Finland as a sovereign state is a young one. The area was long obscure and unambitious in world affairs though the inhabitants were tough enough when put to it and even Vikings avoided them, apparently not being eager to send too many warriors to Valhalla all at once. During the Thirty Years' War and the Great Northern War it fought for Sweden. Later it became subservient to Russia and fought for the Czars. In World War I it fought for both sides; some took up the Russian cause, the Russians still being their Feudal Overlord, while a number of nationalists fought for Germany. When the Russian Civil War came, Finland declared itself independent, and was recognized by Lenin in the last day of 1918. This was followed by a bloody civil war, in which fought the Whites, who wanted Finland to be a monarchy with a German king, and the Reds, who wanted a communist republic allied with or part of the Soviet Union. The Whites won, but Germany had already lost the World War, and so the newborn state continued as a republic. Wounds from this conflict eased between the world wars as prosperity grew and a reasonably decent government was formed.
As the Soviet Union gobbled up the Baltic states and its share of Poland at the end of the 1930s, Finland, under the guise of its policy of neutrality and in international cooperation internationally cooperated with Nazi Germany. Lapuan liike ("Lapua Movement"), a radical-right anti-communist loosely-organized organization was formed, then proceeding to wreck printing houses and beat up communist sympathizers, culminating in the outlawing of communist activity and then in an attempted coup, the Mäntsälä rebellion, in 1932.
The Soviet Union, worried by the rise of fascism in Europe, feared an attack by Germany via Finland, and attempted to acquire several tracts of land - by exchange in some cases and by loan in others - in Finland, mainly in the South-East, in order to fortify its positions against possible invasion. The proposition was, however, denied, and the Soviet leadership figured out that Finland was allied with Germany, and proceeded to pour over the eastern border in a preemptive attack.
When a world power attacks a sparsely populated, agrarian backwood, the only possibility is a Curb-Stomp Battle. As such, it was a shock to all concerned when the Finns got their act together and proceeded to fight the Winter War, dealing almost as much damage to the Soviets as the Soviets did to themselves. Peace broke out after three and a half months of frenzy: Finland was forced to accept the earlier offer, and also lost large tracts of valued land as a way of war reparations. It's said that one of the Soviet generals considered this roughly the amount of territory needed to bury all of their dead.
Despite this, Finns considered (and consider) this their finest hour, a storm-tossed people united into David in David Versus Goliath, inflicting incredible casualties with their wilderness savvy, Heroic Resolve ("sisu") and ingenuity. However, due to the size of the Red Army at the time, the 125,000 dead Soviets were not as devastating as they would first appear. On the other side, the USSR discovered what happens when one purges a large portion of one's entire military brass. This mess is actually a fine lesson in force multipliers and the disconnect between theoretical force and the ability to inflict damage on the other guy: it's amazing how little help two-to-one numbers and tanks can be when both are stretched into a column on a forest road, and the enemy has winter camouflage and skis. Once the Soviets actually got their act together and put competent officers in charge of their armies, they did start to make significant progress, leading to the peace settlement.
After several months of peace Finland, with military aid from Nazi Germany, attempted to reclaim territory lost in the Winter War and according to one or two historians to preempt a feared attack by Russia. This caused the Continuation War, which Finland lost. As part of the terms of peace, Finland was required to expel the Germans from its soil. This required a third war, called the Lapland War. The Finns often gave German troops notice of their attacks and allowed them to withdraw in good order while attacking their vacated positions until the Soviets twigged and forced them to attack properly. Thus Finland acquired the distinction of fighting both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
Despite the ugly backroom politicking, World War II is considered Finland's greatest moment (except by those who consider it a sad and awful time and/or fine example of fascist imperialism). It's thought to have unified an entire people, though in truth the Finnish government never mobilized more than half of their reserves as they were afraid of another leftist uprising.
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 was no fighting between these two countries and no British troops or ships were deployed.* If you don't count one failed raid against 4 merchant vessels... A side note to this history is that during the Winter War, there was actually strong consideration by Britain of joining the war on Finland's side (since at that point, the Soviets were allied with the Nazis). 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 probably could've conquered 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 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.
An Axe to Grind: A considerable number of the Finnish soldiers were lumbermen in peacetime. Also the combat engineer NC Os 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.
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 Yes, he really did average killing 7.5 men a day., 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.
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 TRG 42 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Finland c. 1900-1920 was a lot more prosperous than most of the USSR had been at the equivalent time. Childhood nutrition has a powerful effect on height, and nutrition is strongly correlated with economic prosperity. Thus the 18-40-year-old Finns who fought in the war were better-fed as children than their Soviet opposite numbers, with the correlating effect on height.
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.
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".
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.
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!").