On 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact whereby the parties divided the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania into spheres of interest, with Finland falling to the Soviet sphere of interest. Shortly afterward, Germany invaded Poland and as a result the United Kingdom and France declared war against Germany. The Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland on 17 September. Next, Moscow demanded that the Baltic states allow the establishment of Soviet military bases and the stationing of troops on their soil. The Baltic governments accepted these ultimatums, signing corresponding agreements in September and October 1939.
In October 1939, the Soviet Union attempted to negotiate with Finland for the transfer of Finnish territories on the Karelian Isthmus and the islands of the Gulf of Finland to the Soviet Union and for the establishment of a Soviet military base near the Finnish capital Helsinki. The Finnish government refused, and the Red Army attacked Finland on 30 November 1939. Condemnation of the Soviets by the League of Nations and by countries all over the world had no effect on Soviet policy. International help for Finland was planned, but very little actual help materialized, except from Sweden. The Moscow Peace Treaty, which was signed on 12 March 1940, ended the Winter War. By the terms of the treaty, Finland lost one eleventh of its national territory and about 13% of its economic capacity. However, Finland had avoided having the Soviet Union annex the whole country.
Finland's foreign policy had been based on multilateral guarantees for support from the League of Nations and Nordic countries and was considered a failure. Finnish public opinion favored the reconquest of Finnish Karelia. Finland's government declared the country's defense to be its first priority, and military expenditures rose to nearly half of government spending. Finland purchased and received donations of war material during and immediately after the Winter War. On Finland's southern frontier the Soviet Union had acquired a military base in Hanko near the capital Helsinki, which employed over 30,000 Soviet military personnel.
Finland also had to resettle some 420,000 evacuees from the lost territories. To ensure the supply of food, it was necessary to clear new land for the evacuees to cultivate. This was facilitated by the Rapid Settlement Act. The Finnish leadership wanted to preserve the spirit of unanimity that was commonly felt throughout the country during the Winter War. The divisive White Guard tradition of the Civil War 16 May victory day celebration was therefore discontinued. Relations between Finland and the Soviet Union remained strained despite the signing of the one-sided peace treaty, and there were disputes regarding the implementation of the conditions of the treaty. Finland sought security against further territorial depredations by the Soviet Union and proposed mutual defence agreements with Norway and Sweden, but these initiatives were quashed by Moscow.
After the Winter War, Germany was not popular in Finland as it was considered an ally of the Soviet Union. However, the Finnish government began to restore diplomatic relations with Germany. Finland continued its Western-oriented policy and negotiated a war trade agreement with the United Kingdom, but the agreement was renounced after the German invasion of Denmark and Norway on 9 April, when Britain cut all trade and traffic communications with Scandinavia. With the fall of France, a policy of Western orientation was no longer considered an option in Finnish foreign policy. On 15 and 16 June, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states without resistance. Soviet puppet regimes were installed; and within two months Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were incorporated as Soviet republics within the Soviet Union. By mid-1940, the two remaining northern democracies, Finland and Sweden, were encircled by the hostile states of Germany and the Soviet Union.
On 23 June, a short time after the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states began, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov contacted the Finns and demanded a mining licence for the Soviet Union at the nickel mines in Petsamo or alternately the establishing of a joint Soviet-Finnish company to operate there. The licence to mine the deposit had earlier been granted to a British-Canadian company, and the proposition was rejected. The next month, the Soviets demanded that Finland destroy the fortifications built in the Åland islands and give the Soviets the right to use Finnish railways to transport Soviet troops to the newly acquired Soviet base at Hanko. The Finns very reluctantly agreed to these demands. On 24 July, Molotov accused the Finnish government of persecuting the so-called Society for Peace and Friendship between Finland and USSR, a pro-communist group; and soon afterwards, he publicly supported this group. The society organized demonstrations, some of which turned into riots.
On 31 July 1940, the German leader Adolf Hitler gave the order to start planning an assault on the Soviet Union. This meant that Germany had to reassess its positions regarding both Finland and Romania. Until then, Germany had rejected Finnish appeals to purchase arms, but in August the Germans allowed the secret sale of weapons to Finland. German and Finnish military authorities made an agreement on 12 September, and an official exchange of diplomatic notes was sent on 22 September. At the same time, German troops were allowed to transit through Sweden and Finland. In practice, this meant Germany had redrawn the border of German and Soviet spheres of influence.
Due to the changed situation, Molotov made a visit to Berlin on 12–13 November. He wanted Germany to withdraw its troops from Finland and stop enabling Finnish anti-Soviet sentiments. He also reminded the Germans of the 1939 Soviet–German non-aggression pact. Hitler asked how the Soviet Union planned to settle the "Finnish question". Molotov answered that it would happen in the same manner as in Bessarabia and the Baltic states. Hitler rejected this. The following December, the Soviet Union, Germany, and the United Kingdom all voiced opinions concerning suitable Finnish presidential candidates. Risto Ryti was the only candidate none of these three powers objected to. He was elected on 19 December.
