The Full Wiki

More info on Winter War

Winter War: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Winter War
Part of World War II
A group of soldiers with snowsuits aims a heavy machine gun
A Finnish machine gun crew during the Winter War.
Date 30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940
Location Eastern Finland
Result Interim Peace
Moscow Peace Treaty
 Finland  Soviet Union
C. G. E. Mannerheim Kirill Meretskov
Kliment Voroshilov
Semyon Timoshenko[Ib 1]
337,000–346,500 men[Ib 2][4]:299-200[5]:83
32 tanks[Ib 3][4]:318
114 aircraft[Ib 4][6]
425,640 men on 30 November 1939[7] 550,757 men on 1 January 1940 and 760,578 men by the beginning of March.[8]:63998,100 men[9]:383 20 divisions one month before the war and 58 divisions two weeks before its end in Leningrad Military District.[10]:43
2,514–6,541 tanks[Ib 5][11]:260
3,880 aircraft
Casualties and losses
25,904 dead or missing[Ib 6][12]
43,557 wounded[13]:821
1,000 captured[Ib 7][14]:792
957 civilians in air raids[12]
20–30 tanks
62 aircraft[15]:160
126,875 dead or missing[8]:77-78[Ib 8]
188,671 wounded, injured or burned[8]:77-78

5,572 captured[17]:815
3,543 tanks[Ib 9][9][11]:286[17]:810–811
261–515 aircraft[Ib 10][9]:381[17]:810-811

  1. ^ Commander of the Leningrad Military District Kiril Meretskov initially ran the overall operation against the Finns.[1]:93 The command was passed on 9 December 1939 to the General Staff Supreme Command (later known as Stavka), directly under Kliment Voroshilov (chairman), Nikolai Kuznetsov, Joseph Stalin and Boris Shaposhnikov.[1]:125[2]:14 In January 1940, the Leningrad Military District was reformed and renamed "North-Western Front". Semyon Timoshenko was chosen Army Commander to break the Mannerheim Line.[3]:204
  2. ^ At the beginning of the war, the Finns had 337,000 men. The Finnish army had only 250,028 rifles (total 281,594 firearms), but White Guards brought their own rifles (over 114,000 rifles, total 116,800 firearms) to the war. The Finnish army reached its maximum strength at the beginning of March 1940 with 346,000 men in uniform.
  3. ^ From 1919 onwards, the Finns possessed 32 French Renault tanks and few lighter tanks. These were unsuitable for the War, and they were subsequently used as fixed pillboxes. The Finns bought 32 British Vickers tanks during 1936–39, but without weapons. Weapons were intended to be manufactured and installed in Finland. Only ten tanks were fit for combat at the beginning of the war.
  4. ^ Situation for 1 December 1939. The Finns had 114 combat airplanes fit for duty and 7 airplanes for communication and observation purposes. In addition, less than a hundred airplanes were used for flight training purposes, not suitable for combat, or under repair. In total, the Finns had 173 aircraft and 43 reserve aircraft.
  5. ^ At the beginning of the war the Soviets had 2,514 tanks and 718 armoured cars. The main battlefield was the Karelian Isthmus where the Soviets deployed 1,450 tanks. At the end of the war the Soviets had 6,541 tanks and 1,691 armored cars. The most common tank type was T-26, but also BT type was very common.
  6. ^ Finnish detailed death casualties: Dead, buried 16,766; Wounded, died of wounds 3,089; Dead, not buried, later declared as dead 3,503; Missing, declared as dead 1,712; Died as a prisoner of war 20; Other reasons (diseases, accidents, suicides) 677; Unknown 137.
  7. ^ After the War, the Soviet Union repatriated 847 Finns. Finnish and Russian researchers have estimated the total number of Finnish POWs at 800–1,100 , and the number of deaths as 10–20. See: Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union.
  8. ^ There are many estimates of the number of the Soviet casualties. The official Soviet figure in 1940 was 48,745 dead. In 1990, Mikhail Semiryaga claimed 53,522 dead and N. I. Baryshnikov 53,500 dead. In the early 1990s, Grigoriy Krivosheyev claimed 126,875 dead and missing, and total casualties 391,783. Yuri Kilin in 1999 claimed 63,990 dead, total casualties 271,528 men; in 2007 he revised the estimate of dead to 134,000 dead.[16]:91 The results of the Krivosheyev's research group has a "semi-official" status.[citation needed]
  9. ^ The official figure was 611 tank casualties; but Yuri Kilin has found a note received by the head of the Soviet General Staff Boris Shaposhnikov which reports 3,543 tank casualties and 316 tanks destroyed. According to the Finnish historian Ohto Manninen, the 7th Soviet Army lost 1,244 tanks alone during the breakthrough battles of the Mannerheim Line in mid-winter. In the aftermath of the Winter War, the Finnish estimate of the number of lost Soviet tanks was 1,000–1,200.
  10. ^ Soviet Air Forces lost about 1,000 aircraft, but less than half of them were combat casualties.

The Winter War (Finnish: talvisota, Swedish: vinterkriget, Russian: Зимняя война)[18] was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland. It began with a Soviet offensive on 30 November 1939—three months after the start of World War II and the Soviet invasion of Poland—and ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow Peace Treaty. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union on 14 December 1939.[19]

The Soviet forces had three times as many soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks. The Red Army, however, had been crippled by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of 1937, reducing the army's morale and efficiency shortly before the outbreak of the fighting.[20] With over 30,000 of its army officers executed or imprisoned, including most of those of the highest ranks, the Red Army in 1939 had many inexperienced senior officers.[21][22]:56 Because of these factors, and high commitment and morale in the Finnish forces, Finland was able to resist the Soviet invasion for far longer than the Soviets expected.[22]:79-80

Hostilities ceased in March 1940 with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty. Finland ceded 11% of its pre-war territory and 30% of its economic assets to the Soviet Union.[1]:18 Soviet losses on the front were heavy, and the country's international reputation suffered.[1]:272-273 The Soviet forces did not accomplish their objective of the total conquest of Finland but did gain sufficient territory along Lake Ladoga to provide a buffer for Leningrad. The Finns, however, retained their sovereignty and improved their international reputation.

The peace treaty thwarted the Franco-British plan to send troops to Finland through northern Scandinavia. One of the Allied operation's major goals had been to take control of northern Sweden's iron ore and cut its deliveries to Germany.[3]:239




Politics of Finland

Map of the Northern Europe where Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are tagged as neutral countries. The Soviet Union has military bases in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Northern Europe in November 1939.[23]:10      Neutral countries     Germany and annexed countries     Soviet Union and annexed countries     Countries with Soviet military bases

Finland constituted the eastern part of the Swedish kingdom for centuries before 1809. At this time, to protect its imperial capital, Saint Petersburg, Imperial Russia conquered Finland and converted it into an autonomous buffer state within the Russian Empire. Finland enjoyed wide autonomy until the end of the nineteenth century, when Russia began attempts to assimilate Finland as part of a general policy to strengthen the central government and unify the Empire through Russification. While abortive because of Russia's internal strife, these attempts ruined Russia's relations with the Finns and increased support for Finnish self-determination movements.[3]:4-6

The outbreak of the First World War and the collapse of the Russian Empire gave Finland a window of opportunity; on 6 December 1917, the Senate of Finland declared the country's independence. The new Bolshevik Russian government was weak, and with the threat of civil war looming Soviet Russia recognized the new Finnish government just three weeks after the declaration of independence.[3]:4-6 Sovereignty was fully achieved in May, 1918 after a short civil war and the expulsion of Bolshevik troops.[24]:3

Finland joined the League of Nations in 1920. Finland sought security guarantees from the League, but its primary goal was cooperation with the Scandinavian countries. The Finnish and Swedish militaries engaged in wide-ranging cooperation, but were more focused on the exchange of information and defence planning for the Åland islands than on military exercises, or the stockpiling and deployment of materiel. Nevertheless, the Government of Sweden carefully avoided committing itself to Finnish foreign policy.[25]:21-24 Another Finnish military policy was the top secret military cooperation between Finland and Estonia.[25]:33–34

The 1920s and early 1930s were a politically unstable time in Finland. The Communist Party of Finland was declared illegal in 1931, and the far-right Lapua Movement organised anti-Communist violence, which culminated in a failed uprising in 1932. Thereafter the ultra-nationalist Patriotic People's Movement (IKL) had a minor presence — at most 14 seats out of 200 in the Finnish parliament.[1]:26-27 By the late 1930s the export-oriented Finnish economy was growing and the country had almost solved its problems with extreme political movements.[1]:18

Soviet–Finnish relations and politics

Two men sign papers at opposite sides of a table in a small office.
The Soviet–Finnish Non-Aggression Pact signed in Helsinki on 21 January 1932. On the left the Finnish foreign minister Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen, and on the right the Ambassador of the Soviet Union, Ivan Maisky.[25]

