The Battle of Kollaa remembered

The custom of writing diaries and letters was still quite popular during the war times. People were very openly expressing their feelings to those closest to them in writing. Allowing us to access feelings and thoughts touched by the Winter war on the Kollaa front.

Simo Häyhä's diary and letters are an exception. The norm with Finnish front-line soldiers was that you could not get an answer to what they felt or experienced in war. Not even with an axe, as the saying goes in Finnish. The horrors endured or seen in the war were rarely spoken of unless among those who had experienced war themselves.

Kollaa as one of the most famous and hardest-fought Finnish battlefronts made its defenders world-renowned. Already during the war the stories of Simo Häyhä and his captain, the Dread of Morocco, became known among the Finnish soldiers on the various fronts of the Winter War. The characters of Kollaa have continued to live on through memories.

Kollaa Kestää, the bestseller of a Kollaa serving officer written by Erkki Palolampi and published already in August 1940 provides some instant accounting of the reality of warfare in Kollaa. Besides the other various warfare stories and letters of the soldiers on Kollaa again reflect the humanity at display in war.

Finnish Army's SA-war time photo archive has also been utilized to provide footage of Kollaa.

The Dread at Suvilahti

"In the afternoon, a few grenade rounds also fell upon Suvilahti. The village could have been left by then and should have been left, as the Factory of Anna was already on fire and the road was becoming accessible to the enemy. The backside was threatened.

It was the turn of the Juutilainen company to remain to hold the enemy on the east side of Suvilahti. He then received two orders to leave, the officer's messenger drove through Suvilahti, which was then being set on fire, but Juutilainen paid no attention, thinking he would get away, as long as he pulled the hair of the enemy a bit more first.

'– One of those boys has not yet gotten really used to this war thing. The boy said it hurt him to hear the enemy's wounded crying. Grandpa is teaching this sinner with his own hand how to smell the gunpowder. Just tell the Colonel that we'll come when we come, and there's nothing to worry about.'

He stayed, and the boys waited calmly for the enemy to come, even as the fire behind them began to rage with tremendous force. The officer's messenger came for the third time, and on that occasion he had a written order with him. Suvilahti was to be left, for the direction of Välikylä was open, similar to the Artahuhta deep forest to the south, and the village was already burning.

Juutilainen saw the messenger coming and made a point of moving ahead of the messenger to "escape" toward the southern edge of the cemetery. He went ahead, nest by nest, and the messenger ran after him, shouting and wondering. Juutilainen looked in the direction of the highway, and then came what he had been expecting. Movement began to be seen from among the trees, and soon a line of the enemy appeared in sight.

Juutilainen stopped at the machine gun and talked with the messenger. "Aah, you have even written greetings. But as you can see, there is no time to start reading letters now, that will have to wait a little longer. Tell the commander that we are coming, and the Bolsheviks won't deceive us, we won't be left in a pocket."

The tall lieutenant jumped behind the machine gun and began to sweep the attacking line from the highway to the ground. Only when this attack was also repulsed and the enemy retreated out of sight did he give the order to assemble the company and march to the village central school, which was ablaze with flames."

Transcript from Erkki Palolampi's book Kollaa Kestää.

The company would then retreat to river Kollaa. Where they right away would be ordered to assemble counter-attacks in order to get weapons from the enemy as there was a shortage of guns to begin with.

The River Kollaa

The small river of Kollaa at its most meager.

The Finnish defensive line was meant to be at first at the more favorable and more fortified river Piitsoin but the sight of a strong Soviet armor department led to a sudden retreat to Kollaa.

The March 1940 Soviet offensive would throw four Red Army divisions against the already exhausted Finnish division of colonel Svensson on Kollaa.

Finnish forces on Kollaa had no tanks unlike the Soviet offensive which was supported by a huge number of artillery and bombers.


"The men armed their hand grenades, dived into the pits in front of them and threw the grenades. Full power was no longer needed for throwing. The hand grenades exploded, and in the flashes the men saw the pits and the trench were full of Russians. A severed arm flew flailing in front of the lieutenant.

