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The Lessons of the War with Finland

Unpublished report of Kliment Voroshilov – the People's commissar of Defence –
at the plenary session of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U. (B.)
in March 28th 1940

The War with Finland continued 104½ days and had a very fierce character.

I should note that at the beginning of the war neither me – People's commissar of Defence, nor the General Headquarters, nor the headquarters of the Leningrad Military Region had not any serious understanding of all the features and difficulties of this war. The main reason of this is that the Military department had not an well-organised intelligence service and, as a result, there was no necessary information about the enemy. The scares information about Finland, its armament, and fortified zones that we had were not properly studied and understood and were not of any use.

The Military department did not paid enough attention to the preparation to the war with Finland:

  1. The quantity of the infantry, artillery and tanks troops, concentrated at the Karelian Isthmus and Karelia was absolutely inadequate for breaking the Karelian Isthmus fortification lines and to crush the Finnish Army.
  2. Being not really acquainted with the enemy and the seat of war we considered it possible to use our heavy armored and tanks divisions on all the sectors of the Finnish front
  3. Beginning the war in winter our troops were not properly outfitted, equipped and supplied to act in the severe winter conditions
  4. Our infantry was not equipped with the light submachine-guns and company -level 50 mm mortars

Those and some other serious shortcoming in the preparation to war, especially to the war with Finland, that would be referred to later, heavily affected the military actions.

As you know, the war started in November 30th 1939. With the beginning of military actions there was created the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel which included comrades Stalin, Voroshilov, Head of the General Headquarters comrade Shaposhnikov and People's commissar of Navy comrade Kuznetsov (the latter took part only at the meetings, dedicated to the Navy problems). Comrade Molotov, though not formally the member of the Quarters, was permanent and active participant of the Quarters.

The Quarters was de-facto in charge of all the war affairs and all the organisational and creative work, connected to front.

In the morning of November 30th, after the preparatory bombardment, our troops on the Karelian Isthmus assumed the offensive along the whole front. Crossing numerous artificial and natural obstacles and crushing the enemy avant-garde units in December 10th our troops approached the first lines of the Finnish fortified zone. In the persistent fighting our troops surmounted from 25 to 65 km of the enemy territory, making about 3 to 6 km a day. During this relatively short period our troops on the Karelian Isthmus occupied a spacious region, so called a fieldwork. In plane words we occupied a place, covered with entrenchment, tank ditches with escarpment, with lot of blindages and other field fortifications, stuffed with anti-tank granite and concrete obstacles in front and into rear on big areas, barber-wired along and across, with a lot of gun and machine-gun positions. Big number of timber obstructions braided with barbered wire on all the roads and bridgeheads completed the picture. It should be also noted that Finns widely used land mines, anti-tank and other mines. They mined not only roads, descents and all more or less passable regions, isthmuses between lakes, bridges, houses and other buildings, but even household objects and so on. During the retreat Finns burned down the villages, forced out their inhabitants, driven off or killed the cattle, etc. And that was the area of the so called the fieldwork before the fortified zone.

In the same day of November 30th our troops in Karelia in the Petrozavodsk, Ukhtua, Kandalaksha and Murmansk sectors also crossed the state border and with the fighting began to move into Finnish territory. The troops in the Petrozavodsk sector by the December 15th reached the line Kojta-joki – Kola-järvi Lake – Mursula and here met the defence positions prepared beforehand. They had to temporally stop their movement and took a defence stand. During 15 days these troops forced a 65-km march, making around 4,5 km a day.

The troops in Uhtua and Kandalaksha sectors with fighting move forward and by December 18th their right flank reached the eastern shore of Kemi-järvi Lake and their centre went on the line Suomus-salmi – Karpisalmi – Nurmijärvi. At this line the enemy also stopped the movement of our forces at the preliminarily prepared positions and forced them to take the defence.

Here we entered into Finnish territory on 35-140 km, making 2,3-8,7 km a day.

The northern group of our troops, moving from Murmansk to Petsamo in December 1st took by force port of Petsamo and cleared from Finnish garrisons the Finnish territories on Sredny and Rybachy peninsulas.

The beginning of the war characterised by the tremendous impulse of all the soldiers and big efforts of all the combat arms.

At the Karelian Isthmus the main job was done by tanks units. Here the tanks were not only the serious means of the battle, but served as the organising factor. The bold – sometimes too bold – actions of the tank brigades and battalions carried along the infantry and quite often predetermined and ensured the success.

The work of artillery on the Karelian Isthmus at the beginning did not represent that smashing force that it showed later during the breakthrough the fortified "Mannerheim line", yet at this time it usually fulfilled the set tasks quite good.

Our aviation, this main attacking factor, unfortunately cold not actively participate in the action together with ground forces due to the difficult weather conditions. This, of cause, adversely affected the operations of our armies. The forced inactivity of our aviation also allowed the enemy to manoeuvre in wide range, using permanent and operational roads without hindrance.

