Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review of Winter War by William Trotter (1991 [2013, Aurum Press])

As Europe heads towards war in 1939 the Soviet Union demands large swathes of land from its neighbour Finland in order to extend its borders.  The Finns refuse to yield to the threats, despite its small population size and limited military and arsenal.  Stalin, used to getting what he wants, backs the Finns into a corner with an ultimatum: the land or war.  The Finns try to find a diplomatic solution, the Allies make supportive noises but are really trying to leverage the situation to their own ends, and the Soviets amass a huge army along the border.  On November 30th, the Soviets storm across the border, notionally responding to Finnish provocation.  They are met by stubborn and well organized resistance.  Despite having massive numerical advantage and superior weapons, the Russians make limited gains and the war quickly turns into attrition on one front, and defensive strong points and willo-the-wisp counter-attacks on the others.  Expecting a quick victory, the Russian soldiers are mostly conscripts who are not equipped for winter fighting, led by officers whose tactics are limited.  The Finns in contrast use the landscape and weather to their advantage, are well motivated, and are led by officers with tactical nous.  And while the Finns suffer large losses and slowly lose ground, they win the majority of encounters and the Soviets losses are enormous.  One hundred days later, the Finns sue for peace, ceding land to the Soviets but the majority of the country remaining free, unlike many other countries in Europe.

William Trotter’s book provides a detailed and engaging account of the Winter War.  It is well written and structured, providing good contextualisation as to the path to war, the roles of key actors and events, detailed accounts of the various battles and how they fitted into the wider war, and gives a good overview from both Finnish and Soviet perspectives.  Personally, I would have liked a bit more information about post-conflict events, especially the subsequent war with the Soviets 18 months later and the final resolution at the Second World War’s end.  Nonetheless, a very readable and informative account of the Winter War.

1 comment:

Mathew Paust said...

"Oh hear my song
Oh God of all the nations
A song of peace
For their land and for mine"