The enemy fired a flare, but the lieutenant had given his signal, the men stood up, diving forward in the light. The machine gun crackled with a high-pitched noise and its spray hit the group in the nearest hole. The greenish light from the flare showed a red arc spraying from an open artery..."

Kollaa Kestää, written by Erkki Palolampi, described the many close combat attacks made on enemy positions on Kollaa. Häyhä took part in them as a leadman with a submachine gun.


"The leader of the machine gun team, a reserve lieutenant who has been in combat for two weeks, goes berserk. He runs into the company's command barracks, stares with fierce, bloodshot eyes at the fallen and wounded, and starts talking frantically:

- "My wife is coming here with the company's machine guns [...]

Then he bursts out and runs bare-headed, staggering down the shell-torn hill, laughing and shouting: "My wife will come and bring machine guns!"


Before Christmas the number of fallen in the company of the Dread of Morocco was already over 90 men. On the other hand the attacks led by him resulted in a great deal of war bounty and were an inspiration on all fronts, not only in Kollaa.

When describing Juutilainen's harsh style of leadership the men serving under him had the feeling that the Dread had his pistol more in his hand than in the holster.

For example when they got their baptism by fire at the bend of Hyrsylä, Dread saw a young man running towards the command post. Juutilainen took out his pistol in order to shoot the man he took for a deserter when alikersantti Hugo Varis hit Dread with the end of a rifle. The running man was a messenger.

After one fierce day of fighting Dread appeared in the tent with a pistol in his hand saying "You will go attack again if I say so. I will shoot everyone who won't go."

Infantryman Väinö Tiippana who was maintaining his weapon rose up, loaded and lifted his weapon and aimed at Dread standing at the tent opening and said, "You do not shoot me, you will yourself die first".

"We need soldiers like this", Dread said and exited the tent.

War Reverand Heiskanen

As a 25-year-old war reverand of Kollaa Jorma Heiskanen knew if a reverand is afraid and does not go to the frontlines, the soldiers won't respect him.

In his diary he remembers the 22nd of December. "A light snowsquall. It was a good day to drop in for a coffee at Juutilainen's tent at the front. A moment before I arrived, a splinter had made a meter-long tear in the canvas. Despite this, Dread was in a great mood, lying in bed reading a suspense novel. Every now and then a bullet whizzed through the top of the tent. There was something to marvel at in his cold-bloodedness..."

During the Continuation war in 1942 reverand Heiskanen was walking at the front of his company on the road to Enso when sudden Russian fire made everyone jump in the ditches and begin crawling back towards safety. Heiskanen had instead jumped into the forest. He was expected to return to others his own way. 

Despite multiple searches the body of Heiskanen was never found.

In 1942 a Russian saboteur was airdropped into Finland. He was carrying the RUK reserve officer mark of Heiskanen. A Finnish war prisoner later on said he had met Heiskanen at a Soviet prison camp. War reverand Rantamaa who was Heiskanen's friend had the information that both of Heiskanen's hands had been amputated and he had died in a hospital.

With his fate still unresolved in December 1973 Heiskanen's widow Elna wrote again to contact the officials by this time writing to president Urho Kekkonen. Who put an inquiry to the Finnish Foreign Ministry on her behalf. In 1975 the inquiries regarding Heiskanen's fate as a war prisoner in the Soviet Union were once again futile as they provided no information on Heiskanen.

Fallen heroes

In Finnish a fallen soldier is called sankarivainaja, a fallen hero. During the wartime it was commonly shortened to sankari, a hero, when speaking of the fallen.

"He fell for us, gave his life on behalf of the fatherland. We have to continue to work in his honor and for the sake of the future", a young widow of Kollaa said of her husband's sacrifice.

Reverand Heiskanen married his wife Elna during the Winter War, on the seventh of January at their parish of Hiitola, Karelia. Right before they were wed at the church the four white coffins of local sankarivainajat were laid to rest.

Veljeä ei jätetä. Artillerymen with families, Petter Anttonen and Johannes Halko, had made a pact between themselves that "a brother won't be left behind".

When Halko got the news of Anttonen having fallen under the Soviet barrage on Kollaa he went searching for Anttonen in the drumfire, against the orders of his superiors. In 1942 both of the fallen were found and returned to the hero graveyard of Simpele where they were buried in adjacent graves.

