Winter War in Finland

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  • Topic: Winter War, Red Army, World War II
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The Winter War

The Winter War erupted on 30 November 1939, when Stalin unleashed his Red Army in an all-out assault against Finland. In August that year Stalin and Hitler had divided Eastern Europe between their two countries in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact officially known as the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939, hereafter known as The Pact, putting Finland in the Soviet sphere of influence. During the fall, Stalin demanded that Finland cede key parts of the country to the USSR. When Finland refused to meet all his demands Stalin waged war between the giant Soviet Union and the microscopic Finland ( Ries). The war ended with the Peace of Moscow. A breakdown of the war follows including the causes, Finland and the USSR’s expectations and advantages and disadvantages, propaganda techniques as well as war tactics for both countries, major battles, and ending with the effects of the Winter War.

The underlying cause of the Winter War was the Soviet concern about Nazi Germany's expansionism. The concern was brought about with Germans breaking The Pact. The Pact split up Easter Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, giving the Soviet Union ‘a sphere of influence that included Finland, the Baltic states, and other parts of Eastern Europe’. In September 1939, the Germans invaded and won a stunningly quick victory over Poland, which was split between the two in The Pact. The Soviets began to take control in their sphere of influence (U.S. Library of Congress). “On October 5, the Soviets invited Finland to discuss ‘concrete political questions,’ the Finns felt that they were next on the Soviets' agenda” ( U.S. Library of Congress). With a population of only 3.5 million, Finland itself was not a threat to the Soviet Union, but Stalin felt Finland’s territory, located strategically near Leningrad, presented a threat. (U.S. Library of Congress). After World War I, the USSR and Finnish border was moved 500 miles closer to the USSR’s capitol of Leningrad. This made Leningrad and the USSR vulnerable to a German or British attack through Finland or the Baltic States. Stalin did not feel Finland had capacity or will to hold off such an attack (Lupander). To prevent this, the Soviets initiated negotiations with Finland that ran intermittently from the spring of 1938 to the summer of 1939, but nothing was achieved, even in November 1939 (U.S. Library of Congress). In November, for the first time, these talks were conducted in public, and the Finnish people, like the government, were almost unanimous in rejecting the Soviet proposals. (U.S. Library of Congress).In November, Stalin demanded that the Finns move the border back from Leningrad and grant the USSR a 30-year lease on the Hanko Peninsula for a naval base. In exchange, the Soviets offered a large tract of the Karelian wilderness to the Finns. The Finns viewed the exchange as "two pounds of dirt for one pound of gold”, refused the offer (Hickman). The Finnish government felt it had to ‘protect its neutral status and to preserve its territorial integrity’(U.S. Library of Congress). Finland declined all the Soviet proposals because on one hand the proposals implied actions contrary to the official neutrality policy of Finland and on the other hand forced Finland to give up areas containing parts of the ‘fortified defense line constructed specifically to protect the country against Soviet aggression.’ (Lupander). Finland counter-offered the Soviets assuring the USSR that Finland would never violate its neutrality for German or British forces but the Soviets did not accept this (U.S. Library of Congress).

Not all Finns supported the government’s decision to decline the Soviets demands. The two main Finnish negotiators, Vainö Tanner and Juho Paasikivi, urged the Finnish government to give the Soviets what they want, because they realized that Finland was diplomatically isolated and could expect no support if war came about....
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