Already at this early stage of the war we could learn many of the drawbacks in our forces and the strong sides of the enemy.

Finnish strong sides

  1. Unlike Czechs and Poland, Finns were not only able to resist, but were also not badly prepared for resistance.
  2. Finnish army is not badly organised, equipped and trained. Used to local conditions and targets it appeared to be quite able to manoeuvre, firm in defence and very disciplined.

    The well- disciplined, trained to hate the Bolshevik's Russia White-Guard organisation "Suojeluskunta" with its 150 000 members was brought into the mobilised army and became a quite stable basic and fastening for the Finnish army. At the same time the members of the Suojeluskunta played the role of the military police.

  3. The tactical skill of Finnish troops is good. The tactics of the small units is thoroughly polished and each solder is well trained.
  4. Among other armament Finns had also
    • good modern submachine gun with the 70 rounds magazine, working at any weather;
    • light 81-mm mortar with adequate supply of shells;
    • big number of different mines.

    All these weapon was skilfully used against our troops. Especially competently Finns used mines and their submachine guns. Small groups of skiers with a dozen of submachine guns broke into our rear at night and even at the daytime, attacked our troops, mainly on the roads and near them, and made serious damage. This tactics was used mainly against our troops to the north of the Ladoga Lake. On the Karelian Isthmus there were only few such attacks.

  5. Finns made a good use of skies and were well trained to orient in the forests, which gave them some advantage.
  6. Finnish troops bear winter conditions relatively steady.
  7. Finns were very skilful in building field defence structures and full defence lines and quite laborious. Anti-tank obstacles, ditches, abatises, trenches, blindages and mine fields were build in short time at the places were it was tactically necessary and presented serious obstacles for the actions and movements of our forces.
  8. The enemy is quite skilful in disguise and camouflage and widely utilised it in all the actions.
  9. With the help of England and France (and, earlier, Germany) Finns built in the Karelian Isthmus the Fortified Zone, their bridgehead against the Soviet Union. The flanks of this Fortified Zone rest against the Ladoga Lake at the east and the Gulf of Finland at the west. Well armed with the gunnery the Koivisto (Bjerke) Archipelago continues the Fortified Zone and locks the Viborg Gulf and sea approaches to Viborg. This also gave the enemy some advantage.

Though the military department Knew about the building the Fortified Zone at the Karelian Isthmus, but what it really was we learned only after the time when our heroic armies broke through it and captured Viborg.

Not only Finnish government and General Headquarters considered the "Mannerheim line" to be the unassailable fortress, but English and French experts and the "friends" of the Finns continued to tell that the Bolshevik's armies will smash themselves here. This, and only this, assurance in the inaccessibility of the "Mannerheim line" laid behind the unreasonable, almost idiotic, position of the Finnish government at the talks in December last year, when the were proposed extremely favourable terms in solving the question of guaranties of Leningrad security.

That is an incomplete list of advantages and positive sides of Finnish army compared with the Red Army.

Here I did not mention a very peculiar, difficult topographical conditions, that helped our enemy and impede the actions of our troops.

Finnish weak sides

  1. It is quite understandable, that Finns had fewer resources than we did. The army of 600 000 men was the limit they could reach.
  2. The Finnish field artillery was weak and scanty, compared to our.
  3. Finns had incomparably small air forces.
  4. Though the Finnish army had some advantages, it showed the inability to take big offensive actions. Its activity did not go beyond defence at the Karelian Isthmus and commandos activities at the other sectors.
  5. The Finnish Headquarters, despite their inventiveness and resourcefulness, overestimated the inaccessibility of the "Mannerheim line" and underestimated the power of our artillery and aviation and the power of onslaught of the Red Army.

As a result, the first powerful blow of our army at the Karelian Isthmus caused an almost total collapse of the Finnish Army.

Our shortcoming, found during the first clashes with Finns:

  1. During several years our operational plans regarded Finland as a secondary sector/ According to this, our forces here were able to act only in defence. This resulted in the insufficient and not serious attitude to the Finnish theatre of operations in a whole and inadmissibly weak knowledge of its specific characters.
  2. We paid unduly low attention to the roads building – the first and the pivotal task in any war preparation. Though there were some works done at the Karelian Isthmus, almost nothing was done in Karelia.

    The underdeveloped roads network in Karelia forced us to base on the only one (often hurriedly built) road big military units. That, of cause, made normal operational activity rather difficult.

  3. The bad military intelligence gave a negative impact on all our preparations to the war with Finland.

    For example, the People's Commissariat of Defence and General Headquarters up to the moment of beginning of the war had not any certain information about enemy forces, troops quality and armament. Especially poor was the information about the real condition of the Fortified Zone at the Karelian Isthmus and the fortifications build at the line Jänisjärvi Lake – Ladoga Lake.

