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Winter War - Soviet Invasion of Finland Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 5/5/2014

Alone, outgunned and undermanned, the Finns stood up in the face of the Red Army better than anyone could have anticipated before ultimately succumbing.

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Map of the Soviet-Finnish Winter War

The Who
Risto Ryti, Finnish Prime Minister
Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Finnish Army Field Marshal
Josef Stalin, Soviet Leader
Kliment Voroshilov, Soviet Army General
Semyon Timoshenko, Soviet Army General


The When and Where
The Winter War of 1939-40 took place along a strip of region known as the Karelian Isthmus, flanked in the Northeast by Ladoga Lake and in the Southwest by the Gulf of Finland. Forests, swamps and lakes made for treacherous going with the advantage handed to the defenders (Finland). A portion of the defenses was made up by the Mannerheim Line. The Northern Finnish frontier was naturally protected by natural barriers and Arctic weather, forcing the Soviet offensive to originate from the south.


The What
While Adolf Hitler took his prize in what was Poland, Josef Stalin eyed the Baltic republics and Finland for his own as a buffer to the eventual reborn German Empire in the West. Political and military pressures soon netted the Soviets the republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia though it was the Finns that were less than accepting of Stalin's proposal. With their overtures rebuffed, the Soviet Army invaded Finland on November 30th, 1939 to begin the "Winter War".


What Happened?
Initial results for the Finns proved excellent as Soviet advances were beaten back. The Finns were trained for winter warfare while Soviet infantry lacked the needed equipment and training themselves. Finnish sharpshooters excelled at range and close-in work was handled through accurate submachine gun fire. Masses of Soviet infantry were mauled by well-positioned and defended Finnish machine gun posts which cut the enemy where they stood. Fire bombs dealt with the Soviet light tanks as they arrived, turning the armored beasts into death traps for their crews. The Mannerheim Line held for the interim and prospects for the Finns looked good IF they were to received promised support from Britain, France, the United States and even neighboring Sweden. The Soviet Army suffered humiliating defeats with some forces being surrounded and utterly decimated.


With the war continuing into January of 1940, Stalin's patience wore thin with his commanders. He installed General Timoshenko and heavy weaponry was delivered up to break the Finnish lines. Once the Mannerheim Line had been pierced and exploited, the rest of the Finnish defenses fell in turn. The line now fell as far north as Tali. A Red Army force moved up through the iced-over section of Viipuri Bay and landed at Vilajoki, forcing the Finnish defenders to consider their rear now.


With the defensive line all but broken and the Finnish Army fighting an evermore defensive battle on-the-move, the situation grew dim. On March13th, 1940, Finnish Prime Minister Ryti signaled defeat and begrudgingly signed the Treaty of Moscow. The treaty gave most of Karelia to the Soviets forcing some 12% of the Finnish population northwards. A portion of Salla and the Rybachi Peninsula also fell to the Soviets as did Hanko and the Gulf of Finland Islands.


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There are a total of 19 Winter War - the Soviet Invasion of Finland Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1939
Thursday
November 30th

Five Soviet armies cross into Finland, beginning the Winter War.

1939
Friday
December 1st

The Soviet Union installs a Finnish-Soviet puppet government in Terijoki to be led by Otto Kuusinen.

1939
Tuesday
December 5th

After some initial advances, the Soviet Army if forced to stop by the Finnish defenses at the Mannerheim Line.

1939
Saturday
December 9th

As the Finnish winter worsens, Soviet attacks on Helsinki stall.

1939
Saturday
December 9th

The Soviet 44th and 163rd Divisions take the Finnish town of Soumussalmi.

1939
Friday
December 15th

The deteriorating conditions of a Finnish winter protect Helsinki from additional Soviet attacks.

1939
Friday
December 15th

The Mannerheim Line holds as Soviet Army elements are kept at bay.

1939
Friday
December 15th

Valliant Finnish forces repel the Soviet Army out of Soumussalmi, retaking the town.

1939
Friday
December 15th

The Soviet 14th Army takes Petsamo.

1939
Friday
December 15th

Finnish defenders keep the town of Nautsi from falling under Soviet control.

1939
Sunday
December 17th - December 31st

Finnish Army elements cross into Soviet Karelia, unleashing hell on the Russian 44th and 163rd Divisions. Some 27,000 Russian soldiers are killed.

1940
Tuesday
January 2nd

A new Soviet offensive on the Karelian isthmus fails.

1940
Sunday
January 7th

Stalin appoints a new commander to oversee the Winter War - General Semyon Timoshenko.

1940
Sunday
January 28th

Finnish ground forces recover territory from the Soviet 54th Division at Kuhmo.

1940
Thursday
February 1st

The Soviets enact a new offensive against Finnish positions along the Mannerheim Line, beginning with artillery attack accounting for some 300,000 shells.

1940
Sunday
February 11th - February 17th

The Soviet Army breaks through the defenses at the Mannerheim Line at Summa. Finnish Army units retreat.

1940
Friday
February 23rd

The Soviet government delivers terms of surrender to the Finnish government, claiming the Karelian isthmus and Lake Lagoda as their own. The Finns are required to defend the Soviet Union from the north if the empire is attacked.

1940
Tuesday
March 5th

Finland responds to the Soviet surrender overture with negotiations.

1940
Tuesday
March 12th

After months of fighting and countless lives lost on both sides, the Finnish government officially accepts the surrender terms of the Russian proposal in an internal vote numbering 145 to 3.