The Winter War
Early in the Second World War, there was an intense, short, and often overlooked war between the Soviet Union and Finland. The conflict lasted from 30th of November 1939 to 13th March 1940. the USSR demanded land along the border to reinforce the defense of Leningrad. Finland was offered other, distant territory. The Finns refused to give up their most productive land and the Soviets invaded on 30 November 1939. The League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union from the organization for the illegal attack. Disorganization, incompetent leadership within the Red Army and temperatures of minus forty aided Finland’s defense.
The Soviets reorganized their forces and launched a more effective invasion in February. Finland was still able to muster a robust defense. The war ended on 13 March 1940 with Finland giving up more than a tenth of its land in exchange for its independence, and had earned respect around the world.
The White Death
The battles were fought in the middle of the strong Nordic winter at temperatures as low as -43C: peach black nights, white snow and untouched forests were the scenery for these battles.
Even if in a disadvantageous number, the Finns made the best out of this situation: they wore white coats to camouflage themselves on the thick snow, and ski troops were highly mobile and well trained to use their own terrain to their advantage. Highly motivated Finnish troops fought to defend their homeland from a foreign aggressor. On the other hand, Soviet troops were poorly lead and had ineffective leadership resulting in a great number of casualties.
Among all the Finnish soldiers, a name stood out: Simo Häyhä, also known as "The White Death”. He was a Finnish sniper who is credited with killing more than 500 enemy troops within 100 days during the Winter War against the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1940.
He was a farmer and grew up with hobbies such as hunting. He was taught by his father how to successfully calculate distance when shooting - even in extreme conditions such as wind and rain, he was able to hit a target with deadly precision.
He was strongly admired by Finnish citizens and disliked and feared among the Russian troops that tried to bomb his hiding places and kill him without success. Possessing true Finnish sisu,
Simo fought the whole war unharmed until he was wounded in the face by a bullet - his left jaw blown off. Häyhä was in a coma for a week and woke up on March 13 on the same day that peace was declared. He went on to live a long life, away from the spotlight.
Even though the Russian had more soldiers and modern artillery, the Finns fought using a strategic mind that put the Soviet Union in a bad light: some believe the inept Soviet performance in the war convinced Hitler to attack the USSR. Finland cooperated with Nazi Germany in hope of regaining lost territory during the German invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa). The Finnish government decided to stop their advance into Russia on the old Finnish borders but did not want to advance any further into Russia. With the defeat of the Axis powers in World War two, Finland had to sue for peace again with Soviet Russia.
Unique photos from the battlefield were captured through war photography.
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