The Russian Record of the Winter War, 1939-1940: An Analytical Study of Soviet Records of the War with Finland from 30 November 1939 to 12 March 1940

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This dissertation is an analytical examination of material published by the Soviet Union which concerned the Winter War with Finland from 30 November 1939 to 12 March 1940. The events leading to the conflict grew out of Russian efforts to protect their northwestern borders after the defeat of Poland in September 1939. Diplomatic pressures enabled the Soviet Union to establish air and naval bases along the Baltic coast in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the end of October 1939. However, efforts to obtain similar concessions from Finland, especially the leasing of Hanko at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, proved unsuccessful. The first material published by the Soviet Union about the Finnish situation was part of a newspaper campaign during November 1939. At first this campaign merely denounced those Finnish leaders who were known to be opposed to a diplomatic settlement with the USSR. Gradually this campaign increased in tempo and after the alleged firing of Finnish artillery on Russian borderguards at Mainila on 26 November 1939, Soviet newspapers began to call for the punishment of the Finnish Government. Along with this part of the campaign, the Russian press also pictured Finland as a small nation divided by class conflict and supported only by certain western imperialistic powers. The Soviet writers predicted that such a nation could not resist the Red Army, especially as the Finnish proletariat would certainly rise against their bourgeois masters. With the beginning of the Soviet attack on 30 November 1939 the Red press trumpeted the early successes of the Red Army and Red Fleet and confidently predicted a swift end to the Finnish Government in Helsinki. To support this the Russian newspaper pointed to the foundation of a revolutionary Peoples' Government of Finland in the newly-captured city of Terioki under Otto Kuusinen. This regime, it was confidently predicted, would provide the leadership for the expected proletarian revolt in Finland. By mid-December 1939 when it had become apparent that the Soviet forces were not likely to sweep over Finland nor the proletariat to rise in revolt, there came a subtle change over the Soviet press releases. Stories about the conflict appeared less often. Contempt for the resistance of the Finns tended to disappear and more emphasis was given to the difficulties encountered by the Red Army. References to the Terioki-based Peoples' Government of Finland diminished almost to the vanishing point. Only the heroic deeds of individual Soviet fighting men increased in the press coverage during late December 1939 and January 1940. When the Red Army began its drive to break the “Mannerheim Line” on the Karelian Isthmus in February 1940, press coverage of the fighting increased significantly. Even then, the earlier predictions of a complete victory over the Helsinki Government were not repeated. Along with this the Peoples' Government of Finland was completely ignored throughout this period. For these reasons the rather sudden announcement of the Treaty of Moscow on 12 March 1940 was rather easier to accept. These changes in the Soviet newspaper campaign during the Winter War indicate that the Russian press did respond to events, much like all newspapers, and that the Russian people could not be made to believe everything their leaders might wish them to believe. The personal experiences of the Soviet fighting men published in newspapers and books during and after the Winter War revealed a great deal about the problems of the Soviet armed forces. One of the first problems mentioned was the lack of coordination between the various arms. Other defects were a lack of training and equipment for winter combat and a deficiency in scouting and patrolling which left the Red Army at the mercy of swift-moving Finnish ski patrols. All of this arose because of a lack of proper leadership in the higher ranks of the Red Army. According to these recollections, these defects were finally dealt with before the campaign which broke the “Mannerheim Line” in February 1940. The major lesson of this study was the discovery that Soviet records, despite their domination by the officially acceptable truth, can be useful in obtaining information about developments in the USSR. Through a careful reading of these sources and an understanding of the requirements of censorship, one can readily obtain a better understanding of the problems of the Soviet leadership and even some idea as to the feelings of the Russian people in response to the events which make up the history of our times.