10

My understanding was that Finland was not really pro Nazi Germany, but merely wanted to recover the lands lost to the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40. That is, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

My further understanding was that individual Leningraders had a chance of obtaining food by going to the border with Finland and trading valuables for food with the local farmers, with minimal interference from Finnish soldiers. At any rate, the Finns appeared to be a lot more humane in the conduct of the siege of Leningrad than the Germans.

Given the context of the time, was there a chance that the siege of Leningrad could have been lifted (on the Finnish frontier) if the Soviets had offered to return the lands taken in the Winter War? (My understanding was that Stalin once considered offering Finland peace on those terms, then re-considered when the troops brought back from Siberia started winning the battle of Moscow.) Would a peace with Finland have helped Leningrad, or did transportation issues mean that most supplies for Leningrad would still have to come from the southern, German-controlled direction?

  • 2
    They were allies of the Nazis, no need to whitewash things. At the siege of Leningrad, the Finns had already taken the lost land (and more) back so deals were out of the question. – Oldcat May 8 '15 at 23:40
  • 1
    @Oldcat: How do you get the idea that the Finns had regained their lost territory? AFAIK, the border is still where Stalin placed it after the Winter War. – jamesqf May 20 '15 at 6:12
  • @jamesqf That's because it was rolled back again... – Felix Goldberg May 20 '15 at 10:12
5

I don't disagree with what others have said about Finland's actions during the Siege of Leningrad. But I wish to point out that Finland's official war aims in 1941 do not tell the whole story.

Finland's official war aims in 1941 were merely to recover the territories lost in the Winter War of 1939-40, but statements by Finnish politicians reveal that unofficial war aims went further. In The German Northern Theater of Operations 1940-1945, Earl F. Ziemke writes:

The true expectations with which the Finns entered the war are difficult to determine. As a small nation caught in the center of a great struggle they could not afford the luxury of consistency any more than could the Great Powers. Their announced war aims were limited to recovery of the lost territories; that they expected to take a good deal more is certain. Bellicose utterances by Mannerheim and others, particularly during the early months of the war, are not hard to find. The most extreme statement of Finnish war aims was that which [Finnish President] Ryti gave to Hitler's personal envoy Schnurre in October 1941: Finland wanted the entire Kola Peninsula and all of Soviet Karelia with a border on the White Sea to the Gulf of Onega, thence southward to the southern tip of Lake Onega, along the Svir River, the south shore Lake Ladoga, and along the Neva River to its mouth. Ryti agreed with the Germans that Leningrad would have to disappear as a center of population and industry. He thought a small part of the city might be preserved as something in the nature of a German trading post. Later he also told the German Minister that Finland did not want to have a common border with Russia in the future and asked that Germany annex all the territory from the Arkhangel'sk region south. (p. 204)

Similarly, Henrik O. Lunde writes in Finland's War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II:

The stated Finnish war aims were limited to the recovery of territory lost during the Winter War; hence they refer to the conflict from 1941 to 1944 as the "Continuation War." However, it is patently obvious from statements and events both before and during the war that they hoped to come out of the war with much more than the territory lost in 1940.

The most ambitious statements of Finnish aspirations appear to be those given by President Ryti to Ambassador Schnurre in October 1941. He let it be known that Finland desired all of the Kola Peninsula and all of Soviet Karelia with a border on the White Sea to the Gulf of Onega (Ääninen). Also included in his wishes were Ladoga Karelia and that the future border should then proceed along the Svir River, the southern shore of Lake Ladoga, and finally along the Neva River to where it entered the Gulf of Finland. Within a couple of weeks of this statement, Ryti told Ambassador Blücher that Finland did not want a common border with the Soviet Union after the war and he requested that Germany annex all territory south of the Archangel region. The views that Ryti expressed in October 1941 may be what prompted Hitler to tell [Finnish] Foreign Minister Witting the following month when he came to Berlin to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact that Germany favored an expansion of Finland to the east, to include the Kola Peninsula as long as Germany shared in the mineral resources. Witting told Blücher after his visit to Berlin that it was necessary for Finland's security to hold on to the captured territories. (p. 56)

