Winter War file photo [8449]

The Winter War

30 Nov 1939 - 13 Mar 1940


ww2dbase"The ladies of St Petersburg could not sleep peacefully as long as the Finnish border ran so close"

ww2dbaseJoseph Stalin could have uttered Peter the Great's words in late 1939, but for three minor facts: by then the city was called Leningrad; Stalin would not have recognised a lady had he tripped over her; and he was not keen on letting anyone sleep peacefully. Ignoring these minor points, something akin to these words would have not been far from Stalin's lips since the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The Winter War would be fought for four months between one of the world's strongest military powers at the time and one of the least populated countries - not over land, resources, economics or ideology, but over security.

ww2dbaseAfter weeks of secret negotiations, secret threats, open negotiations and open threats, the Soviets made the demands they had been hinting to all along. The border between Finland and the USSR on the Karelian Isthmus would be moved back a significant distance for the sake of Leningrad's security. The islands of Suursaari, Lavansaari, Tytarsaari and Koivisto be ceded to the Russians in exchange for twice as much Soviet land in East Karelia, for the sake of Baltic security. A 30 year lease of Hanko, with rights to establish a base there for military security. That was Stalin's final offer.

ww2dbaseRetreating from the Karelian Isthmus would lose most of the fortifications of Finland's front line of defence, the Mannerheim Line. The population of Finland's attitude towards the Soviet threats barred the government ceding all the islands to the USSR, even if it was in exchange for double the amount of Soviet land elsewhere. And a lease for a military base at Hanko was a breach of Finland's decision to stay neutral with all the other Scandinavian states. How were the Finns to know if, after making and getting his demands, Stalin did not demand more? Besides, the recent dealings with Stalin showed that he was over-exaggerating his demands, and would later be haggled down. Or so the Finnish ministers thought. Stalin and Molotov could not have been more serious. A misreading of Finnish politics made them think they had a lot to fear, as did a misreading of the Finnish insistence of neutrality and ability to militarily resist any great European power. Previous experience and lack of serious military muscle showed that were Nazi Germany so inclined, it could launch an attack from Finnish territory, as well as gain access to a huge supply of nickel found at Petsamo only recently.

ww2dbaseOnly one loud voice of reason asked for a settlement with Stalin in the Finnish camp, and he was routinely ignored. Of course, when the Soviet tanks rumbled over the border, it would be his blood, sweat and tears that organised the stout Finnish resistance. Field Marshal Carl Gustav Mannerheim did not want to acquiesce to the Soviet demands, but saw the only way the army was prepared was in terms of morale. The Finns had 162 planes of all different vintages compared to 3,000 available modern planes on the Soviet attack. There was not a single anti-tank gun that hadn't arrived in the past few days, and anti-aircraft weaponry was just as scarce. The ammunition situation was dire. Not willing to take responsibility for an Army in such a dire predicament, Mannerheim handed in his resignation on the 27th of November, a day after the Soviets blamed the Finland for firing the first shot, looking for a pretext to invasion. As Soviet forces amassed on the border and Finnish politicians deceived themselves, a chill appeared in the air, heralding the second coldest winter in Finland since 1828. A problem the Red Army was totally unprepared for.

ww2dbaseThe Soviet order of battle on the 30th of November was the 7th Army on the Karelian Isthmus, with the 8th, 9th and 14th Armies spread out above Lake Ladoga with various objectives. This amounted to 250,000 Red Army soldiers with a variety of equipment and training, ranging from well equipped crack units, to scraped together green grunts that had been placed in a uni only days before. A significant amount of armoured units and artillery pieces were to be used in the blitzkrieg style tactics that had worked so well for the Germans in Poland and Zhukov in Khalkin Gol. The Soviets had an overwhelming air superiority, which the Allies later noted was a virtual necessity in their victory in WWII. Against this, the Finns had an army of 160,000 troops organised into units depending on their home region, a complete lack of mobile armour, and a minuscule amount of ancient WWI biplanes.

ww2dbaseAs soon as the first Soviet bombs fell on Helskini, President Kallio officially rejected Mannerheim's resignation he had days earlier agreed unofficially to accept, and Mannerheim was immediately appointed commander in chief. Knowing that Finland could not resist the Red Army for long, Field Marshal Mannerheim was counting on three options with fighting. Knowing the Russians could only successfully attack Finland around Lake Ladoga, as roads further north were brutally inadequate, Mannerheim knew that the Finns could oppose the Soviet forces there and delay them for a few weeks at the least. In this time, hopefully the West would see Finland's plight and come to its aid. Failing that, Stalin might see the stubborn fighting, and rather than be drawn into protracted warfare, settle for a negotiation that would still see a sovereign Finland. If these two options failed, the Finns would fight to the last man, last dollar and last bullet, sure to leave the name Finland in the annals of heroism, even if it did not exist as a country after the war.

ww2dbaseBesides Mannerheim's realistic plan to allow Finland to continue as an independent state, issues of Soviet misunderstanding of the situation in Finland and intelligence would work in Finland's favour. The blitzkrieg style tactics worked well in the plains of Khalkin Gol and Poland, true, but that was a different story on the vast forests of Finland. Poor roads did not support a blitzkrieg, neither did communication centres deep behind the lines providing no objectives to capture for the Soviets. The Soviets did not think to paint their tanks white to camouflage against the snow until weeks into the campaign, and also didn't think to have adequate clothing for such a cold winter. The presence of tons of waste resources such as propaganda leaflets and state- of-the-art anti-tank guns that were useless against Finland's non existent tanks just as they were useless against pretty much anything else. The expected fifth column of communists within Finland never appeared, having emigrated to the USSR in the 30s, with the socialists that remained fighting alongside their brothers. What sounded easy on paper, was not going to be easy in real life.

