Finland History – From 1932 to 1948 Part I

By | December 17, 2021

The non-aggression pact with Moscow of 21 January 1932 did not prevent the fortification of the Åland islands from being undertaken in 1938, in agreement with Sweden, arousing protests from the USSR. The harbingers of the spread of the Second World War in Eastern and Northern Europe were felt in Finland since October 1939, when, from 12 to 14, talks between Stalin, Molotov and J. Paasikivi took place in Moscow to obtain the lease of the Finnish port of Hankö for a period of 30 years with the right of the USSR to maintain a garrison there; the right of anchorage of the Soviet naval forces at the Lappohja base, and the transfer of part of the Karelian isthmus and part of the Fishermen’s peninsula; requests to which Finland, on 23 October, he replied with a refusal towards the port of Hankö and the Lappohja base. The negotiations continued; the USSR limited itself to asking for the occupation of the islands in front of the port of Hankö: but soon protested against artillery shots that would have been fired by the Finns against the Russians in the Isthmus of Karelia. Finland requested that the troops deployed at the border be withdrawn, on both sides, at 25 km. from the border itself. The USSR, in response, on 28 November denounced the non-aggression pact and, two days later, had its troops cross the border. Occupied Terijoki, he established a “people’s government of the Finnish Democratic Republic”, with which he concluded a treaty of friendship (2 December) completed by the cession of the territories desired by the Russians. For Finland 2007, please check

Finland could mobilize 350-400,000 men; the border had very different characters and, except in the 250 km. of the Isthmus of Karelia, on the remainder, climate and nature of the terrain limited for 2000 km. military operations, due to the presence of frozen lakes and impenetrable forests. Initially 7 divisions lined up on the isthmus which was formidably fortified with a system (the so-called “Mannerheim line”) comprising three lines separated by spaces that are difficult to travel through swamps and lakes and for cover by woods. On the Finnish side, in the situation in which the campaign was opening, logically no other tactic could be adopted than the defensive one of attrition: both on prepared positions, as in the isthmus; both in the rest of the front, with guerrilla actions, entrusted to groups of shooters-skiers: departments that constituted, due to their skill and speed of movement, the real strength of the Finnish army. About 300,000 Soviets were deployed against the 10 Finnish divisions under the command of General KA Mereskov.

The first acts took place by surprise at the two ends of the front, on the Isthmus of Karelia and in the peninsula of the fishermen. The Soviet command intended to occupy Petsamo and then cut off communications between Norway and Sweden with Finland; aim south on Viipuri and bomb Helsinki. The peninsula of the fishermen was occupied; in the isthmus the advance was made, as mentioned, as far as Terijoki; to the north of Lake Ladoga the Soviets cut the Suijärvi salient; but there the operations soon stopped, because the insidious actions of the Finnish guerrillas prevented the life and movement of the heavy enemy units. In the Karelian isthmus the advance stopped; more troops were needed and General Mereskov committed all reserves there, thus forcing the Finns to retreat 15 km; he didn’t succeed though, to affect the fortified system. The surprise was to be considered a failure.

The situation, at the end of this first phase, was not very favorable to the Soviets. They had advanced en masse only in the Karelian isthmus; the rapid columns launched north of the Ladoga had stopped: even the one that tended to the north, along the 63rd parallel, to the break of the Kajaani-Sortavala railway. The column that had aimed at Petsamo, had had to stop at Salmijärvi, reduced to a bad state and rapidly dissolving due to isolation and hunger, not being able to be supplied; and, finally, the column pushed to 67 ° to break the Kuolajärvi-Kemijärvi rolling stock had stopped at Rovianienni. In the Karelian Isthmus the 7th Army was stationary on the Valkijärvi line, still outside the line of the fortified system.

The stop lasted until 10 December; the struggle resumed in the isthmus and the Soviets also used gas there; but no advantage they succeeded in deriving from it. In Karelia, Salmijärvi’s column was forced to retreat; in Petsamo in the polar night the situation became unbearable for the Soviets, who employed Mongol troops there. The Finnish guerrillas, dressed in white, masters of the forests, neutralized every movement of the enemy, continually caught in bloody ambushes.

The Soviets concentrated their efforts on the Karelian Isthmus and sent new units there; later they attacked the fort of Koivisto in the extreme west, the so-called “little Gibraltar of the North”; in the meantime, 3 divisions aimed at Kuolajärvi, but they were soon immobilized due to the difficulty of the paths and the ice desert. Further north, at the 63rd, the Soviets progressed slowly on Lieksa. By now the USSR had engaged 30 divisions in the struggle, of which 8 in the isthmus, 7 in Karelia north of Ladoga and the rest in reserve. But all this preponderance of forces was of little use: by the 20th day all the Soviet plans had failed with very serious losses; out of 1200 tanks, 200 were lost.

Finland History - From 1932 to 1948