The Field

The regiments that schussed into battle

The Phoney War was a confusing time for the British Army, spent waiting aimlessly in trenches on France’s eastern marches. One theatre of early World War Two that was decidedly active, however, was the Russo-Finish War. In one of history’s great David and Goliath contests, the Finns more than held their own against the considerably larger Red Army. Much of the ‘Winter War’ took place on the Karelian Isthmus. Here, the Soviets found the Mannerheim Line to be a very tough nut to crack; fighting was positional and tactics conventional.

To the north – in Karelia and Lapland – Finnish tactics were anything but conventional. The Finns were excellent outdoorsmen and put their skiing skills to good use in the sub-Arctic winter. In a war of small units, white camouflage, covert movement, ambush and sniping, the legend of the ‘White Death’ emerged – at the Battle of Suomussalmi, three Finnish regiments destroyed two Soviet divisions.

Churchill, not yet Prime Minister but displaying ‘Churchillian’ leadership, asserted himself in Chamberlain’s War Cabinet. Thrusting to intervene, not least to inhibit German access to Swedish iron,

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