Prelude to war

In 1939, after the Wehrmacht's triumph over Poland, Stalin considered that it was now time for the Red Army to reap him similar gains. As well as Poland, other countries were mentioned in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact - including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland - and these countries were placed 'within the sphere of interest of the USSR'.

The three Baltic republics succumbed to political pressure and geographic realities, signing treaties of mutual assistance with the USSR. These treaties allowed the USSR to establish army garrisons and bases within their borders. Finland, however, remaind defiant, believing herself to be protected in the most vulnerable areas by various geographic features, including Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland and other various wooded and swampy areas. They also believed that their well-trained and highly-spirited army could hold off the first onslaught, and that they could hold out long enough for aid to arrive from the rest of the world.

War begins, Finland defiant

However, on the 28th of November, it all fell apart. After months of verbal bullying by Molotov and defiance by the Finnish leaders, the Soviet Union broke off negotiations. Two days later the Red Army attacked the Finnish defences, and it seemed that the Finns had been right. The whole world applauded Finland's stand against their enemys - although no aid arrived - and the Finns inflicted horrendous casualties on the Red Army infantry divisons south of Lake Ladoga, despite their complete lack of armour and shortages of ammunition and artillery.

Matters were not quite as peachy north of Lake Ladoga, and the Russian Eighth Army had decimated the defences and crossed the frontier and were approaching the next line of defences. Then, disaster struck for the Russians - they had no ski troops! Every Finnish soldier was trained well on skis and an expert at their military use. Due to this, the Russian divisions found themselves cut off from communication and supplies, and many units were annihilated.

This level of defiance by the Finns could not go on - after all, they were outnumbered and outgunned (the Soviet air force outnumbered the Finnish by a ratio of 4:1.) Although many countries expressed a desire to help, few could spare the men or weapons. When plans were eventually made for French and British troops to come to the Finns' aid, Sweden refused them passage due to their neutrality.

Stalin decides enough is enough

By January 1940, Stalin was ready to bring it all to an end. Command of the operation was passed to General Timoshenko, and artillery were brought in. The systematic destruction of the Finnish defence lines began - they could launch no counter-battery fire as they possessed no artillery. Coupled with tank and infantry raids at night, sheer exhaustion eventually spelt the end of the Finnish defensive lines.

Finland cedes

On March 13, Prime Minister Ryti signed the Treaty of Moscow, which returned the Russo-Finnish border to more or less the position Peter the Great had drawn it in 1721. However, the 1941 agreement was temporary, and Finland was to lose more territory in The Continuation War

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