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William R. Trotter - A Frozen Hell
Rather than interweave the events on each front of the Winter War in chronological order, the author describes each battle zone separately from south (the Mannerheim Line) to north (the wilderness of Lapland).

Part I, Onslaught and Riposte

Chapter 1 - The Reasons Why

p. 12: The Soviets did not trust Nazi Germany. They knew that Germany would gain advantages if it could use Finland as a base for operations against Russia. The author writes: "Russia needed some 'positive guarantees' from Finland that Germany would never be allowed to use Finnish territory as a springboard to attack the USSR."

p. 14: In August 1939, Germany and Russia signed a pact that placed Finland within the Soviet sphere of influence. On week later, Hitler invaded Poland, and two weeks after that, Russia attacked Poland from the east, seizing 200,000 square kilometers as a buffer zone against Germany (p. 34). In September and October, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania signed "mutual assistance" treaties that effectively annexed them as Soviet satellites. In October and November, Finnish and Russian delegations negotiated Soviet demands that Finland cede territory and abandon its main defense, the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus (p. 15). Gustav Mannerheim, Finland's leading soldier, advocated giving the Russians what they wanted. He knew that the Finnish armed forces could not back up the inflexible stance of Finland's political leaders. When the Finnish politicians refused, Mannerheim resigned (p. 21).

Chapter 2 - The Baron

p. 23: Profile of Carl Gustav Mannerheim, who was appointed commander in chief of Finnish forces immediately after hostilities with the Russians began, despite his attempt to resign a few days earlier.

Chapter 3 - Order of Battle

p. 38: The author outlines the Russian plan of attack. At the start of the war, the Soviets deployed roughly 28 divisions averaging about 17,000 men each (p. 47) and at least five tank brigades. Mannerheim and his staff realized that Finland could not defend itself against the Red Army indefinitely. "Thus was born a strategy designed to enable Finland to hang on long enough for outside aid to reach it. If that hope proved chimerical, the only thing left to do was to resist so fiercely that Stalin would opt for a negotiated settlement rather than total conquest."

p. 41: Their limited resources forced Finnish defense planners "to concentrate on the ways in which Finland's geography and national character could be developed into military assets rather than liabilities." Army doctrine emphasized marksmanship, woodcraft, orienteering, camouflage and physical conditioning in small-unit, quasi-guerrilla operations using unconventional tactics. "Finnish tank forces were operationally nonexistent," writes the author (p. 44).

p. 42: At the start of the war, there were ten fully equipped Finnish divisions, each numbering 14,000 men. An eleventh division had been formed, but it had no heavy equipment. The author outlines the deployment of Mannerheim's forces at the beginning of the war (p. 47).

Chapter 4 - First Blows

p. 48: On November 30, 1939, Russian planes bombed Helsinki. Mannerheim withdrew his resignation and was activated as commander in chief of the Finnish armed forces. By the end of the day, the Finnish government changed hands. The policy of the new government, led by Vaino Tanner and Risto Ryti, was to reopen negotiations and end hostilities as fast as possible (p. 51).

p. 53: On the northern front near the Arctic Sea, the numerical odds favored the Russians by "something like forty-two to one."

Chapter 5 - "The People's Republic of Finland"

p. 58: In the first hours of the Winter War, the Soviets set up a puppet government at Terijoki and declared it to be the newly liberated "Democratic Government of Finland." In response the League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union.

Chapter 6 - The Mannerheim Line

p. 62: The author defines the Finnish word sisu, which became known around the world: "It can be translated as 'guts' or 'spunk' or 'grit' or 'balls,' or as a combination of all those words together." While the image of the ski warrior in the northern wilderness became the symbol of Finnish resistance, the more conventional struggle to hold the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus in some ways proved the Finns' mettle even more, writes the author.

p. 66: In this section are several fine photos, including one of Finnish ski troops using boat-shaped sledges pulled by reindeer.

