David and Goliath

The Finnish military in 1939 was not a particularly lavish force. Finnish politicians had attempted repeatedly to reduce the size of the army, opposed by Mannerheim, but Mannerheim's opposition was not always successful. He just about managed to keep the Finn army going on life support, but lack of funds meant the Finnish army had serious drawbacks in terms of material. The Finnish armoured force was practically nonexistent, a few dozen or so aging tanks. It's airforce was tiny and equipped with the Brewster Buffalo fighter, which would later be nicknamed 'the flying coffin' by Allied pilots who had to fly it in 1941/42. Rifle ammunition was so scarce that live fire practices were limited, and there was a desperate shortage of machine guns. Finland itself had very little industry to sustain a modern war, and had a population of only approximately 4 million.

The Soviet Union on the other hand was an imperial power with a population of 250 million souls, and an army which, although definitely lacking in talent after the purges had killed 80 percent of its officer corps, was certainly not lacking for either equipment or manpower. The Red Army initially attacked with just its Leningrad based forces but as the war dragged on the entire Red Army was mobilised to deal with the stubborn foe, a force of over a million men, with thousands of relatively modern tanks and aircraft. And while it is true that the officers were unimaginative and incompetent commanders, the lower ranks were in many cases well trained, highly motivated and determined men, who did not surrender easily.

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