Soviet Invasion of Finland in 1940
The Soviet Union invaded Finland on 30th November 1939 with 21 divisions, totaling 450,000 men, and bombed Helsinki, inflicting substantial damage and casualties. The following day the Soviet Union formed a puppet government, called the Finnish Democratic Republic and headed by Otto Willie Kuusinen, in the parts of the country occupied by the Red Army. (1)
The Manchester Guardian reported: "Russia invaded Finland early yesterday morning, and at once began to try to enforce submission by air attacks. The Finnish Government resigned early this morning. It is reported from Copenhagen that Dr. Tanner, the Finnish Finance Minister, who was one of the Finnish delegates to Moscow, will form a new Government to open negotiations with Russia... The invasion of Finland without any declaration of war has cause the greatest indignation throughout the world, especially in other Scandinavian countries and in the United States, Italy, and Spain." (2)
Winston Churchill later pointed out: "It is probable that the Soviet Government had counted on a walkover. Their early air-raids on Helsingfors and elsewhere, though not on a heavy scale, were expected to strike terror. The troops they used at first, though numerically much stronger, were inferior in quality and ill-trained. The effect of the air-raids and of the invasion of their land roused the Finns, who rallied to a man against the aggressor and fought with absolute determination and the utmost skill.... The country here is almost entirely pine forests, gently undulating and at the time covered with a foot of hard snow. The cold was intense. The Finns were well equipped with skis and warm clothing, of which the Russians had neither." (3)
Marshal Carl Mannerheim, the Commander-in-Chief of the Finish Army, was responsible for the construction and defence of the Mannerheim Line, that stretched across 65 miles of Finland's south-eastern frontier. Tomas Ries has pointed out: "Few at the time expected the tiny Finnish nation of 3.6 million to survive. But despite the odds Finland reacted with desperate determination. On the one hand the country was determined to fight, and the full field army of some 160,000 men had been mobilized and sent eastwards into position along the front during the fall. On the other hand Finland also was grimly prepared for the worst, and began sending her national treasure - her children - to safety in Sweden, to cover the possibility of a Soviet victory and Stalin's national extermination programmes." (4)
Although the advance of Soviet troops was halted at Kemijarvi, Suomussalmi and most spectacularly in the south at the Mannheim Line on the Karelian isthmus, was a great surprise to observers and a costly embarrassment for the Soviet forces. (5) Winston Churchill argued that the British government should send military help to Finland. This desire reflected the Conservative view that the real enemy was not Nazi Germany but the Soviet Union. Lord Halifax agreed: "One important result of the Nazi-Soviet Agreement was the danger of Bolshevism spreading to Western Europe... It was the danger however we had to face, and we had to make up our minds whether we should tackle it by drawing apart from Russia or even declaring war upon her... The alternative policy was to concentrate first on the German menace, and it was this policy which the United Kingdom Government had decided to adopt." (6)
John Boyle, 14th Earl of Cork, the director of plans at the Admiralty responsible for Scandinavia policy, told Churchill, that "British aid was perhaps the last of mobilizing the anti-Bolshevik forces of the world on our side." This reflected not only strong ideological dislike of the Soviet Union but a disdain for Soviet military strength. "The idea of attacking the Soviet Union was justified in on the grounds that it was helping Germany economically, but there may well have been the hope in ministers' minds that Germany (under another government) would still see sense and unite against the common enemy." (7)
Neville Chamberlain disagreed with this view and still thought it was possible to negotiate a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain wrote on 3rd December, 1939: "Stalin's latest performance, which seems to have provoked far more indignation than Hitler's attack on Poland, though it is no worse morally, and in its developments is likely to be much less brutal... I am as indignant as anyone at the Russians' behaviour, but I am bound to say that I don't think the Allied cause is likely to suffer thereby. It has added a great deal to the general feeling that the ways of dictators make things impossible for the rest of the world, and in particular it has infuriated the Americans, who have a sentimental regard for the Finns because they paid off their war debt. (8)
