Skip to main content

#WinterWar80: Road to War

On October 5th 1939 the USSR invited Finnish representatives to negotiations in Moscow. The Finnish government draw the correct conclusion that USSR was going to demand territory and bases from Finland. But the Finnish government wasn’t ready to roll over in the negotiations.

The signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany and the following invasion of Poland by the two, had made the Finnish leadership somewhat alarmed. During the October 1939 the USSR had demanded bases from the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania saw that they had no choice but to comply with the demands as they were trapped between the co-operating dictatorships.

Some leverage had to be created for the Finnish government. So it was decided that the best way to counter the Soviet pressure was to mobilize the Finnish army. But instead of announcing a general mobilization, Finland begun an “extra refresher training for the reservists”. 

Finnish Cavalry deploying to the border to delay the anticipated invasion by USSR

The Independent Finnish army emerged from the turmoil of the Finnish Civil as a rather mixed force of various White Guards with not much in the way of formal training. The leadership was in the hands of the ex imperial Russian army officers and the men trained in the German Jaegerbattalion 27.

Initially the army was formed as cadre force, supported by the Civil Guard Suojeluskunta that grew into an organic part of the defense forces, helping with maintaining the reservist training after the initial conscription.

The White Guards formed the base of the Finnish Army from 1917 onward. 

In 1935 the Finnish defense was revised from a traditional cadre system into a regional system. In the new system the active duty training formations were no longer expanded with the mobilized reservists. Instead the conscript units with their professional officers and NCOs were immediately sent to secure the border areas. Their mission was to screen the mobilization of the reserves into regional units. This field army was mobilized and equipped with the help of the local Suojeluskunta organizations. 

Finnish artillerymen resting at a local Suojeluskunta-house during the extra refresher training .

The voluntary training role of the Suojeluskunta allowed them to utilize the grassroots knowledge of the manpower in their respective areas to form effective front line units with minimal extra costs. The system was considered both effective and cheap, compared to the systems used by most other European nations.

Nurses organized by the Lotta-organization

A Lotta working as a messenger in a HQ
So by 20th of October 1939 the Finnish army had mobilized with the conscript units and border troops manning border line with a mission to delay the possible Russian invasion army and to buy time for the reservist field army to prepare the main defensive line. In addition to the army and Suojeluskunta, the womens organization Lotta Svärd also mobilized its members into supporting roles ranging from nursing and clerical duties to factories and anti-aircraft spotting.

Finnish reservists fetching food from the field kitchen that was crucial for winter warfare. Note also the warm civilian clothes taken from home.

It was an amazing feat that Finland managed to mobilize and concentrate 275000 men into defensive positions in just a week with the limited infrastructure available. While the organization proved efficient, the material situation of the Finnish army ranged from decent in small arms to abysmal in armor and anti-tank weapons. A grave lesson was learned when the Finns attempted to purchase additional equipment, like artillery and munitions from the world market. As everyone was now preparing for the looming World War, not much was available for purchase with the limited funds available.

An evacuated Karelian boy in Viipuri before the war broke out. After the war vast majority of the people evacuated became homeless, but all were settled within Finland.
One especially Finnish aspect was the widespread evacuation of the civilian population from the anticipated battle fields. Only few areas that were under Soviet surveillance were not evacuated in order to not give the USSR any grounds to claim that Finland was preparing to attack the USSR. The people in these villages later on suffered greatly in the Russian captivity and the mistake was not repeated later on.

Family fleeing the coming invasion with the little belongings their horse could pull

As the negotiations dragged on until the end of November the Finnish army had an excellent opportunity in both getting to know itself and harmonize the training and also to orientate itself to the coming tasks and battlefields well in advance.

During the negotiations the USSR also concentrated it’s troops to the Finnish border, with 450 000 men and 2000 tanks being ready by the early November. After the Kremlin realized that the Finnish leadership wasn’t going to agree to the Soviet territorial demands, Kremlin begun, what could be called a hybrid operation against Finland. Moscow prepared to prop up a puppet state called the Finnish Democratic Republic. It was led by a Finnish communist Otto-Wille Kuusinen, who had fled to the USSR after the failed revolution in 1918.

