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The Winter War-the opening act.

Discussion in 'Winter and Continuation Wars' started by JeffinMNUSA, Jun 14, 2008.

  1. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    An incredible account of Stalin toasting the Finnish Army (and speaking of which you sure hear a lot about Stalin and his friends and their HEAVY DRINKING. He was almost certainly "an alchoholic" by today's definition of the term-though I suppose having a glorified Bowery Bum running the show is preferrable to having an amphetemine addict like Hitler at the helm. Still you have got to wonder how many of his decisions were rendered "under the influence"? THings like the ill considered Kharkov offensive of 1942?);
    Suomi m/1931


    Here are some Winter War links;
    Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia. Related Links | PBS
    HSE
    Talvisota (1989)
    The Russian Mosin Nagant Page

    Suomi SMG
    Mannerheim Line main page

    And my thoughts on "The Winter War" while I was reading Catherine Merridale's most excellent "Ivan's War."

    Being half Finnish I grew hearing stories of the Finnish Army's magnificent performance against "Stalin's stooges" and how it proved the martial prowess and athletic ability of the Finnish fighting man and the Finnish people in general. Indeed the Finnish soldier has been rated as the best of WWII. Still this does not account for the Finnish repulse of the massively superior numbers and equipment of the USSR. I have been reading "Ivan's War" of late and the author details the poor condition of the Red Army in 1939; the political officers were running everything and they had basically turned the army camps into big political pep rallies for Stalin and communism. Scant attention was paid to trivial matters like military training or arms practice. Soldiers often practiced with wooden rifles and had seldom to never fired their weapons by the time they were issued them for combat. The troops were poorly taken care of and suffering all sorts of maladies. They were definitely not prepared to operate in arctic conditions. The Red Army had been purged and such officers as there were were massively inexperienced. Recon was so bad that the Mannerheim pillboxes were not even detected until the troops walked into them. Coordination of arms was slender to nonexistent and the perenial Soviet problem of poor com was at it's nadir. The politically derived doctrine said only "ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK!" So the half frozen Soviet infantrymen obediantly lined up and ran towards the Finns, disdaining such things as camoflage or seeking cover or even offering much in the way of effective suppressive fire. They were picked off almost at leisure by the defenders. Krushchev later claimed that the Reds lost a million men during the Winter War and this is certainly possible if you factor in losses to Frostbite, accidents, disease and hunger. I don't know how I am going to tell my cousins that it was not such a matter of our guys being so good as a matter of their guys being so bad. The Soviet attack has to be the most poorly managed military operation ever mounted by a nation in modern times, and Berlin was taking carefull notes. The Winter War served as a wakeup call to Moscow that their vast armies were little more than armed mobs run by slogan chanting charlatans. The Red Army was in the process of reforming and modernizing when Barbarossa broke. The writer David Glantz asserts that the German would have been quickly repulsed if Barbarossa would have happened a year later.
    By the time of the Continuation War the Reds had gotten their military act together and in 1944 they mounted an highly effective attack that quickly overwhelmed the tiny Finnish Army-as the world had expected to happen in 1939. What is telling is that Stalin had no interest in taking Helsinki (or Belgrade for that matter). That book I read on the subject about a decade back speculated that the mounstache feared a guerrilla war or perhaps that he wanted to maintain Finland as Russia's traditional "window on the West." Or maybe he was just too damn busy elsewhere to bother. Perhaps all the above.
    PS. And the NAZIs would have done well to have looked at a little known battle that occurred in the Far East also in 1939 at a place called "Khalkin Gol". http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/12-19-2002-32527.asp
    http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/12-19-2002-32527.asp
    JeffinMNUSA
     
  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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  3. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Yes, all of that and something more, really.

    To put it in short the Finns were lucky and the Red army was not...

    However, I guess I am as a Finn the one to say something here.

    1. The Red Army had the numbers in men,planes, tanks,artillery etc. In numbers alone it was a walk in the park no matter how bad your officers and generals were.

    2. The Finns had the high morale to fight back, they were good at shooting ( the civil guard ), knew the landscape, the Red Army tactics offered alot of help.

    For instance the tanks were not allowed to go away from the roads, and if the soldiers following the tank were killed the tanks would pull back. Also several units attacked through roads that were lined with trees and divisions could be spread along miles/kilometers along the road leaving the units vulnerable to attack.

    Stalin was also informed that the Finnish resistance would be broken once any attack occurred so even the high command for the Red Army was really "in-space" for this offensive.

    the Mannerheim line was not any Maginot line so the weakness of the Red Army was explained by the strength of the Mannerheim line. The funniest story so far I´ve read is that the Finnish bunkers were lined with 1-2 meter of rubber and the artillery fire ricocheted back on the Red army troops. The main problem was that the Red Army did not have the kind of artillery fire to destroy the bunkers.

