The Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940

Department of Military Art and Engineering
United States Military Academy
West Point, New York


This short account of the Soviet-Finnish War and the German invasion of Norway has been written for use in the instruction of cadets at the United States Military Academy. It is based for the most part on articles which appeared in the Command and General Staff School Military Review and on material prepared by the Military Intelligence Service, War Department, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, Navy Department. However, while acknowledging the great indebtedness to the above-named, it is not desired to place on them the responsibility for any factual errors, or for any conclusions drawn.

July 1941


The Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940

Historical Background

Prior to 1808, Finland was a part of Sweden. When Napoleon wanted to punish the Swedes for refusing to aid him in his Continental blockade against Britain, he persuaded Alexander I of Russia to declare war on his Scandinavian neighbor. The prize of victory was Finland, which remained a part of Tsarist Russia from 1808 to 1918. In the latter year, General Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, with the help of German troops, succeeded in defeating the Russian Reds. Finland was temporarily under German influence, and the Kaiser's brother-in-law was elected king. When Germany was defeated, General Mannerheim traveled to London and Paris and succeeded in gaining recognition for the Republic of Finland.

The Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40 was brought about by Russia's enigmatic foreign policy of 1939. On the 24th of August of that year, Russia signed a nonaggression pact with Germany. On 17 September, Russian troops marched into Poland to claim a share of that country after it had been defeated by Germany. Shortly thereafter, Russia began to put pressure on her "lost provinces" in an effort to regain the territory which she had lost in 1918. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Bessarabia were included in the diplomatic offensive. By a system of mutual-assistance pacts, trade agreements, and military occupations, Russia soon regained virtual control of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Finland, however, refused to submit when presented with the Russian demands on 5 October 1939. On 13 November, the Soviet-Finnish diplomatic negotiations came to an end, and the Finnish delegates to Moscow returned to Helsinki. On 30 November, Russia attacked Finland.

Terrain and Communications (Map 1)

Finland offers poor maneuver ground for mechanized warfare. Roughly 15 per cent of the country is covered by lakes and swamps, there being some 60,000 lakes in Finland. A further obstacle to


mechanized warfare is the fact that 60 per cent of the dry land is covered with dense forests. In normal times, more than half of the population of 3,700,000 is employed in the timber industry and its by-product plants.

A line drawn from the head of the Gulf of Bothnia to the eastern edge of Lake Ladoga divides the country into two distinct parts. The part to the south is the more important. Most of Finland's industry and 95 per cent of her population are concentrated in this area. The terrain here is quite flat and dotted with lakes. Northern Finland is relatively uninhabited and, although containing numerous lakes, is more mountains than the southern part. The eastern boundary roughly follows the divide which separates the watersheds leading to the Baltic and White Seas. This boundary is approximately the same as was specified in the Treaty of Stolbova, signed by Sweden and Russia in 1617.

Southern Finland has an excellent net of railroads. There are two rail lines from Finland to Russia, both running to Leningrad along the Karelian Isthmus. One railroad of particular importance is the line to Sweden through Kemi. This was Finland's only land connection with the outside world after she became involved in war with Russia. Severance of this line would have added to Finland's difficulties, but would not have been decisive as long as the Gulf of Bothnia sea lanes were open.

The traditional route of invasion, and the one previously used by the Russians, is along the Karelian Isthmus. This is the natural approach to Finland from Russia. The Russo-Finnish boundary from the Arctic Ocean to Lake Ladoga is a great forest area crossed by only a few roads. A Russian attempt to invade Finland by this route would have been dependent on a very tenuous line of communications. Not only were the east-west motor roads poor and few in number, but the Finnish border was anywhere from 50 to 150 miles from the Leningrad-Murmansk railroad. This railroad is single-track from Leningrad to Kandalaksha and double-track from Kandalaksha to Murmansk. The total length is 845 miles.

