Lauri Törni, also called Larry Thorne, was born in 1919 in what was then the Finnish city of Viipuri. Finland had gained independence from Russia less than two years earlier and had been in a very bitter civil war between the Reds and the more conservative Whites. While the Whites had won, Finnish society’s divisions remained, and Larry grew up in this segregated environment. Larry’s father had fought for the Whites and instilled in him a fierce dislike for communism that defined his life. At 19, he enrolled within the army and shortly after was selected for officer training.
On November the 26th, 1939, at 2:45 pm, seven shells exploded in a tiny soviet village near the Finnish border. The Soviets immediately blamed the Finns for this aggressive act. The Finns quickly calculated that the shells had been fired from the Soviet side! The Soviets rejected any notion of this and declined a joint investigation. What’s more, they demanded that the Finns immediately withdraw their forces a minimum of 18 miles from the border; war was brewing. On November the 30th, the Soviets started the attack. Four hundred sixty thousand men, 2000 tanks, 2000 heavy guns, and 800 planes attacked, just as one of the coldest winters of the century began.
Krushchev later wrote: “We could fire one shot, and the Finns would put up their hands and surrender. or so we thought.” During the early six weeks of the Winter war, Thorne’s Batallion saw heavy fighting, but its losses were minimal. The Soviets were forced to travel along roads with their heavy machinery and guns through the dense Nordic forests. Through the utilization of roadblocks and traps, the Finns would stop these long columns, sometimes miles long, by attacking the front and back, leaving no room to advance or retreat.
Then wearing white with skis, they would slip back into the forest traverse along with the columns, breaking the column up into smaller groups, forcing the attackers to require defensive positions. Deadly silent, they would often attack field kitchens as a priority. The Finns had time to let the cold do its work, creating smaller and smaller groups called “Motti” in Finnish as they went up and down the Russian columns.
The ultimate Finnish soldier
Larry Thorne was tasked with blowing up a Russian provisions transport near Pukitsanmaki or Sugar Loaf Hill in one amongst these Mottis. Surrounding the provisions vehicle, the Soviets had foxholes and tanks were patrolling. Thorne and three men moved silently from tree to tree. It was observed that Thorne was ice cool under stress; the more stressful the matter gets, the calmer he became. They managed to get to the truck without being seen.
One of the team members attached the charge to the provisions truck and released the trigger. A loud click was heard, and all hell broke loose because the Soviets realized they were under attack. Throwing grenades and shooting machine guns, the Finns slipped back into the woods, their mission accomplished.
Despite many Finnish victories, they were under-equipped and outnumbered. The sheer size of the Red Army meant that the Finns would have ultimately lost. But the worth of that victory was too high, even for Stalin. In March 1940, a peace agreement was signed. Finland had to give up significant land to the Soviets, including Larry’s home town of Viipuri. 420000 Karelian Finnish refugees moved across the new Finnish border.
Thorne in German Waffen-SS
In May 1941, with the Germans planning Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, they entered into secret dialog with the Finns. The Finns agreed to co-operate. But the wording of that co-operation wasn’t as an ally but as a “co-belligerent” against the Soviets. Finnish volunteers were to be trained by the Germans, and Larry volunteered. At the command of the Germans, all the Finnish volunteers were to affix the Waffen-SS or Armed-SS.
When Operation Barbarossa started on June the 22nd, Finland waited three days and then joined the attack, the continuation war had begun. Thorne left Germany to take the fight to the Russians back home. Finland had recaptured all the land lost to the Soviets during the Winter War. Now they were pushing forward to take even more land from the Soviets. Thorne became a tank commander. When his tank got stuck on one operation, he single-handedly detached the tank’s machine gun, set up a defensive position in a small ditch, laid down fire while his crew escaped, and then resumed the attack on foot.
