Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finland

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Jari
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Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finland

Post by Jari » 24 Aug 2004 17:11

In some threads I noticed there was a bit of discussion over whether Finland could be considered to have won or lost the war of 1941-44. I think it's an interesting question, so hence this thread.

There are many alternative answers. The typical way of handling this question in Finnish military historical literature is the same as with the Winter War: by defending their country, Finns saved their independence. But this is a weak argument, and not only because Finland was this time around the aggressor. Without taking a stance on the question of whether going to war was just (as that has been discussed in several other threads), I think that the most serious version of this view relies on the pre-emptive theory. According to it, Soviets had broken the non-aggression pact in 1939, so one shouldn't trust them to be sincere this time either. The Red Army could renew their attack any time, and this time there'd be far lesser chances of stopping the attacks. So, this alternative argues, it was necessary to take back those areas lost in the war, and preferably even more to act as a buffer zone. Advocates of this view then argue that what happened in the summer of 1944 shows how good the strategy was: Soviets were stopped before the border of 1940 (or driven back in Ilomantsi). So it was a success, because not taking the initiative in 1941 would have resulted in a Red Army drive through Kymi area to Helsinki at some later date.

Then, strictly military takes on the subject. Firstly, Finland lost because it was forced to agree to dire conditions for peace (including territorial concessions), rather than the other way around. Secondly, Finland won, strictly militarily, because it gained more territory in 1941 than it had to give up during the summer offensive of 1944. Sortavala, Käkisalmi and Hanko were still under Finnish control. As military historians like to point out, at the end of the summer Finns surrounded and routed two Soviet divisions, something which defeated armies don't do.

In my view, Finland lost the war, because the purpose, or one of the purposes, of it was to remain independent and fully sovereign. Wasn't Finland that, then? Partly, but not fully. Soviet Union continued meddling with Finnish affairs strongly in 1940-41. The new borders and the military base in Hanko meant that Finland had a dagger on her throat all the time. No other nation would try to save Finland other than Finland itself. All in all, these issues compromised Finnish sovereignty. The answer to this was to seek protection from Germany - one has to wonder what would have happened if Germany had won the war, would Finland now have become under pressure from the Nazis (after all, Hitler despised democracy, and Finns certainly were not Aryans) but that is beyond the point.

So why do I think that Finland failed in saving her indepedence? Finland DID remain independent, after all, right? But Finland had been independent in 1941 as well. What is significant is that the outcome of the war was far worse than that of the Winter War for Finnish sovereignty. Not only was Porkkala closer to Helsinki than Hanko, not only was Petsamo (which had been so important access to the outside world in 1940-41) lost. Now the Finnish Communist Party had to be legalized for the first time (it had been founded in Moscow in 1918) and to be let to the government. Now the Allied Control Commission led by Andrei Zhdanov could dictate anything to the government. Now the military forces were demobilized to peace time strength and until '45 even that bit was not protecting the east border and Helsinki but tied up in Lapland. Soviets had a lot of possibilities in screwing Finns, one instance was when they forbid Finland from participating in the Marshall Plan. Finnish self-sovereignty continued to be a relative concept for a long time (until the resignation of Kekkonen?). This is not what the goals of the Continuation War had been, so Finland lost the war.

What do you think?

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Harri
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Re: Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finla

Post by Harri » 24 Aug 2004 19:00

The problem is we can't be sure what would have happened if we had done something else we did. Basically in 1940 - 1941 Finland had three possible choices: to try to stay neutral, to co-operate with USSR or to co-operate with Germany.

Neutrality was our policy in the 1930's and this policy "had crashed" in 1939 when USSR attacked us. USSR didn't admit Finnish neutrality until during Gorbachev's time in the late 1980's. It is more than likely that either Germany wouldn't admit that in the 1940's (see what happened to many neutral countries). So, in 1940 that possibility was totally out of question. During the war that kind of policy could have led to the occupation of Finland and the end of independence. This was way too uncertain possibility.

Could we have co-operated with USSR in 1940 or 1941? Well, lets see. Without doubt we should have signed a few more pacts with USSR, one of them probably similar to Baltic States signed in 1939. As we know these agreements led them to join USSR "voluntarily". This development was seen in 1940 in Finland so it was not a very attractive choice. The risk of Soviet occupation and risk of becoming combat area were too big.

The last choice - co-operation with Germany - seemed the best and it was accepted. There was a risk of being occupied if Germany would lose the war. On the other hand it offered the possibility to get our ceded lands back very soon. There was also a risk of German occupation and that possibility was too taken into account all the time during the war.

