What did Stalin think of Finland?

The Soviet-Finnish Winter War 1939-40. A military-historical consideration


1 Introduction

2. The way to war

3. Attempt to connect Finland to the USSR

4. Preparations for the Winter War 39/40
4.1 Preparations on the Finnish side
4.2 Preparations on the Soviet side

5. The Winter War 1939-40
5.1 Course of the war
5.1.1 The isthmus
5.1.2 Between Lake Ladoga and the Arctic Ocean
5.2 The last days of the war and the peace of Moscow in 1940

6. Consequences of the Winter War 1939/40
6.l Consequences of the Winter War for Finland
6.2 Consequences of the Winter War for the USSR
6.3 International action after the winter war

7. Summary

8. Bibliography and sources

1 Introduction

One can learn from history that similar events are almost always the same and only differ in their details. For example, history is mostly written by winners, big empires take small countries, leaders of big nations are overthrown and a small event is usually enough to detonate an already ignited barrel full of black powder. It was the same in the two world wars. The reason for the beginning of the first World War was the assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince in Sarajevo. The second WW was triggered by an alleged attack by Polish soldiers on a German radio station in Gliwice near Posen.

During the Second World War there were not only wars that were waged by the German Reich or against the German Reich, but other nations also tried to improve their position in the world. This includes such examples as Japan and Russia. Even before the beginning of World War II, Japan tried to use massive military power to bring entire countries and regions under their control. This expansion reached from the Russian border in the north to the southernmost islands in Indonesia. In contrast, if we look at Russia, which as a country already has enormous dimensions, this country had little opportunity to enlarge its lands. Therefore one tried to enlarge one's sphere of influence through the formation of satellite states.

The Soviet-Finnish war broke out under similar circumstances. In the following, the housework will deal with the origins of this war as well as its course and the results for Europe. The focus here is more on the origin of the conflict and its course. Then the central question is what strategy the Red Army pursued to perfect its plan and how it looked in implementation. Of course, the question of the planned defense of the Finns will not go unanswered. But probably the most interesting question on this topic should not be missing in this elaboration - how did the Finnish units manage to hold out for so long in their enormous troop weakness compared to the Red Army and to inflict such massive damage on the Red Army? Furthermore, the question should also be answered and explained what consequences this had for the Red Army as well as for the other European countries. By answering all of these questions, an attempt should be made as much as possible to give a general view of what is happening.

This section deals with the causes that led to the war between the USSR and Finland. What reasons did the USSR or Stalin have for wanting to take Finland? Why couldn't this be done in a peaceful way? How did the German Reich feel about these demands and how did it react?

The prehistory between Russia and Finland is a difficult one, full of actions by a large empire on a small country. So there were repeated attempts on the Russian side to incorporate Finland and thus to be able to fall back on its raw materials. However, the Finns have resisted again and again and wanted Russian territory to make amends. There were attempts to found the Great Finnish Empire after the civil war in Finland. Among the proponents of this plan was the Finnish politician and General Mannerheim. He wanted to expand Finland's borders by incorporating East Karelia. But it did not get to that. After the end of the civil war, the Finnish government was again granted the region around Petsamo on the Polar Sea, which was an important trading town for the Finns. They were also granted land in Karelia. As a result, the Finns were in "range" of the Russian metropolis Petrograd (later Leningrad). This proximity would later serve as the trigger for the Soviet-Finnish winter war[1]. For one thing, all of these territorial disagreements are a big factor in relations between the USSR and Finland. However, with the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s there were further problems. The political situation in Finland in the interwar period is essentially determined by 5 major parties. Time and again there are major disagreements and divisions between these parties (both within the parties, especially in the extreme camps, and in the population). Due to the increasing influence of the communist forces from the east, the communist or socialist movement also grew. Due to the ban on the Communist Party of Finland, it had to try to exert influence from abroad. The real problems that were to damage relations between Finland and Russia in the long term did not come until later.

