In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Finland in World War II

  • Introduction
  • Official Histories
  • Development of the Armed Forces and Finnish Military Thought
  • Generals and Command
  • Command and Civil-Military Relations
  • Public Information and Propaganda
  • Morale
  • Sociological Factors and Punishments
  • Operational History
  • Causes of the Winter War
  • Finland and the Western Powers
  • Finnish-German Relations and Military Cooperation
  • Occupation of Eastern Karelia
  • Prisoners of War
  • The War Economy and Transportation Systems
  • Terrain, Weather, and Environment
  • Military Intelligence and Counterintelligence
  • New Military History and Finland in World War II
  • Auxiliaries and the Role of Women
  • Edited Collections on Various Themes

Military History Finland in World War II
Pasi Tuunainen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0208


The Soviet invasion of Finland began on 30 November 1939. For a long time, Russian historiography referred to the ensuing Winter War (1939–1940) as a border clash, a sort of dress rehearsal for the Great Patriotic War. The war between a great power with unlimited manpower and material resources and its small Nordic neighbor was fought under severe Arctic weather conditions for which, unlike the Finns, the Red Army was badly prepared. The Finnish resistance lasted for 105 days until 13 March 1940. Partly owing to the changes in the international situation the war ended in a negotiated settlement, the Moscow Peace Treaty, and the Soviet Union annexed one tenth of Finnish territory. Both belligerents suffered heavy losses. Western nations had offered sympathy and military assistance to the Finns during the war but after Germany occupied a large portion of Northern Europe, Finland was practically cut off. Thus the fifteen-month period of Interim Peace (1940–1941) saw a change in Finnish foreign policy orientation toward Germany. In the Winter War Finland, a nation with a population of less than 4 million, was fighting almost alone against the Soviet Union of 170 million inhabitants, but in June 1941 the much stronger Finnish Army joined the German-led Operation Barbarossa to reclaim the lost areas. Finland was aligned with the Germans but was not formally an Axis member. Yet the country was a signatory of the Anti-Comintern Pact. The German troops were primarily stationed in northern Finland. The Finnish Army advanced deep into the Soviet territory in the Continuation War (1941–1944). The offensive was followed by two and a half years of stationary war. In June 1944 the Soviet Union started its major strategic offensive to occupy all of Finland. In the battles fought during that summer the Finnish Army fell back to near the 1940 borders where it managed to stop the Soviet onslaught. The Soviets no longer demanded unconditional surrender, and Finland avoided occupation for the second time. However, the armistice agreement of September 1944 stipulated that the Finns should push the German forces from Finnish territory into Norway. This marked the beginning of the Lapland War (1944–1945) that lasted until April 1945. The fate of Finland was at stake twice, in 1940 and 1944. Yet the country was able to remain independent and a democratic republic.

Official Histories

In the aftermath of World War II, many belligerent countries initiated official history projects on their involvement in the war. Finland was no exception. The research focus was on traditional operational history. The projects were mainly conducted under the auspices of the Finnish Defense Forces. However, the order did not follow chronology of events. For a long time, it was viewed that Tuompo and Karikoski 1942, a participant account of the Winter War, would be sufficient. From the 1950s onward, army historians worked in a large military history research program that eventually produced an eleven-volume multi-author series Suomen sota 1941–1945. It covers the Continuation War and the Lapland War from the highest circles down to battalion level. The series devotes a huge number of pages to describing operations and battles; it has been criticized for being “High Command’s after-action report.” An updated six-volume edition of the series followed: Jatkosodan historia. Between the two editions, the attention shifted to a similar treatment of the Winter War, resulting in the publication of the four-volume Talvisodan historia. All three series are widely cited general histories that offer the standard interpretation of the Finnish military’s role in World War II, and have laid the foundation for later research. Veteran officers have been active in supplementing these basic interpretations. In the 1950s Colonel Wolf H. Halsti, a recipient of Finland’s Medal of Honor, the Mannerheim Cross, studied the war years in his three-volume account, Halsti 1955–1957. Three decades later General Reino Arimo, with more access to relevant sources, published often-cited works on field fortifications, Arimo 1981, and on operational plans, Arimo 1986–1987. Kronlund 1988 is the first thorough study of the formative years of the Finnish Defense Forces during the interwar period. It deals with the preparation for World War II. In recent years a large group of researchers affiliated with the Defense Forces contributed to Karjalainen 2018, which is a synthesis of the activities of the Finnish armed forces in war and peace since 1918. The works cited in this category are largely general accounts.

  • Arimo, Reino. Suomen linnoittamisen historia 1918–1944. Helsinki: Otava, 1981.

    Arimo provides extensive treatment of Finnish fortification plans, techniques, types of fortifications, building processes, and funding issues from Finnish independence until the end of the Continuation War.

  • Arimo, Reino. Suomen puolustussuunnitelmat 1918–1939. 3 vols. Helsinki: Sotatieteen laitos, 1986–1987.

    A three-volume comprehensive account of different phases in Finnish interwar operational planning as a response to the Soviet threat. Many of the plans proved their worth in the Winter War: most of the plans were feasible as they included the right kind of threat perceptions and net assessments.

  • Halsti, Wolf H. Suomen sota 1939–1945. 3 vols. Helsinki: Otava, 1955–1957.

    An easy-to-read three-volume account of the war years. Volume 1 focuses on the Winter War, Volume 2 on the latter half of 1941, and Volume 3 on the summer of 1944. The author charts the causes of and strategies of these periods of conflict, describes the operations down to the divisional level, and offers information about life on the front and soldier morale.

  • Jatkosodan historia. 6 vols. Helsinki: WSOY, 1988–1994.

    A six-volume official but still highly useful history of the Continuation War and Lapland War. It is a fully updated edition of the earlier series, Suomen sota 1941–1945. The volumes include the bigger political and strategic picture of events and details about fighting from front to front on land, in the air, and at sea. Each volume is illustrated by huge numbers of maps and organizational charts.

  • Karjalainen, Mikko, ed. Suomen puolustusvoimat 100 vuotta. Helsinki: Edita, 2018.

    An edited collection to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Finnish Defense Forces. With particular attention to World War II, the contributors paint a revealing picture of the turning points in the development of the Finnish armed forces since 1918.

  • Kronlund, Jarl, ed. Suomen puolustuslaitos 1918–1939: Puolustusvoimien rauhan ajan historia. Helsinki: WSOY, 1988.

    This is a comprehensive work of the history of the Finnish Defense Forces during the interwar years. The volume helps the reader to understand why the resistance of the poorly armed and equipped small Finnish Army did not collapse in the face of Red Army offensive in the Winter War.

  • Suomen sota 1941–1945. 11 vols. Helsinki: Kivi, 1965–1975.

    An eleven-volume original version of the six-volume Jatkosodan historia series. Most of the contributing authors were officers who had seen action.

  • Talvisodan historia. 4 vols. Helsinki: WSOY, 1977–1979.

    This four-volume synthesis is still essential reading on the Winter War. Completed in much the same fashion as the earlier series, Suomen sota 1941–1945 and Jatkosodan historia. The editors decided to stick to the facts, leaving out critical comments and tactical lessons. Most of the new authors were officers but they were not war veterans.

  • Tuompo, W. E., and V. A. M. Karikoski, eds. Kunnia – Isänmaa: Suomen ja Neuvostoliiton sota 1939–40. Helsinki: Kivi, 1942.

    A contemporary analysis of various aspects of the Winter War. The articles offer the firsthand views of their authors, who were Finnish high commanders.

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