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The Sausage War August 26, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

 

Beachcombing has been paying perhaps too much attention to Finland in the last two months: the result of a long infatuation with Mannerheim, the aristocratic military commander who twice saved his young country from the Soviets. He kicked off with the tale of Mannerheim’s cigar. He moved  onto a WIBT moment in the court of the red Tsar when Finnish democrats had the naivety to tell Stalin and Molotov to buck up and respect international law. Today though, before he leaves Finland behind for a while, he will pass from diplomacy and smoking to a weird war episode and one of the most extraordinary moments in the Winter War: the Battle of the Sausages.

It began with a rare Soviet success: we are on the Tolvajarvi front not far from the village of that name.  A Soviet battalion has, December 10, marched in silence through the snowy woods and is ready to fall on a crucial Finnish supply position in a brilliantly executed night attack.

The attack worked almost perfectly. Finnish personnel here were few and many were non-military – medical orderlies and the like. The Finns were also – a rare event in the Winter War when the snow boot was normally on the other foot – taken by surprise. It looked very much as if the Soviets had scored an outstanding victory. That was until they reached the kitchens…

The Soviet soldiers in the Winter War were badly led and, more importantly, badly fed. Cannibalism in the Russian ranks is well attested in Finnish photographs from the period. And emerging out of the icy night they suddenly found themselves on the edge of a great victory in front of fleeing cooks and huge pans of sausage soup. They froze, they lowered their weapons – Beachcombing imagines that they looked at each other – and then they began to eat.

It is just possible that they could have got away with this if they were fighting a tired British regiment or  demoralized Italians. But these were, for God’s sake, the Finns! A Colonel Pajari rounded up his scattered men: including the outraged chefs and counterattacked with bayonets. The Sausage War was a bloody affair and soon the Russians were in full retreat as the ‘real’ Finnish soldier arrived to finish the job.

Allegedly the battalion was almost wiped out and a hundred frozen Russians were found in the field kitchen the next morning. Beachcombing likes to think that they died with the taste of good Finnish sausage in their mouths. There is something ghastly about men being shot or stabbed while they eat: perhaps eating is a convivial moment or perhaps there is a vague unspoken convention that understands we are at our most vulnerable with food in our hands.

All this got Beach thinking about food and drink leading other armies astray: dr beachcombing AT yahoo DOT com for other examples.

There are the accounts of the half starving Germans in Operation Michael, the last desperate throw of the dice in the Great War, being amazed by Allied supplied of food as they overran trench after trench in 1918. It goes without saying though that the Germans didn’t stop.

Another example is the haunting description in Thucydides of a thirsty Athenian army, 413 BC, running forward to drink from the river Assinarus (another post another day) even though they were under fire from both banks. They drank with all too predictable consequences.

Then there are those many battles where drunkenness has played its part…