Continuation War

The Continuation War (Jatkosota, Fortsättningskriget, Советско-финская война; (25 June 194119 September 1944)) was the second of two wars fought between Finland and the Soviet Union during World War II.

At the time it started, it was named by the Finns to make clear its relationship to the preceding Winter War of 30 November 1939 to 13 March 1940. The Soviet Union, however, perceived the war merely as one of the fronts of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany and its allies. Similarly, Germany saw its own operations in the region as a part of its overall war efforts of World War II.

The United Kingdom declared war on Finland on 6 December 1941, followed by its Dominions shortly afterwards. The Continuation War is a rare case of democracies declaring war on other democracies, although the British forces were not major participants in the war. Germany took part by providing critical material support and military cooperation to Finland. The United States did not fight or declare war against either party, but sent substantial matériel to the Soviet Union for use in the war effort against Germany and its allies.

Hostilities between Finnish and Soviet forces ended in September 1944, and the formal conclusion of the Continuation War was ratified by the Paris peace treaty of 1947.


Although the Continuation War was fought on the periphery of World War II and the troops engaged were relatively few, its history represents the only case of a genuinely democratic state participating in World War II on the side of the Axis powers, albeit without being a signatory of the Tripartite Pact. The United Kingdom declared war on Finland on 6 December 1941, Finnish Independence Day, with Canada and New Zealand declaring war on Finland on December 7, and Australia and South Africa declaring war on December 8. The United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull did congratulate the Finnish envoy on 3 October 1941 for the liberation of Karelia but warned Finland not to go in to Russian territory; furthermore the US did not declare war on Finland when they went to war with the Axis countries and, together with UK, approached Stalin in the Tehran Conference to acknowledge Finnish independence. However, the US government seized Finnish merchant ships in American ports and in the summer of 1944 shut down Finnish diplomatic and commercial offices in the US as a result of President Rytis' treaty with Germany. The US government later warned Finland about the consequences of continued adherence to the Axis.

The best-known British action on Finnish soil was a Swordfish attack on German ships in the Finnish harbour of Petsamo on 31 July 1941. This attack achieved little except the loss of three British aircraft, but it was intended as a demonstration of British support for its Russian ally. Later in 1941, Hurricanes of RAF 151 Wing based at Murmansk provided local air cover for Russian troops and fighter escorts for Russian bombers. The British contribution to the war was occasional but significant.

Finnish radio intelligence is said to have participated effectively in German actions against British convoys to Murmansk. Throughout the war, German aircraft operating from airfields in northern Finland made attacks on British air and naval units based in Murmansk and Archangelsk.

Finland adopted the concept of a "parallel war" whereby it sought to pursue its own objectives in concert with, but separate from, Nazi Germany.

Major events of World War II, and the tides of war in general, had significant impact on the course of the Continuation War:


Before World War II

Although East Karelia has never been part of a modern Finnish state, a significant part of its inhabitants were Finnic-speaking Orthodox Karelians. After the Finnish declaration of independence, voices arose advocating the annexation of East Karelia to "rescue it from oppression". This led to a few incursions to the area (Viena expedition and Aunus expedition), but these were unsuccessful. Finland unsuccessfully raised the question of East Karelia several times in the League of Nations.

In non-leftist circles, Imperial Germany's role in the "White" government's victory over rebellious Socialists during the Finnish Civil War was celebrated, although most preferred British or Scandinavian support over that of Germany. The security policy of an independent Finland turned first towards a cordon sanitaire, whereby the newly independent nations of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland would form a defensive alliance against the USSR, but after negotiations collapsed, Finland turned to the League of Nations for security. Contacts with the Scandinavian countries also met with little success. In 1932, Finland and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact, but even contemporary analysts considered it worthless.

The 1920 peace agreement was broken by the Soviet Union in 1937 when it stopped Finnish ships traveling between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland via the Neva River. The free use of this route for merchant vessels had been one of the articles in the agreement.

The consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 enabled the Soviet Union to pressure Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. The three Baltic countries soon gave in to Soviet demands, but Finland continued to refuse. As a result, on 30 November 1939, the Winter War began. Condemnation by the League of Nations and by countries all over the world had no effect on Soviet policy. International help to Finland was planned, but very little actual help materialized.

The Moscow Peace Treaty, which was signed on 12 March 1940, ended the Winter War. The Treaty was severe for Finland. A fifth of the country's industry and 11% of agricultural land were lost, as was Viipuri, the country's second largest city. Some 12% of Finland's population had to be moved to the Finnish side of the border. Hanko was leased to the Soviet Union as a military base. However, Finland had avoided having the Soviet Union annex the whole country.

The Moscow Peace Treaty, in 1940, was a shock to the Finns. It was perceived as the ultimate failure of Finland's foreign policy, which had been based on multilateral guarantees for support. Binding bilateral treaties were now sought and formerly frosty relations, such as with the Soviet Union and the Third Reich, had to be eased. Public opinion in Finland longed for the re-acquisition of Finnish Karelia, and put their hope in the peace conference that was assumed would follow the World War. The term Välirauha ("Interim Peace") became popular after the harsh peace was announced.