After the Soviet involvement in the Finnish Civil War in 1918, no formal peace treaty was signed. In 1918 and 1919, Finnish volunteer forces conducted two unsuccessful military incursions across the Russian border: the Viena and Aunus expeditions. In 1920, Finnish communists based in Soviet Russia attempted to assassinate the former Finnish White Guards Commander-in-Chief General C.G.E. Mannerheim. On 14 October 1920 Finland and Soviet Russia signed the Treaty of Tartu, confirming the new Finnish–Soviet border as the old border between the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland and Imperial Russia proper. In addition, Finland received Petsamo, with its ice-free harbour on the Arctic Ocean. Despite the signing of the treaty, relations between the two countries remained strained. The Finnish government allowed volunteers to cross the border to support the East Karelian Uprising in 1921, and Finnish communists in the Soviet Union continued to prepare for a revanche and staged a cross-border raid into Finland, called the "Pork mutiny", in 1922.[25]:30-33

In 1932, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Finland, which was reaffirmed for a ten-year period in 1934.[25]:30–33 However, relations between the two countries remained largely de minimis. While foreign trade in Finland was booming, less than one percent of Finnish trade was with the Soviet Union.[1]:31 In 1934 the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations.[25]:30–33

During the Stalin era, Soviet propaganda painted Finland's leadership as a "vicious and reactionary Fascist clique". The Finnish Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim and the leader of the Finnish Social Democratic Party Väinö Tanner were subjected to particular scorn.[1]:32-33

With Joseph Stalin gaining near-absolute power through the Great Purge of 1938, the Soviet Union changed its foreign policy toward Finland in the late 1930s. The Soviet Union began pursuing the recovery of the provinces of Tsarist Russia lost during the chaos of the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The Soviet leadership believed that the old Empire had ideal security and territorial possessions, and wanted the newly christened city of Leningrad to enjoy a similar security.[1]:28-29


In April 1938, an NKVD agent, Boris Yartsev contacted the Finnish foreign minister Rudolf Holsti and Prime Minister Aimo Cajander, stating that the Soviet Union did not trust Germany and that war was considered possible between the two countries. The Red Army would not wait passively behind the border but would rather "advance to meet the enemy." Finnish representatives assured Yartsev that Finland was committed to a policy of neutrality and that the country would resist any armed incursion. Yartsev suggested that Finland cede or lease some islands in the Gulf of Finland along the seaward approaches to Leningrad. Finland refused.[25]:32-33[3]:12-13

Negotiations continued throughout 1938 without results. Finnish reception of Soviet entreaties was decidedly cool, as the violent collectivisation and purges in Stalin's Soviet Union resulted in a poor opinion of the Soviet Union. In addition, most of the Finnish Communist elite in the Soviet Union had been executed during the Great Purge, further tarnishing the Soviet Union's image in Finland. At the same time, Finland was trying to negotiate a military co-operation plan with Sweden, hoping for a joint defense of the Åland islands.[25]:34-35

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939. The pact was nominally a non-aggression treaty, but it included a secret protocol in which the Eastern European countries were divided into spheres of interest. Finland fell into the Soviet sphere of interest. On 1 September 1939, Germany began its invasion of Poland and two days later Great Britain and France declared war against Germany. Shortly afterwards, the Soviets invaded eastern Poland. The Baltic states were later forced to accept treaties allowing the Soviets to establish military bases and to station troops on their soil.[26]:6 The government of Estonia accepted the ultimatum, signing the corresponding agreement in September. Latvia and Lithuania followed in October. Unlike the Baltic states, Finland started a gradual mobilisation under the guise of "additional refresher training".[25]:38-41

War preparations

A group of four men wearing hats and a train behind.
Counsellor of state J.K. Paasikivi and his team arriving from Moscow for the first round of negotiations on 16 October 1939. From left, minister Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen, J.K. Paasikivi, chief of staff Johan Nykopp and colonel Aladár Paasonen.

On 5 October 1939, the Soviet Union invited a Finnish delegation to Moscow for negotiations. J.K. Paasikivi, the Finnish ambassador to Sweden, was sent to Moscow to represent the Finnish government.[25]:38–41 The Soviets demanded that the border between the USSR and Finland on the Karelian Isthmus be moved westward to a point only 30 kilometres (19 mi) east of Viipuri and that the Finns destroy all existing fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus. They also demanded the cession of islands in the Gulf of Finland as well as the Kalastajansaarento peninsula. Furthermore, the Finns would have to lease the Hanko Peninsula for thirty years and permit the Soviets to establish a military base there. In exchange, the Soviet Union would cede two municipalities with twice the territory demanded from Finland.[25]:38–41[3]:14-16 Accepting Soviet demands would have forced the Finns to dismantle their defences in Finnish Karelia.[24]:4

The Soviet offer divided the Finnish government, but it was eventually rejected. On 31 October, in the assembly of the Supreme Soviet, Molotov announced Soviet demands in public. The Finns made two counteroffers whereby Finland would cede the Terijoki area to the Soviet Union, which would double the distance between Leningrad and Finnish border, far less than the Soviets had demanded.[25]:41-43

Following the failure of negotiations, the Soviets started an intensive mobilisation near the Finnish border in 1938–1939. Assault troops necessary for invasion did not begin deployment until October 1939. Operational plans made in September called for the invasion to start in November.[22]:55-56[27]:141-148

Shelling of Mainila

On 26 November, a border incident was reported near the village of Mainila. A Soviet border guard post had been shelled by an unknown party resulting, according to Soviet reports, in the deaths of four and injuries of nine border guards. Research conducted by several Finnish and Russian historians later concluded that the shelling was carried out from the Soviet side of the border by an NKVD unit with the purpose of providing the Soviet Union with a casus belli and a pretext to withdraw from the non-aggression pact.[22]:77–78 "This is confirmed in Khrushchev's memoirs, where he states that Artillery Marshal Kulik personally supervised the bombardment of the Soviet village."[1]:105[25]:44-45

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov claimed it was a Finnish artillery attack and demanded that Finland apologise for the incident and move its forces beyond a line 20–25 kilometres away from the border.[28] Finland denied responsibility for the attack, rejected the demands, and called for a joint Finnish–Soviet commission to examine the incident. The Soviet Union then claimed that the Finnish response was hostile and renounced the non-aggression pact on 28 November. In the following years, Soviet historiography described the incident as a Finnish provocation. Doubt on the official Soviet version was cast only in the late 1980s, in the times of glasnost. However, the issue continued to divide Russian historiography even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.[29]:99-100[30]

Soviet political and military offensive

On 30 November, Soviet forces invaded Finland with 21 divisions, totaling some 450,000 men, and bombed Helsinki.[23]:13[24]:6 Later the Finnish statesman J.K. Paasikivi commented that the Soviet attack without a declaration of war violated three different non-aggression pacts: the Treaty of Tartu signed in 1920, the non-aggression pact between Finland and the Soviet Union signed in 1932 and again in 1934, and also the Charter of the League of Nations, which the Soviet Union signed in 1934.[25]:44–45 C.G.E. Mannerheim was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces after the Soviet attack. In further reshuffling, the Finnish government named Risto Ryti as the new prime minister and Väinö Tanner as foreign minister.[3]:48-51

On 1 December, the Soviet Union formed a puppet government intended to rule Finland once the war was over. Called the Finnish Democratic Republic, it was headed by O.W. Kuusinen. The government was also called "The Terijoki Government", named after the village of Terijoki, the first place captured by the advancing Soviet army.[3]:58 The puppet regime was unsuccessful and was quietly disbanded in early 1940. From the very outset of the war, working-class Finns stood behind the legal government in Helsinki.[3]:61 Finnish national unity against the Soviet invasion was later called the spirit of the Winter War.[31]:235

At the start of the Winter War, Finland brought up the matter of the Soviet invasion before the League of Nations. The League expelled the Soviet Union on 14 December 1939 and exhorted its members to aid Finland.[3]:61

Soviet advance to the Mannerheim Line

Soviet military plan

Diagram of Soviet assaults illustrating the positions of the Soviet armies and their offensive routes. The Red Army invaded dozens of kilometers deep Finland during the first month of the war.
Major Soviet offensives from 30 November – 22 December 1939

At the beginning of the war, total victory over Finland was expected within a few weeks. The Red Army had just finished the invasion of eastern Poland at a cost of less than a thousand casualties. Stalin's expectations of a quick Soviet triumph were backed up by the politician Andrei Zhdanov and military strategist Kliment Voroshilov, but other generals had their doubts. The chief of staff of the Red Army, Boris Shaposhnikov, advocated a serious buildup, extensive logistical and fire support preparations, and a rational order of battle, deploying the army's best units. Zhdanov's military commander Kirill Meretskov reported at the start of the hostilities: "The terrain of coming operations is split by lakes, rivers, swamps, and is almost entirely covered by forests... The proper use of our forces will be difficult." However, these doubts were not reflected in his troop deployments. Meretskov announced publicly that the Finnish campaign would take at the most two weeks. Soviet soldiers had even been warned not to cross the border into Sweden by mistake.[3]:34

