The Karelian Front

The majority of the fighting in the Winter War happened in a relatively small area, between the cities of Viipuri and Leningrad. Here a stretch of land between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga known as the Karelian Isthmus was the logical route for an offensive from the Soviet Union into southern Finland. It was the easily the most practical invasion route but the Finns were certainly aware of that as well and so almost the entire Finnish army was drawn up to defend it.

The Karelian Isthmus was bolstered by a line of a defences rather grandly named the Mannerheim Line in honour of the Finnish field marshal. Though the name conjures up images of formidable World War Two defences such as the Maginot Line, the Siegfried Line and such, this Finnish defensive line was very basic, in some areas nothing more than a single line of trenches, in other areas bolstered by simple bunkers and what guns the Finnish army had available. Its defences were, however, expertly camouflaged, and made the most out of the natural terrain of the area to maximise it's value, unlike the fortifications built by most other nations.

The Finnish army, outnumbered two to one and caught by surprise, was initially forced back by the massive Soviet attack, but the Mannerheim Line proved much more difficult to breach. The Soviets reached it in a few days - but then were unable to break through. Soviet commanders had been taught in the cruellest way possible what the reward for innovative thought was, and attacks were conducted strictly 'by the book'. In this case the book was written mostly in 1918. Massive human wave attacks came to nothing as hordes of Russian soldiers were gunned down by the concealed Finns as they struggled forward through, in some cases, waist high snow.

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