Although the peace treaty was signed, the state of war and censorship was not revoked because of the widening world war, the difficult food supply situation, and the poor shape of the Finnish military. This made it possible for president Kyösti Kallio to ask Field Marshal Mannerheim to remain commander-in-chief and supervise rearmament and fortification work. During 1940, Finland received material purchased and donated during and immediately after the Winter War. Military expenditures rose in 1940 to 45% of Finland's state budget. A war trade treaty with Britain had little effect due to German occupation of Norway and Denmark.

Nazi Germany attacked Scandinavia on 9 April 1940 (Operation Weserübung). Finland, like Sweden, was spared occupation but was encircled by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. From May 1940, Finland pursued a campaign to re-establish good relations with Germany. The Finnish media not only refrained from criticism of Nazi Germany, but also took an active part in this campaign. Dissent was censored. After the fall of France, the campaign was stepped up.

The implementation of the Moscow Peace Treaty created problems. The forced return of evacuated machinery, locomotives, and rail cars, inflexibility on questions which could have eased hardships created by the new border, such as fishing rights and the usage of Saimaa Canal, heightened distrust about the objectives of the Soviet Union.

Unbeknownst to Finland, Adolf Hitler had started to plan an invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). He had not been interested in Finland before the Winter War, but now he saw the value of Finland as a base of operations, and perhaps also the military value of the Finnish army. In the first weeks of August, German fears of a likely immediate Soviet attack on Finland caused Hitler to lift the arms embargo. Negotiations were initiated concerning German troop transfer rights in Finland in exchange for arms and other material. For the Third Reich, this was a breach of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as well as being for Finland a breach of the Moscow Peace Treaty. Soviet negotiators had insisted that the troop transfer agreement (to Hanko) should not be published making it easy for the Finns to keep a troop transfer agreement with the Germans secret until the first German troops arrived.

Despite the Soviet leadership having promised the Finns during the signing of the Moscow Peace treaty that the Soviets would not intervene in Finnish domestic policy, the reality of the interim peace period showed the opposite. After the ceasefire the Soviets demanded the Finnish industrial town of Enso, which clearly was on the Finnish side of the peace treaty border; the Finns accepted and handed over the town. The Soviet involvement in Finnish domestic politics continued with open Soviet support for the extreme left wing organization SNS Friendship Union Soviet-Finland, who openly campaigned for Finland to join the Soviet Union. The Soviets also successfully demanded that the Finnish minister Väinö Tanner resign and that, during the Finnish presidential election of 1940, neither Mannerheim, Kivimäki, Tanner nor Svinhuvud were to be candidates. The most significant event during the interim peace was Soviet foreigner minister Molotov's visit in Berlin where Molotov asked Hitler for a free hand to 'solve the Finnish question'.

The negotiations about Petsamo nickel mining rights had dragged on for six months when the Soviet Foreign Ministry announced in January 1941 that the negotiations had to be concluded quickly. On the same day, the Soviet Union interrupted grain deliveries to Finland. Soviet ambassador Zotov was recalled home 18 January and Soviet radio broadcasts started attacking Finland. Germans in Northern Norway reported in 1 February that the Soviet Union had collected 500 fishing ships in Murmansk, capable of transporting a division. Hitler ordered troops in Norway to occupy Petsamo (Operation Renntier) immediately if the Soviet Union started attacking Finland.

Finns offered half of the mine to Soviets and demanded a guarantee that no anti-government agitation would be done in the mines. These were not enough for Soviets and when Mannerheim declared that any additional concessions would endanger the defence of the country and threatened to resign if those were done, the Finnish side decided to let the negotiations lapse when there was no movement from the Soviet positions.

After the failure of the nickel negotiations, diplomatic activities were halted for a few months. The period did, however, see an increased German interest in Finland.

One sign of the interest was the recruitment of one battalion of Finnish volunteers to the German Waffen-SS, with approval of the Finnish government. It has been concluded that the battalion served as a token of Finnish commitment to cooperation with Nazi Germany. The agreement was that the Finnish volunteers would not be sent to fight against British or Greek forces (the only European nations at war with Germany at the moment of signing) and had the duration of two years. This battalion, named the Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon fought as part of SS Division Wiking in the Ukraine and Caucasus. When the time of service was up, the battalion was pulled back from the front in May 1943 and was transported to Tallinn and further to Hanko where it was disbanded on 11 July. The soldiers were then transferred into different units of the Finnish army.

The German Foreign Ministry sent Ludwig Weissauer to Finland 5 May, this time to clarify that war between Germany and the Soviet Union would not be launched before spring 1942. Finnish leadership believed that, at least officially, and forwarded the message to the Swedes and the British. When the war broke out only a couple of months later, it was understandable that both Swedish and British governments felt that the Finns had lied to them.

In the spring of 1941, joint battle plans were discussed with Germany, as well as communications and securing sea lanes. Finland made significant requests for material aid. Finland was willing to join Germany against Soviet Union with some prerequisites: a guarantee of Finnish independence, the pre-Winter War borders (or better), continuing grain deliveries, and that Finnish troops would not cross the border before a Soviet incursion. The arrival of German troops participating in Operation Barbarossa began on 7 June in Petsamo.Prior to the continuation war, the Germans offered Mannerheim command over the German troops in Finland, around 80,000 men. Mannerheim declined, because if he accepted, he and Finland would be tied to the German war aims.

