Winter War

Winter War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Winter War
partof=World War II

caption=Finnish machine gun squad during the Winter War.
date=November 30, 1939March 13, 1940
place=Eastern Finland
result=Interim Peace
territory=Moscow Peace Treaty
flagicon|Soviet Union|1923|size=75px
Soviet Union
commander1=Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
commander2=Kliment Voroshilov
Kirill Meretskov
Semyon Timoshenko
strength1= 250,000 men
30 tanks
130 aircraftPentti Virrankoski, "Suomen Historia 2", 2001, ISBN 951-746-342-1, SKS] Erkki Käkelä, "Laguksen miehet, marskin nyrkki: Suomalainen panssariyhtymä 1941–1944", 1992, ISBN 952-90-3858-5, Panssarikilta]
strength2=1,000,000 men
6,541 tanks [Kantakoski, "Punaiset panssarit—Puna-armeijan panssarijoukot 1918–1945", p. 260]
3,800 aircraftTomas Ries, "Cold Will—The Defense of Finland", 1988, ISBN 0-08-033592-6, Potomac Books] Ohto Manninen, "Talvisodan salatut taustat", 1994, ISBN 952-90-5251-0, Kirjaneuvos, using declassified Soviet archive material, Manninen found 12 previously unrecognized infantry divisions ordered to Finnish front]
casualties1=26,662 dead
39,886 wounded
1,000 capturedFinnish Defence College, "Talvisodan historia 4", p.406, 1991, ISBN 951-0-17566-8, WSOY, The dead includes 3,671 badly wounded who died after the war without leaving the hospital, some several years after the war.]
|casualties2=126,875 dead or missing []
264,908 woundedFact|date=September 2008
5,600 capturedG.F. Krivosheev, " [ Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century] ", 1997, ISBN 1-85367-280-7, Greenhill Books]
2,268+ tanks [Kantakoski, p. 286]

The Winter War ( _fi. Talvisota, _ru. "Советско-финляндская война" - official, "Зимняя война"- unofficial [ru icon [ В.Н. Барышников. От прохладного мира к Зимней войне. Восточная политика Финляндии в 1930-е годы. Санкт-Петербург, 1997.] ; [ В.Н. Барышников, Э. Саломаа. Вовлечение Финляндии во Вторую Мировую войну. In: Крестовый поход на Россию. М., 2005.] ; О.Д. Дудорова. Неизвестные страницы Зимней войны. In: Военно-исторический журнал. 1991. №9.; Зимняя война 1939-1940. Книга первая. Политическая история. М., 1998. – ISBN 5-02-009749-7; [ Эрик Ковалев. Зимняя война балтийских подводных лодок (1939–1940 гг.). In: Короли подплава в море червонных валетов. М., 2006.] ; [ М. Коломиец. Танки в Зимней войне 1939-1940. In: «Фронтовая иллюстрация», 2001] ; [ Александр Широкорад. Северные войны России. М., 2001.] ; Владимир Холодковский. Эта зимняя война. In: Ленинская правда. 1990. 4 янв., c. 3.] , _sv. Vinterkriget) began when the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, three months after the invasion of Poland by Germany that started World War II. Because the attack was judged as illegal, the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations on December 14. [ [|Resolution of Council of League of Nations] ]

The Soviet forces had four times as many soldiers as the Finns, 30 times as many aircraft and 200 times as many tanks. However, the Red Army had recently been subjected to a drastic purge in 1937 that crippled it, reducing its morale and efficiency shortly before the outbreak of hostilities. [, citing Alan Bullock, "Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives" (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), 489.] With up to 50% of army officers executed, including the vast majority of those of the highest rank, the Red Army in 1939 had many inexperienced senior officers. [Glantz, David M., "Stumbling Colossus," p. 58.] Thus, the Finns were able to resist the invasion of their country with great success and for far longer than the Soviets had expected.

Finland held out until March 1940, when it signed the Moscow Peace Treaty, ceding about 9% of its pre-war territory and 20% of its industrial capacity to the Soviet Union. Soviet losses on the front were large, and the country's international standing suffered. Also, the fighting ability of the Red Army was questioned, a factor that contributed to Adolf Hitler's decision to launch Operation Barbarossa. Finally, the Soviet forces did not accomplish their primary objective of conquest of Finland but gained only a slice of territory along Lake Ladoga. The Finns retained their sovereignty and gained considerable international goodwill.

The March 12 peace treaty thwarted a half-hearted Franco-British plan to send troops to Finland through northern Scandinavia (the Allied campaign in Norway). One of the Allied operation's major goals was to take control of northern Sweden's iron ore and cut deliveries to Germany.


Pre-World War I

Finland had long been the eastern part of the Swedish kingdom when Imperial Russia conquered it in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars, converting it to an autonomous buffer state in the Russian Empire to protect Saint Petersburg, the imperial capital.