  4. All this, to some extent, predetermined the insufficiently serious attitude of the Military Department to all the arrangements, connected with the preparation of the war with Finland. It was supposed that the war with Finns will be short and, at least, would not be of any serious difficulty for our army. As a result we insufficiently prepared to fulfil the strategic mission at Finnish sector. The forces, initially assigned for the war with Finland, were absolutely insufficient. I count this as the biggest drawback in our preparation to the war with Finland, which quite soon negatively tall upon the actions of our troops. Already on the 10th-15th day our troops at the Karelian Isthmus rest on the Fortified Zone and had to stop and took the defence. In their turn, our forces in Karelia met the prepared in advance defensive lines and also had to stop and take on the defensive stand. We needed the additional fresh forces to not to let the enemy to recover from the first telling blow, but there were no such forces in place and we had to throw them over by the railways from inside the country, which took a quite sufficient time. In this way the offence that was started so successfully was temporarily stopped by the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel and we had to wait till the arriving of all the necessary forces and ammunitions. This needed a substantial time, what gave the enemy the possibility to begin an active actions and temporary to take the initiative.
  5. At the same time at the process of the military actions we found a big drawbacks in the organisation, combat training, armament and supply of our army.
  6. The organisational drawbacks:
    • Our infantry division showed itself cumbersome, clumsy, overloaded with equipment and rear services, especially for the actions to the north of the Ladoga Lake and father to the north;
    • Considerable part of our infantry divisions, extended from the reduced staff divisions, so called "one third divisions", were very weak;
    • We entered the war without adopted submachine guns, with which Finns were well supplied. Here we were weaker than the enemy was. Finn soon understood this and used their advantage to full extent. We had not bad Degtyarev's submachine gun, which at the time was not adopted by the army, though was used by NKVD internal forces. This is the error of the People's Commissariat of Defence;
    • Considering the mortars, we were in the same disadvantageous situation, especially with 50-mm company mortars. The 82-mm battalion mortars were used inadequately; some units did not use them at all, because they were not trained to use them. There were no trained personnel for them. The 50-mm company mortars, that just began to be received by the front-line forces, were also used inadequately because of the lack of trained mortar men. Only directly at the front-line the troops gradually learned to use the mortars and only from about the middle of February we began to answer the enemy with mortar shells. This is also a big mistake of the People's Commissariat of Defence;
    • The infantry, as a rule, was not trained to ski. This concerned not only the units that came from the southern regions, but also the units, constantly stationed in the Leningrad Military Region. This fact led to serious problems in some infantry divisions, acting to the north of the Ladoga Lake. Though the soldiers trained on the place, forced by the battle necessity, the results were of little effect and had not any combat effect. The enemy. On the contrary, use this advantage widely and skilfully;
    • The uniform of the troops, first of all, of the infantry, was not adequate to the winter conditions, especially so severe as the last one. There were not enough of valenkies (woollen boots), fur coats, warm mittens; the old woollen helmet was of now use in the big frosts – we needed to replace it with the warm cap with earflaps. This is also a mistake of the People's Commissariat of Defence;
    • The organisation of the food supply also demanded big changes, as the existed system, through the inadvertence of the Military Department, did not make provision for many products in concentrates. The army was not supplied by the dried bread, which was replaced by the ship's biscuits. But for the troops that were camping away of the railroads the dried bread and concentrates are the best nutrition. They are much easier to deliver (due to the lesser volume) and they are easier to consume, as they are not so affected by frosts.
    • The combat training of the infantry in most cases was very low. New, extended from the reduced staff, divisions that had rather weak staff, were reinforced by the officers, drafted from the reserve, giving, as a result, very poor commanding staff.

      This commanding staff was, of cause, not able to organise and train their units in the short time. In many cases the Regiments, battalions and companies became efficient only in the process of the battle.

    • Many of the high commanding officers also were not at the place. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel had to dismiss many of higher commanders and chiefs of staff because their command was not only of now use, but also made the situation much worse sometimes;
    • The headquarters, formed during the war, from the very top to division level were, as a rule, were poorly prepared and could not ably and fully direct their troops. They were not able to quickly respond to the changes of the situation and often were quite behind the events.
    • The discipline in the army at the first stage of the campaign was rather poor almost everywhere. Many of the commanders, being not sure in themselves and not having full understanding of the situation, were not able to look after their units, to keep in them strict order and discipline. Worst of all, the situation was in the rears of the regiments and, especially, divisions. Quite often here and there one could see an unorganised soldiers and even officers wandering around and nobody paid any attention to that. The roads were staffed with the rear transport; the kitchens were crowded not only with soldiers, but also with civilians, etc.

Special directives of the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel and the arrangements of the Armies Councils of war took their effect. The order and discipline improved.

Telling about the poor discipline I should note that there were only single occasions of the insubordination or nonfulfillment of the orders. The discipline in the front-line units was always high.

