Dead Soviet Soldier on the Salla Front, Finland

A Soviet Red Army soldier killed by the Finns along the Kemijarvi-Salla Road, probably during the Battle of Salla near the Kemi River in mid-December 1939. On December 13, 1939, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (June 4, 1867 - January 27, 1951) ordered Kurt Martti Wallenius (July 25, 1893 - May 3, 1984) to take command of the Lapin Ryhma (Lapland Group) at Rovaniemi to stop the Soviet 88th and 122nd Divisions from advancing from Salla through Kemijarvi to Rovaniemi. The Soviets hoped to cut Finalnd in two. Jalkavakirykmentti 40 (The 40th Infantry Regiment) of the Finnish Army attacked and destroyed the Soviet Forces in a series of battles from DEcember 13-16, 1939. The Soviets began to withdraw on December 17, 1939. Around that date, LIFE Magazine photographer Carl Mydans came to visit the Kemijarvi battlefield, which was accessible by rail from Sweden. Wallenius personally accompanied him, driving Mydans around in his staff car. Mydans told TIME Magazine on "I have never worked under greater hardship than when shooting the Kemi River battlefield. I carried two Contaxes inside my sheepskin coat to keep them from freezing. I would make a picture quickly with one, return it to its warmth and use the second camera for the next shot. It was necessary to work barehanded during the exposure and this was long enough to get nipped fingers. Changing film became a major task. The light came at [1100 Hours] and was gone before [1400 Hours] and at best it was bad. Pictures lay at every glance, but I have never suffered more in getting them." While examining the bodies on the Kemi River Road, Mydans overheard a Finnish officer say, "The wolves will eat well this winter." The Soviets never again attempted a major offensive in this area until the Continuation War of 1944.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Date Photographed: 
Friday, December 15, 1939
Kemi River