The only gateway through which the Allies could send troops to Finland without violating the neutrality of Norway and Sweden was Petsamo on the Arctic Ocean. Petsamo is ice-free the year-round and is connected to southern Finland by the so-called Arctic Highway. This highway is a single-lane bituminous road that is kept open throughout the winter. In the campaign against Finland the Russians naturally wanted to gain possession of Petsamo, but as a route of invasion the Arctic Highway offered numerous difficulties.


Another possible means of invasion for the Russians was to land on the coastline of the Gulf of Bothnia or the Gulf of Finland. However, the coast was strongly fortified and guarded by land troops as well as elements of the small Finnish Navy. The irregularity of the coastline and its many nearby islands facilitated its defense.

Strategical Considerations

The strategical issues of the Soviet-Finnish War can best be considered by examining the Russian demands that led to the struggle. In brief, Russia sought added protection for Leningrad both by land and sea. She demanded all of the Karelian Isthmus up to Viipuri, but not including that city. This would give her possession of the natural line of defense formed by the lake and river system at the northern extremity of the isthmus. The territorial gain would not only add to the security of Leningrad, but would also make a future invasion of Finland relatively easy. To protect Leningrad from the sea, Russia sought further control of the Gulf of Finland by demanding a lease on the Hango peninsula and four Finnish islands between Helsinki and Kronstadt. Kronstadt is Russia's naval base at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. Having already acquired bases in Estonia, the demands on Finland, if satisfied, would make the Gulf of Finland a Russian lake.

The Soviet demands in Finland also included all of the Rybachi Peninsula. Most of this peninsula was already held by Russia, so that this demand was not of particular significance. It would give greater control over Finland's Arctic outlet at Petsamo, but Russian control of this port was already practically complete. By a 1919 treaty with Finland, Russia had secured a promise that the former would not establish any naval units in the Arctic Ocean.

Russian Plans and Preparations (Map 2)

The principal value to the military man of a study of the Soviet-Finnish War is that it illustrates the failure of an attempted "blitzkreig" attack. The Russians tried to apply the same strategy used by the Germans in Poland and failed so miserably that they were in the end forced to resort to the old strategy of pure mass. In this respect the Soviet-Finnish War is a connecting link between the strategy of the two world wars.

The Russian plan involved a movement by land along every line of approach to southern Finland. By sea, they planned a naval


blockade of Finland and a sea-borne invasion. By air, it was planned to cut Finland's interior communications and to terrorize the population into submission. By "fifth-column" tactics the Russians planned a Communist uprising which would throw the country into civil strife and assist in its occupation. All the elements of modern war were present in the Russian plan. Failure came through improper preparation, lack of speed and surprise, and a faulty analysis of terrain and communications.

The initial objective of the Russian land forces was the Kemi-Sortavala-Leningrad railroad. Possession of this railroad would accomplish two missions. in the first place, it would cut Finland's "wait", severing her only land connection with the outside world. In the second place, it would furnish a good base of operations for a penetration into southern Finland, in case further operations proved necessary. Transportation of supplies from Leningrad to the northern armies could be shifted form the Murmansk railroad to the Kemi railroad, thus saving many miles of railroad and overland transportation. The Russian initial objective also included the capture of Viipuri and the annihilation of Finnish forces between that city and Sortavala. The capture of Viipuri, however, seems to have been secondary to the capture of the leningrad-Kemi railroad. After reaching their first objective, the Russians apparently intended to launch a final drive toward the general line Helsinki-Oulu. The elements of the Russian plan given above are taken from an article written by Major T. Peitsara of the Finnish Army. Inasmuch as the plan failed, and since no official statement from the Russian side has been made, it is impossible to state whether the outline given is correct. The Russian initial moves indicate that they had some such plan in mind.

To execute their plan of operations, the Russians assembled five armies comprising thirty divisions and six tank brigades. The size of the divisions varied with their mission, but the entire force numbered about 500,000 men. The total number of tanks involved was about 2,000. Although all these divisions did not appear in action at once, they were reported soon enough to warrant the assumption that the original plan contemplated their use.

