The Winter War: Russia's Invasion of Finland, 1939?40 [NOOK Book]


One of the most valiant stories of World War II—the heroic Finnish stance against the Red Army When Russia invaded Finland in November 1939, the international community reacted with a combination of shock and outrage. But while the rest of the world dithered, Finland was left alone to face the full might of the Red Army.           The results of the conflict seemed a foregone conclusion. The Soviet Army was reputed to be the best in the world, and the ...
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The Winter War: Russia's Invasion of Finland, 1939?40

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One of the most valiant stories of World War II—the heroic Finnish stance against the Red Army When Russia invaded Finland in November 1939, the international community reacted with a combination of shock and outrage. But while the rest of the world dithered, Finland was left alone to face the full might of the Red Army.           The results of the conflict seemed a foregone conclusion. The Soviet Army was reputed to be the best in the world, and the Finns were outnumbered almost four to one. To everyone’s surprise, however, they pushed back against the Russians and became an international cause célèbre. For 105 days, it looked as if they just might achieve the impossible and keep the huge Soviet Army at bay.           In his new interpretation of this little understood war, Robert Edwards describes one of the most doomed but valiant defenses since Thermopylae. Indeed, the geopolitical consequences were far-reaching, as Nazi Germany observed the Soviet embarrassment from the sidelines and immediately began their plans for Operation Barbarossa.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The November 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland provoked worldwide outrage. Astonished at the Finns' fierce resistance, observers made comparisons with the valiant Greek defense of Thermopylae. In his first book, journalist Edwards delivers a lively, opinionated account of this half-forgotten but major war. After swallowing up nearby Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Russia required Finland to cede territory near Leningrad and in the far north and to grant several bases. The Finnish government balked. Thereupon massive Soviet forces, dreadfully led, poorly trained and scandalously ill equipped for the Arctic winter, stumbled forward into a massacre. Despite lack of heavy weapons, the Finns were brilliantly led by Baron Carl Mannerheim, who had also commanded during Finland's independence battle against the Bolsheviks in 1918. Moving on skis, they took advantage of the long northern night to attack, spreading panic. But after 105 days and immense casualties, the Soviets forced the overstretched Finns to yield and surrender 10% of their territory. Governments joined their citizens in cheering the Finns, but did little else. Edwards recounts events, both shameful and heroic, with insight, conviction and considerable wit. (June 5)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A brisk, efficient account of one of the most overlooked episodes of World War II-the Soviet invasion of Finland. During the ominous lull between the Nazi conquest of Poland and the assault on France, the Soviet Union sought palpable assurances from neutral, democratic Finland to protect vulnerable Leningrad against attack, ostensibly from the British or the French, but in fact from Hitler, whom Stalin correctly distrusted. Finland's refusal to "grant to a foreign state military bases on its own territory and within its own boundaries" prompted the Soviets to launch a pretextual attack: "Heroic Red Army throws back marauding Finns!" proclaimed the Daily Worker. All the world expected a swift defeat for the vastly outnumbered Finns; instead, for 105 days they fought the Russians to a bloody standstill. Though he looks at the prewar diplomatic sparring and the midwar dithering of the Anglo-French alliance, Edwards focuses mostly on the fighting. Making exquisite use of the difficult terrain and the brutal weather, the ably led Finns employed skis, automatic weapons and mortars expertly aimed to repel the Red Army, which was stymied by an astonishing lack of intelligence and a fatally flawed command structure. The war ended with painful territorial concessions by the resolute Finns, but not before exposing the fecklessness of the League of Nations and unexpected, severe weaknesses in the mighty Red Army. Hitler looked on and concluded that Operation Barbarossa, his contemplated invasion of the Soviet Union, could safely go forward. Edwards offers only tantalizing details about the war's main actors-Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the autocratic Father of the Nation; General Kurt Wallenius, thedrunkard and supreme soldier; Kliment Voroshilov, the absurdly overconfident Russian commissar for defense-and others on the world stage (FDR, Churchill, Stalin) who had their say about tumultuous events in Finland. He sprinkles the narrative with numerous delightfully snarky asides about the blinkered, progressive left, which persisted in rationalizing Soviet intentions and methods, notwithstanding the spectacle of the suffering Finns. Highly readable and informative.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781453218242
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • Publication date: 7/12/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 316
  • Sales rank: 657,640
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Robert Edwards spent twenty years as a Wall Street analyst before turning to writing. He is a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph.
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Read an Excerpt

The Winter War

Russia's Invasion of Finland, 1939—1940

By Robert Edwards


Copyright © 2008 Robert Edwards
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-1824-2


Naboth's Vineyard

Should one ask: 'How do I cope with a well-ordered host about to attack me?' I reply: 'Seize something he cherishes and he will conform to your desires.'

