Stories from the War Years

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

Finland and Great Britain – Unfulfilled promises

The relationship between Finland and Great Britain was very unusual and complex during the Second World War. In the Winter War 1939–1940, Great Britain was a prominent supporter of Finland, although it did not provide any direct military aid. Britain and France were planning a major operation to help Finland, which would have inevitably dragged the Soviet Union into a war against these two countries. Perhaps the fear of British and French intervention made Stalin opt for peace at the end of the Winter War. The British and the French clearly had their own interests in mind in the assistance mission; if they were to help Finland, their troops would have landed in Narvik and be transferred across Sweden. As it happens, the Norrbotten ore field was located along this route, and the German war industry was almost dependent on ore from this particular field. It is worth noticing that Britain’s plans for helping Finland did not extend any further than the harbour of Luleå.

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After the Winter War in April 1940, Germany attacked Norway, and the country was occupied in a couple of months’ time. The invasion of Norway weakened Finland’s opportunities to trade with Great Britain to a considerable extent. Consequently, Finland and Germany became closer in the commercial and also military sense. By summer 1941, Finland’s foreign policy landscape had been turned upside down compared to the days of the Winter War. Side by side with Germany, Finland attacked the Soviet Union, which had been Hitler’s partner during the Winter War as a result of the non-aggression pact. Great Britain and Germany, in turn, had been at war since the beginning of September 1939. After the launching of Operation Barbarossa, Britain started supporting the Soviet Union, which had been targeted in an attack. Only a year and a half earlier, Great Britain had almost been drawn into war against the Soviet Union because of the issue of Finland.

Source: SA-KUVA

Great Britain’s only military operation against Finland took place in Petsamo [Pechenga] on 30 July 1941. Britain’s air strike into the harbour of Liinahamari [Liinakhamari] was not greatly successful, as the bombers ended up sinking one of the two cargo ships docked in the harbour. Simultaneously with the raid in Liinahamari, two waves of attack were launched towards Kirkenes from the deck of HMS Victorious. In Kirkenes, the bombers destroyed one cargo ship and damaged another. The Brits themselves suffered great losses.

In Finland, Britain’s attack was widely and bitterly condemned. The bombing of Petsamo was a significant milestone in the political development that eventually led to Great Britain declaring war on Finland in December the same year. At the same time, this was an important moment in the whole history of the Second World War, as the air raids in the harbours of Liinahamari and Kirkenes were the first military operation conducted in cooperation between Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

In November 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a secret letter to Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim via the US Ambassador to Finland. In his letter, Churchill estimated that Finland had advanced so far in the east that the attack could be brought to a close, as the Finnish borders had been secured. Were the battles to continue, Great Britain would declare war on Finland as a token of loyalty to the Soviet Union. Mannerheim politely declined, and as a result, Great Britain declared war on Finland on Independence Day, 6 December 1941. Eventually, Finland sided with the Allies only in the Lapland War in 1944, when guns were turned against their former brothers-in-arms, the Germans.

The Allied Commission operated in Finland from 1944 to 1947, monitoring the implementation of the Moscow Armistice, which had been signed at the end of the Continuation War. In practice, the commission was governed by Russians and chaired by Andrei Ždanov. The supervisory commission also included British representatives, but they played more of a formal role. Finnish people would have hoped for the British to take on a more active role to balance out the controlling power of Russia, as the Allied Commission put pressure on the Finnish Government in various politically charged matters, the most well known being the war crimes trials and weapon cache investigations. The Allied Commission left Finland after the Paris Peace Treaties had entered into force in 1947.