In January 1941, the Soviet Union demanded to take control of the Petsamo mining area. Finland rejected this, as it by then had a rebuilt defense force and was encouraged by Germany to reject the Soviet demand. On 18 December 1940, Hitler had officially approved Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He expected both Finland and Romania to join the German campaign. Two days earlier, Finnish Major General Paavo Talvela had met German Colonel General Franz Halder and, a couple days later, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, in Berlin. This was the first time the Germans advised the Finns, in carefully couched diplomatic terms, that they were preparing for a war with the Soviet Union. Outlines of the actual plan were revealed in January 1941 and regular contacts between Finnish and German military leaders started from February.
In late spring 1941, the Soviet Union made a number of goodwill gestures in order to prevent Finland from completely falling under German influence. Soviet ambassador Ivan Zotov was replaced with the more flexible Pavel Orlov. Furthermore, the Soviet government announced that it no longer opposed a rapprochement between Finland and Sweden. However, these conciliatory measures did not have any effect on Finnish policy.
On 20 May 1941, the Germans invited some Finnish officers to discuss the coordination of Operation Barbarossa. The participants met on 25–28 May in Salzburg and Berlin, and continued their meeting in Helsinki from 3 to 6 June. They agreed upon the arrival of German troops, Finnish mobilization, and a general division of operations. They also agreed that the Finnish Army would start mobilization on 15 June, but the Germans did not reveal the final date for the assault. The Finnish decisions were made by a small group of political and military leaders; the rest of the government was largely kept in the dark. The government was not informed until 9 June that the country would start mobilization of reservists due to tensions between Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Germans took responsibility for the 500 km (310 mi) stretch of the front in northern Finland consisting of Finnish Lapland. The Finnish army was now much stronger than it had been during the Winter War, boasting 475,000 men. Their artillery was strong, however there was only one tank battalion and lack of motorized transportation.
At the beginning of the war, the Soviet Union had eighteen divisions in the region, against fifteen Finnish and four German divisions. The Finns had air supremacy. Furthermore, the Soviet Union needed its best units and newest materiel on its central European front.
Germany invaded on 22 June, but not from Finland. German minelayers hiding in the Archipelago Sea laid two large minefields across the Gulf of Finland in the late hours of 21 June. Later the same night, German bombers flew along the Gulf of Finland to Leningrad and mined the harbour and the river Neva. On the return trip, these bombers landed for refueling in Utti. In the early hours of 22 June, Finnish forces launched Operation Kilpapurjehdus, which aimed to deploy troops to the demilitarized Åland Islands. An international treaty on the status of the islands called for Finland to defend them in case of the threat of an attack. However, the operation was coordinated with the Nazi invasion, and the personnel of the Soviet consulate there were arrested. According to Finnish historian Mauno Jokipii, Finland knew that it had violated international protocol.
On 21 June, Finnish units began to concentrate at the Finnish-Soviet border, where they were arranged into defensive formations. Finland mobilised 16 infantry divisions, one cavalry brigade, and two jäger brigades, which were all standard infantry brigades, except for an armoured battalion in the 1st Jäger Brigade. Separate battalions were mostly formed from border guard units and were used mainly for reconnaissance. Soviet military plans estimated that Finland would be able to mobilise only ten infantry divisions, as it had done in the Winter War, but they failed to take into account the materiel Finland had purchased between the wars and its training of all available men. Two German mountain divisions were stationed at Petsamo and two infantry divisions at Salla. On the morning of 22 June, the German Mountain Corps Norway began its advance from northern Norway to Petsamo. Finland did not allow direct German attacks from its soil into the Soviet Union. On the same day, another German infantry division was moved from Oslo to face Ladoga Karelia.
On the Soviet side, the Karelian Isthmus was covered by the 23rd Army. Ladoga Karelia was defended by the 7th Army. In the Murmansk–Salla region, there was the 14th Army with the 42nd Corps. The Red Army also had around 40 battalions of separate regiments and fortification units present. Leningrad was garrisoned by three infantry divisions and one mechanized corps. As the initial devastating German strike against the Soviet Air Force had not affected air units located near Finland, the Soviets deployed 700 planes as well as some aircraft from the Navy against 300 Finnish planes.
On the morning of 25 June, the Soviet Union launched an air offensive of 460 fighters and bombers targeting 19 airfields in Finland. However, inaccurate intelligence and poor bombing accuracy caused several raids to hit Finnish cities or municipalities. There was considerable destruction in the cities. Twenty-three Soviet bombers were lost, while the Finns lost no aircraft.
The Soviet Union stated that the air attack was directed against German targets, especially airfields, in Finland. At the same time, Soviet artillery stationed at the Hanko base began to shell Finnish targets, and a minor Soviet infantry attack was launched over the Finnish side of the border in Parikkala.
The bombings offered the Finnish government a ground for claiming that the country had become the target of a new assault, and the Finnish parliament approved the "defensive war" as a fait accompli. According to historian David Kirby, the message was intended more for public opinion in Finland than abroad, where it was seen that the country was in the German camp.
In July the Finnish military began its planned offensive. According to Finnish historian Olli Vehviläinen, in 1941 most Finns thought that the scope of the new offensive was only to regain what had been wrongly taken in the Winter War.