Western Karelia's history is different from the rest of Finland's history. Most of the area paid tribute to the Russian Novgorod feudal republic, and was the arena of Swedish-Novgorodian Wars. The southwestern area, from the River Sestra to the River Vuoksi and Lake Saimaa (including Viborg) was annexed by Sweden at the same time as the rest of Finland, and the border, between Sweden and Novgorod, was defined by the Treaty of Nöteborg, in 1323. In 1617 (when Russia was still recovering from the Time of Troubles), Sweden captured the remainder of Western Karelia. During the Swedish sovereignty this region lost all of its Russian ecclesiastical and bourgeois inhabitants and much of its Russian Orthodox Karelian population, with much of it moving to the Tver region. Sweden lost the Karelian isthmus and the Ladoga Karelia in 1721 to Russia as a result of the Great Northern War. In 1743 Sweden ceded control of southern Karelia to Russia as a result of the Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743). In 1812, Russian Tsar Alexander I incorporated this region (known as Old Finland or Viipuri Province in Finland) into the Grand Duchy of Finland.

Finns were initially satisfied with the situation, but the attempt to strengthen central government and unify the Russian Empire by means of Russification at the beginning of the twentieth century created resentment and increased support for movements vying for self-determination.

World War I era

During World War I, Imperial Germany actively supported Finnish independence movements, for example by training the infantry battalion from the men Finns had sent. The centuries-long religious, economic and cultural ties made it easy to form new political ones.

Following the October Revolution that brought the Communists to power in Russia, rights of self-determination were declared by Bolsheviks as one of founding stones of the "new order". Taking advantage of the Bolsheviks' standing, Finland declared itself independent on December 6, 1917. In the subsequent Finnish Civil War, German-trained Finnish Jäger troops and regular German troops played a crucial role. Only Germany's defeat in World War I prevented the establishment of a Germany-dependent monarchy under Frederick Charles of Hesse as King of Finland.

Interwar period

Following the war, German–Finnish ties remained close, thanks to the German role in Finnish independence. When the National Socialists rose to power however, relations chilled as Finns sympathizing with National Socialism were very sparse. [Statistics of Finnish elections 1927–2003:] Even the clandestine military co-operation in submarine building was allowed to lapse.

Instead, Finland turned to Western Europe and Scandinavia for co-operation. More Finnish officers were trained in France than in all other countries combined. Also, French officers were instrumental in designing the fortifications of the Mannerheim Line. Great Britain was the largest trading partner, and Sweden was easily accessed through the same language, as native Swedish speakers were abundant amongst the Finnish political and cultural elite.

The relationship between the Soviet Union and Finland had been tense—the two periods of forced Russification at the turn of the century and the legacy of the failed Soviet-backed socialist rebellion in Finland along with two Finnish military expeditions (the Viena expedition in 1918 and the Aunus expedition of 1919), when Finnish volunteers tried to take Russian East Karelia, which had never been a part of the Swedish-Finnish state or the Great Duchy of Finland even though populated with Fenno-Ugric tribes, contributed to a strong mutual distrust. Stalin feared that Nazi Germany would eventually attack, and with the Soviet-Finnish border in the Karelian isthmus just 32 kilometres (20 miles) away from Leningrad, Finnish territory would have provided an excellent base for the attack. In 1932, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Finland. The agreement was reaffirmed in 1934 for ten years. However, the Soviet Union violated the Treaty of Tartu in 1937 by blockading Finnish merchant ships navigating between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland.

In April 1938 or possibly earlier, the Soviet Union began diplomatic negotiations with Finland, trying to improve their mutual defence against Germany. The Soviets were mainly concerned that Germany or France and Great Britain would use Finland as a bridgehead for an attack on Leningrad, and demanded a territorial swap to move the border farther away from the city. More than a year passed with little progress, and the political situation in Europe worsened.

Beginning of World War II

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a mutual non-aggression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, on August 23, 1939. The pact also included a secret clause allocating the countries of Eastern Europe between the two signatories. Finland was consigned to the Soviet "sphere of influence". The German attack on Poland on September 1 was followed by the Soviet invasion of Poland from the east. Within a few weeks, they had divided the country between them.

In the autumn of 1939, the Soviet Union demanded that Finland agree to move the border 25 kilometres (16 miles) back from Leningrad. It also demanded that Finland lease the Hanko Peninsula to the USSR for 30 years for the creation of a naval base there. In exchange, the Soviet Union offered Finland a large part of Karelia (more than twice the size). This offer was referred to in Finland as "two pounds of dirt for one pound of gold".