Lunde adds in a footnote:

Ryti is also alleged to have told Schnurre that he favored depopulating the Leningrad area and that Germany should retain it as some kind of "trading post." (p. 83)

  • 2
    +1 but you might want to consider removing the second quote, as it adds nothing new. It;s enough, imho, to say that Lunde's book contains similar assertions. – Felix Goldberg May 20 '15 at 10:22
  • 2
    Erm, I looked up Lunde's book on amazon and while it has received many favourable reviews, I also found out that the author admits to not reading Russian - or Finnish! That rather diminishes the book's value as a source, especially one that offers a radically new interpretation. Just my 2 cents. – Felix Goldberg May 20 '15 at 10:56
  • 3
    One interesting question is why Mannerheim, the commander-in-chief, did not respond to German demands for help in 1941 and attack Leningrad from the North. It can be argued that a joint assault by the Finns and Germans at that stage might well have led to the capture of the city. A common view among the Finnish officer corps (according to my father, who was an officer) is that Mannerheim had too much respect for the city, having spent much of his life there as an officer of the Tsar's army before the Revolution (eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant general). More pragmatically, – Marko Amnell May 20 '15 at 20:30
  • 4
    (continued): Mannerheim realized that (given the importance of the city to Russians) if Finland helped the Nazis to capture Leningrad, the Russians would never forgive them and would do everything in their power to conquer all of Finland, ruling out the possibility of a truce with Finland an independent country. Therefore, Mannerheim stopped the Finnish advance some 20 km from Leningrad and kept the lines fixed there. In addition, Mannerheim refused to bomb Leningrad using airplanes. – Marko Amnell May 20 '15 at 20:39
  • 2
    But even if Leeb was right, and the Germans were taking losses clearing cities in 1941 routinely due to booby traps and the like, taking the city does the Finns no good in exchange for those losses. Helps out Leeb, though. But the Germans in 1941 had no intention of attacking the city themselves, so blaming the Finns for not doing it for them is a bit odd. – Oldcat May 21 '15 at 18:39
10

The short answer is Finland had no official involvement in the siege of Leningrad. They did have a significant indirect involvement, however. Also, the Finns did do what little they could in an unofficial manor in regards to helping individuals who came to their border looking for food. What they could do didn’t amount to much but they were in a no-win situation in this instance.

Finland declared war on Russia separately from Germany in June, 1941, just days after the German invasion of Soviet Russia. The Finns were aware of the planned German attack and in return for help in buying arms and in fighting the Soviets, they did allow German troops in Finland just before the attack and on newly conquered Soviet territory at the Finnish border after.

Here is my shortened version of the whole story as posted on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuation_War

Finland was in 1939 and through the war years a small democratic country that along with Sweden had the misfortune of being located next to two of the most powerful totalitarian regimes in the world (Soviet Union and Germany).

In November, 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland because the Finns refused to cede Finnish territory—and meet other demands—made by the Soviets. The war was deemed illegal by the League of Nations and the Soviet Union was expelled as a result.

Though the Soviets had an army three times as large, a hundred times more tanks and thirty times more aircraft, the Finns fought well. Finnish forces were fighting for their own country and the Soviet army command structure had been decimated by the numerous purges by Stalin in the years leading up to the war. As a result, Finland repelled Soviet advances for several months. Eventually, the sheer weight of men and materials allowed the Russians to conquer more than the territory they had originally demanded.

Due to the unexpected costs of men and equipment to win the relatively small gains, Moscow accepted a peace initiative offered by Finland. It is widely agreed that the Soviets original intentions were to conquer all of Finland but bit off more than they could easily chew at the time.

On March 12, 1940 a peace treaty was signed. As a result, the Finns ceded 11% of their overall land mass, approximately 30% of their economy and had to relocate 442,000 people who had lost their homes and farms.

During the subsequent run-up to the German invasion, Finland was once again being pressured by the Soviets to allow them to operate Finnish nickel mines in the Petsamo region for Soviet use. The Finns refused. At the same time they demanded the Finns allow them access to the Finnish railways to transport Soviet troops to and from their new military base on former Finnish territory. Again, the Finns refused.

