The focus here is on three of the key battles during the Winter War, comparing the performance of the full range of ground troops on both sides, including armour and artillery. We start with a look at the two armies, covering their equipment, training, preparation for winter warfare and the Soviet purges that had devastated the officer corps of the Red Army. We then move onto three key battles, looking at how the two armies coped with the difficulties of fighting in the depths of the Finnish winter.
One unusual feature of the Red Army performance is that the individual infantrymen fought with impressive stubbornness, despite the failures all around them. The Finns only took just over 5,000 prisoners during the war, an incredibly low number given the size of the conflict and the nature of some of the early Soviet disasters. Clearly even in 1939-40 Soviet soldiers knew that it was more dangerous to be captured than to fight on in a hopeless situation.
The first two battles ended with clear Finnish victories, but the third one comes after the Soviets had changed their senior commanders and increased the number of troops committed to the fighting, as well as improving their techniques. At the same time the outnumbered Finns were being worn down by the constant fighting, and were simply unable to cope with the massive Soviet attacks that finally broke their defensive lines and forced them to accept Soviet terms. At the same time the earlier Finnish victories probably helped convince Stalin that it wasn't worth attempting the total conquest of Finland.
The Opposing Sides
The Taipale Sector
The Raate Road
'Millionaire' and 'Poppius' Bunkers
Author: David Campbell