On the Karelian Isthmus there were two armies. The Seventh Army, consisting of nine divisions and three tank brigades, was on the left; the Thirteenth Army, composed of four divisions and two tank brigades, was on the right.

From Aunus to Porajarvi, known as the Southeastern Front, there were nine divisions and one tank brigade, all belonging to the Eighth Army.


On the Central Front, from Repola to Kurtti, there were five divisions. These divisions made up the Russian Ninth Army.

The Fourteenth Army of three divisions was located in the Murmansk area, known as the Northern Front. Although the Ninth and Fourteenth Armies did not have any independent tank brigades, there were tank units within the divisions.

The Russian air and naval plans were devised to assist the effort of the land forces. There were assembled an estimated 800 planes for bombing cities, interior communications, and Finnish positions. The Russian Baltic Fleet consisted of two large battleships, three cruisers, seventeen destroyers, about eighty submarines, and a number of auxiliary vessels. A complete blockade of the Finnish coastline was planned in addition to landing parties at strategic points. The Russian Arctic Fleet comprised some destroyers, patrol vessels, and submarines.

Finnish Plans and Preparations

Finland could not hope to hold out indefinitely against a power such as Russia. The most she could expect to do was to stop the initial drive, in the hope that other nations would come to her assistance in time to save her from defeat; or that the enemy might be diverted by the attack of a Finnish ally in another quarter. Throughout the the period of peace between the two world wars the Finns knew that they would someday have to fight Russia. Consequently they were psychologically prepared for war. The impelling force for defensive preparations during peacetime was General Mannerheim. Although he had been in retirement during the 1920's, he had urged defensive preparations and had sent promising young officers to study in the military schools of France and Germany. When made President of the Council of National Defense in 1931,k he was in a position to carry out his aims more effectively. In 1932, a compulsory military service bill was passed; and the armed forces were reorganized. Before mobilization, the Regular Army consisted of approximately 33,000 officers and men, distributed among 1 antiaircraft, 9 infantry, 2 cavalry, 4 field artillery, and 3 coast artillery regiments. Upon mobilization, this force was expanded into six active divisions totalling about 127,000 men. These constituted the first-line troops. All of the men had served at least one year, as required by the compulsory military service law. In addition to the six active divisions, there were six reserve divisions, with about 100,000 men. Another 100,000 were organized into a territorial


militia known as the civic Guard. The Civic Guard drilled and maneuvered at regular intervals and was closely associated with the Regular Army. Kurt Wallenius, one of the radical Fascist leaders in the Civic Guard, had been chief of staff of the Regular Army prior to 1930. The 327,000 men accounted for above were augmented by additional recruits during the period of hostilities. The total forces mobilized in Finland, including Army, Civic Guard, Navy, and Coast Guard, numbered 400,000 men. Mention should also be made of the 100,000 women of the Lotta Svard organization. This group was associated with the Civic Guard and did more than the usual women's auxiliary organizations. The members were trained as military clerks, cooks, and laundry workers, as well as nurses. The Finns were thus able to put most of the their manpower into actual fighting, by leaving the administrative and housekeeping functions of army maintenance to the women.

At the outbreak of hostilities the Finnish military forces were distributed as follows: Two active divisions and five reserve divisions held the fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus; one reserve division occupied the Southeastern Front; two active divisions were in reserve behind the Karelian Front; and two more active divisions were near Helsinki as a strategic reserve. There were three divisions somewhere in the interior; others were on the Karelian and Southeastern Fronts; and some were assigned as frontier guards along the Russo-Finnish boundary north of Suojarvi.

The Finns could offer no serious opposition to Russia in the air or on the sea. Their Navy consisted of only 18 vessels, and some of these were on Lake Ladoga. Finland had a total of only 150 airplanes. The extent of her seacoast defenses is unknown, but they proved effective against Russian attacks.

