Stories from the War Years

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Finland in the Second World War

On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union announced that they had signed a non-aggression pact which was named after the Foreign Ministers of the superpowers, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov. The non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union included a secret protocol, which sealed the fate of Finland, the Baltic countries, Poland and Romania. In the additional protocol, Germany and the Soviet Union divided the small neighbouring countries into their spheres of interest, and Finland was included in the Soviet block. The Soviet Union had decided to invade Finland.

Image Source: SA-kuva

The Winter War started on 30 November at 6:50 when the Red Army opened fire on the Karelian Isthmus. The very same morning, bombers targeted Helsinki in a surprise attack. It was declared that Finland was at war and Marshal Mannerheim was nominated as the commander-in-chief of the Finnish army.

Finland started defending itself against the Soviet superpower – at that time, there were four million people living in Finland and approximately 180 million in the Soviet Union. To the dismay of the entire world, Finland managed to defend itself against the superpower for 105 days and maintain its independence.

According to current knowledge, the Winter War cost the lives of almost 26 700 Finns. Approximately 43 500 people were wounded, disabled or injured in some other way. In Soviet history, estimations of the losses caused by the Winter War varied considerably in different eras. According to newest Russian history research, more than 140 000 people were killed.

Later on, Germany and the Soviet Union were not unanimous about Finland’s destiny. In November 1940, dictator Adolph Hitler announced to Molotov, who was visiting Berlin at the time, that the Soviet Union no longer had autonomy to decide what to do about the situation of Finland. By summer 1941, the political situation between the great powers had changed and Finland attacked the Soviet Union side by side with Germany. After the Soviet Union had bombed various Finnish targets on 25 June 1941, Finland considered itself to be at war again. This is how the Continuation War started. Finland did not form an official military alliance with Germany during the war.

The Continuation War was expected to be short, as the assumption was that the Soviet Union would be overthrown quickly. Quite the opposite happened, and towards the end of 1941, the attack phase turned into trench warfare. At most, there were over 220 000 German soldiers in Northern Finland. They were in charge of the northern front during the trench war. The long period of positional warfare lasted until June 1944, when the Red Army launched a major attack on the Karelian Isthmus. As summer 1944 progressed, the Finnish Army brought the major attack to a halt in Tienhaara, Tali-Ihantala, the Vyborg Bay, Vuosalmi and Ilomantsi. Despite the defensive victories, it was obvious that Finland had to conclude a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, as at that stage, it was only a matter of time before Germany would fall.

The Moscow Armistice was signed between Finland and the Soviet Union on 19 September 1944. The preconditions of the armistice compelled Finland to expel German troops from its territory or to have them interned. As a result, the Lapland War broke out between the Finnish and German forces. The actual onset of the war was marked by the landing in Tornio on 1 October 1944. The battles in this border town lasted for over a week and approximately 450 Finns were killed. This was Finland’s last major battle, which also meant that the country concretely changed sides, leaving Germany and joining the Allies.

Image Source: SA-kuva

Officially, military action in Lapland only ended in Kilpisjärvi on 27 April 1945, when Finland could state with certainty that the last German soldier had left the Finnish territory. The Lapland War resulted in the death of 1 400 Finnish soldiers. In total, over 65 000 Finns died in the Continuation War and Lapland War.