The Baltic Post, 26 June 2017
Sissi is a Finnish term for light infantry which conducts reconnaissance, sabotage and guerrilla warfare operations behind enemy lines. The word sissi, first attested in the modern meaning “patrolman, partisan, spy” in 1787, comes to Finnish from Slavic and refers either to a forest bandit or his yew bow.
The Finnish Army Sissi units are trained to conduct long range reconnaissance patrols, gather intelligence from concealed observation posts, raid enemy installations (especially supply depots), conduct road side ambushes and pursue and destroy enemy special forces units.
In wartime, an unspecified number of reservists assigned to Sissi battalions would deploy and operate as small groups up to company size. They are meant to stay behind and covertly operate against enemy forces in their area of responsibility even if regular friendly troops have been forced to retreat. Sissi battalions are part of Finnish Army local troops, unlike the jäger and armored brigades meant for operational use. Sissi units are considered as the elites of the Army conscripts, and many of the units, such as the Paratroopers or Border Jaegers, are formed of volunteers.
Sissi are specialist unconventional guerilla warfare specialists that form part of a highly trained, highly skilled Finnish Special Forces Command.
Wars between Russia and Finland have a long tradition of Finnish sissi warfare. Famous sissi leaders have included Pekka Vesainen (c. 1540—1627), Tapani Löfving (1689–1777, fought during the Greater Wrath), and Olli Tiainen (1770–1833, fought during the Finnish War).
Before the hostilities of Winter War, the Finnish Borderguard formed 25 Independent Battalions (Erillinen Pataljoona) from local reservists along the border area. After the outbreak out of hostilities, a further five Sissi Battalions (Sissipataljoona) were formed from “auxiliary personnel”. These battalions especially those of the latter type, were below their nominal strength in both men and weaponry. These units proved to be effective in using motti tactics in their native area with light infantry weapons and skis.
In the Continuation War the ad hoc Sissi Battalions were discontinued, but Independent Battalions were raised, 4th Independent Battalion was directly under the command of Supreme Headquarters doing LRRP and raiding missions deep inside Soviet area. In the Battle of Ilomantsi, soldiers of the 4th disrupted the supply lines of the Soviet artillery, preventing effective fire support. In the Ladoga Karelia front the length of the front, absence roads and lack of troops prevented continuous front lines during the trench warfare period. Both armies used a chain of fortified field bases separated by the wilderness, monitoring and controlling the gaps with patrols. Both Finns and Soviets launched raids and recon patrols into enemy territory. Battles were short clashes of lightly armed infantry groups from squadron to battalion in size, with little chance of support or reinforcements.
After the Second World War, Sissi units were de-commissioned and officially Sissi training was discontinued, although many units gave Sissi training for their reconnaissance units. In the beginning of the 1960s, Paratrooper School was established at Utti, infantry and border guard established Sissi training companies thereafter.
Famous sissi troops
- Ilmari Honkanen, officer in 4th Independent Battalion (ErP 4). Known especially from the destruction of the Soviet military depot in Petrovski Jam.
- Lauri Törni a.k.a. Larry Thorne, a commander of “Detachment Törni”, the reconnaissance company of the 12th Infantry Regiment during the Continuation War, had a bounty on his head by the Soviets, joined Waffen-SS in 1940 and was sent back home before the Continuation war. After the Finno-Soviet ceasefire he returned to Waffen-SS because he did not believe that Soviets would actually follow the ceasefire agreement. After the war Törni joined US Army and volunteered for the US Army Special forces.
- Mauno Koivisto, member of “Detachment Törni” during Continuation War, later the President of Finland.
- Mikko Pöllä, most decorated member of the ErP 4.
- Onni Määttänen.
- Paavo Suoranta (Peltonen).
- Viljo Suokas, killed while on patrol in Sekee 1943.