Finland depended to a great extent on her natural defensive strength to ward off the invader. There was much talk of a strong "Mannerheim Line" across the Karelian Isthmus (Map 3a). This line did prove itself to be extremely strong, but it was not a fortified position in the same sense as the French Maginot Line or German West Wall. The Karelian fortifications were mostly fieldworks of the type constructed during the First World War, with an occasional concrete machine-gun or artillery emplacement. There were no underground defensive works. According to reports, there were no underground defensive works. According to reports, there were 96 concrete strongholds, 67 of which had been built fifteen years before. The remainder had been under construction since the preceding summer and were barely finished in time for the invasion


on 30 November. The line was particularly well fortified against tanks, however. Numerous ditches were dug and granite boulders placed along possible tank routes. Neither the Finns nor the Russians had occasion to correct the erroneous information sent out to the world that the Mannerheim Line was a strong wall of steel and concrete. For the Russians it offered a good excuse for their setbacks, and the Finns did not wish to admit the true state of their defenses.

Operations (Map 2)

The field operations may be divided into three phases, roughly corresponding to the three months of the war's duration, December, January, and February. The first phase is the story of Russian failure. The second is one of relative quiet, during which the Russians prepared for their final drive. The third phase is the Russian drive to victory.

During the first phase, neither was the fifth-column attack, the air attack, the naval attack, nor the several land attacks worked as planned. On 1 December, Otto Kuusinen, a Finnish Communist who had fled to Russia in 1918, was set up as premier of the "Finnish People's Government" at Terijoki, a few miles inside Finnish territory. Kuusinen's proclamation calling on the workers of the country to arise against their capitalist tyrants was ridiculed in Finland. Although a bloody class war had been fought in 1918, the Finns' intense nationalism and hatred of Russia overcame the influence of the Communists.

The initial Russian air attack on Finland did not hamper mobilization, for several reasons. In the first place, it did not come soon enough. The Finns were well on the way toward complete mobilization by 30 November because they had received ample warning that an attack was imminent. Diplomatic negotiations had been broken off on 13 November. As early as October, when the original Russian demands were presented, Finland had called up her defense reserves for refresher training. Furthermore, the air attacks on the principal cities and lines of communication were not made in sufficient force nor with sufficient accuracy to do much damage. The fact that 80 per cent of the population lived in the country made it difficult for the Russian Air Force to terrorize the people into quick submission. The shortness of the winter day also hampered air operations. On 21 December, the shortest day of the year, there were only four hours of daylight in southern Finland. Snow began


to fall on 2 December, and on the two succeeding days a terrible blizzard concealed military objectives. Cloudy skies hampered the operations of the Russian Air Force until mid-December.

The naval attack on Finland likewise failed. Although the Russians succeeded in occupying some of the undefended outer islands along the coastline, they were unsuccessful in landing on the mainland. The Russian Baltic Fleet bombarded Porvo, about 20 miles east of Helsinki, and attempted to land troops, but was driven off. Turku and Hango were also bombarded form the sea, and it is possible that landings were planned and postponed because of the severity of the Finish coastal-defense fire. Three Russian destroyers, two submarines, and some auxiliary vessels were either crippled or sunk. Heavy damage was inflicted on the Russian battleship October Revolution.

Operations on Northern and Central Fronts.--The operations on the Northern and Central Fronts were limited almost entirely to the first phase of the campaign. Although there were a few pitched battles, most of the fighting on these two fronts was guerilla warfare. The Russians advanced in columns stretched out over many miles of the snow-covered roads. Dense forests surrounded them on all sides. now and then an open space marked the location of a frozen lake,. As the enemy advanced, the Finns retired before them, burning their houses and destroying everything useful. From the surrounding forests the long Russian columns were attacked by ski patrols, which struck at kitchens and supply trucks and then retired before the Russians could close in and destroy them. Mannerheim's orders to his Civic Guard units in the north were to strike the Russian supply lines. These orders were faithfully carried out. The Finns adopted the strategy used by the Russians on Napoleon in his retreat from Moscow. When the opportunity did come to engage in battle, the Russian troops were so cold, hungry,k and exhausted that they were no match for their numerically inferior foes.