The Soviet Union struggled to contain the German invasion, and soon the Soviet High Command had to call all available units stationed along the Finnish border to the rapidly deteriorating front line. According to Finnish historian Ohto Manninen, because of this, the initial air offensive against Finland could not be followed up with a supporting land offensive as allegedly planned. Moreover, the 237th Infantry Division and, excluding the 198th Motorized Division, the Soviet 10th Mechanized Corps were withdrawn from Ladoga Karelia, thus stripping most of the reserves from the remaining defending Soviet units.
The Finnish plans for the offensive in Ladoga Karelia were completed on 28 June. The offensive was launched on 10 July, and by 16 July, the Finns reached the shore of Lake Ladoga and cut the defending Soviet army in two, hindering the Soviets' defense of the area. Finnish headquarters halted the offensive in Ladoga Karelia on 25 July after reconquering the area of Ladoga Karelia lost to the Soviet Union in 1940 and after advancing as far as Vitele. The Finnish offensive then shifted to other sections of the front.
The Finnish II Corps (II AK) started its offensive in the region of the Karelian Isthmus on 31 July. Finnish troops reached the shores of Lake Ladoga on 9 August, surrounding most of three defending Soviet divisions on the northwestern coast of the lake; the Soviet divisions were evacuated across the lake. On 22 August, the Finnish IV AK Corps started its offensive from the 1940 border between the Gulf of Finland and the II AK, and advanced towards Viborg. By 23 August, the Finnish II Corps had reached the Vuoksi waterway from the east and continued to surround the Soviet forces defending Viborg. The Soviet withdrawal order came too late, and the Soviet divisions lost much of their equipment, although a sizable portion of their manpower was later evacuated via the Koivisto islands. The badly mauled defending Soviet army was unable to halt the Finnish offensive, and by 2 September the Finns had reached the 1939 border along its whole length. On 31 August, Finnish headquarters ordered the 2nd and 4th Army Corps, which had advanced the furthest, to halt their offensive after reaching a line just past the former border that ran from the mouth of the River Sestra via Retukylä, Aleksandrovka, and the eastern edge of the village of S. Beloostrov (Russian: Старого Белоо́стров) to Ohta and form for defense.
According to Soviet sources, the Finns advanced and took the settlement of Novyi Beloostrov with its train station on 4 September, but a Soviet counter-attack threw them out the next day. The war diary of the Finnish 12th Division facing this settlement notes that it was quiet at the time, while the neighboring 18th Division had orders on the morning of 4 September 1941 to form a line of defense north of N. Beloostrov, and the Finnish 6th Regiment responsible for the Finnish 18th Division's front line facing N. Beloostrov formed for defense along the small stream (Serebryanyy ruchey) north of N. Belootrov on 4 September 1941. According to Finnish sources, Soviet forces advanced north from N. Beloostrov and attacked the Finnish positions along the small stream on the morning of 5 September 1941, but the Finns managed to repel them. Staryi Beloostrov (Valkeasaari) was taken by the Finns on September 4 and the Soviet counterattacks failed to retake the settlement. Finnish forces captured N. Beloostrov again on 10 or 11 September 1941. According to the war diary of the Finnish 12th Division, this was done to strengthen their lines. The Soviet war correspondent Luknitsky noted that this created a dangerous bulge in the Soviet defensive line. According to Russian historian Nazarenko, the Finns were not able to advance further due to stronger Soviet defensive positions. Fighting for the settlement continued until 20 September, when the Soviets managed to force the Finns out. After that the front stabilized.
The Finnish offensive in East Karelia started in early July in the northern section of the front. In early September, the attack in the northern section reached Rukajärvi (Ругозеро, Rugozero) village and Finnish headquarters halted the offensive there. On August 27, Finnish headquarters ordered the offensive in the south to reach the Svir River. Finnish troops cut the Kirov railroad on 7 September, crossed the Svir on 15 September, and then halted the offensive. Advance troops reached the shores of Lake Onega on 24 September. The town of Petrozavodsk was captured on 1 October after the Soviets withdrew to avoid encirclement. On 6 November, Finnish headquarters ordered their forces to capture Karhumäki and then shift to defense. The Finnish forces captured the area of Karhumäki and Povenets, and halted the offensive in early December.
Related to the Finnish advance to the Svir, the German Army Group North advanced from the south towards the Svir River and managed to capture Tikhvin before Soviet counterattacks forced the Germans to withdraw to the Volkhov River. Soviet forces also made several attempts to force the Finns out from their bridgehead south of the Svir during October and December 1941; however, the Soviet efforts to reduce the bridgehead were blocked by the Finns. Soviet forces also attacked the German 163rd Division, which was operating under Finnish command across the Svir in October 1941, but the Soviet forces that had crossed the river were pushed back soon after.
The German objective in northern Finland was to take Murmansk and seize control of the Murman Railway. Murmansk was the only year-round ice-free port in the north, and it was a threat to the nickel mine at Petsamo. Operation Silver Fox was run by the German AOK Norwegen and had two Finnish divisions under its command. The German soldiers were from central Europe and they had difficulty moving over the roadless terrain of swamp and forest. The troops managed to advance some distance with heavy casualties, but the terrain offered good defensive positions for the Soviet resistance. The German–Finnish troops were ordered on 17 November to move to defensive operations, when attempts to reach the Murmansk Railway had failed.