ww2dbase"Since we civilians don't seem to be making any progress, maybe it's the soldier's turn to speak"

ww2dbaseMolotov's ominous words should have warned the Finnish delegation sent to negotiate with the Soviets of Stalin's malicious intent if he did not get his way. But as bombs fell on Helsinki on the 30th of November and tanks rumbled over the border, President Kallio replaced the government that oversaw the negotiations with one that was prepared to seek negotiations to be reopened to stop the war that could destroy Finland. Ryti became the prime minister and ran all aspects of the war at the home front; Vaino Tanner became the foreign minister and dealt with the diplomatic side of the Winter War for Finland; and Field Marshal Mannerheim rarely left his command post, overseeing all aspects of the war on the battlefield. These three became a powerful ruling triumvirate during the Winter War. Every Finn had his part to play in fighting the Russians, but Finland would rise or fall on the decisions of these three men.

ww2dbaseThe Soviet Navy seized the four islands in the Finnish Gulf they had demanded in their negotiations without opposition. When they tried to take Hanko, the accurate artillery from fortified positions damaged some, and drove away all. As the year dragged on until late December, both Finnish and Soviet navies became useless in the conflict as the Gulf of Finland became a vast sheet of ice. Hanko was to remain in Finnish hands until the war was over.

ww2dbaseThe key to attacking and defending Finland was the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus. This eighty mile line of fortifications is strongest at the ends where the land meets the waters of the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, and fixed coastal fortifications shoot high calibre cannons. Even with the cold winter, the ice on this part of Lake Ladoga was too weak to support heavy equipment, and ice on the Gulf of Finland cannot support it until late February, so outflanking the line is out of the question. The sector of the line containing the road which was the shortest route from Finland to Leningrad, known as the "Viipuri Gateway", contained ground hard in the freeze, ideal for mobile armour. The Red Army spent most of it's forces in the Karelian Isthmus, and found their technology were not the war winning devices they thought they were, and over time the Finns learnt how to counter in their own way. The Finns lent the name "Molotov cocktail" to the bottles of petrol with cloth stoppers that were lit and then thrown, used to counter the Soviet tanks. The tank hunter units using these homemade bombs had a high casualty rate - about 70 per cent - but there were plenty of Finns prepared to fight the Russians this way. Through the Soviet's misuse of their soldiers and armour, the Finns courage, and the use of night-time by the Finnish soldiers to rebuild the gaps in the line, with barbed wire, mines, tank blockades and the like. But Marshal Mannerheim and every Finn knew that over time, all three of these factors would change through change of Russian tactics, Finnish tiredness and lack of reinforcements.

ww2dbaseMakeshift weaponry was not the only development to augment the Finnish soldier's lack of resources and manpower. The army also developed new tactics with time. One of the most popular was the motti tactics. In Finnish, a motti is a pile of wood with stakes holding it in place, which will eventually be cut up for firewood. The motti tactics was to approach and pin a Soviet column that adequate information has been gathered about. Then with a focus on concentration of firepower, the column would be attacked and divided into many isolated parts. The key was not to make the isolated part too large to put up a struggle which it can use to break out of the motti, or defend until Red Army reinforcements arrived. Then the mottis could be dealt with, beginning at the weakest, and cold, hunger and lack of supplies could weaken the stronger ones. This tactic was used to supplement the lack of ammunition, artillery and manpower the Finns had.

ww2dbaseIn the north of Finland's border with the USSR, guerilla tactics were the favoured method of fighting. What few roads there were, the Red Army stuck to them, for deviating into the forest was a sure death, whether to the terrible cold or a Finnish sniper. The invading soldiers were wholly unprepared for winter in the north: being too overloaded, too underdressed, and some Soviet citizens from warmer climates, such as Soviet central Asia, died in the cold of the north. The Finnish ski soldier is still the enduring image of the Winter War, even though the war was decided in the more conventional fighting on the Karelian Isthmus. At Suomussalmi, where Finnish ski guerillas destroyed two divisions of Soviets with little loss to themselves, was forged both the most popular victory of the Winter War outside of Finland as well as the enduring image of the ski soldier winning the Winter War. In reality, these victories did little in deciding the outcome of the war, and would have also been the case had the Soviets pulled off convincing victories. If anything, all they did was create false hopes in Western minds that free men can resist tyranny and win, which did not bode well for Field Marshal Mannerheim's plan to involve the West.

ww2dbaseBy far the most comical aspects of the Winter War was the Soviet propaganda that sought to convince Finland to accept it's "liberators". Stalin assigned Otto Kuusinen as the president of the "People's Republic of Finland", also known as the Terijoki government. Terijoki was the first villiage captured by the Russians, and the government was set up as a justification for war both to those within the USSR, as well as the rest of the world. To the USSR, Kuusinen immediately opened relations and promised all the points demanded by Stalin previously and more. To the Finns, Kuusinen promised an eight hour work day and land reform, but with an eight hour work day on the books for the last 20 years in Finland, and a progressive land program, the Finnish workers were not convinced. All could see, except for Stalin and Kuusinen themselves, that the Terijoki government was a farce. Stalin's justification was that he was not invading Finland, but responding to a foreign government's call for help against a rebel government's usurpation, quite the case of the Orwellian double-speak. If Stalin saw a need to justify to the West, there was a possiblity the West would get involved, or at least punish the USSR diplomatically in the war with Hitler to come..

ww2dbaseIs the assault on the freedom of Finland and the dead women and children in their streets any less of a shock to us than the Nazi barbarities?"

