ENGINEER UNITS

WINTER WAR 1939 - 1940

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During Winter War basic Finnish engineer unit was Engineer Company. All infantry divisions had initially two engineer companies which were under the command of divisional Engineer Commander [Pioneerikomentaja]. Engineer company was a very versatile combat formation although trials in the 1930's had proven it too large a unit but no changes were done before the war started.

There were also army corps level engineer companies. The three companies of the Supreme HQ (35., 36. and 37.Pion.K) formed the so called "engineer reserve". These companies had special duties but were occasionally subordinated to higher commands and divisions on the most important sectors.

Three new (9th, 21st and 23rd) and three old (1st, 6th/3rd and 4th) divisions had Engineer Battalion formed during the war. Battalion consisted of three engineer companies which were smaller than separate companies and the actual number of engineers didn't increase. Commander of battalion was also divisional Engineer Commander.

Typical tasks of the engineers were sappers duties, blocking (constructing of minefields and obstacles, assembling of booby-traps), various demolition tasks (destructing of blocks, houses, dugouts, bunkers, roads, railways, bridges, electricity and telephone lines), clearing (paving the way to infantry and vehicles by removing enemy obstacles, detecting and removing enemy minings and booby-traps, finding and destroying dud ammunition) as well as maintaining and constructing (roads, railways, trenches, dugouts, bunkers, bridges). During Winter War also anti-tank duties became important although actually engineers were not trained for it.

Engineer units operated in rear areas as well as near the fronline or even beyond it on no-man's-land. Finnish engineers were always supporting infantry in attacks and scouting patrols usually had one or more engineers for special duties. Engineers were seldom used alone in combat because they lacked all infantry fire support. There were serious lacks in special engineer gear because there were no flame-throwers nor mine detectors. On the other hand Finns began receiving large numbers of ingenious anti-tank land mines built in wooden box (m/S-39) which where difficult to detect.

Another part of engineer troops were specialized "engineer work formations" for maintenance and constructing. They consisted partly of labour conscripts and were usually employed on rear areas. They were typically led by reserve officers.
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Engineer Companies

Engineer Company (Pioneerikomppania, Pion.K) consisted of three Engineer Platoons (Pioneerijoukkue, Pion.J) and Delivery Platoon (Toimitusjoukkue, Toim.J). At the beginning of Winter War there were a total of 29 engineer companies, two separate engineer companies and one motorized engineer company.

27th Engineer Company (conscript unit) was motorized at the beginning of Winter War when it belonget to protective Rautu Group. Two new motorized companies were formed in December 1939. By February 1940 several companies had been attached to new engineer battalions and there were only 23 independent engineer companies, two separate engineer companies and two motorized engineer companies.
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Engineer Company

On 9.12.1939 17th Engineer Company was attached to 9th Brigade (later 9.D) at Hyrynsalmi and it was moved to Suomussalmi on 11.12. Company belonged to troops which destroyed Soviet 163rd Division at Suomussalmi Village by 29.12.and later as a company of Engineer Battalion 9 also partisipated in destroying of Soviet 44th Division at the Road of Raate.

18th Engineer Company was attached to Brigade Vuokko (reinforced Inf.Rgt 25) on 6.12.1939 when it arrived in Nurmes. Company partisipated in battles in Kuhmo direction.

Ordinary engineer company was organized as follows:

Strength: 6+32+242 = 280 men
44x horse vehicle, 6x riding horse, 30x bicycle

Delivery Platoon
I - III Engineer Platoon
----- 1st - 7th Engineer Squad

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1st Separate Engineer Company

Small 1st Separate Engineer Company (1. Erillinen pioneerikomppania, 1.Er.Pion.K) belonged to Cavalry Brigade. Initially it was part of Uusikirkko Group (protective troops). On 15.2.1940 company was attached to Engineer Battalion 23 / 23.D. Company was organized as follows:

Strength: 3+20+113 = 136 men
personnel car, motorcycle, 19x horse vehicle

Delivery Platoon
I - II Engineer Platoon
----- 1st - 5th Engineer Squad

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Also temporary Engineer Company / Group T formed in January 1940 was sometimes called 1st Separate Engineer Company.

