Soviet Red Army officers standing beside a pile of human ashes in the Majdanek concentration camp, 1944
The contorted, frozen corpse of a Soviet soldier, one of numerous casualties caused by the fierce Finnish winter of 1939-1940
Their demands to Finland for a trade in territory unmet, the Soviet Union launched the Winter War invaded Finland on November 30th, 1939. A few days earlier, to create a casus belli, the Red Army had shelled the Russian village of Mainila and blamed it on the Finns. The Soviets, however, were terribly unprepared, and poorly led. Not expecting the tenacity that the Finns put up in defense, the invasion quickly stalled against the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus.
The fierce winter that came on the tail of the attack did no wonders for the Soviets either, who had poorer winter gear than their opponents, and some lacked any at all. With temperatures plunging at times to below -40 degrees, more than a few simply froze to death.
It wasn’t until February that the Soviets, with new leadership and better preparation, were able to renew the offensive and punch through the Mannerheim Line. Their main defenses breached, and the hoped for foreign intervention not forthcoming – or at least, not coming in enough time, as the British were making overtures – the Finns had no choice but to enter peace negotiations, the war officially coming to an end on March 13th, 1940.
The Finns were forced to turn over significant territory on their eastern border, and just over a year later, would resume hostilities in the so called Continuation War, joining Germany as a ‘co-belligerent’ at the onset of Operation Barbarossa.
(Part of the collection of the Library of Congress.)