    3. By March there was some 500,000 Red Army soldiers attacking the Finnish front and the Finnish army just and just held the attack. By then the internation press´interest was so huge that this was one of the main reasons why Stalin decided to start the negotiations for peace. He would get the rest later.

    So in short:

    Bad tactics and wrong reconnaissance for the Soviets
    Good morale and fighting spirit for Finns

    If you want to ask some more I´ll answer as well as I can

    PS. And yes, we got alot of help from the Swedes!
     
  4. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    In a nutshell, the Finns beat 'em, plain and simple.
     
  5. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    I found this on a site called "History House an irrevenent history magazine". I hadnt heard these stories before. Has anyone else? Other then that its a interesting site LOL. I especially like the airdrop story.




    It's Not All Black and White

    The list of Soviet failings was long and comprehensive. The troops wore olive drab or khaki uniforms, their tanks were painted black, and they carried heavy field stoves that sent thick plumes of black smoke visible for miles. Not a super idea for hiding in the snow. The Russian field manual for snow combat was probably written in the Mediterranean, because it had a passage on bayoneting on skis (this won't work for the same reason you can't bowl wearing rollerblades). While Finnish field doctors knew, for example, that morphine would freeze in the cold unless stored in the mouth or armpit, their Russian counterparts scratched their heads as their wounded howled in pain. So great were the casualties that hospitals in Leningrad filled to capacity early in the invasion; soon after, mile-long lengths of trains wound their way as far as Moscow, windows covered with curtains to hide curious passersby from the hideous sight of the frostbitten, the bleeding, the wounded and the dying. Trotter sums up the situation endured by the hapless Soviets:

    For many of the encircled Soviet troops, just staying alive, for one more hour or one more day, was an ordeal comparable to combat. Freezing hungry, crusted with their own filth (while the besieging Finns, a thousand meters away, might be enjoying a sauna-bath), for them the central forest was truly a snow-white hell... their despair was recorded in the thousands of never-mailed letters to home they had scrawled before dying, letters they had sealed, for lack of anything better, with bits of black bread that had been chewed to a paste and dabbed onto the paper like blobs of rubber cement.

    Who Could Hate Communists?

    The Russians just had an awful time. One captured Soviet colonel offered some more details during his interrogation: "I know that Stalin and Voroshilov are clever, sensible men and I can't understand how they were led to this idiotic war. What do we need cold, dark Finland for anyway?" He also talked about his time in the woods:

    ... Finns we couldn't see anywhere... When we sent our sentries out to take their positions around the camp, we knew that within minutes they would be dead with a bullet hole to the forehead or the throat slashed by a dagger... it was sheer madness... We Soviets thought we were respected by other countries because of our peace-loving ways, and the entire civilized world was behind us since we were the cradle of all free workers. Now we are hated and despised. You'd better bury all those soldiers before spring. Otherwise you'll have a plague.

    Please Leave a Bomb at the Tone

    Things were difficult. A division of Russian ground forces issued a communique so desperate it took on comic overtones:

    Please airdrop food and supplies, regardless of weather. Last drop did not include ammunition. Please air drop ammunition. Two days without bullets. Food and fodder all gone. Try to send some today. Why do you let us suffer without food and fodder? Please do something about it! Four aircraft did not drop any food at all. Generally we received too little food. The greater portion landed on the Finnish side.

    After hours with no response, they lamented, "Why don't you answer our messages?" Long ago the Finns had figured out the Russian radio signals and had their transports dropping supplies on Finnish positions. Of course, the Russians eventually got wise and dropped a "supply" of bombs.

    While we have made much of the Russians' difficulties, we should remind ourselves that the Finns were terribly short on ammunition, arms and other supplies -- many of their artillery pieces were from the nineteenth century. Even with these shortcomings, they managed to completely outmaneuver the Russians on nearly every front, including the art of gentlemanly war. Russian soldiers injured more seriously than Finns received medical care first in Finnish field hospitals, and captured Russians were always treated to hot meals, warm shelter and saunas. A Russian man who had hopped the Finnish border to buy some shoes for his wife was shanghaied by the Red Army and put into service without a shred of training. He was captured by the Finns, still toting his wife's shoes. "The Finns took pity on the wretch," Trotter writes, "gave him fresh socks, some cigarettes, and a turn in the sauna bath... he was retained at headquarters as a kind of mascot for the rest of the campaign."
    Finnished!

