By Sharon Ojanpa Mackey
The Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, held its regular monthly meeting on Monday, November 9, 2015. Our program for November was The Winter War, presented by Richard Dierke. This program had everyone in the room striving to see the WWII maps of Finland, and to hear the story. What was the winter War? It was a territorial war between Finland and Russia that started on November 30, 1939, and ended on March 13, 1940.
Richard had several maps of Finland on display to illustrate the movements of both the Russian army and the Finnish army. In 1938, Stalin made several demands on Finland, including moving the borders of the Karelian Isthmus back about 25 miles; removing the defenses from the Mannnerhein Line; and ceding the islands in the Gulf of Finland and the Rybachy Peninsula to Russia. In exchange, Stalin would cede to Finland two parcels of land in the eastern region of Karelia. Stalin was worried that Finland would allow Hitler to go through Finland and attack Russia from the north, even though Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with Russia.
The negotiators for Finland were Kyösti Kallio, the President of Finland; Juho Paasikivi, Ambassador to Sweden; and Väino Tanner, Finance Minister. No agreement was reached between Finland and Russia over the next year. On November 26, 1939, there was an artillery attack on the Russians, which later proved to be by the Russians themselves. Russia then attacked the Finnish forces, with the vow that Finland would be in Russian hands by December 21, Stalin’s birthday.
The Finnish army was dwarfed by the Russian fighting troops, and seemed to be an easy victim for the Russians. Marshall Mannerheim’s forces were short on equipment, including artillery pieces and ammunition, and the communication system was very basic, even relying in part on runners. Also, the Finnish air force had only 100 planes, not all of which could even be flown.
Russia had 1,200,000 men available for the fight. They used 1,500 tanks and 3,000 men, with an unlimited supply of ammunition. But the Russian army had great difficulty in fighting in the snow covered forests of Finland. Their heavy equipment had to stay on or near roads. Finnish ski troops were well suited to the terrain of Finland. They were highly mobile and well-trained. In addition, no one was prepared to tolerate a Russian invasion.
Russia finally broke through the defenders at the Mannerheim Line in the Karelian Isthmus on February 11, 1940. By the end of February, the Finnish Army was exhausted, and almost out of rifle and artillery ammunition. With no sign of help arriving soon, Finland had little choice except to negotiate for peace.
The Russians stood firm on their terms and on March 12, 1940, the formal peace treaty was signed and the cease fire went into effect at 11:00 AM Helsinki time. The terms were very severe and added up to about 11% of land lost and 30% of prewar economic assets. In addition, 420,000 Karelians had to decide whether to evacuate their homes or become Russian citizens.
The results of this war were horrific: 25,000 Finnish soldiers and 168,000 Russians dead; 55,000 and 190,000 wounded; 600 and 550 POWs; 950 Finnish civilians killed. In addition, Russia lost 600 aircraft and 316 tanks. In later years, Russian losses were estimated at almost 1,000,000 men.
This had been the coldest winter in 100 years, which had a staggering effect on the war. Many soldiers suffered frostbite. Some of the wounded, thought at first to be dead, were found to be alive after they were warmed up.
Richard brought several props with him to help illustrate his presentation. He had maps that illustrated the geography of the battles, two of the rifles actually used in the war by snipers, and a Molotov cocktail. He explained how this weapon, once lighted and thrown into the air intake located right behind the turret of a Russian tank, would then explode once inside. The Molotov cocktail was presented to the Museum.
Richard points out strategic battles fought on Finnish soil.
Richard points out areas of Finland which were important in the war. He had exquisite maps and visual aids to present.
With a wry smile, Richard brought out a replica of a "Molotov Cocktail" which the Finns used to their advantage to stop many of the Russian tanks. He presented the cocktail replica to the museum to add to its collection of Winter War items.
The Finnish uniform was on display with a young man who played the part of soldier.
Richard displayed a well punctuated by bullets practice target which illustrated the accuracy of Finnish snipers who took out Russian soldiers from incredible distances.
Richard shows a bullet clip replica.
After questions and comments, the audience broke for refreshments, provided by Bev Harbour, Elaine Kangas, and Amy Moyer. Finnish Heritage Museum President Lasse Hiltunen then called the business meeting to order at 8:00 PM.
Text © Sharon Ojanpa Mackey Pictures © Bill Lukshaw 2015