The Fourteenth Army had no difficulty in taking Petsamo on the second day of the invasion. Landing parties from the Arctic Fleet were assisted by troops moved overland. From the Petsamo base an advance was made south along the Arctic Highway. By 15 December, the Russians had taken the nickel mines at Salmijarvi, and on 19 December their advance reached Nautsi. Partly as a result of Finnish resistance and partly because of supply difficulties in the extremely cold weather, the Russians retired from Nautsi to a point about twenty miles north. The temperatures took a sudden drop to 25 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, in mid-December. Reinforced


and resupplied, the Reds again advanced to Nautsi, but never got any farther. The only Finnish troops in Petsamo at the outbreak of hostilities were one infantry company and a battery of field artillery with four old guns, model 1887. The Finns on the Northern Front never exceed one battalion.

The northern thrust of the Russian Ninth Army, on the Central Front,k was directed toward Kemijarvi, the northernmost Finnish town with rail connections. The Russian 122d Division advanced and seized Kuolojarvi on 4 December. By 15 December, this division had moved through Salla to Markajarvi. At Kemijarvi, the Reds found a Finnish Civic Guard division entrenched being the Kemi River. On 19 December, an active division from Mannerheim strategic reserve at Helsinki arrived to assist the Civic Guard division. In a smashing offensive the Finns drove the 122d Division back to Salla. Reinforced by the 88th Division, the Russians on this front later advanced to Markajarvi, where they remained until the end of the war.

The central thrust of the Russian Ninth Army was directed toward Suomussalmi, which is also connected to the southern railroad system. One of the most interesting engagements of the war took place on this front. Known as the Battle of Suomussalmi, it was an encounter in which one Finnish active division, assisted by some Civic Guard units, almost completely destroyed two Russian divisions. On 8 December, the Russian 163d Division, followed by the 44th Division, arrived at Suomussalmi after having been constantly harried by Finnish ski patrols. By 12 December, the Russian advance had pushed the Finnish militia units to a point twenty miles beyond Suomussalmi. Here the Reds were attacked by a Finnish active division from the Vilpur reserve. The Russians were forced to retreat to Suomussalmi, where the Finns succeeded in effecting a penetration between the two enemy divisions. Holding the Russian 44th Division with a small force, the Finns attacked the 163d Division on 30 December and almost completely destroyed it. The Russians were forced to retreat across a frozen lake, with terrible loss of life. The Finns then turned on the Russian 44th Division and repeated the success, 6-7 January. This action relieved Suomussalmi of any threat for the rest of the war. The Finns took thousands of prisoners and great quantities of war materials.

In the early stages of the campaign,. the southern drive of the Ninth Army was very weak, being made by only part of a division. Without much difficulty, local Civic Guard units managed to stop the drive in the vicinity of Kuhmo. In the third phase of the campaign,


the Russians tried to renew this drive, but without success. By 1 March, the Finns had succeeded in cutting off the Russian 54th Division from its base, but the cessation of hostilities saved it from complete destruction.

Operations on Southeastern Front.--To protect their Karelian defensive line from an envelopment around Lake Ladoga, the Finns had organized a position from the vicinity of Salmi to Suojarvi. The Russian Eighth Army attempted to push through to Sortavala and Joensu. From these points they could have outflanked the Finns on the Karelian Isthmus. Also, they would have been in a position from which a part of their force could push northwest along the railroad to the assistance of the Russian Ninth Army, if such assistance were needed.

The Red Eighth Army concentrated on two main drives. The northern drive was planned to outflank the Finnish defenses in this area and the southern drive to push through the defensive line at Salmi and advance along the shore of Lake Ladoga. The main effort of the northern drive was directed toward Tolvajarvi and was supported by secondary advances on Ilomantsi and Suojarvi. The initial strength of the Russian Eighth Army, including reserves, was nine divisions and a tank brigade. By the end of the war, thirteen Russian divisions had been used on this front. The Finnish strength was originally one reserve division and an unknown number of Civic Guard troops. The Finns were reinforced by an active division on 11 December.

