Today’s article: The Winter War or Zee Ski-Equipped Troops Are Killing Me Komrades!

Friday, February 18, 2011

One of my favorite wars of all time is the Finnish-Soviet war or Winter War. I mean, the Finnish were outmanned and outgunned and still managed to inflict some severe losses to the Soviets. Although the Finnish lost, the tactics and strategies used by the Finnish are pretty damn awesome.


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.

The Soviet forces had three times as many soldiers as the Finns, 30 times as many aircrafts and a hundred times as many tanks but the Finns still managed to kick the Soviet’s ass for a while. It was not until they sent a blitz attack that they lost. In my next article, I will talk about one of the most badassest guy ever: Simo Hayha. You will be impressed of what he achieved but in the mean time, write your opinions about this conflict, do you think this was an unnecessary move by the USSR?

15 comments:

JMchief said...

never knew about this part of the war, The Finns are badass

Aaron said...

I don't know if you've ever been there, but Finland has some of the sweetest people on the planet. Looking forward to the next story, my friend!

LiveTheBoss said...

I truly did not know this war had even occurred. Reminds me a bit of the biathlon Olympic event and the batter of Thermopolye, which you might all be familiar with because of the movie 300.

gekomaster said...

I love history! thanks for posting this :)

Grinds my Gears said...

Very interesting read man, keep it up.

Layton said...

Damn I'd never even heard of this war before. Did it have any ramifications for other nations or was it pretty localized?

fulano tal said...

I just love articles about WWII
Continue with the good articles, definitely following you :)

Mr. Storyteller said...

@Layton
The Finnish presented the case to the League of Nations after the first invasion. Many people volunteered and went to combat, also some british and french troops were sent, not sure how many, and of course, Sweden also aided the Finnish because taking Finland would mean the Soviet Union would go for Sweden next.

Ahy said...

The Finns are crazy. Unbelievable that they won with such small numbers.

Sam said...

Another daily dose of history, once again learning something I didn't know before.

Sounds dumb I suppose, but I never knew the Fins ever even fought in a war (modernish that is)

Mr. Storyteller said...

@Sam
Thank you Sam, I'm glad I'm teaching people something, as insignificant as it could be :)

Siphil said...

Great article. Underdog stories are always the best. Even though they didn't win, they made sure it wasn't an easy victory for the Soviets. I can't imagine what they thought when their tanks were being disabled with a crowbar, that's awesome.

obi said...

my partner if finnish so i have hear a bit about this before, but a good read. thx.

Jesse Brooks said...

I can see why the russians lost 27 million people in WW2. They had such huge numbers but never really bothered being properly equipped or trained.

Great post!

ReidTech said...

So many Russians died during ww2 because of just the cold. Soviets had a seriously overlooked the issue all the way through the war. Thousands of men lost their lives before they even entered any combat.

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