Friday, February 18, 2011
The Soviet invaded Finland with 21 divisions, totaling 450,000 men and bombed Helsinki. The first town they captured was Terijoki (Yeah, you are probably thinking about food too). Soviets expected a quick victory over Finland after their invasion over Poland with less than 1000 casualties. Although the Soviets had better equipment and tank divisions, the Finns had field advantage, elevation and dry ground to dig into.
The Soviets launched one-division attacks, but resulted with heavy casualties. Soviet tanks got strewn on ice so there wasn’t much they could do; and even though the tanks made it through the lines, Finnish troops just used Molotov cocktails or jammed the tanks with a simple crowbar. The Fins didn’t count with road networks, instead, it was a large forest wilderness. The Finns defeated 2 divisions with a much smaller Finnish force, making it the first Finnish victory in this war. The Soviets sent a large-scale attack, sending 8 divisions heavily supported with armor and heavy artillery.
The Finnish soldiers were skilled in cross country skiing and started using it as an advantage. Skiing troops wore lightweight gear and a white snow cape, making them almost invisible in the freezing snow.
They executed guerilla attacks against the Soviets. Skiing troops wore lightweight gear and a white snow cape, making them almost invisible in the freezing snow. Temperatures reached as low as -45 F. Many Soviet soldiers died of frostbite because they didn’t have the required clothing. The Red Army was superior in numbers and materiel, but the Finns used the advantages of speed and tactics.
The battle of Raate road, (one of my favorite operation and its still used as an example on military academics!), resulted in one of the largest losses in the Winter War. The Soviet 44th and parts of the 163rd Rifle Divisions, comprising about 14,000 troops, were almost completely destroyed by a Finnish ambush as they marched along the forest road. A small unit blocked the Soviet advance while Finnish Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo and his 9th Division cut off the retreat route, split the enemy force into smaller fragments, and then proceeded to destroy the remnants as they retreated. The Soviets suffered 7,000–9,000 casualties, while the Finnish units lost only 400 men.
Although the Soviets refined their tactics and morale improved, the generals were still willing to accept massive losses in order to reach their objectives. Attacks were screened by smoke, heavy artillery and armor support, but the infantry charged in the open and in dense formations. Unlike their tactics in December, Soviet tanks advanced in smaller numbers. The Finns could not easily eliminate tanks if infantry troops protected them. The Soviet Union captured the Karelian Isthmus.
The Soviets had about 460,000 men, over 3,350 artillery pieces, about 3,000 tanks and about 1,300aircraft deployed on the Karelian Isthmus. The Red Army was constantly receiving new recruits after the breakthrough. Opposing them the Finns had eight divisions, totalling about 150,000 men. One by one, the defenders' strongholds crumbled under the Soviet attacks and the Finns were forced to retreat. Eventually the Finnish lost the war and the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed on 12 March 1940 and went into effect the following day.