Young widows

In the photo the brothers-in-arms society of Kuusamo is giving the deed of transfer for a new house to widow Helmi Oikarainen.

"May the highest grant you the strength to raise your children to be good citizens, who, bound by the memory of their hero father, would live for their fatherland."

The wife of Kollaa war reverand Heiskanen, Elna, never remarried. They had been married for one and half years, with one son, at the time when Heiskanen disappeared.

The granddaughter of Heiskanen wrote down Elna Heiskanen's final letter to his disappeared husband.

"With You we have three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren already--...

Jorma, see you soon. Soon I will come to you, my dear husband, I, your ancient little wife.

Do you know that you have a large family. I hope you know that... This is the way life went, this is the way it was allowed to go. All I can now do is lie down and look forward to the rest of the journey to you... My golden husband, let us rest together in peace soon."

60 years after Heiskanen's disappearence, Marjo, the daughter of Heiskanen's son, was writing the story of her grandfather's disappearance and how her grandmother had to leave Karelia with her young son as evacuees.

As she was reading a book belonging to her grandmother that told of Finnish war prisoners she noticed a familiar face. There was a 1941 picture from an unknown Soviet prison camp in which she recognized one of the war prisoners to be her grandfather Jorma. That is the only certified information anyone has ever learned of war reverand Heiskanen's fate.

a frozen hell

William Trotter's A Frozen Hell is the best-reviewed overview on the Winter War. The book highlights the different Finnish campaigns and battlefronts of the war.

A Frozen Hell

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The Dread of Morocco is inspecting a Soviet T-26 B tank.

The future president of Finland Mauno Koivisto who served in the detachment Törni behind enemy lines once wrote in a letter: 

 "Although it is hard here, I am grateful that I do not have to be at the Karelian isthmus. Here you do not have to fight against machines but man versus man under the cover of the forest.

It is miraculous that as peace-loving nation as Finland is so good at fighting. I will try my best that our people would not go under slavery." 


On 19/12 the Finnish war-time radio conducted an interview with Aarne Juutilainen on Kollaa. He recalled how in one day in December his syntiset, 'sinful' stopped five Soviet tanks.

"Well, we haven't had anything difficult, or anything that strange. It makes me laugh a little, because, was it the fourteenth day when five Soviet tanks were destroyed. When one stopped, three of our boys went with bayonets to rattle open the tank hatch. The Russians hung on and held it shut. When the boys took the points of their bayonets off the tank hatch, the Russians opened the hatch and threw a hand grenade".

The men flinched, but fortunately the hand grenade did not go off. The hatch opened twice more and two hand grenades popped out. However, they too flew far enough away that no one was wounded. A fourth grenade flew through the hatch, but now a Finnish hand grenade also fell in.

The Russians didn't throw any more," Juutilainen said.

Some of the tanks had surviving men who were taken as prisoners. One of them tried to escape right in front of Juutilainen but was struck with the end of a Colt pistol and fell to his knees.


Häyhä was pulled on an elongated sled, ahkio, to safety on Kollaa by his fellow soldiers. Also horses and even reindeer in Lapland, as in the picture, were utilized to pull ahkios.

On the first day of the war a mine went off near a Finnish soldier which made him disorientated. The soldier began running towards the wrong side, towards the enemy. The Dread of Morocco shouted towards the man who did not react. Dread then realized that the soldier had lost his hearing.

Juutilainen ran after the soldier, turning his direction. Both managed to safely return.


The korsu of artillery fire control is an example of the living quarters for soldiers in the Finnish wars of World War Two.

The Commander of the Battalion remembers the firestorm in which the two-time Olympic Bronze medallist Martti Uosikkinen fell:

"A fierce battle rages along the shores of the lake and near the bridge. The enemy cannot reach the hill. The few men who almost reach the ridge are destroyed or beaten back in blood. The defenders of the Korsu Hill hold their ground and inflict heavy casualties on the invaders with their accurate fire...

The enemy has penetrated through the central block at Korsu Hill... There the roar of battle rings out in fury. The muzzle blasts are constantly flaring, and in their light the tangled remains of the forest look ghastly... 

