Considering the following four facts:

  1. Many western countries helped the anti-communist government during the Russian civil war,
  2. League of Nation supports Finland,
  3. The war lasts really long comparing to the Poland war,
  4. Due to the braveness of Finns, just one or two divisions with advanced armament will be enough to lock Soviet forces in the quagmire for longer. This is a typical low risk high reward investment.

It is hard to believe that no country significantly (i.e. more than one division of forces or advanced armament or significant trade blockage) helped Finland.

UK did plan to send 100k troops, but their main purpose seems to control the iron mines and avoid direct conflict with soviet forces.

In the last phase of the war, the most significant foreign supports were blocked or delayed by German:

  1. Hungarian volunteers were delayed by Germany.
  2. France planned to send 35k troops to directly fight against soviet army. But they are also blocked by Sweden, under the pressure of Germany.
  3. Italy sent massive amount of armament, but detained by German.

First, it is very weird that Germany would help Russia by blocking the supports from reaching Finland, because Germany itself started to plan an invasion into Russia after seen the incapability of soviet forces.

Second, even if the land route through Sweden is blocked by Germany and Sweden, other countries can still find other routes and send air/naval volunteers to help Finland.

  • 2
    Perhaps because something bigger was brewing in Western Europe and at sea. Although on land WWII started with the "phoney war", at sea the battle was joined at once. As for Germany, anything that tied up Soviet troops either fighting or as an army of occupation would assist in the later Operation Barbarossa.
    – user55099
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 9:25
  • I'm not sure how easy it would be to send aid in the winter of 1939-40, whether by sea through the Baltic (past Germany) or by land; Norway and Sweden were initially both neutral, so using them as a route for troops would be problematic. The short length of the war would also have made it hard to send supplies.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 11:27
  • 3
    Churchill had a bit about this in his memoir/history of the war, which should answer this at least from the British side. If no one else uses it, I'll try to look it up when I get home and can find the time.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 18:52
  • @StuartF Well, I agree that sending land units might be hard. But sending aircraft and/or blocking Russian ports and trade routes should be very easy for UK, US, Japan, and France.
    – dodo
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 2:33
  • @Martin Yes that explains why UK did not help Finns. If you are right, then Germany should significantly help Finns to tie-up Soviet forces. However, most international helps to Finns were blocked by Germany.
    – dodo
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 2:37

2 Answers 2


No treaty obligations

States typically don't intervene in wars unless there is a compelling reason. And in this case, no nation was compelled. The League of Nations was not a defensive treaty; all it had to say was

Any war or threat of war, whether immediately affecting any of the Members of the League or not, is hereby declared a matter of concern to the whole League, and the League shall take any action that may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of nations.

However, prior wars such as the Italian invasion of Ethiopia showed that the extent of those actions "deemed wise and effectual" was approximately nil.

Mobilization takes time

The war lasted three and a half months. Let's take a look at what the nations that decided to help immediately were able to do in that time. Hungary took nearly a month to begin recruiting volunteers, 1 month to train them, and 3 weeks to reach Finland. Swedish volunteers took over 2 months to reach the front lines.

Even though the Allies were already mobilized for war, they would have needed to figure out what resources could be spared and identify objectives for intervention ("defeat the USSR" was not going to be an achievable goal). The joint Anglo-French force you mention took over a month to organize (but they started late and didn't make it in time).

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend

The point regarding German intervention is very straightforward. Germany had gained a lot of valuable experience fighting in Spain and did not necessarily want other nations getting the same benefit. Italy would not become an ally until June 1940, Hungary not until November. As Hitler was planning to invade the Soviet Union long before its dismal performance in the Winter War, he would have preferred to avoid advanced equipment coming into Finland where the USSR would be able to obtain it as trophies should Finland capitulate. Even after the weakness of the Red Army became obvious, it made no sense to allow enemy or potential-enemy troops to be stationed near where you are planning to invade.


This is a partial answer. Two arguments were on the table, at least:

  1. Because the countries other than the USSR and Finland negotatited concessions in exchange for not participating in the war. Countries were preparing for their own major war (IIWW). The same happened in the Spanish Civil War. Both conflicts are "early IIWW" conflicts. In the case of the Spanish Civil war, the IIWW was looming in the horizon already. In the case of the Winter War, IIWW had already started, but it was very early in the conflict.

  2. Because "neutral" and "anti-soviet" democratic Finland happened to find itself strategically "allied" to Nazi Germany interests. Not that they wanted, but strong Finland meant trouble for the UK-USSR alliance. This alliance was struck on paper on 1941 in the Anglo-Soviet Agreement, but for the UK, the soviets had been for a long time their "insurance policy" against a powerful continental Germany. They both benefited. The UK sure was democratic like Findland, but they would never fight against their own "insurance company" (The USSR) when UK own survival was at stake.

This second point is the basis of the "tragedy feeling" of the Winter War. Democratic countries emotionally wanted to help but in rational strategic decisions, they would not do so for their own interests.

  • 3
    You need to watch the timeline. For the whole of the Winter War the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was in effect which divided Eastern Europe between the Soviets and Germany. Only 15 months after the end of the Winter War did Germany launch Operation Barbarossa leading to the Anglo-Soviet agreement of 12 July 1941, two years into the war.
    – user55099
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 9:20
  • 1
    The Anglo-Russian security relationship for continental Europe dates from the Napoleonic years, at least. This is not a circumstancial thing, some even argue this alliance is still in place (this would be another discussion). You can understand the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Ribbentrop-Molotov as a pause to this long-term relationship, because of internal Russian needs/advantageous conditions for them.
    – James
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 13:45

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