The Finnish government refused the Soviet demands. The Soviet General Staff under Boris Shaposhnikov and Alexander Vasilevsky was already drawing up plans for an offensive. On November 26, the Soviets staged the shelling of Mainila, an incident in which Soviet artillery shelled areas near the Russian village of Mainila, then announced that a Finnish artillery attack had killed Soviet troops.Tanner, Väinö, "The Winter War", 1957, Stanford University Press] The Soviet Union demanded that the Finns apologize for the incident and move their forces 20–25 kilometres from the border. The Finns denied any responsibility for the attack and rejected the demands, which the Soviet Union then used as an excuse to withdraw from the non-aggression pact. On November 30, Soviet forces attacked with 27 divisions, totaling 630,000 men, bombed civilian boroughs of Helsinki and quickly reached the Mannerheim Line.

The Terijoki Government, a Soviet puppet regime created in the occupied Finnish border town of Terijoki (now Zelenogorsk) on December 1, 1939, was also called the Finnish Democratic Republic. It was headed by Otto Ville Kuusinen and was used for both diplomatic purposes (it was immediately recognized by the Soviet Union) and for military ones (they hoped it would encourage socialists in Finland's Army to defect). This republic was not particularly successful but lasted until March 12, 1940, and was eventually incorporated into the Russian Karelo-Finnish SSR on March 31.


Initially, Finland had a mobilized army of only 250,000 men, but these troops turned out to be fierce adversaries employing small-unit surrounding "motti" tactics, fast-moving ski troops in white camouflage suits, and local knowledge. Many had spent most of their lives in the forest; the vast majority of Finns were rural dwellers until the 1950s. The conditions of the winter of 1939–40 were harsh; temperatures of −40 °C (−40 °F) were not unusual, and the Finns were able to use this to their advantage. Often, they opted not to engage the enemy in conventional warfare, instead targeting field kitchens (which were crucial for survival in the cold weather) and picking off Soviet troops huddled around camp fires.

At the beginning of the war, only those Finnish soldiers who were in active service at the time had uniforms and weapons. The rest had to make do with their own clothing, which was their normal winter clothing in many instances, with a semblance of an insignia added. These mismatched "uniforms" were nicknamed "Model Cajander" after the Prime Minister Aimo Cajander. The Finns alleviated their shortages by making extensive use of equipment, weapons and ammunition captured from the enemy. The army had not changed the calibre of its weapons after independence and was able to use Soviet ammunition. The deployment of poorly trained and badly led Soviet troops gave the advantage to the Finns, allowing the latter ample opportunities to capture war booty. Though the Finns had few anti-tank weapons, they had the "Molotov cocktail", an improvised petrol bomb adapted from the Spanish Civil War, which was used with great success in destroying or disabling around 2,000 Soviet tanks. One Finnish soldier is quoted as saying: "I never knew a tank could burn for so long."

The Soviets attacked in regimental strength, with their dark uniforms easily visible against the white snow, so they were easily targeted by the Finns' snipers and machine guns. Corporal Simo Häyhä was credited with 542 confirmed kills, making him one of the deadliest snipers in military history. When the Red Army tried to use their own snipers, the Finns countered with the "Kylmä-Kalle" (Cold Kalle) tactic. A mannequin or other doll was dressed as a tempting target, such as an officer sloppily covering himself. Soviet snipers usually were unable to resist the target. Once the Finns determined the angle from which the shot had come, a heavy-calibre gun, such as a "Norsupyssy" ("Elephant rifle") anti-tank rifle, was fired in the Soviet sniper's direction to kill him.

Soviet inexperience, naivety, and lack of motivation were important factors in the Finnish success during the war. The attackers were not expecting much resistance; General Kirill Meretskov estimated it would take only 10 to 12 days for his 26 well-equipped 14,000-man divisions to reach Helsinki. Soviet soldiers had even been warned not to cross the border into Sweden by mistake. [Harry Järv, Oavgjort i två krig, 2006ISBN 978-91-631-9273-9] Their propaganda had been so convincing that it was felt that the Finns would wave flags and welcome the Red Army with open arms.

Because of Stalin's purges, the commanders of the Red Army had suffered 80% peacetime lossesFact|date=September 2008. These were commonly replaced by people less competent but more "loyal" to their superiors, since Stalin had superseded his commanders with commissars or political officers. Tactics which were obsolete by World War I were sometimes employed.Fact|date=December 2007 Tactics were strictly "by the book," because failed initiative carried a high risk of execution. Many Soviet troops were lost because commanders refused to retreat; commissars did not allow them to do so and often executed commanders who disobeyed.

The Soviet army was poorly prepared for winter warfare,Fact|date=December 2007 particularly in forests,Fact|date=December 2007 and heavily used vulnerable motorized vehicles. These vehicles were kept running continuously so their fuel would not freeze, which led to increased breakdowns and aggravated fuel shortages. One of the most remarkable losses in military history is the so-called "Battle of Raate road", during the month-long Battle of Suomussalmi. The Soviet 163rd and the 44th Infantry Divisions (c. 25,000 troops) were almost completely destroyed after marching along the forest roads straight into an ambush. A small unit blocked the Soviet advance, while Finnish colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo and his 9th Division (c. 6,000 troops) cut off the retreat route, split the enemy force into smaller fragments and then destroyed it in detail. The Soviet casualties amounted to up to 23,000 men, while the Finnish lost around 800 men. In addition, the Finnish troops captured 43 tanks, 71 field and anti-aircraft cannons, 29 anti-tank cannons, AFVs, tractors, 260 trucks, 1,170 horses, infantry weapons, ammunition, medical and communication material.

