Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Winter War

Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:

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Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.

Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.

The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.

Sources

Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.

Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.

Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.

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Finnish Defense Forces on horses in Winter – Continuation War; ca. 1942

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The contorted, frozen corpse of a Soviet soldier, one of numerous casualties caused by the fierce Finnish winter of 1939-1940

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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.)


A Swedish volunteer in the Winter War. Northern Finland, February 20, 1940.

Trigger finger mittens may be the single greatest invention ever. Sans the Mosin Nagant.

Trigger finger mittens may be the single greatest invention ever. Sans the Swedish Mauser.

I think people normally say that this is a photo of Simo Häyhä (since you can’t even flipping mention the Winter War on the Internet without people thinking of him.) But I compared the rifle, Häyhä used Finnish M/28 Mosin Nagant variant and the one in the photo is a M96 Swedish mauser in 6.5X55 (which is a truly amazingly accurate rifles and some of the best Mausers ever built.)

  • It should also be noted that while he undoubtably was an excellent shot, the circumstances of the Winter War gave him more opportunities to more or less have a duck-shoot of enemy soldiers than most snipers would ever have. The infamous Soviet human wave tactics were apparently used to a bizarre amount during this war because of the incompetence and desperation of the Soviet command.
    • Background: The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940. It began with Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the League on 14 December 1939.

Simo Häyhä:

Simo Häyhä (December 17, 1905 – April 1, 2002)

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Nicknamed ‘The White Death’

705 confirmed kills (505 with rifle, 200 with submachine gun)

Was a Finnish soldier who, using an iron sighted bolt action rifle, amassed the highest recorded confirmed kills as a sniper in any war…ever!!

Häyhä was born in the municipality of Rautjärvi near the present-day border of Finland and Russia, and started his military service in 1925. His duties as a sniper began during the ‘winter war’ (1939-1940) between Russia and Finland. During the conflict Häyhä endured freezing temperatures up to -40 degrees Celsius. In less than 100 days he was credited with 505 confirmed kills, 542 if including unconfirmed kills, however the unofficial frontline figures from the battlefield places the number of sniper kills at over 800. Besides his sniper kills he was also credited with 200 from a Suomi KP/31 Submachine gun, topping off his total confirmed kills at 705.

How Häyhä did all this was amazing. He was basically on his own all day, in the snow, shooting Russians, for 3 months straight. Of course when the Russians caught wind that a shit load of soldiers were being killed, they thought ‘well this is war, there’s bound to be casualties’. But when the generals were told that it was one man with a rifle they decided to take a bit of action. first they sent in a counter-sniper. When his body was returned they decided to send in a team of counter-snipers. When they didn’t come back at all they sent in a whole goddamn battalion. They took casualties and couldn’t find him. Eventually they ordered an artillery strike, but to no avail. You see Häyhä was clever, and this was his neck of the woods. He dressed completely in white camouflage. He used a smaller rifle to suit his smaller frame (being 5ft3) increasing his accuracy. he used an iron sight to present the smallest possible target (a scoped sight would require the sniper to raise his head for sighting). He compacted the snow in front of the barrel, so as not to disturb it when he shot thus revealing his position. He also kept snow in his mouth so his breath did not condense and reveal where his was. Eventually however his was shot in the jaw by a stray bullet during combat on March 6 1940. He was picked up by his own soldiers who said half his head was missing. He didn’t die however and regained consciousness on the 13th, the day peace was declared.

Once again total kills…. 505 sniper + 200 submachine = 705 total Confirmed Kills…all in less that 100 days.