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Snapshots in History: November 30: Remembering the Winter War

November 30, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)



(Tanks were destroyed with satchel charges and Molotov cocktails. File URL: ; Page URL: ; Attribution: By SA-kuva. (MTV3) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Date: 1939 or 1940)


On November 30 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Winter War, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland that began on November 30, 1939 and ended in mid-March, 1940 with the signing of the  Moscow Peace Treaty that ceded large territorial tracts, most of Finland’s pulp and paper industrial capacity, and one-third of the Finns’ hydroelectric power generating capacity.  On the surface, Goliath did indeed beat David but at a high price. The Soviets had overwhelming superiority in terms of ground troops, tanks, and aircraft but ended up with approximately 323,000 total casualties (out of a total population of some 180 million people at the time) to Finland’s 70,000 (out of a total population of some 3 million people at that time). The Finns had several things going in their favour: knowledge of their terrain and how to mobilize and fight thereon; the cold, sub-Arctic temperatures at the time for which the Finns had better clothing and used white sheets as camouflage in the snow; and, the poor organization of the Soviet forces. Unfortunately, the Soviets had numerical superiority of their side with the eventual outcome likely, and French and British plans to send military aid to Finland came to naught. The League of Nations resolution adopted on December 14, 1939 to expel the Soviet Union for taking aggressive action against Finland was of little consequence as the League had already failed to prevent the start of World War Two in September 1939. Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


A frozen hell: the Russo-Finnish winter war of 1939-1940 / William R. Trotter, 1991. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 948.97032 TRO

The author brought out the Finns’ advantages in defense: love of their country, knowledge of the land, and ability to move around it. Superiority in military equipment alone is not necessary a recipe for success. The Finns did surrender land and resources to end this conflict but retained their independence. Soviet incompetence on the battlefront helped the Finns but Finnish resources were stretched to the limit.


Mannerheim president soldier spy

Mannerheim: president, soldier, spy / Jonathan Clements, 2012. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 948.9703 MAN CLE

This biography examined Finnish statesman Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim who served as Commander-in-Chief of Finland’s military forces during World War 2, including the Winter War. Prior to Finland’s independence from Russia in December 1917, Mannerheim had served in the Imperial Russian Army. Mannerheim became the country’s President in 1944 and served until 1946, when ill-health forced his retirement. He died in January 1951. 


White death Russia's war on Finland 1939-40 

White death: Russia's war on Finland, 1939-40 / Robert Edwards, 2006. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 948.97032 EDW

Although Finland lost 11% of its territory, 30% of its economic assets, and over 25.000 of its people killed (amongst the 70,000 casualties), Finnish troops outclassed their poorly trained Soviet counterparts in battle with their use of skiing for mobility, their navigational abilities, deadly marksmanship using their automatic weapons, and the ability to improvise as needed. Learn where the slogan “White Death” came from.  


The winter war the Soviet attack on Finland 1939-1940

The winter war: the Soviet attack on Finland, 1939-1940 [1st. pbk. ed.]  / Eloise Katherine Engle and Lauri Paananen, 1992 [c1973]. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 948 .97032 ENG

For a time, Engle and Paananen’s book was one of the few titles available in English that was readily available on the Winter War. The book covered the failed negotiations between Finland and the Soviet Union over the latter’s desire for additional territory to protect itself from future conflict. The harsh Moscow Peace Treaty ending the Winter War helped to set the stage for Finland’s attempt to regain its resources and territory in the Continuation War of 1941-1944 against the Soviet Union.

For a copy of the 1972/c1973 edition of this title, please click here.


For books in the Finnish language on this subject (both Non-Fiction and Fiction), click here.


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