Friday, January 20, 2006

The Russo-Finnish War

The Russo-Finnish War. This is a book review by S. J. Larly of the book A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War Of 1939 - 40 which was written by William R. Trotter.

This is a substantial review which also gives a good overview of the Russo-Finnish War (also called the Winter War) of 1939-1940. The Soviets invaded Finland with a huge million man modern army. The Finnish army consisted largely of reserves fighting with older weapons and equipment. Stalin expected an easy victory he did not get. In fact, the Soviets were slaughtered.

Lalry writes:

Russian tactic demanded straight ahead attacks, ignoring the fact that Finland had few roads --- there was no off-roading in the Arctic at that time --- and equipment and men could get jammed up, easy pickings for sharpshooters traveling by skis. Mannerheim had spent a dozen or so years as a commander in the Russian military --- so he knew the strengths and weaknesses of their tactical systems. His counterattacks involved lightning guerrilla raids from first one flank, then the other, keeping them constantly off balance.

He continues further in the text:

But war is war. Every now and again, what peeps out from under the specific battles and the commanders and the tactics and the names (those Finnish names!) is the fact that men are being butchered; indeed, in one early battle, Trotter reports that Finnish machine gunners had to be treated for shock after killing wave after wave of Russian soldiers who kept on coming, crawling forward on the bodies of those who were dead and dying.

In the end, the Soviet army won at a huge cost. The Finnish army lost but was not totally beaten. It would attack the Soviet Union in retaliation during World War Two.

What this review does not address is why the Soviet army performed so poorly during this war. The answer is simple, Stalin. The mad dictator of the Soviet Union had gotten paranoid that his military was plotting against them. So, he purged the officer corp. When the Russo-Finnish War began, the leadership of the Soviet army was in the hands of inexperienced generals and officers.

The war was important for the Soviets. As Lalry noted, "The lessons the general staff learned about fighting an implacable enemy were crucial to the ultimate success that it had two years later against the German Wermacht." And the war might just have taught Stalin that mass executions of his military leadership was not in his best interests.

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