Some humans have the uncanny ability to hold a grudge for a lifetime. Lauri Torni, who would later become Larry Thorne, was one of those people. Thorne took umbrage with the Soviet Union’s 1939 invasion of Finland. He took it so personally that long after his home country’s war was over, he decided his hatred of Communists and their wars of expansion was reason enough to keep fighting.
Thorne hated the Communists and their ideology so much, it sparked a vendetta he would take to his grave. The first Soviet invasion was the start of a lifelong grudge that would see him join three armies to complete his life’s work of putting as many Communist bodies in the ground as possible.
The Winter War, gets overlooked a lot by historians, even by those who say they love World War II history. That’s understandable. The Finland-USSR battles of the 1930s and 1940s were relatively short.
But if bitterly cold winter combat are what you want to read about, then the Soviet-Finnish Winter War and its sequel — the Continuation War — are about to be your new obsession.
A red Russian wave into Finland came across the Karelian Peninsula not long after Stalin and his comrades brokered a nonaggression pact with Hitler and his cronies. Now comfortable that the Nazis would not invade the USSR, Soviet dictator Stalin looked to expand Russian influence. After all, all the dictators were doing it.
Stalin’s first stop was mineral-rich FInland. The Finns, though surprised, weren’t having it. The Soviets invaded in November 1939, thinking “General Winter” might be on their side. But if there was one army more than capable of fighting in the winter than Russia’s, it was Finland’s.
Finnish reservists and regulars alike mobilized as quickly as possible, many coming to the front straight from home, wearing the warm clothes on their back and carrying their personal weapons. This was a hardy and fearless group, facing handfuls of green Red Army conscripts who were as well-trained as they were dressed for the winter, which is hardly at all.
The reds should have brought their A-game. Finnish troops were going to make the Communists pay for every inch of territory. Finnish snipers devastated the Soviet officer corps. The frozen bodies of Red Army soldiers were put on display by the Finns to strike fear in the hearts and minds of the invaders.
And when it came to using makeshift weapons and tactics, the Finns were unmatched. They used mannequins to lure in Soviet troops and kill them. Most famously, they developed a unique way to take out tanks using flaming gas-filled bottles. The Winter War was the birthplace of the Molotov Cocktail.
Larry Thorne was part of the Finnish counterattack of January 1940 that saw the Finns bypass Soviet strongpoints and cut off elements of the Red Army into pockets and systematically kill them all. One pocket consisting of Soviet rifle divisions and a tank battalion was completely wiped out by Thorne and the Finns. Complete destruction of the enemy was the name of the game in Finland.
Though terribly outnumbered, the Finns nearly fought the Soviets to a draw and a peace was brokered in 1940. Finland had to make a small concession of land to the USSR, but they avoided being conquered completely, an overall win. Larry Thorne was one of many Finnish troops who hated the Soviets for the invasion and wrecked the Red Army at every opportunity. Finland burned inside for vengeance.
For 15 months, everything seemed at peace but when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 Finland joined them for some of that ice cold revenge, launching the Winter War Part II: The Continuation War.
Larry Thorne was still in the Finnish Army as they retook all the land they’d lost in 1940. He and the rest of Finland were as brutal as ever.
He was so good at killing Communists, his commando detachment was christened with his name. As the leader of the very capable reconnaissance unit Detachment Torni, Thorne led his men on a curb-stomping campaign of terror against the reds that led to a bounty of three million Finnish marks on his head.
But as The Red Army turned the tide against the Nazis, they turned the tide against Finland as well. The Finns struck a deal with the Soviets in 1944 and the war was over – but not for Larry Thorne.
Thorne went to Germany in 1945 to learn how to sabotage Soviet operations. When he couldn’t get back home to Finland, he joined the Waffen-SS just so he could rejoin the fight.
World War II soon came to a close, and Larry Thorne surrendered to British forces. Suddenly branded a traitor by his home country, he actually spent time in prison before he was pardoned. Thorne and Finland had no love for Nazi Germany, but killing communists was necessary for survival.
By the 1950s, Larry Thorne had emigrated to the United States, and was officially known as Larry Thorne. With the Cold War in full swing, he joined the U.S. Army, lending his extensive combat experience to the Army Special Forces and teaching them skiing, mountain combat and guerrilla fighting.
By 1964, Thorne was an officer deployed to South Vietnam, where he was once again in a position to fight and kill Communists. Everything was right in his world.
He trained South Vietnamese minority groups in guerrilla warfare and helped fight off the Communist attacks against them. Soon after, was transferred to the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam (MACV) for a second tour. This time fighting Viet Cong coming into South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail along with other U.S. Special Forces.
Sadly, in October 1965, Larry Thorne was killed in a helicopter crash near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The wreckage was concealed by the jungle canopy and his remains, along with the rest of his Special Forces detachment and helicopter crew, wasn’t found until 1999.
The remains of everyone in the crash were repatriated to the United States, and in 2003, Larry Thorne was interred at Arlington National Cemetery with his American Special Forces brothers in arms. He is the only former member of the Nazi SS buried in the cemetery. All because the only thing Larry Thorne wanted for his life was to send as many Communists to the afterlife before he had to go himself.