World War II Finland: The Winter War--Family Refugees and Evacuations

Figure 1.--After invading and occupying eastern Poland, Stalin's next victim was Finland with a small, poorly armed army. Miraculously the Finns stoped the massive Red Army in its tracks. At first, the Finns only evacuated the area near the front lines in Karelia. Gradually as the Red Army ground down the Finns, more and more of the Finns in Karelia abandoned their homes and farms.

The Soviet Union and NAZI Germany signed a Non-Aggreggion Pact, meaning a mutal plan to pursue agression thriughout Eastern and Western Europe (August 1939). It was a war allince pure and simple. By 'Non-Agression' it meant that the Soviets and NAZIs would refrain from attacking each other. It was actually an alliance to make possible Soviet and NAZI aggression against their neighbors. The first victim was Poland. Hitler and Stalin only days after signing the Non-Aggression Pact, launched their first agression. They invaded Poland, setting World War II in motion (September 1939). The next victim was Finland. This time it was the Soviets alone that invaded Finland (November 1939). The result was refugees on a massive scale. The Poles surrounded by the NAZIs and Soviets had no place where they could flee. The Finns did. There were family evacuations from Karelia (the major Soviet target) nd other ages seized by the Soviet. The valiant resitance of the small, poorly equipped Finnish Army provided time for families to flee. Virtually no Finn chose to stay as a result of the savage NKVD treatment of ethic Finns in Ingria. Karelia was the most heavily populated area and where most of the evacuees and refugees came from. There were also areas in central and northern Finland seized by the Soviets, but with only small populations.

First Karelian Evacuation: Front Lines (November 1939)

Stalin's next victim after invading Poland was Finland. He demanded major territorial concessions and the right to to station Red Army units in Finnish territory. This was the way the Soviets would seized total control of the Baltic republics. The Finns rejected the Soviet demands. The Red Army invaded Finland with 21 divisions, totalling 450,000 men, and bombed Helsinki (November 30, 1939). There was no declaration of war, just an unanounced invasion. The Finns chose to fight despite having only a small, poorly equipped Army. There were not even uniforms for the reserves mobiklized to fight he WAr. The result was the Winter War. Finland carried out a series of evacuations during World War II beginning with the Soviet invsion launching the Winter War. Here there was little time to prepare. The Finns rapidly evacuated the population away from the front lines at the onset of the War. But as the small Finnish Army put up a stiff resistance, holding the Mannerheim Line. talin and Rd Army commanders did not effect major resistance given the Soviet superority in men and equipment. The Finns did not immediately evacuate all of Karelia behind the Mannerheim Line. Karelia was Finland's breadbasket, and ghe Finns were hoping they could resist the Soviet invasion.

Second Karelian Evacuation (January-March 1940)

Eventually the weight of the Soviet Red Army made itself felt. The Red Army suffered massive casualties, the full dimensions of which were never admitted. The Finns without assistance simply could not hold against the huge, wll equipped Red Army. Rgere was intrest among the Allies in aiding, but given the geography of the Winter War and the pressing threat of the NAZIs, they decided against it. As the military situation deteriorated. is became increasingly clear that Karelia and the War was lost. The Finns began evacuating families from Karelia,. It was not a mandatory evacuation, but few Finns wanted to remain under Soviet rule. Finns were well aware of the Soviet NKVD actions against ethnic Finns in Ingria and Lenningrad. A peace treatly was dictated by the Soviets--the Peace of Moscow. The Moscow Peace Treaty was signed (March 12, 1940). It went into effect the next day. The heroic resisance of the Finnish Army gave time for the Finnish population to evacuate. Finland was forcd cede almost all of Karelia - the entire Karelian Isthmus as well as a large area of land north of Lake Ladoga. The area was vital to Finland. It included the country's second largest city of Viipuri. Also included was Finland's industry and significant parts still held by the Finnish Army. It amounted to more than 10 percent of Finnish territory, biut as it was in the south, much more of Finland's agricultural land, creating food shortages. One estimate suggests it was territory representing some 30 percent of the country's GDP. [Edwards, p. 18.] About 12 percent of Finland's population, some 422,000 Karelians evacuated and gave up their homes. While a disaster for Finland, the Soviets also suffered and not only the huge casualties. Hitler was following events. And the poor performance of the Red Army alayed any quams he may have had about invading the Soviet Union.


Edwards, Robert. White Death: Russia's War on Finland 193940. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 2006).

Solzhenitsyn, Alexsanddr I. Trans, Thomas P. Wjitney. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-56: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.


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Created: 3:41 PM 3/26/2017
Last updated: 3:41 PM 3/26/2017