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The Winter War - Finnish Victory or Soviet Pyrrhic Victory? Template for Ukraine War?


DP Veteran
May 8, 2017
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Did the Soviet Union win the "Winter War" between the USSR and Finland? On paper they did but as some general said "any more victories like that and we're done for." See With Triumphs Like These, Who Needs Defeats? In November 1939 the USSR attacked Finland. Finland did not just role over to the vastly superior Soviet forces. Finland mounted what one historian called a "Fabian defense." See Lessons from the Winter War: Frozen Grit and Finland’s Fabian Defense (link, excerpt below)
All too often, however, it is certain climactic battles-or flashes in the pan of martial history that capture our interest, rather than the more protracted and less cinematic struggles between two unevenly matched armies. An exception might be the campaigns of Quintus Fabius Maximus during the Second Punic War. The redoubtable Roman’s efforts have bequeathed to us something of an awkward nomenclature — the adjective Fabian — now used to designate nationally driven scorched-earth tactics or strategies of delay and progressive attrition.
There are countless other fascinating examples of Fabian warfare that could and should be drawn upon by contemporary strategists.

Yet one of history’s most dramatic tales of Fabian defense is found much further north, in the dark pine forests stretching beyond the Arctic Circle and in the mass graveyards that still dot the banks of the Karelian Isthmus. Karelia, renowned for its natural beauty, is one of those many bucolic but benighted stretches of territory that by the tyranny of geography have found themselves repeatedly ravaged by great power conflicts.
Finland’s Winter War with the Soviet Union, waged over the course of 105 days from November 1939 to March 1940, should be an object of study for all students of military strategy.
In A Short History Of The 'Winter War' (link in title, authored by Imperial War Museums) the Winter War was aptly summarized, "(t)he ‘Winter War’ of 1939-1940, also known as the Russo-Finnish War, saw the tiny Finnish Army take on the might of the Soviet Union’s gigantic Red Army….A faked border incident gave the Soviet Union the excuse to invade on 30 November 1939. The Red Army was ill-equipped, poorly led, and unable to deal with the Finnish terrain and winter weather. Though small and under-resourced, the Finnish Army was resilient, well-led and was able to use knowledge of the terrain to good effect.” The outcome of the war may have been a victory, but a limited one and hardly worth the price for the Soviets. Link, excerpts below:
The treaty ending the Winter War forced Finland to cede 11 percent of its territory to the Soviet Union, yet the country maintained its independence and later squared off against Russia a second time during World War II. For the Soviets, meanwhile, victory came at a heavy cost. During just three months of fighting, their forces suffered over 300,000 casualties compared to around 65,000 for the Finns.
This mini-war, the British "victory" at Bunker Hill and other "triumphs" by powerful countries, then, often are not worth much when against determined defenders. I welcome other accounts of similar efforts, which is why I posted this on "History." Is this war and treaty resolving war a template for the current Ukraine strife.
The Russian "Molotov Cocktail" was most effectively used against the Russians by the Finns, beginning in 1939. Now, the Ukrainians are using them.
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Hear tell the Finnish general (who is now a national hero) did such a good job in fighting the Russians that even Stalin expressed grudging respect.
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The Winter War (and the Continuation War) is often debated. At the end of the novel Tuntematon sotilas by Väinö Linna the character Vanhala says: "Sosialististen Neuvostotasavaltojen liitto voitti, mutta hyvänä kakkosena tuli maaliin pieni ja sisukas Suomi." wich translates roughly to the USSR won, but small and sisukas Finland came over the finish line in at a good 2nd place". Sisukas is the adjective form os Sisu, a a word hard to translate, but in this case means something like determination, bravery and resilience. Finland might have technically lost both the Winter War and the Continuation War, but the war goals of the USSR to annex Finland had failed. Finland was still an independent country outside the USSR sphere of influence. In that manner Finland won.

The General people are speaking about is probably Gustaf Mannerheim (or often just Mannerheim), a former general of the Imperial Russian army who became the leader of the Finnish military after the independence and fought in the Finnish Civil War for the Whites. Then he resigned but returned to service in the 1930s as the head of the Finnish Defence Council (but was often butting head with the political leadership), and became Commander-in-Chief in 1939. During WW2 he even became President for a short while, to handle the peace negotiations (he was considered a person respected by all the players: Stalin, Hitler and the West).

Anyways back to the question why the USSR invasion of Finland didn't go so well for them. Start with the Winter War. The Soviet army was incredibly ill prepared for both winter warfare and the terrain, despite Russia having the same type of weather and terrain. The Finns that knew the land better was simply better situated. Motti warfare, i.e. sudden hit and run attacks was also not something the Russians were prepared for at all, they were even confused there were any resistance in the first place. And the leadership of the Red Army was in chaos due to Stalin's very recent purges that certainly wasn't helping. If we move on to the Continuation War, well, the USSR was very preoccupied by Germany and the German invasion to be able to see the war with Finland as anything else than a sideshow.
Hear tell the Finnish general (who is now a national hero) did such a good job in fighting the Russians that even Stalin expressed grudging respect.

Finnish sniper Simo Hayha had the most kills of anyone in history, 542, of Soviet soldiers. He did not use a scope because it could fog in the extreme Finland winter cold and raise his profile, making him a target for the enemy. He had no problem hitting a target from 500 ft 16 times in one minute with a bolt action rifle fed by a 5-round mag. The remaining highest kills of the top ten were all Russians, the best being a woman. The Russians are deathly afraid of going into Kiev because they will be exposed to sniping.
The Russians are deathly afraid of going into Kiev because they will be exposed to sniping.
If that guy in the Kremlin were a real man, he would personally lead the charge in Kiev.

Since he loves wars so much, why isn't he at the front, instead of hiding in Moscow?
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