The Soviet commander, Vinogradov, and two of his chief officers survived the battle. When they reached the Soviet lines four days later, they were court martialed, found guilty and sentenced to death; the executions were carried out immediately. The charge was losing 55 field kitchens to the enemy.

Following this battle, on January 7, for the disastrous failures, Kliment Voroshilov was replaced with Semyon Timoshenko as the commander of the Soviet forces in the war (and four months later as the People Commissar [Minister] of Defense as well).

The Soviets failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority at the start of the war. Finland massed 130,000 men and 500 guns in the Karelian isthmus, the main theater of the war; the Soviets attacked with only 200,000 men and 900 guns. Their 1,000 tanks were ineffectively used and took massive losses.

Aerial war

At the start of hostilities, the Finnish Air Force had 146 aircraft of all types at its disposal. The primary fighter aircraft were 15 Bristol Bulldog IVs, which had entered service in 1935, and 41 of the more modern Fokker D.XXI. There were also 18 license-built Bristol Blenheim bombers. In 1939, an order had been placed in Italy for 25 Fiat G.50 fighters; two were being assembled in Sweden when the war broke out.

During the war, a number of aircraft were ordered from abroad:
* 30 Gloster Gladiator II biplane fighters from the United Kingdom
* 12 Bristol Blenheim IV bombers from the United Kingdom
* 30 Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighters from France
* 44 Brewster 239 fighters from the United States
* 22 Gloster Gauntlet trainers from the United Kingdom
* 10 Fiat G.50 fighters from Italy

In air combat, Finland used the "finger four" formation (four planes split into two pairs, one flying low and the other high, with each plane fighting independently of the others, yet supporting their wingman in combat), which was superior to the Russian tactic of three fighters flying in a delta formation. This formation and the credo of Finnish pilots to always attack, no matter the odds, contributed to the failure of Russian bombers to inflict substantial damage against Finnish positions and population centres.

Naval activity

The Winter War was also a naval war that went on until the Baltic Sea froze, as it usually does in winter, and made the movement of warships very difficult. On the water, it was a mostly one-sided affair. The Soviet Navy had the advantage in both the quantity of the leftovers from the Tsarist era as well as quality from a building program in the 1930s that had produced everything up to large cruisers. The Finnish Navy was weak in comparison. The most powerful units left from the civil war were two gunboats from 1917–18. In the inter-war years, a small number of new ships had been ordered. In the early 1930s, five submarines had joined the navy, as well as two well-armed but slow coastal defence ships with 254mm guns as their main battery.

But in addition to the navy, Finland had its coastal artillery batteries guarding important harbours and naval bases along its coast. Most batteries were leftovers from the Russian period, the 15.2cm gun being the most numerous, but Finland had modernized its old guns and installed a number of new batteries, the largest a 305mm gun battery originally intended to block the Gulf of Finland to Soviet ships with the help of batteries on the Estonian side.

Soviet warships attacked Finnish coastal batteries as long as the weather allowed. Sending light ships against even old coastal batteries had historically proved very dangerous; with nothing but a sunk destroyer and a number of damaged ships the Soviet Navy did not manage to influence the war.

The Coastal artillery had its greatest effect upon the land war. Batteries near the front were in well-protected fixed positions, with a higher rate of fire and greater accuracy than mobile artillery. Land batteries near the coast helped steady the defence of the Karelian Isthmus in conjunction with army artillery.

In March, as the Soviets had broken through the front, all reserves were thrown into the fighting near Viborg. The Soviets tried to cross the ice of the Gulf of Viipuri and come up behind the city, but the Finnish coastal artillery fired their heaviest guns, breaking the ice under the Russians and preventing a clean breakthrough.

Other considerations

The vast bulk of the Red Army's troops that fought in the Winter War were taken from the southern regions of the Soviet Union. It was Stalin's opinion that Soviet troops from the area immediately bordering Finland could not be trusted to fight against the Finns. These southern Red Army soldiers had no experience with Arctic winter conditions and virtually no forest survival skills. Not only were they up against the Finns who were experts in winter warfare and knew the land, the weather during the war was one of the three worst winters in Finland in the 20th century. [Ilmatieteen laitos: [ Vuodenajat kolmen kalenterikuukauden jaksoissa] fi icon Retrieved 9-16-2007.]

