White Sea Karelian expeditions

At February 23, 1918, in the midst of War of Independence, the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of the Republic of Finland General Mannerheim, on his arrival at the Karelian front, accused the government of Soviet Russia of bargaining with the rebels in Finland and promising them White Sea Karelia, which his Red army is plundering and destroying:

“We know the value of his promises, and we are strong enough to preserve our freedom and defend our brothers in White Sea Karelia. We do not need the charitable concession of a land which by virtue of its blood-ties belongs to us, and I swear in the name of the Finnish peasant army, whose commander-in-chief I have the honour to be, that I will not sheath my sword before law and order reigns in the land, before all fortresses are in our hands, before the last soldier of Lenin is driven not only from Finland, but from White Sea Karelia as well.”

These Mannerheim’s Oath of the Sword inspired those activists whose minds, hopes and aspirations were connected with the fate of East Karelia. In particular, North Savo activists, after a quick liberation from Reds, were considering helping their brothers in the neighboring White Sea Karelia.

The central person of the activists was the head of the North Savo Civil Guard, Rittmeister Carl Wilhelm Malm. Right at the beginning of March, he took the initiative to the Senate and General Mannerheim to organize an armed expedition to East Karelia. Both the government and the commander in chief reacted positively to the plan to occupy the Murman railway and the White Sea Coast by the volunteer forces of about 400 men. Malm, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, had to resign from the army for this operation.

The forces of Lieutenant Colonel Malm consisted of three companies, headed respectively by Master Builder Ahto Sippola, Jäger Lieutenant Toivo Kuisma and Director Karl Oscar Albin Larsson. There were few military professionals only, in addition to the commander, there was Lieutenant Kuisma and and Malmi's assistant Captain Fleckenstein.

All members of the expedition have a white armband with the inscription “On behalf of Karelia” on their right shoulder. As pointed out in Malm’s order of March 16:

“The people of Karelia are given moral support in their efforts to free themselves from the bondage of Russian rule and to join Finland on the basis of consanguinity. It should be remembered that the activity of such civilizational and, at the same time, historically significant expedition will be perfectly successful only if we adhere uncompromisingly to the requirements of humanity and humanism, and from the outset take a respectful and trusting stance towards the local population. The religion and practices of the local population, as well as the smallest national specialties and customs, which are not violated in any way, must be highly respected. Even minor deviations from this principle will be severely punished.”

The 1st Company, led by Lieutenant Colonel Malm himself, traveled by horse carts through Suomussalmi and crossed the border in the Raate Village on March 21 by parade march with a waving flag. On the border Malm announced an order in which he officially named his troops “Forces of the White Sea Karelia”. The main part of the order consisted of provisions on how to behave in East Karelia:

“After crossing the border everyone must take into account the following: upon arrival on the village horses must not watering until permission has been sought from the house. Only after that it will be possible to start watering, but in no case from dishes that belong to a well or a hole in the ice. No one is allowed to enter the house until permission has been obtained from the owners. When you entering the room, it is necessary to take hat off, you must not spit on the floor, you must not drink from the bucket, but you must ask the owners for dishes. Religious customs must be respected and behaved in such a way that in no way offends the feelings of the population. Smoking is strictly prohibited in all living rooms, should smoke outside. It is imperative that personnel, in all their conduct, show that they belong to a civilized people.”

Without resistance, Malm reached Voknavolok Village on March 22 and Uhtua Village on March 23, where he stayed for a week. The 2nd and 3rd companies followed more southern routes through Kuhmoniemi and Kimasozero Villages.

Malm continued directly to Jushkozero Village with a small vanguard and arrived there on April 2. From Jushkozero he sent to both Fleckenstein and Kuisma orders to hurry forward with his troops as soon as possible and join the 1st company because “a quick conquest of Kem is necessary”. One white Karelian delivered from Kem the new information that Whites in the city were waiting for the Finns as liberators from the Reds. In particular, the merchants of the city were angry with the Bolsheviks because of their economic demands and the expropriations of goods. On the other hand, there were not many Reds in the city yet, but were feared that arrive more.

In addition, he certainly felt that he was continuing the feats of his ancestor and namesake – Lieutenant Colonel Carl Wilhelm Malm, who became famous during the Finnish War of 1808-1809 in Savo and North Karelia.

The 2nd company, led by Kuisma, arrived on Jushkozero Village on April 4, when the 1st company had already continued its way to Panozero Village. The companies joined in Panozero on April 5. The 3rd company led by Larsson, tired and hungry, coming the southernmost and longest route through Reboly and Chelma Villages, reached Jushkozero Village by April 8 only.