The British and French governments eventually decided to send an Anglo-French expeditionary force of 100,000 men was hastily assembled. The government wanted to show Great Britain's impartial hostility towards dictatorships, Communist and Fascist, if she took on both Soviet Russia and Germany at once. Churchill had a more subtle intention. The expeditionary force would have to cross Norway and Sweden before reaching Finland. On the way it would seize Narvik, the Norwegian port from which the iron ore was shipped to Germany, and would then go on to wreck the Swedish iron mines. In this was successful, German industry would be crippled. (9)
The British Chiefs of Staff warned that, as a military operation, the expeditionary force would not work; even mild opposition from Sweden, as now seemed likely, would make it impossible for the Anglo-French force to reach Finland in time to be of help, or even to reach the iron ore fields en route, "before a German force could get there". The government was warned that by sending aircraft to help Finland would "weaken ourselves against Germany." Hitler, aware of the danger of British involvement in the war, issued details of a plan to occupy Norway and Denmark that "would anticipate English action against Scandinavia and the Baltic, would secure our supplies of iron ore from Sweden, and would provide the Navy and Air Force with expanded bases for operations against England." (10)
Anthony Eden, prepared the way for government action with a speech on 29th February, 1940: "Not Russia only but Germany also, bears a terrible responsibility for what is happening in Finland at this hour. Hitler and Ribbentrop, these men and their policies alone made Stalin's aggression possible. Stalin is the aggressor in Finland, Hitler the abettor. It seems strange to think now how many hours I used to spend listening to the present German Foreign Secretary when he was Ambassador in London, when he used to expound to me, as indeed he did also in public many times, the dangers and horrors of Bolshevism. He was never tired of expatiating on this theme. Soviet Russia, this untouchable with whom Nazi Germany could not sit down at a conference table, this leprous thing, this cancer. Many a time the British people were taken to task because we, it was alleged, did not understand the extent of our peril. We did not appreciate, we were told, the realities of the European situation. Only Hitler could do that. He, alone, we were assured, stood as a bulwark between Britain and Red Russia." (11) .
When the government announced it had agreed to send the expeditionary force to Finland. "British expectations rose high, encouraged by confident utterances from Chamberlain and Churchill." (12) The action was criticised. According to one historian: "The motives for the projected expedition to Finland defy rational analysis. For Great Britain and France to provoke war with Soviet Russia when already at war with Germany seems the product of a madhouse, and it is tempting to suggest a more sinister plan: switching the war on to an anti-Bolshevik course, so that the war against Germany could be forgotten or even ended." (13)
On 4th March, 1940, Soviet forces launched a massive attack on the Finnish city of Vyborg. One Soviet column crossed thirty-four miles of ice, attacking the Finnish coastline in the rear of the city's defenders. Soviet artillery set up its positions offshore, bombarding Vyborg. The Finnish Government, unable to resist the renewed military onslaught, accepted the Soviet Union's offer of peace talks.As the Finns had lost more that 20 per cent of their 200,000 soldiers in three months they accepted the offer. On 12th March, Finland agreed to the Soviet demands and made peace. (14)
(1) Manchester Guardian (30th November, 1939)
Though according to foreign reports the Red forces this morning launched their promised "help for the Finnish people" against their democratic Government - led by Socialists, the Kremlin's particular detestation - the Russian people remained ignorant until late tonight of the fact that their Government had involved them in actual warfare with their tiny neighbour.
Speculation on the soviet objectives in foreign quarters here turns on the question whether the campaign will be pursued after the seizure of the Karelian Ishmus, the islands in the Gulf of Finland, Hanko, and the northern most peninsulas, which were demanded in the negotiations, or then propose a peace, to be concluded with a new and more compliant Finnish Government.
Certain foreign quarters believe that the hostilities may serve as a justification for the seizure of the Finnish copper and nickel mines, both of which metals are solely needed in the Soviet Union. The production of Finnish copper is largely exported to Germany, which took 12,000 tons in 1938, but the nickel is controlled by a Canadian concession, and is exported only from Petsamo.
(2) Manchester Guardian (1st December, 1939)
Russia invaded Finland early yesterday morning, and at once began to try to enforce submission by air attacks.
