Finland faced a terrible dilemma during the Second World War. To the east she was threatened by the Soviet Union, which made repeated claims on Finnish territory, and demonstrated elsewhere that she was perfectly willing to revive the territorial claims of Imperial Russia. To the west was neutral Sweden, and after 1940 German-occupied Norway. France and Britain were sympathetic, but unable to provide much real help while facing Nazi Germany. To the south was Nazi Germany, an unsavoury regime, but a country that had helped the Finns win their independence from Russia after the Russian Revolution. During this period the Finns fought two wars against the Soviet Union – the famous Winter War and the less well known and far more controversial 'Continuation War'.
There are plenty of books on the Winter War, and some on the Continuation War, but this is a rare example of a book that covers both, as well as the political background within Finland and the other Nordic states. The coverage of the fighting is good, but its the political background that is most useful. The author has used an impressive range of sources to unravel what the key figures within Finland were doing during this period, uncovering a series of political decisions made behind closed doors. These helped propel Finland into the Winter War, when Finland's political leaders probably misjudged Stalin's aims (although given his track record elsewhere they can be forgiven for assuming he intended to occupy the entire country), and then between the wars forced Finland into a secret military alliance with Germany without going through the Finnish parliament.
Johansen also covers two unusual areas – the wider Nordic response to Finland's predicament (Sweden, Denmark and Norway 1940 and Sweden after the German invasions of Denmark and Norway), and the darker aspects of the war – the Finnish treatment of non-Finns in areas they occupied during the Continuation War and the terrible fate of Soviet prisoners of war. This last aspect is particularity disturbing, and suggested that Finnish nationalists were closer in attitude to their German allies than they would have admitted at the time. The death rate amongst Soviet POWs may have been as high as 33%, making these camps some of the worst of the entire war.
For the majority of the Finnish population this part of the war would have been entirely unknown, as these camps were in newly occupied areas. To most Finns this was a justified war for national survival fought against one of the world's worst totalitarian regimes. The fiction that this was a separate war, fought at the same time as the German conflict with the Soviet Union, but not as part of that wider war, probably helped ease a lot of consciences in Finland.
This is an excellent history of this difficult period in Finnish history, one that is still controversial in Finland. Johansen has covered a wider than normal range of topics, giving us a much more comprehensive view of these two wars and their political context.
Part One: The Winter War 30 November 1939-13 March 1940
I - Prelude
II - Two Armies
III - The First Month of the War
IV - The Second Month of the War
V - The Third Month of the War
VI - Endgame in March
Part Two: The Interim Peace 13 March 1940-25 June 1941
I - Little Country - What Now?
II - Brothers in Arms
III - The Finnish Choice
Part Three: The Continuation War 25 June 1941-19 September 1944
I - Reconquests and More
II - Crossing the Border
III - PoW Camps and Internment Camps for Civilians
IV - Trench War
V - The Volunteers
VI - Peace Negotiations in Trouble
VII - The Soviet Steamroller
Part Four: The Last War - And the Peace
I - The Lapland War
II - The Post War Era
Author: Claes Johansen
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military