By midnight the situation has been cleared. Korsu Hill is ours again. But the harvest of death has grown again."

Two-time Olympic bronze medallist

1932 and 1936 Olympic gymnastics bronze medallist, gymnastics teacher and reserve lieutenant on the Kollaa front, Martti Uosikkinen, was already deadly wounded when he shouted from the sled he was put on to his men "Remember that Kollaa will hold!", as he was began to be pulled along the broken trail on snow.

Uosikkinen was taken to the infirmary tent where a doctor who was a former schoolmate of his tied him up. Uosikkinen didn't anymore at that point recognize him or none of the others present in the tent.

His final words were to his wife and little daughter.

Under Artillery Fire

Palolampi's Kollaa Kestää described the March 1940 offensive on Kollaa:

"There were just pits, pits everywhere and black dirt, a sooty grey mixture of dirt and snow. Trenches and positions were drowned in the pits. At night they came to life, we tried to repair them with picks and shovels and to re-open them, but the next day there were only pits again. The air was full of flying earth and squeaking shrapnel. Grenades rained down in clusters for hours, exploding many at a time, their volcanic columns coalescing into clouds in the air. After going into position at night, the day after - whoever was still alive - could not find his way back, the paths, the trenches and the compound graves had changed their shape...

...the battle for the Red Hill was fought bitterly. After six days of fighting, the defending force was down to three men. The company's three squads and their leaders were almost down to their last man. The leader of the machine gun team counts his men and gets a strength number of eight. All the machine gun positions are empty, one left to the enemy. Opening machine gun fire means death in a few minutes. Direct-fire cannons and tanks will open up a devilish barrage immediately. You have to think carefully about where to sacrifice a machine gun and a couple of men with it."

Soviet artillery would launch 30 000-40 000 munitions a day while the Finnish artillery would be limited to under 1000 a day.

With the signing of the peace the weeks of enduring hellish artillery fire ended in astonishment at the sudden silence.

Master marksman Simo Häyhä has fallen

The final battles of Kollaa river took many good men. Among them was alikersantti Simo Häyhä, a master marksman of his own class. 

Simo Häyhä was a farmer from Kaukola. By nature he was very modest but for his feats admired by all of his brothers in arms. A lot has been written about him also in foreign newspapers.

Aseveli, the brothers in arms magazine reported also inaccurately of Häyhä's death before rejoicing in later, more pleasant news.

The enemy division was advancing on Finnish Metsähallitus (forest government) logging line when a group led by alikersantti-promoted Simo Häyhä was given order to intercept it.

On 6/3 at 06.00 the counter-attack began. Häyhä's group had to cross 300 meters long swamp on Ulismainen. Behind the swamp was a small ridge that the group was climbing on when the firing began.

The Finns were able to fire on the enemy and drive them away from their snow hideouts. One Soviet soldier still managed to fire once more, wounding Simo Häyhä.

The image is from recaptured Loimola of Karjala during the Continuation War as Häyhä was taken on by reverand Rantamaa for a tour of Kollaa and Karelia where they remembered the war on Kollaa.

Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim's order of the day number 34

Soldiers of the glorious Finnish army.

Peace has been concluded between our country and Soviet Russia, a harsh peace which has surrendered to Soviet Russia almost every battlefield on which you have shed your blood for all that we hold dear and sacred.

You did not want war, you loved peace, work and progress, but you were forced into a battle in which you have done great deeds, deeds that will shine in the pages of history for centuries.

More than 15 000 of you who went into the field can no longer see your homes, and how many of you have lost your ability to work forever. But you have also dealt hard blows, and while two hundred thousand of our enemies now lie in the snow, staring with broken eyes at our starry sky, it is not your fault. You did not hate them and wish them harm, but followed the harsh law of war, kill or be killed yourselves.

Soldiers! I have fought on many battlefields, but I have yet to see your like as warriors. I am proud of you as if you were my own children, as proud of the man of the fells in the North as of the son of the plains of Ostrobothnia, the forests of Karelia, the hills of Savo, the fertile meadows of Häme and Satakunta, the groves of Uusimaa and Southwest Finland. I am as proud of the sacrifice offered by the son of a poor hut as I am of the rich.

