CHANGJIN JOURNAL CHANGJIN JOURNAL 08.01.02
As soon as the Soviet soldiers had eaten the last can of rations and
cooked the last of the horse meat over open fires, they were soon
taken over by hypothermia and covered by a blanket of snow, as in
this photo of the remains of a motti near Lemetti.
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CHANGJIN JOURNAL 08.01.02
IN THIS ISSUE we make a comparison between the motti tactics used by the Finns against the Soviets during their Winter War of 1939-40 and that of the Chinese encirclement of the Americans during the Chosin Campaign, November-December 1950.
KIINALAINEN MOTTI: THE CHINESE ENCIRCLEMENT
Those who have access to the web are fortunate in that they can use search engines and seek just about anything. If one looks for "winter war" he will quickly find www.winterwar.com, an interesting web page based on the Finnish-Soviet battles the winter of 1939-1940 and the development of "motti" tactics by the Finns. When we do a fast forward to the Korean winter at the Chosin Reservoir, we may wonder how these two campaigns compare. Were the Chinese attempting a grand motti against the UN forces at the time? Let's look for clues by using key phrases found in winterwar.com.
At Chosin the Americans were the Russians driving into North Korea toward the Yalu River threatening the border of China, while the Chinese were the Finns applying skills in encirclement previously used by Mao in his war against the Nationalists.
In Finland the army employed a high degree of personal initiative and independence, far more than enjoyed by Soviet officers who were ever accompanied by their political shadows. This freedom of individual thought was the basis for the development of motti and resulting strategy against larger forces. The term "motti" has some older meanings in the Finnish language. The most widely known is "one cubic meter of firewood" cut by a woodsman as he moves on to cut and pile his next motti. However, the first definition in today's dictionary is "encirclement."
The Americans, as the Soviets, were road bound in terrain similar to both campaigns. Dense forests separated Finland's few roads; at Chosin it was few roads separated by mountains. Winter weather was also similar: both wars began in November with extreme cold during combat operations. The Finnish forests, however, were laden with far deeper snow than experienced at Chosin.
The Finns used encirclement as the basis of their tactics because the Soviets were deployed in column along the roads. Although the initial intent was to destroy the enemy by attacking weak points of the column, the operation resulted in small or at times large groups of enemy surrounded by the motti, and further established the tactic of preventing one motti from joining another. The smaller the motti, the easier the job of destruction, while large mottis required the help of time and weather; time to let the enemy consume his ammunition and food, and cold weather to wear down the individual soldier physically and psychologically.
Hundreds of frozen bodies created no hazard until the spring thaw, after which the problem was often defaulted to the side that owned the battlefield. This photo is of the Raate road, part of the Suomusalmi grand motti where the Finns annihilated two Soviet divisions.
ALL MOTTIS ARE
A similar situation existed with the attacking force. The CCF were not flexible enough to take advantage of favorable situations by quickly massing and destroying small mottis, such as those in the Toktong Pass area. In the case of the grand motti the Chinese continued to dissipate their forces by throwing weakness against strength rather than continuing the strategy of striking deep and separating smaller enemy elements.
ATTACK AND DEFENSE
Although the Finns had hoped that successful initial attacks would create havoc and panic among isolated Soviet troops, it did not in most cases. The trapped units had time to dig in and create powerful pockets with all-around defense. Both sides were either hindered (being road bound) or favored (using ski troops) by the deep snow. The disadvantage experienced within these powerful pockets was the lack of depth for employment of reserves, if available. Powerful firing positions could be created using dug-in tanks and other heavy weapons, until ammunition ran out. The Soviets used airdrops as did the Americans at Chosin, both depending on two-way communications followed by favorable weather.
To wear down the mottis, the Finns used of small, well-camouflaged patrols to make rapid strikes during hours of darkness, with the goal of inflicting maximum casualties while creating havoc and preventing sleep. To insure containment, Finnish patrols looped around each motti and established a ski trail which, if crossed, immediately revealed that a break had been made. The Finns could then follow the trail and destroy the escaping soldiers in the dense forest. In fact, the Finns did not discourage breakouts by small groups of Soviets, for it was far easier to destroy them later with patrols and ambushes in favorable terrain.
>From this point there is little comparison between the Finnish-Soviet action and the Chinese-American action at Chosin, except for night operations where the Chinese had the advantage. Was it because the Americans were not night fighters, or was it because they were accustomed to and preferred to fight a defense at night? While the Chinese made all their attacks at night, they also made maximum use of darkness to conduct reconnaissance and gain intelligence, something the Americans were reluctant to do, night or day.
The Americans had firepower and airpower when weather permitted. The Chinese had troops in large numbers with firepower based on the numbers of rifles and machine guns supported by a very long supply line operated during hours of darkness by coolies and pack animals. The Americans had almost unlimited supplies dropped from the air when weather was favorable during daylight. As the days went on the Chinese continued to throw their dwindling numbers against the mottis, while the American strength continued to grow through the accurate use of firepower when and where possible.
Although the grand motti at Yudam-ni continued to suffer casualties, they were far less than those suffered by the Chinese who continued to have less to throw back at the Americans, and finally reaching the point when lack of ammunition forced the commander to commit units because his supply line was running dry.
The Finns emphasized the importance of reconnaissance and reserving enough time to scout the enemy positions. The more powerful the motti, the more time the recon took. Experience taught that steady and slow reduction of the opposition based on adequate preparation was far more important than the actual number of attacking soldiers. It was the best way to save manpower, something Finnish officers had to keep in mind when fighting a country with unlimited manpower resources.
Before an attack it was necessary to maintain contact with the motti 24 hours a day to deprive defenders of rest, time to improve positions, and to make them expend ammunition. During the hours of darkness, small heavily armed patrols would perform feint attacks and destroy outer positions until the motti was considered to be soft enough. Then powerful teams armed with SMGs, Mauser pistols (popular favorite), hand grenades and satchel charges, would infiltate the Soviet positions under cover of darkness. Once inside the positions a surprise attack would be launched, destroying the Soviet positions one by one without pause and allowing the confused defenders no time to regroup. This method proved to be amazingly economical in terms of losses.
East of Chosin the Chinese had committed two full divisions against one RCT consisting of only two infantry battalions and one artillery battalion, reinforced with heavy mortars and a battery of AAA AW tracks. Although the Chinese suffered heavy casualties in their attacks against the firepower of a tight perimeter, they did whittle down the defenders who were at the unfavorable end of inaccurate air drops that also benefitted the enemy. In the end this motti began its breakout attempt against impossible odds, with a result similar to the Soviet breakout from the Lemetti Motti: "The breakout was very bloody. In many places, the retreat routes were lined with bodies. One part, part of the northern group, was virtually annihilated near one of the Finnish camping areas. Among the dead was the HQ staff of the 34th Tank Brigade and the HQ of the 18th Division. Some 412 bodies were counted, of which 310 were officers. The tired Soviet stragglers moving on foot were easy prey for pursing Finnish units equipped with skis.... Some 3,100 Soviet dead were counted inside the motti, while a few dozen prisoners were captured...."
Photos courtesy the Photographic Section, History Department of the Finnish Defense Forces, copies provided author for historical use during visit to Finland in 1998. (Suomen Puolustusvoimat PvKK/Kuvaosasto) Additional photos of Finland's Winter War will be posted in future issues of the Changjin Journal.