Breaking

The amazing story of Finland in World War II through rare photographs, 1939-1945




For much of Finland's history, the country had been on the fringes of world events, but for a few weeks during the winter of 1939–40, Finland stood at the center of the world stage.

Finland's stand against the Soviet invasion won the world admiration. However, the Winter War proved to be only a curtain-raiser for Finland's growing entanglement in World War II.

The root cause of the Winter War was Soviet concern about the expansionism of Nazi Germany. With a population of only 3.5 million, Finland itself was not a threat to the Soviet Union, but its territory strategically located near Leningrad could be used as a base by the Germans.

The Soviet Union began negotiations with Finland that lasted intermittently from the spring of 1938 to the summer of 1939, but nothing was achieved.



Finnish assurances that the country would never allow a German breach of its neutrality were not accepted by the Soviets, who sought more concrete guarantees.

In particular, the Soviets sought a base on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland from which they could block the Gulf of Finland from hostile naval forces. However, the Finnish government felt that accepting these terms would only lead to further, increasingly unreasonable, demands.

The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939 revolutionized European politics by bringing these former fundamentalists together. The secret protocol of the treaty gave the Soviet Union a sphere of influence that included Finland, the Baltic states, and parts of Eastern Europe.

When the Germans won a surprisingly quick victory over Poland in September 1939, the Soviet Union hurried to regain control of its sphere of influence. In addition to the land it took from Poland in September, the Soviet Union quickly transformed the three Baltic states into semi-protected states.

Finland followed these events closely; Thus, when on 5 October, the Soviets invited Finland to discuss "concrete political questions", the Finns felt that they were next on the Soviet's agenda.

Finland's first response was to mobilize its field forces on 6 October, and on 10 October Finland's reservists were called in as a general mobilization. The next day both the countries started talks which were to last till 8 November.


In the negotiations, the main Soviet demand was that the Finns hand over small parcels of territory, including a naval base on the Gulf of Finland, that the Soviets wanted to help them defend Leningrad.

In return, the Soviet Union offered to cede to Finland about 8,800 square kilometers of Karelia along the Finnish border, or almost double the amount of land offered by Finland.

Unlike the previous negotiations, these talks were conducted in the public eye, and the Finnish people, like the government, were almost unanimous in rejecting the Soviet proposals.

The obvious reasons for Finland's refusal were to defend its neutral position and to maintain its territorial integrity. In addition, moving the Finnish border on the Karelian Isthmus away from Leningrad would have given the Soviet Union possession of most of the line of Finnish fortifications, the loss of which would have weakened Finland's defenses.

There was a fundamental distrust of the Soviet Union in the staunch position of the Finnish negotiations and the feeling that the Soviet proposal was the first step in the subjugation of Finland.

Suspecting an ulterior motive, the Finns allied with the Soviets, who believed that Finland would voluntarily aid Germany in future wars.


The Finnish government appears to have underestimated the Soviet determination to achieve these national security goals. The two main Finnish negotiators, Veno Tanner and Juho Pasikivi, urged the Finnish government to make more concessions, as they felt that Finland was completely diplomatically isolated and from any quarter if events led to war. No support could be expected. General Mannerheim also urged the Soviet Union to compromise, as Finland itself could not fight the Soviet Union.

When he was ignored, he resigned from the Defense Council and as Commander-in-Chief stating that he could no longer be responsible for the incidents. However, Mannerheim withdrew his resignation when war broke out, and served as Finnish military leader.

Some historians suggest that Finnish concessions at the time could have prevented the war. The two sides seem to have proceeded from a basic mistrust of each other that was compounded by mutual miscalculations and a willingness to risk war.


On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union attacked without a declaration of war. Soviet preparations for the offensive were not particularly thorough, partly because they underestimated Finnish capabilities for resistance, and partly because they believed that Finnish workers would welcome the Soviet Union as a liberator.

However, almost none of the Finns supported the Soviet puppet government under veteran communist Otto Kusinen. Furthermore, in its last significant acts, the League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union for its unprovoked aggression against Finland.


With a range of about 1,300 km it seemed impossible for the Finnish armed forces to stop a much larger enemy.

However, geography helped the Finns, as much of the northern region was virtually impassable forest with few, easily blocked roads, and Finland generally presented difficult terrain on which to launch an offensive.

The Finns were thus able to use only light covering forces in the north and were able to concentrate most of the troops in the important southeastern area, including the area north of the Karelian Isthmus and Lake Ladoga, which protected the Isthmus from rear attack. was.

The position on the Isthmus was significantly strengthened by the Mannerheim Line. An additional Finnish advantage lay in Finnish's unconventional military doctrine. They were trained to use small, maneuverable forces to attack enemies on the side of the road and behind.

Through so-called rough tactics (the name is derived from the Finnish word for firewood), they tried to break the attacking columns into smaller sections, which were then torn to pieces. The final advantage of the Finns was their unprecedentedly high morale; They knew that they were fighting for their national existence.

The main disadvantage of Finland is the apparent fifty-one disparity between its population and the population of the Soviet Union. Finnish hope remained until help could come from the West, a hopeless hope as events unfolded.

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