The war that was being fought between the Soviet and Finnish armies in the brutal Scandanavian cold had accomplished several things. First, it had elevated the vastly outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-manned Finnish army to exalted status. That had happened because of the second accomplishment…the total embarrassment of the Soviet army.
Beginning in early December of 1939, Finnish commanders had begun using the terrain and better tactics to hold down their much larger enemies. They made small night-time attacks and, with platoon- and company-sized forces (along with a healthy dose of Red Army arrogance), were able to destroy regiment-sized encampments. In this manner, entire Red Army divisions were wiped out almost to a man.
But even more than that, the Finns understood rest and relaxation as important components of war better than their invaders did. As much as possible, soldiers given time to sit in hot springs and saunas, which served to warm their bodies. Many of their meals were served hot. A cold soldier was most often a dead one, and the Russians, without these benefits, verified that theory thousands and thousands of times.
As the 1930’s gave way to January of a new decade, the Winter War captured the imagination of the world. Radio and newspapers broadcast accounts of how tiny Finland was putting a big-time hurt on the mighty Soviet Union. It was at this time that fighting on the Finnish front entered something of a lull. The Finns, largely exhausted and running low on pretty much everything needed to fight, simply slowed down. This quiet time allowed Stalin to lop off a few more heads for incompetence and bring in General Semyon Timoshenko.
Timoshenko’s plan was to build up a massive force that would, once and for all, simply overpower the Finns. They began a process of daytime bombardments with artillery and aircraft. The Finns, low on ammunition and possessing no air force, simply hid in their bunkers during the day and came out to make repairs at night. But as the weeks passed, the men grew more and more worn down as sleep became more fleeting.
And then on February 1, 1940, Red Army artillery turned up the dial, beginning a ferocious bombardment that would last 10 days. It was one of the longest “softening-up” periods of the war. But Timoshenko knew that if victory was not achieved, he only had a bullet to look forward to. And after 10 days, the all-out assault would finally break the Finns. But that’s for 10 days from now…
Recommended Reading: A Frozen Hell