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2nd Separate Engineer Company

2nd Separate Engineer Company (2. Erillinen pioneerikomppania, 2.Er.Pion.K) belonged initially to protective troops in Ladogan Karelia and was under the command of 13.D. It was organized as follows:

Strength: 4+32+211 = 247 men
28x horse vehicle, 5x riding horse

Delivery Platoon
I - III Engineer Platoon
----- 1st - 7th Engineer Squad

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Motorized Engineer Company

At the beginning of Winter War there was only one such company, 4th Motorized Engineer Company (4. Moottoroitu pioneerikomppania, 4.Moot.Pion.K), which belonged to 4.D on the western Karelian Isthmus. Already on 17.12.1939 it was attached to a new Engineer Battalion 4.

Two new motorized companies were formed during the war. 38th and 39th Motorized Engineer Companies (38./39. Moottoroitu pioneerikomppania, 38./39.Moot.Pion.K) were both formed on 16.12.1939. On 22.12.1939 the first one was subordinated to II Army Corps and the latter one to III Army Corps on eastern Karelian Isthmus.

Platoons of the motorized engineer companies were smaller than platoons of the non-motorized engineer companies.Motorized engineer company was organized as follows:

Strength: 4+25+145 = 174 men
personnel car, 17x truck, 3x motorcycle

Delivery Platoon
I - III Engineer Platoon
----- 1st - 4th Engineer Squad

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Engineer Battalions

During Winter War Engineer Battalions (Pioneeripataljoona, Pion.P) were formed for six divisions. Two battalions Engineer Supplement Battalions 2 and 3 (Pioneeri-Täydennyspataljoona 2 / 3, Pion.T-P 2 / 3) had been formed already in November 1939. On 19.12.1939 Pion.T-P 3 became Engineer Battalion 23 and on 10.1.1940 it was attached to a new 23rd Division and moved to Karelian Isthmus.

2.Pion.T-P which consisted at that stage only of two companies was moved to Suomussalmi on 23.12.1939. On 31.12. 17.Pion.K was attached to Pion.T-P 2 as its second company and at the same time battalion was re-named as Engineer Battalion 9 and attached to 9th Division. Battalion fought on the Road of Raate and since 21.1.1940 at Kuhmo. Engineer Battalion 21 was formed between 27.12.1939 - 25.1.1940. It was attached to a new 21st Division and moved to the front on 25.1.1940.

Engineer Battalion 4 was formed on 17.12.1939 for 4th Division. It consisted of 4th Motorized, 7th and 8th Engineer Companies and 4th Tool Depot Detachment. Engineer Battalion 3 was formed on 1.1.1940 for a re-named 3rd Division. It consisted of 11th and 12th Engineer Companies, Punt [Boat] Column / 6.D and 6th Tool Depot Detachment. Engineer Battalion 1 was formed on 2.2.1940 for 1st Division. It consisted of 1st and 2nd Engineer Company (formed in December 1939) as well as 30th Engineer Company, Engineer Platoon Saari and 1st Tool Depot Detachment.

In March 1940 there were six engineer battalions, each with three engineer companies and engineer column (formerly tool depot detachment). The seventh one called Engineer battalion 18 was formed on 8.3.1940 but it didn't partisipate in combat before the Winter War ended on 13.3.1940.
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Engineer Battalion

Companies of engineer battalion were smaller than independent ones, about the size of the Motorized Engineer Company. Engineer Battalion 21 and 23 had different kind of organization and were slightly bigger. Other engineer battalions were organized as follows:

Strength: 12+182+442 = 556 men
(Pion.P 21 and 23: 19+97+508 = 624 men)
6x personnel car, 20x truck, 36x horse

Staff
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Staff Company
1st - 3rd Engineer Company
Engineer Column
(Tool Depot Detachment)

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Separate Engineer Platoons

Independent Separate Engineer Platoons (Erillinen pioneerijoukkue, Er.Pion.J) were mainly intented to operate north from Lake Ladoga in separate directions. They were usually subordinated to separate battalions and battle groups. Also platoons which operated separately from their parent unit were sometimes called separate platoons.