Although the Soviet Red Banner Baltic fleet started the war in a strong position, German naval mine warfare and aerial supremacy and the rapid advance by German land forces forced the Soviet Navy to evacuate its bases to Kronstadt and Leningrad. The Soviets' evacuations from Tallinn and Hanko proved to be very costly operations for them. As the Soviet Navy withdrew to the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, it left nearly the whole Baltic Sea, as well as many of the islands, to the German and Finnish navies. Although Soviet submarines caused some threat to German traffic on the Baltic, the withdrawal of the Soviet Navy made the Baltic Sea a "German lake" until the second half of 1944. Although the Soviet Navy left in a hurry, the naval mines it had managed to lay before and during the evacuations caused casualties both to the Germans and the Finns, including the loss of one of the two Finnish coastal defence ships, the Ilmarinen.
Germany's main forces advanced rapidly deep into Soviet territory during the first weeks of the Operation Barbarossa campaign. The Finns believed the Germans would defeat the Soviet Union quickly. President Ryti envisioned Greater Finland, where the country and other Finnic people would live inside a "natural defence borderline" by incorporating the Kola Peninsula, East Karelia, and perhaps even northern Ingria. In public, the proposed frontier was introduced by the slogan "A short border – a long peace". Some members of the Finnish parliament, such as the Social Democrats and the Swedish People's Party, opposed the idea, arguing that maintaining the 1939 frontier would be enough. On 10 July, Finnish Commander-in-Chief C. G. E. Mannerheim gave an order of the day, the Sword Scabbard Declaration, in which he pledged to liberate Karelia. The Finnish government assured the Americans that it was unaware of the order.
Finland had prepared for a short war, but in late autumn it was clear that there would be no decisive outcome in the short term. Finnish troops suffered losses during their advance; and, overall, German victory became uncertain as German troops were halted near Moscow. The Finnish economy suffered from a lack of labour, food shortages, and increased prices. The Finnish government had to demobilize part of the army so that industrial and agricultural production would not collapse. In October, Finland informed Germany that it would need 175,000 short tons (159,000 t) of grain to manage until next year's harvest. The German authorities would have rejected the request, but Hitler himself agreed. Annual grain deliveries of 200,000 short tons (180,000 t) equaled almost one half of the Finnish domestic crop. In November, Finland decided to join the Anti-Comintern Pact. The advance in East Karelia was halted on 6 December. The Finns had suffered 75,000 casualties, of whom 25,000 were Finnish deaths during the advance.
Finland maintained good relations with the Western powers. The Finnish government stressed that Finland was fighting as a co-belligerent with Germany against the Soviet Union only to protect itself. Furthermore, Finland stressed that it was still the same democratic country as it had been in the Winter War. However, on 12 July 1941, the United Kingdom signed an agreement of joint action with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, under German pressure, Finland had to close the British legation in Helsinki. As a result, diplomatic relations between Finland and the United Kingdom were broken on 1 August. On 28 November, Britain presented Finland an ultimatum demanding that Finland cease military operations by 3 December. Unofficially, Finland informed the Western powers that Finnish troops would halt their advance in the next few days. The reply did not satisfy the United Kingdom, which declared war on Finland on 6 December. The Commonwealth member states of Canada, Australia, British Raj, and New Zealand followed suit.
Relations between Finland and the United States were more complex; the American public was sympathetic to the "brave little democracy", and there were anti-communist feelings. At first, the United States empathised with the Finnish cause; however, the situation became problematic after Finnish troops crossed the 1939 border. Finnish and German troops were a threat to the Murmansk Railway and northern communication supply line between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. On 25 October 1941, the United States demanded that Finland cease all hostilities against the Soviet Union and withdraw behind the 1939 border. In public, President Ryti rejected the demands, but in private he wrote to Mannerheim on 5 November, asking him to halt the offensive. Mannerheim agreed and secretly instructed General Hjalmar Siilasvuo to break off the assault against the Murmansk Railway.
Although military operations during 1942 and 1943 were limited, the front did see some action. In early 1942, Soviet Karelian Front forces attempted to retake Medvezhyegorsk, which had been lost to the Finns in late 1941. As spring came, the Soviet forces also went on the offensive on the Svir front as well as in Kiestinki region. All Soviet offensives started promisingly, but due either to the Soviets overextending their lines or stubborn defensive resistance, the Soviet offensives were stopped and repulsed. After Finnish and German counterattacks in Kiestinki, the eventual front lines had moved very little. In September 1942, the Soviets tried again at Kriv near Medvezhyegorsk, but despite five days of fighting, the Soviets managed to push the Finnish lines back only 500 m (550 yd) on a roughly 1 km (0.62 mi)-long stretch of the front.
Unconventional warfare was fought in both the Finnish and Soviet wilderness. Finnish long-range reconnaissance patrols, organized both by Finnish HQ—4th Separate Battalion (Er.P 4)—and by local units, patrolled beyond Soviet lines. In summer 1942, the Soviet Union formed the 1st Partisan Brigade. The unit was only 'partisan' in name, as it was essentially more than 600 men and women on long-range patrol. The 1st Partisan Brigade was able to infiltrate beyond Finnish patrol lines, but was found and largely destroyed.
