Voices of the Soldiers: Kersantti Jaakko Rapi

These interviews are translations of a series of interviews done by Martti Pohjakallio, between the years 1965 and 1966. He interviewed over 300 men of various ranks who had taken part in the defensive battles in the Karelian Isthmus in the summer of 1944. The interviews are varied in style and the interviewer did not want to steer them to any particular direction. These records were later published by the Finnish Broadcasting Company – and these translations are based on these publicly available records.

The interviewee Jaakko Rapi fought in the battle of Valkeasaari as part of the Infantry Regiment 1. Valkeasaari was the focal point of the Soviet breakthrough attack in the Karelian Isthmus. The IR 1 ended up facing over 100 tanks and the force of the Soviet 30th Guards Rifle Corps. IR 1 lost about 28% of its manpower within the first few days of the battle.



Last updated: July 28th, 2018



Kersantti Jaakko Rapi, you were in the Karelian Isthmus in 1944 when the breakthrough battles began, am I right?

Yes.

And in the third battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 10th Division?

Yes.

What did the defensive positions in Valkeasaari look before the battle? Did you think they were in a good condition or was there something that could have been improved?

Oh yes, they were in good order, at least when we went there they were pretty much in a good condition.

So, the firing trenches and connection trenches were deep enough?

Well yes, they were. But when we arrived the third battalion was put in the reserves. And since we were in the reserves we had to go to the frontline every night and inspect the defensive positions and make a situation report of all that for the battalion.

What were these situation reports like on your part?

From where we were we could see that the enemy was getting ready for an attack, without a doubt. And every night – or in the morning – we reported what we saw there. And they bluntly told us that we have so many men in the reserves, as much artillery as we could ever need, so that there’s no reason to worry or anything like that.

So, they just tried to calm you down?

Yeah.

Do you think that a great attack like this was expected by anyone?

Well, I think it was pretty obvious that it was reported further, seeing as I too made the report to the battalion every morning, no doubt.

Who was your company commander?

At that point I think it was this Lumikuru.

Well on the 9th of June when the battle of Valkeasaari began – what was the wake up like for you?

Our wake up was such that, well there was huge commotion. First and second battalion were in the frontline and we the third there in the reserves then.

You were not in the firing line?

Nah we weren’t in the line.

But you did notice all that great force that the battle started with. How did it compare, I mean you had been in other places too during the war, was the air bombardment and the artillery bombardment much stronger than in other battles or…?

Oh yes it was, you could see it right away. I had to take the situation reports to the company commander and I had to go between the frontline and him many times. There was this guy, Lukanteri, he was the weapons NCO. He told me that he had not believed what people had said earlier. And I was being sent to the frontline, so he said Jaakko, don’t you go there anymore, god damnit. He said he had heard some things but thought it was a joke. He said that now he had noticed that it was nothing but feeding men in there, told me to stay back.

Was the firing more intense than what you were used to in the war?

Well noticeably so, I could feel it as I had to move between the frontline and the headquarters three times during that single day.

So, there were some difficulties in traversing the path?

Well there were some difficulties. From our company we sent for the first time, you know, these machine gunners to the frontline. There was, you know, this place called “engine curve” there in Valkeasaari. So, to this “engine curve” … I can’t remember the date, was it the 11th or the 12th, but the Russkies got to this “engine curve”. So, they needed to have two more machine guns there. And the company commander from the third battalion told me to lead these machine guns to the frontline.

Wasn’t this right when the battle started?

No, it wasn’t. The battle had gone for a bit so that we had lost, I mean the Russkies had got to the “engine curve”, and wreaked havoc there. The friendlies had already lost their machine guns in there, so we had to take the two machine guns from the third battalion and I had to take them there.

But this happened before the general retreat from the Valkeasaari happened?

This happened long before it. And so, we went, and I took the machine guns there. And it so happened that I took them there and before I even got back, they told me that the machine guns were already lost. That I have to take some more machine guns there. So, the next time the machine guns were from the same platoon, so it was the platoon leader, well yeah…

Well it was the next day I think that the company commander told me that the first half-platoon has to go make a counter assault on the Gulf of Bothnia side, that the Russkies had broken through there. And that I would go with them. Then the other half-platoon would go to some other place to counter assault. He showed me on the map that this is where the first half-platoon went, and this is where the other is, and here somewhere they were doing all the killing. But before I went to follow them I stopped by my dugout and there was nothing in there, god damnit, but one woman with a broken arm and one granny was laying down on her belly in the trench weeping and saying the Russians were pretty close. And so, I left then…

Who were these women, were they civilians?

No, they weren’t, they were the Lotta’s from the first and second battalion. They were there, because the third battalion and the headquarters were there… what did they call the place... what the hell was it called… the place where they had the swamp bridge, there was that little dip in the ground, that’s where the reserves were.