The Finnish parliament was informed for the first time on 9 June, when the first mobilization orders were issued for troops needed to safeguard the forthcoming general mobilization phases. On June 20, Finland's government ordered 45,000 people at the Soviet border to be evacuated. On 21 June, Finland's chief of the General Staff, Erik Heinrichs, was finally informed by his German counterpart that the attack was to begin.

Course of the war

Finnish offensive of 1941

Operation Barbarossa had already commenced in the northern Baltic by the late hours of June 21, when German minelayers, which had been hiding in the Finnish archipelago, laid two large minefields across the Gulf of Finland. These minefields ultimately proved sufficient to confine the Soviets' Baltic Fleet to the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland. Later the same night, German bombers flew along the Gulf of Finland to Leningrad and mined the harbour and the river Neva. On the return trip, these bombers refuelled in Utti airfield. Finland was concerned that the Soviet Union would occupy Åland so Operation Kilpapurjehdus ("Regatta") was launched in the early hours of June 22 to occupy Åland for Finland instead. Soviet bombers launched attacks against Finnish ships during the operation, but no damage was inflicted. Finnish submarines also laid six small minefields at 8:00–10:00 between Suursaari and Estonian coast according to pre-war defensive plans of Finland and Estonia.

On the morning of June 22, the German Gebirgskorps Norwegen started Operation Renntier and began its move from Northern Norway to Petsamo. Finland did not allow direct German attacks from its soil to the Soviet Union, so German forces in Petsamo and Salla had to hold their fire. There was occasional individual and group level exchange of small arms fire between Soviet and Finnish border guards, but otherwise the front was quiet.

On June 21 mobilized Finnish units began to concentrate at the Finnish-Soviet border, where they were arranged into defensive formations upon arrival. Finland mobilized 16 infantry divisions, one cavalry brigade, and two "Jäger" brigades, which were standard infantry brigades, except for one battalion in the 1st Jäger Brigade (1.JPr), which was armoured using captured Soviet equipment. There was also a handful of separate battalions, mostly formed from Border Guard units and used mainly for reconnaissance. Soviet military plans estimated that the Finns would be able to mobilize only 10 infantry divisions, as they had done in the Winter War, but they failed to take into account the material Finland had purchased between the wars and the training of all available men. German forces were also present in northern Finland: Two mountain divisions at Petsamo and two infantry divisions at Salla. On June 22 another German infantry division moved in from Oslo through Sweden towards Ladoga Karelia, although one reinforced regiment was later redirected to Salla.

Mobilization on the Soviet side of the border began on June 18. The Karelian Isthmus was covered by the Soviet 23rd Army, which consisted of the 50th, the 19th Corps and the 10th Mechanized Corps, together with 5 infantry, 1 motorized and 2 armored divisions. At Ladoga Karelia, there was the 7th Army consisting of 4 infantry divisions. In the Murmansk-Salla region the Soviet Union had the 14th Army with 42nd Corps, consisting of 5 infantry divisions (1 as reserve in Archangelsk) and 1 armored division. The Red Army also had around 40 battalions of separate regiments and fortification units in the region, which were not part of its divisional structure. Leningrad was garrisoned by 3 infantry divisions and one mechanized corps.

The initial German strike against the Soviet Air Force had not affected air units located near Finland, so the Soviets could field nearly 750 planes as well as a part of the 700 planes of the Soviet Navy against 300 Finnish planes. In the morning of June 25, the Soviet Union unleashed a major air offensive against 18 Finnish cities with 460 planes, mainly hitting civilian targets and airfields. The Soviet Union claimed the attack was directed against German targets in Finland, however, the British embassy verified that only Finnish targets were hit in Southern and Middle Finland, where the embassy had many informants. The attack failed to hit any German targets. At the same time, Soviet artillery stationed in the Hanko base began to shell Finnish targets, and a minor Soviet infantry attack was launched over the Finnish side of the border in Parikkala. A meeting of the Finnish parliament was scheduled for June 25, where Prime Minister Rangell had intended to present a notice about Finland's neutrality in the Soviet-German war, but the Soviet bombings led him to observe instead, that Finland was once again at war with the Soviet Union. The Continuation War had begun.

The war against Germany did not go as well as pre-war Soviet war games had envisioned, and soon the Soviet High Command had to call all available units to the rapidly deteriorating front line. Because of this, the initial air offensive against Finland could not be followed by a supporting land offensive, as originally planned. Moreover, the 10th Mechanized Corps with two armoured divisions and 237th Infantry division were withdrawn from Ladoga Karelia, thus stripping reserves from defending units.

Reconquest of Ladoga Karelia

Reconquest of the Karelian Isthmus

Conquest of East Karelia

Advance from Northern Finland

See also: Operation Silver Fox

The operational border between Finnish and German forces was located southeast from Lake Oulujärvi to the border, and then straight to the east. The Finnish 14.D controlled the southern part of the border, while the northern part was in the responsibility of AOK Norwegen (Col. Gen. von Falkenhorst). The Finnish III Corps (Maj. Gen. Siilasvuo) was southernmost, German XXXVI Corps (Gen. Feige) next and German Mountain Corps (Gen. Dietl) northernmost at Petsamo. Together, they had three infantry, two mountain and one SS ("Nord") divisions and two armoured battalions. Additionally, one IR and one artillery from the German 163th division were diverted there. Against them were the Soviet 14. Army (Lt. Gen Frolov) at Murmansk and part of the 7. Army, together with 6 infantry and one armoured divisions and one division strengthening the fortified area.

