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The Winter War: Finland's epic and little known war with the USSR

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Not many people know about the war between Finland and Russia "The winter war", even today. On november 29 1939, Soviet planes bomb an airfield at Helsinki, Finland, the following day Soviet Russia launched a full scale invasion of Finland.

Soviet Russia wanted territorial concessions from Finland, which the Finns refused, and to export their Communist proletarian utopia to Finland, and for some reason, the Finns refused that as well.

Russia possessed more than three times as many soldiers as the Finns (almost a million), thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks. However, the Finnish people were resolute to fight, and to prevent Stalin and the Red Army from conquering their lands and homes.

Finnish soldiers use a slingshot to fire grenades at Soviet troops during the Winter War.

The Red Army's strategy was to overwhelm the small and under gunned Finnish army by overwhelming it with sheer numbers and by attacking Finland on several fronts. The Finnish strategy was dictated by geography. The frontier with the Soviet Union was more than 1,000 km (620 mi) long but was mostly impassable except along a handful of unpaved roads. So the Finns concentrated their forces on those passes and behind the southern defensive barrier fortification line, the "Mannerheim Line", and successfully prevented the Red Army from going forward. Despite the overwhelming odds, Finland fought bravely for more then three months and managed to inflict hundreds of thousands of casualties on the red army and destroyed over 3,500 tanks.

First and second phase of the winter war.

Finnish soldiers conducted amazing feats of courage and bravery in defending their homeland from the Soviet onslaught, but one man shone above them all, his name was Simon Häyhä, also known as “The White Death”. With his old Mosin-Nagant M91 rifle, he would dress in white winter camouflage, and carry with him only a day’s worth of supplies and ammunition. While hiding out in the snow, he would then take out any Soviet soldier who entered his killing zone. Hayha preferred to use old school iron sights on his gun instead of scopes, as scopes had a tendency to glare in the sunlight and reveal his position. While he may sound like an ordinary sniper, this was far from the case: over the course of 100 days during the winter he racked up over 700 kills, earning him the nickname “The White Death”.

Simon Häyhä.

In February 1940, however, the Soviets used massive artillery bombardments to breach the Mannerheim Line, after which they streamed northward across the isthmus to the Finnish city of Viipuri (Vyborg). After more than three long exhausting months, and after being abandoned by France and Britain, The Finns realized that the red army will soon overrun them. Hostilities ceased in March 1940 with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty. Soviet Russia lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers during the war, thousands of tanks and hundreds of planes, while the Finns suffered casualties amounting to tens of thousands with around 30 tanks destroyed. The Soviet "victory", was a Pyrrhic one, at best. The poor performance of the Red Army encouraged Adolf Hitler to think that an attack on the Soviet Union would be successful and confirmed negative German opinions of the Soviet military.


While Finland may have lost the battle with Soviet Russia, it managed to win the overall war.

Despite having to cede nearly 10% of its territory to the USSR, including its second largest city, Viipuri, Finland managed to maintain its sovereignty and independence, and avoided being conquered, occupied and incorporated into the USSR.

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