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Winter War

Winter War

What do you enjoy most about Winter? Perhaps it is sitting in front of a cozy fire with a book as the snow is falling outside or heading outdoors for skiing or ice skating. Winter offers lots of possibilities for recreation, but it also creates hardships for those attempting to carry out day to day tasks and responsibilities.

 

Most of us know winter weather killed as many or more soldiers in the American Revolutionary War and Civil War as died in battle. Fewer have ever heard of “The Winter War” that took place in 1939-40. In the Fall of 1939 the Soviets demanded that the Finns move back their border 25 kilometers from Leningrad and grant them a 30-year lease on Hanko Peninsula to allow the Soviets to build a naval base there. In return the Soviets offered Finland a worthless piece of land in the Karelian wilderness. When the Finns refused, the Russians massed one million troops on the border. On November 26, the Russians staged a fake shelling of the Russian town of Manila, blaming the Finns and demanding an apology. The ploy was unsuccessful. Four days later, 450,000 Soviet troops crossed the border met by 180,000 Finnish troops. Marshal Carl Gustav Mannerheim marched his troops in formation to a fixed line across the Karelian Isthmus. The Soviets under Marshal Kiril Meretskov did not anticipate much resistance and lack necessary winter supplies. Russian soldiers wearing dark uniforms that stood out against the snow proved to be easy targets. Finnish sniper Corporal Simo Hayha killed more than 500 Soviets using white camouflage and skis. This strategy of “motti” tactics employed fast moving light infantry to encircle and destroy isolated units. Working in four-man teams, the Finns jammed the tracks of Soviet tanks with logs and then used Molotov cocktails to detonate fuel supplies, resulting in the destruction of more than 2000 tanks.

As the New Year dawned in January 1940, Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo broke up the Russian enemy lines, killing 17,500 Soviets while losing only 250 Finns. Enraged at the defeat, Stalin relieved Meretskov with Timonshenko and beefed up troop units along the Mannerheim line at the beginning of February. The Allied Forces offered Finland 135,000 men if they could cross through Norway and Sweden, but Hitler threatened to invade if they crossed into Sweden. By March 6, Finland was forced to sue for peace. Six days later, the Peace of Moscow Treaty forced Finland to cede the Karelia, a part of Salla, four islands in the Baltic, the Kalastajansaarento Peninsula, and a lease on the Hanko Peninsula. Twelve per cent of Finns lived in these areas. They had to choose whether to become Soviet citizens or relocate.

But “Winter War” proved costly for the Soviets. They had lost 126,875 soldiers with twice that number captured. The Finns lost 26,662 soldiers with approximately 40,000 wounded. In the long run, the poor performance of the Soviet troops in the “Winter War” led Hitler to assume Stalin could easily be defeated, a costly strategical error. The Finns, on the other hand, proved a worthy opponent. Later in June,1941, the Finns resumed fighting independently alongside the Allied Forces.

No one expected the tiny country of Finland to stand up to the Soviet army, the largest military force in the world at that time. Mother Nature played a decisive role when the winter of 1939 turned out to be one of the coldest winters in the history books.

Barbara Ann Mojica, Author of the The Little Miss HISTORY BOOK SERIES

http://www.LittleMissHISTORY.com

Pictures used under public domain.

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