ww2dbaseHerbert Hoover spoke what was on people's mind all around the world, as the news of plucky little Finland's stance stirred people's emotions around the world. Volunteers flocked to Finland, 8,000 from Sweden, and smaller numbers from Denmark, Hungary and fascist Italy of all places. The 350 US volunteers arrived long after they could turn the tide. Governments sent material aid to Finland: outdated planes, ammunition, howitzers, tractors and uniforms; but helping was politically inconvenient. For Germany, helping would only be abrogating the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and Hitler did not want to do that just yet. England and France had Germany to worry about. Even the US government was reluctant to help while still trying to convince itself and others that it was against totalitarianism and for freedom: Congress eventually allowed 10 million in aid to go to Finland, but not to buy arms. Finland got around this easily, they bought surplus food and sold it to Britain, then used the cash from there to buy arms from the US. Because of the distances, logistics and strain on merchant shipping in 1939 and 1940, many of these shipments of aid did not get through until after the war.

ww2dbaseMaterial aid was not the only thing governments did to try to stop the war, however all early alternatives fell short of military assistance. In the League of Nations, a discredited organization that had been seen to have no power since the Japanese invasion of northeastern China (Manchuria) and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the war between little Finland and huge Soviet Union was discussed. The demands of the countries furthest away from the conflict were the most condemning, whereas those closest were more lenient towards the USSR or neutrality. Like Japan and Italy previously, the USSR was eventually expelled from the League of Nation - a solution that did nothing to solving the problem or scaring the USSR into negotiations for peace.

ww2dbaseThe situation that was keeping foreign involvement from aiding Finland was sure to change in the winter of '39-'40. On the 5th of February, the French and British first declared their support for Finland and their desire to send 100,000 troops. The conditions placed upon this support when coupled with a realistic view of the international situation, as well as the possible outcomes, showed less that honourable motives. Both great powers demanded Finland ask for their help, and Sweden also allow passage through their country. Sweden was a neutral country, and violating her neutrality was as bad as the USSR had done to Finland's neutrality. There was also a suspicion that the majority of the troops would never reach Finland, as they would be sent to seize iron ore mines and ports which the German war machine needed to operate. Of those that would reach Finland, ground troops would be as useless in the winter conditions as the Russians. How the allied powers could most help with - modern aeroplanes and trained pilots - both Britain and France refused.

ww2dbaseThe outcome of British and French involvement did not seem likely, even though Finnish politicians could not admit in the face of public scrutiny that they did not desire that kind of help. The Finns asked Sweden for passage rights for the Allied force, Sweden refused by unanimous decision in parliament, but it was a show, Finland's diplomats would be annoyed if Sweden said yes. The British government would still be discussing the matter on the 12th of March, long after a decision could hope to reach Finland. Had this course been pursued, the Second World War would have occurred very differently, with the war being extended to Scandinavia, with France and Britain being against the USSR with Germany possibly helping until the time was right. These countries, of course, knew this. With France as the next large target in Germany's sight, an extension of the war over an Arctic Circle front would take some pressure off France. So over the course of the war, self interest guided the foreign government's attitude to Finland's plight, whereas the public's response was to the heroism and tragedy of these free men fighting against tyranny.

ww2dbase"We have won enough ground to bury our dead..."

ww2dbaseOn the 1st of February, Stalin was tiring of the charade in Finland. He had replaced Voroshilov with Timoshenko in orchestrating the fall of the tiny Baltic republic that had thus far refused to submit, and a large artillery barrage began on the Karelian Isthmus, the largest since the German barrage at Verdun in the Great War. 600,000 Soviet troops amassed near the Mannerheim line, and on the 6th of February, the final Russian offensive began. Finally the Finns fears had come true, the Red Army had learned from it's previous mistakes just when Finland's soldiers were at their most timed, and ammunition the most low. Massed coordinated armour assaulted the line, and by the 14th, Mannerheim was worried enough to personally view the situation himself at the front. He know that if a massed army was thrown at the Mannerheim Line long enough, Finland couldn't resist. Older fortifications of the Mannerheim Line were abandoned first, then the whole line altogether as the Finns retreated to the secondary defensive lines.

ww2dbaseWhen peace negotiations were reopened, Soviet terms were harsher than November 1939. The city of Viipuri would be ceded to the Soviets, as all the land on the Karelian Isthmus and around Lake Ladoga. Over 400,000 Finnish refuges would need to be resettled after the war, some 12% of the population. Finland would lose the port of Petsamo, as well as strategic points in the Gulf of Finland. Economically, Finland would also lose out, it would lose farmland and vital timber industries on the Karelian Isthmus, 100 power stations, and numerous farms. Ashamed, the Finnish politicians had no choice but to sign. It was better than total subjugation. The peace terms were to come into effect at midday on the 13th of March, 1940. They would not be accepted easily by the people of Finland, as in the words of Vaino Tanner: "Peace has been restored, but what kind of peace? Henceforth our country will live as a mutilated nation". In the coming months, Finland's politicians would be walking on tenderhooks to resolve issues peacefully with an increasingly frustrating and frustrated Soviet Union.

ww2dbaseOn the German invasion on the 22nd of June, 1941, Finland sought to recapture it's losses from the Winter War by joining in attacking the Soviet Union, in what was known as the Continuation War. But while Hitler was keen to subjugate the people of the East, Finland captured their lost land, then proceeded to pay lip service to the Germans, not interested in conquest. The Finnish attack still played a part in Operation Barbarossa, it made the siege on Leningrad such a hungry, long and lean affair. In 1944, Finland signed a treaty with the USSR, and drove German soldiers out of the country in the Lappland War. Ironically, it was the Red Army's poor effort in the Winter War that convinced the Wehrmacht and the Nazis that the Soviet Union could not stand up and fight a smaller modern army on equal terms. The USSR gained more of a headache out of the war with Finland than the benefits that it demanded and received.

ww2dbaseThe human cost of the Winter War was almost a million men on the Soviet side, estimated by Khrushchev. For Finland, the cost seems considerably less, 25,000. This is quite harsh for a country of 4 million, and added to it are the refugees that needed to be given a place to stay in a Finland of less land than it began the war with, as well as the lost jobs from the ceded economies. But through all this, Finland would remain independent, and would be a tale of heroism and courage in the face of death for a long time to come.

ww2dbaseFurther reading

ww2dbaseWilliam R. Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40
Eloise Engle & Lauri Paananen, The Winter War: The Soviet Attack on Finland 1939-1940

ww2dbaseSources: Feldgrau, A Frozen Hell, The Battles of the Winter War, The Winter War, Wikipedia.