So just there behind the hill next to the battalion first aid station, so behind that hill towards the Gulf of Bothnia was where the counter assaulting platoons were supposed to be. So, I went over the hill and down the other side and went next to the road there. And three Russky tanks appeared and started firing at me so I dropped down in the ditch like a sack of potatoes. They must have thought I died so I used my left foot to look for a foxhole. The distance between us must have been about 200 meters, so they must have noticed that I just fell down like that. So, I saw that they were pretty close so just like I was sprinting a 100-meter sprint I got my feet ready and ran up the same hill I came down from.

And as I got up the hill, well the rest of the Lotta’s came there and cried and wept and yelled that god damnit they are right there already, 150 meters to our right in the edge of the forest. Well I told them there’s no reason to cry but run over the swamp bridge there. And there on the swamp bridge I met of the guys from my platoon and we stayed right there, I mean on the other side of the swamp bridge there on the swamp. There was that, command position there on the hill and the artillery horses ran from there. All they had were their harnesses, which were hanging on their sides flapping.

So, there we stayed to fight. I told the boy that we won’t god damnit run away, that all the russky needs is a counter attack, so we wont run. We’ve got plenty of men in the reserve, so we stayed there. We found one machine gun and I went and found some machine gun belts from the command post, so we started firing as much as we could. There on the other hill there we had the Mitre-heads [Finnish slang for Soviet soldiers] running so we blessed them with our machine gun. And that’s where we stayed till the afternoon.

That’s until the evening of the 10th? This was all from the 10th?

It was the last day, since there was nobody else there. We were there from the morning when everyone had already left, and we stayed till afternoon.

It seems you were there even after the enemy?

Well we were so much after the enemy that, I mean three and a half kilometres behind us was this 10th Division… what was it…

Headquarters?

… a sort of a camp, one where they had a sawmill. It was three and a half kilometres behind Valkeasaari. I said let’s head straight towards it, we know roughly where all the proper roads go. So, we left towards the sawmill, it was roughly around three – four in the afternoon. And we carried the machine gun on our shoulders too, can’t remember which one of us carried it. The boy with me was called a rookie, because he was a replacement, a young man.

Well we walked down the side of the road and I think there was only about 300 metres left, 200 at most when the neighbour noticed us. They must have thought that we were real men as we were dragging the machine gun with us. And bloody hell they started firing at us! I was almost flying, had to give it all I can, you know how fast a man can run 100 meters – that’s how fast I ran, and the boy ran even faster!

The machine gun was left behind then?

Yeah, as we started I told the boy that toss it away god damnit if you have time. And then we ran.

What weapons were you left with then?

Neither of us had any sort of weapons. I was left with two hand grenades, but I wonder if the boy had any weapons at all. And we ran as fast as we could until we were out of sight in to the woods. Then we turned towards St. Petersburg. The boy said let’s go towards Finland, but I said no, towards St. Petersburg. Then we ran east until we came to a swamp. We went hiding behind a big rock on the side of the swamp, with our hearts beating like engines god damn. And some Russkies went past, six – seven meters away from us. We stayed on the inside, they went on the outside, made a loop three – four meters away from us. We were not even breathing at that point god damn, I said we’ll get caught.

About these Lotta’s from the morning of the 10th, did you see or hear anything about them, do you think they stayed there or got out?

No, we knew nothing of them… but you know, when we had run back like that towards the east. I told the boy that had we not ran this way we would have been caught.

And as we had walked towards Finland for… about a day I think. I can’t remember who we met when and where but there were about nine of us there then, or something like that. There was one man from Lappeenranta and it seemed to me he had lost all hope of ever seeing Finland again.

What was your personal opinion about this thing?

I don’t know but here’s the thing, I had been in every part of that frontline, I knew what the compass heading and which way we should head to, this was all naturally clear to me. So, I told and explained to these guys – you know these guys we met there on the side of the road or cowering in the swamp bare feet. Some had one shoe, some had none at all. So, we had a discussion. One said this, one said that, and I said that god damnit we have to head to north, that we can’t take the roads because we are nothing but a rabble. That ended up in a fight, the guys saying that we should head west and the others saying we should head north. I tried to point out that if the Russkies are already in Vyborg… you know we knew nothing. And if we go west from here, the Vyborg Bay is too wide… and I was a poor swimmer and they expect me to swim across that wide part of the bay. Well, the fight got all serious and then we separated.

There was nine of you before you separated?

