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The End of the Winter War: Sacrifice Instead of Genocide


By the beginning of the March 1940 the Finnish leadership knew that the end was near. Both frontline troops and logistics were on the brink of a collapse. Standing alone against the Soviet giant was impossible without reinforcements and supplies from abroad. The massed assaults by tanks and infantry were preceded by artillery barrages on the scale of the WW1 western front that simply turned all defensive positions into gravel.

A memorial service that was held on May 1940 for the 26 000 fallen Finns

 The Soviet demands for a peace treaty were staggering. Finland was expected to hand over the homes of 400 000 of its citizens, including the second largest city Viipuri. The new border would also be much more difficult to defend in the future and the USSR would get a naval base in Hanko at the South Western coast.

The western allies kept promising help through Norway and Sweden, but both nations refused to allow troops to transit. While Finland used the Western support as a bargaining chip, the Finnish government never fully relied on the sincerity of the help offerings. The Finnish reservations turned out to be correct as it has been later revealed that the allied plan would have actually concentrated on taking over the iron ore mines in Norway and Sweden and very small elements, if any, of the expeditionary force would have reached Finland.

Bombed out city of Viipuri

For Finland the stakes were the highest they could have been. The Soviet occupation would be the end of the Finnish nation and the Finnish leaders were aware of the risks. The Soviets had conducted extensive purges, that would today be classified as a genocide, of the Finnish, Ingrian and Karelian people in the late 1930’s. 30 000 Finns and 50 000 Ingrians were murdered by the Soviet regime as potential threats. These victims include thousands of Finnish communists that moved from the USA to the USSR in search of a worker’s paradise.

The Finnish head negotiator in the ceasefire talks in Moscow, Paasikivi, stated that the threat to the Finnish people was existential. The members of the academia, army and Suojeluskunta-militia would be executed, just as their Polish counterparts were slaughtered in the Katyn forest by the Soviet NKVD. Rest of the people would be either deported into Siberia or bolshevized in Finland. As the Finnish resistance had been humiliating to the Soviets the retribution after an occupation was expected to be far more brutal than the heinous crimes committed in the Baltics and Poland.

The Finnish peace negotiators balanced on a razor wire. They managed to retain an independent state by playing the Soviet fears of Allied intervention and looming war with Germany to reach an outcome that allowed an independent Finland to resettle its internally displaced population, rebuild the damaged infrastructure, rearm the defense forces and prepare to retake the lost lands, should an opportunity present itself.

Finnish patrol after a fight in the Arctic wilderness

 The former United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis summed up the lessons of the Winter War in three points.

-          The combination of mobility, successful intelligence and local knowledge lay the foundation for any successful operation

-         -The technological advantage and numbers will not guarantee victory if the training of the troops is poor and the leadership is rigid and unable to improvise.

-          The rewriting of history by the states like Russia show that they are willing to use force to capitalize on any failures of deterrence.

Winter War was a tragedy, that built legends of courage and in the end the struggle allowed a small nation to survive and thrive instead of fading into the footnotes of history.

-Petri Mäkelä
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Sources:
Teemu Keskisarjan kolumni: Talvisodan lopussa Suomi pelastautui kansanmurhalta
https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandarmoh

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