The Moscow Peace Treaty

During the first week of March the Finnish situation was critical. Their army was almost completely out of ammunition, though the general population and the politicians were unaware of just how tenuous their situation had become. The politicians even now remained upbeat but Mannerheim was extremely pessimistic, and on his advice a peace treaty was finally hammered out between Finland and the Soviet Union, which brought the Winter War to an end on March 12th, 1940.

The final day of hostilities was a tough one for the Finns as the heaviest bombardments of the war were fired at them across the entire front. This wasn't due to malice per se, the Soviet gunners unlike the Finns had an ample supply of ammunition - so ample, in fact, that rather than transport it back to the Soviet Union they simply fired all their remaining stocks off at the Finns before the ceasefire deadline.

The Moscow Peace Treaty dictated heavy terms to the Finns. Finland lost around 10% of her territory, 20% of her industrial capacity, and 12% of Finlands population lost their homes. Military troops and civilians were evacuated from areas ceded to the Soviets in the treaty, only a few hundred civilians chose to remain under Soviet governance. Finland had also suffered 65 thousand casualties, a heavy burden given the small size of the country.

The harsh terms provoked outrage among the Finns, whose morale was very far from being broken. The fact that Finland had been basically ignored by the Western world in her hour of need did not go unnoticed either, and so a marriage of convenience developed with Nazi Germany over the coming months. The so-called interim peace would only last for about a year before Finland was at war with the Soviets again, seeking the return of their lost lands.

But the Soviet Union did not escape from the war unscathed either. Finland may have technically lost, but everybody knew who had the moral victory. The Communist Party was shamed in front of the entire world. British and American observers reported on the incompetence of the Red Army, deeming it incapable of fighting and winning a modern war against a more equally sized adversary - a helpless giant, incapable of defending itself. The number of Soviet casualties remains unknown, the figures politicised by the Communist authorities, but were at least 150,000, with Khrushchev claiming a number as high as a million.

At the time the war was fought the eyes of the entire world were on Finland, but the war would later be almost completely forgotten in the West, overshadowed by the other events of the Second World War as that conflict progressed. But the aftershocks of the Winter War did influence the outcome of the greater conflict. In April 1940, Stalin and the top Soviet generals got together to discuss just what it was that went so horribly wrong for the Red Army during the war, and how such a military disaster could be avoided in the future. Stalin then pushed through a massive reorganisation of the Soviet military based on the hard lessons learned in fighting the Finns. Tactics and doctrine were improved, the fact that the Great Purge had gone too far was acknowledged, and commanders were promoted on the basis of merit rather than political reliability.

As it happened, the reforms would be completed in the nick of time.

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