As Finns had not allowed German attacks across the border before 25 June, the Soviets had ample warning and used the available days to fortify the border region. Also, the concentration of the German forces to the border took longer than anticipated, so the start of the offensive was delayed until June 29, a week later than the beginning of the Operation Barbarossa, thus giving Soviets even more time to prepare their fortifications.

The Mountain Corps broke through the Soviet forces in the early hours of 29 June, and managed to advance almost 30 km to Litsa river, where the offensive had to be stopped due to supply problems on 2 July. When the attack was continued a week later, the Soviets had managed to bring in reinforcements and prepare defensive positions so the attack failed to gain ground.

The XXXVI Corps attacked along the Rovaniemi-Kandalaksha railroad at July 1, but after only a day the SS division "Nord" had lost its fighting capability and it took a week before German 169. and Finnish 6. division managed to capture Salla, and only two days later the whole offensive was stopped by a new Soviet fortified line.

Germans had used all their forces in the offensive and didn't have any available reserves left, so these had to be transported from Germany and Norway. This caused a delay in operations which Soviets used effectively to reinforce their positions and improve their fortifications. OKW was only able to field two infantry regiments to von Falkenhorst, and their willingness to micromanage their usage lead to disagreements between OKW and von Falkenhorst, which further prevented their effective usage. Because of this, the renewed offensive failed to gain any ground at September 8 at River Litsa after which OKW ordered forces to defend.

At Salla, XXXVI Corps fared better from 19 August, as the Finnish 6.D had cut Soviet supply routes, forcing the Soviet 104.D and 122.D to abandon their fortified positions and heavy equipment at August 27. This was followed by advancing the operation along the railroad until after almost 50 km the attack was stopped due to exhaustion at the next Soviet defence line at the Verma river on 19 September, von Falkenhorst asked for reinforces from Germany twice to continue his offensive immediately when Soviets were still unorganized, but he was refused.

The Finnish III Corps operated under German AOK Norwegen and was located in Kuusamo-Suomussalmi region. It was a very weak formation with only one infantry division (3.D) and two separate battalions. It was commanded by MJ. Gen. Hjalmar Siilasvuo. Defending against them were Soviet 54. infantry division, which was commanded by MJ. Gen. I.V. Panin, and was reinforced at August with 88. infantry division (MJ. Gen. A.I. Zelentsov) and IR1087 and at November with 186. infantry division and one border guard regiment.

The Corps was ordered to attack towards Uhtua (now Kalevala) and Kiestinki (now Kestenga). When the offensive started on 1 July, the attack was slowed by a Soviet delaying defence and it took until 9 July before the Soviet defences at the river Vuonnisenjoki in the south, and 20 July before the river Sohjananjoki in the north were reached. In the south, the attack continued on 11 July by a flanking attack across the Lake Ylä-Kuittijärvi, but the Soviet defence was so efficient, that the attack had to be stopped in early September without reaching Uhtua, still 10 km away, as the attacking forces had to relocate two battalions to the northern group.

The northern group was reinforced with one infantry regiment from the SS Division "Nord", and the attack continued on July 30. A week later Kiestinki was captured, and the attack continued along the road and railroad eastward. Finnish 53IR advanced much faster along the railroad than other forces, which advanced along the road. The commander of the newly arrived Soviet 88.ID recognized an opportunity, and the Soviet IR758 attacked across the forest behind the Finnish IR, managing to encircle it on 20 August, making IR53 the largest Finnish unit the Soviets managed to encircle during the war.

Finns managed to open a path through the forest next day, but the supply route via the railroad remained closed, so the IR53 retreated through the forest on September 2 after destroying abandoned material. Finnish forces were reinforced with the second IR from SS-Div "Nord", and the Soviet counter attack was stopped 10–15 km east of Kiestinki.

During October the forces were supplied, rested and reinforced with the rest of the SS Division "Nord", but von Falkenhorst and Siilasvuo planned to start a new attack in November. OKW gave order to AOK Norwegen not to attack, but prepare for defence. However, von Falkenhorst and Siilasvuo still started their offensive on November 1. The Finns managed to break through the Soviet defences and one Soviet IR was encircled between Finns and Germans. The situation was threatening to Soviets and they started to transfer the new 186 infantry division from Murmansk to Kiestinki. Mannerheim contacted Siilasvuo and ordered him to stop the attack, as it endangered Finland's relations with the United States. Also OKW repeated its order to von Falkenhorst to stop the offensive, release the SS Division "Nord" and transfer it to Germany. When the order to move to defensive operations was given on 17 November, the last attempt to reach Murmansk railroad failed.

Naval warfare at Gulf of Finland

After the Winter War and the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states the Soviet Navy entered the war from a strong position; the Red banner Baltic fleet (KBF) was the largest navy on the Baltic sea (2 battleships, 2 light cruisers, 19 destroyers, 68 submarines 709 aircraft of the navy aviation). With a Soviet naval base at Hanko in southern Finland and Soviet control of the Baltic states the Finnish concern was that it would be easy for the Soviet Union to blockade Finland, and the long Finnish coast would be vulnerable to Soviet amphibious assaults.