In December 1939 there were a total of 11 separate engineer platoons and one Separate Motorized Engineer Platoon (Erillinen moottoroitu pioneerijoukkue, Er.Moot.Pion.J). Three of them operated in Karelian Isthmus, one north from Lake Ladoga, four in Group (originally Detachment)Talvela (Os./Ryhmä T) on Tolvajärvi - Ilomantsi region and three in North Karelian Group at Lieksa.
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Separate Engineer Platoon

Initially 1st Separate Engineer Platoon belonged to protective Muolaa Group. 2nd Separate Engineer Platoon belonged to 2nd Brigade and 3rd Separate Engineer Platoon to 1st Brigade. 1st Division was formed on 1.12.1939 around these three conscript brigades. In December 1939 separate platoons were attached to new 1st and 2nd Engineer Company which later on 2.2.1940 became companies of the new Engineer Battalion 1 / 1st Division.

New 1st and 2nd Separate Engineer Platoons were formed on 23.12.1939 in Lapland Group (LR) for Salla and Petsamo directions. Personnel consisted of volunteers from Kolosjoki Nickel mines.

4th, 5th and 6th Separate Engineer Platoons were subordinated to Separate Battalions 12, 13 and 14 of North Karelian Group (P-KR) at Lieksa region. 8th Separate Engineer Platoon / Separate Battalion 16 assisted 17th Engineer Company at Suomussalmi (Kiannanniemi). During the early days of January 1940 9th Separate Engineer Platoon / Separate Battalion 15 operated together with the companies of Engineer Battalion 9 at the Road of Raate.

13th Separate Engineer Platoon belonged to 13.D but was initially part of protective troops.

Separate engineer platoon was organized as follows:

Strength: 1+10+67 = 78 men
9x horse vehicle, riding horse

Delivery Squad
1st - 7th Engineer Squad
(0+1+8 = 9 men)

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Separate Motorized Engineer Platoon

In December 1939 engineer platoons I/2.Er.Pion.K, III/12.Pion.K, III/13.Pion.K of Group (originally Detachment)Talvela (Os./Ryhmä T) operated on Tolvajärvi - Ilomantsi region. III/13.Pion.K was re-organized and re-named on 20.12.1939 as 10th Separate Motorized Engineer Platoon (10. Erillinen moottoroitu pioneerijoukkue, 10.Er.Moot.Pion.J). Engineer Company / Group T (also called 1st Separate Engineer Company) was temporarily formed in January 1940. It consisted of I/2.Er.Pion.K, 10.Er.Moot.Pion.K and Pion- ja Liik.J/JR 16 (Engineer and Traffic Platoon / Inf.Rgt 16).

10th Separate Motorized Engineer Platoon was organized as follows:

Strength: 1+6+40 = 47 men
9x horse vehicle, riding horse

Delivery Squad
1st - 4th Engineer Squad
(0+1+8 = 9 men)

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Other Engineer and Constructing Formations of Field Army *

Separate Motor Pontoon Battalion

Separate Motor Pontoon Battalion (Erillinen moottoriponttonipataljoona, Er.Mt.Pontt.P) was a pontoon raft unit equipped with WW I era motor pontoons which Finnish companies had produced for the Imperial Russian Army. Battalion belonged to troops of II Army Corps on western Karelian Isthmus transporting troops and supplies on River Vuoksi. Battalion was organized as follows:

Strength: 18+=+244(NCO+men) = 262 men
24x motor pontoon (Troy motors), 56x pontoon transport cart,
32x cart for planks, 4x spare cart, 4x cart for trestles,
2x cart for anchor boats, 2x cart for tools, 2x workshop cart

Staff
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Staff Company
1st - 3rd Motor Pontoon Company

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Pontoon Bridge Column

Pontoon Bridge Column (Ponttonisiltakuormasto, Pont.Silta.Km.) was a transportation formation for a pontoon bridge. There were ten such units of which four belonged to Supreme HQ (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th), one to Karelian Isthmus Army (8th), two to III Army Corps (9th and 10th) and three to IV Army Corps (5th, 6th and 7th).

