Seventy years ago, bombs were falling on Helsinki - anniversary of outbreak of Winter War
For residents of Helsinki, the Winter War began at 9:15 a.m. on November 30th 1939, when a Russian bomber squadron emerged above the Finnish capital. Some hours before, the Red Army had crossed the border and was invading the Karelian isthmus.
At 13:30 President Kyösti Kallio read on the radio a declaration issued by the Finnish Parliament, saying that Finland was at war. The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland had begun.
Fear spread to every home in Finland. Thousands of people in the village of Suojärvi remained near the eastern border as there had not been time to evacuate them. For the next months, the nearly 2,000 residents of the village were living side by side with the Russian soldiers. In February they were taken to prison camps in the Soviet Union. One of them was Viljo Hiilinen, now 75, who spent four months as a prisoner.
Helsingin Sanomat is today starting a series of articles, telling how people trampled by the war felt during the 105 days of the Winter War.
The official cause for the war was the Shelling of Mainila, a false-flag border incident near the village of Mainila on November 26th, 1939.
Tension had nevertheless been high for some time following Soviet demands for territorial concessions. Moscow feared for the safety of St. Petersburg, which was potentially within range of artillery from the then border with Finland. .
The Soviet Union claimed the Mainila incident was a deliberate Finnish artillery attack and that it had killed Soviet border guards. The Soviets demanded that the Finns apologise for the incident and move their forces past a line that was 20-25 kilometres away from the border.
Finland denied any responsibility for the attack and rejected the demands, calling for a joint Finnish–Soviet commission to investigate the incident.
The Soviet Union, claiming that the Finnish response was hostile, renounced the non-aggression pact between Finland and the Soviet Union on November 28th.
The Soviet regime then rejected the US offer to mediate between Finland and the Soviet Union, cutting the diplomatic relations with Finland. The reasons for the move were said to be repeated frontier violations.
Finland tried to negotiate but did not get any response to its note.
Following the failure of negotiations, the Soviet Union started its attack without a declaration of war in the early morning of November 30th.
For the next three and a half months, Finland would fight for its life in extreme cold and against very large numbers of incompetently-led and badly-equipped Soviet troops, while the rest of the world looked on.
This was the main event in the winter of 1939-40, as the war in Poland was already over and the German advance westward across Europe was still only an idea in Adolf Hitler's mind.
More than 25,000 Finnish soldiers and civilians died in the fighting. The Soviet casualties were several times greater, and it has been suggested that in part it was the Winter War that persuaded Hitler of the idea that the Soviet Union could be defeated. He was wrong.
Previously in HS International Edition:
51 dead on a Sunday afternoon (10.11.2009)
Action scenes for U.S. documentary on Winter War filmed in South-Eastern Finland (22.2.2005)
Mainila Shelling (Wikipedia)
Winter War (Wikipedia)