Sixty years ago, Finland lost its eastern city of Vyborg to the Soviet Union. The nation's oldest and most cosmopolitan city fell quickly to the Red Army.
Altogether Finland lost all or part of more than 60 municipalities in Karelia. Vyborg, which celebrated its 600th anniversary last year, remains the symbol of that lost Finnish heartland.
The Red Army launched a massive attack on Vyborg -- known in Finnish as Viipuri -- early in the morning of June 20th, 1944.
The attack was the climax of a major Soviet offensive that had begun 10 days earlier. The civilian population had been evacuated from Vyborg a few days earlier, as the Red Army relentlessly approached despite stiff resistance.
The assault intensified as the day wore on. By afternoon, the Finnish defenders withdrew amid general panic. Five minutes after the Finnish flag was taken down from Vyborg Castle, the bridge leading to it was blown up to slow the Soviet advance. In the end, though, the Russians rolled into Vyborg with hardly a fight in the city itself.
A Fatal Misunderstanding
Historians now blame the loss of the town on a shortage of troops and artillery, and a misunderstood order to retreat. Troops fleeing the front line took with them reservists from the rear areas, so that a new offensive could not be carried out.
There were also problems with Finnish anti-tank defences and a general lack of experience among the city's defenders. Artillery battalions were unable to provide enough support, as they ran out of ammunition. The city's geographic layout also made it hard to defend.
The supreme commander of the Finnish Defence Forces, General Mannerheim, called the loss of Vyborg a scandal. Indeed the fall of the town was a severe blow to Finland. However, it also stoked the national will to fight during the last summer of the Continuation War.