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The Winter War

A direct result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which the Soviets “got” Finland. This resulted in a 3 ½ month war between Russia and a not-so-happy Finland.

After the fall of Poland in September, “Russia sought to extend its influence over the Baltic” (Source). Then, on October 5th, “Russia invited Finnish representatives to Moscow to discuss political discussions” (Source). On the 12th, JK Paasikivi went to meet Stalin and Molotov to “discuss” the Finnish boarder.

“Stalin wanted Finnish islands in the Gulf of Finland, including Suursaari Island, handed over to Russia; he wanted to lease Hanko as a military base and to establish a garrison of 5,000 men there and he demanded more Finnish land on the Russian border to be ceded to Russia. In return, Stalin offered Finland land in Soviet Karelia and the right for Finland to fortify the Aaland Islands. Stalin couched all his land requirements in terms of defending parts of Russia, be it Leningrad or Murmansk, from attack” (Source).

Paasikivi took these terms back to his people, but after many decades of tensions between the two countries, Finland was not eager to once again be part of the Russian Empire. At the same time, Stalin didn’t exactly trust Finland, either. He was afraid that they might be all-too eager to allow their “land to be used as a base by invading forces for an attack on Russia” (Source). And who could blame them?

Predictably, the Finnish did turn down Stalin. However, there were two men who thought that giving Russia some of their Gulf Islands as a way to “pay off” Russia in the event of the inevitable war – their fear that they’d have to fight Russia on their own.

And they did.

Because, inevitably, Germany forces “urged” Finland to give the land.

Problematically, Finland could only muster a small army, despite its peacetime conscripts and their small reserves. But this did little to boost their professional army, and they were no match for the Red Army.

Not only could they not match the Red Army in its numbers, but the Finnish Army was also woefully lacking in the important necessities such as equipment, uniforms, and artillery. For example, they only owned 112 anti-tank guns. Additionally, they had no convenient ways of producing more. 

Likewise, the Navy was minuscule with only some 100 planes, most of which were not even flyable. And neither branch had much experience in large-scale maneuvers. 

The only area that they could possibly beat the Red Army was in the knowledge of their own land. “Finnish troops were trained to use their own terrain to their advantage” (Source). This included everything from the forests to the snow-covered territories.

[Below: Russian T-26 light tanks and T-20 Komsomolets armored tractors advancing into Finland]

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On the other side, predictably, the Red Army was more than prepared for battle. Even with the large numbers in Poland, Stalin was still able to send 45 divisions to Finland! With each division containing 18,000 men, the roughly 810,000 sent equalled “nearly 25% of the whole of Finland’s population” (Source). In fact, Russians were able to supply 1,200,000 men, 1500 tanks, and 3000 planes.

Outside of terrain, the Red Army had only one other major weakness: A chair of command so complex that it brought many delays in decision making.

Truthfully, though they had more men and more supplies, the Red Army was not actually prepared for the particularly severe winter in which the Winter War took place. Additionally, most of the 600 miles of boarders were impassable, giving Finland a pretty good idea of the route the Soviets would take.

“Led by Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, they hunkered down behind a network of trenches, concrete bunkers and field fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus and beat back repeated Soviet tank assaults. Elsewhere on the frontier, Finnish ski troops used the rugged landscape to conduct hit-and-run attacks on isolated Soviet units. Their guerilla tactics were only aided by the freezing Finnish winter, which bogged the Soviets down and made their soldiers easy to spot against snowy terrain” (Source).

Unfortunately, though, in February 1940, the Soviets were able to come through with “massive artillery bombardments to breach the Mannerheim Line” (Source). This allowed them to march northward to Viipuri.

The Finnish “troops were ultimately no match for the sheer immensity for the Red Army” (Source). The Finnish, backing aid from Britain and France, were exhausted and lacking ammunition.

On March 12, 1940, the Finnish agreed to the treaty – The Treaty of Moscow. With it meant ceding 11% of their territory to the Soviets.

And later, as Stalin had predicted, in June 1941, the Finnish allowed “German troops to transit through the country after the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union,” undertaking the War of the Continuation (Source).

[Below: Finnish soldiers and reindeer]

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Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

 

This topic has, admittedly, been touched on in a post about Operation Barbarossa(or will be, in this case). However, I felt a personal need to go back and learn more. A person need, in fact, that will (hopefully) mean this will be a tad more chronological than they’ve previously been.

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Despite obvious disregard for each other (maybe mostly due to their all-too similar world domination goals), it seemed important to improve relations between Germany and the Soviet Union – especially in the face of war. This seemed necessary, maybe also because of their distrust, Hitler reportedly calling Stalin “the greatest danger for the culture and civilization of mankind which has ever threatened it since the collapse of the . . . ancient world” (Source).

So, to reduce the chances of fighting another two-front war (which we all know he did not avoid), Hitler “begun exploring the possibility of a thaw in relations with Stalin” (Source).

These negotiations began on an economic front, and eventually they were able to reach a truce regarding trade and supplies. Additionally, they spoke of the reasons behind their earlier “foreign policy hostility,” hoping to find “some common ground in the anti-capitalism of both countries” (Source). However, previous relations on the Soviet Union’s part with France and Britain (to be discussed soon!) made this difficult.

On August 22, 1939, while Hitler was working on plans to invade Poland, German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to meet with both Stalin and Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov to work out further negotiations. Of their earlier hostilities, von Ribbentrop explained that their Anti-Comintern Pact had, in fact, not been directed at the Soviet Union, but at Britain: It was “aimed at Western democracies” mostly “British financiers and English shopkeepers” (Source).

[Below: Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact]

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With von Ribbentrop came a non-aggressive proposal agreement from Hitler: 100 years of peace between the two countries. Stalin countered that 10 years “would be sufficient” (Source). Hitler added another stipulation, another one that seems odd given the knowledge of his later plans and actions: “Neither country would aid any third party that attacked either signatory.” Lastly, he included “secret protocol” about their plans for (aka influence over) Eastern Europe once Hitler invaded Poland (Source). Stalin could have control over Eastern Poland, as well as the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland. 

In the early hours of August 23rd, von Ribbentrop called to inform Hitler that they’d been successful. Hitler “was ecstatic” (Source). In the later hours of the 23rd, Germany and the Soviet Union would sign the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it’s signers being Molotov and Ribbentrop.

The Pact would be beneficial to both sides. Stalin viewed it “as a way to keep his nation on peaceful terms with Germany, while giving him time to build up the Soviet military” (Source). For Hitler, it would “clear the way for Germany’s attack on Poland” (Source).

On August 25th, the signing of the Pact was publicly announced with great fanfare. Meanwhile, Hitler’s plans of a blitzkrieg on Poland for the same day were foiled by Poland’s pact with Britain and France. Hitler’s plans were not cancelled, though, only postponed.

News was met with shock, largely because of the Britain-French-Soviet relations, but was also met with shock by Germany’s other allies.

[Below: Soviet colonel and German officers discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of Poland.]

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Up Next: 

Dachau Concentration Camp

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