February 23, 1940 – news on this day, 76 years ago concerned the invasion of Finland by Russia, and the status of fighting around Viipuri, Finland’s second largest city, was marked with reports of mass evacuations and a scorched-earth policy adapted by the Finns – setting fire to houses and destroying historic buildings ahead of Russian troops.
All wasn’t lost, and even though the Finnish Army was strongly outnumbered in troops and equipment, they put up tremendous resistance. And whatever progress the Russians were making in their march to Helsinki was done with heavy casualties and loss of equipment.
At issue was the Mannerheim Line, which the Russian army attacked on several fronts. Being heavily outnumbered, the Finnish Army only had the weather and perseverance on their side, with temperatures dipping as low as -45 degrees, many Russian units were unprepared for the bitter cold, and death by frostbite took roughly 10% of the Russian forces.
But being outnumbered, the Finns resorted to guerrilla warfare, and this hampered progress for the Soviet forces, thus making an easy victory difficult. And with over 80,000 dead and not much land taken, coupled with the fact that February 23rd marked the founding of Soviet Army, it was rapidly turning into an embarrassment for Moscow – one which would have enormous consequences over the coming months.
Speculation was rife in diplomatic circles that Russia would soon sue for peace. But, as was always the case in this, and other wars, the civilian population was faring the worst and bore the brunt of endless Soviet bombings, particularly during the previous week, when weather was clearing and days were getting longer. Reports of Russian air force planes on bombing runs over several cities, turning entire neighborhoods into flaming desolation, killing mass numbers of civilians in the process only added to the determination of the Finnish Army to retaliate by any means necessary.
And that report, direct from Helsinki, summed up what was going on, this February 23rd in 1940.