This year it will be 70 years since Winter War broke out. War between Finland and the Soviet Union started on November 30th 1939 with a Soviet offensive.

The first information letter of the information office of the Ministry of Defence 1.12.1939

”Yesterday morning at 7 a.m. Russians bombed the city of Terijoki and Vammelsuu from the sea as well as from the border strongholds. In Hyrsylä and Käsnäselkä, the Russians have crossed the border and cut all the telephone lines. Fifty grenades have been noted to been shot. Russian troops have occupied the whole area of Kalastajasaarento. According to unverified information, the Russians have been told to plan a landing to Seiskari.
On Thursday, the Russians crossed the border at several points without a declaration of war. In many places, the offensives were stopped right after the borderline. In some places the invader was successful but during the afternoon, the Russian drives were stopped everywhere. On the Isthmus of Karelia, the Russians prepared and supported their offensives with a heavy artillery fire.
The spirit of our troops is brave and excited and the people of Finland takes a calm attitude towards the Russian acts.


Drifting towards war
In 1938, the Soviet Union tried to persuade Finland to agree on a confidential mutual solution that would later give advantage to the Soviet Union in case of possible German offensive. In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union established a so-called Molotov-Ribbentrob agreement. According to the agreement, Finland among several other East European countries would belong to the sphere of interest of the Soviet Union. After the Molotov-Ribbentrob agreement, the Soviet Union convened a Finnish delegation to Moscow for further negotiations. Due to the governmental and public opinion, Finland decided not to assent to territorial exchanges with the Soviet Union. This decision later escalated to the termination of diplomatic relations and to the dissolution of the non-aggression pact between the countries.

Winter War broke out November 30th 1939 when Soviet troops invaded Finland. Four days prior to the offensive, an incident in Mainila in the Soviet Union led to one-sided dissolution of the non-aggression pact established in 1932 between the two countries. The Soviet Union alleged the shelling of Mainila to originate from the Finnish territory, although later, the Russians have admitted setting up the incident. However, this incident in Mainila border village led to the outbreak of the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland. However, the war was never officially declared. The Soviet bombardment in the Karelian Isthmus started at 6.50 a.m. Within the first hours of the war, President of the Republic, Kyösti Kallio, appointed Field Marshall Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The same day at 1:30 p.m. President Kallio declared that Finland was in war.

In December 1939, the offensives of the Soviet Red Army turned into a massive offensive. The Finnish Defence Forces managed to stop the Red Army in all fronts. At the turn of the year 1939-1940, especially battles in Suomussalmi and Raatteentie drew a lot of international attention. Nowadays, this is called the spirit of Winter War; unanimity as well as persistence became an essential part of the defence battles. Finland, with an army significantly smaller than that of the Soviet Union, succeeded in stopping the offensives. Since the Red Army did not manage to reach results with their strategy, the high command had to re-evaluate the situation as well as the war strategy.

February 11th 1940, The Soviet Union started a new massive offensive to Finland, since Finland had not agreed on the terms of peace. During the stabilized war, the Red Army, inter alia, had gathered and strengthened its ranks and changed commanders. The Finnish Army had to retreat gradually due to the shortage of artillery grenades and artillery pieces among other things.

The triumphant offensives of the Red Army, the physical exhaustion of the Finnish troops and losses as well as shortage of the reserve led to the reopening of the peace negotiations. On the last day of February 1940, the Government of Finland decided to start peace negotiations with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, March 11th 1940 the Government of Finland was ready to accept the terms of peace. March 13th 1940, the flag of Finland was lowered in the tower of the Vyborg Castle at 3.40 p.m. The same day, Winter War ended in signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty.

“In Winter War, we [Finns] were clearly the underdogs in quality and quantity compared to the enemy. Young Republic had neglected the procurement of the defence material, on the one hand, relying to the capability of the League of Nations to guarantee world peace and, on the other hand, believing in procurement of the material even with a crisis in sight. Both believes were proven to be false. Where did we [Finns] find the strength to maintain our independence? The will to defend the nation and the unity of the people […] were certainly the most essential factors. The third factor was the training of conscripts…”
- Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies, November 9th 2009

The terms of the Moscow Peace Treaty
The terms of the Moscow Peace Treaty were hard for Finland. Finland was forced to cede a part of the Karelian Isthmus, including the cities of Vyborg, Sortavala and Käkisalmi, territories north of lake Ladoga and large areas near Salla region. In addition, the Hanko Peninsula was to be leased to the Soviet Union as a naval base for 30 years. Overall Finland lost 35 000 square metres of land – equivalent to a tenth of its territory of the time. Moreover, nearly 430 000 Karelians, approximately 12 per cent of the population, lost their homes.

“The 105 honourable days of Winter War oblige us to openly ponder upon the reasons for our success of that time and the lessons learned from it. In order to still have a credible defence after the half on the next decade, new solutions must be found. Trying the find the solutions at the dawn of the crisis is too late. This was a central lesson
learned at the threshold of the Winter War and during it.”
- Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies, November 9th 2009

Women at Winter War
Throughout Winter War, voluntary national defence performed by women was extremely important. The years of the war were hard and national defence was seen as a duty of the whole nation. There were simply not enough men for the daily tasks at home front.

Lotta Svärd organisation was founded already in 1920 but its role and activities were at a premium during Winter War. Women served both at the front and at their own localities – they made the home front stronger. Due to their work, national defence touched the whole society. It has been estimated that the work of the Lotta freed as many as 100 000 men to join the Finnish Army. During Winter War, the Lotta Svärd organisation activated 84 000 women. Most of them worked in provisioning, some were at the front. During the Winter War, 64 Lottas lost their lives.

“It goes without saying that besides the heavy sacrifices, the Lotta women paved the way for the modern Finnish society, where it is completely natural for women to equally take part to the working life and to participate in the functioning of the civil society”
- Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies, September 7th 2008

Veteran Work
Veterans of our wars fought for Finland’s independence and freedom during 1939-1945. There are four official nationwide veteran organisations: Disabled War Veterans Association of Finland (10 000 members), Finland’s War Veteran Association (37 000 members), The Union of Front Veteran Soldiers (10 000 members) and Federation of Women Veterans in Finland (3 400 members). Altogether there are still some 61 000 (31.10.2009) veterans in Finland.

In order to permanently honour the veterans, Finnish government decided in 1986 to declare April 27th as the official National Veteran’s Day. On this exact day in 1945, both the Lapland War and the World War II battles ended in Finland. The National Veteran’s Day is a national flag day.

“The legacy of the war veterans must be cherished. Every day, we need to take the best possible care of the wellbeing of the veterans. We need to maintain their legacy of the will to defend the nation. We need to make sure the future generations
understand the sacrifices made in order to build this country”
- Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies, 27th April 2008

The text is based on a book called “Talvisodan pikkujättiläinen” ISBN 951-0-23536-9

-Winter War was fought between Finland and the Soviet Union

-Winter War started November 30th 1939 with a Soviet offensive and ended in Moscow Peace Treaty March 13th 1940

-Kyösti Kallio was the President of the Republic of Finland

-Winter War lasted 105 days

-The Moscow Peace Treaty forced Finland to cede land and cities to the Soviet Union, a tenth of its territory of the time

-In Winter War 21 396 were killed, 1 434 were lost and 43 557 were wounded. The Soviet Union losses were approximately 200 000 casualties and 600 000 wounded.