Sun Tzu

There were two clear imperatives governing the Soviet Union's attitude to its north-western border by April 1938; the first was concerned with the recovery of Tsarist territory lost during the chaos of the Revolution and civil war, most of which had been confirmed by the Treaty of Tartu in 1920. The second stemmed from that: the realization that the Tsar's state had been a perfectly viable nation and that these carefully assembled western frontiers reflected an optimum balance between security and territory. By the time Austria ceased to exist, Stalin was less concerned about the Treaty of Tartu (although it had marked a significant humiliation for him as a commissar signatory) but was looking back with evident interest exactly two hundred years prior to that, to the Treaty of Nystadt, the last great territorial transaction to bear the signature of Tsar Peter, and whose core strategic importance had been to protect the approaches to his new capital, St Petersburg, by means of the acquisition of the states of the southern Baltic littoral (then Livonia and Estonia) and to the north-west by extending Russia's borders all the way across the vital land-bridge of the Karelian Isthmus, which separates the Gulf of Finland from Europe's largest lake, the Ladoga: 'The ladies of St. Petersburg could not sleep peacefully as long as the Finnish frontier ran so close to our capital,' he had announced grandly, by way of justifying his conquest of Viipuri and Karelia.

Tsar Peter's border was an astute one; it allowed no latitude for Sweden or Finland to defend it (it was far too long) and with the vital Isthmus, controlled from the massive medieval fortress of Viipuri (Vyborg), in Russian hands, any invader headed for Peter's capital, (for which read a cowed but resentful Sweden), would be forced to trek north, around the top of the Ladoga, whereupon they might well find themselves starving in an inhospitable and unexploitable wilderness. By 1938, however, Sweden was no longer the potential, or even the natural, enemy.

More than this, though, was the embarrassing counterpoint to the Soviet Union which the evident success of the Finnish project (as compared to the Soviet one) pointed out. The two undertakings (in these iterations, at least) were of an age, but the contrasts could not have been stronger. In Finland, the industrious population enjoyed 100 per cent literacy (in either Finnish, or Swedish). A policy of state-sponsored redistribution of land had led to the break-up of the great rural estates which had characterized the country before the civil war, augmented by the strategic release of much state-owned acreage. Critically for the fortunes of the rural population, the country had no history of serfdom; thus the change of state which the Russian peasantry had undergone in 1861 (and which had left them little better off) was unknown. The population was rising as the birthrate edged up from a very low base and thus the school population was burgeoning, reflecting that vital demographic essential for progress. With great irony, secondary school fees were actually lower in Helsinki than they were in Moscow. These were subjects about which Moscow naturally maintained an embarrassed silence.

Further, Finnish industrial and agricultural production had leaped over the period by amounts which still beggar belief, particularly the latter, which was extracted from (outside the Pripet marshes) one of the most agriculturally unpromising chunks of real estate in Europe. Agricultural production had increased by an average of 400 per cent, paper production by the same and lumber output by 550 per cent. The number of independent farmers had increased by 250 per cent to 300,000 as the great estates, which had characterized rural life in Finland at the time of the Great War, were broken up and handed to their tenants on agreeable terms. In short, Finland was accomplishing astonishing growth by the very opposite means to those employed by her giant neighbour to the east, where the attempts to collectivize farmland had led to class war of a different kind.

In step with this progress, the State infrastructure had blossomed in terms of post, telephone services and the rail net. Finland's economic progress since independence reflects an extraordinarily well-kept secret of history, and business with Britain accounted for 60 per cent of the credit side of the balance of trade. Trade with the USSR, by contrast, amounted to less than 1 per cent on the same basis of calculation. Indeed, trade with Greece was more robust. There was little the Finns wished to buy from Russia, and the reverse proposition reflected the simple truth that the Finnish markka was strong, at nearly 200 to the pound sterling and firming, whereas the Russian rouble was effectively wampum, and had been since the breathtaking incompetence of the Bolshevik regime had been unleashed upon a reasonably effective, if agrarian economy. Population growth in the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse; in the countryside as a result of famine, in the towns as a result of the institution of marriage wilting visibly under the vast and insistent social pressure of the Stalinist state. Professor Geoffrey Hosking reports that abortions had outstripped live births by nearly 200 per cent in Moscow in 1934. Whatever interpretation one may put upon the sociological implications of such a statistic, economically, it was not an encouraging ratio.