In Finnish, “sissi” means guerrilla, but the term is somewhat misleading when referring to Finnish Defence Force Sissi troops. Sissi forces are not irregular guerrilla or militia forces; they are part of the regular FDF troops trained for operations behind enemy lines. Like most of the Finnish Defence Forces, Sissi battalions are composed of reservists. Their closest foreign equivalents are the Swedish Armed Forces Jägare troops.
Sissi as a description is a person of extraordinary stamina (or Sisu) – e.g. “Sissi weather” (Sissin sää) refers to the worst possible weather conditions, for sissi soldiers prefer these for their operations, since bad weather tends to distract enemy soldiers (any normal soldier tends to think about getting to shelter as soon as possible when bad weather strikes) and hide any noise caused by sissis.
In the Finnish Defence Forces, sissi is used as an umbrella term for all unconventional military applications, such as MREs, which are called “Sissi rations”, also any improvised and/or temporary repair to any equipment is often called “sissiviritys”, literally “sissi fix” or “sissi patch”, in addition any improvised booby-trap, such as a firearm rigged to fire at doorway of a building once someone opens the door, may be called “sissijäynä”, literally “sissi prank”.
Volunteers with hobbies such as hunting and hiking are preferred for Sissi training, but any conscript in decent physical condition has a good chance of being assigned to a Sissi training company.
Sissi troops are trained in several brigades under the Finnish Defence Forces. Finnish Border Guard, which is under the Ministry of the Interior, also trains Sissi-troops in Frontier Guard units. In the FDF and Border Guard, Sissi troops are trained in:
- Kainuun Prikaati
- Ivalo Company
- Onttola Company, Headquarter of North Karelian Border Guard
In addition to this small groups of conscrips (8-10 people) are bi-annually given marine Sissi and reconnaissance training at the amphibious brigade in Dragsvik. The group is usually taken from the “rannikkojääkärit” (Coastal Jaeger) infantry unit. In Finnish Border Guard sissi troops, called Frontier jaegers, are trained in each Border Guard Command. Sissi troops trained in Finnish Border guard are also taught basic duties of border guarding. In Kaakkois-Suomen Rajavartiosto ( Southeast Finland Border Guard District) special Sissi troops (Special frontier jaegers) are also trained in Special forces tactics and techniques. Reserve officers for all Sissi troops are trained at Reserviupseerikoulu. Rivalry between Sissi-troops in different services is traditionally high.
Conscript training in these units is 6 to 12 months long. Leaders of guerrilla warfare platoons and squads serve 12 months whereas crew members serve 6 months. The medical personnel (as also in scout units) serve 9 months, except leaders specialising in medical training serving 12 months.
Conscript in Sissi-company begins with 8-week basic infantry training. After this training becomes more intense. Conscripts are given survival training during every season of the year, they can specialize further into reconnaissance, sniping, dog handling, battlefield medical service or signals. Sissi NCO/Officer training includes additionally signals, demolitions, extended small arms training as well as advanced escape & evasion techniques and ambush tactics. Those unable to cope for either physical or psychological reasons are either given deferments or transferred to a regular infantry training.
Special Sissi NCOs are also trained to operate in Sissi platoons, called sissiradisti or Sissi signalists. These NCOs are trained in the use of telegraphy for long-range communications.
Besides specially trained sissi troops, everyone in Finnish army at least in theory receives basic training in survival and sissi tactics. All troops and soldiers in Finnish army are theoretically capable of moving from normal warfare to sissi tactics if they are, for example, encircled or their main forces or command structure are destroyed.
Sissi troops are generally not airborne, with the exception of Army Para Jaegers trained in the Utti Jaeger Regiment. Para Jaegers are trained in sissi warfare, with an emphasis on long-range reconnaissance and the addition of close-quarter battle and urban operations training.
Sissi troops also resemble Scout troops (tiedustelijat), who are more specialized at gathering intelligence than the aggressive Sissi troops. In some brigades, Sissi are trained in Scout companies, and vice versa in other brigades, as the training is quite similar.
