Don't let the Iron Cross fool you — they took on Fritz and Ivan
, and survived.
Scarcely had he moved his eyelids, Finland
Ere the pygmy, full unfolding,
Quick becomes a mighty giant.
's history as a sovereign state and people is surprisingly short for such an ancient country and people. Although the Finns were too much for the actual Vikings to swallow, it became a target for the expanding Catholic Church, and was subjected to several Christian Swedish attempts at conquest, culminating in the Second Swedish Crusade in 1249, when the Swedes conquered the populous southern areas. Over the next 550 years, the Swedish kings expanded their control eastward, taking control of nearly all the Finnish tribes. During this time, Finland became an integral part of the Kingdom of Sweden, and its most hospitable territory was heavily settled by Swedes, who remain a large minority in Finland today. As a part of Sweden, it was a critical base of operations and source of manpower for the expansionary Vasa kings of Sweden, who waged many wars in Germany
, Poland and Russia and established a considerable empire along the southern Baltic coast. Sweden lost most of these territories during the 17th and 18th centuries, mostly in the last Great Northern War
, but Finland was the last to fall, which it finally did, to the Russians, in 1809. Under the Tsars, it was accorded a great deal of autonomy (the Russians having little interest in Finland except as a buffer with Sweden), being only a Grand Duchy in 'personal union,' with Russia, as opposed to actually being a part of it. However, even during this relatively free period, the native Finns had little political or economic power, with the immigrant Swedish elite remaining the ruling class.
Near the end of the Russian Empire, rising Russian nationalism led the Tsars to take direct control of Finland, and enacted a series of highly unpopular Russification attempts. These measures enraged both Finn and Swede, which led to a long civil war that became part of both World War I
and the Russian Civil War
, with different factions supporting all three sides: the Russian Empire, the German Empire, and later the Russian Socialist Federative Republic. When the Russian Civil War
broke out, Finland ceased all pretensions to being part of Russia and declared its independence, which exacerbated the aforementioned bloody civil war
, though obviously the Russian Empire loyalists faded into irrelevance. The Whites supported an 'independent' Finnish kingdom under a German king (and therefore unquestionably in the German sphere, if not an outright puppet state) and the Reds supported a left-wing republic to be either an ally, or federated part of, the emerging Soviet Union. Since the Germans had smashed the Russian Empire in World War I, and actually occupied most of Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic States, they were in a position to militarily aid the Whites. The Russian communists, too caught up fighting their own Whites and indeed the Germans themselves (who attempted to end the Red Revolution as well), were unable to aid the Reds. As a result, the Finnish Whites won, but the monarchy they hoped for was stillborn as a result of Germany's defeat by the Western Allies, withdrawal from the east, and its own revolution (which was put down). Finland therefore became a strongly right-wing republic. The new government was accommodating with the Reds, however, and wounds from the civil war largely healed in the face of rising interwar prosperity and generally good government.
As the Soviet Union expanded into the Baltic and Poland in the end of the 1930s, Finland, under the guise of its policy of neutrality and in international cooperation, made overtures to Weimar and, later, Nazi Germany. Lapuan liike ("Lapua Movement"), a radical-right anti-communist organization was formed, and proceeded to harass and intimidate members of left-wing parties. As a result of rising political violence, the Finnish government banned the Communist Party and suffered a coup attempt, the Mäntsälä rebellion, in 1932. But the Lapuans themselves went too far by kdnapping ex-President K.J. Ståhlberg. In turn, the popular opinion turned against the radical right after the Mäntsälä rebellion, which was seen as a violent coup attempt against the legitimate democratic regime, and Lapuan liike itself was banned.
The Soviet Union, worried by the rise of fascism in Europe, feared an attack by Germany through Finland. As a result, the Soviets pursued an aggressive foreign policy against the Finns, attempting to force the cession of densely populated, industrialized, and economically prosperous lands close the former Russian capital of St. Petersburg (then renamed Leningrad), offering relatively paltry territories in exchange. Russian diplomatic attempts failed, and the Soviet leadership learned of Finland's unofficial alliance with Germany, and made the decision to preemptively conquer Finland militarily.