On the naval front, the Soviet Baltic Fleet still operated from the besieged city of Leningrad. In early 1942, Soviet forces recaptured the island of Gogland, but lost both Gogland and Bolshoy Tyuters to the Finns later in spring 1942. During the winter of 1941/1942, the Soviet Baltic Fleet made the decision to use the large submarine fleet to carry the fight to the enemy. Though initial submarine operations in the summer of 1942 were successful, the German Kriegsmarine and Finnish Navy soon stepped up their anti-submarine efforts, making Soviet submarine operations later in 1942 very costly. The underwater offensive carried out by the Soviets convinced the Germans to lay anti-submarine nets as well as supporting minefields between Porkkala and Naissaar which proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for Soviet submarines.
Operation Barbarossa was planned as a blitzkrieg intended to last a few weeks. In the autumn of 1941, this turned out to be wrong, and leading Finnish military officers started to doubt Germany's capability to finish the war quickly. German troops in northern Finland faced circumstances they were not properly prepared for, and failed to reach their targets, most importantly Murmansk. As the lines stabilized, Finland sent out peace feelers to the Soviet Union several times. Germany was alarmed by this, and reacted by drawing down shipments of desperately needed materials each time. The idea that Finland had to continue the war while putting its own forces in the least possible danger gained increasing support, perhaps in the hope that the Wehrmacht and the Red Army would wear each other down enough for negotiations to begin, or to at least get them out of the way of Finland's independent decisions. Nationalist elements, including the IKL, may also have continued to hope for an eventual victory by Germany.
Finland's participation in the war brought major benefits to Germany. The Soviet fleet was blockaded in the Gulf of Finland, so that the Baltic was freed for the training of German submarine crews as well as for German shipping, especially for the transport of vital iron ore from northern Sweden and nickel and rare metals (needed in steel processing) from the Petsamo area. The Finnish front secured the northern flank of the German Army Group North in the Baltic states. The sixteen Finnish divisions tied down numerous Soviet troops, put pressure on Leningrad (although Mannerheim refused to attack it directly), and threatened the Murmansk railway. Additionally, Sweden was further isolated and was increasingly pressured to comply with German and Finnish wishes, though with limited success.
Despite Finland's contributions to the German cause, the Western Allies had ambivalent feelings, torn between residual goodwill for Finland and the need to accommodate their vital ally, the Soviet Union. As a result, Britain declared war against Finland, but the United States did not. With few exceptions, there was no combat between these countries and Finland, but Finnish sailors were interned overseas. In the United States, Finland was denounced for naval attacks made on American Lend-Lease shipments, but received approval for continuing to make payments on its World War I debt throughout the inter-war period.
Because Finland joined the Anti-Comintern Pact and signed other agreements with Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Allies characterized Finland as one of the Axis Powers, although the term used in Finland is "co-belligerence with Germany", emphasizing the lack of a formal military alliance.
Foreigners to Finland from Sweden and Estonia were among international personnel who fought during the Continuation war.
As in the Winter War, Swedish volunteers were recruited. Until December 1941, these formed the Swedish Volunteer Battalion, which was tasked with guarding the Soviet naval base at Hanko. When it was evacuated by sea in December 1941, the Swedish unit was officially disbanded. During the Continuation War, the volunteers signed up for three to six months of service. In all, over 1,600 Swedish volunteers fought for Finland, although only about 60 remained by the summer of 1944. About a third of the volunteers had previously participated in the Winter War. Another significant group—about a quarter of the men—were Swedish officers on leave.
From 1942 to 1944 there was also a Schutzstaffel (SS) battalion of volunteers on the northern Finnish front recruited from Norway, then under German occupation, and similarly, some Danes. About 3,400 Estonian volunteers took part. On other occasions, the Finns received a total of about 2,100 Soviet prisoners of war in return for those Soviet POWs they turned over to the Germans. These POWs were mainly Estonians and Karelians who were willing to join the Finnish army. These, as well as some volunteers from occupied Eastern Karelia, formed the Kinship Battalion (Finnish language: Heimopataljoona). At the end of the war, the USSR requested members of the Kinship Battalion to be handed over. Some managed to escape before or during transport, but most of them were either sent to the labor camps or executed.
On 19 July 1941, the Finns set up the military administration in occupied East Karelia. The goal of the administration was to prepare the region for eventual incorporation into Finland. In the early stage, the Finns aimed at ethnic cleansing where the Russian population would be expelled from the area once the war was over. They would be replaced with Finnic peoples such as Karelians, Finns, Estonians, Ingrians, and Vepsians. The Russian population was deemed "non-national". Most of the East Karelian population had been evacuated before the Finnish forces arrived. About 85,000 people—mostly the elderly, women, and children—were left behind, and less than half of them were Karelians. A significant number of civilians—almost 30% of the remaining Russians—were interned in concentration camps.
The winter of 1941–42 was an ordeal for the Finnish urban population, due to poor harvests and a shortage of agricultural laborers. However, for the Russians captured in Finnish concentration camps it was disastrous; more than 3,500 people died, mostly from starvation. This figure amounted to 13.8% of the inmates, while the corresponding figure for the free population of the occupied territories was 2.6%, and for Finland proper 1.4%. Conditions gradually improved; ethnic discrimination in wage levels and food rations was terminated the following year after the Red Cross commission from Switzerland inspected the camps, and new schools were established for the Russian-speaking population. By the end of the occupation, mortality rates dropped to the same levels as in Finland proper.
