Armistice ends the Winter War

Russian troops lie dead in the snow with their tank convoy behind

Russian casualties in the snow following a Finnish ambush

The Finns signed an armistice with the Russians on the 13th March 1940. Their troops had successfully resisted to the end, and had won many tactical victories. However, it was readily apparent to the country’s leaders that they did not not have the resources to withstand the Russian onslaught over the longer term. The terms were harsh, with Finland losing over ten per cent of its territory. Yet Finland remained independent and avoided the puppet government that Stalin had originally sought to impose.

Michael Munthe had been sent to Finland with anti-tank munitions by the War Office as an advance party for British volunteers. The news of an armistice between Finland and Russia was as much of a shock to him as it was to the Finnish soldiers in the front line. He describes meeting the Finnish colonel he was responsible for liaising with:

“The war has been stopped,” he said in a choking voice. I thought the most likely explanation was that he had gone mad. Luckily we were near the hospital. He was going on about ” a dastardly peace” and how “the Generalissimo must have been stabbed in the back”. Tears rolled down his cheeks and his fine, kindly face was filled with the deepest distress.

I got into the car beside him, and gradually it dawned on me that there had, in fact, been an unusual quietness in the air that morning. No air raids, no guns thundering in the distance. Outside I could see people running about and stopping to talk in groups. It was difficult to imagine what had occurred. It seemed unthinkable that Finland had capitulated.

In the distance I heard a faint roll of drums and clash of cymbals: some military band was playing with tragic slowness Sibelius’s Finnish National Anthem.

A young soldier passed us and, hearing it too, he stopped and threw down his rifle, and shattered it under his feet, great tears trickling down his nose the while. The war was over for Finland at any rate, and a grief, far greater than any before, seemed to grip hold of this brave, little nation in defeat.

See Malcolm Munthe: Sweet is war, later republished as Sweet Is War to Them That Know It Not

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