Meth, Skis, Soviets, and Surviving the Arctic. The Story of Aimo Koivunen

Nick DeRiso | | BrainsBrains
Aimo Koivunen Pervitin
Aimo Koivunen after World War II and the infamous Pervitin. Photo: Public Domain

As history would have it, Finland used an unconventional strategy in World War II. They started neutral, joined forces with the German Axis powers, and ultimately sided with US Allied powers. But their strategy is nowhere near as unusual as the approach one Finnish soldier took to stay alive when facing death on the battlefield.

The year was 1941, and Finland believed the Soviet Union wanted to expand into their territory, which led them to side with the Germans. They utilized a defense strategy in hopes of regaining the territory they lost to the Soviets in the Winter War of 1939. Tensions arose as the Russians, allied with the USA, feared Finland would allow their country to be used as a base from which enemies could attack. 

Aimo Koivunen WW2 Finnish Ski Troops
Finnish Ski patrol in Lapland on alert for Russian troops, January 1940. Photo Credit: HU 55566 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Enter Aimo Koivunen

To this point, Finland defended their country for more than four years of virtually uninterrupted war, but soon that would all change. It was March 18, 1944, and a fresh coat of snow covered the Arctic Circle as Finnish soldier Aimo Koivunen guarded his country against invasion while stationed in Lapland. 

They say that when it snows, the snow can absorb and dampen out sound waves bringing a sense of calm, quiet peace. But there’s nothing peaceful about war, and there was no snow heavy enough to mute the sound of Soviet gunfire. Shots rang out. Finding themselves deep behind enemy lines, the Finnish Ski Patrol was ambushed and surrounded by the Russians. Out of options, they were forced to flee by ski. 

Aimo Koivunen led Finnish troops through the deep, heavy snow, breaking trails and setting the skin track for his brigade to follow. If you’ve ever toured deep powder on your skis, you know how exhausting this can be. As the adrenaline wore off, a fatigued Aimo remembered the container of pills stuffed away in his pocket that he carried for his squadron.

The evasive Finnish Ski Troops in snow cloaks and gas masks. Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Pervitin, Nazi Germany’s Wonder Drug

Given to him by his commanders, the ration of pharmaceuticals was a stimulant called Pervitin. A courage pill popularized by Hilter and made out of methamphetamine; it promised to give a burst of energy. Altogether, he avoided the drug to this point and planned to dish out the pills to his troops so they could continue their mission.

A little pick-me-up to get the Soviets off their rear and help retreat back to safety. But the arctic conditions were harsh, and dispersing the Pervitin would be a whole to-do in subzero temps. Instead of taking off his mittens, he searched for an easier way to distribute the pills. That’s when Aimo decided to go full send and devour the pills as he poured them into his mouth. Practically swallowing the whole bottle, he ingested over 30 doses. Let the tweaking begin. 

Pervitin Nazi Germany
Designed to enable pilots, sailors, and infantry troops to deliver superhuman performance. Soldiers taking Pervitin stayed awake for days, walked miles, and felt no pain or hunger. Photo Credit: Thomas Springer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Aimo found himself in quite the situation. As the meth kicked in, he doubled down on his pace through the snow, which proved too fast for the Soviets to follow. Only Koivunen was moving a little too quickly and eventually lost his squad in the process. Essentially overdosing on meth pills, he blacked out and lost consciousness but never stopped skiing. When he came to the next day, he was completely isolated and discovered he had skied over 60 miles alone. Alone and delirious, fueled by meth, during winter in the Arctic, in the middle of a war. 

Surviving The Arctic Circle

Twenty-four hours later and still high on amphetamines, Aimo was without comrades, food, or ammunition. He was left with no other choice but to continue to push on. But enduring additional Soviet attacks, falling off a cliff, and freezing temperatures were the least of his problems. On his journey, Aimo skied over a landmine, survived the explosion, and sought cover in a ditch, missing most of his clothes that burnt off from the detonation. Now with an incapacitated bum leg, he waited almost a week to be rescued.

Though the meth suppressed his appetite, Aimo ate pine cones and even treated himself to a Siberian jay bird which he ate raw to stay alive. At this point, he’s been high for days, the meth was wearing off, and the hunger pangs were beginning to set in. But Aimo Kiovunen never gave up.

Two hundred fifty miles later, weighing in at only 94 pounds, Aimo had eventually reached Finnish territory. He was greeted by Finnish Forces and given immediate medical treatment as his heart rate was beating at an astonishing 200 beats per minute, over double the speed of an average healthy human. Aimo Kiovunen would survive the drug overdose and his ordeal, though he never enjoyed talking about his war experiences. We could only wonder why. The legend himself would live another 45 years before peacefully passing away in 1989 at 71. Aimo proved all he needed to survive WWII was his willpower, skis and the clothes on his back, and maybe a little crystal meth. Pervitin was one hell of a drug.

Finland Ski Troops WWII
Finnish soldiers raise their flag at the three-country cairn between Norway, Sweden, and Finland on April 27, 1945, marking the end of World War II in Finland. Photo Credit: Väinö Oinonen via Military Museum of Finland

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