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For the 72 Million

Finland in World War II

Before World War I Finland was part of Imperial Russia. As part of realm of the Czars, Finland chafed under its rule. After the war Finland, along with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, were carved out of the old empire and made into autonomous nations.

The founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, was too concerned with issues at home to reclaim the territories. His successor felt it was time. In October 1939 Finland’s emissaries were summoned to Moscow. Stalin gave Finland an ultimatum: move your border so Leningrad was not within artillery range, demilitarize the Karelian Isthmus, cede islands, and allow ports to be leased indefinitely. The Finns were willing to concede on these points; however, the Soviets also wanted basing rights for aircraft and warships in the port of Hango. The Finns demurred; the Soviets broke off negotiations on November 13, 1939. The Finns mobilized, and the Soviets attacked all along the border on November 30. Helsinki was bombed.

At first glance, it seemed the Finns were outmatched. But their small army of 200,000, facing overwhelming Soviet numbers, invented the “Molotov Cocktail” — gasoline in thrown glass jars, named after the Soviet Foreign Minister — to stop Red Army tanks. Stalin’s purges of his forces also began to take their toll. The Red Army failed to be inventive or highly mobile. Timid not because of cowardice, but because of a fear of their own government, the Red Army also had large numbers of unmotivated conscripts. Winter equipment was not available to the Red Army and they froze in the forests, wary of attack from any direction. Stalin was stunned by the mounting losses of his army.

The Finns became masters of hit-and-run tactics. Soviet thrusts would be cut off and surrounded, and if they were lucky enough to claw their way back to Soviet lines they would suffer heavy casualties. Meanwhile, worldwide indignation was directed at the Soviets for their aggression. Even the isolationist American public was outraged by the Soviet invasion. Roosevelt extended ten million in aid. The French under Daladier also began sending money and, by then engaged with Nazi Germany at war, considered military action against the Soviets. Several nations offered monetary support.

Stalin was determined to win the war with the Finns before foreign aid could have any lasting effect. He brought up more soldiers and many more artillery pieces, and began a new offensive on February 1, 1940. By March 7, the Finns asked for an armistice. Stalin accepted on March 12.

In France, the Daladier government fell after promising to prevent the Finns from succumbing to their foes. A new government under Reynaud was formed and pledged to prosecute the war in the West against Germany with even more vigor.

Finland’s border with the Soviet Union was set back to the time of Peter the Great in 1721. She lost the Karelian Ithmus.

Months later, she let German troops pass through on the way to invade Norway. Many units remained, and jumped into the Soviet Union from Finland in June 1941. Technically neutral, strong anti-Soviet feeling led the Finns to allow the troops to advance. German troops surrounded Leningrad from Finland, starting a 900-day siege.

The United Kingdom declared war on Finland on December 6, 1941. The United States, recognizing that Finland was not an ally, seized Finnish ships. Throughout the war, German planes attacked Murmansk and Archangel from Finnish airfields. German and Soviet units engaged frequently in Finland. Finland was clearly on the side of the Axis, despite her professed neutrality.

In 1944, the Soviet Union invaded Finland again, chasing Nazi units from the Soviet Union and the Baltic states into her territory in what Finns called the Continuation War. This time, the Red Army was much better organized, with better command and control, and better logistics and weapons. In February 1944, United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull informed Finland that continued support of Germany would result in serious consequences.

The worsening situation in 1944 had led to Finnish president Risto Ryti giving Germany his personal guarantee that Finland would not negotiate peace with the Soviet Union for as long as he was the president. In exchange, Germany delivered weapons to the Finns. After the Soviet offensive was halted, however, Ryti resigned. Due to the war, elections could not be held, and therefore the Parliament selected the Marshal of Finland Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the Finnish commander-in-chief, as president and charged him with negotiating a peace.

The Finnish front had become a sideshow for the Soviet leadership, as they were in a race to reach Berlin before the Western Allies. This, and the heavy casualties inflicted on the Red Army by the Finns, led to the transfer of most troops from the Finnish front. On 4 September 1944 a ceasefire was agreed, and the Moscow armistice between the Soviet Union and United Kingdom on one side and Finland on the other was signed on September 19.

As Soviet soldiers advanced in September 1944, Finland sought an armistice with the Allies.

She declared war on the Axis on March 3, 1945. This led to the Lapland War, when Finns fought the Germans. Initially the Finns and Germans had a timetable for the withdrawal of the Nazi forces, but the Soviets refused to accept those terms. fighting broke out around the nickel mines in Petsamo. The Germans adopted a scorched-earth policy, and proceeded to lay waste to the entire northern half of the country as they retreated. Around 100,000 people lost their homes, adding to the burden of post-war reconstruction. The actual loss of life, however, was relatively light. Finland lost approximately 1,000 troops and Germany about 2,000. The Finnish army expelled the last of the foreign troops from Finland in April 1945.

After the war, the Finns were forced to give up much of the same territory that she lost in 1940. Petsamo was handed over to the Soviet Union.

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