By August 1941, the Finns were within 20kms of Leningrad, blocking the Northern route. With the German’s cutting the last supply roads to the South, the 872-day siege of Leningrad had begun, which would decimate the city’s inhabitants with hunger and disease. Larry was given command of a brand new company. It was referred to as the “Thorne Unit.” They had a special arm patch with a “T” for Larry Thorne. These men, around 100 volunteers, formed a unit for deep reconnaissance, counter reconnaissance, and anti-partisan operations, Tough men with unique skills. They were so successful in their operations the Soviets even put a bounty on Larry’s head.
In June 1944, a massive Soviet offensive began against the Finnish positions. Finland was fighting a battle it couldn’t win and by September was forced into a ceasefire agreement that meant dropping land, demobilizing the military, and paying reparations. A Soviet Commission was founded in Helsinki that brought criminal trials against many Finnish officers for war crimes. The Finnish Communist Party was encouraged to enter the area and “The Revolution coming to Finland.”
As a civilian now, Larry Thorne was unemployable as an ex-member of the SS. Joining the underground resistance, he helped several Finns escape to Sweden, but eventually, on January the 17th, 1945, he and a small party left Finland for Germany on a secret U-Boat. After briefly fighting on the Russian front with the war clearly at its end, he surrendered to the Americans using a false identity, was imprisoned by the British but escaped after just two weeks, and slipped back into Finland via Denmark.
Becoming a civilian, Larry took a job working in an electrical shop. In 1946 at the age of 27, the Finnish police arrested him at the behest of the Soviets. He was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was pardoned on Christmas Eve 1948 after serving three years of his sentence.
The United States “Green Berets”
He traveled to the united states, but it wasn’t just because of personal motives. According to sources. The soviets wanted Finland to arrest Larry as a German collaborator, have him extradited to Moscow, and tried him for war crimes by crossing the border with Sweden and sailing to the united states on a cargo boat. He finally made his way on a ship from Venezuela to America. Before the ship had docked in Alabama, Larry had dived over the edge, swam to shore, and illegally entered the United States. Larry near indeed escaped a death sentence.
It was September 1950, and the cold war was well underway. He changed his name to Larry Thorne. However, he preferred the hybrid pronunciation – “Thorny.” Larry lived in the US for three and a half years before winding up again in the military. He enlisted for a maximum of 6 years and would receive US citizenship as part of the deal. At the age of 35, he was almost twice the other recruits’ age but breezed through boot camp and signed up for a 16-week cold-weather training course at Camp Carlson. He was already supremely skilled in this regard and so started his rapid rise through the ranks.
He became part of the newly formed special forces and one of the elite new “Green Berets.” In 1964 Thorne and his special forces team volunteered to go to Vietnam. Upon arrival, he immediately took control of 300 guerrillas and trained them to ambush and strike the Vietcong. Jungle warfare was far from the frozen forests of Finland, but Thorne took to it with ease. The Deputy commander of special forces in Vietnam wrote, “this is the type of person you like to have around in a fight for he has unlimited courage.”
How did Larry Thorne die
In October 1965, Thorne was at the end of his second tour of duty in Vietnam, and he had been selected for promotion to Major. Thorne was in one of 3 CH-34 were flying on a mission low over the jungle near the Ho Chi Minh trail. Rain and heavy weather were closing in. Thorne was in a chase copter, making sure the insertion of the special operations teams went ok. Two of the CH-34’s landed, and the teams disembarked successfully. Thorne’s copter suddenly found itself enveloped by cloud. The other two choppers were on their way home when contact was lost with Thorne’s aircraft.
56 search and rescue sorties saw no sign of the crash. In October 1966, the man who fought in 3 armies was officially declared dead. It wasn’t until 1999 that a US Finnish mission found Larry Thorne’s remains set out to locate them around the crash site. The remains were recovered, and through DNA and dental testing, it was confirmed they were Larry’s. He was repatriated to the United States.
In a ceremony that was even attended by Madeline Albright, the then secretary of state and US army Special forces colonel, Sean Swindle said during the ceremony, “Larry was a complex yet driven man who vigorously fought oppression under three flags and didn’t acknowledge the meaning of quit.” Larry Thorne has his own grave at the Arlington national cemetery, although in Finland, too, at last, they again consider him a National Hero.
Learn more here: Larry Thorne
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