Isserson stated that the situation was further complicated by Meretskov’s failure to understand the nature of the Finnish defense. He testified that the army commander believed that there were no permanent fortifications along the axis of attack. Instead, the enemy’s defensive position consisted of only “separate fortifications, with large open gaps between them,” through which the Soviets would attack. For this reason, he continued, Meretskov ordered elements of one of the rifle divisions to conduct a reconnaissance in force on December 16. The attack was a failure, however, and the division suffered heavy losses. 32 Meretskov later wrote on this score that “some of our intelligence people” considered the Mannerheim Line’s defenses “nothing but propaganda.” He added that events would soon reveal that this was a “gross miscalculation.”33 He failed to mention, however, whether or not he was personally taken in by this faulty intelligence.
Isserson was much more ambiguous in his defense of his record as 7th Army chief of staff in Finland. On the one hand, he readily admitted that he had failed to organize the army and lesser staffs and the rear services to a “sufficient degree,” which he said was “one of the reasons” for the army’s unsuccessful December 17 attack. However, he maintained that his original calculations for the movement of troops to their jumping-off point for the attack had been correct, but that Meretskov had made major changes in these numbers. He added that the army commander did this because he believed that the Finns had no fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus, and therefore ordered the attack without an artillery preparation. Likewise, he now admitted that the two days allotted for preparing the break- through had been too little. He said that, in retrospect, he should have “demanded” more time for these measures, but that the deadline had been set down by Meretskov. Isserson once again maintained that his mistakes did not involve a “criminal design,” and that in any event he had already been punished for them by being removed from his position and reduced in rank.111