Yes, nine I think and four or five of us, can’t remember how many, went north while the rest went west. And those who went to the west are still on that trip to this day…

For those that went north I suggested that we head directly north from Valkeasaari and that if we walk a certain distance then Lauritsala would come next. And this was certain, the way there was clear to me. So, the boy from Lappeenranta gave me his compass, I didn’t have one with me. He told me that he doesn’t trust himself and he doesn’t trust anyone else either, but that he’ll walk behind me and won’t give the compass to anyone else.

So, he gave you the compass then?

Well he gave it to me because he didn’t trust the others.

Where did you end up going from there then?

We continued for, if I remember correctly, one day until we found an abandoned house. I had one and half pieces of crispbread, the army crispbread, when we left from Valkeasaari. The others had nothing. As we had walked for so long, well you know the day and a half, so when we found the house the first thought was that of course we’ll go in to look for food!

I don’t know why but I have a memory that I thought that for some reason not all the men should go at once, but somebody had to go first to make sure it’s safe. You had to be careful, so one man at a time. So, we stayed there in the field hiding, it was summery weather. I don’t remember who it was that tried to go in there but soon he came back and told us that somebody else was trying to get in from the other side too. And as I am one big fool I was the first one to go and see what really was going on. We had come from sort of from behind the building, so I started going around the right staying by the stone fence and took a look. Well there were some guys on the other side. The others hid in the field and I went behind the stone fence. I yelled whose there, but they didn’t reply, only yelled at me to come to them. Well I replied that they should come to me, but neither of us were brave enough to go.

But then I said to the boys that god damnit, I’ll go there. Give me a rifle and if they catch me remember the compass heading and under no circumstance use the road. So, I got up and stood on the stone fence, hopped over it and started towards them. Well I didn’t get to go too far before a man started closing in from the other side. I saw that he was a big, burly guy and he had no insignia on. We stood face to face there and he said who are you. I replied I was Rapi from the third battalion, third machine gun company. He said he is majuri Andersson, there’s many of us here.

So, we got all our men together from the hiding and there was 22, no 23 of us there then. All of us went inside the house to look for food but it was already cleaned out. Andersson said that now we’ll get out of here just fine, if all else fails we can use force. We headed out and got about twenty or so kilometres north of Kivennapa. And there was this road, road that goes to Kivennapa and we prepared to cross it. In the group we had this young vänrikki with us, I don’t know his name, but he had three rifle or machine gun bullets shot through his lungs. He spat blood and we had to carry him. He told us to give him a gun and would have shot himself if we had given him one, and so we just carried him as a group.

You managed to bring him with you?

Yes, we brought him all the way. Andersson only said that we are not allowed to give him a gun and that we’ll all carry him. There was nothing to it, it took five men to carry him, two held under the arms and two lifted him up. That’s how we carried him and then we got here, I remember it was 23 kilometres from Kivennapa when this famous Finnish band of Lagus came [Lagus was commander of the Armoured Brigade], they made a counter attack from Kivennapa. I remember when we finally got to the road, we didn’t use the roads, only forest paths.

But we got to the road and I was in the first group that got there. There was four of us men there by the road, two went over and two stayed on this side. One watching left, one watching right. I myself was just over the road when I suddenly felt I need to look towards north and I saw these, what were these… these Finnish Ford V8’s. The colour looked familiar even though I didn’t see SA-symbol [SA = Finnish Army] I jumped on the road with my submachine gun. And to be honest, he came so fast he could have easily driven over me. But I didn’t shoot at them either because I saw it was a friendly truck. Andersson jumped up from the other side of the road and asked if it was a god damn Finnish truck and I told him it was. So, he said that we have to quickly get everyone in the ditch and hide so if another truck comes we’d all jump on the road.

Well not long another truck came, and somebody yelled for everyone to get on the road. The truck came charging down the road, it was about 300 – 400 meters long straight on the road. The truck did drive pretty close before it slowed down, we were wondering if it’ll try drive us over, but he didn’t dare as there was too many of us. Then a kersantti hopped out and bloody hell he was angry. He yelled at us that the road was now only open for a few minutes and that he was in a hurry. This Andersson then went there and told him who he was and told we were from Valkeasaari and not in a hurry. The kersantti got all stiff as none of us had any insignia on and we had a major with us and –

Not even majuri Andersson had any insignia on?

Oh no, he just said he is who he is. The god damn kersantti was all stiff in an attention, he drove the truck to the side of the road and us and the wounded vänrikki all got on the truck. Andersson said that two submachine guns on the roof, he said we’d get through. If the road was blocked, we could push through. All the other weapons watched the sides. And that’s how we got to Kivennapa and from Kivennapa we crossed the border, came back like old boys. By the time I got back to my own company I was already listed as fallen in battle.

End of recording.




© 2020 | Design: Panu Korhonen | Content: Petri Peltola & Panu Korhonen