12 – THE WINTER WAR

The Finnish struggle against the Soviet Union figures large in my new novel. It all started during the ‘Winter War” with the Soviet invasion of Finland on November 30, 1939. On December 14, the League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the organization. The Finns put up a vigorous defence of their country against impossible odds. The Soviet Union had three times as many soldiers, thirty times as many aircraft and a hundred times as many tanks, but the Finns forced a military stalemate against incompetent Soviet military officers who couldn’t make a decision in the field without consulting a political commissar.

Finnish troops at a machine-gun post during the Winter War.

The Red Army was ill-equipped for a winter war both in regard to clothing and vehicles which couldn’t cope with the cold. The Soviet troops were obliged to fight on a small front since large parts of the border were impassible. The Finns attacked the Russian convoys which were stuck on the roads by using their knowledge of the terrain to get behind the convoys blocking their retreat. So the Soviets had to dig in and were soon attacked from all sides. A major victory for the Finns was the battle for Suomussalmi in the north when the Russians attempted to cut the country in two by striking across country at Oulu.

There was soon an outpouring of support for the Finns across Europe. A Franco-British expeditionary force was organized which would disembark at the Norwegian port of Narvik and proceed by rail toward Finland, passing through the Swedish iron ore fields on the way. This demand was sent to Norway and Sweden on January 6th, but was rejected six days later when Germany threatened to invade Sweden to protect its access to Swedish iron ore.

After several months the Russians wore down the Finnish troops with the Soviets only 200 kilometres from Helsinki and a peace treaty was signed in Moscow in March 1940. The Finns were obliged to give up a large swath of land in the Karelian Isthmus including Finland’s second largest city Viipuri and approximately 11% of their territory.

And of course, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in July 1941, Finland allied itself with Germany and invaded the Soviet Union taking back its lost territory.

 

Bletchley Park

The Finns were extraordinary code-breakers and were a good ten years ahead of British code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park. So Stockholm was a great place for the Finns to sell their services. They broke Soviet military and NKVD cipher codes and were reading American, British, German codes. So it was inevitable that British SIS officer Peter Faye who is the main character in my novel would meet in Stockholm with Colonel Hallamaa of Finnish Radio Intelligence ( RTK).

 

Please don’t hesitate to leave comments below. Next time we will talk about the Maison Rouge meetings.

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