Last Major Update: Jan 2005

The Winter War Interactive Map


Finnish diplomats Väinö Tanner and J. K. Paasikivi at the rail station in Helsinki, Finland, departing for the Soviet Union in an attempt to avoid war, 9 Oct 1939Finnish Prime Minister A. K. Kajander, Parliament Speaker Väinö Hakkila, and Alli Paasikivi seeing Juho Kusti Paasikivi off to Russia for negotiations, Helsinki, Finland, 9 Oct 1939Finnish troops posing with anti-aircraft machine guns at a railyard in Helsinki, Finland, 13 Oct 1939Finnish diplomats Aarno Yrjö-Koskinen, Juho Kusti Paasikivi, Johan Nykopp, and Aladár Paasonen having just returned from Moscow negotiations, Helsinki, Finland, 16 Oct 1939
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The Winter War Timeline

9 Oct 1939 The Finnish military mobilized.
11 Oct 1939 US President Franklin Roosevelt sent a cable to Soviet President Mikhail Kalinin, asking the Soviet Union to de-escalate the tension with Finland.
11 Oct 1939 Russia demanded from Finland rights to establish airfields on Finnish territory as well as ceding of large amounts of Finnish soil; Finland rejected the demands.
12 Oct 1939 Finland and Russia were deadlock in negotiations.
18 Oct 1939 The heads of state of Finland, Norway, and Sweden met to discuss the tension between Finland and the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Germany sent a message to Sweden noting that Germany would remain neutral should war break out between Finland and the Soviet Union, advising Sweden to do the same.
20 Oct 1939 Soviet Union and Finland both mobilized their military.
8 Nov 1939 Finland refused a Russian demand for territorial exchange.
9 Nov 1939 In Moscow, Russia at 1800 hours, Finnish diplomats Paasikivi and Tanner met with Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov in the final attempt to avoid war. They did not reach an agreeable conclusion.
13 Nov 1939 Finnish diplomats Paasikivi and Tanner departed Moscow, Russia after all negotiation attempts failed.
26 Nov 1939 Soviet troops fired 7 mortar shells into a field near the village of Mainila, Russia at 1430 hours, claiming the Finnish Army was responsible for the attack. At 2100 hours, the Soviets issued the demand to Finnish ambassador Yrjo-Koskinen for the Finnish Army to move back 20 to 25 kilometers from the border.
27 Nov 1939 Finland sent Soviet Union a message noting that the Finnish Army had not fired any shots into Soviet territory. In response to the Soviet request on the previous day for Finnish troops to fall back 20 to 25 kilometers from the border, Finland suggested Soviet troops to do the same.
28 Nov 1939 The Soviet Union tore up the Soviet-Finnish non-aggression pact, noting that Finland had committed an act of aggression for the shelling of Mainila, Russia two days prior. Finland presented a witness, a Finnish border guard, who saw that it was the Soviets who fired the mortar rounds.
29 Nov 1939 Finnish diplomats in Moscow, Russia made the final pleas to avoid war. At midnight, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov ordered the invasion to commence.
30 Nov 1939 21 Soviet divisions crossed the border into Finland at 0800 hours after about one hour of artillery bombardment, starting what was to be known as the Winter War. Soviet aircraft bombed Helsinki.
2 Dec 1939 Red Army units took Petsamo, Finland.
3 Dec 1939 Finnish units withdrew to the Mannerheim Line.
5 Dec 1939 Heavy fighting took place between Soviet Army and Finnish Army in the Karelia region in southern Finland.
6 Dec 1939 Finns held off heavy Soviet attacks on the Mannerheim Line, inflicting heavy casualties.
7 Dec 1939 Soviet 9th Army attacked in central Karelia, Finland.
10 Dec 1939 Soviet 7th Army, while attacking Finnish defense fortifications, received flanking fire from coastal batteries on the island of Saarenp√§√§; in response, Soviet battleship Oktjabrskaja Revolutsija bombarded the island, but failed to hit the batteries due to heavy fog. In the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia, Soviet submarines sank three ships going in and out of Finnish ports; two of them actually flew German flags.
11 Dec 1939 Soviet 163rd Division was held by Finnish defenses north of Lake Piispajarvi in Finland, while Soviet 81st and 759th Regiments were likewise bogged down by Finnish border police forces to the south at Suomussalmi, a road junction village. Lightly-armed troops of the Finnish 27th Regiment, on skis, launched an attack on the Soviet supply line along the Raate Road in an attempt to isolate Soviet troops at Suomussalmi.
12 Dec 1939 Soviets suffered heavy casualties near Tolvaj√§rvi, Finland as Finnish troops wiped out two Soviet divisions.
14 Dec 1939 Finnish fortress at Uto was attacked by two Soviet destroyers; one of the Soviet destroyers was lost. Meanwhile, League of Nations ejected Soviet Union because of aggression against Finland.
15 Dec 1939 Red Army assaulted Taipale, Finland. Meanwhile, the Finnish government decided to bring fallen Finnish soldiers of the Winter War to their home towns for burial.
17 Dec 1939 Soviet Army assaulted Summa, Finland.
18 Dec 1939 Soviet 273rd Infantry regiment retreated in the face of attacks from Finnish 40th Infantry Regiment.
19 Dec 1939 In their attack on Summa, Finland, the Soviet Army lost 20 of 100 tanks.
20 Dec 1939 Soviet Army called off the attack on Summa, Finland.
21 Dec 1939 Soviet 122nd Division was halted at the villages of Pelkosenniemi and Kemij√§rvi in Lapland, Finland.
22 Dec 1939 Finnish Army Group Talvela overran Soviet 75th division in hand to hand combat at √Ągl√§j√§rvi (Russian: Yaglyayarvi) on the Karelian Isthmus.
23 Dec 1939 At 0630 hours, 4 Finnish divisions counterattacked on a 28-mile front on the west side of the Karelian Isthmus, trying to trap resting Soviet forces in a massive encirclement; without support of anti-tank weapons or artillery pieces, it was repulsed by tanks; Finnish General √Ėhqvist called off the attack at 1440 hours after suffering 1,300 casualties. Meanwhile, Captain M√§kinen's 2 machine gun companies in the Finnish 9th Division attacked forward elements of the Soviet 44th Division, tying down the entire column of 15,000 troops and equipment.
24 Dec 1939 Finnish Army Group Talvela pushed Soviet 75th and 139th Divisions back across the Russian border. Meanwhile, Soviet 163rd Division tried unsuccessfully to break out of Suomussalmi, Finland; the Soviet 44th Division failed to move in to provide support for the 163rd Division.