To the surprise of both the Soviets and the Finnish conservatives, the majority of the Finnish socialists did not support the Soviet invasion, but fought alongside their compatriots against the common enemy. Many Finnish communists had moved to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to "build Socialism", only to end up victims of Stalin's Great Purges, which led to widespread disillusionment and even open hatred of the Soviet regime among socialists in Finland.

Another factor was the advancement of Finnish society and laws after the civil war that helped decrease the gap between different classes of society. This healing of the wounds and rifts of the Finnish Civil War (1918) and from Finland's language strife and the coming together of different factions of society is still referred to as "the Spirit of the Winter War". The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany had shaken the world views of both the bourgeois as well as the working class Finns. Many Finns had believed that Germany would eventually intervene against the Soviet Union as Imperial Germany had in 1918. In similar fashion the ordinary workers had believed that Soviet Union was a guarantee for peace and force against Nazi Germany. After the signing, Germany was in league with Soviet Union against Finland. The workers had witnessed the Soviet Union invading Poland instead of fighting the Nazis. On the eve of war there was very little trust for any foreign power—be it socialist, German, the League of Nations or the western powers. Nonetheless, some communists were not allowed to fight in Finland's conscripted army because of their political background.

Foreign support

World opinion at large supported the Finnish cause. The World War had not yet begun in earnest and was known to the public as the Phony War; at that time, the Winter War was the only real fighting besides the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, and thus held major world interest. The Soviet aggression was generally deemed unjustified. Various foreign organizations sent material aid, such as medical supplies. Finnish immigrants in the United States and Canada returned home, and many volunteers (one of them future actor Christopher Lee) traveled to Finland to join Finland's forces: 1,010 Danes (including Christian Frederik von Schalburg, a Captain in Christian X of Denmark's bodyguard and later commander of Frikorps Danmark, volunteer unit created by Nazi Germany in Denmark during WWII), 8,700 Swedes, 895 Norwegians, 372 Ingrians, 346 Finnish expatriates, 366 Hungarians [ [ Tapani Kossila: Foreign volunteers in the Winter War] ] and 210 volunteers of other nationalities made it to Finland before the war was over. Foreign correspondents in Helsinki wrote, and even greatly exaggerated, reports of Finnish ingenuity and successes in combat.

Pope Pius XII condemned the Soviet attack on December 26 1939, in a speech at the Vatican and later donated a signed and sealed prayer on behalf of Finland. [ [ Finnish Defence Forces - The Winter War 1939-1940] Retrieved 9-5-2007.]


In addition to the 895 Norwegians that volunteered to fight for Finland, amongst whom were later heroes of Anti-Nazi Resistance such as Max Manus and Leif "Shetland" Larsen, there were numerous nationwide collections campaigns of supplies and money in Norway to help the Finns.

This included a special Finnish day held at the Holmenkollen skiing games in Oslo to collect money for the Finnish cause. [Finnish Defence Forces official website: [ The Winter War - Day 48] ] In all 50,000 pairs of shoes, 100,000 backpacks filled with supplies and 16,000 blankets were shipped off. Collections of rifles (mostly Krag-Jørgensen models) and home knitted shooting gloves also took place. Sigrid Undset, Norwegian author and Nobel laureate, donated her Nobel medal to Finland on January 25, 1940. [Finnish Defence Forces official website: [ The Winter War - Day 57] ]

The Norwegian government secretly donated the Finns 12 German-made 7.5 cm field gun m/01s [ [ Website on weapons used by the Norwegian army in 1940] ] (designated 75 K 01 in Finnish service) in February 1940. [ [ Finnish Artillery pieces - 75 K 01] ] [ [ Artillery acquisitions during the Winter War] ] Included in the covert artillery transfer were 12,000 shells. [cite web |url= |title=Neutrality guard |accessdate=2008-08-29 |work= | |date= |language=Norwegian ] Norway also allowed the transfer of aircraft to Finland via Sola Air Station, near Stavanger.Fighter Tactics Academy: [ Brewsters to the Finnish Air Force in 1940] ] [Fighter Tactics Academy: [ Hurricanes to Finland] ] [ [ Secret Mission To Fly Twelve Bristol Blenheims To Finland] BBC - World War 2 People's War] Norwegian volunteers took part in the assembly of some of the aircraft at the Saab factory in Trollhättan, Sweden.