The Finnish Government resigned early this morning. It is reported from Copenhagen that Dr. Tanner, the Finnish Finance Minister, who was one of the Finnish delegates to Moscow, will form a new Government to open negotiations with Russia.
News of the resignation came after the Russian threat, broadcast from Moscow, that unless Finland surrendered by three o'clock this morning Helsinki would be completely destroyed.
A representative of the United States Legation in Helsinki sent the information of the Government's resignation to the American Embassy in Moscow, which is expected to communicate with the Kremlin.
M. Erkko, the Finnish Foreign Minster, in a broadcast to the United States last night, said "We remain ready to work for a solution of the dispute by conciliation."
The Soviet Government yesterday rejected the United States' offer of its good offices in settling the dispute; the Soviet Government did not think they were needed. Finland accepted the offer.
The invasion of Finland without any declaration of war has cause the greatest indignation throughout the world, especially in other Scandinavian countries and in the United States, Italy, and Spain. In the House of Commons yesterday Mr. Chamberlain made a statement on the invasion.
(3) Anthony Eden, speech in Liverpool (29th February, 1940)
Not Russia only but Germany also, bears a terrible responsibility for what is happening in Finland at this hour. Hitler and Ribbentrop, these men and their policies alone made Stalin's aggression possible. Stalin is the aggressor in Finland, Hitler the abettor.
It seems strange to think now how many hours I used to spend listening to the present German Foreign Secretary when he was Ambassador in London, when he used to expound to me, as indeed he did also in public many times, the dangers and horrors of Bolshevism. He was never tired of expatiating on this theme. Soviet Russia, this untouchable with whom Nazi Germany could not sit down at a conference table, this leprous thing, this cancer. Many a time the British people were taken to task because we, it was alleged, did not understand the extent of our peril. We did not appreciate, we were told, the realities of the European situation. Only Hitler could do that. He, alone, we were assured, stood as a bulwark between Britain and Red Russia. But for the Hitlerian St. George the Red Dragon would have swallowed us long since. So ran the German fable with its many variations.
And what has happened now ? The Red Dragon has taken the Hitlerian St. George for a ride. It may be that one day in the not so distant future the German Foreign Minister may have need to recall his own warnings.
(4) Tomas Ries, Lessons of the Winter War, National Defence Collegeof Finland (2001)
The Winter War erupted on 30 November 1939, when Stalin unleashed his Red Army in an all-out assault against Finland. In August that year Stalin and Hitler had divided eastern Europe between them in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, leaving Finland isolated in the Soviet sphere of influence. During the fall Stalin demanded that Finland cede key parts of the country to the USSR. When Finland refused to meet all his demands Stalin unleashed his armies.
In the winter dawn of 30 November four Soviet Armies with 23 divisions - some 460,000 men with over 2,000 tanks - began advancing across the length of Finland's 1,200 km long eastern border. Their objective was to occupy the entire territory of Finland by the end of the year, installing Moscow's puppet 'Terijoki Government' in Helsinki, and establishing a new 'Democratic Republic of Finland'. Their troops were issued with detailed written warnings not to cross into Sweden once they had reached Finland's western border, and the 7. Army included a military band for the victory parade in Helsinki.
Few at the time expected the tiny Finnish nation of 3.6 million to survive. But despite the odds Finland reacted with desperate determination. On the one hand the country was determined to fight, and the full field army of some 160,000 men had been mobilized and sent eastwards into position along the front during the fall. On the other hand Finland also was grimly prepared for the worst, and began sending her national treasure - her children - to safety in Sweden, to cover the possibility of a Soviet victory and Stalin's national extermination programmes. Leaving at night from blacked out harbours along Finland's western coast, in the gaps between wailing sirens warning of Soviet bombers, none of the thousands of departing children or their parents remaining behind knew whether they would see each other again.
