Stories from the War Years

Historic war sites – Story locations – Told by the field mail

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Kriegshistorische Stätten – Schauplätze der Geschichten – Was die Feldpost über den Krieg erzählt

Finland and Germany – Brothers in arms in the war

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Military cooperation between Finland and Germany was rooted in the Jaeger movement 1915–1918 and the events of the 1918 Finnish Civil War. After the civil war, the Finnish army was modelled after the German system, although it was also influenced by Russian military traditions. Finland also shared a political connection with Germany. In 1918, the brother-in-law of the German Emperor was envisioned to become the king of Finland, but the outcome of the First World War thwarted the plans of allying with Germany. The Winter War eventually proved that, in terms of military matters and foreign policy, traditions had no relevance when the totalitarian countries were dividing Europe. In the Winter War 1939–1940, Germany left Finland in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence in accordance with the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. 

As a result of the outcome of the Winter War, Germany’s attitude towards Finland changed, as the border against the Soviet Union remained almost unchanged. In November 1940, Hitler dismissed Molotov’s demands to include Finland in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, as Germany had grown increasingly interested in the possibilities offered by Lapland. Germany was interested in the nickel found in Petsamo [Pechenga] and in cutting off the Murman railway which was a crucial supply line for the Red Army. In August of the same year, interaction between the countries picked up pace, and in September, Finland endorsed a secret agreement allowing German troops to travel to Kirkenes along the Arctic Ocean Highway. At the end of January 1941, German military leaders told a Finnish military delegation that Germany was contemplating an attack into the Soviet Union the following summer.

In May 1941, a Finnish military delegation visited Germany and practically agreed on a brotherhood in arms without involving the parliament. Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June, and Hitler announced that Finnish soldiers would fight alongside German troops. German forces had started moving from Norway to Finland at the start of the same month, but the political leaders of Finland wanted to remain neutral until the Soviet Union would embark on an offensive. The Soviet Union bombed Finnish targets on 25 June, after which Prime Minister Jukka Rangell declared that Finland was again at war against the Soviet Union.

Finland and Germany did not sign an official military alliance between the years of 1941 and 1944. Meanwhile, as many as 220 000 German soldiers operated eastwards in northern Finland. When looking at the Second World War in its entirety, Germany was defeated at the end of the massive Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943, after which Finland started looking for a way to make peace with the Soviet Union. In summer 1944, Finland managed to bring the Vyborg–Petrozavodsk offensive by the Red Army to a halt. Despite this, it was obvious that Finland’s defence would not last forever. According to Mannerheim’s estimates, there were enough resources to continue fighting for three more months, and the Finnish political leaders drew their own conclusions of the situation. On first of August, Risto Ryti resigned from his position as the president of Finland and was replaced by Mannerheim.

Photo: SA-KUVA

The previous midsummer, Ryti had acquired military aid from Germany under the promise that his government would not conclude a separate peace with the Soviet Union. Ryti deliberately sacrificed himself, as Mannerheim did not consider himself obliged to keep his predecessor’s promise. On 2 September, Mannerheim announced to Colonel General Lothar Rendulic, who was visiting Helsinki at the time, that the brotherhood in arms had come to an end. This infuriated Hitler. One of the conditions of the armistice between Finland and the Soviet Union was the expulsion or internment of German troops, and the same condition was also included in the Moscow Armistice signed on 19 September. This resulted in the Lapland War between Finland and Germany, which broke out in Tornio on 1 October 1944, after a battle in Suursaari and skirmishes in Pudasjärvi and Olhava. In addition to Tornio, the fiercest battles of this bitter war between former brothers-in-arms were fought in Kemi, Ranua, Rovaniemi and Muonio.

The most intense phase of the war took place in October 1944, but the battles continued for another seven months in northwestern Lapland. The Lyngen Line was Germany’s final large defensive position in Scandinavia, and its base in Kitdalen reached to Kilpisjärvi in Finland. Officially, military action in Lapland did not end until 27 April 1945 when Finland could state for certain at the Three-Country Cairn that the last German soldier had left the Finnish territory.