On May 28, 1919 one of the unique fighting men of the 20th century was born to a family in Viipuri, Finland. Given the birth name Lauri Allan Torni, he grew up as normal as any other citizen, unaware that his generation and tens of millions of others were destined for the carnage of war. A terrifying ordeal to most, the blond Finn soon found out that he could thrive and succeed in this environment like no one else around him for years to come. This one did it all, some would say; from the biting snow of a forest, the endless steppes, and on into the sweltering humidity of an unforgiving jungle in his third war – all for the third flag that he fought under.
It is known that he put on his first uniform in 1938 upon entry into the Finnish army. He soon found his service length extended when the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, beginning what would become the ‘Winter War.’ After first being assigned to a supply section, he ended up transferring to the front and participated in combat around Lake Ladoga in December. Amid the snowy terrain, a Finnish force some 30,000 strong used guerrilla tactics to encircle and smash a Soviet force outnumbering them 3 to 1 in men and 5 to 1 in airpower and artillery. During the fighting, Torni received the attention of his superiors on several engagements when he displayed considerable ability in battle.
Subsequently, they sent him to Reserve Officer School in February, 1940. After the ‘Winter War’ came to an end in March, Torni, now a 2nd lieutenant, remained in Finland with his unit until 1941. He then traveled to Germany to become a member of the Waffen SS. He joined the SS-Freiwillgen Battalion Nordost, a unit made up of Finnish volunteers. Here he stayed for one month, until someone decided the unit had too many officers and he was sent back to Finland to command a tank battalion.
Finland decided to continue its ongoing hatred of the Soviet Union by becoming the invader. On June 25, 1941 just four days after four million German and Axis troops stormed over the Soviet borders, Finland sent divisions toward Leningrad in the north. This would become known as the Continuation War. Now the Finns battled and annihilated Red Army units with German allies at their side. Torni was in the thick of it, fighting from within a tank as hard as he had on foot in Finland. Despite this, his commanders soon felt that he was better suited to an infantry role, and transferred him to a light infantry company. Here he was wounded and suffered a partial stroke one night after stepping on a mine.