Stalin's purges devastated the officer corps of the Red Army; those purged included three of its five marshals, 220 of its 264 division-level commanders or higher, and 36,761 officers of all ranks. Fewer than half of the officers remained in total.[32] They were commonly replaced by soldiers who were less competent but more loyal to their superiors. Furthermore unit commanders were superseded by a political commissar, who ratified military decisions on their political merits, further complicating the Soviet chain of command.[22]:56[1]:189

Soviet order of battle

Soviet generals were impressed by the success of the German blitzkrieg tactics. However, the blitzkrieg had been tailored to central European conditions with a dense, well-mapped network of paved roads. Armies fighting in central Europe had recognised supply and communications centres, which could be easily targeted by armored vehicle regiments. Finnish army centres, by contrast, were deep inside the country. There were no paved roads, and even gravel or dirt roads were scarce; most of the terrain consisted of trackless forests and swamps. Waging a blitzkrieg in Finland was a highly difficult proposition, and the Red Army failed to meet the level of tactical coordination and local initiative required to execute blitzkrieg tactics in the Finnish theatre.[3]:35-36 This system of dual command destroyed the independence of commanding officers.[1]:189

The Soviet forces were positioned as follows:[3]:38-39

  • The Seventh Army was located on the Karelian Isthmus. Comprising nine divisions, a tank corps and three tank brigades,[23]:13 its objective was the city of Viipuri. The force was later divided into the Seventh and Thirteenth armies.
  • The Eighth Army was located north of Lake Ladoga. Comprising six divisions and a tank brigade,[23]:13 its mission was to execute a flanking manoeuvre around the northern shore of Lake Ladoga to strike at the rear of the Mannerheim Line.
  • The Ninth Army was positioned to strike into central Finland. It was composed of three divisions with one additional division on its way.[23]:13 Its mission was to thrust westward to cut Finland in half.
  • The Fourteenth Army was based in Murmansk. Comprising three divisions,[23]:13 its objective was to capture the Arctic port of Petsamo and then advance to the town of Rovaniemi.

Finnish order of battle

A group of soldiers with snowsuits and skies lies on the snow, guns pointing to the right.
Finnish ski troops in Northern Finland in January 1940

The Finnish strategy was dictated by geography. The frontier with the Soviet Union was more than 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long but was mostly impassable except along a handful of unpaved roads. In prewar calculations, the Finnish General Staff, which had established its wartime headquarters at Mikkeli,[3]:38-39 estimated seven Soviet divisions on the Isthmus and no more than five along the whole border north of Lake Ladoga. In that case, the manpower ratio would favour the attacker by a ratio of 3:1. The true ratio was much higher; for example, twelve Soviet divisions were deployed to the north of Lake Ladoga.[3]:42-44

An even greater problem than lack of soldiers was the lack of materiel; foreign shipments of antitank weapons and aircraft were arriving in small quantities. The ammunition situation was alarming, as stockpiles had cartridges, shells and fuel only for 19–60 days. The ammunition shortage meant the Finns could seldom afford counterbattery or saturation fire. Finnish tank forces were operationally non-existent.[3]:42-44

The Finnish forces were positioned as follows:[3]:47

First battles

Diagram of the Karelian Isthmus battle illustrates the positions of the Soviet and Finnish troops. The Red Army penetrated dozens of kilometers into Finnish territory, but stopped at the Mannerheim defence line.
The war situation in December. Soviet units have reached the main Finnish defence line, the Mannerheim Line, on the Karelian Isthmus.[33]      Mannerheim Line     Finnish Division (XX) or Corps (XXX)     Soviet Division (XX), Corps (XXX) or Army (XXXX) -XX- Finnish Divisional Boundary
-XXX- Finnish Corps Boundary

The Finnish main defensive line, which became known as the Mannerheim Line, was located on the Karelian Isthmus about 30 to 75 kilometres (19 to 47 mi) from the old Soviet/Finnish border. Red Army soldiers on the Isthmus numbered 250,000 facing 130,000 Finns.[34] The Finnish command deployed a covering force of about 21,000 men in the area in front of the Mannerheim Line in order to delay and damage the Red Army before it reached the line.[3]:69

In combat, the biggest cause of confusion among Finnish soldiers were Soviet tanks. The Finns had few anti-tank weapons and insufficient training in modern anti-tank tactics. However, the favoured Soviet armored tactic was a simple frontal charge, the weaknesses of which could be exploited. The Finns learned that at close range, tanks could be dealt with in many ways; for example, logs and crowbars jammed into the bogie wheels would often immobilise a tank. Soon, Finns fielded a better ad hoc weapon, the Molotov Cocktail. It was a glass bottle filled with flammable liquids, with a simple hand-lit fuse. Molotov cocktails were eventually mass-produced by the Finnish Alko corporation and bundled with matches with which to light them. Eighty Soviet tanks were destroyed in the border-zone fighting.[3]:72-73

By 6 December, all the Finnish covering forces had withdrawn to the Mannerheim Line. The Red Army began its first major attack against the Line in Taipale – the area between the shore of Lake Ladoga, the Taipale river and the Suvanto waterway. Along the Suvanto sector, the Finns had a slight advantage of elevation and dry ground to dig into. The Finnish artillery had scouted the area and made fire plans in advance, anticipating a Soviet assault. The Battle of Taipale began with a forty-hour Soviet artillery preparation. After the barrage, the Soviet infantry attacked across open ground but was repulsed with heavy casualties. From 6–12 December the Red Army continued trying to engage using only one division. The Red Army next strengthened its artillery and brought tanks and the 10th Rifle Division to the Taipale front. On 14 December, the bolstered Soviet forces launched a new attack but were pushed back again. A third Soviet division entered the fight but performed poorly and panicked under shell fire. The assaults continued without success, and the Red Army suffered heavy losses. One typical Soviet attack during the battle lasted just an hour but left 1,000 dead and twenty-seven tanks strewn on the ice.[3]:76-78

North of Lake Ladoga, on the Ladoga Karelia front, the defending Finnish units relied on the terrain. Ladoga Karelia, as a large forest wilderness, did not have road networks for the modern Red Army.[3]:51-55 However, the Soviet 8th Army had extended a new railroad line to the border, which could double the supply capability on the front. But on 12 December, the advancing Soviet 139th Rifle Division, supported by the 56th Rifle Division, was defeated by a much smaller Finnish force under Paavo Talvela in the Tolvajärvi, the first Finnish victory of the war.[3]:121

In central and northern Finland, roads were few and the terrain hostile. The Finns did not expect large-scale Soviet attacks, but the Soviets sent eight divisions, heavily supported by armor and artillery. The 155th Rifle Division attacked at Lieksa, and further north the 44th attacked at Kuhmo. The 163rd Rifle Division was deployed at Suomussalmi and charged with cutting Finland in half by marching the Raate Road. In Finnish Lapland, the Soviet 88th and 122nd Rifle Divisions attacked at Salla. The arctic port of Petsamo was attacked by the 104th Mountain Rifle Division by sea and land, supported by naval gunfire.[3]:53-54

Defense of Finland

Weather conditions

Three diagrams present major assaults by the Red Army.
Major Soviet operations during the winter of 1939–1940

The winter of 1939–1940 was exceptionally cold. One location on the Karelian Isthmus experienced a record low temperature of −43 °C (−45 °F) on 16 January 1940.[35]:292 At the beginning of the war, only those Finnish soldiers who were in active service had uniforms and weapons. The rest had to make do with their own clothing, which for many soldiers was their normal winter clothing with semblance of an insignia added. Finnish soldiers were skilled in cross-country skiing.[35]:289–290

The cold, the snow, the forest, and the long hours of darkness were factors that the Finns could turn to their advantage. The Finns dressed in layers, and the ski troopers wore a lightweight white snow cape. This snow-camouflage made the ski troopers almost invisible as the Finns executed guerrilla attacks against Soviet columns. At the beginning of the war, Soviet tanks were painted in standard olive drab and men dressed in regular khaki uniforms. Not until late January 1940 did the Soviets paint their equipment white and issue snowsuits to their infantry.[3]:145-146

Most Soviet soldiers had proper winter clothes, but this was not the case with every unit. In the battle of Suomussalmi, many Soviet soldiers died of frostbite. The Soviet troops lacked skill in skiing, so soldiers were restricted to movement by road and were forced to move in long columns. Furthermore, the Red Army lacked proper winter tents, and men had to sleep in improvised shelters.[35]:297–298 Some Soviet units had frostbite casualties as high as 10% even before crossing the Finnish border.[3]:145-146 The cold weather did confer one advantage: Soviet tanks were able to move more easily over frozen terrain and bodies of water, rather than being immobilised in swamps and mud.[35]:297-298

Finnish tactics

A group of soldiers with snowsuits stands in a trench, guns pointed to the left.
Trenches on the Mannerheim Line

In battles from Ladoga Karelia all the way north to the Arctic port of Petsamo, the Finns used guerrilla tactics. The Red Army was superior in numbers and materiel, but the Finns used the advantages of speed, tactics, and economy of force. Particularly on the Ladoga Karelia front and during the battle of Raate road, the Finns isolated smaller portions of numerically superior Soviet forces. With Soviet forces divided into smaller pieces, the Finns could deal with them individually and attack from all sides.[3]:131-132

For many of the encircled Soviet troops in a pocket, (motti in Finnish), just staying alive was an ordeal comparable to combat. The men were freezing and starving and endured poor sanitary conditions. Historian William R. Trotter describes these conditions thus: "The Soviet soldier had no choice. If he refused to fight, he would be shot. If he tried to sneak through the forest, he would freeze to death. And surrender was no option for him; Soviet propaganda had told him how the Finns would torture prisoners to death."[3]:148-149

Defence of the Mannerheim Line

A snowy hill with stone barriers and barbed wire in front, and a distant bunker in behind.
Stone barriers and barbed wire on the Mannerheim Line. Further in the background is the Finnish bunker Sj 5.