Could Finland have stayed out of war even if we co-operated with Germany? No, if we had waited USSR for sure would have attacked sooner or later. It really seems that we had only bad choices to choose from. The risk of loosing everything was the smallest in the last choice.

On 9.6.1944 the worst possible option came true and Soviets attacked Finland. The goal of this attack was nothing less than to conquer the whole country. I don't know if it was a surprise to Soviet leaders but Finland managed to stop this attack repulsing Soviet troops in five different battles. That was so called "repulse victory". After that Soviet demands became milder towards Finland and the still hard peace terms were accepted.

Years after september 1944 are called "the years of danger" in Finland. There was all the time a possibility of a "revolution" by local Communists supported by USSR. For the surprise to everyone nothing really happened, Allied Supervision Commission left Finland and living in the country began recovering. USSR also ceded the Porkkala area back to Finland.

Was that a failure? Smaller nations don't have same possibilities for full independence but I think we have managed quite well. So, I think at least we didn't lose ther war and remained independent despite of our losses and sacrifices.
Last edited by Harri on 24 Aug 2004 20:15, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finla

Post by Jari » 24 Aug 2004 19:42

Harri wrote:The problem is we can't be sure what would have happened if we had done something else we did.
I agree, hence I only concentrated on evaluating what did happen, on its own terms. It is impossible to properly evaluate, for instance, how Germany would have reacted to strict neutrality by Finland - just look at what the situation looked like in 1941, and how differently everything went! Thus we only end up with the same ponderings as the Finnish leadership had in 1940-41, instead of the actual results of those roads.

That having being said... :)

Navigating in the waters of neutrality would of course have been very challenging with all those Russians in Hanko. Preventing Germans from seizing Petsamo would also have been difficult. But I don't think that Germans would have outright invaded Finland. Neither do I think that Soviets would have wanted to attack Finland while engaged in a war against Germany.

Also if you consider how many Finnish men were killed or wounded in 1941, and how great burden it was for Finnish economy, staying neutral would sound very tempting. If Soviet Union had attacked Finland after defeating Germany, at least there would have been more young men alive to defend the country.

I know that this is all shameless hindsight. I'm not saying whether the attack was justified or if the leadership made a good decision, just whether the results of the path taken were positive or negative compared to the intended results.

And yes, sometimes all roads lead to Hell. :(

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Post by Tero » 24 Aug 2004 20:17

Interesting subject to be sure.

My take on the subject is:

Finland won the war both militarily and politically. Having said that these victories do not mean Finland could and would stay in a vacuum.

Winter War had shown (painfully) how important having strong armed forces is. It also showed how important it was to have a flexible framework around an informed and focused political agenda. This framework was and is IMO based on the close co-operation of the military and the political leadership. It was the job of the military to stay on top of things and to be in the know of the field. The job of the politicians is to keep the military in such a condition that it can perform its designated tasks.

After Winter War the choices were few and none of them had bright prospects. The fact the retention of good will of the Western Powers was more important than it is realized now. The Finnish kept the friends close and the enemies even closer but had the presence of mind to keep the promises made to the pen pals and to honour their their wishes as closesly as was possible. And when the time came the focused and coherent political agenda enabled to save the nation.

I personally disliked the head long decision to join the EU. But in light of historical presedence I think the course of action was propably the best of the available options. It also showed how well the system born in the turmoil of Winter War has preserved the nations core prime directive against threats both internal and external.

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Re: Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finla