...Despite all the courage and spirit of sacrifice, the government has been forced to make peace on hard terms, which is, however, explainable.

Our army was small and its reserves and cadres inadequate. We were not equipped for war against a great power. Our brave soldiers defending our frontiers had to make an overwhelming effort to obtain what was lacking. We had to build defensive lines that did not exist. We had to try to get help that did not come. We had to get arms and equipment, at a time when all countries were feverishly bracing themselves for the storm which sweeps over the world.

Your heroic deeds have been admired across countries, but after three and a half months of war, we are still almost alone. We have received no more than 2 reinforced battalions with artillery and aircraft, as foreign aid on our fronts, where our own men, fighting day and night without the possibility of exchange, have had to face the onslaughts of ever new enemy forces, pushing their physical and mental strength to the limit.

When the history of this war is once written, the world will know of your efforts.

The Memorial Cross of Kollaa

The soldiers who fought at the battlefronts of Ahte, Kollaa, Ulismainen, Uomaa, Sasarijärvi, Siira, Songerjärvi and Tshumeikka during the Winter War were awarded memorial crosses of Kollaa.

The ribbon bears the traditional colors of Karelia, red and black.

The emblem of Karelia created in 1562, of the opposite hands clashing a sword and sabel is meant to represent Karjala as a border region between the Western and Eastern spheres.

Karelia has been touched by war for over a thousand years, as far as the recorded history of the region goes. With times of peace also, affecting greatly how the neighbor has been seen or remembered at different times.


The ancient oral story tradition kept alive by the Karelian poem singers was collected by Elias Lönnrot into the Finnish national epic Kalevala released in 1835. Many artists thought that the most untouched version of Finnish culture and nature was represented by the Karelian Song Lands.

Alone the nights of ours come, alone the days brighten, alone was born Väinämöinen, alone appeared the eternal poet.

Finnish national painter Akseli-Gallen Kallela turned the many tragic characters of Kalevala into paintings. Kullervo's revenge was painted in 1899 when the beginning of the first oppression and Russification period of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland inspired resistance among the Finns. This is the year when Finlandia of another Karelianist, Jean Sibelius, was composed.

Gallen-Kallela's son, a reserve officer and a painter, Jorma, was one of the first fallen Finnish soldiers of the Winter War. Jorma Gallen-Kallela died in an ambush on Karjalankannas, the Karelian isthmus while shielding his superior from bullets as he fell.

Similar to Simo Häyhä, many of the evakot, evacuees of Karjala, never stopped longing for their homes or the Karelian land. The great Karelian castle city of Viipuri nowadays lies in ruin as much of Karelia has been left unmaintained under Soviet and Russian rule.

When we had a lesson in school about astronomy, all the lights in the classroom were turned off while the solar system was projected in the middle of the room. Our lecturer then unexpectedly broke into tears as he began, in the darkness illuminated only by the planets, telling how as a child he had to leave his home and parents. As he was one of the 80 000 war children relocated into safety under new parents in warless Sweden. How he was forced to leave them too when he had already forgotten his original Finnish parents due to his young age, as the war ended. 15 000 of the war children never returned.

Aarne Juutilainen

When hearing of the Winter War peace terms which relinquished Karelia to the Soviet Union, the Sortavala-born Juutilainen buried his hands in his face and said with a quiet voice, "Karjala, my own Karjala."

The war for Juutilainen or Finland was not over as the Continuation War in 1942-1944 and the Lapland War of 1944-1945 saw him continue to serve.

Serving in the war also meant that Juutilainen never had to sit the six-month prison term he was sentenced to by court-martial in 1944 for attempted assault. In April 1944 Juutilainen received a letter from his wife Helvi whom he married in the summer of 1940, a notice of divorce.

A young underling of his then refused to bring him any more booze when the Dread of Morocco again went for his pistol to magnify his order. The pistol went off but the bullet missed. Juutilainen's sole defense in the trial was that he does not miss from a distance of 3 meters.

