The Winter War (1989)



Director:   Pekka Parikka

Starring:   Taneli Mäkelä (Martti Hakala), Vesa Vierikko (Jussi Kantola), Timo Torikka (Pentti Saari), Heikki Paavilainen (Vilho Erkkilä), Antti Raivio (Erkki Somppi), Esko Kovero ( Juho Pernaa), Martti Suosalo (Arvi Huhtala), Markku Huhtamo (Aatos Laitila), Matti Onnismaa (Veikko Korpela), Konsta Mäkelä (Paavo Hakala), Tomi Salmela (Matti Ylinen), Samuli Edelmann (Mauri Haapasalo), Vesa Mäkelä (Yrjö Haavisto), Aarno Sulkanen (Battalion Commander), Kari Kihlström (Jorma Potila).

Soon after the German invasion of Poland in September, 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland in late November.  A platoon of Finnish reservists from the municipality of Kauhava answered the call.  The film focuses on two farmer brothers,  Martti and Paavo Hakala.


The movie opens up with the following information:

"In the autumn of 1939, to secure the city of Leningrad and to obtain a military base on the Baltic Sea, Joseph Stalin demanded from Finland territory on the Correlian Isthmus.  The Soviet Union had already obtained the bases that it had demanded in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Finland refused to relinquish its territory and on November 30, 1939, the Red Army attacked Finland with the aim of occupying the country.  Thus began the Winter War which was to last for 105 days.  When peace was proclaimed on March 13,1940, Finland had maintained its independence.  Its army had succeeded in routing an overwhelmingly superior enemy force."

The film The Winter War is based on the military journals of the 23rd Infantry Regiment and on the recollections of the men who fought in it.

Leningrad was located at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland.  A short distance north of the city is Finland.  The Russians attacked heading between the Gulf of Finland on the west and Lake Lagoda on the east.  The map of Finland used in the movie shows three towns: Ayrapaa, located in the center of the corridor; Vuosalmi, located just northeast of Ayrapaa; and Taipale on the eastern edge of Lake Lagoda and east of the other two Finnish towns. 

October 13, 1939.  The Finns are preparing for war with Russia.  The boys' mother asks the older son, Martti,  to look out for the younger son, Paavo.   The Finns are mostly citizen soldiers reporting for duty.  The Finns have a hard time supplying their men with even some of the very basics of a soldier's belongings.

The character Ylli is an older gentleman who talks about his previous experiences with war, mainly the Civil War of 1918 when they th5rew out Otto Ville Kuusinen.  The men wonder if Sweden will help them or perhaps America will come to their aid, but these ideas are rejected as too illusionary. 

The fellows are being sent to Seinajoki village.  Much of their transportation is via horses and walking with very few motorized vehicles.  While the Finns have a very primitive army technology wise, the Russians have air planes, heavy artillery, tanks and flame thrower capability.  Other than rifles and machine guns, the Finns only have a few pieces of light artillery.

One does not have time to identify too much with the characters because there are so many of them and many get killed early on in the film. 

While much of the Winter War was fought in guerilla style, the movie focuses on the Finns stopping numerous Russian frontal assaults on Finnish positions, which consisted largely of trenches and small ad-hoc bunkers. 

As the men engage in battle, the Russians are located along the River Taipale and got across the river the previous day.  The Parssinen forest is on the left.  They fend off many Russian frontal assaults.  Then they rest at Ylajarvi.  Then the men prepare to cross to Ayrapaa ridge where they will ambush the Russians if they try to cross the river there.  (If the Russians cross the river, the entire Taipale front could be cut off.)

The majority of the movie, in fact, consists of one battle scene after another.  There is the story of the two brothers, but that does not really give us much insight into either of the brother's characters.  This is literally a war movie. 

And long before Saving Private Ryan, the Finns made a very realistic war movie with some very bloody scenes.  

It's certainly not of the the greatest war movies, but it is interesting and one does have to admire the Finn's fighting spirit. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1920  --  the Finnish–Russian border was established in the Treaty of Tartu, which granted Petsamo and its Barents Sea harbor to Finland. 

prior to the Winter War (1939-1940)  --  during negotiations between the Soviet Union and Finland, Stalin offered Repola and Porajärvi in the Republic of Karelia in exchange for a smaller area on the Karelian Isthmus.  The Finns rejected the offer. 

1939-1940  --  the Winter War (also known as the Soviet-Finnish War or the Russo-Finnish War).

1939 (November 30)  --  the Soviet Union attacked Finland three months after the start of World War II.  Stalin thought the Soviet troops would capture the whole of Finland and that the Winter War would be over by the end of the year 1939. 

1939 (December 14)  --  Soviet Union expelled from the League of Nations. 

1940 (March)  --  the Soviets had three times as many men as the Finns, but Finland (with 180,000 troops) was able to hold out until March 1940.  The Finns defeated the Soviet objective of conquering the whole of Finland. 

1940 --  in the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940, Finland ceded most of Finnish Karelia, Salla and Petsamo.

The Finns were better prepared for winter war: they used white camouflage suits and employed guerrilla tactics.  They especially attacked vulnerable points of the Soviets, such as field kitchens and men sitting around camp fires.  

Soviet leadership was very poor.  Because of Stalin's purges, the Red Army had lost 80% of its experienced commanders.  These were replaced with more politically competent, but less militarily competent, officers.  Military experience now was more important than politics in the appointment and promotion of officers in the Red Army.

Soviet losses were extensive.  The poor showing of the Soviet troops helped convince Hitler that an invasion of the Soviet Union would be successful. In this sense, the invasion of Finland was a military disaster for the Soviets. (On the other hand, the experience helped the Soviets modernize their army, better preparing them for the coming Soviet Invasion.)

In the peace treaty that followed, Finland had to cede 10% of its territory (around Lake Ladoga) and 20% of its industrial capacity.

1941-1944  --  the Continuation War.  Finland fought the Soviet Union with the German Operation Barbarossa in which Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

1941-1944  -  Repola was occupied by the Finnish 14th Division.  It was then recaptured by Soviet forces.

1944-1945  --  in the Lapland War Finland forced the Germans out of northern Finland.

1947 and 1948  --  in treaties with the Soviet Union, Finland had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union.




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