The War Begins

In the autumn of 1939, while the blitzkrieg was raging in Poland, the Soviet Union approached Finland and demanded that the border with Leningrad, only 32 kilometres from the former capital of Russia, be moved back 25 kilometres. It was also demanded a lease on the southern coast of Finland so the Soviet Union could build a Baltic naval base there. In exchange, the Soviets would offer Finland a large part of Karelia, which was admittedly mostly barren.

In 1963 the Finnish president Urho Kekkonen stated that the concern the USSR had for its borders may well have been warranted given the situation in 1939. But 1939 was not 1963, and the Finns rejected the Soviet proposal, despite the protests of the aging Finnish war hero, Marshal Mannerheim, who both felt the demands were perhaps justified and that the Soviet Union was a foe against which Finland could not stand.

The Soviet General Staff was by now already planning for an offensive. On November 26th, the Soviets staged the shelling of the Russian village of Mainala, and then announced that Finnish shelling from across the border had killed Soviet troops, and reiterated the demands that the Finns move their border and issue an apology. The Finns once again refused the Soviet demands. The following day, on 30th November 1939, 23 Soviet divisions - 450,000 men, against a Finnish army totalling 180,000 men - attacked across the Karelian isthmus into southern Finland.

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