World War II: National Food Situations--Finland

World War II Finnish children food
Figure 1.-- Finland began a program of evacuating children, mostly to Sweden, during the Winter War for safety. The ininital problem was that the Soviets began bombing Finnish cities. But many parents wre also concened that the Red Army might oerun the coutry. Very soon as the war progressed, food became a major problem as food production declined. And children were the most vulnerable group. Many of the children taken in by the Swedes after the Winter War were not only malnourished, but suffering from a range of illnesses as a reslt of indequate diets. Here in 1940, a Finnish boy is being fed, we think by a Swedish relief worker, we think on a train.

Finland was the second victim of aggression in World War II. Finland was a small largely agricultural country, self sufficent in food production. World war II changed this. The Soviet Union two month after first invading Poland as a NAZI ally, invaded Finland launching the Winter War (November 1939). This was one of the greatest mismatches in the history of warfare. Finland was a small country of only 3.7 million with a tiny army and no real arms industry. Somehow they single-handely held off the mamouth Red Army for over 3 months. Finally the Finns receiving little outside aid had to conceed and the major concession was Karelia. This was about 10 percent of Finnish territory and a much larger portion of the food producing agricultural land--perhaps 30 percent or so. When a country goes to war, agricultural production is normally adversely affected. Here America is an exception because its food producing sector operates far below capacity. Most other countries report declines, sometimes very significant declines. This is because farm labor (mostly men) are drafted for military service and other inputs like machinery, horses, fertilzer are reduced because of the needs of the war economy. Finnish food production was especially impaired because of the loss of Karelia. And because the population fled, there was no loss of mouths to feed. Even after the Peace of Moscow (March 1940) was signed, the Finns did not dare demobilize. There were some 420,000 evacuees from Karelia and the other territory. The Finns thus adopted a two part policy--the Rapid Settlement Act. It was designed to both ensure the supply of food and settle the refugees. The Finns began clearing new land for the evacuees to cultivate. [Vehvilšinen, p. 75.] Much of ythe new land, however, was not as productive as the Karelian farms that had to be abandoned. The Finns looked to NAZI Germany, the only country willing to lend real support. The fall of France (June 1940) mean that there were no other options. The Germans convinced the Finns that their land could be won back and the Soviet threat to their security ended in a short summer campign. The Barbarossa campaign failed to destroy the Red Army and the Finns found themselves in a protracted life and death struggle. The Finnish economy was adversely affected in part because of labor shortages. The Finns in addition to the loss of food producing Karelia experienced a very poor havest (fall 1941). The result was a severe food shortage. Some of the army had to be demobilized to maintain industrial and agricultural production. [Vehvilšinen, p. 96.] Finland was dependent of the Germans for food, fuel, and weapons. Finland informed Germany that it would need 175,000 short tons of grain to survive until the 1942 harvest. German officials would have rejected the request, but Hitler personally intervened and approved the Finnish request. The German began annual grain deliveries of 200,000 short tons amounting to nearly half of the Finnish domestic harvest. Even with massive German aid, Finland experinced severe food shortages. This is why the Finns continued the child evacuation program begun during the Winter War. Along with malnutrition, the children were beinning to suffer a range of health problems. As a result, many of the children had to be placed in hopitl s and sanatoria rather than with fanilies. The Finns also had difficulty feeding Soviet POWs and civilian internees.


Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Vehvilšinen, Olli. Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia (New York: Palgrave, 2002.


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Created: 3:23 AM 10/14/2016
Last updated: 3:23 AM 10/14/2016