Post by Hanski » 24 Aug 2004 20:34

Jari wrote:In some threads I noticed there was a bit of discussion over whether Finland could be considered to have won or lost the war of 1941-44.
Victory can be defined as gaining the aims of war. If the aim of the Continuation War was maintaining independence or sovereignty, that aim was indeed reached, so one could call it a victory.
Jari wrote: ... Finns saved their independence. But this is a weak argument, and not only because Finland was this time around the aggressor. Without taking a stance on the question of whether going to war was just (as that has been discussed in several other threads), I think that the most serious version of this view relies on the pre-emptive theory. According to it, Soviets had broken the non-aggression pact in 1939, so one shouldn't trust them to be sincere this time either. The Red Army could renew their attack any time, and this time there'd be far lesser chances of stopping the attacks. So, this alternative argues, it was necessary to take back those areas lost in the war, and preferably even more to act as a buffer zone. Advocates of this view then argue that what happened in the summer of 1944 shows how good the strategy was: Soviets were stopped before the border of 1940 (or driven back in Ilomantsi). So it was a success, because not taking the initiative in 1941 would have resulted in a Red Army drive through Kymi area to Helsinki at some later date.
I think this sounds like completely valid reasoning. Co-belligerence with the aggressor does not weaken it at all, as the pre-emptive opportunity that offered itself was unique and a second round of the Winter War would in any case have been inevitable.
Jari wrote: In my view, Finland lost the war, because the purpose, or one of the purposes, of it was to remain independent and fully sovereign. Wasn't Finland that, then? Partly, but not fully. Soviet Union continued meddling with Finnish affairs strongly in 1940-41. The new borders and the military base in Hanko meant that Finland had a dagger on her throat all the time. No other nation would try to save Finland other than Finland itself. All in all, these issues compromised Finnish sovereignty.
I disagree with this. First of all, independence and sovereignty are always relative, not absolute. The art of compromise is always essential for any small country neighbouring with a totalitarian great power. Yes, you are right -- the USSR had great influence on Finland's affairs ( see: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=43264 ). And yet, when you compare this outcome with the most likely alternative in the case of not fighting the Continuation War, the most likely result would have been Finland sharing the fate of the Baltic countries. The difference between their and Finland's status during the Cold War was like between night and day.
Jari wrote:What is significant is that the outcome of the war was far worse than that of the Winter War for Finnish sovereignty.
I disagree. The outcome was better in that Stalin no more pursued the occupation of Finland, unlike he had done during the Interim Peace.
Jari wrote:Not only was Porkkala closer to Helsinki than Hanko, not only was Petsamo (which had been so important access to the outside world in 1940-41) lost. Now the Finnish Communist Party had to be legalized for the first time (it had been founded in Moscow in 1918) and to be let to the government. Now the Allied Control Commission led by Andrei Zhdanov could dictate anything to the government. Now the military forces were demobilized to peace time strength and until '45 even that bit was not protecting the east border and Helsinki but tied up in Lapland. Soviets had a lot of possibilities in screwing Finns, one instance was when they forbid Finland from participating in the Marshall Plan. Finnish self-sovereignty continued to be a relative concept for a long time (until the resignation of Kekkonen?). This is not what the goals of the Continuation War had been, so Finland lost the war.
Yes, and you forgot to mention the FCMA Treaty of 1948. Let us say, all of the above satisfied the Soviet security needs without requiring the use of war to occupy the country and make it a Soviet Republic, which had been the Soviet goal in 1939-1944. The Continuation War had once again proved how letting Finns keep their own form of government, independence and sovereignty -- with the above mentioned limitations as concessions demanded from the Finns -- was far more advantageous for the USSR than fighting the WWII beyond the terms of the Paris Peace Treaty . The resistance to be expected from the Finns in an attempt to follow through a purely military solution would have meant further, pointless casualties, Finland would have become a bleeding wound in the Soviet Empire with continuous tremendous expenses in every sense of the word. With the compromise that was actually made, both sides would gain.

Precisely this is what was achieved by means of fighting the Continuation War -- otherwise, Finland would have shared the fate of the Baltic countries.

Hanski
Last edited by Hanski on 24 Aug 2004 20:40, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Mark V » 24 Aug 2004 20:39

Finland staying out out of WW2 after Barbarossa was unlikely. For most part because Soviets didn't allow Finland to stay neutral.

Also, i think that Germans would had tried to secure Kolosjoki nickel mine in any case. That nickel source was critical to them.

Mark V

PS. Overall military threath scenario was worst than ever in August-44, but still, it should not be forgotten than FDF was also stronger than ever at that point. Not capable of repelling the possible invader (USSR) if large part of their force would be deployed, but capable of drawing serious blood...

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Re: Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finla

Post by Jari » 24 Aug 2004 21:42

Hanski wrote:...the pre-emptive opportunity that offered itself was unique and a second round of the Winter War would in any case have been inevitable.
"Inevitable" is quite a strong expression as it excludes all other possibilities.

Think about this alternate path of events: Soviets don't invade Finland in 1941 because they are invaded by Germany instead. In 1945 Germany surrenders to the Allies and Norway is liberated. Because Winter War was the result of a pact between Germany and USSR, and the Western powers are not willing to let Stalin devour Finland, Finland survives.
I disagree. The outcome was better in that Stalin no more pursued the occupation of Finland, unlike he had done during the Interim Peace.
I acknowledge that because Finnish army had become capable of stopping tanks, the situation was different than before. But if Stalin had really wanted to occupy us in 1944-53, then he could have done it. However, with the Red Army guarding Berlin, it would have been pointless and would have damaged Soviet west relations. In particular if Finland would have never been in a coalition with Germany.

