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Author: Tuco of Mosin-Nagant Dot Net and Gunboards.Com

Finnish Re-enactors In The United States

While many rifle collectors admire the Finnish soldiers that once carried these arms, there is a group of collectors that take this to another level.  These collectors not only enjoy the history but also enjoy reliving and teaching this history to others.  This is a different breed of collector and are not the collector you run into everyday.  These are collectors that are willing to undergo some strain, stress, and hardships to portray the proud history of the Finnish soldier.  These are the re-enactors and they are without a doubt the most unique collectors one will stumble upon.

Southern Commander Matt Jannineni and his son Hannu man the Maxim against Red Army invaders. This is a good photo of Winter War type conditions and weapons.

Re-enacting has always been a popular pastime here in the United States, with Civil War leading the way in most areas of the US.  World War Two re-enacting has also for years enjoyed a spot in this field but only since the fall of the Soviet Union has Eastern Front re-enacting become a widely popular happening.  One reason this has come to pass is the influx of Soviet tunics, helmets, rifles, and the various issue items of the Red Army.  All such items were once very hard to locate here in the US and carried a hefty price tag; however, the fall of the USSR ended this shortage as the items flowed into the US in mass and at cheap prices.  This allowed what was once a difficult impression to become much easier in theory and in practice.  Now it is common to see mid to late war Red Army items at gunshows, militaira shows, pawn shops, and even flea markets.  This fact has made Red Army impressions one of the more popular of the day.

Midwest Commander Stefan Vilhonen scouts out a Red Army unit moving up the valley.  The rest of Kev Os 4 is setting up an ambush of the larger Soviet patrol.  A Finnish Continuation War (1941-44) event.

While Eastern Front events quickly started to catch on, it was still rare to encounter non German or non Soviet units in the field.  If one did see representatives from other nations it was most often Foreign Legion Waffen SS soldiers one would encounter.  While these re-enactors did a fine job at portraying the SS soldiers, many saw only SS members of these nations as unintentionally ignoring key components of the history from the Eastern-Northern Front of World War Two.   While there is no doubt of the efforts and great intentions of the SS Legions, they simply do not fully represent the true efforts of other such nations. It was this lack of representation that the idea for a full time Finnish Army unit was born.

The idea originated from this site, Mosin-Nagant Dot Net, with a number of collectors on the various forum boards expressing an interest in undertaking a Finnish unit on Eastern-Northern Front events.  I was contacted by these interested parties as they needed a guide to assist them in setting requirements for such events.  While many of these collectors knew weapons, their background in Finnish tunics, helmets, and other such equipment was just beginning.  That was my original role and how I became a member of the Finnish re-enactors. Over the years this role has changed a time or two as the unit has devolved, and I have also undergone quite an education in what re-enacting is all about.  During portions of this article I will try and explain some of these changes as well as my education in the process.  It has been an interesting ride and one that I am glad that I have been a part of.

 

Once the idea for the unit took hold, I quickly became aware there was much more work involved in all of this than I ever would have thought.  I had never been involved with re-enacting in the past, so I wrongly assumed this was mainly about running around in the woods playing army.  I quickly became aware this was not the case at all, as re-enacting is about "living history" and it is taken very seriously by those involved.  Many of those that re-enact do so as they see themselves as guardians of history, so they take this very much too heart not about playing army.  Some units are not like this and are all about shooting blanks, but I have learned that by far most of the units are indeed interested in the correct impression of the soldiers they are representing.  The majority of those that re-enact are historians that have a deep love and respect for what they do.  

The reason they re-enact is to present the struggles, hardships, and fighting from the past.  This is all about education in what is a fun and interesting way to illustrate this history to the modern world.  It is also not uncommon for re-enactors to do most of their "duties" not in the field but in displays at schools, historical events, gathering, or other such lectures.  This is where they can use examples to educate and this duties are every bit as important as any "field" duties.

