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Lapland War
Part of World War II
German withdrawal from finland summer 1944.jpg
German withdrawal From Finland 1944
Date 1 October 1944 – 25 April 1945
Location Lapland, Finland
Result German retreat
Germany Germany Finland Finland
Germany Lothar Rendulic

Germany Matthias Krautler

Germany August Krakau

Finland Hjalmar Siilasvuo

Finland Aaro Pajari

Finland Ruben Lagus

214,000[Notes 1][1 ] 75,000[Notes 2][2 ]
Casualties and losses
4,300–4,500 dead[1 ]
2,300 wounded
1,300 captured
2,872 dead or missing [Notes 3][2 ]
3,000 wounded

The Lapland War (Finnish: Lapin sota) were the hostilities between Finland and Nazi Germany between September 1944 and April 1945, fought in Finland's northernmost Lapland Province. While the Finns saw this as a separate conflict much like the Continuation War, German forces considered their actions to be part of the Second World War. A peculiarity of the war was that the Finnish army was forced to demobilise their forces while at the same time fighting to force the German army to leave Finland. The German forces retreated to Norway, and Finland managed to uphold its promise to the Soviet Union.



Since June 1941, Germany and Finland had been at war with the Soviet Union, co-operating closely in the Continuation War. As early as the summer of 1943, the German High Command began making plans for the eventuality that Finland might make a separate peace agreement with the Soviet Union. The Germans planned to withdraw their forces northward in order to shield the nickel mines near Petsamo.

During the winter of 1943-1944, the Germans improved the roads from northern Norway to northern Finland by extensive use of POW labour. Casualties among these POWs were high, due in part to the fact that many of them had been captured in southern Europe and were still in summer uniform. In addition, the Germans surveyed defensive positions and accumulated stores in the region. Thus they were ready in September 1944, when Finland signed the Moscow Armistice with the Soviet Union.

Progress of operations

While German ground troops were reorganised for withdrawal to the north, the German navy mined the seaward approaches to Finland and attempted to seize the island of Gogland in Operation Tanne Ost. Sailors on Finnish ships in German-held ports, including Norway, were interned, and German submarines sank several Finnish civilian vessels.

The Soviets demanded that all German troops had to be expelled from Finland. The Finns were thus placed in a situation of having to fight to free their lands of German forces. The Finns' task was complicated by the Soviet demand that the major part of Finnish armed forces must be demobilized at the same time, even while conducting a military campaign against the Germans. General Hjalmar Siilasvuo, the victor of Suomussalmi, led the Finns against the Germans, who were commanded by General Lothar Rendulic.

"The Autumn manoeuvres"

During the first few weeks the withdrawal of Germans and advancment of Finnish troops was organised jointly by the headquarters of both armies, a fact that was kept secret from the Soviets. The Germans fell back according to a common timetable, and the Finns attacked and fired at the empty trenches. After two weeks the Soviets realised the deception, and demanded the Finns conduct immediate heavy action against the Germans.

Invasion of Tornio

Fighting intensified when the Finns made a risky invasion from the sea near Tornio on 1 October 1944. Heavy combat lasted for a week, and the Germans were forced to withdraw.

At the onset of the Tornio invasion, Finnish troops took about one hundred Germans as prisoners of war. In an effort to free them, Rendulic ordered Finnish civilians to be captured as hostage. Starting on the 1st of October 1944, Germans imprisoned 132 persons in the town of Kemi and 130 in Rovaniemi, 24 of them women. General Rendulic sent Major General Mathias Kräutler to the headquarters of the Finnish attack troops in Tornio, to deliver a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Wolf Halsti. He demanded that the Germans POWs must be freed, or the Finnish hostages would be shot and the Kemi pulp mill burned down.

Halsti conveyed this message to Lieutenant General Hjalmar Siilasvuo, commander of the Finnish III Army, who refused all bargains or deals with the Germans. Halsti delivered this reply, adding that should anything happen to the civilian hostages or to the mill, he would personally order all the German POWs held by his troops to be shot, together with all German staff and patients of the German military hospital in Tornio.

With this firm Finnish reply, the Germans dropped their threats, and released the Finnish hostages unharmed on 11 October, near Rovaniemi. During the intervening ten days, the situation was carefully followed in the Finnish press, helping to turn the general attitude of the Finns against their former German allies. A popular anti-German attitude intensified when Rendulic ordered scorched-earth tactics, including burning most of the villages and destroying Lapland's infrastructure, .