“At the end of the 1920s, the Soviet Union pushed timber and grain onto the world market at dumping prices, which almost ruined the Finnish export economy. In 1930, only a third of the 1928 prices could be achieved for agricultural products. (...) This led to layoffs in these sectors, which in turn led to a radicalization of workers. "[2]

This drastic experience made it easier for the radical forces in particular to get the population to their side. Thus there was a 'jolt to the right' in the political life of the Finns. The "Lapua" movement in particular became a strong political force, which organized a peasants' march on Helsinki in the summer of 1932 with 12,000 participants. This political phase with the 'jerk to the right' lasted in Finland until around 1937. After the economic situation had improved, especially through trade with England, Germany and North and South America, the political situation in the country also improved. Only after the new President Kyösti Kallio was elected did the situation relax and attempts were made to mediate between the two radical and moderate political camps. However, relations with the USSR were still damaged.[3]

3. Attempt to link Finland to the USSR

After the Soviet Union already included the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in its satellite state system[4] integrated, she wanted to do the same with Finland. The leaders of the USSR feared, on the one hand, that if the Hitler-Stalin pact no longer exists, a German attack on Finland could occur and, on the other hand, that if the Finns are not bound to Russia, they might at an inopportune time, if, for example, all troops are on the front line with Hitler's Germany, they would implement their territorial claims in North Karelia and thus the USSR would not be able to react quickly or at all. There were also other forces in Moscow who assumed that the government in Helsinki was friendly and well disposed towards the USSR. They also assumed that Finland would try to maintain its neutrality and would not allow itself to be drawn on the side of Hitler's Germany. But against this

Consideration it was argued that the Finnish government might be too weak to maintain its neutrality under pressure from the fascist states[5]. But it could also turn out differently, as the British General Sir Walter Kirke once wrote to the War Office in England after he was in Finland:

"They do not want anything to do with Germany but rather than accept a Russian guarantee, they would join the axis. "[6]

If the Soviet leadership had the same impressions as the British general, then the further course of action is easier to understand. A week after the British general left Helsinki, the Finnish government invited Wehrmacht General Halder. With this move the Finnish government tried to promote possible military relations with the Third Reich. General Halder and five other high-ranking Wehrmacht officers inspected the Karelian borders and the troops stationed there. When this became known, the governments of Great Britain, France and Russia demanded an explanation from the Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkko. England had also threatened that any aid from England to Finland would cease if they got involved with the Germans. However, Erkko never commented.[7]

When the Soviet leadership then decided to integrate Finland into their satellite state system before there was any common cause with the, still allied ’[8] Germany does, they were already planning the solutions, what possibilities there were to induce Finland to do so. In the negotiations between the British, French and Russians from mid-April 1939, the Soviet Union once again reinforced its intentions and wanted all East Baltic states and the states south-west of the USSR to come under its sphere of influence as a buffer zone. To this end, they issued an ultimatum to all countries: either the countries agree to an assistance agreement with a specific military agreement or the USSR is forced to help with military interventions[9].

After Moscow asked to send Finnish envoys, they made them their offer: on the Karelian isthmus, the borders should be moved 20 km in the direction of the Finnish interior. This should represent the security of Leningrad, since the border at that time was only 32 km away and thus within range of fire. In return, Finland will get a piece of land in Northeast Karelia. In addition, the Russian government demanded the lease of the Hankö peninsula in order to secure the route to Leningrad from there.[10] These demands were certainly a shock to the Finnish delegates when they made this offer. If you look back a little, you will notice that these demands are the exact opposite of what the Finnish government actually wanted. As already described in the first part of this housework, this was more interested in getting the Karelian areas west of their borders back instead of giving more to the USSR. But here, too, there were forces, such as Marshal Mannerheim, who considered the demands of the Soviets to be legitimate and was able to understand them. However, paradoxically, the Finns continued to think that if there were to be a Russian invasion, countries like Sweden, England, Norway, France and possibly even the German Empire would stand behind them[11]. In the second round of negotiations on October 23, 1939, Stalin and the Soviet delegation met the Finnish delegation: They offered them to station fewer troops on the islands they wanted to lease so that they would not pose a threat and would only be sufficient to secure Leningrad at sea , as well as that they wanted you to have more land in eastern and northeastern Karelia and less land in the Karelian Narrows. In addition, they assured them that all points that were worked out when the contract was concluded will be adhered to one hundred percent[12].

In spite of this "generous" offer, the Finnish government refused and thus only a military solution to the problem was up for discussion, and not only for the Soviet government.

4. Preparations for the Winter War 39/40

Before the first acts of war between Finland and the USSR began, both sides made preparations to prepare for the eventual war. This is what the next section will deal with, with the main focus on the Finnish preparations.