A display done by Vic Thomas at a Michigan meeting of Finnish veterans.  This was done for the 60th anniversary of the Winter War.  In the photo is a Finnish veteran who was quite pleased to see a part of his past displayed in such a manner.  These displays and educational events are a large part of re-enacting that are often overlooked by those not involved.  This display was a big hit with the veterans as well as the families of veterans.

The first major task put to me was to find a unit that could be portrayed.  This was yet another part of my education as I had no idea that certain units were done by re-enactors.  I had always assumed they did a general impression, and did not dive into the exact history of a certain unit.  Yet again I had to do some homework on the subject, trying to find a unit that would fit the effort.  After a bit of looking and some help from two good friends in Finland, I decided to go the unit Kev Os 4, which was a light infantry unit from the Winter and Continuation Wars.  This is a rather well known unit to some in Finland but is not what would be called a legendary unit from Finnish history.  This choice was intentional on my part as it became clear to me that doing the standard Finnish unit was the way to go, not to attempt portraying one of the more famous Finnish fighting groups.  By doing a unit like Kev Os 4, the re-enactors can show by example what the common Finnish soldier was like.  The re-enactors portray the heroics deeds of the common Finn, and this is of utmost importance to each and every member of the unit 

Western Commander Christian Mutka armed with a SVT38 rifle.  He wears the standard M36 Finnish winter tunic and pants.  His gear is 100% correct for the time period of the fighting. A real step back into history.

The Midwest Commander in correct Winter War gear.  M36 tunic, Austrian M16 helmet, and M27 Mosin Nagant rifle.

There is a complete history of the unit that can be located on the official website of Kev Os 4 at www.kevos4.com , but I will give a brief bit of information here as well.  The unit was formed in Helsinki on 10-10-39, as the Finns were apprehensive about Soviet demands on Finland and as such were gearing up for a possible war. As a part of these prewar preparations it had been decided that Light Infantry units should be formed and attached to the larger infantry divisions.  The men used in these light units were pulled from existing infantry units in most cases.  Kev Os 4 was attached to the 2nd Corps 4th Division to be stationed on the Karelian Isthmus, where it was believed the main Soviet thrust would come.   This war- The Winter War- did indeed come on 11-30-39 when the Soviets shelled Finland then invaded at points such as Rajajoki, Joutselkä and Lipola .  The Winter War came to an end on March 14, 1940.

Light Infantry Units were spelled out in a Finnish manual as:

Light Infantry units will consist of the following-

Cavalry-Bicycle-Ski troops as well as armored cars.

The duties were reconnaissance and flank security, as well as providing support for infantry and artillery units.

During the Winter War such units were also used against the Soviets as fast strike hit and run units .  The advantage of the Light Infantry Units was their ability to attack with great speed and then to melt into the landscape.  These units were the type the Russians referred to as "Belaya Smjert" , meaning "The White Death".  Kev Os 4 also gained fame as tank killers and were known widely for their skill against Russian armored units.  This unit also was in the habit of painting white skulls on their helmets, which was one of the reasons they were tagged with the title "The Unit Of Death." This unit was involved in the massive fighting around Viipuri and was a key unit to the cities defense.  In the Continuation War this unit also served with distinction in and around the Leningrad area.  Clearly this was a great unit to portray from a historical standpoint.  Also being such a proud and accomplished unit, it put a lot of pressure on the members of the unit to portray such heroes in the correct and proper manner.  This is a pressure many that do not re-enact have a hard time understanding as the goal is to honor these men.  At times that can be a great challenge to do this correctly as the greatest disrespect would be to do this in an incorrect or non-serious manner.

 

Once the unit was decided upon with the history complied, the next step was to set the equipment and weapons standards for the unit.  This was also an education for me as I learned just how strict these standard should be for a good re-enacting unit.  As an example after much trail and error this unit went to Finland to have tunics made as that was the only alternative at the time to have the correct item.  This has been changed over the past month or two as the unit was indeed able to locate a tailor here in the USA that can make the M36 tunic to the correct standard.

