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Niilo (Johannes) Lauttamus (1924-1977)

 

Prolific Finnish writer, who published 21 novels, mostly focusing on the events of World War II in Finland, Russia, and Germany. Lauttamus's best-known book is Vieraan kypärän alla (1957, Under a Foreign Helmet), which tells of Finnish Waffen-SS volunteers fighting with Germans at the Russian front. During the post-war decades, Lauttamus gained a faithful and wide circle of readers, who had been at the front like the author himself.

" - Sota viitoittaa tiensä. Hyvien miesten kunniaksi malja pohjaan! Kaikki nousivat. - Krimler, Hela ja Poikolainen jäivät, että me saamme elää, sillä joidenkin oli sodan lain mukaisesti jäätävä. Kunnia heille... ja - hän murahti suomeksi: - Viiksikorpraali saa haistaa paskan. He tyhjensivät maljansa." (from Vieraan kypärän alla, 1957)

Niilo Lauttamus was born in Sakkola, the son of Jussi Lauttamus, a master sergenant, and Elvi Paakkeli. He was a member of the generation, which lost its best years in the two wars, which Finland and the Soviet Union had between the years 1939 and 1944. Lauttamus was too young for the Winter War (1939-40), but he served in the army during the Continuation War, two years in Germany, mostly at the front, and for a period in Lapland, fighting against the Germans. He then worked as a regular non-commisioned officer from 1948 to 1956. After divorcing his first wife, Laura Musakka, Lauttamus married Meeri Rämänen, a nurse.

Linna's Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), which appeared in 1954, created a growing demand for books, which told about the war from the viewpoint of an enlisted man. Inspired by Linna's example, Lauttamus bought a typewriter on hire-purchase and produced with his two-finger system a 76-pages long manuscript. Although this first effort was rejected by the Gummerus publishing company, Lauttamus eventually made his debut as a novelist in 1957 with Vieraan kypärän alla, published by Gummerus. The book, which was partly based on his own experiences in the Waffen-SS, sold immediately 50,000 copies. For a newcomer it was a record.

The protagonist is the seventeen-year-old Johannes Aihela, who joins the international Viking division, which attacked Russia in 1941 as a part of the Waffen-SS organization. The story follows Aihela from his home in Carelia, eastern Finland, to the training camp in Gross-Born in East-Pomerania, and to the battlefields in Ukraine. Lauttamus draws sharp portraits of German and Finnish soldiers. They had a common enemy but different reasons to fight against the Red Army. After two years Aihela returns to Finland to continue his war at the Finnish front as the author himself did. Lauttamus depicted also such real-life soldiers as the battalion commander Hans Collani (in the book Collan), the rivalry between different nations, not forgetting the sadistic non-commissioned officers in delinquent company, and the friendship between brothers-in-arms. Noteworthy, Lauttamus's books have not given any evidence to link the author to possible war crimes committed by members of the Viking Division.

Reviews: Vieraan kypärän alla (1957) "Tämän teoksen olennainen merkitys on mielestäni siinä, että se on ensimmäinen asiallisuuteen pyrkivä kuvaus suomalaisten nuorukaisten tiestä, jotka pääasiassa seikkailunhalusta liittyivät Hitlerin Saksan SS-joukkoihin." (Kauko Kula in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo 8/1957) - Verikivi (1977) "Kirjailijan viimeiseksi jäänyt teos, jonka aihepiiri on entinen: tavallisen rivialiupseerin sota. Jos ajatellaan kirjailijaa teknisenä taitajana, ei tekstissä ole huomauttamista. Mielenkiintokin on tyydyttävä. Upseerien ja aliupseerien suhde saa muotojaan tavanomaisissa kliseissä: nuori vänrikki käskee mielettömiä, harkitseva aliupseeri uhmaa häntä terveen järjen nimissä ja hyvinhän siinä lopuksi käy." (Veikko Junnila in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo 2/1978)

Following the success of his first novel, Lauttamus devoted himself entirely to writing. As well as novels he published short humorous pieces, which appeared in the Seura magazine.

Hiljaiset sotilaat (1959) looked at the Winter War (1939-40) from both sides of the front, and tried to avoid idealization typical for Finnish novels dealing with this conflict. A bestseller in the genre of war novels, it sold 20,000 copies. The literary manager of Gummerus, Ville Repo, made Lauttamus to rewrite one of its chapters over ten times. "The first version was published," recalled Lauttamus. He never again tried to see the war from the Soviet point of view.

In the 1960s Lauttamus published 11 war novels, all straightforward stories, which he occasionally peppered with absurd humor. He never sought acceptance from the cultural elite, who considered his works unfashionably conservative and commercial. Sotapoliisit (1961) focused on military polices, and Saappaat edellä (1963) on medical orderlies. Despite earning considerable royalties from his books, Lauttamus had problems with his mortgage. Eventually Pekka Salojärvi from his publishing company helped the writer to work out a plan with the payments.