Chapter 7 - The Karelian Isthmus: Round One

p. 68: The author describes the cunning placement of booby traps and mines in villages and territory abandoned by the Finns on the Karelian Isthmus.

p. 72: The Finns did not invent the "Molotov Cocktail," but they gave it the name that has stuck ever since. Using a blend of gasoline, kerosene, tar, potassium chloride, and sometimes a bit of nitroglycerine, these weapons were manufactured in vast quantities for use by tank-hunter squads, who had few conventional anti-tank weapons.

p. 75: The author describes the Soviet attacks on the Taipale sector, which proved to be a slaughterhouse for the Russians. The attacks were made in the open, without snowsuit camouflage or whitewash for their tanks (p. 79), against entrenched defenders well armed with machine guns. These attacks demonstrated "the Russians' willingness to take needless, hideous losses and still keep coming," writes the author. One typical Russian attack left 1,000 dead and 27 tanks destroyed in just under an hour. During the first 20 days of fighting on the Isthmus, Russians lost 250 armored vehicles. Seven Russian divisions were mauled (p. 82). Mannerheim attributed to the Russians "a fatalism incomprehensible to a European."

Chapter 8 - "A Stupid Butting of Heads"

p. 85: Russian officers and troops who had refused to participate in more suicidal attacks on the Mannerheim Line were sent to the firing squads. On December 23, the Finns counterattacked across the Mannerheim Line. The attack went poorly and accomplished little.

Part II, Uncommon Valor: Battles in the Fourth Corps Zone

Chapter 9 - Tolvajarvi: The First Victory

p. 121: The Tolvajarvi campaign north of Lake Ladoga was for the Finns the bloodiest of the war. Colonel Paavo Talvela lost one-third of his officers and one-quarter of his rank and file, a total of 630 men killed and 1,320 wounded. The Russians lost over 5,000 men killed and an equal number wounded. Fifty-nine tanks and armored cars were destroyed. But Talvela had fought the Russians to a stalemate.

Chapter 10 - The Kollaa Front: They Shall Not Pass!

p. 129: At Kollaa, between Tolvajarvi and Lake Ladoga, a single Finnish regiment initially faced a division of Russians. The Finns' strength grew to two regiments and the Russians responded with four heavily supported divisions. Kollaa was a grinding battle of attrition. Russian casualties rose to more than 1,000 men a day. "Against one strong point, known to the Finns as 'Killer HIll,' the Russians threw a 4,000-man regiment against a defending force of 32 Finns. More than 400 Russians died; 4 of the Finns survived." Remarkably, the Finns held the Kollaa front until the cease-fire took effect on March 13.

Chapter 11 - The Mottis of General Hagglund

p. 131: In Finnish, the word motti denotes a pile of logs destined to be chopped or sawn into convenient lengths of firewood. During the Winter War, motti tactics was the term that described how Finnish troops dealt with long, road-bound Soviet columns in the wilderness north of Lake Ladoga. A column would be encircled and the road blocked. Then sharp attacks would split the formation into fragments. Finally each pocket would be starved, frozen, and finally hacked to pieces. The Great Motti at Kitela contained an entire Russian division (p. 137).

p. 133: The author describes motti warfare as a tactical success but a strategic failure, because the Finns' objective was to destroy or turn back Russian columns north of Lake Ladoga as quickly as possible. Without sufficient artillery, armor, or tactical air power, destruction of the mottis became a waiting game that tied up Finnish forces needed on the Karelian Isthmus. Eventually, all the mottis except three were wiped out.

Part III, The White Death

Chapter 12 - The Winter Soldiers

p. 143: In the great forest battles of central Finland, the Finnish soldier could turn the cold, the snow, the forest, and the long hours of darkness to his advantage. The winter of 1939 was one of the most brutal since records started being kept in 1828. Temperatures of -30 degrees F were not uncommon (p. 145). A good Finnish soldier could wrap his snowsuit around him and hunker down to become invisible to a Russian patrol passing ten meters away. The Russian Army didn't begin painting its equipment white and issuing snowsuits to its infantry until late January (p. 146). Belaya Smert was the Russian term for the White Death, either from cold and fatigue or from a sniper bullet. The Finns knew that the cardinal rule of ski fighting is never to fight on skis if you can possibly avoid it. Their ski boots, pieksu, had turned-up toes and no heel straps so that a man could hop out of his skis, or back into them, in seconds (p. 147).

