Finland and Nurmes in World War II

Karttaan merkittynä Suomen rajamuutoksia 1944

The areas witch Finland lost in 1944.


Winter War 1939-1940

The main reason for Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union was Josif Stalin´s will to make Finland a part of the Soviet Union. Winter War began in November 1939, when the Red Army of the Soviet Union attacked Finland.

There were no field battles in the Nurmes area during the World War II, but the town went through heavy air strikes. Dozens of people lost their lives, and many buildings were destroyed. One of the reasons of bombings was an important railway from south to the north in Nurmes.

Värikuvassa punatiilinen kirkon seinä, jossa pommien sirpaleiden aiheuttamia vaurioita.

Bombing damages of Nurmes Church in 1940.


Kuvassa oppilas asettaa kynttilän muistomerkin edustalle.

The monument of Nurmes bombings.

Because Nurmes was situated so close to the Russian border, most of the town`s civil people were evacuated to the western Finland to Pohjanmaa. For example, 12 years old girl Toini Okkonen and 10 years old girl Sirkka Partanen had to leave their homes. When the Winter War was over, Okkonen, Partanen and other residents of Nurmes came back to their home places.

Sirkka Partanen 2022 (born in 1929)

Many soldiers from Nurmes fought in the frontline in Lieksa about 50 kilometers from Nurmes to east. One of these soldiers was 45 years old lieutenant Esa Kauppinen (1894-1973). He was the headmaster of Nurmes high school. 15 years old Ahti Okkonen was a voluntary in Nurmes civil guard. He`s job was to take the enlistment orders to local men. He has talked about the war times:” It was difficult mission for me, and it was difficult situation also for them, because you never knew who would come back from the war”.

Mustavalkoisessa kuvassa sotilaspukuinen henkilö rintamalla.

Esa Kauppinen (1894-1973)

In the Winter War Finnish army stopped the attack of the Soviet Union. The war came to an end in March 1940. Finland lost about 10 % of its’s area, mainly parts of Karelia, but Finland was still independent, and the Red Army failed to occupy Finland. This was quite surprising because the population of Finland was about 4 million and the population of the Soviet Union was about 180 million people. One of the last victims of the Winter War was 30 years old lieutenant Job Kolehmainen from Nurmes. He was killed in the frontline the same day that peace came.


Continuation War 1941–1944

After the winter war Finland was afraid of a new attack from the Soviet Union. That was the reason why Finland started to co-operate with Hitler’s Germany in 1940 – 1941. Finland hoped that Germany would support Finland if the Soviet Union would try to attack again. In turn Hitler wanted that Finnish army would become part of the operation Barbarossa, Germany`s attack to the Soviet Union.

In June 1941 the soviet army attacked Finland again. So called Continuation War between Russia and Finland started. After the soviet air attacks, marshal Mannerheim, the supreme commander of the Finnish army ordered, that all the areas lost in the Winter War Finland should be taken back.  Finland also occupied East Karelia that was outside Finland’s old borders.

In the Continuation War, the frontline was quite far away from Nurmes, about 200 kilometers to east. However, in Nurmes they also prepared to defend the town and whole of Finland. Fortification structures in Nurmes were a part of the Salpa Line, that was Finland’s most important defense line. It was about 1200-kilometer-long defense line from the Baltic Sea to the Arctic Sea. There were never battles in the Salpa Line, but it was Finland`s last protection and also Stalin knew that.

Kuvassa panssarisestekiviä metsässä.

Salpa Line in Nurmes.

Many soldiers from Nurmes and Valtimo fought in the Eastern Karelia. One of those was Mauri Kuvaja (1923-2019). He has said that” the war was cruel”. During the Continuation war civils in Nurmes were not evacuated. Inhabitants were afraid of the Soviet partisans, which attacked against civilians. For example, Toini Okkonen remembered how she faced partisans face to face. Sirkka Partanen experienced attack of the Soviet air forces at the begin of the Continuation War. The attack happened close to the current Bomba-house when she was swimming with her sister.

