Chapter 3 - David and Goliath
The Scandinavian Campaign (Part 1)
October 1939 - March 1940
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 had earmarked half of Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Finland as a Soviet sphere of influence, with Lithuania added following a revision of the dividing boundaries in Poland. Following the destruction and division of Poland in October 1939, Stalin moved to bring the Baltics under his wing.
The escape of Polish submarine ORP Orzeł
from Estonia to the United Kingdom on 18 September provided the impetus to deliver an ultimatum to Tallinn on the 24th, resulting in the signing of the Soviet-Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty which gave permission for Soviet military and naval bases to be established inside Estonian territory. Latvia followed suit on 5 October and Lithuania on the 10th, both states submitting themselves to almost identical conditions.
Soviet troops entering Estonia following the signing of
the Soviet–Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty
However, Stalin's planned expansion north into Finland hit a dead end when the Finns did not submit to Soviet conditions. Previously, relations between Helsinki and Moscow had been strained but were relatively calm throughout the 1930s following the 1932 Soviet-Finnish Non-Aggression Pact. Following Stalin's total seizure of power during the Great Purge, Moscow had been beginning to turn up pressure of Finland to cede territory to them. In autumn 1938, anti-German Finnish Foreign Minister Rudolf Holsti resigned during negotiations with the Soviets over Suursaari Island, leading Moscow to believe his resignation was the result of the Finnish government allying itself with Germany. The Finnish government quickly denied the allegations. Throughout the rest of 1938 and into 1939, the Soviets continued to send low-level delegates to negotiate with the Finns. Helsinki correctly assumed, however, that these envoys were working for a higher state organ, the NKVD.
Following the start of the war in Europe in September 1939, the Soviets moved to speed up any negotiations with Finland to fulfil their side of their agreements with Germany. On 5 October, the Soviet Union invited the Finns to Moscow. The Finns responded to these requests by sending their ambassador to Sweden, Juho Kusti Paasikivi, to negotiate whilst the Finnish Defence Forces were quietly mobilised under the guise of "additional refresher training".
Juho Kusti Paasikivi, Finnish Ambassador to Sweden
and chief negotiator for the Finnish government in October 1939
The Soviets demanded border adjustments from the Finns including moving the border on the Karelian Isthmus westward to only 30km east of Viipuri, Finland's second-largest city. The Soviets also demanded the destruction of all Finnish fortifications in the Isthmus. The Soviets also demanded the cession of the Kalastajansaarento Peninsula, the islands of Suursaari, Tytärsaari and Koivisto in the Gulf of Finland as well as demanding a 30-year lease on the Hanko Peninsula in order to establish a military base there. In return for Finnish compliance, the long-desired areas of Repola and Porajärvi would be transferred to Helsinki.
Back in Helsinki, the government was divided on how to respond to the Soviet demands. President Kyösti Kallio and Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim were willing to accept the Soviet conditions whereas Foreign Minister Eljas Erkko and Defence Minister Juho Niukkanen strongly opposed them.
Proposed changes to the Karelian Isthmus border
Over the following weeks, negotiations stalled and the Soviet leadership quickly became inpatient with the Finns. On 31 October 1939, Molotov publicly announced the Soviet demands duyring a session of the Supreme Soviet. In response, the Finns send two counteroffers offering up the Terijoki area, much less that what the Soviets wanted. Expecting negotiations to continue, the Finnish delegation headed home on 13 November.
On 26 November 1939, the Soviet border town on Mainila was shelled. Whilst looking like a Finnish aggression, in reality it was a false-flag attack staged by the Soviets. The Soviets were quick to condemn the Finns and present new demands. The Finns would publicly apologise for the incident and withdraw all their forces to 20-25km from the border. The Finns refused, instead calling for a joint Finnish-Soviet commission to investigate the incident. In response, the Soviets withdrew from the non-agresion pact between the two states. War looked imminent.
On 30 November 1939, the Soviets began their invasion. Over 450,000 Red Army soldiers crossed the Finnish border. The Soviet Air Force also bomber civilian areas of Helsinki. Molotov, however, insisted that the Soviets weren't dropping bombs but humanitarian food aid, leading to the RRAB-3 bomb dispenser that was used against the city being nicknamed "Molotov bread baskets". The Winter war had begun.
The Soviet attack contained 21 divisions and was organised as follows:
- The 7th Army was aimed at capturing Viipuri.
- The 8th Army was given a mission to perform a flanking manoeuvre around Lake Ladoga’s northern shore and attack the Mannerheim Line from behind.
- The 9th Army was ordered to cut Finland in half by attacking the Kainuu region.
- The 14th Army was aimed at capturing Petsamo and eventually the town of Rovaniemi. 
Despite being vastly outnumbered, with only 9 field divisions, 4 brigades and several small independent battalions and companies, the Finnish Army held a significant advantage, geography. Along Finland’s 1,340km border with the Soviet Union, the only passable points were a series of unpaved roads which gave the Finns a defensive advantage. However, the Finns were also suffering from supply issues with only enough shell, fuel and cartridges for 19-60 days . The ammunition was so bad that during the course of the war, Finnish soldiers would often replenish their stocks by raiding the pockets of dead Soviet soldiers.
