Between the East and the West
David and Goliath
A history lesson
Oceans rise, empires fall
The Finnish Civil War
Peace and independence
A nation of three million
The Great Depression
A new war begins
Battleground Europe
Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact
The shelling of Mainila
False flag operation?
Invasion
Home field advantage
Guerrilla tactics
Ski troops
The White Death
Peace at a cost
What's Russian for 'Pyrrhic'?
The shape of war
Operation Barbarossa
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The Winter War: That one time Finland humiliated the Russians
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Between the East and the West

Tension has increased in Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland and Sweden, Nordic countries that traditionally have maintained a neutral balance between the East and the West, now have grown closer to NATO.

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The Winter War: That one time Finland humiliated the Russians
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David and Goliath

However, it’s important to remember that one time the little Nordic nation managed to defeat one of the world’s largest armies.

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The Winter War: That one time Finland humiliated the Russians
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A history lesson

First off, a bit of historical context. For several centuries, the country that we now know as Finland was under Swedish rule. This changed in 1809 when the Russian Empire annexed the territory as the Grand Duchy of Finland.

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Oceans rise, empires fall

This lasted until the Russian Revolution in 1917. The old imperial rule collapsed, making way for the establishment of the Republic of Finland on December 6, 1917.

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The Finnish Civil War

Peace didn’t come with independence, though. A civil war broke out in Finland between the new government, which was backed by the German Empire, and rebels supported by the Soviet Union.

Pictured: Finnish citizens during the proclamation of independence in Helsinki.

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Peace and independence

Something similar happened to Ukraine around that time. However, unlike Ukraine, the independent government came out victorious from the Bolshevik troops in 1918.

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A nation of three million

At the time, Finland was a mostly agrarian nation of around three million people that mainly exported to Germany and the United Kingdom.

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The Great Depression

However, the rest of Europe still faced the trauma of the aftermath of the First World War. The Great Depression in 1929 didn’t help the matter.

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A new war begins

Fascist movements with expansionist goals rose in Italy and Germany and in less than 20 years after an armistice, war was decimating the continent again.

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The Winter War: That one time Finland humiliated the Russians
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Battleground Europe

While Nazi Germany invaded Austria, France, Czechoslovakia, and western Poland, the Soviet Union mobilized to occupy eastern Poland and Finland.

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Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact

Hitler and Stalin’s respective Foreign Ministers had signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939, ensuring that neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union would get in each other’s way and virtually divide Poland and the Baltic.

Pictured: Soviet Foreign Minister Viacheslav Mólotov and his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1939.

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The Winter War: That one time Finland humiliated the Russians
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The shelling of Mainila

On November 26, 1939, Soviet troops near the Soviet village of Mainila were attacked by an unknown party claimed to be Finnish artillery. The Soviet government claimed it was a provocation and use it as an excuse to justify a full invasion.

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False flag operation?

Despite claims through the years, that incident was a false flag operation carried out by the Red Army, including statements made in the 1990s by former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. The government of Vladimir Putin maintains that the incident was full Finnish responsibility.

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The Winter War: That one time Finland humiliated the Russians
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Invasion

Soviet victory over Finland, and the possible annexation of the entire country by the USSR, were expected within weeks. Half a million Red Army troops were sent to the tiny, underpopulated Nordic country. However, things were not as easy from the start.

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Home field advantage

Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the Finns had a superior advantage on one front: they knew the territory much better than their invaders.

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Guerrilla tactics

Under the leadership of Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (pictured, left), the Finnish engaged in guerrilla tactics while the Soviet soldiers were bogged down by difficult terrain, thick forests, and harsh winter.

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Ski troops

Finnish ski troops are reported to have carried out hit-and-run attacks on isolated Soviet units, which stood out easily among the winter-covered landscape.

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The White Death

One Finnish sniper, a farmer by the name of Simo Häyhä, is reported to have killed over 500 Red Army soldiers. He earned the nickname 'The White Death'.

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Peace at a cost

Ultimately, Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union in February 1940, giving away 11% of their territory.

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What's Russian for 'Pyrrhic'?

However, this was only after a huge loss for the Red Army. A piece on the History Channel website reports that Soviet forces had over 300,000 casualties to circa 65,000 Finns.

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The shape of war

The Soviet Union also faced repercussions at the international level, getting expelled from the League of Nations due to the invasion of Finland. However, Stalin would prove a useful ally in the new world war that was starting to take shape.

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Operation Barbarossa

Some even claim that the Red Army’s embarrassing performance in Finland led to Hitler thinking he could declare war on the Soviet Union without much problem. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and eventually would prove to be its undoing.

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