German retreat to Norway

Germans put up a bitter sign in Muonio.

Siilasvuo pursued the Germans, who consistently fought back so as to cover their retreat towards Norway. Motorized German troops were left behind to secure the main forces, defending their positions with heavy firepower. When the Finns arrived, they tried to bypass German posts with time consuming and back-breaking marches through marshland and forests. Knowing this, the Germans quickly pulled out, destroying bridges and moving to the next defensive post that they had planned and equipped beforehand.

Most of the civilian population of Lapland, totaling 168,000 persons, was evacuated to Sweden and Southern Finland, with the exception of the inhabitants of Tornio area. The civilian evacuation had been carried out as a cooperative effort of German military and Finnish authorities prior to the start of the hostilities.[3] Hundreds of Finnish women who had been engaged to German soldiers or working for the German military left with the German troops, meeting diverse fates.[4]

'Victory in Lapland', Finnish soldiers setting up a Finnish flag on the Norwegian border


In their retreat the German forces under General Lothar Rendulic devastated large areas of northern Finland with scorched earth tactics. As a result, some 40–47% of the dwellings in the area were destroyed, and the provincial capital of Rovaniemi was burned to the ground, as well as the villages of Savukoski and Enontekiö. Two-thirds of the buildings in the main villages of Sodankylä, Muonio, Kolari, Salla and Pello were demolished, 675 bridges were blown up, all main roads were mined, and 3,700 km of telephone lines were destroyed. In addition to the property losses, estimated as equivalent to about US $300 million (in 1945 dollars, which is equivalent to $3.15 billion in 2005 dollars), about 100,000 inhabitants became refugees, a situation that added to the problems of postwar reconstruction. After the war the Allies convicted Rendulic of war crimes, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, although he was released of charges concerning the scorching of Lapland. He was released after six years.

The last German troops were expelled in April 1945. By that time only 600 Finnish troops, mostly fresh recruits, were left facing them due to the Soviet demand for demobilisation of the Finnish army. Because of this, the latter half of the Lapland War is known in Finland as the Children's Crusade.

Military casualties of the conflict were relatively limited: 774 killed, 262 missing in action and about 3,000 wounded for the Finnish troops, and 1,200 KIA and about 2,000 WIA for the Germans. 1,300 German soldiers became prisoners of war, and were handed over to the Soviet Union according to the terms of the armistice with the Soviets.[5] The extensive German land mines caused civilian casualties for decades after the war, and almost one hundred minesweepers were killed on duty.


  1. ^ The most of the Germans 214,000 served in the end of August 1944, but the number dropped quickly as Germans withdrew or proceed to Norway.
  2. ^ The most of the Finns 75,000 served in the end of October 1944, but the number dropped to 12,000 men in December 1944.
  3. ^ Finnish detailed death casualties: Dead, buried 1,077; Wounded, died of wounds 4,594; Dead, not buried later declared as dead 48; Missing, declared as dead 27; Died during prisoner of war 155; Other reasons (diseases, accidents, suicides) 930; Unknown 176



  1. ^ a b Elfvengren, Eero (2005). "Lapin sota ja sen tuhot". in Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti (in Finnish). Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen (1st ed.). Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö. pp. 1124–1149. ISBN 951-0-28690-7.  
  2. ^ a b Kurenmaa, Pekka; Lentilä, Riitta (2005). "Sodan tappiot". in Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti (in Finnish). Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen (1st ed.). Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö. pp. 1150–1162. ISBN 951-0-28690-7.  
  3. ^ Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE: Evacuation of Lapland Retrieved 22-2-2007. Real Audio Clip. (Finnish)
  4. ^ Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE: Naiset saksalaisten matkassa WWW-page and linked Real Audio clip. Retrieved 22-2-2007 (Finnish); Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE: Paluu miinavaaraan. WWW-page and linked Real Audio clip. Retrieved 22-2-2007 (Finnish); Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE: Jälleenrakennus WWW-page and linked Real Audio clip. Retrieved 22-2-2007 (Finnish)
  5. ^ Lapland War Retrieved 2-22-2007


  • Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti (ed.) (2005) (in Finnish). Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen (1st ed.). WSOY. ISBN 951-0-28690-7.  

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