The Finnish Navy (Merivoimat) was divided into two branches, coastal artillery and the navy. A string of fixed coastal artillery forts had been built by the Russians before World War I (Peter the Great's Naval Fortress) and was now maintained by the Finns. The Navy was small, consisting of 2 coastal defense ships, 5 submarines and a number of small craft.

The German Navy could only provide a small part of its naval force to the Baltic Sea as it was tied up in the war with Great Britain. Germany's main concern in the Baltic sea was to protect the routes which supplied its war industry with vital iron ore imported from Sweden.

Cooperation between Germany and Finland was closest in the Baltic sea/Gulf of Finland theater and already before the war both sides had agreed on using the naval tactics from WWI. Both navies would use mine warfare in order to neutralize the superiority of the Soviet navy and let the land forces seek the victory. The naval base at Hanko was to be besieged. Hours prior to Operation Barbarossa, Finnish and German navies began to lay mine belts in the Baltic and in the Gulf of Finland. Already on the second day of the war, the Soviet navy lost its first destroyer to a mine. Because of this tactic, the Soviets were unable to make use of their superior Navy and its losses increased over the summer of 1941.

As its naval bases at Riga and Liepaja were lost, the Soviet Navy withdrew to Tallinn. By the end of August, German troops surrounded Tallinn and the Soviets were preparing an evacuation from the sea. As a countermeasure to this the German and the Finnish navy dropped 2400 mines, to add to the 600 mines already in the sea lanes outside Tallinn. German artillery was set up at Cap Jumida and a couple of Finnish and German torpedo boats were put on alert. The Soviet evacuation consisted of 160 ships, which evacuated 28 000 people (including Communist leadership and their families, army and navy personnel and 10,000 Estonians drawn into forced labor)and 66,000 tons of materiel. The evacuation began on the night of the 27 August, at the same time as the first German troops entered the city. During the embarkation the Soviet navy was under constant attack by German bombers and artillery; particularly as the armada reached the heavily-mined Cap Jumida. At midnight of the 28th the armada ran into the minefield of Cap Jumida while being attacked by Finnish and German torpedo boats; casualties were heavy, 65 of the 160 ships were lost, and several more were damaged. 16,000 of the 28,000 evacuees perished. With very small means the German and the Finnish navies had delivered a serious blow to the Soviet navy. It withdrew to the Kronstadt naval base outside of Leningrad where its capital ships would remain until the summer of 1944.

Soon after this the Finnish navy suffered its heaviest loss on 13 September 1941, when the Finnish coastal defence ship Ilmarinen hit a mine and sank during Operation Nordwind, killing 271 Finnish sailors on board.

Soviet forces still held the naval base at Hanko on the southwest coast of Finland, but as the Siege of Leningrad tightened, it had lost its importance and was evacuated by December 1941.

Political development

On 10 July, the Finnish army began a major offensive on the Karelian Isthmus and north of Lake Ladoga. Mannerheim's order of the day, the Sword scabbard declaration, clearly states that the Finnish involvement was an offensive one. By the end of August 1941, Finnish troops had reached the pre-war boundaries. The crossing of the pre-war borders led to tensions in the army, the cabinet, the parties of the parliament, and domestic opinion. Military expansionism might have gained popularity, but it was far from unanimously championed.

Also, international relations were strained — notably with Britain and Sweden, whose governments in May and June had learned in confidence from Foreign Minister Witting that Finland had absolutely no plans for a military campaign coordinated with the Germans. Finland's preparations were said to be purely defensive.

Sweden's leading cabinet members had hoped to improve the relations with Nazi Germany through indirect support of Operation Barbarossa, mainly channelled through Finland. Prime Minister Hansson and Foreign Minister Günther found however, that the political support in the National Unity Government and within the Social Democratic organizations turned out to be insufficient, particularly after Mannerheim's Sword Scabbard Declaration, and even more so after Finland within less than two months undeniably had begun a war of conquest. A tangible effect was that Finland became still more dependent on food and munitions from Germany.

The Commonwealth put Finland under blockade and the British ambassador was withdrawn. On 31 July 1941, British RAF made an air raid on the northern Finnish port of Petsamo. Damages were limited since the harbour was almost empty of ships.

On 11 September, the US ambassador Arthur Schoenfeld was informed that the offensive on the Karelian Isthmus was halted on the pre-Winter War border (with a few straightened curves at the municipalities of Valkeasaari and Kirjasalo), and that "under no conditions" would Finland participate in an offensive against Leningrad, but would instead maintain static defence and wait for a political resolution. Witting stressed to Schoenfeld that Germany, however, should not hear of this. Mannerheim's refusal to attack Leningrad was what ultimately saved Leningrad, for if a coordinated German-Finnish attack had been launched in September 1941 there is a little doubt that the Soviet defence of the city would have been overwhelmed.

On 22 September, a British note was presented (by Norway's ambassador Michelet) demanding the expulsion of German troops from Finland's territory and Finland's withdrawal from East Karelia to positions behind the pre-Winter War borders. Finland was threatened by a British declaration of war unless the demands were met. The declaration of war was exacted on Finland's Independence Day, 6 December. The declaration delayed the state of war until 1200GMT 7 December. The timing with respect to Japanese naval movements toward southeast Asian colonies indicates British declaration of war in the Soviet-Finnish conflict was expected to encourage Soviet declaration against Japan.

