World War II Finland: The Air War (1939-45)

Figure 1.--Here a Finnish father who may be an air warden is apparently teaching his children and perhaps some neigbor children on the principles of civil defense includung blackouts. It looks like they may be in a basement. All we know for sure is that the phoograph was taken in 1940 during o just after the Winter war. There is some writing in Finnish on the back which we can not make out except or identifying it as part of the Russo-Finish War. Clicj on the image to see it.

The Soviet Union began World War II with the largest air force in the world. It included many obseleted types, but more modern aircradt was being developed. Finland on the other hand had only a small airfirce with largely obselete types. While the Finns could not afford a modern air force, they did make some fortuitous effort in the area of civil defense that would save many lives during the War. Finnish officials watched the expansion of the Soviet military under Stalin with cnsiderable trepedaion, especially the Red Air Foce. And as in other countries, there primarily comnvern was the bombers and attacks on major cities. Helsinki organized an extensive civil defense system. A city decree before the War mandated that shelters had to be constructed in all high-rise building basements. These were not elaborate facilities, consisting of simple basement rooms with reinforced walls. They would not withstand a direct hit, but could hold up when nearby buildings were hit. The city government required that buildings have a civil protection supervisor. They could not be in the reserves or the armed forces and this would not be called away in case of a war emergency. The individuals chosen had the responsibility to ensure tht the occupants of apartment complexes had access to shelters. Many lives were saved as a result. Some larger shelters were built into solid rock, but this was an expensive undertaking and only accomodated a small parr of the population. Attention was given to the city hospitals. Underground shelters were built where patients could be moved to in the advent of air raids. Another alternative was to relocate the entire hospital. The Children's hospital was moved to the countryside. One hospital was built from scratch underneath the Finnish Red Cross building. These precautions saved many lives when the Soviets launched the Winter War (1939-40). Only 3 hous after the Red Army smashed across the Finnish frontier, the Red Air Force bombed Helsinki. The major attacks occurred during the first few days of the War. The Soviets bombed Helsinki eight times during the Winter War. They dropped 350 bombs and 97 people killed, 260were wounded. The attacks destroyed 55. [Helsingin, p. 22.] Given the size of the RedAir Force nd the small number of Finnish cities, it is unclear why the Red Air Force attacks were so limited. This was not apparent at the time. Information on German bombings of Warsaw and other Polish cities was not widely reported as the foreign press largely fled Poland. The same was not true of Finland and the Soviet bombing of Finninsh cities was widely condemned. President President Roosevelt asked the Soviets not to bomb Finnish cities. Foreign Minister Molotov reportedly repolied, "Soviet aircraft have not been bombing cities, but airfields, you can't see that from 8,000 kilometers away in America." Far more Soviet attacks occurred during the Continuation War (1941-44), although again rids were fairly limited given the size of the Red Air Force. This was primarily because the Luftwaffe did such a thorough job of destrying the Red Air Force in the opening phase of Barbarossa. As the Soviets rebuilt the Red air Force, their primary focus was on the German Wermacht. The Soviets bombed Helsinki 39 times during the Continuation War. They killed 245 people and wounded 646. The primary Red air Force effort was in 1944 and aimed at knocking Finland out of the war so the Doviets could focus on the Germans. Stalin wanted to knock the Finns out of the war to better focus on the Germans. The whole idea of bombing Finnish cities was sensitive give the criticism aroused during the winter war. The Allies were providing the Soviets vast quantities of war material which Stalin did not want emperiled. Allied attitudes toward bombing changed with the Blitz and by the time of the Tehran Conference (November-December 1943), the Allies had begun the sytematic distruction of Germany's war ecomnomy which was largely located in the cities. The Allies accented to the Soviet bombing of Finland. Stalin ordered the largest Soviet raids of the War (February 67, 16-17 and 26-27, 1944). The Finns sucessfully deceived Soviet pathfinders leading the bimber streams. Here The Soviets had only limited experiebce with strategic bombing. Their primary focus was on tactical operations supporting the Red army. The Finns pursued various tactics. They lit fires on the islands beyond the city. and they only used the bomber lovating searchlights operated wuth anti-aircradt guns yo the east of the city. Both tactics dislocated the Red Air Force pathfinders and a large part of the Soviet bombs missed Helsito believe that it was the city. Only 530 bombs fell within the city itself. The majority of the population of Helsinki. This combined with the city's bomb shelters limited civilian casualties In end it was the Soviet distruction of Germam Army Group Center (June-July 1944) aand realization that the Germans had lost the War that finally forced the Finns to seek an armitice with the Soviets. out of the war


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Created: 8:56 PM 3/24/2016
Last updated: 8:56 PM 3/24/2016