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Jatkosota 1941-1944

Sami Korhonen - Winter War Dot Com

 

 

Reasons behind the Finnish “Continuation War” 1941 - 1944:

Sami Korhonen (Finland) Webmaster of “The Battles of Winter War”

www.winterwar.com

1. Winter War 1939 - 1940 and the Moscow Peace Treaty 1940

The Finnish foreign policy during the 1920s and 30s, and the unyielding stand in the negotiations with the Soviet Union in Fall 1939 led to the Finnish-Soviet Winter War (November 30th 1939 - March 13th 1940). The Soviet Union had demanded large areas from the Karelian Isthmus in order to “secure” Leningrad against any attacks. Finland didn’t want to follow the road, that the Baltic States had taken, and decided to deny the Soviet demands.

The Red Army was expecting a quick victory, but Finland fought against the unjustified attack with unexpected ferocity, scoring huge victories in Ladoga Karelia and northern Finland. The Soviet drive in the Karelian Isthmus was held for two months at the Finnish Main defense line, the so-called “Mannerheim Line”. The Red Army gathered a massive force, and launched a major offensive in early February. By early March, the Red Army was at the gates of Viipuri (Vyborg) and had secured a foothold on the northern shore of the Bay of Viipuri. Finland sued for peace, which was signed on March 12th 1940.

The peace terms were, from the Finnish point of view, extremely hard. It came as a shock to the Finnish leadership and the general public that Finland would lose more in the peace than was held by the Finnish Army. Finland lost over 10 % of it’s territory (some 40 000 km²), 12 % of it’s population (nearly 450 000 people) had to move out from their homes. Finland lost it’s third largest city Viipuri, an important trading center and the most important port of exportation for timber in addition to an average of 10 - 17 % losses in other branches of industry and economy. The Finnish people couldn’t understand the Soviet air attacks on the civilian targets, in where 892 were killed and 1 856 wounded. The Finnish military losses were 19 576 dead, 3 273 missing, 16 437 badly wounded (some 10 000 were invalided), 27 120 slightly wounded, totaling 66 406 people. The figure doesn’t seem as a big one, but it was 1,8 % of the Finnish population.

As the peace terms were heavy, and the Soviet attack was unjustified, the Finns were mostly filled with bitterness and hatred towards the Soviet Union. These feelings were strengthened by additional demands, not included in the peace treaty. The hunger for revenge was not a rare thought those days.

2. The “Interim peace”

Finland had, before and during the Winter War, hoped for foreign intervention by Western powers. The League of Nations (the forefather of the United Nations) had condemned the Soviet attack and urged all member nations to help Finland. Although a lot of noise and promises were made (mainly by the French and British governments), actual military help was quite little. Sweden was the biggest exception, and without her, Finland wouldn’t have survived.

When the war ended, Finland was in a bad political situation. The Allied governments had suddenly lost all interest in Finland. Sweden and Norway were following a path of strict neutrality. Unlike many would believe, the Soviet threat hadn’t ended, even though the Soviet Union proclaimed that “...Leningrad was now safe and Finland had nothing to be afraid of”. In fact, the political bullying never ended. The plan of a Nordic Defense Alliance (Finland, Norway, Sweden) was born after the Moscow treaty, but publicly abandoned on March 28th-29th when Molotov (the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs) informed that the Soviet Union would oppose any plans of this kind.

After Germany occupied Denmark and invaded Norway on April 9th 1940, the tension in Scandinavia increased. As Germany scored even more victories in Belgium, Netherlands, and France, and doing this with relatively small casualties, it really worried the Soviet Union. As a counter measure for the increased German presence, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were occupied between June 15th and 17th, and the Baltic States joined the Soviet Union on June 21st. These actions worried the Finnish leadership. These two giants seemed to do whatever they pleased in Europe, especially the Soviet Union was steadily taking back areas that had been a part of the old Imperial Russia.

Finland had to seek support from somewhere. The Allied powers were not a good choice as France had fallen, the Soviet Union didn’t allow any plans of a defensive alliance between Finland and Sweden. Germany was the only realistic country that possessed any means to help Finland. The problem was, that Germany and the Soviet Union had a seemingly good relationship.

The really big diplomatic problems began on June 23rd 1940, when Molotov expressed Soviet interest in the Nickel mines in Petsamo. This left Finland in a bad situation, as three major powers were now interested about the Petsamo Nickel (Britain, Germany and now the Soviet Union). In late June, a trade agreement was made between Finland and Germany. Finland would sell to I.G.Farben 60 % of the Nickel production. According to German estimations that would be around 8 000 tons of nickel in 1940 and 70 000 tons of nickel in 1941. In addition Germany received in the first year 14 000 tons of copper and in the next year 11 000 of copper. The trade agreement only increased Germany’s role to the Finnish economy, Germany being the largest buyer of Finnish exports. Finland expressed it’s interests in buying war material from Germany, but at that time, Germany didn’t want to unnecessarily provoke the Soviet Union by selling arms to Finland.

The whole Spring and Summer of 1940 was a time of uncertainty for Finland. Only in early August (after Hitler had decided to launch Barbarossa), did Germany’s attitude towards Finland change. Finland was now able to buy small (and later larger) shipments of weapons from Germany, and slowly the arms shipments to Finland, bought during the Winter War and confiscated by Germany in the Norwegian ports, were returned.

The biggest leap in improving (and eventually chaining) Finnish-German relationships was the Transit-agreement (allowing Germany to send war material, supplies and personnel to Norway through northern Finland). While the matter was actually agreed on August 19th, the agreement was signed only after a somewhat similar agreement with the Soviet Union (allowing Soviet rail transports to the Hanko naval base) was signed on September 6th. A political agreement about the matter was made on September 22nd, and it was informed to the British, Swedish and Soviet governments.

