Finland in the Second World War
Finland in the Second World War
During the Second World War, Finland fought two wars against the Soviet Union: the Winter War of 1939–1940, resulting in the loss of Finnish Karelia, and the Continuation War of 1941–1944 (with considerable support from Nazi Germany resulting in a swift invasion of neighboring areas of the Soviet Union), eventually leading to the loss of Finland’s only ice-free winter harbour Petsamo. The Continuation War was, in accordance with the armistice conditions, immediately followed by the Lapland War of 1944–1945, when Finland fought the Germans to force them to withdraw from northern Finland back into Norway (then under German occupation). Finland was not occupied; its army of over 600,000 soldiers, saw only 3,500 prisoners-of-war. About 96,000 Finns lost their lives, or 2.5% of a population of 3.8 million; civilian casualties were under 2,500.
A Finnish machine gun crew during the Winter War 1939
In August 1939 Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, where Finland and the Baltic states were given to the Soviet “sphere of influence”. After the Invasion of Poland, the Soviet Union sent ultimatums to the Baltic countries, where it demanded military bases on their soil. The Baltic states accepted Soviet demands, and lost their independence in the summer of 1940. In October 1939, the Soviet Union sent the same kind of request to Finland, but the Finns refused to give any land areas or military bases for the usage of the Red Army. This caused the Soviet Union to start a military invasion against Finland on 30 November 1939. Soviet leaders predicted that Finland would be conquered in a couple of weeks. However, even though the Red Army had huge superiority in men, tanks, guns and airplanes, the Finns were able to defend their country for about 3.5 months and still avoid invasion successfully. The Winter War ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow peace treaty, in which Finland lost the Karelian Isthmus to the Soviet Union. The Winter War was a big loss of prestige for the Soviet Union, and it was expelled from the League of Nations because of the illegal attack. Finland received much international goodwill and material help from many countries during the war.
After the Winter War the Finnish army was exhausted, and needed recovery and support as soon as possible. The British declined to help but in autumn 1940 Nazi Germany offered weapon deals to Finland, if the Finnish government would allow German troops to travel through Finland to occupied Norway. Finland accepted, weapon deals were made and military co-operation began in December 1940.
Finland’s support from, and coordination with, Nazi Germany starting during the winter of 1940–41 and made other countries considerably less sympathetic to the Finnish cause; particularly since the Continuation War led to a Finnish invasion of the Soviet Union designed not only to recover lost territory, but additionally to answer the irredentist sentiment of a Greater Finland by incorporating East Karelia, whose inhabitants were culturally related to the Finnish people, although Eastern Orthodox by religion. This invasion had caused Britain to declare war on Finland on 6 December 1941.
Finland managed to defend its democracy, contrary to most other countries within the Soviet sphere of influence, and suffered comparably limited losses in terms of civilian lives and property. It was, however, punished harsher than other German co-belligerents and allies, having to pay large reparations and resettle an eighth of its population after having lost an eighth of the territory including one of its industrial heartlands and the second-largest city of Viipuri. After the war, the Soviet government settled these gained territories with people from many different regions of the USSR, for instance from Ukraine.
Field Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim 1940
The Finnish government did not participate in the systematic killing of Jews, although the country remained a “co-belligerent”, a de facto ally of Germany until 1944. In total, eight German Jewish refugees were handed over to the German authorities. In the Tehran Conference of 1942, the leaders of the Allies agreed that Finland was fighting a separate war against the Soviet Union, and that in no way was it hostile to the Western allies. The Soviet Union was the only Allied country against which Finland had conducted military operations. Unlike any of the Axis nations, Finland was a parliamentary democracy throughout the 1939–1945 period. The commander of Finnish armed forces during the Winter War and the Continuation War, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, became the President of Finland after the war. Finland made a separate peace contract with the Soviet Union on 19 September 1944, and was the only bordering country of USSR in Europe (alongside Norway, which has only gained its own border with the Soviet Union after the war) that kept its independence after the war.
During and in between the wars, approximately 80,000 Finnish war-children were evacuated abroad: 5% went to Norway, 10% to Denmark, and the rest to Sweden. Most of the children were sent back by 1948, but 15–20% remained abroad.
The Moscow Armistice was signed between Finland on one side and the Soviet Union and Britain on the other side on September 19, 1944, ending the Continuation War. The armistice compelled Finland to drive German troops from its territory, leading to the Lapland War 1944–1945.
In 1947, Finland reluctantly declined Marshall aid in order to preserve good relations with the Soviets, ensuring Finnish autonomy. Nevertheless, the United States shipped secret development aid and financial aid to the non-communist SDP (Social Democratic Party). Establishing trade with the Western powers, such as Britain, and the reparations to the Soviet Union caused Finland to transform itself from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrialised one. After the reparations had been paid off, Finland continued to trade with the Soviet Union in the framework of bilateral trade.
Finland’s role in the Second World War was in many ways strange. Firstly the Soviet Union tried to invade Finland in 1939–1940. However, even with massive superiority in military strength, the Soviet Union was unable to conquer Finland. In late 1940, German-Finnish co-operation began; it took a form that was unique when compared to relations with the Axis. Finland signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which made Finland an ally with Germany in the war against the Soviet Union. But, unlike all other Axis states, Finland never signed the Tripartite Pact and so Finland never was de jure an Axis nation.
Although Finland lost territory in both of its wars with the Soviets, the memory of these wars was sharply etched in the national consciousness. Despite its military defeats, Finland celebrates these wars as a victory for the Finnish national spirit, which survived against long odds and allowed Finland to maintain its independence. Many groups of Finns are commemorated [how, specifically?] today, including not just fallen soldiers and veterans, but also orphans, evacuees from Karelia, the children who were evacuated to Sweden, women who worked during the war at home or in factories, and the veterans of the women’s defense unit Lotta Svärd.
Some of these groups could not be properly commemorated until long after the war ended in order to preserve good relations with the Soviet Union. However, after a long political campaign backed by survivors of what Finns call the Partisan War, the Finnish Parliament passed legislation establishing compensation for the war’s victims.