Liquidation of the found errors

  1. The situation demanded quick and radical liquidation of all drawbacks and errors. By the initiative of comrade Stalin and under his guidance the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel adopted several different radical arrangements, directed to the quick and, if possible, total liquidation of the drawbacks in the army. All the measures were taken to build unpaved military roads in the northern sector of the Finnish front. Since the very beginning of the war there was started building of the railroads Petrozavodsk-Suojärvi and Kandalaksha-Kuolayarvi. Some of these efforts paid back. The military road Volkhovstroy-Lodeinoye Polye – Salmi and some other roads near the front-line improved the situation of the troops in those regions. After 2½ month after start of the building there was started a traffic on the new railway, connecting Petrozavodsk with former Finnish railway. Should the war continue this road would play a tremendous role?
  2. In the course of events the drawbacks of our intelligence were filled up by the information we got from our front-line forces and, partially, from aviation. That allowed the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel to take the bearings and opportunely react on the events.
  3. The number of troops, initially directed against Finland was drastically increased. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel ordered to prepare the necessary number of infantry divisions and other units, which were quickly sent by the railway to the sectors they were needed in. I should note the difficulties we met in the railway transportation. As you know, the railway transport was not mobilised and military transit was transported by the peacetime schedule. This, naturally, decreased the speed of the military trains. But even in this conditions the temps of the movement of the troop trains should be considered as too slow. As the result the troops and military cargo came to the front with big delays, concentration of the forces dragged on and all this tells upon our plans and the combat activity.
  4. Concerning the organisational side, the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel also took some measures. For example, some infantry divisions acting in the north, were restructured, their rear and artillery units were decreased. The machine-gun companies in battalions and platoons in companies were reorganised, at the division level there were created ski infantry battalions, organised from the best skiers, and so on.
  5. The wide use of skies by Finns demanded appropriate reaction. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel ordered the People's Commissariat of Defence to create from the volunteer (there were many willing to volunteer) special ski battalions and squadrons. The volunteers were organised in the substantial number of units with the total strength of 70 thousand men. These units, accordingly equipped and armed with automatic and self-loading weapons, were distributed between the front-line divisions. Also, the front-line units were equipped with the necessary number of skies. Well-prepared ski trainers were sent to the front to help the army to learn skiing.

    At the same time it was decided to be worthwhile to use at the front some of our dismounted cavalry as light mobile units. At the battles they fully justified their reputation, fought hard and heroically. As the answer to the mass requests from the volunteers that came from all around the country the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel ordered the People's Commissariat of Defence to create two new infantry divisions from volunteers. These two divisions were organised in the short time in the Moscow Military region and sent to front.

  6. As only it was found, that the enemy forces are widely using a light submachine-gun, the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel, or, to be more precise, comrade Stalin personally, set everyone up and compelled to renew the production of Degtyarev's submachine-gun. This gun had a charger for 25 rounds only. Comrade Stalin demanded from People's Commissar of Armament comrade Vannikov and his designers that the charger should be same as in the Finnish gun – for 70-75 rounds. In ten days our industry put the gun and the new charger for 70 rounds in production with daily output of several hundreds and it immediately began to come in the army in the field. At the same time comrade Stalin sharply set the question about quick increase of production of the mortars and shall to them. Finding so big drawbacks in production of the firearms and mortars, comrade Stalin ordered to single out the firearms and mortars sections from Artillery departments and expand them to independent departments. These departments were given the task quickly to enlarge the production of the firearms and mortars to comply with demand of the army in the field.
  7. Concerning the uniform, the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel, by the initiative and under guidance of comrade Stalin, undertook several urgent measures. Main of them were:
    • The corresponding industries got the order quickly to manufacture necessary quantity of valenkies, fur coats, warm mittens and winter caps;
    • Giving very serious attention to the supply of the army with winter uniform, comrade Stalin ordered that secretaries of the Central Committee comrades Andreev and Malenkov to control this question directly and to provide necessary everyday help to the Chief of Supply comrade Khrulev. Comrades Andreev and Malenkov done a very big useful for army work. In the short time not only troops at the front, but also all reinforcement were fully and adequately equipped.
  8. Concerning the problem of supply of the army with concentrates and dried bread comrade Stalin also took urgent and radical measures. Comrade Mikoyan got the appropriate orders and during several days the production of dried bread and different concentrates was opened in the big scale. To all this comrade Stalin paid continuous attention till he was sure that the new production is steady and there were no doubts in its further development. During the short period the army got hundreds and thousands metric tons of dried bread and concentrates

    The disengagement of the army in battle from the railways and the necessity to organise normal regular food supply demanded to organise big motor transport fleet. Over 60 000 trucks run between the railway and the frontline, supplying the troops with all they needed and moving the reinforcement to the front. We should note that the transportation units in a whole worked well and with a strenuous exertion. It should be specially noted that quite often the drivers had with the combat clear their way from Finnish diversionary ambushes.

