Military History of Finland During World War II - Background

Background

In 1809, Russia conquered Finland from Sweden in the Finnish War. Finland entered a personal union with the Russian Empire as a grand duchy with extensive autonomy. During the period of Russian rule the country generally prospered. However, in the early 20th century Russia tightened its grip on Finland, causing widespread resentment. When revolution broke out in Russia in 1917, Finland declared independence. In 1918 the Finnish Civil War broke out between the generally right-wing government supporters and left-wing rebels. The war ended with the victory of the government forces, supported by Germany, and the expulsion of Russian troops.

During the inter-war period, the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union was tense. Some elements in Finland maintained the dream of "Greater Finland" which included the Soviet-controlled part of Karelia. The proximity of the Finnish border to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) caused worry in the Soviet leadership.

On 24 August 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In a secret clause of the agreement, Finland was part of the Soviet sphere of influence. On 12 October the Soviet Union started negotiations with Finland concerning parts of Finnish territory, Karelian Isthmus, the Gulf of Finland islands and Hanko. No agreement was reached. On 26 November the Soviet Union accused the Finnish army of shelling the village of Mainila. It was subsequently found that the Soviets had in fact shelled their own village to create an excuse to withdraw from their non-aggression pact with Finland. On 30 November the Soviet Union attacked Finland. The attack was judged illegal by the League of Nations and, as a result, the Soviet Union was expelled from that body on 14 December.

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