When a world power attacks a sparsely populated, largely agrarian backwood, the only realistic possibility is a Curb-Stomp Battle
. The Finns, however, didn't get that particular memo, and shocked the world by stoutly resisting the invasion, despite being badly outnumbered and hilariously short on armored vehicles and aircraft, and won several major battles, humiliating the Soviets and exposing massive weaknesses in their military, brought on by the Great Purges of the 1930s. This conflict became known as the Winter War, and it lasted only about three months. Despite early Finnish success, the Soviets rather quickly adapted, and their massive advantages began to tell, making it obvious to the Finnish leadership that further resistance amounted to national suicide. Cannily, they managed to negotiate the cession of only those territories originally demanded by the Soviets, and managed to preserve Finland's independence. One Soviet general is reputed to have quipped that the land obtained was only enough to bury all the Soviet corpses.
Despite this, Finns rightly still consider the Winter War their finest hour, a storm-tossed people playing David to the Soviet Goliath
, inflicting massive casualties with their highly motivated
(though small, poorly equipped and barely trained) armed forces, ingenuity, and their complete and total mastery of Finland's unforgiving geography. However, due to the sheer size of the Soviet state and its Red Army, 320,000 casualties, while severe, wasn't anything they couldn't absorb (the Soviets suffered roughly the same number of casualties in one week at Kursk in the Ukraine just three years later). The Russians, though, learned well from the mistakes of the Great Purge (which resulted in the death of virtually every experienced senior officer in the Soviet Union), and the experience obtained in the Winter War was critical to Soviet victory on the Eastern Front against the Nazis. This mess remains an eminently teachable lesson in force multipliers and the disconnect between theoretical force and actual combat capability.
However, peace proved to be fleeting, and Finland was drawn back into war, on the Axis side, when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, and attempted to reclaim, with German assistance, those territories lost to the Soviets, and may have also feared a resumed Soviet invasion. This war was called the Continuation War, in which Finland was not formally part of the Axis, but was a so-called 'co-belligerent.' Finland was defeated, and was forced to expel the German troops that were basing on its soil, which resulted in yet another war, this time against the Germans, called the Lapland War. It was relatively bloodless, since the Finns still sympathized with the Germans, and gave them notice and time to retreat to Occupied Norway in good order. The friendly-ish situation ended due to Soviet pressure, leading to a few small battles that hastened the German retreat. Thus Finland acquired the distinction of fighting both Nazi Germany
and Soviet Russia
Despite the perhaps distastefully-pragmatic backroom politicking, World War II
is considered Finland's greatest moment (except by those who, for good and cogent reasons, consider it a tragedy
and/or fine example of fascist imperialism). It's widely regarded to have unified the Finnish nation, though in truth the Finnish government never mobilized more than half of their reserves as they feared an uprising of Soviet sympathizers.
Because the Soviets were allied with Great Britain, the British were obliged to declare war on Finland during the Continuation War; with one isolated exception, in all those four years
there neither state took military action against the other, and no British troops or warships were deployed.*
. Interestingly, and further highlighting the confused nature of history in this corner of Europe, the British (and the French) actually considered entering the Winter War on Finland's
side (since, at that point, the Soviets were allied with the Nazis and generally in poor odor among the Western democracies because of the whole communism thing). This might be why the Soviet Union was willing to accept a negotiated peace at the end, even though they'd just achieved a dominant position and almost certainly would have been able to conquer all of Finland had they kept fighting.
After the World Wars, Finland has been very active in the United Nations and Finnish soldiers have actively served in UN peacekeeping forces. Many conscripts and reservists continue their tours of duty as contract soldiers in UN service. The Finnish Navy participated in the anti-piracy operation Atalanta
alongside EU fighting forces.
- Ace Pilot: Ilmari Juutilainen (94 kills). Hans Wind (78 kills with five kills on five separate missions). 102 others, amongst them Jorma Sarvanto, who shot down six DB-3 heavy bombers in four minutes in his Fokker D.XXI.
- The Finnish Air Force produced more ace pilots than any other nation in relation to the size and number of pilots of the air forces.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: When Gustav Mannerheim was young, the Czar sent him on a "scientific expedition" into territory in Central Asia that he happened to have political interests in.
- The expedition did actually produce remarkable scientific results on ethnography.
- Atop a Mountain of Corpses: Or as one Russian officer said, "We have won enough ground to bury our dead."
- An Axe to Grind: A considerable number of the Finnish soldiers were lumbermen in peacetime. Also the combat engineer NCOs are issued an axe instead of entrenchment tool. The combat engineer officers are issued a billhook.
- Badass Army: With hardly any tanks, planes, or artillery pieces, and with almost World War I technology, facing many times their number.
- Badass Boast: During the Winter War, one Finnish officer said, "The wolves will eat well this year."
- Qualitas potentia nostra of the Finnish Air Force: "Quality is our might."
- Badass Bookworm: Finnish reserve officers, who often were college students conscripted to the army.