The transit agreement relieved some of the political pressure by the Soviet Union. While the tension (due to the squabble over the Petsamo nickel production) was sometimes dangerously close to war, the increased German presence and influence in northern Norway and Finland eased it a bit. Molotov arrived to Berlin on November 12th 1940, invited by the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop. In Berlin, Molotov met Adolph Hitler many times in the following days. In their negotiations, Molotov stated that the secret agreement (included in the Non-Aggression pact, where Germany and Soviet Union had “divided” the countries between into “spheres of interest”) had otherwise been fulfilled except in Finland’s case. Hitler stated that Germany didn’t have any other interests in Finland, except as a source of nickel and timber, but because these products were vital for Germany’s war industry, Germany wouldn’t allow a new war in Finland. Molotov responded that the Soviet Union wouldn’t want to start a new war, instead the situation could be handled like it had been done with the Baltic States. Hitler opposed also any plans of this type, “...as they would increase tension between the relationships of Germany and the Soviet Union and thereby have far reaching consequences...”

This political help by Hitler (most likely saved Finland from a new war in late 1940), created a political debt. This added to Germany’s importance as a trade partner (grain, weapons etc.) was narrowing Finland’s options in the future.

2.1 The Finnish Army

The Finnish Army wasn’t totally demobilized after the Winter War. As the new land border with the Soviet Union was unfortified and the global situation was uncertain, the strength of the Finnish Defense Forces never went below 109 000 men. Finland started immediately to fortify the new border. Plans were made to build a solid defense line in south Finland and fortifying all roads in central and northern Finland (the Salpa-line, which was built between 1940 - 1944). The fortifying started immediately. The Finnish arms industry didn’t decrease it’s production during the interim peace. New shipments of weapons were bought, where ever available. The Finnish military expenditure increased to 63,2 % of the States annual expenditure in 1940 (the estimated defense allocations were exceeded by nearly 700 %). By Summer 1941, the Finnish Army was a totally different force, in terms of weaponry and equipment, than in the Winter War. Finland mobilized 16 infantry divisions, 2 Jaeger Brigades and 1 Cavalry brigade. The strength of the Defense Forces was 476 000 men.

2.2 The Storm is nearing

On January 30th 1941, the Finnish Chief of General Staff, General Heinrichs made a trip to Germany, where he met the German counterpart General Halder. It was in their discussions, where the Finns first heard from a high ranking person, about “...the possibility of a German-Soviet war...”. Before and after their meetings, many meetings between officers were made, in where the conversations were mostly about the Finnish Army, it’s abilities, the terrain and weather in Finland etc. The small hint by Halder was the only piece of information that the Finnish leadership had about “Barbarossa” until May 1941. Rumors were spreading “the Barbarossa being a scheme, intended to cover a planned amphibious landing in Britain”, “...Germany and the Soviet Union would soon negotiate...”, “...Germany would soon attack the Soviet Union...”

On May 20th Karl Schnurre, a special envoy of Hitler, arrived in Helsinki and visited President Risto Ryti (the former president K.Kallio had resigned as his health was deteriorating, and Prime Minister R.Ryti was elected as President on December 12th 1940) immediately. Schnurre did not mention “Barbarossa” directly, instead he told that the threat of war between Germany and the Soviet Union was very much possible, but not sure. He wanted to inform Finland, that in case the Soviet Union would attack Finland, Germany would help. He asked Ryti, that a Finnish officer would be sent to Germany to discuss any co-operation. Ryti discussed the matter with Marshal Mannerheim, Prime Minister Rangell, Minister of Foreign Affairs Witting and the Defense Minister Walden. They all agreed that Finland should accept the German proposal. In practice, this meant that after this, all military co-operation matters were handled by Finnish Military Command. On May 22nd, Schnurre sent Ribbentrop a telegram where he reported that the negotiations had been successful. After this, the plans of co-operation started.

3. The Barbarossa begins

While Finland was initially regarded as an ally of Germany, Finland hadn’t signed any pact, and was (in it’s own opinion) fighting on the German side against a mutual enemy. In order to emphasize this point, Finland didn’t start it’s attack on June 22nd 1941, when operation Barbarossa was launched. Hitler in his speech claimed that the Finns were fighting alongside Germany, which created an awkward situation for the Finnish political leadership (after all, Finland couldn’t stay neutral as Germany was using Finland as a base for attacks). The situation was “rescued” when on June 25th, the Red Air Force attacked Finnish and German air bases in Finland. This provided the reason for Finnish Prime Minister to declare a state of war between Finland and the Soviet Union. (The first one to recognize Finland’s special status as a co-fighter of Germany, being the least dependent on Germany of all it’s allies, was Stalin himself in Fall 1941.)

For the majority of Finns, the Continuation War was just as the name indicates “a continuation to Winter War” where Finland would take back the territories it lost in an unprovoked war some 18 months ago.

Sources:

“Suomi Hyökkääjänä 1941”, by Helge Seppälä, 1984, Published by WSOY, Finland

“Talvisodan Historia osa 4”, Institute of Military Science, 1977 Published by WSOY, 1991, Finland

"Suomi 75, Itsenäisen Suomen Historia" 3rd edition, Published by Weilin + Göös, 1991, Finland

“Suomi Sodassa”, Valitut Palat (Reader’s Digest), 1982, Finland

“Jatkosodan Historia”, various writers, Institute of Militry Science, Published by WSOY, 1990-94, Finland

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