If you haven’t heard the story of David (the little teenager) and Goliath (the nine-foot giant warrior), it’s pretty simple. Goliath mocks Israel, David challenges Goliath with rocks, Goliath mocks David, David “rocks” Goliath.
Fast-forward about 3,000 years to the fall of 1939. The Soviet Union had been bullying Finland for several months, requesting land as a buffer for two of its primary cities…Murmansk and Leningrad. While Hitler had given Joseph Stalin a free hand in the Baltic republics, the lack of trust meant Stalin wanted a bigger cushion, especially for Leningrad.
The Finns dragged their feet at the negotiating table, unwilling to give up prime ports in exchange for wasteland, and Stalin lost his patience. On November 30, 1939, Goliath (with more than 700,000 troops at his disposal in just the Leningrad Military District) attacked David (with little more than 150,000 men in total).
And Finland spanked the Soviet troops, which were poorly led (thanks to Stalin’s purges), poorly equipped (many died from frostbite and exposure), and poorly prepared to deal with creative Finnish battle tactics. Using terrain, extensive camoflauge, and the famous soldiers on skis, the Finnish not only held their own, but by January 1940, were pushing the Soviets back.
Obviously embarrassed, the Soviet leader brought in his most accomplished (still-breathing) general, Semyon Timoshenko, and told him to finish the job. Taking defensive positions to build up troop strength, Timoshenko then launched a massive assault and, in early March, broke through the Mannerheim Line (Finland’s version of the Maginot Line, which bridged Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland) and began pushing the Finns back.
Realizing the end was near, the Finnish government sent a delegation to Moscow to sue for peace, and an agreement was reached on March 12, 1940. But the guns continued to fire until they finally fell silent on this date…March 13, 1940.
Finland lost what became known as the Winter War and roughly 25,000 men. Soviet losses are nearly impossible to pinpoint. Numbers vary from about 90,000 – 250,000 killed. Some estimates go much higher. Whatever the actual number, it’s safe to say that, even in defeat, David gave Goliath a beating he wouldn’t soon forget.