Chapter 13 - Suomussalmi: A Military Classic

p. 150: The author writes: "The Battle of Suomussalmi continues to be taught in military academies as a 'classic,' an example of what motivated, well-led troops can do, with innovative tactics, against even a much larger adversary." Two whole Soviet divisions were obliterated "by a few battalions of intrepid skiers" (p. 143).

p. 155: The Finns laid down a network of "ice roads" in the forests (described on p. 129), providing access to the arterial roads used by the Soviet invaders. From this network, Finnish ski troops could launch "road-cutting" operations. A combat team would move into a preselected assembly area just out of reach of the enemy's reconnaissance patrols. Then they would approach the road along concealed routes established by Finnish patrols. Speed and shock were the keys to a successful road-cutting attack. The purpose of the raid was to knife through the Russian column to the woods on the other side. Then fresh reserves would swarm out of the forest to consolidate and widen the gap. Eventually the road cut would be 300 to 440 meters wide, with barricades sealing it off at both ends. Motti operations would follow.

p. 165: The Finns established a ring of command posts, supply depots and camouflaged, stove-heated dugouts around each motti, enabling Finnish troops to rest in relative comfort between patrol duties. The author writes: "Targets for the skiers' raids were carefully selected. [...] Anything that offered the surrounded enemy warmth, shelter, or nutrition was mercilessly eliminated." Eventually the Soviet 163rd (p. 162) and 44th Divisions (p. 169) were completely destroyed. Between December 7 and January 8, the two divisions lost 27,500 soldiers dead. Forty-three tanks and 270 other vehicles were destroyed. Finnish losses amounted to 900 dead and 1,770 wounded.

Chapter 14 - Mr. Mydans Visits the Kemi River

p. 173: Seventy-five miles south of Suomussalmi, the Soviet 54th division attacked Kuhmo. The 54th eventually fought the victor of Suomussalmi, General Hjalmar Siilasvuo, to a standstill. The 54th saw the first massed deployment of Soviet ski troops in the Winter War, dubbed the Siberian Ski Brigade (p. 176). The Siberians fought bravely for a time, but eventually the unit was split into fragments and 1,400 of its 2,000 men were killed.

p. 180: Farther north, on the Kemi/Salla front, Time-Life photo-journalist Carl Mydans visited an area where the Finns had stopped another Russian incursion. The author writes: "As he was leaving the battlefield, he passed some Finnish officers making a body count of the enemy dead. One of them remarked, in a flat weary voice, 'The wolves will eat well this year.'"

Part IV, The January Lull

Chapter 15 - The Air War

p. 189: Russian air attacks on civilian targets were denounced by former U.S. president Herbert Hoover as a throwback to "the morals and butchery of Genghis Khan."

p. 191: All told, Finnish fighter pilots shot down 240 confirmed Soviet aircraft while losing just 26 of their own planes.

Chapter 16 - The Outside World Responds

p. 194: All around the world, governments expressed support for "brave little Finland." But actual assistance amounted to little.

Chapter 17 - The Russians Get Serious

p. 204: During the first week of January 1940, Stalin reorganized the Leningrad Military District and put Commander Semyon K. Timoshenko in charge of operations. The Russians assembled an overwhelming force along a 16-km section of the Mannerheim Line: "nine infantry divisions, five tank brigades, one machine-gun division, and enough artillery to a achieve a front-wide ratio of 80 guns per mile."

Part V, The Storm

Chapter 18 - Tidal Wave

p. 214: The author outlines Timoshenko's battle plan. Beginning on February 1, the Russians would launch a furious artillery and air bombardment, following it with local ground attacks. After ten days of round-the-clock pounding, the Red Army would launch an all-out assault on February 11 to try to break through the Mannerheim Line.