25 Dec 1939 The Red Army resumed attacking the Taipale sector in Finland between 0500 and 0700 hours; spearheaded by the Soviet 4th Rifle Division across the frozen Suvanto River, the offensive initially gained three bridgeheads, but heavy Finnish artillery would push Soviet forces back across the river at two spots. Elsewhere, the trapped Soviet 163rd division attempted another break-out at Suomussalmi but it was repulsed; Soviet 44th Division continued to move toward Suomussalmi, but it was largely pinned down on the Raate Road.
26 Dec 1939 Finnish 9th Division received artillery support and began bombarding the Soviet 163rd Division trapped in Suomussalmi, Finland. Elsewhere in the Taipale sector, Finnish and Soviet troops fought near the village of Kelja at the Suvanto River; Finnish artillery and batteries at Kekinniemi fort stopped Russian advances, but two Finnish attempts at advancing were similarly stopped.
27 Dec 1939 In Finland, Soviet 4th Division rushed several groups of men across the frozen Suvanto River in the darkness to reinforce the bridgehead on the far bank, but the attempts were detected by Finnish forces, which attacked them with artillery and machine guns, killing many; after dawn, Finnish forces successfully eliminated all Soviet bridgeheads on the Finnish side of the Suvanto River, ending the Battle of Kelja by 1800 hours. Elsewhere, in Suomussalmi, Finnish 9th division, supported by the newly-arrived four 1902 76-millimeter cannon and two Bofors 37-millimeter anti-tank guns, began to assault the encircled Soviet 163rd Division.
28 Dec 1939 Joseph Stalin ordered the Soviet troops in Finland to hold position as his generals worked on a new offensive plan against the surprisingly resilient Finnish defenses. The Soviet troops enveloped within Finnish lines was thus abandoned and left to be eliminated by the Finnish forces.
29 Dec 1939 Soviet 163rd Division, trapped in the Finnish village of Suomussalmi for the past 22 days, began evacuating on an ice road over Lake Kiantaj√§rvi; troops of the Finnish 9th Division attacked the rearguard. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russia, Stalin endorsed Chief of Staff Shaposhnikov's plan for a major attack on Finnish forces on the Karelian Isthmus; Semyon Timoshenko volunteered to lead the offensive as the disgraced Kirill Meretskov was demoted to the commander of the Soviet 7th Army.
30 Dec 1939 Remnants of the Soviet 163rd Division was destroyed by the Finnish 9th Division at Suomussalmi as it attempted to retreat over the frozen Lake Kiantaj√§rvi.
31 Dec 1939 Finnish 9th Division secured the village of Suomussalmi after four days of heavy fighting, capturing 625 rifles, 33 light machine guns, 19 medium and heavy machine guns, 2 anti-aircraft machine guns, 12 anti-tank guns, 27 field and anti-aircraft guns, 26 tanks, 2 armored cars, 350 horses, 181 trucks, 11 tractors, 26 field kitchens, 800,000 rounds of 7.62mm rifle ammunition, 9,000 artillery shells, a field hospital, and a bakery. Elsewhere, Finnish scouts found troops of the Soviet 44th Division stationary along a 30-kilometer stretch of the Raate Road, including a large concentration of dug-in tanks and artillery. Finnish Army Colonel Siilasvuo received the intelligence and decided to prepare a strike at this concentration.
1 Jan 1940 1,000 men from the Finnish 9th Division under the command of Captain Eino Lassila skied into their attacking position; when they arrived at 2300, they were looking down a large Russian tank and artillery concentration on the Raate Road.
2 Jan 1940 Battle of the Raate Road: At midnight in the very start of this day, after one hour of preparations, Finnish Army Captain Eino Lassila launched an attack on a 500 meter section of Russian artillery on the Raate Road. At 0700, Russian troops attempted a counterattack with tanks, but the Finnish troops were able to bring two Bofors anti-tank guns to the front to halt the counterattack, destroying 7 of the Russian tanks.
3 Jan 1940 Battle of the Raate Road: Troops of Finnish 9th Division continued to attack the Russian concentration along the Raate Road, they failed to cut the column but they did manage to pin down the Russians. Finnish troops focused on attacking field kitchens and bonfires to keep the Russians in the cold. Meanwhile, Finnish Colonel Siilasvuo dispatched another two regiment-sized task forces, traveling toward Raate Road on skis, to aid the assault.
5 Jan 1940 Finnish troops continued to pin Soviet troops along the Raate Road. Many Russians suffered frostbite, gangrene, and other effects from the severely cold weather; however, they fought back valiantly, causing heavy casualties on the Finnish side as well.
6 Jan 1940 At 0300 hours, Finnish troops cut the Soviet column on Raate Road in Finland at several locations. Soviet troops began to become demoralized and many fled into the nearby forest. Soviet tanks began to counterattack to but little effect. Soviet 44th Division's commanding officer Vinogradov ordered a general retreat. Also on this day, Finnish Air Force Lieutenant Jorma Sarvanto shot down 6 of 7 Soviet bombers he attacked in only 5 minutes. In neighboring Sweden and Norway, the governments there reasserted their neutrality, both rejecting British requests to operate in their waters.
7 Jan 1940 Battle of Raate Road ended with the Finnish 9th Division routing the Soviet 44th Division over the past few days. On the same day, General Semyon Timoshenko took command of Soviet Army forces in Finland.
8 Jan 1940 In Finland, Finnish 9th Division took possession of Raate Road at dawn after taking 1,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 43 tanks, 70 field guns, 278 vehicles, 300 machine guns, 6,000 rifles, and 1,170 horses. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in the Battle of Raate Road, while 700 would be successful in escaping back into Soviet lines, but many of them would be shot by NKVD agents for treason for retreating. The Finnish forces suffered 2,700 casualties in the battle.
10 Jan 1940 Unofficial peace talks began between the Soviet Union and Finland, but the fighting continued.
11 Jan 1940 Finnish IV Corps pinned Soviet 168th Division north of Lake Lagoda in Finland.
17 Jan 1940 Finland registered temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celsius (-49 Degrees Fahrenheit). The cold weather posed problems for both Finnish and Soviet troops fighting in Finland.