For equipment the unit relied heavily on connections to Finland getting many of the harder to find items for the unit.  The response from our Finnish friends for this project has been overwhelming and many have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help arrange items for the unit.  While this took a lot of time the end result is that this is one of the most authentic units one will ever see in the field.  When speaking of equipment, arms, and issue items this units looks just as a true Finnish unit would have in 1939.  That is really something when one thinks about it and just goes to show the dedication of those involved.  There might be units that are as good but there are none that are any better on this front.  It is a real step back in time when this unit is in full gear.  The quality and correctness of such items was insured as it was done with large Finnish collectors here in the US with assistance from top minds in Finland.

The standard kit is as follows:

A) Finnish Winter or Summer M36 Tunic - pants and cap with cockade.

B) Correct weapon with sling.  Most of the unit is armed with the Mosin Nagant M91 rifle but one will also see M27's, M28's, M28/30's, and various other weapons.  For 1941-44 events the standards are opened up a bit allowing the use of many Soviet weapons the Finns would have captured such as the PPSh41, PPD40, and SVT40.  Finnish Mosin Nagants M39's are only approved for 41-44 events.  Handguns are for NCO's and officers only, these included the Luger, TT33, Nagant Revolver, and other commonly seen issue sidearms.   As the standards were set by Finnish weapons collectors the weapons seen in the field are also 100% correct in all areas.

C)  Correct roller buckle or Sam Browne style belt.

D)  Correct boots which can include quite a range.

E)  Finnish issue ammo pouches or bandoliers

F)  Finnish issue breadbag, messkit, canteen, and undershirt.

There are other optional items that can be carried and used.  These include winter caps, winter white, rucksack, skis, bicycle, knives, gloves, and other such items.  Many of the members also carry personal items such as 1940's era tobacco, pipes, and even shaving kits.

A standard field impression with a few additional items.  Included are the M36 cap with cockade, M36 tunic and pants, boots, breadbag, rucksack, Finn issue blanket, Finnish grenade, knife, canteen, mess kit, and entrenching tool with carrier. The rifle is a M91 Mosin Nagant.  A near perfect example of a Finn NCO from the period.

One thing that was interesting were the overall costs of such an authentic unit.  Those that collect Finnish militaria know just how costly the original items are, so the unit with a good mix of Finnish issue and reproduction items.  For the most part the entire issue kit is Finnish issue, with the only real exception being the tunics and pants.  We were also able to use a fair amount of post war Finnish material as the same style of many of these accessories were used for years in Finland. As Winter War events will be uncommon - Note it is difficult for Soviet re-enactors to get early gear. Most of the tunics and issue items that are found are the later to mid war style, such as the M1943 style tunics.  Also early Red Army helmets that would be seen in the Winter War (the M36) are rare and costly- this unit is much more geared for 1941-44 events.  That did allow Vic Thomas and I, the main authentic officers, some leeway in setting standards.  A good example is helmets as in the Winter War the only helmets seen were early Finnish, Russian, German, and Austrian.  These are all rather uncommon and expensive.  In the later war events the Finns used helmets from a number of nations such as Germany, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia.  These helmets are much more common and allowed us to keep costs in line.  In fact Finnish re-enacting, which could easily be one of the most expensive to undertake, is much in line with standard Russian impressions.   Both of these impressions are much cheaper than the standard German impression and the costs are almost diminutive when compared to the standard Waffen SS impression.  This is something Vic and I are both very proud of as we did spend quite a while ironing out these details. As such not many that want to re-enact will be excluded due to the cost factor.

Sotamies Antti Rokka scouts the Red Army supply lines during the Winter War.  These "soldiers" are equipped in some of the most authentic gear one will ever see in a re-enactors unit. About 80% of the items are original Finnish issue.  No one sets or carries a higher standard than this unit.  The name Antti Rokka is a character name that was taken from the famous Finnish novel, The Unknown Soldier.  All members of the unit took a Finnish name as part of their impression.  These include names such as Matti, Mikko, Tyko, Arvi, Riccus, Jaakko, and others.  Many of these names came with assistance from friends in Finland.