Lauttamus returned to the history of the Viking division in Rautasaappaat (1965), Haavoittuneet leijonat (1968) and Viikinkidivisioona (1970), in which appeared characters familiar from Vieraan kypärän alla. In the 1970s he continued with eight war novels, of which the last was Verikivi (1977), set in the years of the Continuation War, from the beginning to the Soviet breakthrough in the Carelian front in 1944. During this period of his life, Lauttamus attempted suicide with a shotgun. His face was damaged severely. It has been claimed that Lauttamus's final two novels were ghostwritten. 

Lauttamus committed suicide in Muurame on May 8, 1977. Several of his novels have been reprinted, the 14th edition of Vieraan kypärän alla came out in 2009. From the beginning of his career, Lauttamus approached the war and military life with a sense of realism, but he didn't have any pacifist leanings at all.. Finnish soldiers were portrayed more or less in the traditional vein of heroic epic, and like Väinö Linna he often used humour in the characterization. Although Lauttamus did not glorify war and wanted to give a picture of its madness, his novels also were highly entertaining. He was a natural story-teller whose style was easy-going but brisk, like the rhythm of a long stroll. War veterans, Lauttamus's most faithful readers, were drawn to his books because author had personal first-hand knowledge of the frontline realities. 

Along with the novelist Kalle Päätalo, who was also a war veteran, Lauttamus was one of the best selling writers of the Gummerus Publishing Company. With the novel Kuolema junailee (1961), published by Fennia, Lauttamus tried his hand as a mystery writer. After this first and last attempt to change the genre he returned to war stories. Lauttamus later revealed that he had written the book in order to win a bet he had made with Marko Tapio.

When the New Wave film director Maunu Kurkvaara made a crime film entitled of Kujanjuoksu (1971), Lauttamus sued Elokuva Oy Maunu Kurkvaara ja Väinän Filmi Oy for stealing the title of his 1960 war novel, Kujanjuoksu. Kurkvaara said that he had never heard of the book. Lauttamus lost his case at the court, and some money too in the process, but the film was retitled Maunu Kurkvaaran Kujanjuoksu. ('Noin yhden dekkarin ihmeitä: Onni Halla ja Niilo Lauttamus' by Tapani Bagge, in Ruumiinkulttuuri, 3/2020)

Note: In the 1970s died also war novelists Esa Anttala and Yrjö Keinonen (later appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces), who like Lauttamus had been in the war. Other Finnish writers who have published war novels: Uula Aapa, Reino Lehväslaiho, Esa Anttila, Eino Pietola, Onni Palaste, Taisto Huuskonen, Pentti Pirhonen, Antti Tuuri, Pentti H. Tikkanen, Paavo Rintala, Joppe Karhunen, Jukka L. Mäkelä. The best known Finnish war novel is Väinö Linna's Unknown Soldier, (1954). Like Linna, Lauttamus depicted ordinary soldiers, who often became in conflict with orders and higher officers. Viking division: Hakaristin ritarit: suomalaiset SS-miehet, politiikka, uskonto ja sotarikokset by André Swanström (2018); '"Soldated wie andere auch": Finnish Waffen-SS Volunteers and Finland's Historical Imagination' by Antero Holmila, in Finland's Holocaust: Silences of History, edited by S. Muir and H. Worthen (2013); Suomalaisten Waffen-SS vapaaehtoisten matrikkeli 1941-1943 (1999); Panttipataljoona: Suomalaisen SS-pataljoonan historia by Mauno Jokipii (1969, Pawn battalion: The history of the Finnish SS-battalion), this book was commissioned by an organization representing veteran Waffen-SS soldiers.

Selected works:

  • Vieraan kypärän alla, 1957 (19th ed. 2009)
  • Hiljaiset sotilaat, 1959 (9th ed. 2009)
  • Kannaksen lapsia, 1960
  • Kujanjuoksu: romaani sodasta, 1960
  • Kuolema junailee: salapoliisiromaani, 1961
  • Sotapoliisit, 1961 (7th ed. 2009)
  • Korpipartio, 1962 (5th ed. 1981)
  • Saappaat edellä, 1963
  • Ilman kokardia, 1964
  • Rautasaappaat, 1965 (7th ed. 1981)
  • Rähinäremmi, 1966
  • Me veteraanit, 1967
  • Haavoittuneet leijonat, 1968 (6th ed. 1981)
  • Poliisimiehet, 1969
  • Viikinkidivisioona, 1970 (8th ed. 1994)
  • Kuolemanleirin kautta, 1971
  • Rangaistuskomppania, 1972
  • Anatoli Kurkisen sota, 1973
  • Raatteen tien paholaiset, 1974
  • Hävittäjä-ässä, 1975 (4th ed. 1988)
  • Panssarikiila, 1976
  • Verikivi, 1977
  • Karjalan korpipartiot, 2012 (contains Korpipartio and Saappaat edellä)


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