The Continuation War 1940-1944

The moment Finland signed the Moscow Peace Treaty on the 12th of March 1940, Finland began preparing for the next war. The shooting stopped the next day, but a partial state of war continued. The temporariness of the peace is shown by that e.g. Mannerheim was still the supreme commander (1).

When Germany occupied Denmark and Norway, and the Soviet Union invaded the Baltic states, fear of a new attack grew in Finland. The Soviet Union still dealt with Finland as part of its interest sphere in accordance with the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (2). Fear of losing our independence drove Finland to ask help from Germany. Finland had had a bad year, and Germany gave Finland grain and weapons. In 1940 Germany was planning operation Barbarossa. The main reason for Germany to want to help Finland was because of our long border shared with the Soviet Union.

When the preparations for the attack for started in 1941, the Finnish military command was involved. The same year German troops came to Finland, and at the same time Finland’s purchases of weaponry from Germany increased notably. On June 14th the command of Finnish troops in Northern Finland was transferred to the Germans. Three days after the transfer of command, the command was given for the mobilization of the entire Finnish army. On the 22nd of June Germany began operation Barbarossa, and the German air force and navy began their operations in Finland. Hitler, the infamous leader of Germany, said in a radio speech that Finland was an ally of Germany. Finland’s president Risto Rytihastened to keep his own radio speech in which he corrected the impression that Hitler had given of us being allies. Ryti said that Finland and Germany were merely fighting side-by-side for different goals. Finland never had a treaty with Germany.

The Soviet Union began bombing Helsinki on June 25th which is three days after the beginning of operation Barbarossa. On the same day Finland declared war on the Soviet Union. The Continuation War had began.

The Continuation War has many names. It is called the Compensation War, the Union War, the Separate War and the Continuation War. For Finns the war was one of compensation, it was Finland avenging the Winter War and the harsh Moscow Peace Treaty. The war is called the Continuation War, because the Moscow Peace Treaty was never viewed as a real peace treaty, only a pause. It is called the Union War, because weren’t alone, like during the Winter War. We had help, and that help was Germany.

Finland had bought weapons and equipment from Germany, so the situation of Finnish troops from that aspect were far better. The troops of Northern Finland were stronger since they had a lot of Germans in their ranks.

There was an idea amongst the Finns that the Winter War had been a justified war, but the Continuation War, which was already moving overthe old borders, was wrong. The spirit of the Winter War, the miracle of unity had been lost, or if not lost, then faded in glory.

The first phase of war was the attack phase which began in the June of 1941. On the 10th of July the main forces of Finland began the conquest of Ladoga Karelia. Their goal was the Syväri river 300 kilometers (186 miles) away. In September they reached the borders of 1939, the borders prior to the Moscow Peace Treaty. Finnish soldiers showed hesitation when they came to the border. Until now, the war had been justified, because it had been the returning of the lost land to its rightful owners. A great example of this dilemma is shown in a section of Väinö Linna’s book The Unknown Soldier, published in 1954, where one of the soldiers steps theatrically across the old border saying that now he is on Soviet ground.

When Finnish troops crossed the old border, Great Britain waged war on Finland in December. In practice, this had no meaning since Great Britain never sent its soldiers to fight against Finland.

From September onwards, Finland presented several proposals to Germany for the borders for Greater Finland. The Finns, especially the members of the Academic Karelia Society, were still hoping to combine all the Finno-Ugrian people under one state. One of these proposals was the so called three isthmus border which would have extended from the Gulf of Finland, over the isthmuses  of Lake Ladoga and Onega to the White Bay.

In the beginning of October the Finns reached Petrozavodsk on the shore of Lake Onega. It was renamed Äänislinna (Onega Castle) by the Finns. Most of the population of the occupied territory had fled, but about 85 000 people had stayed (about 1/4 of the population). The Finns thought of themselves as the liberators of East Karelia. They moved the Soviets to concentration camps, and began educational work amongst the Karelians of the area to convert them to the Finnish national romantic views.

In the concentration camps the Soviets suffered of epidemics and hunger due to the poor food situation. Mortality during the winter of 1941-42 was higher than normal, especially in the camps. All together Finland had over 60 000 Soviet prisoners of war, of whom a third died in captivity.Of these, about 3000 were handed over to Germany, and in exchange for Soviet prisoners, Germany gave Finland Finno-Ugrian prisoners, which often joined the Finnish army as volunteers.

