Petsamo and Kirkenes 1944 – The Soviet Offensive in the Northern Arctic, David Greentree

Petsamo and Kirkenes 1944 – The Soviet Offensive in the Northern Arctic, David Greentree

Campaign 343

This book covers one of the more obscure campaigns of the Second World War, in which the Soviets pushed the Germans out of their last footholds on the Soviet arctic coast and the far north of Finland and Norway, forcing them to retreat 500km into northern Norway.

During this campaign the Germans fielded four divisions, the Soviets eight divisions and a significant number of supporting units. However we should remember that German divisions were generally larger than Soviet ones, so the German 2. Gebirgs-Division had 16,000 men and the 6.Gebirgs-Division 18,000, while the Soviet 99th Rifle Corps, the only one for which we get figures, had 19,000 men. This becomes important when we look at the balance of power – in theory the campaign began with four Soviet divisions attacking one German division, but with Soviet divisions perhaps half the size of their German opponents that becomes an advantage of two-to-one, not four-to-one. 

We get a detailed account of the fighting, with good material from both sides. Both sides struggled with the terrain and the weather, which made any Soviet outflanking moves difficult as they would have to happen away from the limited road network, but also made it trickier for the Germans to retreat. The text is supported by the usual excellent Osprey maps, which allow us to trace the fighting as it crossed this unfamiliar area.

There are moments where one feels the author rather exaggerates German successes. The Soviets were attacking across very difficult terrain towards a well dug in enemy, but the Germans were still unable to stop them. At one point the Germans are praised for managed to evacuate one third of their supplies before Kirkenes fell, which means that two thirds of their supplies fell into Soviet hands! Having said that, we are then told that the Germans retreated 1,000km to the Lyngen Line, but that is actually only 500km to the west of this battlefield.

To me the Soviet successes are actually rather more impressive. They were attacking across very difficult terrain, with very few roads, plenty of rivers to cross, and for those units attempting out flanking movements no fires and no pontoon bridges. Deep inlets cut into the coast, forcing the attacks into broad sweeping movements inland. Despite these problems, they did achieve their objectives, pushing the Germans far away from the Soviet frontier and deep into Norway, as well as capturing key mines.

Origins of the Campaign
Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces
Opposing Plans
The Campaign

Author: David Greentree
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2019

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