The North Norwegian county of Finnmark received over 1,000 Finnish refugees from Petsamo by February 6 1940; [Finnish Defence Forces official website: [ The Winter War - Day 69] ] as the Red Army advanced through that lightly defended area Finnish civilians sought shelter on the Norwegian side of the Pasvik/Paatsjoki River. Finnish soldiers of the independent Lapland Group that retreated across the border into Finnmark were transported south and interned at Hegra Fortress in the Nord-Trøndelag county of Central Norway. The internees were released and returned to Finland at the turn of the year 1939-1940. [ [ Ingstadkleven Fort, 1926-1940] no icon]


Sweden, which had declared itself to be a non-belligerent rather than a neutral country (as in the war between Nazi Germany and the Western Powers) contributed military supplies, cash, credits, humanitarian aid and some 8,700 Swedish volunteers prepared to fight for Finland. Perhaps most significant was the Swedish Voluntary Air Force, in action from January 7, with 12 Gloster Gladiator fighters, five Hawker Hart bombers, and eight other planes, amounting to one third of all the Swedish Air Force's fighters at that time. Volunteer pilots and mechanics were drawn from the ranks. The renowned aviator Count Carl Gustav von Rosen, nephew of Carin Göring, Hermann Göring's first wife, volunteered independently. There was also a volunteer work force, of about 900 workers and engineers. In March the unit was to be reinforced with five Junkers Ju 86 bombers on the 11th of March the bombers were in the Swedish town of Boden with all preparations completed but the end of hostilities on the 13th precluded their deployment.

The Swedish Volunteer Corps with 8,402 men in Finland — the only common volunteers who had finished training before the war ended — began relieving five Finnish battalions at Märkäjärvi in mid-February. Together with three remaining Finnish battalions, the corps faced two Soviet divisions and were preparing for an attack by mid-March but were inhibited by the peace agreement. Thirty-three men died in action, among them the commander of the first relieving unit, Lieutenant Colonel Magnus Dyrssen.

The Swedish volunteers remain a source of dissonance between Swedes and Finns. The domestic debate in Finland had in the years immediately before the war given common Finns hope of considerably more support from Sweden, such as a large force of regular troops, that could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the war — or possibly caused the Russians not to attack at all.

However the help from volunteers, especially the Scandinavian ones, was appreciated by the Finns. This is shown by the fact that during the Norwegian Campaign against the German invasion in April 1940 a Finnish group of volunteers formed an ambulance unit and helped the defenders until forced to return home because of the success of the German armed forces. A group of Swedish and Finnish volunteers also fought along Norwegian soldiers against the German invaders near Os, on May 2 as well.

Franco-British plans for a Scandinavian theatre

Within a month, the Soviet leadership began to consider abandoning the operation, and Finland's government was approached with preliminary peace feelers (via Sweden's government), first on January 29. Until then, Finland had fought for its existence as an independent and democratic country. When credible rumors of this reached the governments in Paris and London, the incentives for military support were dramatically changed.

In February 1940, the Allies offered to help: the Allied plan, approved on February 5 by the Allied High Command, consisted of 100,000 British and 35,000 French troops that were to disembark at the Norwegian port of Narvik and support Finland via Sweden while securing the supply routes along the way. The plan was agreed to be launched on March 20 under the condition that the Finns plead for help. On March 2, transit rights were officially requested from the governments of Norway and Sweden. It was hoped this would eventually bring the two still neutral Nordic countries, Norway and Sweden, to the Allied side by strengthening their positions against Germany — although Hitler had by December declared to the Swedish government that Western troops on Swedish soil would immediately provoke a German invasion, which in practice meant that Nazi Germany would take the populated southern part of Scandinavia while France and Britain would fight in the furthest north.

However, only a small fraction of the Western troops were intended for Finland. Proposals to enter Finland directly, via the ice-free harbour of Petsamo, had been dismissed. There were suspicions that the objective of the operation was to occupy the Norwegian shipping harbour of Narvik and the vast mountainous areas of the north-Swedish iron ore fields, from which the Third Reich received a large share of its iron ore, critical to war production. If Franco-British troops moved to halt export to Germany, the area could become a significant battleground between the Allies and the Germans. As a consequence, Norway and Sweden denied transit. Despite the Allies' pretense of mounting a defense for Finland against the Soviets, after WWII it became known that the commander of the Allied expedition forces had been ordered not to engage Soviet forces once his troops were in Finland.

The Franco-British plan initially hoped to secure all of Scandinavia north of a line Stockholm–Gothenburg or Stockholm–Oslo, i.e. the British concept of "the Lake line" following the lakes of Mälaren, Hjälmaren, and Vänern, which would contribute with good natural defence some 1,700–1,900 kilometres (1,000-1,200 miles) south for Narvik. The expected frontier, the "Lake line," involved not only Sweden's two largest cities, but its consequence was that the homes of the vast majority of the Swedes would be either Nazi-occupied or in the war zone. Later, the ambition was lowered to only the northern half of Sweden and the rather narrow adjacent Norwegian coast.

The Swedish government, headed by Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson, declined to allow transit of armed troops through Swedish territory. Although Sweden had not declared itself neutral in the Winter War, it was neutral in the war involving France, Britain, and Germany. Granting transit rights to a Franco-British corps was at that time considered too great a departure from international laws on neutrality.

