Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I wouldn't do that if I were you ...

On this day in 1939, the Soviet Red Army -- probably on direct orders from the Politburo -- shelled one of their own villages on the Karelian Isthmus and immediately began pointing fingers at Finland.

Four days of intense Soviet propaganda later, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili -- in a tactic that had served him so well previously in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- sent his troopies over the Finnish border.

Unfortunately, most of what Uncle Josef managed to do was severely irritate a large part of the population of Finland in general, and a certain five-foot, three-inch skinny little farmer in particular.

Over the next three-ish months -- 30NOV1939 to 13MAR1940 -- the 250,000 grunts of the Finnish military faced off against 1,000,000 (one million) Soviet soldiers.

There are numerous scholarly works explaining the results -- the Soviet officer corp was still recovering from one of Uncle Josef's little purges; Finnish tactics were simple (Charge!) and flexible; the Soviet armies being used were drawn from the south of the Soviet Union and weren't really accustomed to brawling in -40 degree weather; and the Finns quite happily cheated (a favourite target of Finnish attacks and artillery barrages was the Soviet field kitchens. Nothing wrecks morale quite like never, ever seeing a hot meal during 90+ days of fighting in Arctic weather.)

Whatever the reason, the Finnish military (metaphorically-speaking. Sort of.) hauled off and place-kicked the Soviet Red Army right in the wedding tackle and kept on punting until they were dragged, kicking and screaming, to the peace table on March 12, 1940 -- 105 days after the Soviets started the whole thing -- to sign a brutal and dishonourable cessation of hostilities.

Soviet casualties were almost 400,000 men dead, wounded and missing; with another 5,600 POWs. They managed to inflict less than 70,000 dead and wounded on the Finns, with only about a thousand Finnish POWs.

And that skinny farmer? Well, he picked up his iron-sighted Finnish copy of the Mosin-Nagant M28, sewed himself an oversuit of white bedsheets, and (with the occasional judicious application of a KP-31 submachine gun)
proceeded to personally turf between 500 and 700 Soviet solders in front of Saint Peter's desk until 06MAR1940 when a Red counter-sniper got lucky and put Simo Häyhä out of the fight for the rest of the (all-too-brief) war.

That averages out to about five enemy personnel a day for 100 continuous days. With iron-sights.

While Finland ultimately lost the Winter War that was started this day, 69 years ago, the cost of that defeat was best summed up by a Soviet general officer, who later stated: "We gained just enough land to bury our dead."

Hooah.

LawDog

22 comments:

The Bad Yogi said...

Brilliant writing. You should be teaching military history, if you aren't already.

thanks

John, The Bad Yogi

vonKrag said...

The Finns also used a US Plane that was said by many US pilots to be worthless and shot the Sov AF into ribbons. The Brewster Buffalo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brewster_Buffalo was that plane. It's never the tool that wins it's the men who use it.

Old NFO said...

Simo was a very interesting individual. He never took it personally, he was just going about his "job" to the best of his ability... Faintastic story though.

mn said...

Oh, that "500 to 700" number is probably somewhat inflated.

Sort of hard to get a reliable number after all these years, anyway.

Oh, and it isn't like "Simuna" wasn't known to be a champion-grade shot already before the war. My grandpa'd been to some of the same competitions in the 1930s.

Matt G said...

Fascinating that, after having half his face shot off by the countersniper and taking years to recuperate, he went on to become a moose hunter and dog breeder, finally passing away in 2002 at 96 years of age. A worthy end to a worthy soldier.

Kilahti said...

The official records say Häyhä got 542 kills (after he said that he had over one hundred kills his battalion commander gave an order that another soldier must verify the kills to make sure he's not just making stuff up).

And I'd like to point out that the war wasn't as easy as you make it sound like. Our troops were exhausted near the end of the war. I'd also like to point out that most of the Finnish communists fought bravely on our side because they knew that Stalins attack was pure agression (despite the fact that soviets had said that they'll only defend whats theirs and never attack others...) so this war actually united Finland and helped us put aside some crudges people still had after our civil war.

Ps. look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raate_Road for an incredible battle (some of my relatives fought there).

Anonymous said...

Lawdog:
Some Americans (of Finnish extraction) fought for Finland in the Winter War.
I had the good fortune to know one of them.
He didn't talk about it much but the few stories I did hear were interesting.

Jean said...

Coming out of lurk mode, briefly, to wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

swampdevil(FIN) said...

Same international tournament, another Finnish fighter: Lauri törni a.k.a Larry Thorne.

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/larry-thorne.htm

Anonymous said...

I just got done watching the "Fire and Ice" documentary before I got online. Now I guess I'll have to watch Talvisota too. Know any other good movies or books on the winter war?

Anonymous said...

Great writing,now I want to know more about that war!One little thing,he also used a Suomi M-31 SMG on occasion,not a K31.A K31 is a Swiss straight pull bolt action.

Ted said...

now that's what I call "a well regulated Militia".

Anonymous said...

I've seen it before, big bad bully picks on little guy.
Little guy becomes a buzzsaw, decimating bully.
Gunsmoke45441

TBeck said...

Haaka palle!

It would seem that the Soviets learned nothing from this incident, as they made a nearly identical mistake four decades later.

Larry said...

It's historical examples like this that make politicians of a certain stripe in our own country quite nervous about how many deer rifles are in circulation.

Joseph said...

He used iron sights because he wanted to keep his head down; said a telescopic sight made him raise his head up too much and made him vulnerable to counter-fire.

wv: hoozood

Doug Bowser said...

I wrote the book "Rifles of the White Death". Nikita Kruchev said the Soviets lost 1,000,000 dead. It is a great story of bravery and the underdog winning in the end. Finland was never occupied by the USSR.

Doug Bowser
saman1@telepak.net

Lasse said...

If you like reading about this period of the Finnish Soviet wars, try to find a copy of "The long distance patrol" by Paavo Rintala.

J.R.Shirley said...

Hooah. And I just don't have enough damn discretion as a high school teacher to tell stories like this. I need to be teaching college, damn it.

Dennis Kroh said...

I was fortunate to have had lunch with Simo Häyhä not once but twice (Sept. 2000 and May 2001). He was still sharp as a tack and had quite a goood sense of humor (he even flirted a bit with my wife, Desiree).

Quite an extraordinary individual.

Dennis Kroh said...

Here is a photo of myself shaking hands with Simo Häyhä (May 2001):

http://www.empirearms.com/simo-kroh.jpg

Anonymous said...

Also look for a book titled The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz, about men who escaped from a Soviet prison camp near the arctic circle and walked to freedom.

http://powells.com/s?author=Slavomir%20Rawicz

--Webfoot Logger