Today is the 75th anniversary of the end of Winter War, sometimes called 105 days of glory, between Finland and Soviet Union. The conflict had started in the end of November when Finland refused Soviet demands of land secession and destruction of fortifications in the Karelian isthmus. The official reason for war from the Soviet side was the alleged Finnish mortar attack on a Russian border post in Mainila November 26th. This gave Soviet Union a casus belli and a pretext to withdraw from the Russo-Finnish non-aggression pact and start offensive operations on November 30th. In later times the incident has been investigated by historians and it has been concluded that Soviet NKVD fired the shots from the Soviet side off the border. Later on Vladimir Putin has described the start of the war as justified in correcting mistakes made when Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917.
A Finnish machine-gun team during the war.
The Soviets expected a quick campaign with Finnish workers rising in their support against their capitalistic oppressors. There was still dissent in the populace after the Civil War that had ended only a little over 20 years before, but the Soviet attack ended that with the nation uniting against the attackers. A campaign that was planned to end in a few weeks with a victory parade in Helsinki ended up lasting 105 days. In the end Finland had to surrender and secede roughly 11% of the nations terrain with nearly 30% of it's industrial capacity. However the total annexation that was faced by the Baltic nations was avoided.
Simo Häyhä. The most successful sniper in history with 545 confirmed rifle kills and roughly 200 with an SMG within less than a 100 days. He was nicknamed Belaya Smert or 'White Death' by the Soviets and massive efforts were taken to kill him. He was shot with an exploding bullet on March 6th only a week before the end of the war, but survived and lived to the healthy age of 96 passing away in 2002.
The Finnish army had been neglected before the war and was woefully underequipped especially in regards of heavier weaponry and air power. The Soviets could muster 3 times as much manpower, 30 times as many air planes and 100 times more tanks than the Finnish army. However they were hindered by horrendously bad leadership after Stalin's purges and problems were caused by a particularly nasty winter weather with plenty of snow and temperatures varying between 0 and minus 40, which made life in the front lines hard for troops that were not equipped for it. In the end the Soviet losses were roughly 130,000 dead, 190,000 wounded, 3500 tanks destroyed and between 260-500 airplanes lost compared to the Finnish losses of 26,000 dead, 43,500 wounded, 20 tanks and 60 airplanes.
A Soviet column destroyed with 'Motti' tactics.
The war was the final action that proved the League of Nations to be an ineffective organization. As with the German invasion of Poland and annexations of Czechoslovakia and Austria the League could do nothing more than disapprove and void the membership of Soviet Union due to the attack. The war also lead Hitler to believe that the Soviet Union could be invaded easily, which partly lead to the start of Operation Barbarossa. During the interim peace between the Winter War and Continuation War, Finland developed closer ties with Germany as support from foreign nations had been minimal with only token supply deliveries.
Soviet POW's with their captors.
The start of Winter War also has quite a bit of similarity with the current events in Ukraine. Staged attacks and blaming from eastern neighbours coupled with a rhetoric where the west is blamed for the fighting happened in 1939 and 1940 as they are happening at the moment. Outside help is also mainly limited to condemning the actions of the aggressor with little material support ever making it to the front. It would seem the west is again avoiding conflict so much that it might actually lead to another larger conflict in the near future.
Magazine front page telling of the signing of the peace treaty and the end of the War