The terrain on the Karelian Isthmus did not allow the exercise of guerilla tactics, so the Finns were forced to resort to more conventional means: a fortified defence line, the Mannerheim Line, with its flanks protected by large bodies of water. Soviet propaganda claimed that it was as strong as or even stronger than the Maginot Line. Finnish historians, for their part, have belittled the line's strength, insisting that it was mostly conventional trenches and log-covered dugouts.[3]:62-63

The Finns had built 221 strongpoints along the Karelian Isthmus, mostly in the early 1920s. Many were extended in the late 1930s. Despite these defensive preparations, even the most fortified section of the Mannerheim Line had only one reinforced concrete bunker per kilometer. Overall, the line was weaker than similar lines in mainland Europe.[36]:494-495 According to the Finns, the real strength of the line was "stubborn defenders with a lot of sisu" – a Finnish idiom roughly translated as "guts".[3]:62-63

On the eastern side of the isthmus, the Red Army attempted to break through the Mannerheim line in the battle of Taipale. On the western side, Soviet units faced the Finnish line at Summa, near the city of Viipuri, on 16 December. The Finns had built 41 reinforced concrete bunkers in the Summa area, making the defensive line in this area stronger than anywhere else on the Karelian Isthmus. However, because of a mistake in planning, the nearby Munasuo swamp had a kilometre-wide gap in the line.[37]:407 During the first battle of Summa, a number of Soviet tanks broke through the thin line on 19 December, but the Soviets could not benefit from the situation because of insufficient cooperation between branches of service. The Finns remained in their trenches, allowing the Soviet tanks to move freely behind the Finnish line, as the Finns had no proper anti-tank weapons. However, the Finns succeeded in repelling the main Soviet assault. The tanks, stranded behind enemy lines, attacked the strongpoints at random until they were eventually destroyed, twenty in all. By 22 December, the battle ended in a Finnish victory.[37]:411–412

The Soviet advance was stopped at the Mannerheim Line. Red Army troops suffered from poor morale and a shortage of supplies, eventually refusing to participate in more suicidal frontal attacks. The Finns, led by General Harald Öhquist, decided to launch a counterattack and encircle three Soviet divisions into a motti near Viipuri on 23 December. Öhquist's plan was bold, but it failed. The Finns lost 1,300 men, and the Soviets were later estimated to have lost a similar number.[3]:87-89

Battles in Ladoga Karelia

Diagram of the Lake Ladoga battles illustrates the positions and offensives of the Soviet troops. The Red Army invaded dozens of kilometers deep Finland, but stopped at points of Tolvajärvi, Kollaa and almost surrounded near the water of Lake Ladoga.
Battles in Ladoga Karelia, north of Lake Ladoga. The attack of the Soviet 8th Army was stopped at the Finnish defense line on 12 December 1939.
A cannon wears a white blanket on the snow and two men pose side of it.
The most common Finnish artillery was a 76mm gun dating back to around the year 1902 (76 K 02). The gun stands camouflaged in the city of Viipuri in March 1940.

The strength of the Red Army north of Lake Ladoga (in Ladoga Karelia) surprised the Finnish General Staff. Two Finnish divisions were deployed there: the 12th Division led by Lauri Tiainen and the 13th Division led by Hannu Hannuksela. They also had a support group of three brigades, bringing their total strength to over 30,000. The Soviets deployed a division for almost every road leading west to the Finnish border. The Eighth Army was led by Ivan Khabarov, who was replaced by Grigori Shtern on 13 December.[23]:113 The Soviets' mission was to destroy the Finnish troops in the area of Ladoga Karelia and advance into the area between Sortavala and Joensuu within ten days. The Soviets had a three-to-one advantage in manpower and five-to-one advantage in artillery as well as air supremacy.[38]:504-505

Finnish forces panicked and retreated in front of the overwhelming Red Army. The commander of the Finnish IV Army Corps was replaced by Woldemar Hägglund on 4 December.[38]:506 On 7 December, in the middle of the Ladoga Karelian front, Finnish units retreated near the small stream of Kollaa. The waterway itself did not offer protection, but alongside there were ridges up to 10 metres (33 ft) high. The battle of Kollaa lasted until the end of the war. A memorable quote, "Kollaa holds" (Finnish: Kollaa kestää) became a legendary motto among the Finns.[38]:520 Further contributing to the legend of Kollaa was the sniper Simo Häyhä, dubbed "the White Death" by Soviets, who served in the Kollaa front. To the north, the Finns retreated from Ägläjärvi to Tolvajärvi on 5 December and then repelled a Soviet offensive in the battle of Tolvajärvi on 11 December.[3]:110

In the south, two Soviet divisions were united on the northern side of the Lake Ladoga coastal road. As before, these divisions were trapped as the more mobile Finnish units were able to counterattack from the north to flank the Soviet columns. On 19 December, the Finns temporarily ceased their assaults, as the soldiers were exhausted.[38]:510-511 It was not until the period 6 January to 16 January 1940 that the Finns went on the offensive again, cutting Soviet division into smaller groups of different-sized mottis.[38]:514

Contrary to Finnish expectations, the encircled Soviet divisions did not try to break through to the east but instead entrenched. They were expecting reinforcements and supplies to arrive by air. As the Finns lacked the necessary heavy artillery equipment and were short of men, they often did not directly attack mottis they had created; instead, they focused on eliminating only the most dangerous threats. Often the motti tactic was not part of pre-planned doctrine but a Finnish adaptation to the behaviour of Soviet troops under fire.[24]:44

In spite of the cold and hunger, the Soviet troops did not surrender easily but fought bravely, often entrenching their tanks to be used as pillboxes and building timber dugouts. Some specialist Finnish soldiers were called in to attack the mottis; the most famous of them was Major Matti Aarnio, or "Motti-Matti," as he became known[38]:516-517

In northern Karelia, Soviet forces were outmanoeuvred at Ilomantsi and Lieksa. The Finns used effective guerrilla tactics, taking special advantage of superior skiing skills and snow-white layered clothing and executing many surprise ambushes and raids. By the end of December, the Soviets decided to retreat and transfer resources to more critical fronts.[36]:559–561

Suomussalmi–Raate double operation

A road in the middle of forest and snow, a frozen body in front and destroyed vehicles in behind.
Soviet equipment and bodies of Red Army soldiers after the Battle of Raate road in January 1940

The Suomussalmi–Raate was a double operation,[36]:550 which would later be used by military academics as a classic example of what well-led troops and innovative tactics can do against a much larger adversary. Suomussalmi was a small provincial town of 4,000. The area has long lakes, many wild forests, and few roads. The Finnish command believed that the Soviets would not attack here, but the Red Army committed two divisions to the area with orders to cross the wilderness, capture the city of Oulu and effectively cut Finland in two. There were two roads leading to Suomussalmi from the frontier: the northern Juntusranta road and the southern Raate road.[3]:150

The battle of Raate road, which occurred during the month-long battle of Suomussalmi, resulted in one of the largest losses in the Winter War. The Soviet 44th and parts of the 163rd Rifle Divisions, comprising about 14,000 troops,[39]:230 were almost completely destroyed by a Finnish ambush as they marched along the forest road. A small unit blocked the Soviet advance while Finnish Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo and his 9th Division cut off the retreat route, split the enemy force into smaller fragments, and then proceeded to destroy the remnants as they retreated. The Soviets suffered 7,000–9,000 casualties,[39]:229 while the Finnish units lost only 400 men.[11]:283 In addition, the Finnish troops captured dozens of tanks, artillery pieces, anti-tank guns, hundreds of trucks, almost two thousand horses, thousands of rifles, and much-needed ammunition and medical supplies.[39]:217–218

Finnish Lapland

A woman dressed in thick fur uses binoculars.
A Finnish lotta, a member of the Lotta Svärd women organisation, watching the skies for Soviet aircraft during January 1940 in northern Finland

In Finnish Lapland the forests gradually thin out until in the north there are no trees at all. Thus, the area offers more room for tank deployment, but it is vastly underpopulated and experiences copious snowfall. The Finns expected nothing more than raiding parties and reconnaissance patrols, but instead the Soviets sent full divisions.[3]:171-174 On 11 December, the Finns rearranged the defence of Lapland and detached the Lapland Group from the North Finland Group. The group was placed under the command of Kurt Wallenius.[40]:164