  9. Taking into consideration the fact of the big and steady frosts, set at the front regions, the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel decided to increase the soldiers daily ration on 15 grams of sugar, 50 grams of lard and, in the times of severe frosts (from May till April), 100 grams of vodka. The total calorie content of the ration became 4 449 calories, instead of 3717 calories of the basic ration.

    This decision had an exclusive meaning in army food supply and the energy of the men in the front-line forces.

  10. To improve the organisation and fighting efficiency of the army the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel issued several orders and instructions, most of which were written or dictated by comrade Stalin personally. Those orders had the main target to make it easier for the high commanders to rule the armies. All this gave very positive results.
  11. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel went deeply into every detail of the actions and was always aware on all events at the front. To improve the command over the army it had to dismiss a number of high commanding officers and to replace them by more suitable persons.
  12. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel, considering the foreign policy situation (it was reported by comrade Molotov) decided to enforce our army and took some measures in this direction. The People's Commissariat of Defence was allowed, without declaring the mobilisation, to draft 50 thousands of officers and five first ages of the privates in three internal Military regions. The total number of conscript made quite a solid figure. At the same time the People's Commissariat of Defence got the order by spring to get ready for action all the forces not involved in the war.

Taking about drawbacks I was speaking only about infantry. I said nothing about our artillery, cavalry, tanks, field-engineering, chemical warfare and signals troops and aviation. This is not because these branches had not drawbacks. Unfortunately they too have them, and not so small and not so few. But I did not mention them because their drawbacks, compared with that in infantry, are much less and, it can be said, of another quality.

The Central Committee knows that all these combat arms are always at full strength. And this is the decisive factor. The officers in these units, in general, are better qualified and older, than the officers in infantry, and, what is the main point – the staff there is more stable. These combat arms grew and develop at the expense of the best men from the infantry. All these ensured quite normal and in some cases very good activity from the very beginning of the war of our artillery, aviation, tanks units and other branches.

Our technical forces showed themselves not bad, even excellent sometimes.

Morale of the army

Despite the lots of drawbacks and mistakes in organisation and combat training of the troops, that became clear during the fighting, the morale of the all the troops, all soldiers and officers was high during the whole battle. The Party and Komsomol organisations in the army, political staff and all non-party Bolsheviks carried constant propaganda among soldiers and officers in most difficult situations of front-line, assuring the fulfilment of the battle-orders.

The Soviet patriotism in the army did not failed during the most difficult times of the war, on the contrary, it became stronger with every day. The Motherland, The Party and Stalin were the banner, under which the troops went to the battle, withstand all difficulties, broke the barriers on their way and defeated the enemy.

It is not my task to throw the light upon the service in battle of the whole divisions, military units and outstanding people that showed real wonders of courage and heroism – it may be presented by the immediate participants and commanders of the war – comrades Timoshenko, Zhdanov, Meretskov, Kulik, Pavlov and others. But, still, I should say that the Central Committee, our Government and comrade Stalin might be proud of the high morale of our army.

The second period of the war

The first period of the war that ends approximately in the end of December – beginning of January may be characterised by the following:

  1. In the combat actions we learned our enemy, found his strong and weak sides;
  2. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel, accordingly, took the measures to reorganise the control over the combating troops. At the Karelian Isthmus instead of one army, we created two – 7th and 13th and the front control unit to co-ordinate their activity. On the Petrozavodsk sector, where the enemy was active and our armies fought weakly, the 8th Army was also divided in two – 8th and 15th – with big reinforcements sent to them.
  3. As it was mention above, serious reinforcements were moved to the front.

From about the end of December – beginning of January our armies at the Karelian Isthmus carried out a serious preparation for breaking through the "Mannerheim line" (the Finnish Fortified Region), about which we gradually learned that it was a powerful modern fortress, that would take a lot of forces, means and, most valuable, time to demolish it. The attempt to break through this line of enforced concrete, ditches, obstacles, barbed wire and mines, shot through by guns and machine-guns with a rush failed. After the stubborn attacks of all the combat arms at day and night it became certain, that to break this line is possible only after systematic demolition of all the pillboxes, of reinforced concrete and granite and soil, those backbones of the fortified line and concentration points of the enemy forces.

The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel worked up the plan of operation and the schedule of its fulfilment.

In the operational plans the main role was given to the artillery and aviation. It was decided that during the preparation of the infantry to the storm the artillery and aviation should begin systematic daily bombardment of the leading edge of the fortified line. This gave very positive results. By the beginning of the wide-scale offensive (February 11th) many of the reinforced concrete and granite defensive installations were demolished and – the main thing – the enemy forces were morally depressed.

From February 11th our forces on the Karelian Isthmus began to fulfil the plan of breaking through the "Mannerheim line" and capturing of Viborg.

The course of events is well known. From February 11th the troops of the 7th Army were moving forward in the general direction along the railway to Viborg. Crushing the enemy forces in their pillboxes by artillery, aviation and tanks, smashing these installations and even taking some of them still in active condition, the 7th Army rammed in the Fortified Region, breaking its structure. The neighbour 13th army had not an easy task with active and steady strikes to pull on to itself the enemy forces from the front of the 7th Army. And they fulfilled their task not badly.