Soviet partisans conducted a number of operations in Finland and in Eastern Karelia from 1941 to 1944. The major one failed when the 1st Partisan Brigade was destroyed in the beginning of August 1942 at Lake Seesjärvi. Partisans distributed propaganda newspapers, Pravda in Finnish and Lenin's Banner in Russian. One of the leaders of the partisan movement in Finland and Karelia was Yuri Andropov.
Finnish sources state that partisan activity in East Karelia focused mainly on Finnish military supply and communication targets, but almost two thirds of the attacks on the Finnish side of the border targeted civilians, killing 200 and injuring 50, including children and the elderly.
Finland had a small (approx. 2,300) Jewish population. They had full civil rights and fought with other Finns in the ranks of the Finnish Army. The Germans mentioned the Finnish Jews at the Wannsee Conference in Germany during January 1942, wishing to transport them to Majdanek in General Government. SS leader Heinrich Himmler mentioned the Finnish Jews during his visit in Finland in the summer of 1942. Finnish Prime Minister Jukka Rangell replied that Finland had no "Jewish question". However, there were differences for Jewish refugees in Finland. In November 1942, the Finns handed eight Jewish refugees over to the Gestapo. This raised protests among the Finnish Social Democrat ministers, and after this event no more refugees were handed over. Over 500 Jewish refugees were granted asylum.
The field synagogue in Eastern Karelia was one of the very few functioning synagogues on the Axis side during the war. There were even several cases of Jewish officers of Finland's army being awarded the German Iron Cross, which they declined. German soldiers were treated by Jewish medical officers who sometimes saved the soldiers' lives.
The Continuation War represents the only case of a genuinely democratic state participating in World War II on the side of the Axis powers, albeit without being a signatory of the Tripartite Pact. The United Kingdom declared war on Finland on 6 December 1941 (Finnish Independence Day), with Canada and New Zealand declaring war on Finland on 7 December and Australia and South Africa declaring war the next day. U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull congratulated the Finnish envoy on 3 October 1941 for the liberation of Karelia but warned Finland not to enter Soviet territory; furthermore, the United States did not declare war on Finland when it went to war alongside the Axis countries and, together with the UK, approached Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference about acknowledging Finnish independence. However, the U.S. government seized Finnish merchant ships in American ports, and in the summer of 1944 shut down Finnish diplomatic and commercial offices in the United States as a result of President Ryti's treaty with Germany. The U.S. government later warned Finland about the consequences of continued adherence to the Axis.
The best-known British action on Finnish soil was an aircraft carrier strike on German and Finnish ships in the Finnish harbour of Petsamo on 31 July 1941. This attack achieved little except the loss of three British aircraft, but it was intended as a demonstration of British support for its Soviet ally. Later in 1941, Hurricanes of No. 151 Wing RAF, based at Murmansk, provided local air cover for Soviet troops and fighter escorts for Soviet bombers.
Finnish radio intelligence is said to have participated effectively in German actions against British convoys to Murmansk. Throughout the war, German aircraft operating from airfields in northern Finland attacked British air and naval units based in Murmansk and Archangelsk.
Finland began to actively seek a way out of the war after the disastrous German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943. Edwin Linkomies formed a new cabinet with peace as the top priority. Negotiations were conducted intermittently in 1943–44 between Finland and its representative, Juho Kusti Paasikivi, on one side, and the Western Allies and the Soviet Union on the other, but no agreement was reached. Stalin decided to force Finland to surrender; a bombing campaign on Helsinki followed. The air campaign in February 1944 included three major air attacks involving a total of over 6,000 sorties. Finnish anti-aircraft defences managed to repel the raids as only five percent of the dropped bombs hit their planned targets. Helsinki's air defense included the strategic placing of searchlights and fires as decoys outside the city to lure the Soviet bombers to drop their payloads in what were actually unpopulated areas. Major air attacks also hit Oulu and Kotka, but because of radio intelligence and effective anti-aircraft defences, the number of casualties was small.
Meanwhile, the lengthy and ferocious German defence in Narva aided by the Estonians eliminated Soviet-occupied Estonia as a favorable base for Soviet amphibious invasions and air attacks against Helsinki and other Finnish cities. The tactical success of the army detachment "Narwa" from mid-February to April diminished the hopes of the Stavka to assault Finland and force it into capitulation from Estonia. Finland terminated the negotiations in mid-April 1944, because they considered the Soviet terms to be impossible to fulfill.
On 9 June 1944, the Soviet Union opened a major offensive against Finnish positions on the Karelian Isthmus and in the area of Lake Ladoga (it was timed to accompany D-Day). On the 21.7 km (13.5 mi)-wide breakthrough segment the Red Army had concentrated 3,000 guns and mortars. In some places, the concentration of artillery pieces exceeded 200 guns for every kilometer of the front (one every 5 m (5.5 yd)). On that day, Soviet artillery fired over 80,000 rounds along the front on the Karelian Isthmus. On the second day of the offensive, the Soviet forces broke through the Finnish front lines. The Soviets penetrated the second line of defence by the sixth day. The Soviet pressure on the Karelian Isthmus forced the Finns to reinforce the area. This allowed the second Soviet offensive in Eastern Karelia to meet less resistance and to capture Petrozavodsk by 28 June 1944. According to Erickson (1991), James Gebhardt (1989), and Glantz (1998), the main objective of the Soviet offensives was to force Finland from the war.
