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The Soviet-Finnish ‘winter’ war began

30 November 1939

The ‘winter’ war was preceded by the negotiations between the USSR and Finland that took place in Moscow from October 12 to November 9, 1939. The negotiations discussed the issue on concluding the mutual aid pact between the two countries in the framework of the beginning World War II and also on the selling, leasing or exchanging of disputable territories having the strategic significance in case of the military actions in this sector. All the USSR suggestions were rejected by the Finnish party.

On November 29, 1939 the Finnish ambassador in Moscow received a note on the rupture of diplomatic relationship between the USSR and Finland. On November 30 at 08:00 a.m. the Leningrad front troops were given the order to cross the Finnish border. The same day the president of Finland K. Kallio declared war to the USSR.

Thus began the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940. For its unleashing the Soviet Union was excluded from the Nations League on December 14, 1939.

The ‘winter’ war military actions are devised in two periods in accordance with their character. From November 30, 1939 to February 10, 1940 the Soviet armies moved in the direction of “Mannerheim Line”. On February 11 began the military actions in regard of breaking the “Mannerheim Line” that included fortifications with main and rear defense lines and joints. 

13 countries were supporting Finland in this war. They sent it the armament (among the main suppliers were Great Britain, USA, France and Sweden). However by March of 1940 the Finnish leaders understood that despite the demands to continue the resistance Finland would not receive any support from the allies except for volunteers and arms. After “Mannerheim Line” fell in was clear that Finland was unable to hold back the Red Army offensive. The threat that the country would be completely seized became real. The consequences of the seize could be either the annexation of Finland to the USSR or the change of government to a pro-Soviet one.

In this situation the Finnish government addressed the USSR with the proposal to begin peace negotiations. On March 7, 1940 the Finnish delegation arrived to Moscow. And on March 12 already the peace treaty was concluded. Under the treaty terms the state frontier between Finland and the USSR was established along a new line. Finland ceded the entire Karelian Isthmus including the town of Vyborg, Vyborg gulf and islands; the western and northern shore of the lake Ladoga including the town of Kexholm, Sortavala, Suoyarvi; Gulf of Finland islands; the territory to the east of the lake Merkiavi including the town of Kuolayarvi; the Finnish part of Rybachiy and Sredniy semi-islands so that now they entirely belonged to the Soviet Union. From its side the USSR withdrew its armies from Petsamo region (Pechenga) that it ceded to Finland in 1920. The pre-war border line was re-established in the region beyond the Arctic circle.

The Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940 lasted only 105 days but was quite bloody. The Finnish side lost 100 thousand men from almost 600 thousand of called up. The losses of the Red Army numbered 391.8 thousand men from 1 million who participated in the military actions. The great losses of the Red Army were not only due to the stubborn enemy’s opposition but also to a poor preparation of the Red Army to the low temperatures conditions. Many of the fight men suffered not from the arms but from frostbites: their outfit did not meet the climate conditions of the territory where the battles were held.

The discussions concerning the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940 still continue. There are not many objective historical researches made neither in Finland nor in Russia. The most part of the publications and the popular science literature comes to the repetitions of the previous works or political speculations.

Lit.: Барышников В. Н. От прохладного мира к зимней войне : восточная политика Финляндии в 1930-е гг. СПб., 1997; Зимняя война 1939 - 1940 гг. М., 1998. Кн. 1 : Политическая история; Иринчеев Б. Виртуальная Финская война Виктора Суворова // Неправда Виктора Суворова. М., 2007; То же [Электронный ресурс]. URL: http://militera.lib.ru/research/nepravda_vs-1/01.html; Пыхалов И. Великая Оболганная война. М., 2005; То же [Электронный ресурс].URL: http://militera.lib.ru/research/pyhalov_i/index.html; Советско-финская война 1939-1940 гг. Хрестоматия. Минск, 1999; Таннер В. Зимняя война. М., 2003; Энгл Э., Паананен Л. Советско-финская война. Прорыв линии Маннергейма. 1939-1940. М., 2008; То же [Электронный ресурс].URL: http://militera.lib.ru/research/engle_paananen/index.html.