By the reports of combat commanders, the troops of all the combat arms acted bravely in this hard, month-long battle, giving out all their forces. Artillery, aviation and tanks worked excellently. Especially well and organised was the work of our artillery. The men of the artillery units had shown all the best qualities of the Soviet soldier and real bravery and valour. Our aviation also worked much and its work was better with every day.

During this period a lot of work had been done by our field-engineering troops. Though the biggest and, without doubts, heroic task they fulfilled during the first period of the war, during the capture of the avenue of approach of the Fortified Region. They had to clear the roars and passes from blockages and mines, to demine the territory and to destroy anti-tang obstacles. Quite often all this hard work our engineers had to do under enemy fire, sometimes ahead of our other troops, under the cover of the own fire. In the future the field-engineering troops will play a serious role.

As a result of the real valour of all the troops fighting at the Karelian Isthmus, that unassailable fortress, the "Mannerheim line", of which the foreign experts thought to be equal to the "Zigfrid" and "Maginot" lines was broken into pieces. The "Mannerheim line", that seem to be the unassailable fortress to the British and French masters, was broken and destroyed.

As a result, the enemy was broken and had to sign a peace treaty, dictated to him by our Government.

Looking back, it would be fare to say that the infantry, fighting at the Karelian Isthmus, despite the above said huge drawbacks, in general acted quite satisfactorily during the whole period of the war, some divisions and regiments fought quite good and there were some that fought excellently.

Quite the contrary picture presents the operations of our troops to the north of the Ladoga Lake – of 15th, 8th and 9th Armies.

After the successful advance for 35-140 km into the Finnish territory during the first 10-15 days, our forces in these sectors, forced to take on the defensive stand, were not able to organise the defence properly. Without the continuous front and acting only along the forest roads these troops (their commanders and commissars, to be more precise) made a lot of mistakes. The enemy soon understood them and to full extent used them against us. The main and the biggest blunder of our commanders was that they dispose the whole divisions on the single road, without taking proper measures for covering their flanks, rear and service lines.

The command, including the army level did almost nothing (in some cases- absolutely nothing) to create fortified zones that will ensure the activity of our troops in the forests, using our overwhelming advantage in artillery and, in some instances – tanks. The order of the Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel to build along the roads, going into the rear the blockhouses and to place in them small garrisons was not fulfilled somewhere. Such a criminally passive attitude to the cause from the command of different ranks allowed the enemy to lead the big activity by the small diversionary groups. Among the soldiers and officers this activity caused the exaggerated impression of the enemy forces and abilities, inspired the diffidence and discourage in our troops.

This concerned to the several infantry divisions – 163rd, 44th and 54th in 9th Army and 18th and 168th in 15th Army.

As a result of such mischievous, ignorant, cowardly command all this division were, in different extent, attempted to be encircled by the enemy. Two of them – 18th and 44th were encircled, blocked and, as a result of the cowardice and treachery of their commanders, suffered big losses in men and armament.

The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel issued a big number of orders and instructions, concerning the number of specific points of the combat command, but the fighting in these armies was going very bad, in some cases even disgustingly.

Here we should mark the 122nd infantry division with the attached 273rd alpine regiment, the fought at Kandalaksha sector. With the fighting it entered Finnish territory for 140 km and came close to Kemi-järvi. Later, by the order of the Quarters it was drawn back a bit. This division, despite the big separation from other forces and constant attempts of the enemy to cut it communication lines and attack its rears, successfully repulsed all these attempts and din not let the enemy to use its favourite, but banal method of breaking in parts and blocking our troops on the roads. This division and 273 alpine regiment fought well.

The northmost group of our army, operating on Petsamo and to the south of it also acted well and in all the battles beat the enemy. Being not so powerful this (14th) army by the order of the Quarters stopped its movement to the south and confidently holds its positions till the end of the war.

Border guards

The border guards service with the beginning of the war was ordered by the Quarters to form battalions that were given the task of defence of the rear and communications of the army in battle. But, dew to the combat conditions some battalions were included into the fighting armies. As a rule these units fought excellent. In general our border guard forces had shown themselves as an well-organised, disciplined and ready-to-battle units, able to act as the best field forces in any battle conditions.

The Navy units in the Baltic Sea and at the North actively participated in actions with all their surface ships, submarines and aviation. It also helped, where possible, to the land forces. The Northern Fleet also ensured the sea transportation of land forces and supplies to Petsamo in heavy storms weather.

Medical service at the front

Our military medical units and the workers of the People's Commissariat of Health the helped them worked much and not bad. The death rate among the wounded and ill was about 5-6 %, compared to 11% during the World War in tsarists and foreign armies. The cases of infectious diseases were very few. The doctors, nurses and hospital attendants quite often made the operations and blood transfusions under the enemy fire. The military and civil hospitals made a lot to ensure the quick recovery of the soldiers and officers.