Finland especially lacked modern antitank weaponry which could stop Soviet heavy tanks, and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop offered these in exchange for a guarantee that Finland would not seek a separate peace again. On 26 June, President Risto Ryti gave this guarantee as a personal undertaking, which he intended to last only for the remainder of his presidency. In addition to delivering thousands of hand-held Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck antitank weapons, Hitler sent the 122nd Infantry Division, the half-strength 303rd Assault Gun Brigade, and Luftwaffe Detachment Kuhlmey to provide temporary support in the most threatened defense sectors.
With new supplies from Germany, the Finnish army halted the Soviet advance in early July 1944. At this point, the Finnish forces had retreated about one hundred kilometres, which brought them to approximately the same line of defence they had held at the end of the Winter War. This line was known as the VKT-line (short for "Viipuri–Kuparsaari–Taipale"; it ran from Viborg to the River Vuoksi to Lake Ladoga at Taipale), where the Finnish Army stopped the Soviet offensive in the Battle of Tali-Ihantala in spite of Soviet numerical and materiel superiority. The front stabilized once again.
A few battles were fought in the latter stages of the war. The last of them was the Battle of Ilomantsi, a Finnish victory, from 26 July to 13 August 1944. The struggle to contain the Soviet offensive was exhausting Finnish resources. The German support under the Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement had prevented a disaster, but it was believed the country would not be able to hold another major attack. The Soviet advances against German Army Groups Center and North further complicated matters for Finland.
With the front being stable so far, it was a good time for Finland to seek a way out of the war. At the beginning of August President Ryti resigned to allow Finland to sue for peace again, which the new government did in late August. The Soviet peace terms were harsh, but the $600,000,000 reparations demanded in the spring were reduced to $300,000,000, most likely due to pressure from the United States and Britain. However, after the ceasefire the Soviets insisted that the payments should be based on 1938 prices, which doubled the amount. This sum constituted half of Finland's annual gross domestic product in 1939.
The number of Soviet prisoners of war was estimated to be around 64,000. Of these, 56,000 were captured in 1941. About 2,600 to 2,800 Soviet prisoners of war were handed over to the Germans in exchange for roughly 2,200 Finnic prisoners of war. Out of 64,188 Soviet POWs, at least 18,318 were documented to have died in Finnish prisoner of war camps.
There are two views of the number of Finnish prisoners of war. The Soviet and Russian view is that of 2,377 Finnish prisoners of war who reached the prison camps 1,954 were returned after the Moscow Armistice. The Finnish view is that of the original approximately 3,500 Finnish prisoners of war, only about 2,000 were returned (more than 40% perished). The difference can be at least partially explained by the Soviet practice of counting only the prisoners who survived to reach a prison camp.
Mannerheim had repeatedly reminded the Germans that in case their troops in Estonia retreated, Finland would be forced to make peace even on extremely unfavourable terms. The territory of Estonia would have provided the Soviet army a favourable base for amphibious invasions and air attacks against Finland's capital, Helsinki, and other strategic targets in Finland, and would have severed Finnish access to the sea. The initial German reaction to Finland's announcement of ambitions for a separate peace was limited to only verbal opposition. However, the Germans then arrested hundreds of sailors on Finnish merchant ships in Germany, Denmark, and Norway.
Previously, in return for critically needed food and defense materiel from the Germans, President Ryti had personally committed, in writing, that no separate peace with the Soviets would be attempted. Accordingly, it became clear that he must resign, paving the way for a separate peace. Finland's military leader Mannerheim was appointed president in an extraordinary procedure by the Finnish parliament. In agreeing to take office, he accepted responsibility for ending the war.
On 4 September 1944, the cease-fire ended military actions on the Finnish side. The Soviet Union ended hostilities exactly 24 hours after the Finns. An armistice between the Soviet Union and Finland was signed in Moscow on 19 September. Finland had to make many concessions: the Soviet Union regained the borders of 1940, with the addition of the Petsamo area (now Pechengsky District, Russia); the Porkkala peninsula (adjacent to Helsinki) was leased to the USSR as a naval base for fifty years; and transit rights were granted. Finland's army was to be demobilized with haste, but Finland was first required to expel all German troops from its territory within 14 days. As the Germans did not leave Finland by the given deadline, the Finns fought their former co-belligerents in the Lapland War. Finland was also required to clear the minefields in Karelia (including East Karelia) and in the Gulf of Finland. Retreating German forces had also mined northern Finland heavily. The demining was a long operation, especially in the sea areas, lasting until 1952. One-hundred Finnish army personnel were killed and over 200 wounded during this process, most of them in Lapland.
As sizable numbers of civilians who had been relocated into Finland from Karelia in 1939-40 had moved back into Karelia during the war, they had to be evacuated again; of the 260,000 civilians who had moved back into the Karelia, only 19 chose to remain and become Soviet citizens.
