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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finland's Last (?) Two Wars

The front cover shows German mountain troops on the march towards Loukhi in Soviet/Russian Karelia.

Finland's War of Choice covers a great deal of WWII history that is virtually unknown to most English-only readers. About time, as several of the battles covered in this book are among the most extreme in the history of warfare.

Aside from learning much about the Finnish and Soviet armies, the reader will gain insight into the German 20th Mountain Army.

The book's author, retired US Army Colonel Henrik O. Lunde, was born in Norway. Thus his interest in Nordic history is natural, and he had some advantages for this book project from his background.

I liked Lunde's previous book, Hitler's Preemptive War: The Battle for Norway, 1940, but I have a similar problem with both books. However, let me start with the very first impression the book makes through the images on the front and back covers. These photographs (and the others inside) have been chosen wisely. They are not well known but are both strong images and say something about both the troops and terrain in focus.

The Germans on the front cover are Gebirgsjägers (mountain troops) advancing towards Loukhi in May, 1942. From studying the photo closely I can add that the NCO in the centre is wearing a Narvik shield and thus must be a veteran of the 1940 battle of Narvik. The Finnish troops on the back cover are crossing the Murmansk railway in October, 1941. They are wearing various helmet types, the soldier closest to the camera a Swedish one.

I understand there already exists a new edition (book club edition?) of this book with another photo on the front cover, one of the most used photos from Finland during the Winter War, and not the two wars described in this book. Yes, the title is lacking not least because the book describes both Finland's “war of choice” and the hopefully very last war in Finnish history, the Lapland War (Finland vs. Germany 1944-45).

The book starts with a very brief summary of the Winter War of 1939-40, that is useful but the author is incorrect in stating that “assistance from the west had not materialized”. In fact, both British and French aircraft did materialize. Not in any vast numbers, but worthy of mention together with the fact that they were sent via Sweden.

Although the Winter War is not the main subject of this book another fact about it that Colonel Lunde could have been mentioned is that the Red Army attacked also in the north, threatening to cut Finland in half and seizing the roads and railway to Sweden.

What Lunde does best is to give English-only readers a detailed description of the Soviet-Finnish War of 1941-44, in Finland and Sweden mostly called the Continuation War, meaning a continuation of the Winter War. Lunde argues against using the Finnish term Continuation War. He has a point there. But was it instead a Finnish war of choice? Actually, Lunde delivers three arguments for renaming his book.

First, Lunde writes about the aftermath of the Winter War, that it left Finland with a “monumental problem” of having to move about half a million Finnish citizens to other parts of Finland. The country at the time had a population of a mere 3,7 million. I agree with Lunde but believe that even more important was the pressure from Finnish society to make it possible for the very large refugee part of the Finnish population to return to their home towns and villages.

Secondly, the ceded territories were of great military significance to Finland. The peninsula of Hanko was by itself, to use Marshal Mannerheim's words (quoted by Lunde), “a pistol aimed at the heart of the country and its most important communications”.

Thirdly, as Lunde writes:

“There are no doubts that the Soviets followed a policy that made Finland fear for its safety. This short-sighted policy helped propel isolated Finland into the arms of Germany. For example, at the time of the Moscow Peace in March 1940, Finland approached Sweden and Norway about a defensive alliance. Things looked promising until the Soviet Union vetoed the idea. Such an alliance may [might?] have worked to the great advantage of the Soviets by causing the Germans to have second thoughts about their planned attack on Denmark and Norway.”

Lunde adds that a second attempt at a Nordic alliance, consisting of just Finland and Sweden, was also stopped by the Soviet Union, in October 1940. Slightly concealed under this great “what if” lies another one. What if the Germans in 1941 could have attacked the Soviet Union also with those troops that were stationed in the Nordic countries?

In spite of my argument against the book's title – basically I believe it was only partly a war of choice - and other aspects, I consider this book a real must for English-only readers interested of Nordic WWII history.

The book has 409 pages and contains 14 maps.

1 comment:

  1. Lundes book relies heavily on two earlier books, which are not decades, but half a century old. One author is Ziemke, an the other is mentioned in the notes.

    When Lunde draws his own conclusions, these are drawn from the age old illusions of Allies Good, German Bad world view.

    When Lunde has refferred to recent studies, or even a few decades old studies, he has clearly been relaying on his Finnish contacts, and he manages to draw conlusions which cannot be drawn from the secondary sources he's used, and manages to get crucial details wrong.

    A book, that is at the status of research half a century ago.