Christmas Draws Near

The first half of December had been remarkably warm by Finnish standards, with temperatures breaking subzero even in Lapland in some places half way through the month. But as Christmas approached temperatures suddenly dropped sharply, reaching -27 degrees in some places. The Soviets were ill prepared for such conditions. Stalin, in his paranoia, felt that those northerners who were actually familiar with the terrain and arctic winter would be politically unreliable, so the Soviet soldiers were generally from warmer places in the distant corners of the Soviet Union, Georgia, Ukraine, and further afield still, from the Soviet Asian republics.

The cold did provide one new option for the beleagured Soviets trapped in Suomussalmi however, as their division started to use the traditional winter road from Suomussalmi to Juntusranta. From mid-December onwards, a constantly growing portion of the Soviet traffic was coming and going through it. The ice was strong enough to carry the weight of trucks, and the 20 cm snow cover didn't seem to bother them. The lake was mostly wide enough to deter Finnish ambushes as well, due to the lack of cover, though they tried nevertheless on at least one occasion.

The Finns encircling Suomussalmi were given the order to switch to a defensive stance on the 20th, as by now they were utterly exhausted, and at the limit of their endurance. Trench warfare ensued in earnest, with the Finns not willing to let the Soviets out of the trap but being forced to dig deep to mitigate the crushing superiority in artillery that their enemies enjoyed.

Back in the Kremlin, Stalin was finally beginning to appreciate that Finland was proving to not be the pushover that everybody expected. Raging arguments ensued between Stalin and the incompetent but politically reliable General Kliment Voroshilov, the Soviet general in overall charge of the direction of the campaign. Since the war had started the Red Army under Voroshilov's command was suffering casualties at the incredible rate of up to 10,000 men per day due to the cold and enemy action.

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