Meanwhile, the Reds in Kem were expecting an attack. A detachment, led by Hämäläinen, of 150 Finnish Red Guards arrived in Kem from Petrozavodsk on April 3. The next day, another 50 Finns came from Petrograd. They were commanded by Kalle Vesanto, a member of the Workers' General Council of Finland, sent as representative from Helsinki to the Murman Railway. 200 Russian Red Guards arrived from Soroka, and from Kandalaksha arrived an armed train of Red Finns, led by Kosti Tamminen. Also nearly 500 Russians arrived by train from Petrograd and by ship from Arkhangelsk. The Reds' armament included artillery under the command of Juho Joronen.

The commander of one of the platoons of the 1st company Urho Kainuvaara, who was sent by Malm to Kem for reconnaissance, was revealed and arrested there. Kalle Vesanto shot him himself on April 6.

On April 8, vanguard, led by Lieutenant Colonel Malm's son Kalle Malm and commander of the 1st company Ahto Sippola, for the first time had encountered the enemy in Poduzhemye Village. It was a small patrol, consisting of Red Finns, with whom vanguard had a firefight. Two Reds were killed in the battle, one escaped in the direction of Kem, and two were captured. Sippola, finding them to be Finnish Red Guards, did not waste time interrogating. He commanded the prisoners to the cliffs of the Poduzhemsky Rapids, where they were coldly executed, although they certainly could have provided valuable information about the enemy forces and positions in Kem.

Poduzhemye was the easternmost village in the White Sea Karelia with the authentic Karelian population. From there on the night of April 9, Malm sent Sippola with a small detachment to destroy the railway bridge south of Kem and Kalle Malm on the same purpose north of Kem. Neither succeeded in their mission. For unknown reason, neither group was supplied with explosives that have been in abundance in the train. Sippola took over and destroyed the barracks of railway workers along the railway, but did not even try to cut off the railway. Kalle Malm at least did burn the railway bridge, but the fire went out and his detachment had to retreat under the fire of the enemy that had rushed to the scene.

The attack on Kem also did not remain in Finnish military history as a model of strategic or tactical planning.

Lieutenant Colonel Malm attacked Kem in the early morning of April 10 with force of about 175 men. He grouped them to attack Kem in three wedges from the south, west and north. The front of the attackers was advancing towards the city until its defenders, fortified on the western approaches at favorable positions on the rocky ridge, opened fire with rifles and machine guns. The attack stopped and went into continuous firefight between the sides. The position of the 1st company, led by Sippola, placed in the center, was difficult because it had to attack through open swamp. In addition, this company was very weak because one of its platoons was in reserve, other was sent to bypass enemy from the back and a separate detachment was sent as reconnaissance party to Soroka. Was given an order was given to retreat to a positions still covered by darkness at the edge of the forest, but this retreat turned into an unbridled escape that would also dragged a reserve platoon. The commander of the 1st company, Sippola, did not set the best example for his personnel in this retreat and fled ahead of his men. Fortunately, the losses remained small: two men fell and two were wounded.

The withdrawal took place in a reasonable order, although in a great hurry – first to Poduzhemye Village and from there to Pebozero Village, which was reached on the morning of April 11. There was finally met the 3rd company, led by Larsson. From Pebozero Larsson sent a reconnaissance party to Poduzhemye. Was found that an enemy unit of about 30-50 men already had come to Poduzhemye Village. Upon the return of the reconnaissance party, the 3rd company went after the others to Panozero, where the main forces had already arrived on the evening of April 11. Rested in Panozero Village until 15 April. By the wet roads were continued to Uhtua Village, where arrived without any losses on April 17.

Malm sent to Mannerheim a detailed report and received a response at the late April. General Mannerheim ordered Lieutenant Colonel Malm to stay in the White Sea Karelia and focus on defense. Attack could not be launched under any circumstances, because a new failure would further weaken the trust of Karelians to Finns.

On July 13 Lieutenant Colonel Malm resigned for health reasons and was replaced by Judge Harry Brotherus. However, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Finland Major General Karl Fredrik Wilkman appointed the Jäger Captain Toivo Kuisma as the commander of the reorganizing White Sea Karelia expedition on July 24.

Captain Kuisma began mobilizing volunteers for the next White Sea Karelian expedition…

Main sources:
  • Jussi Niinistö, Heimosotien historia 1918-1922
  • Jouko Vahtola, "Suomi suureksi – Viena vapaaksi"