Most of the Ingrian Finns together with Votes and Izhorians living in German-occupied Ingria had been evacuated to Finland in 1943-1944. After armistice Finland was forced to return the evacuees. Soviet authorities did not allow the 55,733 people who had been handed over to settle back in Ingria, and instead deported them to central regions of Russia.
Nevertheless, in contrast to the rest of the Eastern front countries, where the war was fought to the end, a Soviet occupation of Finland did not occur and the country retained sovereignty. Neither did the Communists rise to power as they had in the Eastern Bloc countries. A policy called the Paasikivi–Kekkonen line formed the basis of Finnish foreign policy towards the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991.
Finland re-entered World War II mainly because of the Soviet invasion of Finland during the Winter War, which had taken place after Finnish intentions of relying on the League of Nations and Nordic neutrality to avoid conflicts had failed from lack of outside support. During the Continuation War, Finland primarily aimed to reverse its territorial losses under the March 1940 Moscow Peace Treaty and, depending on the success of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, to possibly expand, especially into East Karelia (Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic). Some right-wing groups also supported a Greater Finland ideology. Henrik Lunde notes that, unlike many of Germany's allies, Finland survived World War II without losing its independence, although the price for war was high in war casualties, reparation payments, territorial loss, a bruised international reputation according to Olli Vehviläinen, and according to some, subsequent Soviet influence on Finland's foreign policy during the Cold War. According to Tuulikki Vuonokari, the Finnish–German alliance was different from most of the other Axis relationships, an example of which was the participation of Finnish Jews in the fight against the Soviet Union. The Finnish government did not take any anti-Jewish measures, despite repeated requests from Nazi Germany. One remarkable aspect of the Finnish–German relationship was that Finland never signed the Tripartite Pact, which was signed by all de jure Axis countries. The Finns, and Mannerheim in particular, clearly stated they would fight against the Soviets only to the extent necessary to redress the balance of the 1940 treaty. However, for Hitler the matter was irrelevant; and he saw Finland as an ally.
Finland adopted the concept of a "parallel war" whereby it sought to pursue its own objectives in concert with, but separate from, Nazi Germany, as "co-belligerents".
Major events across Europe and the tides of war in general had a significant impact on the course of World War II in Finland:Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) is closely connected to the Continuation War's beginning.
The Allied invasion of France (Battle of Normandy) was coordinated with the Soviet major offensive against Finland (9 June–15 July 1944).
The subsequent Soviet and Allied advances towards Germany drew away the interest in military operations from Northern Europe, hastening the end of the Continuation War.
Soviet sources maintain that Soviet policies up to the Continuation War were best explained as defensive measures by offensive means: The Soviet division of occupied Poland with Germany, the Soviet occupations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and the Soviet invasion of Finland in the Winter War are described as elements in the Soviets' construction of a security zone or buffer region between the perceived threat from the capitalist powers of Western Europe and the Communist Soviet Union. These Soviet sources see the post-war establishment of Soviet satellite states in the Warsaw Pact countries and the Finnish-Soviet Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance as the conclusion of this Soviet defense plan. Western historians such as Norman Davies and John Lukacs dispute this view and describe the pre-war Soviet policy as an attempt to stay out of the war and regaining land lost after the fall of the Russian Empire.
Several Western historians, while noting the Soviets' assertion of their alleged need for a Soviet security buffer, contend the Soviet designs on Finland were no different from their designs on other Baltic countries. American Dan Reiter (1990) notes, “[Finland recognized] that the Soviet Union was unlikely to be satisfied with territorial concessions as a means to increase its security. [T]he Soviets viewed the control of small buffer states as critical to their security...This was the motivation", he asserts, "behind the de facto 1940 Soviet annexation of the Baltic States, and Moscow saw the control of Finland also as ultimately being necessary." Reiter and British historian Victor Rothwell quote Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov as telling his Lithuanian counterpart at the time Lithuania was effectively absorbed into the USSR, “[S]mall states will disappear...Baltic states, including Finland, will be included within the honourable family of Soviet peoples. However, contends Reiter, "[T]he fear of rising costs of fighting pushed Stalin to accept a limited war outcome with Finland, rather than pursue absolute victory", although a contemporary "Soviet document... called for the brutal military occupation of Finland at war’s end." “The Finnish victory [at Ilomantsi] ended the Soviet offensive in Finland and persuaded the Soviets to give up their demand for Finland's unconditional surrender". Peter Provis (1999) concludes his essay on point, “By following [self-censorship and limited appeasement] policies and fulfilling the Soviet Union's demands [for great reparations]...Finland avoided the same fate as other nations that were 'liberated' by the Red Army...Finland had once again defended her independence in a global conflict that engulfed and destroyed many other nations...The Finns had once again demonstrated their determination to avoid defeat by the Soviet Union and maintained their independence".
Russian historian Nikolai Baryshnikov disputes the view that the Soviet Union wanted to deprive Finland of its independence, and that Finnish "defensive victories" prevented this. He argues that there is no documentary evidence for such claims and that the Soviet government was always open for negotiations. Baryshnikov cites the former head of the Office of Information of the Finnish General Staff, Kalle Lehmus, and other Finnish sources to show that the Finnish leaders already knew of the limited Soviet plans for Finland in the first half of July 1944, after intelligence indicated that some Soviet divisions were to be transferred to reserve in Leningrad.