Chapter 19 - Breakthrough!

p. 225: The Red Army finally broke through the Mannerheim Line on February 11 along the Lahde road. Mannerheim resisted pulling back until the last possible moment because he knew that peace talks were at a delicate stage and that Finland retained power to influence the outcome only as long as its army appeared to the outside world to be unbeaten.

Chapter 20 - Dance of the Diplomats: Round One

p. 235: Despite the fact that the Finnish campaign had turned into a military debacle, Stalin was in no rush to renew negotiations. The author writes: "He could not afford to be seen to fold easily; his original demands would have to be met with interest and penalties, and the Finnish Army would have to be humbled in order that the USSR might emerge from this bloody shambles with its credibility still intact."

Chapter 21 - Fighting for Time

p. 244: By February 28, Mannerheim had given permission to start withdrawing to the Rear Line. The Mannerheim Line had held for 78 days. The Intermediate Line had held for 12. The signs were not good for holding the third line for long. There was no fourth line.

Chapter 22 - Dance of the Diplomats: Round Two

p. 247: On February 25, the Soviets spelled out their demands, which included the cession of the Karelian Isthmus and other territory and the signing of a mutual assistance pact between Finland and the USSR. The Allies dangled offers of assistance but the Swedes and Norwegians, unwilling to abandon their neutrality and bring down war upon their countries, refused to allow access across their territory. On March 8, The Soviets issued even harsher demands. Ryti of Finland tried to gain some concessions by pointing out that Russia had not militarily conquered most of the territory it was demanding. The author writes: "Molotov, in tones of contempt, replied that if the Finns wished, they could come back and discuss the matter after the Red Army had taken those places." The Finns signed the treaty in Moscow on the morning of March 13, with a cease-fire scheduled to go into effect at noon, Leningrad time.

Chapter 23 - Time Runs Out

p. 260: The Finnish Army had begun the war with approximately 150,000 men under arms. By March 10, only half that number were still able to fight against an enemy whose reserves were effectively inexhaustible. At 10:45 a.m. Helsinki time, March 13, fifteen minutes before the cease-fire was to begin, the Russians opened up a last-minute bombardment "for the sheer vindictive meanness of it." Hundreds of Finns were killed or wounded.

Chapter 24 - Aftershocks

p. 263: For its unwillingness to meet Stalin's earlier demands, Finland lost roughly 25,000 square miles of land, including every strong natural defense line (on p. 273 the author writes that Finland lost 16,000 square miles). The 105-day war cost 24,923 killed and 43,557 wounded. For perspective, the same percentage of losses would have been equivalent to 2.6 million casualties in the United States in 1940. In his memoirs, Khrushchev stated flatly that "we lost a million men." A Soviet general is said to have remarked, "We have won just about enough ground to bury our dead." Finnish historians estimate Soviet dead at 230,000 to 270,000 and another 200,000 to 300,000 wounded.

p. 264: Fifteen months after the Winter War ended, Germany opened Operation Barbarossa, their all-out offensive against the Soviet Union. Soviet military leaders instituted reforms after the Finnish campaigns, making the Red Army a tougher and better equipped opponent than it would have been had the Winter War never happened. Finland fought the Soviet Union as a "cobelligerent" with Nazi Germany in the so-called Continuation War, beginning on June 25, 1941 (p. 266). This enabled the Finns to reclaim territory lost during the Winter War. After a counter-offensive by the Russians in the summer of 1944, an armistice was signed on September 19, 1944. The Finns lost everything they lost in 1940 all over again and became economically and politically indentured to the USSR (p. 274). But Finland survived as a free nation.

p. 269: Historian Max Jakobsen described the brief but powerful mythology of the Winter War and its effect on those in other countries:

"Many a modern Byron on skis volunteered to go to the scene of the action, and, though few got as far as the firing line, in most countries of the west, there are men who think of Finland, a little wistfully perhaps, as the country they almost died for."

p. 271: Chronology from the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 through the Soviet-Finnish armistice in 1944.

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Last Updated: Sun Jul 24 16:31:01 PDT 2005