So, on the eastern side of this vast 800-mile border, things were rather different, for the Soviet economy was managed by the knout. A burgeoning network of inefficient satrapies characterized by the slave camp, the firing squad and, dominating all else, the Great Purge, rather typified it. It has been estimated that by 1938, the population of the Gulag system was between 8 and 12 million, or at the very least, more than twice the population of the whole of Finland. This unpromising foundation was further hamstrung by the destructive policy of setting quite ridiculous output targets—Normy—which, if met or exceeded (always hard to prove within the chaotic reporting system) would propel the manager responsible quickly up the party hierarchy and therefore away from trouble. In truth, Soviet industrial production was, save 'hero projects' and defence material, almost stagnant, and agricultural output (as a natural result of forced collectivization and tactically imposed terror-famine) languished below First World War levels. Output numbers, like so many official Soviet-issued statistics to be found elsewhere in this book, are highly suspect, but gained credence in the West as a result of the remorseless propaganda which attempted to characterize the USSR as an economic miracle; but the Soviet Union represented central planning at its worst. Never has a political-economic structure been hijacked and wrecked in such a comprehensive manner—until Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. As the Revolution devoured its children, so the hapless peasantry was sometimes forced to take the route of desperation and devour its own.

Naturally, the Soviet party apparat had a way of dealing with this unhelpful cross-border comparison with Finland—the prolonged, extravagant and repetitive sledging of successive Helsinki regimes. To the average Russian (particularly a Leningrader), Finland, according to the Party orthodoxy, represented nothing more or less than a 'vicious and reactionary Fascist clique'. Marshal Mannerheim was a particular hate figure, but he was not the only one: Väinö Tanner, leader of the Finnish Social Democrat Party, was the recipient of a volume of Soviet contumely in exact proportion to the success of his various enterprises, only one of which was politics. For Tanner, things would get much worse.

Väinö Tanner ruled the Social Democrats with the proverbial iron hand in a velvet glove. As the chairman of the ELANTO consumers' co-operative concern, as well as being the architect of the wider co-operative movement, which was as close to all-powerful as any institution in Finland could be, Tanner could easily have forged a career in capitalistic business, but politics, particularly Social Democrat politics, fitted in rather neatly with his activities. In the West he was respected, particularly by the labour movement in Britain, where the great and the good of the British left (or at least a large part of the right wing of it) thought very well of him. Others, more in thrall to Moscow, would obediently follow Pravda's line, and refer to him routinely as 'Ramsay MacTanner'. There is no evidence that he cared remotely, one way or another. Tough, tactless, stubborn and frequently bloody-minded, there is something of the Boer farmer about him. At this stage, Tanner himself regarded Mannerheim as perhaps a dangerous schemer and the Marshal was distrustful in return, blaming Social Democratic tight-fistedness for the parlous state of his beloved army. The two men would soon revise these mutual opinions, but not before some friction.

The real architect of the rigorously executed economic policy that had delivered true miracles, but which had left little room for the expensive matter of defence, was not Tanner, but one of Europe's most sophisticated and imaginative central bankers, Risto Ryti, who exercised the same rigid control over the Bank of Finland as Tanner did over the Social Democrats. The result had been a startling increase in personal credit and consumption, and even when the global economy had shuddered to a halt and slipped into reverse, Ryti had taken precautions, urging that the violent deflation (which since 1928 he—virtually alone—had been convinced would happen) warranted extreme care. Finland had listened and as a result, what might have been a disaster turned into a mere inconvenience; at the darkest point of the global depression (with the Dow Jones industrial average at 44) in the spring of 1932, Finland's unemployment was a mere 2.4 per cent.

Ryti's policies had been selectively Keynesian; by effective management of public debt, Finland had been able to provide the essential shock absorber for its economically harassed population and was able to act contra-cyclically, drafting otherwise unemployed workers into government-sponsored civic programmes which served well both to develop State infrastructure and maintain social conditions, so that the massive land distribution which had taken place, fuelled by levels of credit (nothing was for nothing) which appeared eye-poppingly unwise, allowed the State to be the employer of last resort, hand in hand with the Bank of Finland being the lender of last resort. One hand thus washed the other and once raw material prices started to rise, a vast potential problem, which elsewhere had given rise to unhappy political solutions, had been more or less avoided. Ryti's well-deserved reputation (perhaps, even, as one of the world's first modem central bankers) had established him as a clever man who was prepared to take risks. Quite properly he regarded Treasury matters to be essentially disciplined but creative ones, and in this particular he had earned the unlimited respect of Mannerheim, whose own tenure as a bank chairman (a purely letterhead appointment—Mannerheim was certainly no financier) had not marked out for him a period of unalloyed pleasure.