The Isthmus front by 7 December (photo)
With Finnish Command deploying defence-in-depth strategy, all soldiers defending the border in the Karelian Isthmus were withdrawn to the Mannerheim Line, the main body of defensive fortifications preventing the Soviets from breaking through the Isthmus and taking Helsinki. Despite early confusion about dealing with Soviet tanks, Finnish soldiers soon improvised several solutions. As the favoured Soviet strategy was frontal attack, it was relatively easy to jam a tank’s bogie wheels with logs or crowbars. Soon, the Finns were fielding a more deadly anti-tank weapon, the Molotov cocktail. The defences at the Isthmus would continue to hold.
In the Lake Ladoga front, the Finns had secured a decisive victory over the Red Army at the Battle of Tolvajärvi. In Central Finland, the Soviets continued to receive a battering from the numerically inferior Finns at the Battle of Suomussalmi, probably the most famous battle of the Winter War. The photo of a destroyed Soviet column at the Battle of Raate Road symbolising this.
Destroyed Red Army column following the Battle of Raate Road
By January 1940, all fronts had ground to a stalemate.
Outside the Eastern Baltic, the political situation was heating up. In Germany, the response was relatively mute. After severing relations with the Finns on 4 December, German involvement in the Winter War ended there. In Britain and France, interest in the region shot through the roof. By January 1940, the first plans, known as "Plan R4", were drawn up by Allied High Command calling for a force of 100,000 British and 35,000 French troops to land in the Norwegian port of Narvik and trek across Norway and Sweden to reach Finland . Whilst there, the Allies would seize control of the mining districts of Northern Sweden to sever supplies to Germany. The main problem with the plan was that the governments in Oslo and Stockholm refused passage to Allied troops, determined to remain neutral in the developing European war.
Map of Northern Scandinavia, showing the port of Petsamo
and the iron ore districts of Kiruna and Malmberget.
With Allied plans to intervene in the Arctic bogged down by Norwegian and Swedish reluctance, the Soviets launched a new offensive along the Karelian Isthmus on 1 February 1940. However, this wasn't the same Red Army that has invaded Finland in late 1939. By now, the Soviet commander Voroshilov had been replaced by the more competent Semyon Timoshenko. Instead of simply reusing their December tactics, the Soviets now advanced in smaller numbers, making it harder for the Soviets tanks to be eliminated by the Finns as they were now protected by infantry. Facing them in the Isthmus was an increasingly war-weary Finnish army, totalling eight divisions with a total manpower of 150,000 troops. By 11 February, after a ten-day artillery bombardment, the Soviets achieved a breakthrough in the Second Battle of Summa. The Mannerheim Line had been broken. By now, the Soviet force in the Isthmus tripled the Finnish numbers, with 460,000 soldiers, 3,350 artillery pieces, 3,000 tanks and 1,300 aircraft under Red Army command. By the 15th, Mannerheim ordered the II Corps to fall back to a secondary line of defence. After almost 2 months, the Finnish defences were beginning to buckle.
Semyon Timoshenko, commander of Soviet forces
in Finland from January 1940 onwards
Following the Soviet breakthrough, the Allies once again began to consider Plan R4, and began to lobby Oslo and Stockholm for passage. Again, both nations denied permission. By this point, the British and French governments decided that they were going to carry out Plan R4, permission or no permission. Even if the Finns sued for peace or were defeated in the end, so long as the iron ore districts of Sweden could be seized quickly and denied to the Germans, the operation would still be considered somewhat successful. Even more so if the Soviets were shown a show of Allied force, as the British and French had another surprise waiting in the wings for Moscow. Whilst the Finns again put out desperate pleas for help, the British and French put the final pieces of their plan together.
The landings in Norway would occur in three landing forces. They were as follows:
- Stratford: Consisting of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards and several anti-aircraft guns. Tasked with occupying Narvik and advancing to the Swedish border along the railway.
- Avonmouth: Consisting of the 146th and 148th Infantry Brigades of the British Army and a French Alpine Brigade. Tasked with occupying or destroying the Sola airfield outside Stravanager and occupying Trondheim and Bergen.
- Plymouth: Consisting of the Hallamshire battalion of the 146th Infantry Brigade. Tasked with advancing eastwards from Trondheim after landing .
Whilst the Allies were preparing to engage themselves deeper in the war, the Finns were beginning to back out of it. In early February, Finnish communist Hella Wuolijoki contacted the Finnish government offering to contact the Soviets through Sweden. After approval, she travelled to Stockholm where she secretly met Soviet Ambassador to Sweden, Alexandra Kollontai.
Alexandra Kollontai, Soviet Ambassador to Sweden
After contact with Moscow was established, Molotov extended recognition to the legitimate government of Finland, abandoning the puppet "Finnish Democratic Republic" set up by the Soviets at the start of the war. The Soviets had good reason to want to end the war in Finland. The war had been humiliating as the Red Army had been bogged down for months with a very large number of casualties suffered. the political motivations were also strong. Offering peace now would further deny an ally to the British and French, whilst any potential Allied presence in Norway could be mediated by a somewhat friendly, neutral Finland. By 25 February, the Soviets laid aid their terms to the Finns. On the 29th, the Finnish government accepted the terms in principal and was willing to negotiate. On 7 March, a Finnish delegation headed by Prime Minister Risto Ryti headed to Moscow to complete the finalisation of the terms. Meanwhile, that same day, British and French forces for Plan R4, now known as Operation Silver, were given the orders to begin deployment; just as the political situation in Germany had calmed down .
-  OTL Soviet formation.
-  Same as OTL, the Finns were plagued with shortages throughout the war.
-  In OTL, these same plans were developed by February. Here, the added urgency of being at with with the Soviet Union as well has spend up Allied planning somewhat.
-  OTL landing plans.
-  That's for next time folks...