You are on page 1of 4

The Winter War When the Fins

Humiliated the Russians

Aug 18, 2015

November 30th, 1939, following the alleged shelling of Russian troops by Finnish
soldiers, the Soviet Union launched an invasion on Finland. The Finnish army of
160 000 men was opposed to an invading Russian army consisting of 2000
Russian tanks and 450 000 soldiers. Numerically and technologically speaking, the
massive Soviet force had a tremendous advantage over the smaller Finnish army
and should have made short work of any opposition provided by the Finns.
Joseph Stalin and many of his military advisors, confidently expected a short
campaign lasting a matter of weeks. To the surprise of the Russians, and the
admiration of the rest of the world, the Finnish army demonstrated an implacable
resolve to resist the Russians as well as the military ability to back up that resolve.
At the head of the resisting Finnish forces stood Field Marshall Mannerheim.
Faced with the difficulty of engaging with an overwhelmingly superior invading
force, Mannerheim placed his forces on a defensive footing, while making skilled
use of the prevailing severe winter conditions and natural surroundings to harass

the advancing Russians. The Finnish Field Marshall established a defensive line
on the Karelian Isthmus and awaited the arrival of the Russian troops.

Ski troopers made lightning like small scale attacks upon the Soviet troops and the
Finns were able to isolate pockets of numerically superior forces which they then
surrounded and decimated. Molotov cocktails, improvised bottle based petrol
bombs, were used by the Finns against the Soviet T-26 and BT tanks with
devastating effect. These guerilla tactics served to wear down the Russian army,
which was laboring under by the harsh winter conditions. In December 1939, the
Russians reached the Mannerheim Line and attempted to breach it.
The Mannerheim Line consisted of numerous defensive structures but was in no
way comparable to such great fortification systems as the Maginot Line. The
French Maginot Line was a marvel of concrete and steel emplacements while the
Mannerheim Line consisted of pillboxes, trenches and minefields. Russian troops
assaulted the simple fortifications but were hurled back time and again.
The fighting spirit of the Finns must be given pride of place when determining why
the numerically and better equipped Russian forces were repeatedly unable to
successfully break the Mannerheim Line. The resistance of the brave Finnish

soldiers who endured the rigours of the campaign can be likened to that of the
glorious defense of Malta by the Knights Hospitaller in 1565.

Soviet bombing of Helsinki, 30

November 1939. [Via]
Inevitably, continuous Russian bombardments and massed attacks of Russian
soldiers, although incurring enormous losses in men, achieved a breakthrough on
the Mannerheim Line and the Finns were forced to withdraw. In March 1940,
Finland and Russia signed the Moscow Peace Treaty and hostilities between the
two nations ended. Finland ceded large parts of its territory amounting to
approximately 30% of its land area to Russia. The Soviet Union thus acquired
territorial gains which the Russians believed were vital to its strategic and military
On the face of it, this surrender of territory could be viewed as a failure of the Finns
to defend their homeland but in reality the Finnish army under Mannerheim had
achieved considerable success. The Russian juggernaut had been prevented from
overcoming the entire country and Russian losses in men and materiel had been
enormous and hardly worth the acquisition of the territory that had been obtained.
Guerilla tactics, innovative primitive weapons like petrol bombs and above all the
incredible resilience of the Finnish soldiers had cost the Russians over 350 000
dead and wounded and had put an end to any further dreams of conquering the
rest of Finland.