As time went on it was amazing how much interest was generated by this unit both here and abroad.  There are members in all regions of the US as well as members in both Canada and Finland.  By far the vast majority of members are in the Southern and South-Eastern United States, but there are also members in Texas, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, Missouri, and California.  As such the unit was broken down into three regions, Southern, Mid Western, and Western.  All such areas have fine commanders that handle the details of organizing such a unit.  The dedication of the unit commanders has been outstanding and has been one key factor to the unit's success.  We also are very much in debt to the many in Finland that have taken a great interest in this unit.  These range from personal friends to large collectors and historians located in Finland. One such Finn that should be mentioned by name is Sami Korhonen, who is the webmaster of www.winterwar.com , as his assistance has been of great importance.

 

The goals of this unit are as follows:

"The Finnish struggle for existence from the years 1939-44 is the epic story of survival. Outnumbered and under equipped the Finnish soldiers and people fought to survive the attack of their aggressive and powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union. The story of the Finns is the story of courage and strength against all odds. They were faced with the dissolution of their nation, but they emerged an independent country.

It is the goal of the Finnish re-enactors to remind people in today’s world of this struggle. To propose that bravery, heart, and determination still count for something. This is the message the Finns taught the world, and these are the lessons we wish to teach. We choose to do this with an accurate portrayal of the Finnish soldier of the day."

The goals and statement of purpose sum up well what this unit and its members are all about.  It is not about running around the woods shooting blanks, although this is one very fun side of it.  The unit's goals and reason for being runs much deeper.  It is about telling the story of Finland and their fight to remain free.

Jaakko, Rikkus, and Jaakko's son Jacob at the re-enactment at Cedars. The father and son team above is not the only one as Matti and Hannu are another such example.  It is a great hobby to pass on to your son as well as a great way to spend time with him.  As Jaakko and his son are from Finnish lines, it is a great way to learn more about the history of their family.  This is a great family event and is not uncommon to see in such units.

When re-enactors do things in the correct manner it is much like stepping into a time machine and seeing what things were like 1939-44.  While these re-enactors never face the dangers the real heroes of Finland did, there is the same overall feel to events.  When one sees a group in correct gear, with correct weapons, eating period type foods, and maybe even listening to old Finnish wartime music, it can be easy to forget just where you are.  If that is the case then the unit has done its job well.  It is all about taking one back to a different time.  To the members of the unit during the event they are not John Smith  or Peter Green, they are Vaino “Mikko” Viihtola, Osmo Wind, Christian Mutka, or Gabriel Saarela.

Tyko Lintula, my alter ego, in Continuation War gear.  Included are Finnish issue Hungarian M38 helmet, winter white, Finnish belt, two Finnish grenades, and a captured Soviet PPSh41 SMG

.

There are many types of re-enactors and this unit has quite a diversity of members as a whole.  In this unit there are those that own enough Finnish gear and weapons to field an army in their own right, while there are also those that have one rifle and the items of their re-enactors field kit.  All have equal standing and all share the same love of what this is about.  This unit is a bit different than some as you do have more large collectors than some other such units would field.  This really was a benefit in many regards as these collectors were able to help in authenticity and also with connections abroad in Finland.  

This mix of advanced and new really is what has made this unit such a strong force in the correctness of the impression.  That along with the fine leadership of the various commanders.  While I was one of the first to get this all started, it has been their leadership that has made the unit strong.  This is also the only full time standard Finnish Army re-enactment unit in the United States, which is something each and everyone of us are quite proud of.  We feel very much like groundbreakers that have taken large steps to bring Finnish history here to the USA.

 

Re-enacting is a different world and as a collector I have had to learn the ropes.  In many ways it was like waking up and finding myself on Mars, but as time has passed I have learned more and more.  Re-enactors look at collecting a bit differently than most collectors that I have had contact with.  While it is different the amount of respect most re-enactors have for the history behind the items they use is unparalleled.  In this unit this attitude is universal and yet another reason that I am quite proud to be a member of such a fine group.  I have worked long and hard to bring the history of Finland to the US with the many websites I have been a part of, and this unit is one more shinning example that illustrates the feelings that I have about Finnish history are not unique.  While we do have members of Finnish origin most of the members are not, which further goes to show just how much respect for the Finns that is present in the USA.  It is a respect that is growing everyday and it is the hope of the unit that our work furthers this respect even more over time.