The Swedish Cabinet also decided to reject repeated pleas from the Finns for regular Swedish troops to be deployed in Finland, and in the end the Swedes also made it clear that their present support in arms and munitions could not be maintained for much longer. Diplomatically, Finland was squeezed between Allied hopes for a prolonged war and Swedish and Norwegian fears that the Allies and Germans might soon be fighting each other on Swedish and Norwegian terrain. In addition, Norway and Sweden feared an influx of Finnish refugees should Finland lose to the Soviets. Also, Hermann Göring was through his private channels in Sweden offering distinct advice for peace and concessions — Göring suggested that concessions "could always later be mended."

While Germany and Sweden pressured Finland to accept peace on bad conditions, Britain and France had the opposite objective. Different plans and figures were presented for the Finns. To start with, France and Britain promised to send 20,000 men to arrive by the end of February, although under the implicit condition that on their way to Finland they were given opportunity to occupy North-Scandinavia.

By the end of February, Finland's Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Mannerheim, was pessimistic about the military situation. Therefore, on February 29 the government decided to start peace negotiations. That same day, the Soviets commenced an attack against Viipuri.

When France and Britain realized that Finland was considering a peace treaty, they gave a new offer for help: 50,000 men were to be sent, if Finland asked for help before March 12. Only 6,000 of these would have actually been destined for Finland. The rest were intended to secure harbours, roads and iron ore fields on the way.

Despite the feeble forces that would have reached Finland, intelligence about the plans reached the Soviet Union and contributed heavily to their decision to sign the armistice ending the war. It is argued that without the threat of Allied intervention, nothing would have eventually stopped the Soviets from conquering the entirety of Finland because of the Soviet Union's large number of troop reserves.


By the end of the winter, it became clear that the Finnish forces were becoming exhausted, and German representatives, not knowing that the negotiations were already ongoing, suggested that Finland should negotiate with the USSR. Soviet casualties had been high, and the situation was a source of political embarrassment for the Soviet regime. With the spring thaw approaching, the Russian forces risked becoming bogged down in the forests, and a draft of peace terms was presented to Finland on February 12. Both the Germans and the Swedes were keen to see an end to the Winter War; the latter feared the collapse of its neighbor. As Finland's Cabinet hesitated in face of the harsh Soviet conditions, Sweden's King Gustaf V made a public statement, in which he confirmed having declined Finnish pleas for support from Swedish troops.

By the end of February, the Finns had depleted their ammunition supplies. Also, the Soviet Union had finally succeeded in breaking through the Mannerheim Line. On February 29, the Finnish government agreed to start negotiations. By March 5, the Soviet army had advanced 10–15 kilometres past the Mannerheim Line and had entered the suburbs of Viipuri. The Finns proposed an armistice on the same day, but the Soviets wanted to keep the pressure on and declined the offer the next day. Indeed, the fighting continued up to noon (Leningrad time), March 13, half a day after the peace treaty was signed, according to the terms of the protocol.

After the war, the situation of the Finnish army at Karelian Isthmus at the end of the war had created significant discussion. The orders were already given to prepare a retreat to the next line of defence in the Taipale sector. The estimates of how long the enemy could have been held in these kinds of retreat-and-stand operations varied from a few daysLaaksonen, Lasse, "Todellisuus ja harhat", 2005, ISBN 951-20-6911-3, Gummerus] to a couple of months,Wolf H. Halsti, "Talvisota 1939-1940", 1955, Otava] most averaging around a few weeks.Paasikivi, J.K., "Toimintani Moskovassa", 1959, WSOY]

It is speculated that Stalin had practically wiped out his intelligence apparatus during the purges, thus damaging the effectiveness of spies in Finland and other countries, as well as cowing operatives into writing the kind of reports they thought Stalin wanted to read. Thus he was not aware of the real situation in Finland and amongst the Western Allies. C. Van Dyke, "The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939–40", 1997, London: Frank Cass] Rentola, Kimmo, " [ Residenttimme ilmoittaa...] ", Suomen Historiallinen Seura, 2002]

Soviet intelligence sources were informing their leadership of the Allied plans to intervene in the war, but not of the details or the actual unpreparedness of the Allies. Therefore, the Soviets felt forced to seek a premature end to the war before the Allies intervened and declared war on the Soviet Union.

During four months of fighting, the Soviet Army suffered huge losses. One Red Army General remarked that "we have won enough ground to bury our dead." Casualty estimates vary widely — from 48,000 killed, died from wounds, and missing in action, as quoted by Soviet officials immediately after the war, to 391,800 according to some recent research [A.E.Taras, "Soviet-Finland 1939-1940 war", Minsk, 1999.] According to Nikita Khrushchev, 1.5 million men were sent to Finland and one million of them were killed, while 1,000 aircraft, 2,300 tanks and armored cars and an enormous amount of other war materials were lost. [] The most reliable current estimate puts the figure at 270,000. Finland's losses were limited to around 22,830 men.Winter War Website, [] ]

Peace of Moscow

In the Moscow Peace Treaty of March 12, 1940, Finland was forced to cede the Finnish part of Karelia. The land included the city of Viipuri (the country's second largest), much of Finland's industrialized territory, and significant parts still held by Finland's army: over 10% of pre-war Finland. Some 422,000 Karelians—12% of Finland's population—lost their homes. Military troops and remaining civilians were hastily evacuated ; only a few score civilians chose to remain under Soviet governance.