Finland advanced to Medvezhjegorsk, which is located in the upper arm of Lake Onega, in November and December. The attack phase was oversoon after the Finnish Independence Day on the 6th of December 1941, when the territories lost in the Moscow Peace Treaty had been recovered.

At the end of the attack phase, began the so called trench war phase which lasted until the last war year of 1944. During this phase the fronts did not move. In the winter of -41 Germany was unable to defeat the Soviet Union. Mannerheim began suspecting that Germany might not win the war. He began limiting the co-operation between Finnish and German troops e.g. by denying the shutting down of the Murmansk railway which was vital to the servicing of the German troops. Also he did not allow Finns to participate in the siege of Leningrad knowing the unforgiveness of this act.

During the trench war both Finns and Soviets engaged in partisan activities. The partisans went over the border killing whole villages of men, women and children. They also took prisoners, if at all possible. This was often scarier than dying.

Significant battles during the trench were e.g. the occupation of Hogland between the 26th and 27th of March 1942 and the major bombings of Helsinki in February -44. During the Hogland capture, a major part was played by the air forces of both parties (Finland and Soviet Union). For example during the operation, the Finnish air force made 600 flights. The survival of Helsinki during the heavy bombardment was influenced greatly by the fact the region’s air combat had been improved from -42 onwards.

In 1944 Finland began its exit from the war. After Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad, Finland began peace overtures to the Soviet Union. Soon after D-day on 6.6.-44 the Soviet Union began the Vyborg-Petrozadovsk Offensive. The Offensive was not a surprise to Finland, but the force of the Soviet troops was so great that the Finns had to retreat to the VKT (Viipuri-Kuparsaari-Taipale) line on the Karelian isthmus. The Finns lost Vyborg on the 20th of June. Around the same time Stalin demanded Finland to surrender.

In June the president Risto Ryti sent Germany a personal letter which is also known as the Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement. In the letter Ryti assured that Finland would continue fighting. At the end of June Finnish soldiers rejected the Soviet invasion in the battle of Tali-Ihantala. Similar battles were held in Vuosalmi and Vyborg Bay. In the change of July and August Finns reached victory in Ilomantsi.

The armistice began the 4th of September, and on the 19.9.1944 the parliament accepted the Moscow Armistice. The Armistice’s terms were accepted in the Paris Peace Treaty in 1947. The terms included territorial concessions (Porkkala on lease, Pechenga), driving the Germans out of Finland, 300 million dollars in war reparations, the closing down of fascist movements, restoration of the army to the peace level and allowing of communist activities. The fascist movements included the Lotta Svärd Organization, the White Guard, Patriotic People’s Movement (IKL) and the Academic Karelia Society (AKS).

66 000 were killed or disappeared, 1500 civilians died, and there were over 150 000 wounded in the Continuation War. On the home front, all the resources were directed towards military action. All civilians had the obligation to work. In -41 food cards were given to the families, so food could be rationed. During the war reports of the general mood were made. Already in 1942 people suspected the success of the war.

The war was opposed since 1941, about 500 men were retained in preventive detention due to not doing their military service. About 80 000 children were sent abroad to foster parents, most of them Sweden. After the war many child custody battles were fought between real parents and foster parents.

The Allied Commission lead by Zdanov arrived in Helsinki a few days after the armistice had been approved by the parliament between the 22nd and the 23rd of September. The Lapland War began soon after the arrival of the Commission, and lasted a year. The purpose of the war was to fulfil the article of the German expulsion of the Moscow Armistice.



(1) In peace time in Finland, the president is the supreme commander of the army.
(2) The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a surprise to the whole world, at it was known that Hitler thought of communism and the Soviet Union as his greatest enemy. Hitler made the pact to ensure that he wouldn’t get into a war on two fronts. Stalin on the other hand knew that the Soviet Union was very unprepared for war, and by the pact bought more time. In the secret protocol Germany and the Soviet Union divided Eastern Europe into interest spheres. The border of the interest spheres war on the Oder and Neisse rivers in the middle of Poland dividing the country in two.

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