A Swedish volunteer in the Winter War, Finland

A Swedish volunteer in the Winter War, Finland, 1940

The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940. It began with Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the League on 14 December 1939.

“It is known that at least 8,000 Swedes voluntarily went to Finland to fight alongside the Finns. The Swedish government and public also sent food, clothing, medicine, weapons and ammunition to aid the Finns during this conflict. This military aid included: 135,402 rifles, 347 machine guns, 450 light machine guns with 50,013,300 rounds of small arms ammunition; 144 field guns, 100 anti-aircraft guns and 92 anti-armor guns with 301 846 shells; 300 sea mines and 500 depth charges; 17 fighter aircraft, 5 light bombers, 1 DC-2 transport aircraft turned into bomber, and 3 reconnaissance aircraft, totally comprising 1/3 of the Swedish air force at the time.”

Some people say it’s Simo Häyhä and other say its Swedish volunteer but the rifle is a M96 Swedish mauser in 6.5X55. They are truly amazingly accurate rifles and some of the best Mausers ever built.

Contrary to the popular line of thought, the Winter War did not end with the Finnish destroying the Russian invasion. In fact, following Finland early victories, the Russians reevaluated their plans of attack and initiated all new offensives that completely broke the Finnish lines. Had the Finnish taken the offer that Russia made prior to the outbreak of hostilities, they would have lost far less territory and made out quite a bit better. Of course, the argument stands to be made that this would have only encouraged the Russians to pursue more, even worse, concessions in the future, but that’s all conjecture by this point.

Between the weather and geography of the battlefields, as well as the Red Army’s lack of a proper command structure, the initial phases were doomed from the start. The Red Army had seen a number of purges leading up to the invasion, stripping it of its most competent commanders, leaving behind the bottom of the barrel. These were men that the Stalin regime felt were not a threat, and whose loyalty to the party was unquestionable (read as: willing to fold on their comrades at a moments notice). Therefore, the men who planned the first phase were ill suited for the task, and accordingly failed. It wasn’t until the new plans were drawn up, using lessons learned from the initial failures and those who had shown their true value in the initial fighting, that the Red Army succeeded. I believe that had the Red Army not been purged so heavily leading up to the war, we would have seen a very early Finnish capitulation. It’s also worth noting that this “exercise” likely saved the Russians from utter defeat when the Nazi’s finally opened hostilities with the country. Had it not been for the Winter War, many of those same Russian commanders who caused the initial failures in the Winter War would have likely still had the commands, and likely lead to even further losses than which occurred during Operation Barbarossa. This is not say these men weren’t still in the Red Army following the Winter War, only that they were now joined by more competent commanders who came up following the Winter War. These men were the ones who led the Red Army to victory over Berlin, not those hold overs from the Winter War.

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