The Concrete Teeth of Mannerheim: Why the Finnish War Was Inevitable

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The website of the TV channel “Tvzvezda” has published a series of articles on the great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 by writer Leonid Maslovsky, based on his book “Russkaya Pravda”, published in 2011.

In his opinion articles, Maslovsky reveals “the myths of the imaginary foe, Russia, and the events of the great Patriotic war, showing the greatness of our Victory.” The author notes that in his articles he is going to “show the US’ unhelpful role in West Germany’s preparations for war with the USSR”.

In November 1939, the security of the nation remained central to the government of the USSR. From the point of view of safety, it was impossible to avoid passing near the Leningrad border of Finland without hostilities. In the event of war with Germany the position of the border was threatened by the rapid seizure by the Germans of Leningrad and the entire North-Western part of the USSR, which could have led to incalculable victims and even to the military defeat of the Soviet Union.

The Border of Finland was located 32 kilometers from Leningrad. Visibly, the Emperor Alexander I wasn’t deeply implicated in state affairs. After the conquest of Finland he included  Karelian Isthmus, which belonged to Russia, in Finland to complete the Finish state.

The annexation to Russia in 1809, Finland, under the name the Grand Duchy of Finland, was not a deprivation of sovereignty of the Finns, because the Finns in the XII–XIV centuries had been captured by the Swedes.

Soviet Russia, after the revolution in 1917, gave the state of Finland independence. The latter also “thanked” Russia, in 1919–1920, together with the countries of the Entente who participated in anti-Soviet intervention, and in 1922, attacked Soviet Karelia.

Finnish troops had been defeated by the red army and expelled from our territory. Finland, in 1922 sought, and Poland in 1920, to seize part of the territory from a defensive war-exhausted Russia.

In 1939, as before, Finland had expressed hostility to the Soviet Union and showed no interest in strengthening and in weakening Russia’s security. Besides, Finland was sure that in the confrontation with the USSR it would be supported by all Western countries, including Germany, England and France, and therefore refused Moscow’s request to move the border with Leningrad a few tens of kilometers into the Karelian Isthmus.

In return, the USSR was offered twice as much territory in Soviet Karelia and even asked to rent a plot of land for construction of a naval base at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. Our favorable conditions for Finland were not adopted. Moreover, the Finns behaved provocatively and provoked the outbreak of hostilities.


The behavior of the leading European countries showed that Western countries were pushing the Finns to war with the USSR. In his memoirs, K. A. Meretskov wrote: “On 26th November I received an emergency message in which it was reported that near the village of Mainila the Finns have opened artillery fire on Soviet border guards. Four people were killed, nine others were wounded.

Ordered to take control of the border along its entire length by forces of military district, I immediately sent the dispatch to Moscow. From there came the order to prepare for a counterstrike. Training was given weekly, but in practice had to be cut down to four days, as Finnish troops in some places crossed the border, wedging into our territory and sending groups of saboteurs to the rear of the Soviets.”

In connection with these events, on 28th November 1939, the Soviet government denounced the Soviet-Finnish non-aggression Treaty and withdrew its diplomatic representatives from Finland.

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On November 30th 1939, the troops of the Leningrad military district went on the offensive on the Karelian Isthmus. Our troops ran into the “Mannerheim line”. General Badu, who constructed these fortifications, wrote: “Nowhere in the world are natural conditions so favorable for the construction of the strengthened lines like in Karelia. At this narrowest point between the two watered areas – lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland – there are dense forests and huge cliffs. Made of wood and granite, and where necessary, concrete, built by the famous “Mannerheim line”.

The great fortress “Mannerheim line” has added anti-tank obstacles made from granite. Even 25 tanks are not able to overcome them. Amidst the granite, the Finns, with the use of explosions, set up machine guns and battery emplacements that weren’t threatened by the strongest bombs.”

However there is an opinion that in fact the “Mannerheim line” was far from the best example of European fortification. The hardships our troops had been associated with the lack of reliable intelligence information about the nodes in the defense of the “Mannerheim line”.

K. A. Meretskov wrote: “Before the action I requested exploration in Moscow, but again received information that later was not confirmed, as it underestimated the real power of “Mannerheim line”. Unfortunately, this has created many difficulties. The red army had to literally stretch it to understand what it is”.

But still, the main reason for the slow progress of our troops was not this, but that the Red army had no advantage over the Finnish army in number of troops, which, for success, required the advancing army to hold a place of approach on the defending enemy in existing conditions.

The number of Finnish troops on the Karelian Isthmus was 130 thousand people, the Soviet – 169 thousand. There are stories about “human waves”, storming bunkers, that are not true.

The Red army had a huge number of tanks with anti-bullet armour, but could not crush the Finnish army, as the Finns had pillboxes and camouflaged bunkers that could only be destroyed by special weapons, and they were absent in the advancing troops of the Leningrad military district.

With this ratio of forces and the absence of special large-caliber artillery, the Red army could not successfully move forward in the forest against permanent fortifications. The secondary direction to Karelian Isthmus, between lakes Ladoga and Onega, the number of Soviet troops failed to provide a successful offensive.

The Soviet command ensured that before the Red army entered Finland, the long-term fortifications of the “Mannerheim line” was impossible to break up with the means the available forces possessed, so the approach was stopped. We had to gear up the army to the level, which an advancing army should have in the direction of the main attack, and with the appropriate weapons.

