American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

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driftwood
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American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by driftwood » 24 Aug 2020 13:17

I've come across a few claims online of English-speaking volunteers in Finland during the Winter War (Americans, Brits, and Irish). If it's true, I have a few questions:

1) How did they get around the language barrier while they were serving? Finnish isn't exactly a widely spoken lingo.
2) Did they serve in their own national units, or integrated into the regular Finnish forces?
3) Were any still around during the Continuation War or Lapland War, or did any new volunteers from these countries manage to get to Finland to serve in those conflicts?

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Waleed Y. Majeed
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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Waleed Y. Majeed » 24 Aug 2020 14:22

You might find some of the answers here:
viewtopic.php?t=9423

Waleed

driftwood
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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by driftwood » 24 Aug 2020 14:30

Waleed Y. Majeed wrote:
24 Aug 2020 14:22
You might find some of the answers here:
viewtopic.php?t=9423

Waleed
Thanks, some interesting stuff in there.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 24 Aug 2020 17:20

Hi driftwood.

There was a British volunteer Battalion raised, but the war ended before it got into action.

There is a book on it: The Volunteers by Justin Brooke.

Sid

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by driftwood » 24 Aug 2020 17:55

Sid Guttridge wrote:
24 Aug 2020 17:20
Hi driftwood.

There was a British volunteer Battalion raised, but the war ended before it got into action.

There is a book on it: The Volunteers by Justin Brooke.

Sid
Thanks Sid, I'll check it out. So no Brits made it to the front lines?

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 25 Aug 2020 07:51

Hi driftwood,

An appendix in The Winter War by Engle and Paananen (pp.153-157) gives the following:

Sweden - 8,000 volunteers.
U,K. - 230 (more en route)
USA - 350 (arrived 2 days before war ended)
Denmark - 800 volunteers
Norway- 800 volunteers
Hungary - 450 volunteers
Italy - 150 volunteers

It doesn't appear that any English-speakers saw action in the Winter War of 1939-40.

Cheers,

Sid

Mikko H.
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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Mikko H. » 25 Aug 2020 11:43

Almost all of the US volunteers were first-generation immigrants born in Finland.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 25 Aug 2020 13:55

A bit of trivia:

Guess which country supplied the highest per capita proportion of volunteers?

Liechtenstein!

A cousin of the Royal Family, Prinz Ferdinand, volunteered and got as far as Sweden when the war ended. He saw out the world war in Sweden as well.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Seppo Koivisto » 26 Aug 2020 12:37

The British company was assigned to the 3rd Army Corps between April 17th and May 31st 1940. After being demobilized the volunteers were moved from Savonlinna to Jyväskylä. On September 7th 138 men were moved to Korpilahti, were they were lodged at Tähtiniemi mansion. Three days after the start of the Continuation War, on 28 June 1941, they were transported by rail to Tornio and over the Swedish border.

There is a memorial at Korpilahti (the Finnish wiki name calls it the memorial of British pilots, but that is incorrect).
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https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiedosto: ... merkki.jpg

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Garfunkel » 04 Sep 2020 13:05

I am currently in the process of writing my PhD thesis on foreign volunteers in Finland and will hopefully publish it in few years. Meanwhile, I can add few more points:

Foreign volunteers were to split into their own units. The Swedish Volunteer Force, SFK, would include Danes and Norwegians and the North-Americans who could speak Finnish formed the American-Finnish Legion, ASL. Everyone else was sent to Kauhava training centre where they joined Osasto Sisu, Taskforce Guts. Os Sisu had companies organized along language lines, so all English speakers for example were to be grouped together. This included men from the Dominions as well as from the UK itself and Ireland. There was also a Hungarian company that was to be expanded to a battalion, and a sort of random company that housed the handful of volunteers from elsewhere. All non-Nordic units were also assigned translators, most of whom were not fit for frontline service but volunteered to serve in this way (for fellow Finns, they were "Nostoväen II luokka").

This is how the Finnish Army planned to get around the language barrier - men would serve under their own officers, who would have translators with them to ensure that Finnish-language commands from above would get through correctly. As it was, this was never tested in action as only the SFK and the ASL saw combat.

Some volunteers were integrated into Finnish units. There were Russian-speakers in several Finnish front line units and especially in Sissi Pataljoona 2 (Ranger/Commando Battalion 2). In addition, several foreign volunteers served in the Finnish Air Force flying alongside Finnish pilots, a Hungarian and an Italian dying in combat in this way. There was also a Swedish Volunteer Flying Unit that provided air cover for Lappland and northern Finland but they did not fly together with Finns.

As Seppo Koivisto said, the British volunteers were stranded in Finland after Germany occupied Denmark and Norway. Their situation was precarious. Some managed to get Soviet visas via the USSR embassy in Stockholm and thus traveled to Middle-East, from where they either joined British forces in Palestine or kept going, two volunteers ending up in South-Africa where they gave an interview about their experiences in Finland. Some quietly slipped into Norway while working on civilian road construction project in Lappland - Finnish authorities encouraged the volunteers to find work to help with their maintenance which was costing the tax payer quite a bit! Vast majority of them were transferred to Sweden in 1941 as Seppo said, alongside few Polish, Belgian and Dutch volunteers who had refused to go home while their homes were occupied by Germans. The Brits were finally evacuated from Sweden to Britain in late 1942 and early 1943 by high altitude flights.