18 Jan 1940 Having already destroyed Soviet 163rd and 44th Divisions, Finnish Army Colonel Siilasvuo was ordered to take the Finnish 9th Division 30 miles south to Kuhmo to attack the Soviet 54th Division under the command of Chuikov.
21 Jan 1940 Soviet 8th Army launched unsuccessful attack on Finnish Group Talvela on the River Aittojoki near Ladoga, Karelia.
23 Jan 1940 Finnish 9th Division arrived at the village of Kuhmo to prepare for a planned attack on the Soviet 54th Division.
24 Jan 1940 Finnish Army Force Talvela and Soviet 8th Army exchanged attacks at Kolla in Finland, along the Aitto River.
27 Jan 1940 Finnish Army General H√§gglund ordered the Finnish IV Corps to attack the Pieni-Kelivaara and Lemetti West encirclements to test various tactics.
28 Jan 1940 Soviet artillery continued to bombard Poppius, Million, and other forts along the Finnish defensive Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus. Meanwhile, Finnish troops eliminate Soviet forces trapped in the Pieni-Kelivaara pocket on the north shore of Lake Lagoda, capturing 2 field guns, 2 anti-tank guns, 9 mortars, 9 machine guns, and 100 rifles.
29 Jan 1940 Finnish Army 9th Division attacked the Soviet 54th Division starting at 0500 hours near the road junction at Kuhmo, Finland. Meanwhile, Soviets began negotiating with Finland by sending a note stating "Soviet Union has no objection in principle to a possible agreement with the Ryti government" to Sweden.
31 Jan 1940 Soviet forces gathered in the Summa sector in the Karelian Isthmus now grew to the size of 12 divisions and 400 heavy artillery pieces.
1 Feb 1940 Soviet artillery pieces fired 300,000 shells in the Summa sector of the Karelian Isthmus on this date at the start of a new Soviet offensive against the Finnish forces.
2 Feb 1940 Soviet troops continued to assert pressure on Finnish defensive positions on the Karelian Isthmus. Meanwhile, Finnish 9th Division continued their attempt to encircle troops of the Soviet 54th Division near Kuhmo. At the Viipuri Bay, Soviet troops attempted to launch an offensive, but was disrupted by Finnish aircraft.
5 Feb 1940 After meeting in Paris, France, the Allied Supreme War Council agreed to send two divisions of British troops to Finland via Narvik, Norway, despite Norway's proclamation of neutrality. They also decided that, while the troops marched into Finland, they would take control of Swedish iron ore mines and the port of Lule√•, despite Sweden had likely proclaimed neutral in the war.
6 Feb 1940 Finnish 9th Division completed its encirclement of the Soviet 54th Division at Kuhmo. To the south, Soviet troops continued to shell Finnish defensive positions on the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus, but actual advances were limited.
7 Feb 1940 Soviet troops attacked the Summa gap in Finland for the 7th consecutive day.
8 Feb 1940 The Soviet Union asked Finland to choose an island in the Gulf of Finland for a Soviet military base as part of the terms of peace negotiations. Artillery and aerial bombardment on the Mannerheim Line continued, however, together with periodic assaults in the Summa sector. At the Lake Ladoga area in Finland, the various pockets of Soviet troops surrounded by Finnish troops were wiped out one by one; Soviet General Timoshenko did not have any plans to reinforce or rescue these pockets.
9 Feb 1940 The Finnish defensive Mannerheim Line in the Summa sector began to fall apart, with Soviet troops taking control of a bunker near the village of Karhula. Finnish troops brought up reserves to counterattack, but failed to retake the bunker.
10 Feb 1940 Soviet troops penetrated the Finnish defensive Mannerheim Line, crossing the Munasuo swamp into the Merkki sector.
11 Feb 1940 Finnish troops were forced to withdraw to secondary defensive positions as the Red Army pierced the Mannerheim Line.
12 Feb 1940 At 0500 hours, Soviet tanks dragged sleds with explosives on board up to the Million Fort on the Mannerheim Line in Finland. When the sleds were detonated, all defenders inside the fort were killed, but the Soviet 7th Army did not pass through this breach on the Mannerheim Line. Later on this day, near the eastern end of the Mannerheim Line, Soviet troops captured the Kirvesm√§ki stronghold in Taipale (now Solovyovo, Russia). By the end of the day, the Finnish government agreed that it has little hope other than to seek peace.
13 Feb 1940 Finnish troops tried to seal the hole on the Mannerheim Line in the L√§hde sector, but Soviet tanks stopped the attack. Elsewhere, Finnish troops retook the Kirvesm√§ki fort on the Taipale River on the Mannerheim Line. In Stockholm, Finnish Foreign Minister Tanner asked Sweden to send troops to Finland; Sweden declined in fear of invasion by both the United Kingdom and Germany as a response.
14 Feb 1940 Finnish troop began withdrawing from the L√§hde sector of the Mannerheim Line. Meanwhile, after heavy bombardment, Soviet troops retook the Kirvesm√§ki fort on the Taipale River on the Mannerheim Line.
15 Feb 1940 North of Lake Ladoga in Finland, Finnish troops destroyed the pocket of surrounded Soviet troops near the village of Lavaj√§rvi, capturing 2 tanks, 5 field guns, 2 anti-tank guns, 8 trucks, 3 machine guns, 4 field kitchens, and rifles. Finnish Commander-in-Chief C. G. E. Mannerheim ordered the II Army Corps to abandon the Mannerheim Line at 2000 hours.
16 Feb 1940 Finnish troops abandoned the Mannerheim Line overnight, falling back to the V-line by 1545 hours. On the same day, troops of the Finnish 9th Division wiped out the surrounded Soviet "Dolin" ski brigade.
18 Feb 1940 Finnish troops destroyed a pocket of Soviet troops north of Lake Ladoga, capturing 32 field guns, 30 anti-tank guns, 1 mortar, 20 tanks, 15 machine guns, 25 trucks, and 32 field kitchen; the Soviets suffered 1,000 deaths and 250 men taken prisoner; Finnish losses were only 166 deaths. At the defensive V-line, however, the Finnish units were overwhelmed and began to be overrun at two locations.
19 Feb 1940 The Soviet 18th Division attacked across the frozen Lake Suvanto in the Taipale Sector near Lake Lagoda in eastern Karelian Isthmus. Finnish defenders, with concentrated artillery fire, halted the attack after inflicting nearly 1,000 fatalities.
20 Feb 1940 Soviet troops began penetrating the Finnish V-line as deep as 1 kilometer in some places.