All correct gear is used by our Western Commander and this photo really stands out to me for some reason.  It is just another example of bringing it all together.

While re-enacting is not for everyone it is a hobby that many are well suited for.  There is a lot of effort that goes both into events as well as living history displays.  I am sure anyone that has packed a display table full of items by themselves can attest to the work behind it.  That is not to mention all the planning that goes into such a display of what to bring and how to set it up.  Also anyone that has run around the woods being chased by a Red Army SMG unit, will tell you just how tiring that can be from a physical standpoint alone.  This is a part of it  but the rewards far exceed the efforts put into it.  The joy of educating those that might not have even heard of the Winter War or might not even be able to find Finland on a map, is something that is very hard to put into words.  I have been at shows and seen the look on people's faces when they have learned something and the feeling one gets is quite a reward.  This is not to mention the pride one takes when a Finnish vet or a family member of a Finnish vet sees these efforts.  That is a feeling that no one will ever forget, to see their pleasure in knowing that someone is remembering the actions of Finland.

To be in this unit one must be the kind of person that would also enjoy this, as that is what we are dedicated to do.   We also enjoy shooting "Ivan" with blanks but that is something anyone would enjoy, this being written with a slight grin on my face. The other great thing that I have learned is that you can tailor your involvement to suit you needs.  If you are really into field events you can follow that just as you can follow your path if the displays at gunshows and like events are your bag.  There are members of this group that are in their 20's and some closer to their 60's.  Personally I tend to think my part in this will lean much more to displays, so I am able to do what I want in this endeavor. 

A captured DP LMG now in the hand of the unit.  One can also see a Finnish stick grenade, mess kit, and correct rucksack.  This Light Infantry Unit NCO comes right out of 1939-44 in look and detail.

When I became involved in all of this, I was way over my head since I had never done re-enacting before.  As time has passed this has become more important to me and my knowledge of the hobby has grown by leaps and bounds.  This is a different hobby than any I have done before, but it is also a very enjoyable hobby.  It is a great way to bring a bit of life back into what you collect.  There is also a great pride in knowing your are furthering the story of Finland to many here in the US.  Lastly the people that you meet in this hobby are some of the finest you will ever come across.  They are simply good people and are a treat to be associated with.  

A few members of this unit had the honor of going to Finland as a part of the Winter War Historians Battlefield Tours,www.battletours.com, and we were able to walk the grounds this unit fought on in the Winter War.  Our guide on this trip, a retired Finnish Artillery Colonel, centered sections of this trip just so we could see these areas.  The only word that comes to mind is chilling.  It is very rare that a unit such as this is able to walk the same ground as the men they portray.  On the next trip it is planned to follow a segment of the units advance into the Soviet Union in 1941.  This is something many of us look forward to doing once again, to see the land these valiant men did battle.

For the final segment of the article I wanted to share some more photos of the unit; however, I did want to make sure to mention how the reader can take part in all of this in case they are interested.  The easiest way to do this is go to the official site at Kevos 4 Dot Com and click on the contact information.  One of the regional commanders will indeed contact you and get you started on what will be a hobby you will enjoy to no end.  I am very proud to be a part of it and would love to see this grow even more in the coming months and years.  It is easy to take part in this as long as you are willing to put in the effort. - Tuco 1-24-02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  The re-enactor on the right is a German.

 

 

 

 

This is a photo showing one of the other sides of this hobby.  This photo was part of a shoot done for the wargame Squad Leader.  I was contacted by the artist as he was working on doing a Finnish cover for this game.  As such I outfitted the model above, and three other such models, in correct Winter War gear.  As such the game cover will be one of the more correct such covers one will ever encounter.

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