Sissi troops are un-motorized and are not equipped with heavy weapons or equipment (Except SiRad), their uniforms and weaponry are almost identical with regular infantry issue. Distinctive personal equipment used by Sissi are Savotta “Para Jäger” backpacks used because of extended hikes, camouflage paint and personal camouflage nets. Sissi units have fewer crew served weapons and more sniper rifles than regular infantry.
Mines are an important part of the Sissi tactic of ambushing enemy convoys. They are also used to discourage pursuit after a raid and serve as defences of bivouac. Sissi training includes constructing improvised explosive devices, as well as boobytraps (e.g. from dud artillery shells). Sissi units have a wide variety of land mines at their disposal, including: (Because of Ottawa treaty traditional word mine is nowadays explosion device.)
- Track Mine TM 65 77 (AT mine)
- Pipe Explosion Device 68 95 (AP Explosion Device, future uncertain because of Ottawa treaty),[7sometimes called “ovikello”, “doorbell.”
- Anti-personnel mine 65 98 (AP mine, prohibited by Ottawa treaty)
- Side Explosion Device 87 (AT Mine)
- Side Explosion Device 81 (AT Mine)
- VP 88 Claymore (AP Explosion Device )
- VP 84 Claymore (AP Explosion Device )
- Mortar 81mm 81 KRH 71 Y (mortar) both firing and producing guided-launched antipersonnel improvised charges
The National Defense University of Finland hasn’t published any thesis or paper on the 21st century where sissi units and tactics are mentioned. This might be mainly because the FDF has moved to a more flexible defense by reforming its land warfare doctrine leaving no room for tactics and strategies for regiment/company level sissi troops. After organizational changes, the FDF will provide reconnaissance (formerly sissi) training in Kainuun Prikaati, as well as in other major training formations, where they emphasise scout recon. training. That includes reconnaissance, forward observation and fire control but this training no longer leans towards special tactics, weapons, sabotage and woodland area fighting skills. However, the FDF still trains long range reconnaissance patrol units in Utti jaegare Regiment (Paratroopers, one of the elite units of the FDF) and they are trained in woodland area fighting, survival skills, unconventional methods and asymmetric tactics though the major role is geared more towards long range reconnaissance and special operations.
Finnish Border Guard, under the ministry of interior, trains traditional sissi units itself for peace/gray/war time duties. Border Jaegares (or ‘Rajasissi’ – Border Ranger) are trained to operate behind the enemy lines with asymmetric tactics and unconventional weapons and methods as well as do long term operational reconnaissance and aggressive short term reconnaissance and sabotage. Training includes peace time operational methods and the responsibilities of the Border Guard i.e. border control, patrol and tracking and catching illegal intruders. But the training is mostly sissi training with the majority happening in the wilderness.
The future of FDF sissi units is uncertain, clearly decreasing dramatically, but the Finnish Border Guard will maintain sissi training (of a few hundred per year) including the, highly respected, traditional branches such as woodman and survival skills. The FDF have dismissed/are dismissing most of its sissi units and there is fiscal pressure ob the Finnish Border Guard as well, which has already dismantled some regiments of sissi units. The wartime mobilized strength of the Finnish Border Guard is 11,600.
The FDF’s reformed land warfare doctrine is a distributed fighting doctrine so in some sense every soldier in the army is required to understand basic principles of asymmetric tactics and guerrilla warfare.
‘Sissi’ means ‘guerrilla’ or ‘partisan’ in the Finnish language, it doesn’t mean paramilitary or illegal troops without a controlling high command and government. The name only points towards the tactics used in historical guerrilla wars (Freedom fighters / Terrorists). This is an important difference to note as, unlike guerrilla combatants, Finnish sissi don’t hide in the local population and they always carry a belt, cockade, rifle and other signs which makes these units a legal fighting force, by the UN legal definition, alongside regular units. Local civilian support would likely be welcomed but there are no guidelines or a codex for these kinds of situation or interactions and sissis are trained to be invisible to the local population which also helps avoid legally and ethically difficult situations.