21 Feb 1940 The Finnish V-line on the Karelian Isthmus continued to be overwhelmed; Soviet penetrations in the line now began to move toward Viipuri, Finland.
22 Feb 1940 Soviet 43rd Division attacked across frozen waters of the Gulf of Finland, capturing the islands of Lasisaari and Koivisto. Before Koivisto was given up, Finnish troops sabotaged all the gun barrels in the coastal batteries.
23 Feb 1940 In return for withdrawing from Petsamo, USSR demanded ceding of Karelian Isthmus and shores of Lake Ladoga, along with a 30-year lease on the Hang√∂ Peninsula and a mutual assistance treaty.
26 Feb 1940 Soviet troops continued to attack toward Viipuri, Finland. The Finnish 23rd Division counterattacked with 8 Mark E light tanks in the Battle of Honkaniemi, destroying 3 Soviet tanks but all 8 light tanks were lost during the engagement.
27 Feb 1940 Soviet troops launched a pincer movement intended at surrounding Viipuri, Finland; at 1900 hours, Finnish Army Lieutenant General Erik Heinrichs ordered his troops to fall back from the defensive positions on the V-line and withdraw into Viipuri. Meanwhile, the government of Finland requested assistance from Norway and Sweden for the war against Russia, but Norway and Sweden continued to express that they were neutral in the conflict and could not assist Finland. On the same day, 300 Finnish children were evacuated to Stockholm, Sweden.
28 Feb 1940 At 0045 hours, Soviet High Command permitted the surrounded 34th Tank Brigade to retreat from the East Lemetti pocket in Finland. Finnish troops eased pressure and allowed 2,750 wounded Russian soldiers to escape on foot. About 1,000 out of the 1,250 who escaped to the south returned safely, but all 1,500 who escaped to the east were later caught by Finnish ski troops and killed. Finnish attacks on the East Lemetti pocket continued later in the day. On the Karelian Isthmus, however, Soviet troops were able to penetrate the second defensive line. Finally, troops of the Swedish Volunteer Corps took over front line duties against Soviet troops at Salla, Lapland in northern Finland.
29 Feb 1940 Negotiations to end the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union began, but fighting continued. Soviet troops crossed the frozen Gulf of Finland and landed 15 miles west of Viipuri in an attempt to surround the city, but they were defeated by Finnish troops, capturing only Teikari Island. Elsewhere, Finnish troops wiped out the surrounded Soviet troops in the East Lemetti pocket at 0400 hours, capturing 5 field guns, 1 anti-tank gun, 71 tanks, 12 armored cars, 6 anti-aircraft machine guns, 206 trucks, and 70 machine guns.
2 Mar 1940 Soviet troops attempted to establish a beachhead west of the Finnish city of Viipuri across the frozen Viipuri Bay, while pressure was asserted on the city from its south and east. An attempt was orchestrated on 29 Feb 1940 without success; likewise, this newly dispatched unit failed to establish a beachhead, however, the Soviet troops were able to capture the coastal battery on the island of Tuppuransaari, which had caused high casualties on both attempts.
3 Mar 1940 Two days after the offered peace ultimatum expired, Soviet forces launched a major offensive against the Finns. A beachhead on the frozen Viipuri Bay west of the Viipuri city was reinforced, while the island of Uuras was captured. Finnish General Wallenius was dishonorably discharged for getting drunk during this key moment in the defense; Lieutenant General Lennart Oesch was appointed to succeed him.
4 Mar 1940 Soviet and Finnish troops continued to fight near Viipuri, Finland, particularly near the Vuoksi River near √Ąyr√§p√§√§ church.
5 Mar 1940 Despite heavy casualties delivered by the Finnish Air Force, Soviet forces captured more islands in Viipuri Bay in Finland and asserted more pressure on the city of Viipuri. The Soviet Union renewed its peace offer, and this time it was seriously considered by Finland.
6 Mar 1940 Fighting between Finnish and Soviet forces continued south, east, and west of Viipuri, Finland.
6 Mar 1940 Finnish diplomats arrived in Moscow, Russia.
7 Mar 1940 Soviet troops began to break through the final defense line at Viipuri, Finland. Meanwhile, Finnish Prime Minister Ryti and his diplomatic party arrived in Moscow, Russia in an attempt to negotiate peace. In the United Kingdom, British Chief of the Imperial General Staff Edmund Ironside offered military assistance to Carl Mannerheim of Finland.
8 Mar 1940 As Soviet troops entered the suburbs of Viipuri, Finnish diplomats in Moscow sought an immediate ceasefire while negotiations were still proceeding, but were refused as Soviet troops were on the verge of taking Viipuri.
9 Mar 1940 Soviet troops captured the village of Tali on the outskirts of Viipuri and for the most part were in control of the Bay of Viipuri. Finnish leader Mannerheim suggested that surrender might be Finland's only option at this stage.
11 Mar 1940 5 Soviet tanks reached Tammisuo Station in northeast Viipuri, Finland while Finnish delegates in Moscow negotiated peace terms. At 1800 hours, the two sides came to an agreement that would be signed into a peace treaty on the following day.
12 Mar 1940 At 0900 hours, Finnish President Ky√∂sti Kallio authorized his delegates in Moscow full powers to negotiate peace terms. Soviet representatives had drafted a document dated today, ready for the Finnish delegation to sign. The document called for Finland to give up 35,000 square kilometers of territory to Russia, which constituted about 10% of the country, including Salla, the Karelian Isthmus, and Ladoga Karelia, housing about 12% of the entire Finnish population. The Hanko Peninsula was also forced to be leased to the Soviets for 30 years for use as a military base.
13 Mar 1940 At 0200 hours in Moscow (0100 hours Finland time) Finnish and Soviet representatives signed the Moscow Peace Treaty prepared on the previous day. Finnish President Ky√∂sti Kallio noted that the treaty was "the most awful document I have ever had to sign." Ceasefire would take place at 1100 hours; both sides continued to bombard the other with ferocity until the ceasefire time came.
14 Mar 1940 The Finnish Parliament met and debated over the ratification of Moscow Peace Treaty.
15 Mar 1940 The Finnish parliament ratified the Moscow Peace Treaty, 145 votes for and 3 votes against.
30 Mar 1940 Finland ceded territory to Russia.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
21 Apr 2007 09:51:29 PM