The drives north of Suojarvi proved to be the most threatening because they came as a surprise and outflanked the prepared position. By 13 December, the Russian main flanking drive had passed Tolvajarvi, and the lesser effort to the north had almost reached Ilomantsi. The secondary drive on Suojarvi had been stopped by the Finnish fortified line. The seriousness of the situation at Tolvajarvi forced General Mannerheim to reinforce this front with the two active divisions which he was holding in reserve at Viipuri. One of these divisions was diverted to the Suomussalmi front and participated in the battles there from 30 December to 7 January.

The Finns made a very successful counterattack at Tolvajarvi. Their reports indicate that two Russian divisions, the 75th and 139th, were practically destroyed. It was only by hurriedly moving up reinforcements that the Russians were able to hold a defensive line in Finnish territory. This front then remained quiet until the end of the war.


Action on the shore of Lake Ladoga was almost continuous from the beginning to the end of the war. The initial drive broke through the Finnish defenses and reached Leppasilta on 11 December. Finnish counterattacks forced the Russians to retreat to Pitkaranta, where they were again attacked on 18 December. On 6 January, the Finns cut off two Red divisions and a tank brigade. Supplies were flown in by air, but these proved insufficient, and the 18th Division surrendered on 18 February. The tank brigade followed suit on 29 February. The 168th Division held out until the end of the war.

Operations on the Karelian Isthmus (Map 3a).--The Russian advance on the Karelian Isthmus was slow form the very beginning. They found themselves forced into narrow corridors between lakes. The corridors were covered with mine fields, tank traps, and machine-gun emplacements, which were effectively camouflaged by the snow that fell in early December. The Finns retreated from advance positions and fell back slowly toward their main line of resistance. In line with their objective of gaining access to the Leningrad-Sortavala-Kemi railroad, the Russians concentrated on their right flank and attempted to break through the Finnish defenses along Lake Suvanto and the Taipale River. The lakes and rivers of southern Finland were not yet frozen, but the Russians succeeded in crossing the Taipale River. Here they were effectively halted by the organized Finnish defensive positions, and no further gains were made in this sector during the remainder of the war. Late in December, the main effort of the Russian Army on the Karelian Isthmus was shifted to the western side. This thrust was also unsuccessful. By 30 December, the thirteen divisions of the Russian Seventh and Thirteenth Armies were distributed as shown on Map 3a.

Unable to pierce the Finnish defenses, the Russians ceased offensive operations in early January. The remainder of the month was relatively quiet, marking the reorganization of the Russian Army for the knockout blow to be delivered in February. The reinforcements that arrived on the Karelian Isthmus were Russia's crack troops. They replaced the poorly organized and badly trained territorials who had suffered terrific losses and had still failed to make appreciable gains. It was reliably reported that the Russian troops originally used in the Finnish campaign were reservists of from 35 to 40 years of age. They were poorly clothed for winter operations, wearing cheap cotton uniforms and lacking warm boots. Some of the early prisoners said they had been called to duty only three months before.


The final drive on the Karelian Isthmus, beginning 1 February 1940, may best be visualized by comparing it to the great drives of the First World War. The Russians were able to throw an overwhelming superiority into the battle and thus exhaust the enemy by continuous activity. For the first ten days, the Reds kept the Finns under constant pressure. Air and artillery bombardments and infantry attacks alternated throughout the day and night. There were as many as four or five infantry attacks each day. Russian tanks, pushing rollers ahead to detonate the mines, drew armored sledges behind them loaded with infantry. Still the defending Finns beat off the attacks. On 11 February, the offensive reached its climax. In two more days the penetration was made near Summa. Thirteen divisions were operating between Lake Kuolema and Lake Muolaa. From Summa, the Russians drove toward Johannes and cut the communications between the fortress of Koivisto and Viipuri. This fortress had been the bulwark behind the right of the Finnish defensive line. The Finns fell back slowly, fighting determined rear-guard actions, and by 1 March had reached a new line through Viipuri. Russian troops crossed the ice in the Gulf of Finland and outflanked the right of the new position. The eastern end of the defenders' line held its original position behind the Vuoksi Waterway, Lake Suvanto, and the Taipale river. However, the Finnish cause was hopeless after the Summa break-through, and on 13 March hostilities ceased.