(5) Oleg Rzheshevsky, Europe 1939: Was War Inevitable? (1989)
Finland's war preparations and its anti-Soviet policy at home and abroad were a threat to both the Soviet Union and Finland itself. Britain and France took advantage of Finland's anti-Soviet policy to frustrate Soviet efforts toward establishing a collective security system. During the Anglo-Franco-Soviet talks Britain and France first refused to give guarantees to the Baltic states and Finland and then came out against extending such guarantees to the eventually of indirect aggression against them. This played its role in the Finnish government's decision to seek closer relations with Germany. Therefore, on June 20, 1939, that government declared that it refused all cooperation with the Soviet Union in case of German aggression against Finland and would regard any Soviet assistance as aggression. The Soviet Union's efforts toward providing Finland with a collectiove guarantee against fascist Germany ended in failure. The blame for this lay with the Finnish reactionaries but also with the British and French leaders making common cause with them against the Soviet proposals.
(6) Konstantin Tarnovsky, Illustrated History of the USSR (1982)
Faced with the threat of war, the Soviet government proposed that the USSR and Finland sign a mutual assistance pact and the border between the two countries on the Karelian isthmus be moved westwards as a compensation for which the USSR would cede to Finland a far larger territory of South Karelia. But prompted by Germany on the one hand and by Britain and France on the other and relying on the strong defence belt on the Karelian isthmus - the Mannerheim line, the Finnish government rejected the Soviet offer. On November 26, 1939, Finnish troops attacked. Soviet territory with artillery fire. Red Army troops crossed the border and broke through the Mannerheim line. In March 1940 the Soviet border was moved 150 km from Leningrad to Vyborg under an agreement signed at the Finnish government's request.
(7) Christian Waselius, student, department of History, University of Helsinki, Finland (14th January, 2002)
In the article written by Mr. Tarnovsky it is said that "Finnish troops attacked Soviet territory with artillery fire" on November 26th 1939. This incident that happened in the small village Mainila, was made by Soviet troops and put up as a reason for the Red Army to attack Finland. Finnish frontier guards also recognized the explosions on the Soviet side of the border. For that time being, the closest Finnish artillery guns were placed so far away from Mainila that it would have been impossible to reach the place with artillery gun fire. Finland´s government wanted to negotiate and asked for a withdrawal of the troops on both sides of the border. The soviet Foreign Minister Mr. Molotov cut off all diplomatic connections with Finland and the Red Army attacked Finland on November 30th 1939. The Soviet Union officially apologized for the provocative artillery act in 1990.
(8) Colonel Maltitsky of the Red Army took part in the fighting in Finland in 1941.
It is significant that even in the wooded terrain, where close fighting predominates, the Germans avoid hand-to-hand encounters and strive to dislodge the Soviet sub-divisions from their positions solely with the aid of fire. They have never been known to accept a bayonet charge of the Soviet infantry. When launching an offensive the Fascist units usually sustain heavy losses in manpower. Whenever successful, they completely refrain from pursuit.
The Finns practise different methods of warfare. They rarely attack the well-organized defence and prefer cautiously to advance where resistance is weaker. The Finnish offensive on an organized defence is easily routed with heavy losses to them. In defence, however, the Finnish forces are superior to the Germans.
In general, the methods of offensive operations of the Finns consist in advancing slowly but securing their positions. Usually, after occupying a district, the Finns immediately try to fortify it. A scouting party then seeks a new terrain and the units try to occupy the next district.
(9) Manchester Guardian (2nd August, 1944)
It is officially announced from Helsinki that President Ryti has resigned and that he has been succeeded by Marshal Mannerheim.
Mannerheim was appointed by decree and not elected, as is customary. Linkomies, the Premier, moved in Parliament that Marshal Mannerheim should be decreed as Finnish President. This decree also provided that what was called "a great burden of functions on the shoulder of the President" (Mannerheim is 77) should be transferred to the Premier.
A delegation from the "peace opposition" asked Mannerheim to assume leadership of the peace movement, according to a usually reliable Swedish source. They said that a move towards peace would faithfully represent the views of the majority of the country. The delegation reminded him that the recent pact with Germany was made on the personal initiative of Ryti, and that if he resigned it would not be incompatible with Finland's honour to denounce the pact.
Mannerheim held no office in the administration and thus had no responsibility for the treaty keeping Finland in the war which Ribbentrop negotiated with Ryti two months ago. The treaty was never submitted to Parliament.