4. The Winter War

Posted: February 8, 2011 in World War 2
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

While the Phony War dragged on in the West, world attention turned to an escalating conflict in the East. Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in late September 1939, Stalin’s government began pressuring Finland to make territorial concessions on the Karelian Isthmus. At the time, the Soviet-Finnish border crossed this strip of land between the Gulf of Finland & Lake Ladoga just twenty miles north of Leningrad – well within the range of Finnish artillery – & Stalin was concerned that, should Finland fall under German control, Leningrad’s safety would be compromised.

The Soviet dictator further requested that Finland grant him a thirty-year lease on the port at Hangö, about a hundred miles west of Helsinki, so that the Soviets could establish a naval base there. In exchange, he offered twice as much Soviet territory north of Lake Ladoga.

The Finns agreed to everything except the Hangö lease, which they claimed would violate their neutrality & compromise their independence. The Soviets next began a propaganda offensive, & when that also failed to win them Hangö, they invaded. Stalin initially threw thirty infantry divisions & six tank brigades against the nine Finnish divisions defending Karelia. Later, he sent even more troops north of Lake Ladoga to attack Finland from the east. This latter move showed especially poor judgment.

In general, the Soviets had made the same mistake that Franz Halder was contemplating killing Hitler to prevent: They had invaded Finland in winter, when conditions were simply not suitable for offensive operations. Their mechanized units quickly bogged down in thickly forested, snow-clogged terrain, & thousands of frozen Soviet corpses soon lined the few rough tracks along which tanks could pass. Finally, in January 1940, the Red Army pulled back from its lines north of Lake Ladoga & concentrated its vastly superior firepower on the Karelian front. Outnumbering the Finns there fifty to one, the Soviet troops eventually broke the Finnish lines & threatened Helsinki. On March 12th, the Finnish government asked for an armistice. The fighting ended two days later.

Thus the Red Army won the Winter War but hardly in a satisfactory manner. In Berlin, Hitler took careful notice of the numerous blunders the Soviets made & the great difficulty they had subjugating what was, by anyone’s measure, a considerably inferior Finnish military. How could the Red Army, the Führer must have wondered, possibly stand up to the Wehrmacht?

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Comments
  1. “Their mechanized units quickly bogged down in thickly forested, snow-clogged terrain, & thousands of frozen Soviet corpses soon lined the few rough tracks along which tanks could pass.” <– *like* (the line, not the event)

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