In February 1940, the strength of the Soviet troops amounted to 460 thousand compared to 150 thousand Finnish troops that met the requirements of military science. For the destruction of concrete pillboxes, the army was equipped with 280-mm mortars “Br-5”, 203-mm howitzer “B-4” that the Finns called “Stalin’s sledgehammer”, and the necessary quantity of 152-mm artillery.

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As a result of the measures taken “Mannerheim Line” in February 1940 had been successfully breached in the short-term.


K. A. Meretskov, at the April meeting of 1940, explained the reason for our unsuccessful attack in December 1939 as follows: “How was our offensive on fortified regions? It’s wrong to say that we were trying to take them directly. The artillery’s fire which was done was very powerful, it made the enemy abandon the trenches, but nevertheless, the offensive was beaten back. Why? Because the most important thing was not done: the protective concrete wasn’t destroyed. The defenders still remained in it and were cutting the road for infantry which was behind the take, by the fire of machine guns behind the tanks. We witnessed the heroism of tanks, which broke through the fortified regions, but in any case we were unable to diminish the distance between the tanks and infantry because of  the protective concrete”.

By the way, the Finns on the 29th October 1941, attacked the Soviet Karelian fortified region, but suffered huge losses, and could not break through to Leningrad from the North. Karelian fortified region stood in the way of the Finns – an impenetrable fortress throughout the war.

In 1939, between the lakes of Ladoga and Onega, the Finns managed to encircle a portion of our troops to the delight of all Europe. The environment had become possible through the fault of our commanders, and because of the presence of other factors set out below. But even this mournful event does not diminish our honor, because the Finns fought people who were hungry, cold, and cut into small garrisons for two months.

For our troops to attack in the dense forests, and in the absence of the necessary number of troops for the offensive who had sufficient experience, it has been extremely difficult. Our commanders didn’t know about the fortifications and the number of Finnish troops. And who would have thought that the little Finland could put up such a large army? Honor, glory and eternal memory to our soldiers, who for two months were kept in these extreme conditions, the defense, pulling a part of the Finnish troops from the “Mannerheim line”.

The war with Finland lasted 3 months and 12 days. Losses on the Soviet side amounted to 131,476 people, the loss of the Finnish army – 48,243 people. Our losses exceed the Finnish losses almost three times, but we must remember that we stormed a concrete fortress and came among rocks, forests and swamps in the most unfavourable terrain.

Breaking through the “Mannerheim line”, the Soviet forces had the opportunity in a short period of time to occupy the whole of Finland, because the Finnish army was totally destroyed, but we chose not to do so, and as soon as Finland had asked for, we signed a peace Treaty.

So, on 12th March 1940, a peace Treaty was signed. The USSR gained the Karelian Isthmus, the North-East shore of Lake Ladoga in the area of Kuolajarvi, part of the Rybachy and Sredny peninsulas. The Finns also agreed to lease the island of Hanko and adjacent Islands.

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During the great Patriotic war the defenders of the Rybachy Peninsula deservedly became legendary heroes of the Arctic, who wrote poetry and composed songs. They bravely defended our country, the Straits, the allied convoys. It is unknown whether we could keep the Arctic, Murmansk without these peninsulas. This confirms that in the war with Finland, our government sought only to ensure the safety of the peoples of the USSR.

The mistakes made by our military in the Finnish war, were carefully considered, the negative and positive actions of our army were analyzed. They especially created the Commission of the Main military Council of red army on the generalization of the experience of the Finnish campaign.

Instead, Voroshilov was appointed at a post in the People’s Commissar of Defense by S. K. Timoshenko. Many stories have been written about the war with Finland. In particular, the fact that Soviet soldiers fought with rifles, and the Finnish with submachine guns, i.e. guns. In fact, in the Finnish infantry regiment, submachine guns accounted for 3% of the number of rifles. They were used mostly in special battalions. In addition, the guns compensated for the disadvantages of the unreliable-in-battle Finnish light machine guns, which had a capacity of only twenty rounds. Automatic weapons of the red army were much better than the Finnish, and we had it in quantities greater than the Finns.

Of course, the West was arming the Finns. Britain, France, Sweden, Finland sent their only aircraft – 500 units. USA, Norway, Italy and other countries also sent arms to Finland . But the stories about the Finnish military, being universally armed with machine guns, is completely untrue, and this, unfortunately, is not the only example of distortion of truth about the war with Finland.

At the meeting of the officers of the red army on lessons learned fighting against Finland Stalin on April 17, 1940, it was stated: “Whether it was impossible to go to war? It seems to me that it was impossible… the War was necessary because peace negotiations with Finland didn’t yield results, and the safety of Leningrad had to be guaranteed, of course, for its safety is the safety of our homeland…”. At that meeting, he proclaimed the slogan: “don’t spare a minute to spare the people”.

Stalin was deeply worried about the errors of the military, because our military actions in 1939 in Finland, Germany showed that we are still students in the organization of modern warfare. But such a conclusion was pushing Germany to war with us.

The war with Finland was a trial of strength of the West against Russia. After the encirclement and defeat of the Finns by our 44th infantry division, Winston Churchill, in a radio interview on 20th January 1940, stated that Finland “had opened to the world the weakness of the red army”.

This statement was uttered with a view to accelerating the German attack on the Soviet Union and, of course, as was shown by the later fighting of the red army, it was mostly untrue. All Western policy was aimed at achieving one goal – to achieve a German attack on the USSR.

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