    One exceptionally burly Finnish sergeant held off two Russian tanks with a 9mm pistol. Another took a bullet to the lung, and smiled in front of his commanding officer, claiming it was far easier to breathe with this new hole in his chest. Finland's antitank forces endured a 70% mortality rate, but had no shortage of volunteers. However, this is not to say they were without their failings: Most of a division ran screaming from an armored car that happened to be Finnish, having mistaken it for a Russian tank. Trotter reports, "Most of the Fifth Division troops didn't stop running until they were back in line, where officers who had witnessed the debacle cursed and punched and in some cases threatened to shoot them." Engle and Paananen describe a platoon commander who went crazy during combat for the shortage of guns and ammunition:

    He burst into the command dugout, and started raving: "My wife is coming here with more machine guns. We're going to kill them all. Even the last one. My wife is coming with more machine guns." Then he turned into the open without his weapon or hat and screamed, "My wife is coming, my wife is coming, with more weapons!" A piece of red-hot shrapnel stuck him, and he was quiet.

    Burying the dead
    Burying the dead

    Nevertheless, Finland managed to inflict in between 230,000 and 270,000 fatalities plus 200,000-300,000 injuries on Russia, while losing 48,745 troops and enduring 159,000 other casualties during the campaign. It held on for as long as it could before succumbing on March 13, 1940, but only after a two-week-long bombing and artillery effort by Russia, which threw everything it had at poor Finland. Mannerheim's orders to his troops upon their surrender survive as a piece of inspired patriotism.

    While cleaning up, a Finnish officer muttered to a photojournalist, "The wolves will eat well this year." After the "victory", a Russian officer muttered, "Well, we've won just enough land to bury our dead."

    http://www.historyhouse.com/in_history/winter_war/

    http://www.ww2f.com/wwii-general/21794-soviet-problems-finland.html
     
  6. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Yes, we did destroy some 2,000 tanks thanx to the Molotov cocktail.

    The Red Army officer wore a white tunic and was not allowed to have a weapon of any kind, yet his task was to lead the troops.

    The Red Army was forced to attack in the snow by foot while Finns used skis.

    Many of the Red Army soldiers could not shoot properly and many shot their first shots on the way to the front creating chaos in the frontline troops as they thought the Finns were behind them.

    Leningrad district supply depot would not give winter boots to the soldiers as the war would not last that long.

    Just some details that really can make a difference...
     
  7. Ceraphix

    Ceraphix Member

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    I admire the Finns for their bravery in holding out against the Russains for so long despite being outnumbered hundreds to one :S!.
     
  8. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Like I have said I compare it with the Poles stopping the German blitzkrieg machine in early Sept 1939...
     
  9. Ceraphix

    Ceraphix Member

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    Those aren't that similar...Poland only lasted for about a month while Finland lasted about 3, and Poland suffered 3 times more casualties than Germany as opposed to the Finns suffering nearly 10 times less than the Soviets.
    I guess you can attribute this to the fact that a) the German army and airforce in 1939 was much more effective than the Soviet one and b) The Finns used unconventional warfare much more often than the Poles.
     
  10. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    Cerefax;
    Add also that; A. The Finnish defenses were built around lakes and forests-much more defensible terrain than the plains of Poland. B. The Soviet military was at it's nadir. C. Arctic conditions favored the Finns. And D; "Sisu" a Finnish cultural concept.
    JeffinMNUSA
     
  11. Ceraphix

    Ceraphix Member

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    Thats true, but Poland also had a slight geographical advantage in that many of its rivers run longitudinal, presenting the Germans with obstacles to cross.
     
  12. Miguel B.

    Miguel B. Member

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    And finland communication lines ran all across the Finish lines and in a straight angle on the Russians so, the Russians had a hard time moving reserves where they should while the Finish managed to do so without much fuss. As a direct result from this, the "great" Russian offensives early in the war were made with 3 divisions tops.
    Also, the campaign was poorly planed as the Soviet high command never expected the war to last.
    I just can't seem to understand however, how is that the Russians who have some of the colder places in the planet equiped so poorly their troops to winter battle.
    Oh and the Finns territory is ideal (with lots of swamps and forests) for Guerrilla warfare wich since times immemorial proves a disaster to well organised troops (Romans in Iberia for instance :D).

    :D


    Cheers...
     
  13. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

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    2000? Hmmm...

    Finnish Molotov Cocktails were filled with vodka, so the Soviet crews would simply jump their vehicles before the Finns would light the fuse. They felt it would be an awful waste of good vodka! There :)
     
  14. RAM

    RAM Member

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    Here's some info on the Hawk 75 fighter planes used by the Finns;

    Curtiss Hawk P-75 A-2

    Curtiss Hawk 75 <Feature>

    Originally purchased by Norway and France, then captured by the germans and handed over to the Finns.

    Regards
    RAM
     
  15. Ceraphix

    Ceraphix Member

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    That would explain the large number of Russian tanks captured intact by the Finns...;)
     
  16. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Since when were the Molotov cocktail bottles NOT crashed broken to the metal and thus create a flame that would spread inside the tank. The fuse is glued to the side of the bottle or a part of clothing already on fire leading to the inside of the bottle.
     

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