In southern Lapland, near the tiny rural village of Salla, the Soviet force advanced with two divisions, the 88th and 112th, totalling 35,000 men. In the battle of Salla the Soviets advanced easily to Salla, where the road forked. The northern branch moved toward Pelkosenniemi while the rest pushed on toward Kemijärvi. On 17 December, the Soviet northern group, comprising an infantry regiment, a battalion, and a company of tanks, was outflanked by a Finnish battalion. The 112th retreated, leaving much of its heavy equipment and vehicles behind. Following this success, the Finns shuttled reinforcements down to the defensive line in front of Kemijärvi. The Soviets hammered the defensive line without success. The Finns counterattacked, and the Soviets were pushed back to a new defensive line where they stayed for the rest of the war.[36]:545–549[3]:178-180

To the north was Finland's only ice-free port in the Arctic, Petsamo. The Finns did not have the manpower to defend it fully as the main front was down the Karelian Isthmus. In the battle of Petsamo, the Soviet 104th division attacked the Finnish 104th Independent Cover Company. The Finns gave up Petsamo easily and concentrated on delaying actions. The area was treeless, windy and relatively low, offering little defensible terrain. However, during the winter, the Finns in Lapland had the advantage of almost constant darkness and extreme temperatures. The Finns executed guerrilla attacks against Soviet supply lines and patrols. As a result, the Soviet movements were halted by the efforts of one-fifth as many Finns.[3]:171-174

Soviet breakthrough of the Mannerheim Line

Red Army reforms and offensive preparations

A white, destroyed tank stands on the snow.
Soviet T-26 tank destroyed by a Finnish satchel charge in February 1940

Joseph Stalin was not pleased with the results of the first month of the Finnish campaign. The Red Army had been humiliated. By the third week of the war, Soviet propaganda was working hard to explain the failures of the Soviet army to the populace: blaming bad terrain and harsh climate, and falsely claiming that the Mannerheim Line was stronger than the Maginot Line, and that the Americans had sent 1,000 of their best pilots to Finland. Chief of Staff Boris Shaposhnikov was given full authority over operations in the Finnish theatre, and he ordered the suspension of frontal assaults in late December. Kliment Voroshilov was replaced with Semyon Timoshenko as the commander of the Soviet forces in the war on 7 January.[41]

The main focus of the Soviet attack was switched to the Karelian Isthmus. Timoshenko and Zhdanov reorganised and tightened control between different branches of service in the Red Army. They also changed tactical doctrines to meet the realities of the situation. All Soviet forces on the Karelian Isthmus were divided into two armies: the 7th and the 13th Armies. The 7th Army, now under Kirill Meretskov, would concentrate three-fourths of its strength against the 16-kilometre (10 mi) stretch of the Mannerheim Line between Taipale and the Munasuo swamp. Tactics would be basic: an armored wedge for the initial breakthrough, followed by the main infantry and vehicle assault force. The Red Army would prepare by pinpointing the Finnish frontline fortifications. The 123rd Assault Division then rehearsed the assault on life-size mockups. The Soviets shipped massive numbers of new tanks and artillery pieces to the theatre. Troops were increased from ten divisions to 25–26 divisions, 6–7 tank brigades and several independent tank platoons, totalling 600,000 men.[37]:424–425 On 1 February 1940, the Red Army began a massive offensive, firing 300,000 shells into the Finnish line in the first 24 hours of the bombardment.[42]

Soviet all-out offensive on the Karelian Isthmus

Two men with snowsuits aim a light machine gun at the front.
A Finnish light machine gun resting on the top of skis on the western bank of the Gulf of Viipuri

Although the Karelian Isthmus front was less active in January than in December, the Soviets began increasing bombardments, wearing down the defenders and softening their fortifications. During daylight hours, the Finns took shelter inside their fortifications from the bombardments and repaired damage during the night. The situation led quickly to war exhaustion among the Finns, who lost over 3,000 men in trench warfare. The Soviets also made occasional small infantry assaults with one or two companies.[37]:426–427 Because of the shortage of ammunition, Finnish artillery emplacements were under orders to fire only against directly threatening ground attacks. On 1 February, the Soviets further escalated their artillery and air bombardments.[42]

Although the Soviets refined their tactics and morale improved, the generals were still willing to accept massive losses in order to reach their objectives. Attacks were screened by smoke, heavy artillery, and armor support, but the infantry charged in the open and in dense formations.[42] Unlike their tactics in December, Soviet tanks advanced in smaller numbers. The Finns could not easily eliminate tanks if infantry troops protected them.[37]:430 After ten days of round-the-clock artillery barrages, the Soviets achieved a breakthrough on the western Karelian Isthmus in the second battle of Summa.[43]

On 11 February, the Soviets had about 460,000 men, over 3,350 artillery pieces, about 3,000 tanks, and about 1,300 aircraft deployed on the Karelian Isthmus. The Red Army was constantly receiving new recruits after the breakthrough.[44] Opposing them the Finns had 8 divisions, totalling about 150,000 men. One by one, the defenders' strongholds crumbled under the Soviet attacks, and the Finns were forced to retreat. On 15 February, Mannerheim authorised a general retreat of the Second Corps to the Intermediate Line.[45] On the eastern side of the isthmus, the Finns continued to resist Soviet assaults, repelling them in the battle of Taipale.[37]:452

Peace negotiations

Although the Finns attempted to re-open negotiations with Moscow by every means during the war, the Soviets did not respond. In early January, Finnish communist and feminist playwright Hella Wuolijoki contacted the Finnish government. She offered to contact Moscow through the Soviet Union's ambassador to Sweden, Alexandra Kollontai. Wuolijoki departed for Stockholm and met Kollontai secretly at a hotel. Soon Molotov decided to extend recognition to the RytiTanner government as the legal government of Finland and put an end to the puppet Terijoki Government of Kuusinen that the Soviets had set up.[46]

By mid-February, it became clear that the Finnish forces were rapidly approaching exhaustion. For the Soviets, casualties were high, the situation was a source of political embarrassment of the Soviet regime, and there was a risk of Franco-British intervention. Furthermore, with the spring thaw approaching, the Soviet forces risked becoming bogged down in the forests. The Finnish foreign minister Väinö Tanner arrived in Stockholm on 12 February and negotiated the peace terms with the Soviets through the Swedes. German representatives, not aware that the negotiations were underway, suggested on 17 February that Finland negotiate with the Soviet Union.[47]

Both Germany and Sweden were keen to see an end to the Winter War. The Germans feared losing iron ore fields in northern Sweden and threatened to attack at once if the Swedes granted the Allied forces right of passage. The Germans even had a theoretical invasion plan called the Studie Nord against Scandinavian countries, which later became the full-blown Operation Weserübung.[1]:261 As the Finnish Cabinet hesitated in the face of the harsh Soviet conditions, Sweden's King Gustav V made a public statement on 19 February in which he confirmed having declined Finnish pleas for support from Swedish troops. On 25 February, the Soviet peace terms were spelled out in detail. On 29 February, the Finnish government accepted the Soviet terms in principle and was willing to enter into negotiations.[48]

Last days of war

Diagram of the Karelian Isthmus illustrates the positions and offensives of the Soviet troops.
Situation on the Karelian Isthmus on 13 March 1940, on the last day of the war.[23]:260

On 5 March, the Red Army advanced 10 to 15 kilometres (6 to 9 mi) past the Mannerheim Line and entered the suburbs of Viipuri. That same day, the Red Army established a beachhead on the western Gulf of Viipuri. The Finns proposed an armistice on that day, but the Soviets, wanting to keep the pressure on the Finnish government, declined the offer the next day. The Finnish peace delegation went to Moscow via Stockholm and arrived on 7 March. The Soviets made further demands as their military position was strong and improving. On 9 March, the Finnish military situation on the Karelian Isthmus was dire as troops were experiencing heavy casualties. In addition, artillery ammunition supplies were exhausted and weapons were wearing out. The Finnish government, noting that the hoped-for Franco-British military expedition would not arrive in time, as Norway and Sweden had not given the right of Allied passage, had little choice but to accept the Soviet terms.[49] The formal peace treaty was signed in Moscow on 12 March. A cease-fire took effect the next day at noon Leningrad time, 11 a.m. Helsinki time.[50]

Aerial warfare

A distant photo taken from ground where several bombers are flying in the air.
Soviet Tupolev SB bombers appear in the sky above Helsinki 30 November 1939.