There had been numerous attempts by both the British and the Finns to repatriate the volunteers before that but for those stories you'll have to wait until my thesis is published as a book :)

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 04 Sep 2020 14:50

Hi Garfunkel,

Very interesting. Thanks.

The Hungarians stand out by virtue of being one of the few nationalities sufficiently numerous to form a battalion.

What was their particular primary motivation? Two possibilities occur to me: (1) Remote racial and linguistic affinity, and/or (2) Anti-Bolshevism as a result of the Bela Kun soviet twenty years before.

Admiral Horthy's Government later seemed reluctant to join the 1941 invasion of the USSR, so this preparedness of some Hungarians to volunteer for Finland in 1939 seems a little contradictory. Did it have any official support?

Was there any connection or continuity with the "Ragged Guard", which was unofficially used by Hungary to mount an irredentist guerrilla war in Ruthenia and Slovakia over the winter of 1938-39? As its goals were achieved in March 1939, its men would have been free to serve elsewhere later in the year.

Many thanks,

Sid.

P.S. Did the Finns draw any lessons from the use of the International Brigades in Spain over 1936-38 that were applicable in their own situation, or was it a case of parallel evolution??

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by antwony » 05 Sep 2020 11:19

Sid Guttridge wrote:
04 Sep 2020 14:50
P.S. Did the Finns draw any lessons from the use of the International Brigades in Spain over 1936-38 that were applicable in their own situation, or was it a case of parallel evolution??
It would have been, for want of a better term, a brave Finnish army officer who'd suggest following a communist model. The phrase career suicide springs to mind.

From my understanding, the International Brigades formed the backbone of the Spanish Republican Army, while the foreign volunteers in FInalnd say little, to no, combat.

Apart from it being in the news for years leading up to war, I'm not sure how big a deal the Spanish Civil War was in Finland. More "Finns" from America and Canada fought in the war than "Finnish" Finns.

The only Finn I can think of (and this is just perhaps my own ignorance) who fought in the Spanish Civil War was a Soviet General who was a refugee from Finland's Civil War.

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 05 Sep 2020 11:51

Hi Anthony,

Had the Spanish Civil War been as short as the Winter War, then none of the International Brigades would have seen combat.

Noŕ were the International Brigades as important to the Spanish Republicans as legend would have it, welcome though their presence often was.

One doesn't have to be a sympathiser to learn lessons off the enemy. The Anglo-Americans would have no Jerry Cans if they took that approach! The Finns were quite happy to use captured Soviet tanks, so stealing a few ideas shouldn't have been too much of a problem if it was advantageous.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by Ironmachine » 05 Sep 2020 12:26

antwony wrote:Apart from it being in the news for years leading up to war, I'm not sure how big a deal the Spanish Civil War was in Finland. More "Finns" from America and Canada fought in the war than "Finnish" Finns.

The only Finn I can think of (and this is just perhaps my own ignorance) who fought in the Spanish Civil War was a Soviet General who was a refugee from Finland's Civil War.
A little out of topic, but the book Suomalaiset Espanjan sisällissodassa (“Finnish in the Spanish Civil War”) by Jyrki Juusela says that there were 14 Finnish volunteers with the Nationals and 225 with the Republicans. Of the latters, 72 came from Finland proper, 78 from the USA, 73 from Canada and 2 from the Soviet Union.
And I agree with Sid, the IB were, despite the abundant propaganda, a very minor part of the Republican military effort, and of course they were not "the backbone" of the EPR.

Regards.

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Re: American, Irish, and British volunteers in Finland?

Post by antwony » 07 Sep 2020 10:52

Sid Guttridge wrote:
05 Sep 2020 11:51
Hi Anthony,

Had the Spanish Civil War been as short as the Winter War, then none of the International Brigades would have seen combat.

Noŕ were the International Brigades as important to the Spanish Republicans as legend would have it, welcome though their presence often was.
Hello Sid,

Good points. and the International Brigades aren't a bad example. They'd seem more appropriate than, say, the Frecnh Foreign Legion.
Ironmachine wrote:
05 Sep 2020 12:26
A little out of topic, but the book Suomalaiset Espanjan sisällissodassa (“Finnish in the Spanish Civil War”) by Jyrki Juusela says that there were 14 Finnish volunteers with the Nationals and 225 with the Republicans. Of the latters, 72 came from Finland proper, 78 from the USA, 73 from Canada and 2 from the Soviet Union.
And I agree with Sid, the IB were, despite the abundant propaganda, a very minor part of the Republican military effort, and of course they were not "the backbone" of the EPR.

Regards.
Sure, I was going to use the term elite instead of backbone. That probably would have annoyed you even more...

Apart from disliking the word elite, in general, I couldn't really bring myself to use that word for a group of semi trained, poorly equipped, political extremists who were led by lunatics. Thought that that would be disrepectful to the other combatants in Spain.

One of the potential parallels with the International Brigades would (/could) have been the use of lethal violence to enforce discipline.

Not so much during the Winter War, but during the Continuation War, particularly its closing phases, Finnish court martials were pretty liberal with the use of firing squads. The International Brigades, for what I understand, tolerated that kind of stuff. Aren't sure if the volunteers for Finland would be subjected to that level of discipline, or if it could affect them too negatively.

Regards,

Antony

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