[Winter War] Motti Tactics – How The Finns Destroyed Soviet Divisions


In this video, we will take a look at Motti tactics which were used by the Finnish in the Russo-Finnish Winter War in 1939-1940 First, we will take a look at the modern, codified version of the Motti tactics, according to the Mountain Operations field manual by the U.S. Army. And then take a brief look at the specific conditions of the Winter War. So let’s get started… Motti tactics follow the Divide and Conquer principle. By breaking the enemy up into smaller pieces, and defeating those individually. A motti, in military terms is basically a pocket of enemy troops In order to perform Motti tactics, superior mobility is needed.. in combination with knowledge of terrain, …operating conditions and the environment. In addition, proper recon is necessary to determine where and when to engage. The attack on supplies and bivouacs will decrease the enemy’s ability to defend itself against attacks, but also against the environment, thus constantly reducing its ability to fight and its morale. The tactics follow a simple three-step model: locating and fixing the enemy, isolating the enemy, attacking to defeat or destroy the enemy. First: locating and fixing the enemy. Hence we have now a log in front of us, and we need to stop it, to further an original analogy of cutting firewood. To accomplish this, obstacles, ambushes and raids are used to stop the enemy from moving. Whereas obstacles can be basically everything, like natural waterways, forests, ditches, mines, et cetera. and any combination of those. Another important part of the attacks and obstacles is to disturb the enemy’s routine. Regular raids will hinder him from resting properly. Increasing the overall tension and lowering morale. Ideally, friendly units attack under the cover of night and terrain. An important part is the avoidance of the enemy security forces, and striking the enemy’s operations to create a large amount of disturbance in the force. This should force the enemy to commit more of its troops for security, thus further reducing the overall effectiveness of his units. Hit-and-run tactics should be performed, unless an enemy unit can be easily destroyed. After the enemy is fixated, the second phase begins. The isolation of the enemy. In this phase, the log is basically cut up in to smaller parts of fire wood. Since the enemy is fixated, it is time to break up its troops by attacking weak points of the enemy formations; thus creating smaller pockets, or mottis. This will severely reduce the cohesion of the enemy, its ability to communicate and co-ordinate properly. This should lead the enemy to try to break out, and, while doing so, exhausting his forces even more. Once the enemy forces are separated, they are usually quite worn already. The final phase can begin; the destruction of each pocket. This is of course heavily dependent on the balance of force. If enough firepower is available, the enemy can be easily dealt with. If not, like it was for the Finnish in the Winter War, the enemy must be slowly worn down by weather, starvation, and each motti must be cleared out individually. Which brings us to the next part, the specific circumstances of the Winter War. The Winter War was ideally suited for Motti tactics for several reasons; First of, terrain and climate, Second, the capability of the Soviet forces, and third, the capability of the Finnish forces. If one looks at the simple map of Finland, you might miss something. Namely that large areas are covered by very dense forests. Through these forests, there were only a few, widely separated roads. Additionally, most of Finland’s climate is classified as Subarctic. Of course, it didn’t help that the Soviets started a war in the winter. Which created very adverse conditions. Some obvious, like a lot of snow. And some less obvious… Like that the daylight only lasted about five hours in December of 1939. As a result, the Soviet forces were usually split across wide areas because they had to move along the roads. Now the rigid behavior of the Soviet forces increased the desparity even more. Initiative, was something that in the Soviet forces could lead to problems with commissars and superiors. This was enforced by the purges of the officers’ corps, because few competent commanders were left. Since the commander of the Finnish forces, Marshall Mannerheim served in the Imperial Russian Army before, he was very aware of the training, mindset and capabilities of the Soviet forces. Although the Soviet forces had large amounts of tanks, trucks, artillery and air planes, a lot of this equipment could not be used effectivelly. For instance, the few daylight hours extremely limited the use of air planes. A lot of the artillery was flat firing, which made it useless in the heavily forested areas, except for close-range. This is a stark counter to the Finnish forces, which were short of equipment of nearly every kind, basically no armor, weak artillery, old aircraft and a limited amount of ammunition. Yet, they knew what they were fighting for, whom they were fighting and they knew the terrain very well. The whole Finnish army was trained to fight especially in heavily forested areas. As an example, Now, if you look at the Motti tactics again, you can see why they were so effective in the Winter War. The Red Army was mostly bound to roads, thus the Soviet formations were scattered in long columns; logs ready to be chopped into fire wood. They had no proper ski troops for patrolling flanks and providing recon. Neither could the air force provide recon operations due to the long nights. Their rigid doctrine also would inhibit every initiative from the get go. The Finnish units, however, were trained for small unit tactics and high mobility. They all knew how to ski and often fought in terrain they knew very well. They could easily perform raids, long-term patrols, and harassing operations that were essential for Motti tactics. Additionally, in order to wear down the enemy, the Finnish attacked unusual targets, like field kitchens and camp fires, thus, robbing the ability of the enemy to feed and rest properly. Now since we’ve covered the essentials, a bit of a reality check in the short strategic context in regards to the Winter War. The term Motti Tactics became a buzzword like Blitzkrieg, in the international media during the early stages of the Second World War. For Blitzkrieg, we know that the term never existed in German doctrine nor planning. For Motti, the exact origins are not known. Basically, the Finns played to the strength, and the conditions to the battlefield, as a result the Motti tactics developed naturally. This is also underlined by the statements of the Finnish commanders. A major problem was that the Finnish had a hard time destroying the established Mottis, due to a lack of artillery, armor and air power. As they often had to starve, freeze and individually clear out each Motti, This took, of course, time and manpower, which the Finnish didn’t have. Actually, Mannerheim wanted to avoid the creation of any fortified Soviet positions, because he knew of the tenacity of the Russian soldier in defense. So Motti tactics were effective in general, but due to lack of equipment, time and manpower, the Finnish couldn’t exploit them fully, nor could they use them to gain a strategic advantage. As always, all sources are in the description with links to Amazon, and even free PDF’s. Thank you for watching, and see you next time.

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