Finnish pontoon bridging equipment was modern French all metal Pontoon m/35 by Forges & Chantiers de la Méditerranée. Motors used were Hungarian by Kovacs Gyuala, Budapest. For transporting pontoons a special light Pontoon Trailer m/37 was developed in Finland. New pontoons had replaced old German m/25 pontoons (only for 7 tons bridge) which were stored in 1939 for the possible temporary use in home areas.

Pontoon bridge could be constructed and took to pieces very quicly because it consisted of sections of two pontoons and deck which were made ready beforehand. Bridge was then quicly assembed adding needed number of sections together. Maximum carrying capacity was 12 tons which was enough for every Army vehicles used in the 1930's and early 1940's. Column was organized as follows:

Strength: 4+14+45 = 63 men
12x pontoon m/35 with deck equipment,
personnel car, 20x truck, 12x pontoon trailer m/37

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Because Finnish troops need many pontoon bridges during the Winter War bridge equipment was stored and units operated initially mainly in transport duties. Since December 1939 personnel was used in forming of new motorized 38th and 39th Engineer Companies.
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Road Maintenance Company

The six Road Maintenance Companies (Tienkorjauskomppania, TienKorj.K) were for maintaining, repairing and ploughing of roads mainly in Karelian Isthmus. They were formed by the districts of Finnish Road and Water Constructing Administration and used their own personnel. Units were also called Road Companies [Tiekomppania].

Three companies (8th, 12th and 16th) belonged to II Army Corps, two (6th and 7th) to III Army Corps and 10th to IV Army Corps. They had special civilian equipment for keeping the roads in passable condition. Road maintenance company was organized as follows:

Strength: 2+11+152 = 165 men
personnel car, 8x truck, road scraper, snow plough

Delivery Platoon
I - III Work Platoon

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Road Constructing Company

4th and 17th Road Constructing Companies (Tienrakennuskomppania, TienRak.K) were for constructing new roads north from Lake Ladoga. Companies also ploughed roads during winter. They were formed by the districts of Finnish Road and Water Constructing Administration using their own personnel. Units were also called Road Companies [Tiekomppania] because the difference between the other two "road companies" was in practise only nominal.

4th company belonged to IV Army Corps and 17th to Lapland Group (LR). Both of them had special civilian equipment. Road constructing company was organized as follows:

Strength: 2+15+157 = 174 men
personnel car, 10x truck, road scraper, clod crusher

Delivery Platoon
I - III Work Platoon

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Road and Bridge Constructing Company

The four Road and Bridge Constructing Companies (Tien- ja sillanrakennuskomppania, TieSill.K) were for constructing and repairing roads and bridges north from Lake ladoga. Companies also ploughed roads during winter. They too were formed by the districts of Finnish Road and Water Constructing Administration using their professional personnel. Also these units were called Road Companies [Tiekomppania].

Two companies (14th and 15th) belonged to IV Army Corps, 13th to North Karelian Group (P-KR) and 9th to North Finland Group (P-SR). All of them had special civilian equipment for the most exacting constructing duties. Road and bridge constructing company was organized as follows:

Strength: 2+12+146 = 160 men
personnel car, 10x truck, motor pile-driver etc.

Delivery Platoon
I - III Work Platoon

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Heavy Ploughing Detachment

There were three Heavy Ploughing Detachments (1, 3 and 6) (Raskas aurausosasto, Rask.Aur.Os.). They belonged to IV Army Corps, North Finland Group (P-SR) and North Karelian Group (P-KR) in that order. These units were formed for ploughing supply roads earlier only passable for horses as well as opening roads fully blocked up by snow.