Mauri Kuvaja (1923-2019)

Home front supported Finland’s fight in many ways. Toini Okkonen belonged to the women’s voluntary civil defense organization called Lotta Svärd. Those voluntary women took part for example to the air surveillance, medical care, communication, and catering. Toini Okkonen also knit mittens for soldiers. Also Sirkka Partanen belonged Lotta Svärd -organisation. She was working in the air surveillance in 1943 and 1944.

Mustavalkoisessa kuvassa seisoo lottapukuisia naisia ja tyttöjä puurakennuksen edustalla.

Sirkka Partanen is the second from the right (1944).

Kuvassa muistolaatta rakennuksen seinässä ja teksti: Tällä paikalla toimi Nurmeksen Suojeluskunta ja Lotta Svärd -yhdistys 1934-1944.

Memorial plaque of Nurmes civil guard and Lotta Svärd -organisation, close to Highschool.

In the summer of 1944, couple days after the landing of Normandy, Stalin decided to break Finland`s resistance. He ordered a massive attack against Finland. Finland`s army had to retreat quickly. Finland’s president Risto Ryti asked help from Hitler. Hitler promised to help if Finland would continue to fight with Germany. Ryti sent a letter to Hitler at his own name and promised that Finland would not make peace with the Soviet Union. Hitler sent Germany`s Luftwaffe and other weapons, for Panzerschrecks, to Finland. With the help from Germany Finland managed to stop soviet invasion in the Karelia area. After that, president Ryti leaved his office and new president Mannerheim stopped the co-operation with Germany. Stalin agreed to armistice. Finland`s army never surrendered, and the Soviet Union never managed to occupy Finland.


Lapland War 1944–1945

After the Continuation War the Soviet Union demanded, that Finland had to drive away Germany’s soldiers From the North Finland. Germany`s army would have left in any case but that was not good enough for Stalin. He demanded that Finland had to start a war against Germany. Lapland’s War began in September 1944. One of the soldiers that took part to the war was Ahti Okkonen from Nurmes. He participated the landing of Tornio. He remembered: “It was really trip, because the Luftwaffe tried to sink our ship.” The Lapland’s war came to an end in the April of 1945, when the last Germans were driven away from Finland to Norway.

Mustavalkoisessa kuvassa suomalainen sotilas.

Ahti Okkonen (1924-2024)

After the wars

The World War II was very heavy to Finland. But Finland managed to maintain its’ independence and remained as a democratic state. Finland was the only country fighting against the Soviet Union that was never occupied.

About 90 000 finish soldiers died in the wars of 1939-1945 and a couple of thousand civilians lost their lives. About 200 soldiers from Nurmes were killed. Over 400 000 Karelians lost their homes and were re-settled to the other parts of the country, also to Nurmes ja Valtimo.

Kuvassa lumipukuisia reserviläisiä marssimassa kohti Sankarihautausmaan muistomerkkiä.

War cemetery in Nurmes 2022.

After the war many people in Finland were afraid of a new war and were hiding weapons just in case. For example, the headmaster of Nurmes high school, Esa Kauppinen was one of those who participated in hiding weapons if the Soviet Union would try to occupy Finland after the war. This was a violation against the peace treatment and Kauppinen and many other patriots had to go to prison. Kauppinen was leading his school some time from the prison. Jouko Salonen (1928-2021), the headmaster of Nurmes high school from the 1950`s to the 1980`s was a successor of Esa Kauppinen. Salonen was a voluntary in the anti-aircraft in summer 1944 when he was only 15 years old. In 2019 he said: “If Finland`s independent is endangered in the future, the only choice is to defend like in 1939-1945.”

Mustavalkoisessa kuvassa sotilas seisoo metsän reunassa.

Jouko Salonen (1928-2021)


kuvassa istuu kaksi henkilöä sininen risti -kunniakirjojen kanssa.

Toini Okkonen (1927-2023) and her husband Ahti Okkonen (1924-2024) in summer 2022. (photo: Mikko Rautiainen 2022)

Mikko Rautiainen