As mentioned heretofore, the Soviet-Finnish War is an illustration of the failure of a supposedly coordinated lightning attack planned to force quick capitulation of the defender with few losses to the attacker. There is reason to believe that teh Russian plan contemplated victory within two weeks of the opening of the campaign. The removal of General Meretskov, the original commander, on 22 December supports that contention. An analysis of the failure shows that contributory causes were the weather, caliber of troops, and poor planning.

The ideal time for a Russian attack on Finland would have been during the two weeks of freezing weather before the arrival of heavy snow. For mechanized operations it was necessary that the many Finnish lakes and swamps be frozen; otherwise the tanks would be confined to the roads. The heavy snows of the 1939-40 winter arrived about two weeks earlier than usual. The result was


that the Russian tanks were to a great extent immobilized, especially on the Northern and Central Fronts. The 1939-40 winter is reported to have been the coldest since 1878. In early January, temperatures in southern Finland were as low as 58 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. The Finns were further favored by the weather because of their superior ski tactics. The Russian ski troops were so poorly trained that the snow gave the Finns a tactical mobility that their foes lacked.

Russia's reasons for using low-grade reserve troops for the Finnish War are hard to explain. One is naturally led to the conclusion that the Red Army expected little resistance and an early capitulation. The fact that the troops were burdened with leaflets, films, and other Communist propaganda indicates a belief that internal disorder could be created, and that rapid occupation by the Russian troops would result.

The Russians did not accurately gauge the advantage that interior lines gave the Finns. The exterior line form which the concentric Russian attack advanced was the overburdened Leningrad-Murmansk railroad. Finland's interior communications permitted rapid movement of troops from front to front as the situation required. Although the details of Finnish troop movements between the different fronts are lacking, it is apparent that General Mannerheim made the maximum use of his interior lines. The Finnish operations in this war are reminiscent of Jackson's in teh Shenandoah Valley and Napoleon's in the Italian campaign.

The general Russian plan of making the main attack on the Karelian Isthmus cannot be criticized. A cursory glance at the map has misled many observers into calling the Karelian operation a holding attack to permit a grand strategic envelopment of Finland from the north. Such an analysis is obviously incorrect, considering the fact that the eight divisions in the north depended solely on a single-track railroad for their supplies. Furthermore, the success of the armies in the north was entirely dependent on the advance of the southern armies and the capture of the Leningrad-Sortavala-Kemi railroad. Otherwise, even had the northern armies reached that railroad, they could not have maintained themselves there. Their communications would have stretched some 250 miles by road over hostile, snow-covered country, constantly subject to guerrilla attack. At the end of that 250 miles was a single-track railroad 400 miles from a source of supply.

The primary mission of the Russian Fourteenth Army was to occupy the port of Petsamo and prevent any outside help from coming


to the aid of Finland. This mission was accomplished. The drive to Nautsi served no useful purpose except, perhaps, to divert some Finnish troops from the decisive theater in the south. Inasmuch as the Finns never used more than a battalion on this front, the Russian drive to Nautsi was a complete failure.

The Russian Ninth Army did succeed in diverting a substantial number of Finnish troops from the south. General Mannerheim found it necessary to send two active divisions to the Central Front, one to Kemijarvi and one to Suomussalmi. However, these divisions stopped the Russian advance with such ease that there is reason to believe that they returned to the Karelian Isthmus. Consequently, although it might be said that the Ninth Army accomplished its mission, that accomplishment was to no purpose because the Russian strength on the Karelian Isthmus was insufficient to take advantage of the Finnish withdrawals. If it be assumed that the mission of the Ninth Army was to cut Finland's "waist" and separate her from Sweden, then that army failed completely. Its failure was inevitable, from the very beginning, unless the armies to the south succeeded in opening up the Leningrad-Sortavala-Kemi railroad.

