Overlord'S Blog: Friendly Fire
Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, and keeping with tradition I'll be writing about something a bit different from my normal fare.
When Finland managed to claw itself to freedom from the mess of the Russian Civil War its military obtained a number of items from its former Russian overlords. One such spoil of freedom was the minelayer Voin. Armed with a pair of 47mm guns, bad seakeeping and a low mine laying capacity she was soon turned into a depot ship.
In the 1930's she was renamed Louhi. During the Second World War she was re-armed and served throughout as a minelayer, and despite her shortcomings she achieved the third highest total number of mines laid.
At the end of the Continuation War the Finns made peace with the Russians. One of the clauses of this peace was to expel the German forces inside Finland, this in turn led to the Lapland War. There was a veteran submarine officer called Captain Olavi Syrjänen who had been a liaison officer with a German U-boat. He'd been selected for this role due to his ability to speak German fluently. At the outbreak of the Lapland War Cpt Syrjänen held a goodbye party for his friends, the crew of U-370, and their commander Oberleutnant zur See Karl Nielsen.
|The minelayer Louhi
Oblt.z.S Nielsen was born in Hamburg in 1911, and had joined the navy in 1935. He was posted to command of U-370 in November 1943, later he'd become good friends with his liaison officer.
As the Lapland War progressed, there wasn't much fighting as the Finns were slowly pursuing the retreating Germans, just enough to keep their former allies moving, but not enough to catch them or have a fight. This might have had something to do with the Germans conducting an orderly withdrawal, and then informing the Finns, in secret, of their timetables so the Finns could follow up and just happen to miss the retreating Germans. Eventually pressure, and threats of resumption of hostilities, from the Soviets forced the Finns to take an active part in the war.
The Finnish Navy also had to start operations against the Germans in conjunction with the Russian Navy. One of the ships included in these was the minelayer Louhi, now captained by Cpt Syrjänen. Due to the chance of mines being laid in the wrong place a Russian liaison officer was stationed on the ship.
On 12th of January 1945 the Louhi and another Finnish minelayer were placing a minefield to hinder the Germans. They were escorted by a pair of Soviet gun boats. Suddenly there was an explosion at the Louhi's stern. She was ripped wide open and began to sink, going under about two minutes later. She took eleven of her 41 crew down with her.
After twenty minutes in the freezing sea, without a life jacket, which was being used by the Russian liaison officer, Cpt Syrjänen was rescued by the Soviet gun boats. He was the last of the survivors to be rescued.
Some distance away lay U-370. Oblt.z.S Nielsen had ordered a pair of acoustic homing torpedoes to be fired at the flotilla, not knowing his friend was on one of the ships.
Cpt Syrjänen died in 1992, and Oblt.z.S Nielsen is still alive today. U-370 was scuttled on the 5th of May 1945.
uboat.net and www.hs.fi