The fake republic naturally required a fake army, so the Soviets tried to from a Finnish peoples army to join the invasion. The only problem was that most of the Finns in the Soviet Union had been executed in the Stalins purges. So Moscow had to use anyone who could pass as a Finn, like Belorussians, instead of the Finns to man the Finnish peoples army.

Finnish soldier at the main defensive line

So by the late November in 1939 the largest army in the world was ready to invade a tiny freedom loving democracy. On the 26th of November the Red Army shelled its own forces at the border village of Mainila to create a Casus Belli.

Three days later, on the 30th of November, the Red Army began their parade march to liberate Finland, only to encounter the most determined fighting force the world had seen. The following 105 days of war created countless legends and possibly up to half a million Soviet casualties.

Picture source is that contains all of the photographs acquired by the Finnish Defense Forces during WW2.

Here is my previous Winter War related piece:


Popular posts from this blog

Quick guide to identifying the Russian tanks Part 1: main platforms and T-72 variants

As most of the western nations have reduced their inventories to a few or mostly one type of main battle tank model in their active inventories, the myriad of tank platforms and distinct versions employed by the Russian armed forces may feel overwhelming. Here is a quick guide to identifying Russian MBTs. When you come across an image (or the actual thing), follow the steps to identify it properly.

Family of the tankRussian Armed Forces currently operates, or at least storage, the following tank platforms/families: -T-55 (<2000 in storage) -T-62 (2000 in storage) -T-64 (2000 in storage) -T-72 (2000 active duty, 8000 in storage) -T-80 (2000 active duty, 5000 in storage) -T-90 (350 active duty, 600 in storage) -T-14 (20 in field testing)
So how can you identify what type of a tank are you looking at?
There are two features that can be used to distinguishing the tank families: The roadwheel placement and the exhaust ports. The older and smaller T-55 and T-62 have five roadwheels in their suspe…

T-90M ”Breakthrough” the Armata Russia has to live with

The T-14 Armata was supposedly going to be the next main combat vehicle platform that would replace the dozen or so main battle tank versions currently in the Russian service. The development and testing process of the T-14 has been difficult and the manufacturer Uralvagonzavod will deliver the first five pre-production vehicles in the first half of 2020. It’s quite a far cry from the originally planned production run of 2300 Armata’s by the end of 2020.

First newly-built T-90M tanks with redesigned turrets and engines will be delivered for state tests alongside the initial batch of T-14’s. The T-90M, that shouldn’t be confused with the export version upgrade package T-90MS, is actually very capable package with significantly less complicated problems than the more radical T-14.

The T-90M offers the same firepower and mobility with most likely slightly superior optics and situational awareness compared to the Armata. With the conventional layout, many of the camera, display and stabili…

Quick Guide to Turkish Tanks

The Turkish Armed Forces posses the largest tank fleet in Europe, only dwarfed by the Russian reserve stocks beyond the Ural mountains. The Turkish fleet is a mixture of American and German armor with indigenous upgrades.
The Turkish active tank fleet is currently composed of: - 354 Leopard 2A4 tanks - 397 Leopard 1A3 tanks with 170 upgraded to Leopard 1T standard with new fire control system - 932 M60 Pattons, out of which 104 are aging A1 variants, 658 are A3 TTS and 170 are fully modernized M60T Sabra-models, upgraded with Israeli technology. - 758 M48 Pattons with an unknown distribution of M48A3 and M48A5T2 variants.
Out of these tank models the Leopard 2A4 and the M60T Sabra are the most capable ones. Both are clearly superior to the aging Soviet T-72, T-62 and T-55 tanks primarily fielded by the Syrian Arab Army. Both the Leopard 2A4 and M60T have roughly comparable 120 mm main guns, capable of knocking out all armor in the neighborhood.
Both the Leopard 1 and the M48 show the…