- Blood Knight: At least one well-known member of the Finnish army, Lauri Allan Törninote fought in several wars during the 1940s-1960s. He holds the distinction for serving in the Finnish Army, Waffen SS and the United States Army.
- Blue Blood: Gustav Mannerheim, Ruben Lagus, and Adolf Ehnroth.
- Cannon Fodder: The Red Army
- Catch Phrase: Kollaa Kestää (Kollaa Will Hold). According to the legend, this phrase comes from one officer asking another whether the defense line in Kollaa will hold. The response was, "It will hold unless we are told to run."
- Cold Sniper: Both literally (given the climate) and figuratively.
- Simo Häyhä, AKA the White Death, greatest sniper ever. After having collected 522 confirmed kills with his Mosin-Nagant M28 rifle with no scope (he didn't trust scopes; the lens could frost up in the cold and sunlight reflecting off it could give away his position) and at least 200 confirmed with his Suomi M31 SMG in 96 days (a record 48 over Christmas, no time for celebration)note , having survived Soviet army snipers sent to assassinate him, artillery barrages designed solely to kill him, and air strikes to his position, the Soviets got lucky, and he was shot in the face by an explosive munition. He woke up from the resulting coma nine days later, the same day hostilities stopped. Simo then withdrew to a peaceful life of hunting moose and breeding dogs and living to be above 90 himself. Simo was so much of a Badass that it is hard to believe, when asked how he could kill so many, he replied "practice".
- Though, it is important to notice that Finns tend to be very factual and to-the-point culturally and linguistically. Mr. Häyhä was a hunter before the war (as were great many Finnish men back then), so he had previous experience in handling a weapon, thus stating matter-of-factly his previous occupation. Not that it diminishes his awesomeness one bit.
- Conscription: The Finnish Armed Forces are even today based on it. Almost every Finnish adult male is a soldier - in theory, at least.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: The Red Army vastly outnumbered the Finns and still lost on the battlefield.
- Cool Gun: The Suomi M31. This ugly submachine-gun had a tremendous rate of fire. It was very useful for creeping up to a Russian encampment, blazing away at point-blank range, and disappearing into the woods. The name "Suomi" is a testament to how important the weapon was: it's the Finnish word for "Finland".
- Seeing their effectiveness, the Russians eventually made the PPSh-41, another Cool Gun, with the explicit goal of matching its capabilities. The PPSh has the same rate of fire and the same magazine capacity, so that goal was met.
- A common tactic in the almost roadless wastes of northern Finland was to divide the huge Russian columns into small "motti" (a cubic metre of firewood) pockets by such strikes and taking out their field kitchens. In -40°C, no food is a bad thing — a VERY bad thing.
- Lahti L-39 Norsupyssy ("The Elephant Gun"). A 20 mm anti-tank rifle later employed as super-heavy sniper rifle.
- The modern Finnish Army uses the RK-62 rifle, a licensed version of the AK-47. It was used in turn as the basis of the Galil assault rifle by the Israeli Army, including the integrated bottle opener.
- The Sako TRG42 Lapua Magnum is in widespread use amongst specialist snipers around the world. The Danes use them too in Upper Gheresk Valley, Helmand, to great effect.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The Finnish reserve lieutenants were mostly high school and college students conscripted to service - and they made a legend.
- David Versus Goliath: This is what it was all about. They failed both times against the Soviet Union, despite putting up quite a fight, and only succeeded against the Nazis because they evacuated most of their troops anyway. They only had a few troops in Finland in the first place, and they were needed to slow the rampaging Soviet Army.
- Decontamination Chamber: Field saunas were almost a necessity, not just to keep men warm enough to fight, but to kill lice.
- The Finnish army still uses sauna tents as an extra luxury for the soldiers. It is claimed the first building the Finnish UN troopers erect after the GHQ is always a sauna. Even in the desert, as witnessed at Suez and the Golan Heights.
- Determined Homesteader: Any homesteader in Finland has got to be determined. These were the basis of Finland's Badass Army.
- Deus ex Machina: The battle of Tali-Ihantala 1944, where Finnish Air Force and Luftwaffe Detachment Kuhlmey turned the tables and enabled Finns to successfully counterattack.
- Distracted by The Field Kitchen: The so called Makkarasota (Sausage War). An entire Soviet offensive was delayed because the saboteur team was too busy trying to steal food from the Finnish field kitchen and got gunned down.
- Don't Go in the Woods: A Real Life Trope Maker. Many hostiles which enter in the Finnish forests never come back.