The Russian Eighth Army likewise failed. Its primary mission was to push through and outflank the Karelian defenses. Here, again, the lack of success was due to transportation difficulties. Shipment over a single-track rail line and then over bad roads proved to be too difficult.

In the final analysis, the success of the Russian operations against Finland depended entirely on the operation on the Karelian Isthmus. Although the Russians properly planed to make their main attack there, they did not make it strong enough. Only thirteen out of thirty divisions were originally assigned to this front. In the February attack, twenty-four divisions were used. Assuming that General Meretskov could secure only thirty divisions for the attempt to subdue Finland, he would have done better had he concentrated his mass at the decisive point,that is, on the Karelian Isthmus. This would have been to his advantage even if it had involved moving the Ninth Army and part of the Eighth Army to the Isthmus.

The Finns asked for Allied troops, but they never came. The Allies asked permission of Norway and Sweden to send troops through those countries, but were refused because of pressure from Germany. The only other Allied point of entry was through Petsamo, and that would have been a very difficult undertaking. Reliable


reports indicate that there were three divisions of Allied troops ready to embark at Brest for Finland, but that they never received orders to move. Except for matériel, the only foreign help received by the Finns was a force of 10,000 Swedish volunteers, who assisted in the operations around Salla. The majority of these volunteers had been released from military service by the Swedish Government.

The help given to Finland in war materials was considerable. Rifles, machine guns, antitank and antiaircraft weapons, artillery, ammunition, and planes were furnished by England, France, America, Italy, and Sweden. The United States Navy sent 40 pursuit planes, Sweden provided 37 planes of different types, and Italy furnished a number of bombers.

The losses suffered by both sides are, as usual, difficult to evaluate. Premier Ryti of Finland stated that his country had suffered a total of 60,000 casualties, including 18,000 killed and an equal number of seriously wounded. Premier Molotov of Russia stated that Soviet casualties were 48,795 killed and 158,836 wounded. Other reports substantiate the Finnish statement, but place the Soviet losses much higher.

The Peace Treaty

By the terms of the peace treaty, signed 13 March, the Russians gained all of their original demands plus some additional concessions. Whereas the original demands included all of the Karelian Isthmus up to and including the Finnish organized positions, the peace treaty gave Russia the city of Viipuri, the islands of Viipuri Bay, and the entire shore of Lake Ladoga, together with an additional triangle of territory to the northeast of the lake, which included the cities of Sortavala and Suojarvi. Russia's original demands at Petsamo and in the Gulf of Finland were little changed by the terms of the peace treaty. In the Kemijarvi-Salla area the Finns turned over a twenty-five mile strip of territory and agreed to join in extending the railroad from Kemijarvi to Kandalaksha.

Finland's losses in the Karelian Isthmus-Viipuri area were extremely serious. Her natural defensive line against Russia was now entirely in the latter's hands. In any future war, Russia was in position to overrun Finland at much less cost. Finnish economic losses were also serious in this area. She lost Viipuri, her second largest city and the center of a rich and thickly populated industrial area.


The construction of the Kandalaksha-Kemijarvi railroad and the territory gained by Russia in that area would make any future effort to cut the Finnish railroad to Sweden comparatively easy. To compensate Finland for these additional demands, Russia ceded some land in the Uhtua-Repola area.


Map: Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940: Terrain and Communications
Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940
Terrain and Communications

Map: Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940: Troop Distribution and Main Lines of Russian Advance
Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940
Troop Distribution Prior to Opening of Hostilities and Main Lines of Russian Advance

Map: Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940: Finnish defense Line; Distribution of Russiand Divisions about 30Dec39
Soviet-Finnish War,1939-1940
Finnish Defense Line, and
Distribution of Russian Divisions About 30 December 1939

Map: Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940: Location of Finnish Defense Line; Distribution of Russian Divisions at End of War
Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940
Location of Finnish Defense Line, and
Distribution of Russian Divisions at End of War, 13 March 1940

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation