We need a Leap Year topic, so checking the calendar may take a bit more time. Hmmm…well…got it.
Finland’s attempts to hold back the Red Army had, by February 29, 1940, had become all but hopeless. What had started the previous November as an incredibly lopsided affair with the Finns terribly outnumbered and outgunned was ending. The middle months had seen tenacious fighting with the Finns holding off vastly superior numbers, but the reality was that the Finns simply didn’t have enough men and guns and bullets. And their air force was non-existent. The Red Army, for all the terrible losses they suffered (and some more radical estimates put that number at 1,000,000 casualties), was able to replace its forces faster than its enemy could kill them.
The Soviets, now certain of victory, were ready to dictate terms. They did so on February 28th, with a deadline of March 1. Fortunately for the Finns, 1940 was a Leap Year, which gave them an extra day to make their decisions. It was an easy choice, and the Finnish government “agreed in principle” to the Soviets terms the following day.
And in a rather bizarre twist, it was precisely at this moment that French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier (shown above) decided to enter the fray. Hours after the Finnish committed to peace talks, Daladier (without bothering to consult the British, his main ally) offered 50,000 troops and 100 bombers, to be delivered before the end of March, if the Finns would continue their resistance.
It gets better. The British, rather than knock Daladier upside the head for his foolishness, began considering their own amphibious expedition to the north. These offers really had no basis in reality, and the Finns knew it. First off, there was no realistic way for either the French or British to move this kind of manpower (and all of the required logistical support) in such a short amount of time. Plus, these immovable forces would have had to travel through Norway and Sweden. Both countries, while maintaining a modicum of neutrality, had some pro-German leanings. Had the British violated their Scandanavian neutrality, they risked bringing both German and Russian aggression.
Helsinki took a quick look at the proposals, recognized their utter fantasy, and kept to their plan. The guns would continue shooting (mostly on the side of the Red Army, as the defenders were rapidly running out of weaponry) and the men would continue dying, but the end of one of the more remarkable conflicts of the Second World War was just two weeks away.
And with that, Today’s History Lesson closes out its fourth year of existence. It’s been a rather sparse twelve months. I’m not sure I managed even 100 pieces this year, which is a lot less than any previous year. But 2012 is young, and maybe I can get things going again. The prospect of beginning year five tomorrow gives me some inspiration and the calendar is full of stuff (including lots of topics that got pushed forward last year), so let’s live in hope.