Soviet bombings

The Soviet Union enjoyed air supremacy throughout the war. The Soviet Air Force, supporting the Red Army's invasion with about 2,500 aircraft (the most common of which was the Tupolev SB-2) was not as effective as the Soviets might have hoped. The material damage by the bomb raids was slight as Finland did not offer many valuable targets for strategic bombing. Very often, targets were small village depots with little value. The country had only a few modern highways in the interior, therefore making railway systems the main targets for bombers. The rail tracks were cut thousands of times, but they were easy to repair and Finns usually had trains running again in a matter of hours.[51] The Soviet air force learned from its early mistakes, and by late February they instituted more effective tactics.[52]

The largest bombing raid against the capital of Finland, Helsinki, occurred on the first day of the war. The capital was bombed only a few times thereafter. All in all, Finland lost only 5% of total man-hour production time because of Soviet bombings. Nevertheless, Soviet air attacks affected thousands of civilians, killing 957,[12]:1152 as the Soviets recorded 2,075 bombing attacks in 516 localities. The city of Viipuri, a major Soviet objective close to the Karelian Isthmus front, was almost levelled by nearly 12,000 bombs.[53] No attacks on civilian targets were mentioned in Soviet radio or newspaper reports. In January 1940 Pravda continued to stress that no civilian targets in Finland had been struck, even by accident.[15]:157

Finnish Air Force

Two horses in front and a bomber in behind.
Bristol Blenheim light bomber landed on the frozen lake of Jukajärvi near Juva village. Horses tow the plane to shore for cover.

At the beginning of the war, Finland had a very small air force, with only 114 combat planes fit for duty. Missions were very limited, and fighter aircraft were mainly used to repel Soviet bombers. Strategic bombings could also double as opportunities for military reconnaissance. Old-fashioned and few in number, aircraft could not offer support for Finnish ground troops. In spite of losses, the number of planes in the Finnish Air Force had risen by over 50% by the end of the war.[6]:607-608 The Finns received shipments of British, French, Italian, Swedish and American aircraft.[54]

Finnish fighter pilots would often fly their motley collection of planes into Soviet formations that outnumbered them ten or even twenty times. Finnish fighters shot down a confirmed 200 Soviet aircraft, losing 62 of their own.[15]:160 In addition, Finnish anti-aircraft brought down more than 300 enemy aircraft.[15]:160 Many times a Finnish forward air base consisted of a frozen lake, a windsock, a telephone set and some tents. Air-raid warnings were given by Finnish women organised by the Lotta Svärd.[55] In addition to combat, it is estimated that the Soviet air force lost about 400 aircraft because of inclement weather, lack of fuel and tools, and during transportation to the front. The Soviet Air Force flew approximately 44,000 sorties during the war.[52]

Naval warfare

Frozen sea with a dock in front and a ship in behind.
The Finnish coastal defence ship Ilmarinen anchored at Turku harbour

Navies in frost

Naval activity during the Winter War was low. The Baltic Sea began to freeze over by the end of December, which made the movement of warships very difficult; by mid-winter only ice-breakers and submarines could still move. The other reason for low naval activity was the nature of Soviet Navy forces in the area. The Baltic Fleet was a provincial coastal defence force which did not have the training, logistical structure, or landing craft to undertake large-scale operations. Furthermore, the Soviet Navy was technologically inferior to the British Royal Navy and the German Kriegsmarine.[3]:48-51 The Baltic Fleet possessed two battleships, one heavy cruiser, almost twenty destroyers, 50 motor torpedo boats, 52 submarines, and other miscellaneous vessels. The Soviets used naval bases in Paldiski, Tallinn and Liepāja for their operations.[56]:681

The Finnish Navy was a coastal defence force with two coastal defence ships, five submarines, four gunboats, seven motor torpedo boats, one minelayer and six minesweepers. The two coastal defence ships, Ilmarinen and Väinämöinen, were moved to the harbour in Turku where they were used to bolster the air defences. Their anti-aircraft guns shot down one or two planes over the city, and the ships remained there for the rest of the war.[3]:48-51 In addition to its role in coastal defense, the Finnish Navy protected the Åland islands and Finnish merchant vessels in the Baltic Sea.[56]:678

Soviet aircraft bombed Finnish vessels and harbours and dropped mines into Finnish seaways. Still, Finnish losses were relatively low, numbering 26 merchant vessels, only four of which were lost inside Finnish territorial waters.[56]:692

Coastal artillery

A large gun with a crew of three stands on rocky ground in summer.
Finnish 234 millimetres (9 in) coastal artillery on the island of Russarö during a military exercise

In addition to its navy, Finland had coastal artillery batteries to defend important harbours and naval bases along its coast. Most batteries were left over from the Russian period, with 152 millimetres (6 in) guns being the most numerous. However, Finland attempted to modernise its old guns and installed a number of new batteries, the largest of which featured a 305 millimetres (12 in) gun battery originally intended to block the Gulf of Finland to Soviet ships with the help of batteries on the Estonian side.[57]:130

The first naval battle took place on 1 December, near the island of Russarö, 5 kilometres (3 mi) south of Hanko. That day, the weather was fair and the visibility excellent. The Finns spotted the Soviet cruiser Kirov and two destroyers. After the ships were at a range of 24 kilometres (15 mi), the Finns opened fire with 234 millimetres (9 in) coastal guns. After five minutes of firing by four coastal guns, the cruiser had been damaged by near misses and retreated. The destroyers remained undamaged, but the Kirov suffered 17 dead and 30 wounded. The Soviets already knew the locations of the Finnish coastal batteries but were surprised by their firing range.[58]:694-696

The coastal artillery had a greater effect upon the land war by helping to reinforce the defence in conjunction with army artillery. Two sets of fortress artillery made significant contributions to the early battles on the Karelian Isthmus and in Ladoga Karelia. These were located at Kaarnajoki on the eastern isthmus and at Mantsi on the northeastern shore of Lake Ladoga. Furthermore, the fortress of Koivisto provided similar support from the southwestern coast of the isthmus. Coastal artilleries had the ability to fire high-explosive shells of 152 millimetres (6 in) calibre to a range of 25 kilometres (16 mi).[15]:152–153

Foreign support

Foreign volunteers

Three men soldiers with snowsuits and skies.
Norwegian volunteers in Northern Finland

World opinion largely supported the Finnish cause, and the Soviet aggression was generally deemed unjustified. The World War had not yet begun in earnest; at that time, the Winter War was the only real fighting in Europe and thus held major world interest. Several foreign organisations sent material aid, and many countries granted credit and military materiel to Finland. Nazi Germany allowed arms to pass through Sweden to Finland, but after a Swedish newspaper made this fact public, Adolf Hitler initiated a policy of silence towards Finland, as part of improved German–Soviet relations following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.[47]

Volunteers arrived from various countries. By far the largest foreign contingent came from neighbouring Sweden, which provided nearly 8,760 volunteers during the war. The Swedish Volunteer Corps (Svenska Frivilligkåren), formed from the Swedes, the Norwegians (727 men) and the Danes (1,010 men), fought on the quiet northern front during the last weeks of the war. The Corps mainly took care of the air defence of northern Finland.[24]:21–22 Volunteers arrived from Estonia, Italy and Hungary. Also, 350 American nationals of Finnish background volunteered, and 210 volunteers of other nationalities made it to Finland before the war ended.[24]:21-22 In total Finland received 12,000 volunteers of whom 50 died during the war.[59]:776

Franco-British intervention plans

Drawing shows the Allies had two roads to Finland; through Petsamo or through Narvik, Norway.
Franco-British support was offered on the condition their armed forces be given free passage through neutral Norway and Sweden instead of taking the difficult passage through Soviet-occupied Petsamo.

France had been one of the earliest supporters of Finland during the Winter War. The French saw an opportunity to weaken Germany's major ally if the Finns were to attack the Soviet Union. France had other motives as well, because it preferred to have a major war in a remote part of Europe over one on French soil. France planned to re-arm the Polish exile units and transport them to the Finnish Arctic port of Petsamo. Another scheme was to execute a massive air strike with Turkish co-operation against the Caucasus oil fields.[60]

The British, for their part, wanted to block the flow of iron ore from Swedish mines to Germany because the Swedes supplied up to 40% of Germany's need.[60] The matter was raised by the British Admiral Reginald Plunkett on 18 September 1939, and the next day Winston Churchill brought the subject in the Cabinet.[1]:141 On 11 December Churchill opined that the British should gain a foothold in Scandinavia with the objective of helping the Finns but without a war on the Soviet Union.[1]:145 Because of the heavy German reliance on Swedish iron, Hitler had made it clear to the Swedish government in December that any Allied troops on Swedish soil would immediately provoke a German invasion.[61]

On 19 December French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier introduced his plan to the General Staff and the British War Cabinet. In his plan, Daladier created linkage between the war in Finland and the iron ore in Sweden.[1]:145 There was a danger of Finland's collapse under Soviet hegemony. In turn, Nazi Germany could occupy both Norway and Sweden. These two dictatorships could divide Scandinavia between them, as they had already done with Poland. The main motivation of France was to export the European battle front to Scandinavia in order to protect French soil, whereas the British were concerned with reducing the German war-making ability.[1]:146

The Military Coordination Committee met the next day in London, and two days later the French plan was put forward.[1]:146 The Supreme War Council elected to send notes to Norway and Sweden on 27 December in which they urged the Norwegians and Swedes to help Finland and offer the Allies their support. Norway and Sweden rejected the offer on 5 January 1940.[61] The Allies then came up with a new plan, in which they would demand that Norway and Sweden give them right of passage by citing the League of Nations resolution as justification. The expedition troops would disembark at the Norwegian port of Narvik and proceed by rail toward Finland, passing through the Swedish ore fields on the way. This demand was sent to Norway and Sweden on 6 January, but it too was rejected six days later.[62]