Finland also had to cede a part of the Salla area, the Kalastajansaarento peninsula in the Barents Sea and four islands in the Gulf of Finland. The Hanko Peninsula was also leased to the Soviet Union as a military base for 30 years. While the Soviet troops had captured Petsamo during the war, they returned it to Finland according to the treaty.

As a whole, the peace terms were harsh for Finland. Russia received the city of Viipuri, in addition to their pre-war demands. Sympathy from the League of Nations, Western Allies, and from the Swedes in particular, did not prove to be of much help.

Little more than one year later, hostilities resumed with the Continuation War and a new chapter in the history of Finland began.

Post-Soviet demands for return of territory

After the war, Karelian local governments, parishes and provincial organizations established Karjalan Liitto in order to defend the rights and interests of Karelian evacuees and to find a solution for returning Karelia. During the Cold War, President Urho Kekkonen tried several times to get the territories back by negotiating with the Soviet leadership, but did not succeed. No one openly demanded return. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, disputes were revived. Some minor groups in Finland have been actively demanding the peaceful return to Finland of the ceded territories. The most active group in this field is ProKarelia. In the latest polls, these demands have met with 26– 38% support in Finland. [Karjala-lehti and MC-Info Oy 2005 (36 % vs. 52 %), Karjalan Liitto and Taloustutkimus 5.- 7.4. 2005 (26 % vs. 57 %) [] , HS-Gallup: Selvä enemmistö ei halua Karjalaa takaisin 21.8.2005 (30 % vs. 62 %) [] , STT / Suomen Gallup 2.7. 2004 (38 % vs. 57 %)] Although the peaceful return of Karelia has always been on its agenda, Karjalan Liitto has, for the most part, stayed away from these demands.

In popular culture

The 1940 story "Biggles Sees it Through" by W.E. Johns is set during the final stages of the war.

In 1989, the Finnish movie "Talvisota" was released. This film tells the story of a Finnish platoon of reservists from Kauhava. The platoon belongs to the 23rd Infantry Regiment, which consists almost solely of men from Southern Ostrobothnia.

The 2006 documentary "" shows how the Winter War influenced World War II and how Finland mobilized against the world’s largest military power.

Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton recorded the song "Talvisota" based on the Winter War on their 2008 album The Art of War.

The educational real-time strategy game called "" was released at the end of 2007 in CIS countries and in October 2008 in Finland.

See also

*List of Finnish wars
*Finnish Army (1939)
*Hungarian Volunteers in the Winter War
*Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union



* Andersson, Lennart "B3 Junkers Ju86 i Sverige"
* Cox, Geoffrey (1941) "The Red Army Moves" (Victor Gollancz, London).
* Engle, Eloise & Paananen, Lauri (1992). "The Winter War: The Soviet Attack on Finland 1939-1940". Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-2433-6.
* Jakobson, Max (1961). "The Diplomacy of the Winter War: An Account of the Russo-Finnish War, 1939-1940". Cambridge, MA: Harward University Press.
* Öhquist, Harald (1949). "Talvisota minun näkökulmastani". Helsinki: WSOY. (in Finnish)
* Ries, Tomas (1988). "Cold Will: Defence of Finland". Brassey's. ISBN 0-08-033592-6.
* Schwartz, Andrew J. (1960). America and the Russo-Finnish War. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press.
* Trotter, William R (1991). "A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940" (also published as "The Winter War"). Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN 1-56512-249-6.
* Upton, Anthony F. (1974). "Finland 1939-1940" (University of Delaware Press, Newark: part of series "The Politics and Strategy of the Second World War") ISBN 0-87413-156-1
* Van Dyke, Carl (1997). "The Soviet Invasion of Finland, 1939-40". Frank Cass Publishers. ISBN 0-7146-4314-9.
* Vehviläinen, Olli (2002). "Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia". New York: Palgrave. ISBN 0-333-80149-0.
* "Finland i Krig 1939-1940" - multiple authors. ISBN 0-951-1182-5

External links

* [ Furious Front Across Finland]
* [ USSR expulsion from League of Nations] from the League of Nations' Official Journal
* [ The Battles of the Winter War] comprehensively covered by Sami H. E. Korhonen
* [ The Front Museum on the Hanko Peninsula] , documenting the lease of Hanko to the USSR
* [ Finnish wartime photos and history website] Stories by veterans, historians, and wartime pictures.
* [ Halford Mackinder's Necessary War] An essay describing the Winter War in a larger strategic context of World War II
* [ Winter War] sr icon
* [ Those Burly Fins] , History House magazine article
* [ Winter War & Continuation War Forum]

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