Personnel and all heavy ploughing equipment for detachments came from the districts of Finnish Road and Water Constructing Administration. Detachment was organized as follows:

Strength: 1+5+27 = 33 men
(equipment unknown)

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Viborg Work Battalion
Re-named on 4.3.1940 as:
Viborg Engineer Battalion

Viborg Work Battalion (Viipurin Työpataljoona, Viip.TyöP) was originally formed for bridge constructing and repairing duties around the city of Viborg. Although battalion belonged to troops of Karelian Isthmus Army (Kan.A) it was subordinated to the disposal of the Engineer Commander of II Army Corps. It consisted of three work companies of which one was formed of work conscripts (under or overaged for combat duties) and two of volunteer professional workers of the city of Viborg.

Battalion operated behind the Summa sector at Karelian Isthmus constructing new trenches, positions and dugouts. Volunteers also partisipated in repairing damaged concrete bunkers on the front with the Army engineers. Battalion was re-named on 4.3.1940 as Viborg Engineer Battalion (Viipurin Pioneeripataljoona, Viip.Pion.P). It was organized as follows:

Strength: 406 men

Staff
1st - 2nd Work/Engineer Company
(volunteer professionals)
3rd Work/Engineer Company
(work conscripts)

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Engineer Depot Detachment

2nd, 3rd and 4th Engineer Depot Detachment (Pioneerivarasto-osasto, Pion.Var.Os.) formed small fixed army corps level field depots for storing special engineer equipment (barbed wire etc.), weapons and ammunition (mines, explosives, fuses etc.). Each detachment belonged to the three army corps of the same number. 1st Engineer Depot Detachment was formed for the new I Army Corps in March 1940. Engineer depot detachment was organized as follows:

Strength: 25 men
2x horse vehicle

Delivery Squad
1st - 4th Depot Squad

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Tool Depot Detachment

Tool Depot Detachment (Työasevarasto-osasto, TyöaseVar.Os.) belonged to each division and was numbered with the divisional number. Supreme HQ and Lapland Group (LR) had also one detachment under their command. On 1.1.1940 10th one became 7th Tool Depot Detachment and 11th became 2nd Tool Depot Detachment. 3rd/6th and 4th Tool Depot Detachments were attached to engineer battalions formed for 3rd and 4th Divisions.

Detachment was a divisional unit which formed field depot for storing as well as supplying, repairing and maintenancing special engineer tools and equipment. In 1st, 3rd and 4th Divisions which later had engineer battalion tool depot detachment was part of it. In 9th, 21st and 23rd Divisions tool depot detachment was replaced by Engineer Column [Pioneerikolonna] which took its tasks. Tool depot detachment was organized as follows:

Strength: 15 men
10x horse vehicle

1st - 3rd Depot Squad

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Searchlight Squad

Searchlight Squads (Valonheitinryhmä, Vlh.R) operated mainly at the beginning of Winter War. Their organization is so far unknown.
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Engineer Supplement Regiment
Re-named on ?.1940 as:
Engineer Training Center

Engineer Supplement Regiment (Pioneeri-Täydennysrykmentti, Pion.Täyd.R), later Engineer Training Center (Pioneerikoulutuskeskus, Pion.Koul.K) was located at Koria (near Kouvola). Most new engineer units were formed, trained and equipped there. It was was led by Maj. I. Kauranen and under the command of Home Troops Staff.

Also Engineer Arm Branch / Reserve Officer School (Pion./RUK) was located at Koria. During the war there were three "reserve engineer officer courses" (# 43, 44 and 45) led by Lt. S. Salmi and since 7.2.1940 Lt. V. Komsi.
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* There were additionally units of Fortification Office / Supreme HQ which didn't belong to the Field Army. These units included three Concreting Companies [Betonointikomppania], one Road Maintenance Company, one Road Constructing Company and one Road and Bridge Constructing Company.

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Sources: SAAEE1, ARIRE1, TALHI
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© 6.2.2004 Harri Anttonen

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