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Winter War

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Winter War
Part of World War II

A Finnish machine gun crew during the Winter War
Date30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940
Eastern Finland
Cession of the Gulf of Finland islands, Karelian Isthmus, Ladoga Karelia, Salla, and Rybachy Peninsula, and rental of Hanko to the Soviet Union
 • Foreign volunteers
 Soviet Union
Finnish Democratic Republic (A puppet state. Recognized only by USSR.)
Commanders and leaders
Finland Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim Soviet Union Joseph Stalin
Soviet Union Kirill Meretskov
Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov
Soviet Union Semyon Timoshenko[F 1]
Finland Otto Wille Kuusinen
337,000–346,500 men[F 2][5][6]
32 tanks[F 3][7]
114 aircraft[F 4][8]

425,640–760,578 men[F 5]
998,100 men (overall)

2,514–6,541 tanks[F 6][13]
3,880 aircraft
Casualties and losses
25,904 dead or missing [F 7][14]
43,557 wounded[15]
1,000 captured[F 8][16]
957 civilians in air raids[14]
20–30 tanks
62 aircraft[17]
70,000 total casualties
126,875 dead or missing[18][F 9]
188,671 wounded, injured or burned[18]
5,572 captured[20]
3,543 tanks[F 10][21][22][23]
261–515 aircraft[F 11][23][24]
323,000 total casualties

The Winter War (30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940) was a conflict fought between the Soviet Union and Finland.

It began when the Soviet Union invaded Finland soon after the invasion of Poland. The Soviet military forces expected a victory over Finland in a few weeks because the Soviet Army had many more troops, tanks and planes than the Finnish Army.

However, the Finnish forces resisted better and much longer than expected. They had good winter clothes and wore white coats, which camouflaged them in the snow. As well, the Finnish soldiers moved around on skis, which made it easy for them to sneak up on the Soviet soldiers. The Soviets did not have good winter clothes, and they wore dark green coats, which were easy to see in the snow.

The peace treaty that ended the war in March 1940 left the Finns as a free people. They had to give up 11% of their country and tried to get it back during the Continuation War.

Finnish ski troops
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  1. Commander of the Leningrad Military District Kiril Meretskov initially ran the overall operation against the Finns.[1] The command was passed on 9 December 1939 to the General Staff Supreme Command (later known as Stavka), directly under Kliment Voroshilov (chairman), Nikolai Kuznetsov, Joseph Stalin and Boris Shaposhnikov.[2][3] In January 1940, the Leningrad Military District was reformed and renamed "North-Western Front." Semyon Timoshenko was chosen Army Commander to break the Mannerheim Line.[4]
  2. At the beginning of the war, the Finns had 337,000 men. The Finnish army had only 250,028 rifles (total 281,594 firearms), but White Guards brought their own rifles (over 114,000 rifles, total 116,800 firearms) to the war. The Finnish army reached its maximum strength at the beginning of March 1940 with 346,000 men in uniform.
  3. From 1919 onwards, the Finns possessed 32 French Renault tanks and few lighter tanks. These were unsuitable for the war and they were subsequently used as fixed pillboxes. The Finns bought 32 British Vickers tanks during 1936–39, but without weapons. Weapons were intended to be manufactured and installed in Finland. Only 10 tanks were fit for combat at the beginning of the conflict.
  4. Situation for 1 December 1939. The Finns had 114 combat aeroplanes fit for duty and seven aeroplanes for communication and observation purposes. In addition, less than 100 aeroplanes were used for flight training purposes, not suitable for combat, or under repair. In total, the Finns had 173 aircraft and 43 reserve aircraft.
  5. 425,640 men on 30 November 1939[9] 550,757 men on 1 January 1940 and 760,578 men by the beginning of March.[10] 998,100 men[11] 20 divisions one month before the war and 58 divisions two weeks before its end in Leningrad Military District.[12]
  6. At the beginning of the war, the Soviets had 2,514 tanks and 718 armoured cars. The main battlefield was the Karelian Isthmus where the Soviets deployed 1,450 tanks. At the end of the war, the Soviets had 6,541 tanks and 1,691 armoured cars. The most common tank type was T-26, but the BT type was also very common.
  7. Finnish detailed death casualties: Dead, buried 16,766; Wounded, died of wounds 3,089; Dead, not buried, later declared as dead 3,503; Missing, declared as dead 1,712; Died as a prisoner of war 20; Other reasons (diseases, accidents, suicides) 677; Unknown 137.
  8. After the War, the Soviet Union repatriated 847 Finns. Finnish and Russian researchers have estimated the total number of Finnish POWs at 800–1,100, and the number of deaths as 10–20. See: Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union.
  9. There are many estimates of the number of the Soviet casualties. The official Soviet figure in 1940 was 48,745 dead. In 1990, Mikhail Semiryaga claimed 53,522 dead and N. I. Baryshnikov 53,500 dead. In the early 1990s, Grigoriy Krivosheyev claimed 126,875 dead and missing, and total casualties 391,783. Yuri Kilin in 1999 claimed 63,990 dead, total casualties 271,528 men; in 2007 he revised the estimate of dead to 134,000 dead.[19]
  10. The official figure was 611 tank casualties; but Yuri Kilin has found a note received by the head of the Soviet General Staff Boris Shaposhnikov which reports 3,543 tank casualties and 316 tanks destroyed. According to the Finnish historian Ohto Manninen, the 7th Soviet Army lost 1,244 tanks alone during the breakthrough battles of the Mannerheim Line in mid-winter. In the aftermath of the Winter War, the Finnish estimate of the number of lost Soviet tanks was 1,000–1,200.
  11. Soviet Air Forces lost about 1,000 aircraft, but less than half of them were combat casualties.


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