Stymied but not yet dissuaded from the possibility of action, the Allies formulated a new plan on 29 January. First, the Finns would make a formal request for assistance. Then the Allies would ask Norway and Sweden for permission to move the "volunteers" across their territory. Finally, in order to protect the supply line from German actions, the Allies would send additional units ashore at Namsos, Bergen, and Trondheim. The operation would require 100,000 British and 35,000 French soldiers with naval and air support. The supply convoys would sail on 12 March and the landings would begin on 20 March.[63]

Peace of Moscow

Drawing shows that the Finns ceded a small part of the Petsamo Kalastajansaarento, part of Salla in the Finnish Lapland, part of Karelia, islands of the Gulf of Finland and lease Hanko peninsula.
Winter War: Finland's territorial concessions to the Soviet Union

The Moscow Peace Treaty was signed on 12 March 1940 and went into effect the following day. Finland ceded a portion of Karelia – the entire Karelian Isthmus as well as a large swath of land north of Lake Ladoga. The area included Finland's second largest city of Viipuri, much of Finland's industrialised territory, and significant parts still held by Finland's army—all in all, 11% of the territory and 30% of the economic assets of pre-war Finland.[1]:18 Twelve percent of Finland's population, some 422,000 Karelians, were evacuated and lost their homes.[26]:142–143[64]

Finland also had to cede a part of the region of Salla, the Kalastajansaarento peninsula in the Barents Sea, and four islands in the Gulf of Finland. The Hanko Peninsula was leased to the Soviet Union as a military base for 30 years. The region of Petsamo, captured by the Red Army during the war, was returned to Finland according to the treaty.[24]:10


Finnish views

The 105-day war had a profound and depressing effect in Finland. Useful international support had been minimal and had arrived late, and the German blockade had prevented most armament shipments.[1]:272–273 The 15-month period between the Winter War and the Continuation War was later called the Interim Peace.[24]:10

After the end of the war, the situation of the Finnish army on the Karelian Isthmus had been the subject of debate in Finland. Orders were already issued to prepare a retreat to the next line of defence in the Taipale sector. Estimates of how long the Red Army could have been held in these kinds of retreat-and-stand operations varied from a few days[65] to a few weeks[66] or to a couple of months at most.[67]

The Karelians evacuees established an interest group Karjalan Liitto. The group was to defend Karelian rights and interests and to find a way to return ceded regions of Karelia to Finland.[64][68]

Soviet views

During the period between the war and the perestroika in the late 1980s, Soviet historiography leaned solely on Vyacheslav Molotov's speeches on the Winter War. In his radio speech of 29 November 1939, Molotov argued that the Soviet Union had tried to negotiate guarantees of security for Leningrad for two months. However, the Finns had taken a hostile stance to "please foreign imperialists". Finland had undertaken military provocation, and the Soviet Union could no longer hold to nonaggression pacts. According to Molotov, the Soviet Union did not want to occupy or annex Finland; the goal was purely to secure Leningrad.[69]:893-896

Another source later used widely in Soviet historiography was Molotov's speech in front of the Supreme Soviet on 29 March 1940, in which he blamed Western countries for starting the war and argued that they had used Finland as a proxy to fight the Soviet Union. The Western Allies had furthermore tried to take neutral Sweden and Norway along with them. Thus, the "masterminds" behind the war were the United Kingdom and France, but also Sweden, the United States, and Italy, who had issued massive amounts of materiel, money, and men to Finland. According to Molotov, the Soviet Union was merciful in peace terms, as the problem of Leningrad security had been solved.[69]

Military consequences

The Supreme Military Soviet met in April 1940, reviewed the lessons of the Finnish campaign, and recommended reforms. The role of frontline political commissars was reduced and old-fashioned ranks and forms of discipline were reintroduced. Clothing, equipment and tactics for winter operations were improved. However, not all of these reforms had been completed when the Germans began Operation Barbarossa fifteen months later.[70]

That same year, Finland and Sweden negotiated a military alliance, but the negotiations ended once it became clear that both Germany and the Soviet Union opposed such an alliance.[71]:863


The Winter War was a political success for the Germans. Both the Red Army and the League of Nations were humiliated, and the Allied Supreme War Council had been revealed to be chaotic and powerless. However, the German policy of neutrality was not popular in the homeland, and relations with Italy had suffered badly. After the Peace of Moscow, Germany did not hesitate to move to improve ties with Finland, and within two weeks Finno-German relations were at the top of the agenda.[1]:277-279

During the Interim Peace, Finland established close ties with Germany in hopes of a chance to reclaim areas ceded to the Soviet Union. Three days after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the Continuation War began.[24]:10–11

Western Allies

The Winter War put in question the organisation and effectiveness of the Red Army as well as the Western Allies. The Supreme War Council was unable to formulate a workable plan, revealing its total unsuitability to make effective war in either Britain or France. This failure led to the collapse of the Daladier government in France.[1]:13-14

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Edwards (2006)
  2. ^ Manninen (2008)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak Trotter (2002)
  4. ^ a b Palokangas (1999)
  5. ^ Juutilainen & Koskimaa (2005)
  6. ^ a b Peltonen (1999)
  7. ^ Meltiukhov (2000): ch. 4, Table 10
  8. ^ a b c Krivosheyev (1997)
  9. ^ a b c Kilin (1999)
  10. ^ Manninen (1994)
  11. ^ a b c Kantakoski (1998)
  12. ^ a b c Kurenmaa and Lentilä (2005)
  13. ^ Lentilä and Juutilainen (1999)
  14. ^ Malmi (1999)
  15. ^ a b c d e Tillotson (1993)
  16. ^ Kilin (2007b)
  17. ^ a b c Manninen (1999b)
  18. ^ The names Soviet–Finnish War 1939–1940 (Russian: Советско-финская война 1939–1940) and Soviet–Finland War 1939–1940 (Russian: Советско-финляндская война 1939–1940) are often used in Russian historiography. See:
  19. ^ "League of Nations' expulsion of the U.S.S.R.". League of Nations. 14 December 1939. Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  20. ^ Bullock (1993). p. 489.
  21. ^ Glanz (1998). p. 58.
  22. ^ a b c d e Ries (1988)
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h Kilin and Raunio (2007)
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jowett & Snodgrass (2006)
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Turtola (1999a)
  26. ^ a b Engle and Paananen (1985)
  27. ^ Manninen (1999a)
  28. ^ Tanner (1950). pp. 85–86
  29. ^ Kilin (2007a)
  30. ^ (Russian) Aptekar', Pavel. "Casus belli". Web: Raboche-Krest'yanskaya Krasnaya Armiya. Retrieved 2 September 2009. 
  31. ^ Soikkanen (1999)
  32. ^ Conquest (2007). p. 450.
  33. ^ A Soviet division consisted of 17,500 men, 14,000 rifles, 419 light machine guns, 200 machine guns, 261 infantry mortars, 40 mortars, 48 anti-tank guns. A Finnish division consisted of 14,200 men, 11,000 rifles, 250 submachine guns, 250 light machine guns, 116 machine guns, 18 mortars, 18 anti-tank guns. A Soviet division had more men and was better equipped, according to Palokangas (1999)(: page numbers needed)
  34. ^ Geust; Uitto (2006). p. 54.
  35. ^ a b c d Paulaharju (1999)
  36. ^ a b c d Vuorenmaa (1999)
  37. ^ a b c d e f Laaksonen (1999)
  38. ^ a b c d e f Juutilainen (1999a)
  39. ^ a b c Kulju (2007)
  40. ^ Leskinen and Juutilainen (1999)
  41. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 203–204.
  42. ^ a b c Trotter (2002). pp. 214–215.
  43. ^ Trotter (2002). p. 218.
  44. ^ Geust; Uitto (2006). p. 77.
  45. ^ Trotter (2002). p. 233.
  46. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 234–235.
  47. ^ a b Trotter (2002). pp. 246–247.
  48. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 247–248.
  49. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 249–251.
  50. ^ Trotter (2002). p. 254.
  51. ^ Trotter (2002). p. 187.
  52. ^ a b Trotter (2002) p. 193.
  53. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 187–188.
  54. ^ Trotter (2002). p. 189.
  55. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 191–192.
  56. ^ a b c Elfvegren (1999)
  57. ^ Leskinen (1999)
  58. ^ Silvast (1999)
  59. ^ Juutilainen (1999b)
  60. ^ a b Trotter (2002). pp. 235–236.
  61. ^ a b Trotter (2002). p. 237.
  62. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 237–238.
  63. ^ Trotter (2002). pp. 238–239.
  64. ^ a b Ahtianen, Ilkka (16 July 2000). "The never-ending Karelia question". Helsingin Sanomat. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  65. ^ Laaksonen (2005). p. 365.
  66. ^ Paasikivi (1958). p. 177
  67. ^ Halsti (1955). p. 412.
  68. ^ "Karjalan Liitto – Briefly in English". Karjalan Liitto. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  69. ^ a b Vihavainen (1999)
  70. ^ Trotter (2002). p. 264.
  71. ^ Turtola (1999b)