- Eagle Squadron: Swedish volunteers, especially fighter squadron Flygflottilj 19, which flew Gloster Gladiator fighters and Hawker Hart light bombers.
- Volunteers came from all over Europe. Among those who served was a 17-year old Christopher Lee.
- Elite Army: Finnish Air Force.
- Four-Star Badass: A number. Mannerheim is the best remembered.
- Friendly Sniper: Simo Häyhä.
- Good Old Ways: Marshal Gustav Mannerheim. He was a very old-fashioned aristocrat. And possibly a homosexual.
- Great Finnish Hunter: Finns were some of the hardiest people in Europe and knew the frozen woods like the back of their hands.
- Grim Up North
- HAD to Be Sharp: Both Finns and Russians, considering the area they lived. However Russians suffered tremendously from The Worf Effect in this war. In part because Stalin feared that Northern Russians would be too sympathetic to their Finnish neighbors, and thus sent mostly units from the southern Soviet republics that had much less experience with harsh winters.
- Heroic Resolve: The Finns call theirs Sisu. It can be pretty hard to translate, but the closest one would probably be "to have guts" or "idiotic single-mindedness."
- Improvised Weapon: Among other tactics, the Finns would jam tank tracks with rocks or pieces of firewood, then torch them with Molotov cocktails.
- Initiation Ceremony. Many. One of the most remarkable is Kirkkojärvi March, an all-day cross-country force-march/combat competition of Reserve Officer Academy (RUK) students.
- It's Raining Men: Laskuvarjojääkärikoulu, Parachute Ranger School, is comprised of select volunteers. They are considered the cream of the crop of each year's conscripts. Everyone receives either NCO or officer training.
- Kill It with Fire: Molotov Cocktails.
- Kill It with Ice: Mining the river, lake, and seashore ice.
- Knife Nut: The Finnish Army does not issue knives to the conscripts because (paraphrased from the Soldier's Handbook) "Finnish people are taught how to handle knives from childhood. It would therefore be pointless to issue knives to people who already have their own knives that they are used to handle." The traditional Finnish knife is the puukko, with Finns often making their own or at least carving their own handle.
- Conscripts that go through NCO or Reserve Officer School get knives for their graduation. That's right, in some countries you get a class ring, in Finland you get a knife!
- The practicality of puukko is clearly seen in the widespread Russian use of the design, who call it the finka or finsky nozh (Finnish knife). It was closely associated with criminals, who favored the knife for its good handling and lethality. The catch? Said popularity was born long before the Winter War, in the late 19th to early 20th century. After WWII, though, the effectiveness of the puukko was considered in the design of the new army bayonet. And criminals still loved it and considered it their trademark weapon – especially since "Finnish knives" were specifically named in the law about illegal edged weapons. To this day, if you can name a knife design that is universally known in Russia (such as Bowie knife is in US), it is the finka.
- Let's Get Dangerous
- Little Country Big War
- The Lost Woods
- Macho Masochism: One Finnish General showed off how tough he was by walking around the battlefield with his shirt open in the middle of the winter.
- Molotov Cocktail: While they were first used in the Spanish Civil War, the Finnish turned their use into an art. Since high-proof liquor was an excellent material for the Cocktails, a state brewery that produced 191-proof vodka became the main producer.
- More Dakka: Russian artillery toward the war's end. Some Finns were found dead with no external signs of injury because their brains had been shaken to pieces from the inside by the noise.
- "Oh, well... at least it'll be difficult to miss...
- Finnish and Russian weapons generally do employ the same ammunition; often the Finnish soldiers would simply plunder any Soviet dead for their ammunition. Likewise, all captured ammunition was soon put into action against their former owners.
- Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Except they weren't so strong this time. Killing all their officers did not make for effectiveness. But give them enough vodka and...
- Must Have Caffeine: Coffee was even more of a "fuel" for the Finnish Army than it was for the US Navy.
- Coffee is colloquially called petroli ("kerosene") in the Finnish Army, implying it is the fuel on which the army runs.
- Also amphetamine, though that got less advertisement. Finland's drug policy stayed decades behind its neighbours due to addictions gained during the war.
- Amphetamine was called vauhti (literally "speed") and höökipulveri ("pep powder") in the Finnish Army. It was commonly used amongst the rangers and Jägers, who managed to stay awake without sleep for a week or so with it. That gave them an edge in the long range operations.
- New Meat: In 1940 and 1944, the youngest of the conscripts were hardly eighteen.