In December 1941, the Finnish advance had reached River Svir (which connects the southern ends of Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega and marks the southern border of East Karelia). By the end of 1941, the front stabilized, and the Finns did not conduct major offensive operations for the following two and a half years. The fighting morale of the troops declined when it was realized that the war would not soon end.

It has been suggested that the execution of the prominent pacifist Arndt Pekurinen in November 1941 was due to fear of army demoralization being exacerbated by such activism.

Trench warfare 1942–1943

Diplomatic manoeuvres

Operation Barbarossa was planned as a blitzkrieg lasting a few weeks. British and US observers believed that the invasion would be concluded before August. In the autumn of 1941, this turned out to be wrong, and leading Finnish military officers started to doubt Germany's capability. German troops in Northern Finland faced circumstances they were not properly prepared for, and failed badly to reach their targets, most importantly Murmansk. Finland's strategy now changed. A separate peace with the Soviet Union was offered, but Germany's strength was too great. The idea that Finland had to continue the war while putting its own forces at the least possible danger gained increasing support, perhaps in the hopes that the Wehrmacht and the Red Army would wear each other down enough for negotiations to begin, or to at least get them out of the way of Finland's independent decisions. Some may also have still hoped for an eventual victory by Germany.

Finland's participation in the war brought major benefits to Germany. The Soviet fleet was blockaded in the Gulf of Finland, so that the Baltic was freed for the training of German submarine crews as well as for German shipping, especially for the transport of the vital iron ore from northern Sweden, and nickel and rare metals needed in steel processing from the Petsamo area. The Finnish front secured the northern flank of the German Army Group North in the Baltic states. The sixteen Finnish divisions tied down numerous Soviet troops, put pressure on Leningrad — although Mannerheim refused to attack — and threatened the Murmansk railway. Additionally, Sweden was further isolated and was increasingly pressured to comply with German and Finnish wishes, though with limited success.

Despite Finland's contributions to the German cause, the Western Allies had ambivalent feelings, torn between residual goodwill for Finland and the need to accommodate their vital ally, the Soviet Union. As a result, Britain declared war against Finland, but the United States did not. With few exceptions, there was no combat between these countries and Finland, but Finnish sailors were interned overseas. In the United States, Finland was denounced for naval attacks made on American Lend-Lease shipments, but received approval for continuing to make payments on its World War I debt throughout the inter-war period.

Because Finland belonged to the Anti-Comintern Pact and signed other agreements with Germany, Italy and Japan, the Allies characterized Finland as one of the Axis Powers, although the term used in Finland is "co-belligerence with Germany".

International volunteers and support

Like in the Winter War, Swedish volunteers were recruited. Until December, for guarding the Soviet naval base at Hanko, that was then evacuated by sea, and the Swedish unit was officially disbanded. During the Continuation War, the volunteers signed for three to six months of service. In all, over 1,600 fought for Finland, though only about 60 remained by the summer of 1944. About a third of the volunteers had been engaged already in the Winter War. Another significant group, about a quarter of the men, were Swedish officers on leave.

There was also an SS battalion of volunteers on the northern Finnish front from 1942 to 1944, that was recruited from Norway, then under German occupation, and similarly some Danes.

About 3,400 Estonian volunteers took part in the Continuation War.

On other occasions, the Finns received around 2,100 Soviet prisoners of war in return for those POWs they turned over to the Germans. These POWs were mainly Estonians and Karelians who were willing to join the Finnish army. These, as well as some volunteers from occupied Eastern Karelia, formed the Kin Battalion (Finnish: "Heimopataljoona"). At the end of the war, the USSR required members of the Kin Battalion to be handed over. Some managed to escape before or during transport, but most of them were either sent to the Gulag or executed.

Jews in Finland

Finland refused to allow extension of Nazi anti-Semitic practices. Finnish Jews served in the Finnish army, and Jews were not only tolerated in Finland but most Jewish refugees were granted asylum (only 8 of more than 500 refugees were handed over to the Nazis). The field synagogue in Eastern Karelia was one of the very few on the Axis side during the war. In the few cases in which Jewish officers from Finland's defence forces were awarded the German Iron Cross, they declined.

Finnish occupation policy

About 2,600–2,800 Soviet prisoners of war were handed over to the Germans. Most of them (around 2,000) joined the Russian Liberation Army. Many of the rest were army officers and political officers, and based on their names, 74 of them were Jews, most of them dying in Nazi concentration camps, while some were given to the Gestapo for interrogation. Sometimes these hand overs were demanded in return for arms or food.

The latter was especially scarce in 1942 in Finland due to a bad harvest, and for primarily this reason the number of deaths in Finnish camps rose dramatically. Punishments for escape attempts or serious breaking of rules included solitary confinement and execution. Out of 64,188 Soviet POWs, 18,318 died in Finnish prisoner of war camps.

After the war, based on the testimonies of the former prisoners of war, criminal charges were preferred against 1,381 Finnish camp staff, resulting in 723 convictions and 658 persons released. They were accused of 42 executions and 242 murders. There were the seven cases led death under the request of former prisoners, 10 cases of death as a result of the tortures, eight infringements of property rights, 280 official infringements and 86 other crimes.