Juutilainen himself clarified his use of pistol: "If someone cluelessly began to rub the back of their head or stammer something that no one could make any sense of, I struck my hand at the pistol holster and bellowed that 'I will shoot a man who does not know where we are!' I of course wouldn't have started shooting anyone but it did put haste in men".

Alcohol, likewise to many of the soldiers returning home and civil life, was a life-long problem for Juutilainen who after the war was estranged from his son before they made peace in his final years. His grandchildren, who remember him warmly, reminisced how Juutilainen would always poke the person he was speaking to with his index finger.

The then-prime minister of Finland, Paavo Lipponen, said during one Finnish independence day celebration that every Finnish man would like to be the Dread of Morocco.

The People Fought, men tell

On Kansa taisteli, miehet kertovat magazine guerilla battalion 4's, sissipataljoona 4's, Arvi Kujala recalled the fight on the right flank of the Kollaa front where Simo Häyhä was wounded.

"The hard wilderness fights of Ulismainen raged the fiercest between 3/3-13/3. Usually the enemy would start the morning with a heavy artillery barrage, then continue with a long day of repeated attacks, trying to break our defensive line that had formed on the snowy woodland ridge with their multiple numerical advantage without succeeding in doing so.

One day we got a message from our right flank that the enemy is trying to flank our positions there. I gathered three other men, I couldn't find more, and we skied with haste."

When approaching the enemy fire Kujala began to think how they would have to go against the fire along the open swamp land which made him reconsider.

One of the four men, a kitchen man, then groaned that "When we have to go, let's go." Prior to that the kitchen man's constant complaining during the war had left Kujala thinking that the man is an eager bolshevik.

"We others either didn't dare to just stay there but went after him. In my mind I had the feeling that we left for the last passage of our life for that woodland swamp opened up a perfect hell. The enemy had not saved any gunpowder around there.

And it did open up. To our wonderment not many bullets flew on this open swamp where we waded with our skis sinking in the snow. The few that did, flew far over us. The accustomed ear could right away conclude that they were not meant for us.

Next the kitchen man shouted "Nyt on piru merrassa! Now the devil is in the crab trap! The boys have been left between two fires." And then this 'bolshevik' went with his skis as fast as he could in the sinking snow swamp. The man did not seem at all to know the word 'fear'.

While following the ski tracks Kujala noticed they were actually following the ski stick marks of Finnish skiers. Then they came about a small Finnish force arranged in the shape of a horseshoe chain, firing at everything moving at the swamp, with the enemy approaching.

"There it was, the group sent to do the enemy's flanking movement, 70-80 men. But before it got to do destruction in our chain, it was surprised by another group. This group was the famous company of the Dread of Morocco and it decimated quickly and mercilessly the enemy to the last man. Our task was only to witness what happened.

And as the final enemy had faded on the snow, we heard captain Juutilainen say to his men with a calm voice: "What are we doing here anymore, let's go to eat, boys."

The Wooden Cross of Kollaa

The correspondent at the front during Continuation War, author Olavi Paavolainen, described visiting Kollaa in 1942.

"There are landscapes over which not even temporal distance has yet been able to create reconciliation and peace - over which glory and suffering still vibrate in all their painful nakedness. The most humanly poignant and tragically heroic of these landscapes is the place that HELD OUT - Wreathed by world renown, Kollaa of Winter War."


Learn how the diary was found and made into a website. Discover resources and media related to Simo Häyhä, Kollaa and the Winter War.

Häyhä and The Winter War in Literature, Movies and MediaWinter War ResourcesHistory of the Diary

unknown soldier

Unknown Soldier is both the most beloved Finnish book and movie. The various humanized characters of the machine gun company can also be found in the recent modern movie adaptation of the Väinö Linna classic novel. If you ever want to truly surprise a Finn, try quoting lines from Unknown Soldier out of the blue.

Unknown Soldier

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the white sniper

Major Tapio Saarelainen who interviewed Simo Häyhä dozens of times has written a book called the White Sniper about Simo Häyhä. Which is the most authentic long-form source available in English regarding Häyhä so I can recommend it if you want to learn more.

The White Sniper

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Free online courses

If you are interested in free online courses can help. As our sister site highlights all the completely free university courses from Finland.