A brisk, efficient account of one of the most overlooked episodes of World War II—the Soviet invasion of Finland.
During the ominous lull between the Nazi conquest of Poland and the assault on France, the Soviet Union sought palpable assurances from neutral, democratic Finland to protect vulnerable Leningrad against attack, ostensibly from the British or the French, but in fact from Hitler, whom Stalin correctly distrusted. Finland’s refusal to “grant to a foreign state military bases on its own territory and within its own boundaries” prompted the Soviets to launch a pretextual attack: “Heroic Red Army throws back marauding Finns!” proclaimed the Daily Worker. All the world expected a swift defeat for the vastly outnumbered Finns; instead, for 105 days they fought the Russians to a bloody standstill. Though he looks at the prewar diplomatic sparring and the midwar dithering of the Anglo-French alliance, Edwards focuses mostly on the fighting. Making exquisite use of the difficult terrain and the brutal weather, the ably led Finns employed skis, automatic weapons and mortars expertly aimed to repel the Red Army, which was stymied by an astonishing lack of intelligence and a fatally flawed command structure. The war ended with painful territorial concessions by the resolute Finns, but not before exposing the fecklessness of the League of Nations and unexpected, severe weaknesses in the mighty Red Army. Hitler looked on and concluded that Operation Barbarossa, his contemplated invasion of the Soviet Union, could safely go forward. Edwards offers only tantalizing details about the war’s main actors—Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the autocratic Father of the Nation; General Kurt Wallenius, the drunkard and supreme soldier; Kliment Voroshilov, the absurdly overconfident Russian commissar for defense—and others on the world stage (FDR, Churchill, Stalin) who had their say about tumultuous events in Finland. He sprinkles the narrative with numerous delightfully snarky asides about the blinkered, progressive left, which persisted in rationalizing Soviet intentions and methods, notwithstanding the spectacle of the suffering Finns.
Highly readable and informative.