4.1 Preparations on the Finnish side

Preparations on the Finnish side were rather sparse, as no one, with a few exceptions, took the threats from the Soviet Union seriously. Probably the greatest preparation was to expand and consolidate the Mannerheim line. This was always the aim of Field Marshal Mannerheim. This urged the government again and again that if they continue to negotiate with the USSR with this severity, they must also allow preparations for the consequences. But they did not see it or failed to strengthen the Finnish troops and borders. This almost cost the government in Helsinki its Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal C. G. Mannerheim. A few days before the outbreak of war, he threatened to resign, which however became obsolete when the war began[13].

“The government were paying no attention to his views, but trusted instead in the nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and above all in its belief that Stalin did not want to start an aggressive war. "[14]

The possibility that the Soviet territorial claims could lead to war was ruled out by the Finnish government and therefore the attack by the USSR on Finland in 1939 was as good as unexpected for both the Finns and the rest of the world.[15] Another source says that the Finns were mobilized two months before the war began. The mobilization order came due to the Hitler-Stalin

Pact, which declared Finland a catchment area of ​​the Soviet Union and thus the Finns were at the mercy of the "Russians"[16].

Of course the government in Helsinki tried to find allies who could stand by them in case of war. These efforts were rather small before the outbreak of war. Only shortly before things got serious, or when war hit, did the government try hard to find partners. For example, they were hoping for England and France, which a few weeks earlier had great plans to send relief armies[17] bragged. The Finns hoped for help from this announcement. However, they soon found out that this was not about saving Finland, but about saving or preserving and securing the ore in Sweden for the Allies. Finland was only intended to serve as a buffer area so that the Allied troops could be there before the Soviet and German armies to secure the ore in the Swedish mines. So this was only a thin stalk, if any, that they could hold on to.[18] As a further measure, of course, an attempt was made to ask Sweden for help. But they still had an account with the Finns:

"It was not possible to rely on the Scandinavian countries; they were weak, and relations with Sweden had been cool for some time. After the First World War, Sweden had sought to obtain possession of the Aland Island, which were, however, strategically important to Finland. The people of the island, who were totally Swedish-speaking, had expressed their desire to be united with Sweden. The League of Nations had settled the matter in favor of Finland, and for long time this question strained relations between the two neighboring countries, as did the language dispute in Finland, in which Sweden understandably sided with the Swedish-speaking minority. ”[19]

The Aland Islands were a very important and strategic point for all countries that were on the Baltic Sea. For some they were used for defense and for trade, for others they would be an important base in the struggle for power in Europe. However, after the end of the First World War, the League of Nations decided that the Aland Islands would be demilitarized and the fortifications dismantled.


[1] Bohn, Ingried: Finland, p. 213.

[2] Bohn, Ingried: Finland, p. 215.

[3] Bohn, Ingried: Finland, pp. 215-218.

[4] A state that (despite formal external independence) is dependent on another state (especially on a major power). Source: Internet edition of DUDEN: http://www.duden.de/node/797625/revisions/1277815/view (Stand : 10/3/14],

[5] Cf. Jokisalo, Jouko: On the prehistory of the Soviet-Finnish winter war 70 years ago, URL: http://www.ag-friedensforschung.de/regionen/Finnland/winterkrieg.html (status: 11.06.14).

[6] Van Dyke, Carl: The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, p. 7.

[7] See Van Dyke, Carl: The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, p. 7.

[8] Although the Hitler-Stalin Pact had only just been drawn up at this time, most historians strongly assume that both Hitler and Stalin never had any real trust in one another and therefore, especially Stalin, an abrupt end was to be expected.

[9] Ueberschär, Gerd R .: Hitler and Finland 1939-41.

[10] See Bohn, Ingried: Finland, p. 219.

[11] See Van Dyke, Carl: The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, p. 18.

[12] See Van Dyke, Carl: The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, pp. 18f.

[13] Sandström, Allan: War Under the Midnight Sun, p. 10.

[14] Jägerskiöld, Stig: Mannerheim - Marshal of Finland, p.110.

[15] Klinge, Matti: History of Finland at a Glance, p. 130.

[16] Jokipii, Mauno: Finland and the Second World War - a historical location, in: Jäntti, Athi and Holtkamp, ​​Marion (ed.): Schicksalsschwere Zeiten, series of publications by the Finnlands-Institut in Germany, vol. 1, Berlin 1995, p. 17.

[17] Relief Army means an army that should liberate the Finns from the siege of the Soviet Union.

[18] Tarkka, Jukka: Neither Stalin nor Hitler - Finland during the Second World War, p. 21f.

[19] Vehviläinen, Olli: Finland in the Second World War, p. 14f.

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