Of course, there is then the reparations issue. Finland was of more economical use for Soviets when unoccupied... considering the bad experiences of trying to extract reparations (=loot) in occupied Germany this might have been clear to Stalin. Soviets wouldn't have gained anything from Finnish neutrality in economic terms at this point.
Precisely this is what was achieved by means of fighting the Continuation War -- otherwise, Finland would have shared the fate of the Baltic countries.
Or that of Hungary. It is not definate that Finland would have become a Socialist Soviet Republic if occupied, in my opinion. This is not to say that Hungarians were somehow fortunate, in particular in 1956...

Okay, time for me to sleep now!

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Re: Estimating the outcome of the Continuation War for Finla

Post by Hanski » 25 Aug 2004 16:10

Jari wrote:
Hanski wrote:...the pre-emptive opportunity that offered itself was unique and a second round of the Winter War would in any case have been inevitable.
"Inevitable" is quite a strong expression as it excludes all other possibilities.
Why should Stalin have needed to consider any other possibilities? The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was supposedly still in force, the secret protocol guaranteeing the USSR the right do deal with Finland as it pleased, without German interference. The Western Allies were completely out of the picture for geographic reasons, as well as their failed helping project during the late stages of the Winter War, all the more now when Norway was under German occupation.

The defence of Finland was essentially weakened by the border in Karelia having been moved westwards, offering the whole Karelian Isthmus and areas to the west of Ladoga as a staging area for a new offensive. In Salla region the border had been moved further to the west as well. On top of that, Hanko peninsula was a ready-made bridgehead on Finnish soil, enhanced by the right to railway transit traffic through Southern Finland, enabling even opening local fronts on the way. The nickel mines in Petsamo were about to start production of the strategic metal (= ripe to be taken). And finally, the prestige of Stalin and the USSR required revenge in completion of what had been left unfinished in such a humiliating way in the Winter War.

The threatening Soviet foreign policy with its acts of terror (the Kaleva incident etc.) and hostile broadcasts in the media were fully consistent with the aim of having a second round with the Finns, so yes, inevitable it was.
Jari wrote: Think about this alternate path of events: Soviets don't invade Finland in 1941 because they are invaded by Germany instead.
Soviets sent a loud and clear message to Finland with their air raids as soon as the German invasion had begun, which speaks for itself. The reasons for conquering the whole of Finland remained, so launching also a land attack would only have been a matter of time.
Jari wrote: In 1945 Germany surrenders to the Allies and Norway is liberated. Because Winter War was the result of a pact between Germany and USSR, and the Western powers are not willing to let Stalin devour Finland, Finland survives.
Why would Finland's fate have interested the Western powers any more than it did at the Yalta Congress? None of them had ever proposed security guarantees to Finland in any form, and they were busy enough in recovering from the war themselves. Perhaps they would have sent plenty of sympathy, just like for Hungary in 1956!
Jari wrote: But if Stalin had really wanted to occupy us in 1944-53, then he could have done it.


Certainly! Stalin or his successors could have occupied Finland ever since, if one looks at the war potential of a nation of 5 million versus another of 200 million, with the former lacking any security guarantees or alliances to join in its defence.
Jari wrote: However, with the Red Army guarding Berlin, it would have been pointless and would have damaged Soviet west relations. In particular if Finland would have never been in a coalition with Germany.
This was a valid point in good-will terms even despite Finland having been in coalition with Germany.
Jari wrote: Of course, there is then the reparations issue. Finland was of more economical use for Soviets when unoccupied... considering the bad experiences of trying to extract reparations (=loot) in occupied Germany this might have been clear to Stalin. Soviets wouldn't have gained anything from Finnish neutrality in economic terms at this point.
Exactly -- the pragmatic point of leaving the Finns run their industrial production for the benefit of the USSR spoke for not wiping them from the face of the earth, although it would have been technically possible. And in the process of terminating the Finns, the one more round would have involved both parties in a bloodbath far worse than present-day Chechnya for no sensible reason, which would also have needlessly weakened the war-weary USSR on top of the preceding losses suffered against Germany.

An occupied Finland would have shared the fate of the Baltic countries.
Jari wrote: Or that of Hungary. It is not definate that Finland would have become a Socialist Soviet Republic if occupied, in my opinion. This is not to say that Hungarians were somehow fortunate, in particular in 1956...
Why not? It would have sealed "the final solution" without leaving any further hope, instead of giving a false impression of an "own" state and independence to any degree. Replacing the Finns with masses of Soviet citizens from anywhere else would have been no problem.

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