Winter Is Here At Last

Winter is basically the fact of life in Finland, especially in Northern Finland. Depending on the latitude and the year, Winter lasts anywhere from 4 to 7 months. Winter doesn't just mean snow and cold - it also means darkness. Up in the Northern latitudes, there's an almost perpetual gloom called the "Kaamos"; the sun shines for only a few hours, and even then, likely through thick cloud cover. But, on the other hand, it's never really dark, either: Snow reflects a lot of light, so most of the time, what you get is a perpetual state of twilight. Aside from its effects on working outdoors and the need for a lot of artificial light, it also affects people's minds, providing its own boost to the reserved and rather melancholy Finnish mindset.

The winter of 1939-1940 was an exceedingly harsh one. Temperatures ranged from a few degrees minus to -42 celsius - it was not uncommon to have temperatures under -30 degrees, especially in January and February. This doesn't mean that people can't be outside, or work outdoors - it just means that you have to know how to dress, and have warm places to take breaks and warm food available, to get you thawed out. The point about dressing in winter is dressing in layers - the air between them provides good insulation. Also, that way you can easily add layers, or take them away depending on how hot or cold you are This is important, because it's almost as dangerous to be too hot than too cold. For one, you /can/ get heatstroke if you're skiing or running in too much clothing; for the other, if you sweat, your sweat freezes on your skin and clothing, and easily leads to you getting a cold, or worse.

-5 - -15 celsius is uncomfortable, for a properly dressed person, but not really dangerous unless you have to spend a long time (like a day) utterly immobile. Your extremities and exposed skin tend to get numb, and if you aren't careful, you can get frostbite. Below that, it gets a bit iffy. Your snot freezes in your nose, your eyes feel dry, and exposed skin, especially in wind, feels like it's being flagellated. Even with proper clothing, if you don't move enough (or worst of all, fall asleep) you can get chilled, and even frostbitten. However, buildings in Finland are well-built, for just this reason: When properly heated, they tend to be comfortable and warm, regardless of the temperature outside This also applies to dugouts.

Pretty much from the beginning of the war, there was plenty of snow in the Suomussalmi area, and the lakes, if they weren't already frozen, were quickly getting there. Depending on what kind of terrain you're in, you can likely expect to have anywhere from a foot of snow, to six foot snowdrifts. Moving in snow on foot is extremely tiring, and slow - moving through thick snow with vehicles is practically impossible: Even tanks tend to get stuck pretty easily. Generally people on foot or in vehicles are going to use roads - reindeer, and to a lesser extent horses can also navigate snow-clogged paths, dragging equipment in sleds. In minus degrees (especially when it's very cold) the surface of the snow tends to harden, making it possible to easily ski on it, but when it's over sub-zero, snow tends to start melting, which makes passing through it even harder - it basically assumes the consistency of mud. Frozen lakes are also good surfaces for moving over, as they're hard, and can bear the weight of a tank easily (except for places with strong currents under the ice). The problem with ice, of course, is that you have absolutely no cover on it.

Lastly: About ski-fighting. The name in itself is misleading: Anyone who understands skis makes sure /never/ to fight on them, because they're designed to minimize friction between snow and the skis, thus making for a very unstable position of fire. In the Winter War, Finns would immediately kick off their skis, and go into a prone position from which they fired, even in quick engagements. Finnish peasant boots have upturned points, that fit into the simple military bindings they used: Basically, this means that you can get into, and out of skis in a matter of seconds. An even mediocre skier can cover more ground than a person walking in the same time, and compared to a person wading through the snow, the difference becomes very obvious While it is practically impossible for large columns of infantry to navigate snowy forests without getting clogged down and separated, small bands of ski-equipped guerrillas can pass through them more or less at will. For a man with skis, snow is not an impediment - it's an advantage.

(Yet more thanks to Matti, who has spent his XP now)

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