But still there were found a number of problems in organisation of the service, evacuation of the wounded, organisation of supply, etc.

Civil Aviation and Aviation of the GlavSevMorPut

Very big and useful work was done by the Civil Aviation and the Aviation of the GlavSevMorPut (Main Administration of the Northern Sea Way). 110 planes of the Civil Aviation and the Aviation of the GlavSevMorPut, piloted by outstanding men flied between the front and the rear an any weather at day and often at night, fulfilling different important tasks. Some pilots together with their crew fulfilled serious combat tasks and fulfilled them well.


  1. The war with Finland was an ordeal for our army. And it passed it. Our Red Army won the victory. It the conditions of the exclusively inclement winter our army crashed the Finnish troops in the really modern and powerful fortress that the "Mannerheim line" was. The Red Army justified the saying of comrade Stalin "There is no fortress that the Bolsheviks would not be able to take". This war was won relatively quickly because from the very beginning till the victorious end of it comrade Stalin took the active part in the commanding of the actions. The Quarters of the Chief Military Counsel, created by the initiative of comrade Stalin, not only daily ruled the armies at the front, but at the same time accomplish a huge organisational work to ensure the success of our army and to strengthen the security of the whole state.

    Though the Finland is a small country, this war could not be called small, because in this war we fought not only with Finland, but also with all those who prepared the Finland to be a springboard to jump on Leningrad and the Soviet Union. Finland not only morally, but also materially was openly supported by a number of nations – England, France, Sweden, Italy, USA, etc. The Finnish army was not so small as it is used to think. The Finns deployed the army of about 600 000 men, the power of whom doubled dew to the fortifications and natural conditions.

    After the war the command of the Northwest Front characterised the war at the Karelian Isthmus as follows: "… In the first time in the military history the troops of the Northwest Front in the exclusively short period – one month – smashed and destroyed the first class, up-to-date, permanent defence system, consisting of four main defence lines and quite a number of cut-out positions, with continuous obstacles on all the area of the fortified region. This task, difficult by itself, was fulfilled in the conditions of extremely difficult cross-country area, heavy frosts and deep snows. The troops of the front had to fight almost the entire Finnish army, which was concentrated here using the quietness at other fronts.

    By the preliminary data, the troops of the Front captured and destroyed more than a thousand of different defence installations, including 280 of the enforced concrete. We captured 120 different guns, blew up in the pillboxes over 150 caponier guns, captured 19 tanks, large quantity of machine-guns, rifles, ammunition and outfit".

    The Red Army crashed the strongest fortified region and Finnish army in three months because all our party, Komsomol, government, economic and public organisations participated in the cause of the war and helped our army with deeds, as Bolsheviks and real Soviet patriots.

  2. The war with Finland was a test for the apparatus of the People's Commissariat of Defence. Though in the cause of the war the mistakes were corrected, the number of mistakes and drawbacks was too big. We need to refresh the ruling bodies of the Commissariat and reinforce it with fresh men.
  3. Extremely big, tremendous work was don by the party organisation of Leningrad. During all the war the all working Leningrad was the nearest and active rear of the combating army. The workers of all the factories, plants and railways were ready to do all possible and even impossible to help our fighting soldiers. Especially big and useful work was done by the workers, technicians and engineers of Kirov and Izhora works.

    All this big and useful work was directed by comrade Zhdanov

  4. Big and constant help our troops got from the party, Soviet, Komsomol, and public organisations from Karelia and Murmansk
  5. Our army won the victory in the short time because all the drawbacks in the military training and the work of Military department, found in the beginning of the war, were, as a rule, liquidated in the course of the war. The orders and instructions of comrade Stalin helped to minimise their harmful influence on the course of the events. Finnish Headquarters clamed that they will stay for 6 month without any foreign help. They could stay only 3 with the help.

Practical recommendations

  1. This war had also shown that the constant cadre troops are much stronger and efficient than the troops developed during mobilisation on the base of small and week cadres.

    So, even in the peace time we have to had such a number of permanent cadre infantry that would be able in any cause of events to ensure and cover quick mobilisation and to withstand the first enemy strike.

  2. Competent, knowing their job and trustworthy officers are the foundation and basis of the real combat training at the peace time and the victory in the future war. That is why the questions of training and accumulation of the military cadres should become now even more actual. We have to find measures to stabilise cadres, for example, to forbid often transfer of the officers from one unit to another without the pressing need. The instability of the officers' staff is the source of the weakness of the army.

    It is now proved that in other equal conditions, the units where the officers are serving for a long time and know the unit and the men are more stable and battle-worthy.