  • Ts Pj = Leskinen and Juutilainen, eds (1999). Talvisodan pikkujättiläinen (Winter War Guidebook). 1st ed.
  • Js Pj = Leskinen and Juutilainen, eds (2005). Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen (Continuation War Guidebook). 1st ed.
  • Bullock, Alan (1993). Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0679729945. 
  • Conquest, Robert (2007) [1991]. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Oxford University Press, USA; 40th anniversary edition. ISBN 978-0195317008. 
  • Cox, Geoffrey (1941). The Red Army Moves. London: Victor Gollancz. 
  • Edwards, Robert (2006). White Death: Russia's War on Finland 1939–40. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 13 978 0 297 84630 2. 
  • Engle, Eloise; Paananen, Lauri (1985) [1973]. The Winter War: The Russo-Finnish Conflict, 1939–40. United States: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-0149-1. 
  • (Finnish) Geust, Carl-Fredrik; Uitto, Antero (2006). Mannerheim-linja: Talvisodan legenda. Ajatus. ISBN 951-20-7042-1.  (The Mannerheim Line : Legend of the Winter War)
  • Glanz, David (1998). Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700608799. 
  • (Finnish) Halsti, Wolfgang Hallstén (1955). Talvisota 1939–1940. Otava.  (The Winter War 1939-1940)
  • Jowett, Philip; Snodgrass, Brent (2006). Finland at War 1939–45. United Kingdom: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84176-969-1. 
  • (Finnish) Kantakoski, Pekka (1998). Punaiset panssarit : Puna-armeijan panssarijoukot 1918–1945. Hauho: PS-Elso. ISBN 951-98057-0-2.  (Red tanks : the Red Army tank forces, 1918–1945)
  • (Finnish) Kilin, Juri (2007a). "Leningradin sotilaspiirin rajakahakka". in Jokisipilä, Markku (ed). Sodan totuudet. Yksi suomalainen vastaa 5,7 ryssää. Ajatus.  (Truths about the war. One Finn is worth 5.7 Russians) Capsule review (in Finnish)
  • (Finnish) Kilin, Juri (2007b). "Rajakahakan hidas jäiden lähtö". in Jokisipilä, Markku. Sodan totuudet. 
  • (Finnish) Kilin, Juri; Raunio, Ari (2007). Talvisodan taisteluja. Karttakeskus. ISBN 978–951–593–068–2.  (Battles of the Winter War)
  • Krivosheyev, Grigoriy (1997b). Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century (1st ed.). Greenhill Books. ISBN 1853672807. 
  • (Finnish) Kulju, Mika (2007). Raatteen tie : Talvisodan pohjoinen sankaritarina. Helsinki: Ajatus. ISBN 978-951-20-7218-7.  (The Raate Road: a tale of heroism in the north during the Winter War)
  • (Finnish) Laaksonen, Lasse (2005) [1999]. Todellisuus ja harhat. Ajatus. ISBN 951-20-6911-3.  (Reality and Illusions)
  • (Finnish) Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti, eds (1999). Talvisodan pikkujättiläinen (Winter War Guidebook). 1st ed. Porvoo: WSOY. ISBN 951-0-23536-9.
    • (Finnish) Elfvegren, Eero (1999). "Merisota talvisodassa". Ts Pj.  (The Winter War at sea)
    • (Finnish) Juutilainen, Antti (1999a). "Laatokan karjalan taistelut". Ts Pj.  (Battles in Ladoga Karelia)
    • (Finnish) Juutilainen, Antti (1999b). "Talvisodan ulkomaalaiset vapaaehtoiset". Ts Pj.  (Foreign volunteers in the Winter War)
    • (Finnish) Kilin, Yuri (1999). "Puna-armeijan Stalinin tahdon toteuttajana". Ts Pj.  (The Red Army's execution of Stalin's will)
    • (Finnish) Laaksonen, Lasse (1999). "Kannaksen taistelut". Ts Pj.  (Battles in the Isthmus)
    • Lentilä, Riitta; Juutilainen, Antti (1999). "Talvisodan uhrit". Ts Pj.  (Victims of the Winter War)
    • (Finnish) Leskinen, Jari (1999). "Suomen ja Viron salainen sotilaallinen yhteistyö Neuvostoliiton hyökkäyksen varalta 1930-luvulla". in Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti. Ts Pj.  (The secret 1930s Finnish and Estonian military collaboration against Soviet invasion)
    • (Finnish) Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti (1999). "Suomen kunnian päivät". Ts Pj.  (Finland's glory days)
    • (Finnish) Malmi, Timo (1999). "Suomalaiset sotavangit". Ts Pj. 
    • (Finnish) Manninen, Ohto (1999a). "Neuvostoliiton tavoitteet ennen talvisotaa ja sen aikana". Ts Pj.  (Soviet objectives before and during the Winter War)
    • (Finnish) Manninen, Ohto (1999b). "Venäläiset sotavangit ja tappiot". Ts Pj.  (Russian prisoners of war and casualties)
    • (Finnish) Palokangas, Markku (1999). "Suomalaisjoukkojen aseistus ja varustus". Ts Pj.  (Armament and equipment of the Finnish forces)
    • (Finnish) Paulaharju, Jyri (1999). "Pakkastalven kourissa". Ts Pj. 
    • (Finnish) Peltonen, Martti (1999). "Ilmasota talvisodassa". Ts Pj.  (The Winter War in the air)
    • (Finnish) Silvast, Pekka (1999). "Merivoimien ensimmäinen voitto: Russarö". Ts Pj.  (The Navy's first victory: Russarö)
    • (Finnish) Soikkanen, Timo (1999). "Talvisodan henki". Ts Pj.  (The spirit of the Winter War)
    • (Finnish) Turtola, Martti (1999a). "Kansainvälinen kehitys Euroopassa ja Suomessa 1930-luvulla". Ts Pj. 
    • (Finnish) Turtola, Martti (1999b). "Katkera rauha ja Suomen ulkopoliittinen asema sodan jälkeen". Ts Pj.  (Bitter peace and the postwar status of Finnish foreign policy)
    • (Finnish) Vihavainen, Timo (1999). "Talvisota neuvostohistoriakirjoituksessa". Ts Pj.  (The Winter War in Soviet historiography)
    • (Finnish) Vuorenmaa, Anssi; Juutilainen, Antti (1999). "Myytti Mannerheim-linjasta". Ts Pj.  (Myth of the Mannerheim line)
  • (Finnish) Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti, eds (2005). Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen (Continuation War Guidebook). 1st ed. Porvoo: WSOY. ISBN 951-0-28690-7.
    • (Finnish) Juutilainen, Antti; Koskimaa, Matti (2005). "Maavoimien joukkojen perustaminen". Js Pj.  (Formation of the Ground Forces)
    • (Finnish) Kurenmaa, Pekka; Lentilä, Riitta (2005). "Sodan tappiot". Js Pj. p. 1152.  (Casualties of the War)

External links

Simple English

Winter War
Part of World War II
Date 30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940
Location Eastern Finland
Result Interim Peace
Moscow Peace Treaty
 Finland  Soviet Union
C. G. E. Mannerheim Kirill Meretskov
Kliment Voroshilov
Semyon Timoshenko[F 1]
337,000–346,500 men[F 2] [4][5]
32 tanks[F 3][4]
114 aircraft[F 4][6]
425,640–760,578 men[F 5]
998,100 men (overall)

2,514–6,541 tanks[F 6][11]
3,880 aircraft

25,904 dead or missing [F 7][12]
43,557 wounded[13]
1,000 captured[F 8][14]
957 civilians in air raids[12]
20–30 tanks
62 aircraft[15]
126,875 dead or missing [8][F 9]
188,671 wounded, injured or burned[8]

5,572 captured[17]
3,543 tanks[F 10][9][11][17]
261–515 aircraft[F 11][9][17]

The Winter War (November 30, 1939 - March 13, 1940) was a conflict fought between the Soviet Union and Finland. It began when the Soviet Union tried to invade Finland soon after the Invasion of Poland. The Soviet military forces expected a victory over Finland in a few weeks, but the Finnish forces resisted both better and longer than expected.


  1. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named Edwards
  2. Manninen (2008)
  3. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named Trotter
  4. 4.0 4.1 Palokangas (1999):299-200
  5. Juutilainen & Koskimaa (2005):83
  6. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named Peltonen
  7. Meltiukhov (2000): ch. 4, Table 10
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Krivosheyev (1997):63
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Kilin (1999):383
  10. Manninen (1994):43
  11. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named Kanta1998
  12. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named Kur.26Lent2005
  13. Lentilä and Juutilainen (1999):821
  14. Malmi (1999):792
  15. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named Tillo1993
  16. Kilin (2007b):91
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Manninen (1999b):815

Other pages

Error creating thumbnail: sh: convert: command not found


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address