I like those Finnish ski soldiers. Speeding down the hill, shoot the Soviets with machine guns, then ride the ski lift back to the top and do it again!
2. Anonymous says:
17 Sep 2009 12:06:08 PM

That is not how it happened.
3. Anonymous says:
15 Nov 2010 04:09:39 PM

Suomi rokkaa!! Venäjä sucks!!
4. Anonymous says:
20 Dec 2010 09:16:54 AM

Proud to be Finn!!
5. Anonymous says:
25 Mar 2013 06:04:51 PM

who wrote this? i need it as a source for a thesis paper and i cannot find the author anywhere? -Leppala
6. Anonymous says:
11 Feb 2014 07:20:50 AM

This "story" is full of lies ... already at the first line!! Russians (Stalin) started the Winter War!!
7. Anonymous says:
8 Nov 2014 07:05:23 AM

This is only story,,most of this is not right.
8. Morgan Bell says:
12 Nov 2014 12:33:47 AM

I wrote this paper what feels like a lifetime ago, but the first few lines were not intended to pin the Winter War solely on the Soviet Union (especially not just the whim of Stalin), but to show how the Soviet leaders felt that Leningrad was threatened by the closeness of the Finnish border. Perceptions of geopolitical realities at the time precipitated a conflict which caused casualties on both sides &influenced German leader's perception of Russia's ability militarily at a critical time in the wider war. So Finns can be proud of their country's stand that it made to a much larger country's pressure that it placed on Finland during the Second World War, and the Russians can equally point to what Stalin felt as justification to pursue a war against Finland, confident that the vast size & military might of the USSR would cause tiny Finland to quickly cede geopolitical aims in the USSR's favour.

Good luck with your thesis Leppala, but I'd prefer if you don't use this article as a source. I wrote an honest evaluation of secondary sources & I suggest you track some of those secondary sources down.
9. Ulfsson says:
19 Dec 2014 11:19:22 AM

10. Elmsie says:
15 Apr 2017 02:18:50 PM

11. Anonymous says:
7 Apr 2018 01:47:09 PM

You have overlooked the primary sources on this topic which are Germany's instructions to Finland, also the lower three Baltic countries. The Yale U. "Avalon project" have published the reports of the German ambassador to the Baltics (all 4) to the German Foreign Ministry about the Baltics' consultations with him. He told them to maintain good relations with the S.U. and stall for time. Google "Avalon Nazis" to reach the index for this period.
12. Anonymous says:
1 Jan 2019 03:46:33 PM

-45 C is -49F not -45F
13. Gwen Starr says:
30 Nov 2022 11:14:27 AM

The winter war was a big mistake that Stalin made he lost alot of men and equipment most estimates are quarter million casualties compared to the finns around 20,000 casualties Ive watched the documantry Fire and Ice many times and always root for the Finns.LETS GO FINLAND

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» Aho, Martti
» Airo, Aksel
» Babadzhanian, Hamazasp
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» Mannerheim, Carl G. E.
» Novikov, Alexander
» Lennart Oesch
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The Winter War Photo Gallery
Finnish diplomats Väinö Tanner and J. K. Paasikivi at the rail station in Helsinki, Finland, departing for the Soviet Union in an attempt to avoid war, 9 Oct 1939
See all 95 photographs of The Winter War

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