  3. The war helped to find many good commanders, commissars and different military organisers (including some from the privates). We should immediately mark these men, create the conditions, necessary for their training and learning. We should take a constant care of training the officers that came from the sergeants, constantly and helping them in every way.
  4. We shall take it for the rule, that combat training of all the troops and headquarters in all the military regions in all the times of the year shall be conducted in the field conditions. We shall create the difficult conditions for the combat training of the troops, close to those that will be met in real combat. We shall pay more attention to training in difficult weather and natural conditions. In accordance with this the People's Commissariat of Defence should revise the norms of supply by Regions.
  5. Our infantry division is too bulky, especially with service and rear units. We shall to revise the structure of the rears of the infantry divisions to minimise them as much as possible.
  6. During this summer we shall examine the structure of the infantry, alpine and other divisions and corpses, especially their armament and rears, deployed in the Far East, Middle Asia, Transcaucasia and Karpaty to check their manoeuvrability and combativity.
  7. We shall strengthen the field-engineering forces of the Red Army and take all the measures to improve their supply and equip them with all the modern means of mechanisation.
  8. The General Headquarters, the Field-Engineering and Mines and Mortars departments shall learn all the questions concerning the use of the artificial obstacles and mines in the defence on the example of the war with Finland and publish instructions and directions for the troops.
  9. To lighten the excessive burden the soldier has to carry on march, we shall determine what the soldier should carry himself and what shall be carried in the company carriage.
  10. It is advisable to make soldiers to be acquainted with the conditions the army will be in the war times. With this view we shall order that at least once in five days the soldiers should get dried bred and concentrates instead of usual food. This ration should be consumed strictly as in the field conditions.
  11. The Chiefs of all combat branches and armies headquarters shall, during two months, sum up the results of all the spheres of military activity of the troops to make necessary changes in regulations and instructions. With this aim they should immediately start the study of all the reports, dispatches, notes and official summaries. There is also an obligatory necessity to study all the written material (notes, diaries, etc.) kept by the officers

    To fulfil this job the Head of the General Headquarters together with the Chiefs of combat branches shall immediately create special commissions and give them necessary instructions.

    The job should be done in no longer than two months.

  12. We shall create the special Government Commission that shall include, except the military officers, best country specialists, for detailed and quick research of the "Mannerheim line".

    The People's Commissariat of Defence in one-month time shall present the Committee of Defence proposals for using the Finnish experience in our defence construction.

  13. There is a separate question about military intelligence service.

    We do not have (or, almost do not have) the military intelligence service, the organisation that shall supply the General Headquarters with the necessary information about our neighbours and possible enemies, their armies, armament and plans. The organisation, that in the wartime shall become the eyes and the ears of our army.

    We shall create the military intelligence service worthy of our country and our army at any price and as quick, as possible.

    The Central Committee shall create the special group, qualified enough for this task.

  14. The People's Commissariat of Defence and the People's Commissariat of Health shall quickly prepare the plan of the actions on the medical service with the consideration of the war experience and to report it to the Soviet of the People's Commissars.
  15. During this war we did not feel the shortage in the ammunition and fuel, but the need in the in this war was not big. We shall commission the Committee of Defence with the task to study the problem and to take the necessary measures for increasing the mobilisation reserves of those and some other most valuable defence materials.
  16. Concerning the railway transport. This war once again confirmed the undisputed fact that the railways play exceptionally big role in the modern war. The speed with which the troops and ammunition come to front decides the success of operation and the war as a whole. The railway transport should be ready to serve the defence need to the full extent and, at the same time comply with the basic and vital needs of the state.

    That is why the questions of the railway transport shall be given the most serious attention. I mean the new and, where necessary, building of the second lines, junctions, siding and stations, new engines and cars, the stocks of materials and fuel, e.g. all the complex presenting the well functioning railway system. I will not speak here about personnel, it goes without saying.

    It is necessary to commission the Soviet of the People's Commissars with this problem and to take all possible measures to improve our railway transport, considering the war experience.

  17. Concerning the roads building. Any war, and the modern war in particular, consumes and throws back vast quantities of different materials and cargo. Tens and hundreds of thousands lorries and even more horse-drawn vehicles run by the highways and roads. The same roads are used by the artillery, tanks, different other vehicles and if there is nor enough roads in the near-front regions they have to be promptly built in the hard conditions. That is why we shall take all necessary measures to extend the building of the highways and roads. We need to adopt a special law that will oblige all the Kolkhos peasants, which was not yet involved in this paramount economic and military work, to take part in the roads building.

We shall commission with this question the Soviet of the People's Commissars that shall take the necessary decisions.

Comrades! The war with Finland revealed a number of serious drawbacks in the readiness of the army and unsatisfactory work of the Military department but at the same time it has proved the indestructible power of our country and unexcelled leadership of our Party, Government and comrade Stalin, which is the pledge of our future and constant victories.

Personal archive of Kliment Voroshilov, collection 26, list 1, file 121, pp. 1-35
Archive of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPSU, collection 3, list 50, file 261, pp. 114-158

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