Politically, Ryti was a Liberal, and far to the right of most Social Democrats. This particularly showed when he insisted that workers should cut their coats according to their cloth; as a result, wages during the depression plunged more in Finland than anywhere else in Europe, even if the absolute level of unemployment remained the lowest. The three long years of belt-tightening that resulted caused some measure of unrest at both ends of the political spectrum, although massive economic hardship was damped by the proactive role played by the co-operative banking system, which, however much it may have creaked, never broke. This double act of Ryti and Tanner, the one a conservative Liberal, the other an intellectual Marxist (although Tanner insisted, with a rather splendid cussedness, that he was a Menshevik, on those rare occasions when he actually spoke to a Russian) had few parallels, perhaps not since 1903, when Rolls met Royce; the partnership assured that a reasonable level of prosperity in Finland was both broadly constant and, more importantly, repeatable. Tanner's political task, as one commentator put it, was to treat the Social Democrat Party like a radish; to peel off the red, revealing the white beneath. Not an easy task given the grim legacy of Finland's civil war, but the Social Democrat Party had suffered badly from the Trojan horse wheeled up to its door by Lenin; Tanner was the man who would hamstring it.

So, to the fellow-travelling left, Tanner was anathema. Otto Kuusinen (of whom more later) declared him to be 'the devil in human form', a phrase which makes up in vitriol some of what it obviously lacks in originality, but the neat turn of phrase was never Kuusinen's strongest suit; he seemed ever to think in threadbare clichés. And yet, Tanner's far leftward political credentials had once been impeccable. When an American reporter asked him if the whispered rumour—that in his days as a putative revolutionary he had once helped a starving Stalin with money—was true, he replied crisply: It wasn't Stalin, it was Lenin. And it wasn't me, it was my wife. For the revolutionary left, however, his crime had been to reject the failed efforts of 1918; elected to the first unicameral Finnish Diet in 1907 as a 28-year-old firebrand, he had spent twenty years moving remorselessly to the centre-right.

As for Mannerheim himself, he clearly thought himself above party politics; he had given a cursory inspection to most of the groupings in Finnish politics, but had allied himself with none of them; indeed, when the right-wing Lapua movement attempted to embrace him, he stepped backward sharply. By breeding Mannerheim was an aristocrat, by cultural descent he was a Swedo-Finn and by political outlook he was unfashionably paternalist. That he was no particular friend of the working man for his own sake (unless uniformed) was fairly well known, and, while he may well have found certain elements of the dirigisme that had rapidly developed in Finland's political life useful, he was also on record as saying not only that 'socialism could not defend democracy', but also democracy itself was perhaps sometimes a questionable objective. All of which made him, too, a hate figure for the far left; his natural political constituency, wherever it lay, was certainly not with the Neanderthal right (he considered Nazis, above all other things, to be irredeemably vulgar) but neither was itwith the resolutely urban bien pensants who, rather like the earthier Tanner, viewed him with some suspicion.

For it was axiomatic to a certain type of twentieth-century Social Democrat that a badly-equipped and therefore ineffective army was somehow less immoral than one that did its job well. It was further held that due to this deliberate oversight, an inevitably slavish dependence upon multilateral institutions would somehow take up the resultant political slack. The heavy cost of this point of view is seldom borne, either directly or immediately, by its proponents; one thinks like a sovereign nation-state, or one does not. When the wheels fall off the wagon of policy, the armed services often pay the price.

In Finland's case, the tensions between Mannerheim and his circle on the one hand and the dogged determination of a series of governments (to pay their debts and balance their books) on the other, were particularly marked. Unhappily, despite the fact that Finland had been turned inward upon itself since full independence (and to a purpose that still sets standards to which most cannot aspire today) the country had done so with a breathtaking disregard for the brutally Hobbesian world that was rapidly evolving on its eastern and southern borders, for by trade, debt repayment and all other commercial considerations, Finland had been looking to America and Western Europe, particularly Britain. Politically, the Finnish were constantly attempting to align themselves with Scandinavian neutrality, particularly with regard to Sweden; the central plank of the two countries' common ground being the question of the Åland Islands.


Excerpted from The Winter War by Robert Edwards. Copyright © 2008 Robert Edwards. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Maps,
List of Photographs,
Introduction: An Awkward Little Country,
Prologue: The Stranger from a Sunken World,
Chapter One: Naboth's Vineyard,
Chapter Two: Bear-baiting: The Emerging Crisis,
Chapter Three: Questions of Command,
Chapter Four: The Assault on the Isthmus,
Chapter Five: Responses,
Chapter Six: The Ordeal of Ninth Army,
Chapter Seven: In Ladoga-Karelia,
Chapter Eight: Counter-attacks,
Chapter Nine: Manoeuvres: The Gate of the Year,
Chapter Ten: A Hare-brained Scheme ...,
Chapter Eleven: The Red Army Reforms Itself,
Chapter Twelve: Endgame: Red Storm,
Chapter Thirteen: Outcomes,
Appendix The Russo-Finnish Treaty, of Moscow, 12 March 1939,
Notes to the Text,
Select Bibliography,

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Great Read

    This is a great read on the subject. It is more of a political look than a military one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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