Seeing what was coming, Finland began seeking assistance in building military and related equipment. They sought support from democracies in the League of Nations and other Nordic countries. The support that had been offered by Great Brittan was not available after the Nazi invasion of Norway and Denmark in 1940. After that, Britain cut all trade and traffic with Scandinavian countries. Guess who was the only country left to buy military supplies from? That’s right, it was Germany.

In addition, the Germans supplied Finland with information as to what the Soviets intentions were regarding Finland. That being, the Soviets told the Germans they intended to handle Finland the same way they handled the other Baltic States, by installing puppet regimes that were directed by Moscow. Lastly, the Soviet Union had made it clear to the Finns that in case of war with Germany, they intended to attack Finland immediately. This is exactly what they did when the time came as well.

Finland was a democracy and preferred help from the democratic nations that would soon be allied against Germany. However, that was impossible in 1940 and 1941. Therefore, in order to ensure their own country’s’ continued existence, they worked with the German government on certain military common interests. They never had any official agreement, nor provided other official assistance to the Nazis that axis allies did. No, they did not allow Germany any say in Jewish affairs in Finland—and yes, the Germans did ask.

In short, the Fins made it clear to Hitler they were at war with Russia for their own reasons. Though it was mutually beneficial for the Finns and the Germans, they were not allied in the way other nations were.

  • 2
    correct. The Fins were fighting tor their freedom, their lives and lifestyle. And the only country willing to help them do so happened to be Germany, as the Brits and French didn't want to upset the Soviets (and would have been hard pressed to get anything past the German forces in the Baltic and Norway to Finland even if they had wanted to help the beleagered nation). – jwenting May 9 '15 at 20:29
  • 1
    The Finns blocked half of the routes into the city. That is involvement by any standard. No, they did not shell the city or burn their own troops by trying to take it. But then, neither did the Germans for the most part. – Oldcat May 20 '15 at 17:16
  • 1
    @jwenting - when Finland was fighting in 1939, the Germans were not in Norway. The impediment was neutral Norway and Sweden not allowing Allied forces to cross their nations. That, and the small forces that could have been sent along this tenuous line of communication would probably have not changed the final result, once the Soviets got their ducks in a row later in the war. – Oldcat May 21 '15 at 17:17
  • 1
    @Oldcat – I view the Finns differently for several reasons. For one, unlike Vichy France, Finland's democracy was an established government before the 1940 war. It didn’t come about after their country had been beaten by Germany. Nor, unlike the Vichy government, was it pre-approved by the Nazis and thus, clearly a collaboration regime. Besides that, today lots of French folks are just rude to Americans, who for some insane reason, keep going there on holiday. That last reason really isn't pertinent, I just wanted to get it off my chest.... – kevin king May 23 '15 at 20:36
  • 2
    @Anixx - Wrong. Finland has considered itself a well-functioning democracy since 1918 according to all I have read on it. If you are right, please show what source makes you right--and don't just say Mannerheim--because that is not right, he wasn't a dictator. – kevin king Jul 7 '15 at 21:26
8

Fitting to your understanding, the stated purposes of Finland's involvement with Germany in the Siege of Leningrad was to regain lost lands from the Winter's War.

To this end, they didn't participate in the direct siege far beyond the pre-war border, by Mannenheim's orders. However, they did aid the Germans in blockading Russia's supply routes. Had peace been struck between the Finnish and the Russians, there may have not only been more open supply routes (which would have severely helped), but parts of the German attack route may have even been cut off.

Whether or not the Finnish leadership would have found such a face heel turn prudent with the German army already marching by is another matter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad#Finnish_participation

  • 1
    Interesting to note that during the Lapland War, the Fins did almost as well against the Germans as they did the Russians in the Winter War, inflicting 2:1 losses and suffering minimal civilian casualties, despite the Nazi "scorched earth" strategy. – RI Swamp Yankee May 20 '15 at 15:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.