A significant number of Soviet immigrants who had come to East Karelia after 1917 were placed in concentration camps. These were Russian women, young children, and the elderly as almost all of the working age male and female population was either drafted or evacuated: only ⅓ of original population of 470,000 remained in East Karelia when the Finnish occupiers arrived, and only half of them were Karelians. About 30% (24,000) of the remaining Russian population were confined in camps, 6,000 of them refugees on the move captured when awaiting Soviet transportation over Lake Onega, and 3,000 from the southern side of the River Svir, allegedly to secure the area behind the front line against partisan attacks. The first of the camps were set up on 24 October 1941 in Petrozavodsk. During the spring and summer of 1942 3,500 detainees died of malnutrition. During the last half of 1942 the number of detainees dropped quickly to 15,000 as people were released to their homes or were resettled to the "safe" villages, and as the nutrition situation improved, only 500 more people died during the last two years of war. During the following years Finns detained a few thousand more civilians from partisan active areas, but as the releases continued the total number of detained remained at 13,000–14,000.

Soviet partisan activity

Soviet partisans operated in Finland and in Karelia from 1941 to 1944. 24,000 ethnic Russians were interned by occupying Finnish forces. 4,000–7,000 of them died, mostly from hunger during the spring and summer of 1942 due to failed harvest of 1941. Segregation in education and medical care between Karelians and Russians created resentment, making many ethnic Russians support the partisan attacks.

Soviet partisans conducted a number of operations. The major one failed when the 1st Partisan Brigade was destroyed in the beginning of August 1942 at lake Seesjärvi. Partisans distributed propaganda newspapers "Pravda" in Finnish language and "Lenin's Banner" in Russian language. One of the leaders of the partisan movement in Finland and Karelia was Yuri Andropov. In East Karelia most partisans attacked Finnish military supply and communication targets, but on the Finnish side of the border, almost two thirds of the attacks targeted civilians, killing 200 and injuring 50, including children and elderly.

Soviet offensive 1944

Overtures for peace

Finland began to actively seek a way out of the war after the disastrous German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in January–February 1943. Edwin Linkomies formed a new cabinet with peace as the top priority. Negotiations were conducted intermittently in 1943–44 between Finland and its representative, Juho Kusti Paasikivi, on the one side and the Western Allies and the Soviet Union on the other but no agreement was reached. Stalin decided to force Finland to surrender; a terror bombing campaign followed. The air campaign in February 1944 included three major air attacks on Helsinki involving a total of over 6000 bombing sorties. However, Finnish anti-aircraft defences managed to repel the raids; it is estimated that only about 5% of the bombs hit the planned targets. Major air attacks also hit Oulu and Kotka but, because of radio intelligence and effective AA defences, the number of casualties was small.

Recapture of Karelian Isthmus

On 9 June 1944, the Soviet Union opened a major offensive against Finnish positions on the Karelian Isthmus and in the Lake Ladoga area (it was timed to accompany D-Day). On the second day of the offensive, the Soviet forces broke through the Finnish lines and, in the succeeding days, made advances that appeared to threaten the survival of Finland. On the 21.7 km wide breakthrough point the Soviet Union had concentrated 2,851 45-mm guns and 130 50-mm guns. On the heaviest places in Karelian isthmus, the Soviet Union had concentrated over 200 guns for each frontier kilometer (one for each 5m). On 9 June, Soviet artillery fired over 80,000 rounds at the Karelian isthmus. Soviet troops liberated Petrozavodsk on 28 June 1944. Before they retreated, the Finns delivered two weeks worth of food to the locals.

Finland especially lacked modern anti-tank weaponry, which could stop heavy Soviet tanks, and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop offered them in exchange for a guarantee that Finland would not again seek a separate peace. On 26 June, President Risto Ryti gave this guarantee as a personal undertaking, which he intended to last for the remainder of his presidency. In addition to material deliveries, Hitler sent some assault gun brigades and a Luftwaffe fighter-bomber unit to temporarily support the most threatened defence sectors.

With new supplies from Germany, the Finns were now able to handle the crisis, and halted the Soviets in early July 1944. At this point, the Finnish forces had retreated about one hundred kilometres bringing them to approximately the same line of defence they had held at the end of the Winter War. This line was known as the VKT-line (for "Viipuri–Kuparsaari–Taipale", running from Vyborg to River Vuoksi, and along the river to Lake Ladoga at Taipale) where the Soviet offensive was stopped in the Battle of Tali-Ihantala in spite of their numerical and material superiority. Finland had already become a sideshow for the Soviet leadership, who now turned their attention to Poland and southeastern Europe. The Allies had already succeeded in their landing in France and were pushing towards Germany, and the Soviet leadership did not want to give them a free hand in Central Europe. Although the Finnish front was once again stabilized, the Finns were exhausted and wanted to get out of the war.

Armistice and the aftermath

Mannerheim had repeatedly reminded the Germans that in case their troops in Estonia retreated, Finland would be forced to make peace even on extremely unfavourable terms. Soviet-occupied Estonia would have provided the Soviets a favourable base for amphibious invasions and air attacks against Helsinki and other cities, and would have strangled Finnish access to the sea. When the Germans indeed withdrew, the Finnish desire to end the war increased. Perhaps realizing the validity of this point, initial German reaction to Finland's announcement of ambitions for a separate peace was limited to only verbal opposition. However, the Germans arrested hundreds of sailors on Finnish merchant ships in Germany, Denmark and Norway.

