the fear left. When he pulled the trigger with short intervals, a red fog was flowing around him, and light balls were winkling in his eyes.
They run out of grenades. The lieutenant jumped to the road and left to have a contact behind. The Staff sergeant was alone in the turret. Some enemies ran over the road between the Panzers toward Murokallio. More Russians were emerging down the heights. Lehväslaiho was tired. He put a magazine to his MP, and pushed the turret-hatch open.
“Come on, you bastards!”
He threw a two-kilo charge over the ditch. After a while the bushes exploded. After the blast the Staff sergeant stood up in the hutch. He fired the first magazine with short bursts, the second one he emptied up with one long burst. The radio-operator gave him reloaded weapons.
“If we get hit, leave the panzer! But don’t leave without an order!”
Lehväslaiho saw, how enemies fell from his fire. The MP got hot, but the staff sergeant kept on firing. The bursts made him shiver. Lehväslaiho felt, how the fog came back to his forehead. – There was no Homeland in his thoughts, no home, no place. There was only a soldier and a rattling MP. He still stood in the turret and shot. Suddenly, his head swung back. He dropped the MP, and fell down to the floor of the panzer.
That was a voice of the driver. He saw, that the face of the gunner was covered with blood. An exploding rifle bullet had left its marks. The Staff sergeant could not speak, but he was still conscious. He tore his first aid bandage roll open, and gave it to the radio-operator. The hands of the radio-operator were trembling and the bandage fell to the oily floor of the vehicle. Lehväslaiho took a new one from the Radiomen’s pocket and rolled it over his head. It didn’t help much, a single one-meter strip. Blood ran to his chest. The Staff sergeant took another MP from the floor and took the gun to the turret. Then he went back down and raised his hand. Virtanen didn’t realize. Lehväslaiho raised his driver’s hand and shook it hard for a moment. Slowly he climbed to the turret, like drunken, took the MP and looked out. There were dead enemies around and wounded were crying behind the bushes. The Staff sergeant rolled himself on to the motor, and dived from there to the ditch for cover.
The crew of the second panzer saw, how the sergeant came out. They started shooting to the heights. Soon enough they ran out of ammunition, also. The commander watched through his Periscope. He saw, how the Staff sergeant laid still in the ditch for a while. The MP had fallen to the ditch. After a while he rose to his knees. His left arm turned red from blood, and his head sank to his chest. Then he picked the MP up, put the belt over his shoulder and stood up. His legs didn’t hold, the man swayed to the brink of the ditch and rolled down. His face pressed to the clay of the ditch. A light MG fired from the heights, the burst threw gravel to his leather jacket.
After the gunner left der Panzer, The radio-operator started to react.
“Attention Lemon one, attention Lemon one, here is lemon Three. Over!”
The radio-operator had to try several times to get a contact, before he found someone to talk to. The Battalion Commander got information of the situation in the Front, and rushed there with his T50. Leutnant Teppo was the first one to reach the wounded Staff sergeant. He tried to put bandages to him, but there were not enough of them. The Major arrived.
“Well done, Staff sergeant!”
Major’s strong arm tapped the Staff sergeant’s shoulder. Also stretchers were found somewhere. The men rose the wounded to the front amour of the Command panzer, and they drove off. The Portinhoikka-crossroads was still under heavy enemy artillery fire. Ground and stones fell on to the T50, but the wounded man didn’t feel it anymore. He wasn’t conscious anymore.
T34s stood still for a while, and then came order to withdraw. They drove again behind a road curve and waited.
“The Ihantala-road has been cut. It must be opened!”
Virtanen drove as a spearhead. A platoon of T26s followed. There was an open area in front. To the left there was a small hill. When the T26s came ahead behind it, they got hits from Russian Anti-tank rifles. The crew of the T34 shot supporting fire as rapid as it could.
“Shoot to the end of a log pile!”
Anti-tank rifles were located at the edge of the forest, two of them behind a big log-pile. Logs flew all around, and the enemy fire halted from that point. But from the forest the shooting continued. All the T26s were destroyed one after another. The men died in their vehicles, the wounded jumped to the field. Many of them fell there due to the enemy fire. Again the T34 silenced one of the anti-tank rifles. Virtanen tried to drive closer. But then the tank was halted suddenly. The panzer had stuck on a rock by its bottom. They received several hits, but none could penetrate. One bullet from Anti-tank rifles went trough the gun barrel. Yet they kept on firing. The driver tried to gas his vehicle free, but did not succeed. He got nervous.
“Out of the Panzer everyone. This is it!”
The Leutnant came down behind the driver.
“Have you tried to reverse? Slowly…”
The motor roared for a while, but the tank didn’t move a bit. The driver tried again. The Panzer turned a little and got free. The T34 fired again. The enemy fire from the forest halted.
There was yet another waiting period.
“T 34 goes to support infantry!”
They started to drive towards Viipuri. The Company had only three Panzers available. An attack started along the road but halted, when an enemy Panzer fired. The men could not see the enemy. The enemy had camouflaged their Panzers well. The Finns had to retreat.
The artillery concentrations by the enemy became harder. Airplanes were attacking all the time. They had a nap and waited. The enemy occupied Konkkala-hill permanently. Heavy enemy-infantry-attacks against Portinhoikka started.
They were ordered to drive the T34s backwards.
It was difficult to understand, why? You can die here, too. They started driving. The third Panzer must be towed. Three T34s drove on, that was the whole tank company. They arrived to their base, and slept by the Panzer. They slept 24 hours. The men woke up, and the war continued…
They heard that the Front-line was to the North of Portinhoikka. The rumble of the artillery fire was heard from the area. The Men ate, and slept again. They woke up, and listened to the continuous artillery fire. The men were told that the T34s stay still for a while and have some rest. They waited for new War-booty Panzers. It was a relaxing message. They even smiled a little; we are still alive…
Happy new year everyone!
Johnny B. Goode