- Neologism: Desantti for an infiltrator. Russian desantnik means a paratrooper. Russians paradropped spies and infiltrators to Finnish home front. Due to their poor training, they usually were caught very quickly.
- No Swastikas: Averted. The emblem of the Finnish Air Force was a vertical blue swastika. This of course has politically Unfortunate Implications, but in fact has nothing to do with Those Wacky Nazis, having been adopted in 1918.
- Some military flags and emblems still have them.
- Pintsized Powerhouse : At a national level, but averted at a man-to-man level. Finns tended to be taller then Russians since they were much better-fed before the war.note
- Simo Häyhä was 5'3''/160, a small fellow you did not want to mess with.
- During the war there was a (propagandist) saying that one Finn equals ten Russians.
- Screaming Warrior: Hakkaa päälle! (Translation: "Cut them down!")
- The Scrounger: Finland had to dig up weapons wherever she could get them, many of them obsolete.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Drug abuse and mental disorders were commonplace during the post-war years, and Finland ignored many anti-narcotics treaties and imposing such laws because of this for decades.
- Snow Means Death
- Food for thought: The word "motti" is used a few times on this page. A cubic meter (a cube 3'4" on edge) of firewood was a common unit, even for small households.
- Take That: One Jewish major in the Finnish army was offered the Iron Cross for rescuing a number of German soldiers. He promptly refused.
- Story goes that Hitler demanded that one of the highest ranking German commanders in Finland (who also happened to be a nice guy) delivered the Cross himself (it was and still is one of Germany's highest honours after all). After landing on a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere and walking a couple of miles through deep snow in dress uniform he and his retinue arrived at a small tent. Inside was a group of bearded, ragged soldiers. When asked who their CO (the person about to receive the Iron Cross) was, one of them replied in perfect German, "That would be me." When complimented on his good German, he merely said, "That's because my native language is Yiddish." After a brief, awkward silence, the German officer said, "Personally I have nothing against your people. I salute your courage. Good night, gentlemen," and left.
- Another time some Finnish Jews deliberately had their synagogue service within earshot of the German camp just to remind Those Wacky Nazis that they couldn't do anything about it.
- Many Finns volunteered in the Israel War of Freedom 1948. Both as to honour the Jews who served in Finnish wars, and also because Stalin supported the Arabs.
- These Hands Have Killed: Some Finnish machine gunners actually killed so many Russians that they got sick with PTSD after a few hours and had to be replaced.
- To the Pain: Finns would photograph Russian corpses lying in the snow and drop them inside Russian encampments as a means of "moral discouragement".
- Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: A motti (a Finnish lumberman's term for one cubic meter of firewood) was a pocket of Russians subjected to this fate.
- The image of the word motti seems to be of mundane and inglorious danger. Like splintery stuff left around after a chainsaw had done its work. Non-lumberjacks might think a better metaphor might be having to clean up broken glass with one's hands. Of course, the Finns preferred to let winter do that job for them.
- Undying Loyalty: One German officer told a story from the Continuation War when he was attached to a unit of Finns. The Russians abducted a wounded Finn and subjected him to Cold-Blooded Torture to lure his comrades to come to his aid and walk into an ambush. The Finns instinctively grabbed their weapons and walked into the forest, knowing perfectly well what the Russians were up to. Another time, at the beginning of the Winter War, a party of Finnish soldiers went to the house of an old peasant woman and told her that the Russians were coming and had to be deprived of shelter. She went into her hut, solemnly cleaned and swept it, and then lit the fire herself. She said, "This is my gift to Finland."
- Unfortunate Implications: After 1948, when Israel opened its borders to all Jews living abroad, quite a few Finnish Jews who wanted to move there were met with some skepticism. After all, they had technically been fighting on the same side as the Nazis.
- Zerg Rush: Common Soviet tactic especially early in the Winter War. This lead to mentioned These Hands Have Killed to machine gun operators.
The Puolustusvoimat in fiction:
- In Jormungand, Major Sofia Velmer aka Valmet had been with the Finnish Rapid Deployment Force stationed in Africa as part of a UN peacekeeping mission before her unit was wiped out in an attack led by Chen Guoming. Valmet is the Sole Survivor, lost her right eye in the battle, and was saddled with a humiliating stain on her military service record. This makes her leave the Finnish Army and join HCLI. Living up to the Finnish Army's reputation, she is very much a Knife Nut who in a true Crowning Moment of Awesome late in the series dual wields a karambit and Bowie knife, and also yells "hakkaa päälle", the famous Finnish battle cry ("cut them down!").