President Ryti resigned, making a separate peace possible, and Finland's military leader and national hero, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, was extraordinarily appointed president by the parliament, accepting responsibility for ending the war.

On 4 September, the cease-fire ended military actions on the Finnish side. The Soviet Union ended hostilities exactly 24 hours after the Finns. The Moscow armistice was signed in Moscow on 19 September between the Soviet Union and Finland. Finland had to make many concessions: the Soviet Union regained the borders of 1940, with the addition of the Petsamo area; the Porkkala peninsula (adjacent to Finland's capital Helsinki) was leased to the USSR as a naval base for fifty years and transit rights were granted; Finland's army was to be demobilized with haste, and Finland was required to expel all German troops from its territory within 14 days. As the Germans did not leave Finland in time for the given deadline, the Finns fought their former allies in the Lapland War. The Finns were also to clear the mine fields in Karelia (including East Karelia) and in the Gulf of Finland. The demining was a long operation, especially in the sea areas, lasting until 1952 and inflicted casualties of 100 killed and over 200 wounded, most of them in Lapland.

Nevertheless, in contrast to the rest of the Eastern front countries, where the war was fought to the end, a Soviet occupation of Finland did not occur and Finland retained sovereignty. Neither did Communists rise to power as they had in Eastern Bloc countries. A policy called the Paasikivi-Kekkonen line formed the basis of Finnish foreign policy towards the Soviet Union until its dissolution.

As with the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, the United States government did not recognize the Soviet annexation of western Karelia neither in 1940 nor 1944.


Aims of the War

Unlike the Winter War, which was a Soviet war of aggression against Finland, the Continuation War was a war of aggression initiated by the Finns, which attempted to rectify the territorial losses of the Winter War and pre-empt Soviet aggression. There is a debate in Finland on whether the country had a realistic option of not joining the German Operation Barbarossa, and about how much of the Finnish action was morally justified. However, there exists a consensus that one of the main Finnish objectives was an attempt to get back the areas lost in the Winter War.

Finland's main goal during World War II was, although it was nowhere openly stated, to survive the war as an independent democratic country, capable of maintaining its sovereignty in a politically hostile environment. Specifically for the Continuation War, Finland also aimed at reversing its territorial losses under the March 1940 Moscow Peace Treaty and by extending its territory further east, to have more non-Finnish land to defend before armies from the USSR could enter Finnish territories. Some small right-wing groups also supported a Greater Finland ideology. Finland's efforts during World War II were, as regards survival and with hindsight, successful, although the price was high in war casualties, reparation payments, territorial loss, bruised international reputation, and subsequent adaptation to Soviet international perspectives during the Cold War (see: Finlandization). The Finnish-German alliance was different from most of the other Axis relationships, an example of which is represented by the participation of Finnish Jews in the fight against the Soviet Union. The Finns did not take any anti-Jewish measures in Finland, despite repeated requests from Nazi Germany.

The Soviet Union's war goals are harder to assess on account of the secretive nature of the Stalinist Soviet Union. Soviet sources maintain that Soviet policies up to the Continuation War were best explained as defensive measures by offensive means: the division of occupied Poland with Germany, the occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and the attempted invasion of Finland in the Winter War are seen by them as elements in the construction of a security zone or buffer region between the perceived threat from the capitalist powers of Western Europe and the Communist Soviet Union – as some see the post-war establishment of Soviet satellite states in the Warsaw Pact countries and the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance concluded with post-war Finland. Notable modern western scholars such as Norman Davies and John Lukacs reject this view and claim that the pre-war Soviet policy was aimed at staying out of the war and regaining land lost after the fall of the Russian Empire.

Battles and operations

See also


Further reading

  • Vehviläinen, Olli (2002). Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia. New York: Palgrave. ISBN 0-333-80149-0.
  • Jokipii, Mauno (1987). Jatkosodan synty. Otava. ISBN 951-1-08799-1.
  • Sana, Elina (1994). Luovutetut/ The Extradited: Finland's Extraditions to the Gestapo. WSOY. ISBN 951-0-27975-7.
  • Seppinen, Ilkka (1983). Suomen Ulkomaankaupan ehdot 1939–1944. ISBN 951-9254-48-X.
  • Schwartz, Andrew J. (1960). America and the Russo-Finnish War. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press.
  • Platonov, S.P. (editor) (1964). Битва за Ленинград. Voenizdat Ministerstva oborony SSSR.
  • Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulun Historian laitos (editor) (1994). Jatkosodan historia 1–6. WSOY.
  • Leskinen, Jari & Juutilainen, Antti (editors) (2005). Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen. WSOY. ISBN 951-0-28690-7.
  • Хельге Сеппяля Финляндия как оккупант в 1941–1944 годах Журнал "Север" ISSN 0131-6222, 1995. See
  • Finnish National Archive Luovutukset: Research on prisoner-of-war deaths, extraditions and deportations from Finland between 1939–55, Research project, See
  • Wuorinen, John H. (editor) (1948). Finland and World War II 1939–1944. The Ronald Press Company.

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