(Kansas City, Missouri) - Seventy-five years ago this month, shortly after the start of World War II, tiny Finland began a valiant, 105-day stand against a massive Soviet invasion that became the stuff of modern military legend.
Innately tough, dedicated to their country and their brilliant commander-in-chief, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, and using one of the most brutal winters in history to their advantage, the Finns exacted a terrible toll on the Red Army before their southern defenses finally were breached and they were forced to the peace table in March 1940.
Historian John Suprin of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth examines the lead-up to the hostilities, the fighting that left more than 126,000 Soviet troops killed or missing, and the war's ramifications on Thursday, December 4, 2014. His presentation at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., begins at 6:30 p.m.
When the Soviet Union launched its invasion in November 1939 - after Finland denied its request for a naval base and other concessions - no one expected the Finns to offer much resistance to the largest military force in the world. But no one, including the Soviets, could foresee the winter unfolding as one of the coldest in recorded history, rendering a "frozen hell" with temperatures as low as 58 degrees below zero.
Finnish troops were more acclimated to the frigid conditions. They were more suitably clothed and equipped. Using local knowledge, white camouflage, and skis, they bedeviled the Soviets, deploying fast-moving light infantry to swiftly encircle and destroy isolated enemy units. The Finns lacked armor but developed specialized tactics for dealing with Soviet tanks: jamming their tracks with logs, then using Molotov Cocktails to detonate their fuel tanks.
Employing heavy artillery bombardment, the Soviet Union pushed on and finally broke through. Unable to secure help from Britain and France, the exhausted Finns made peace on Soviet terms on March 12, 1940, agreeing to the cession of western Karelia and construction of a Soviet naval base on the Hanko Peninsula.
Suprin is a former armor officer with 23 years of service in the U.S. Army. He holds a master's degree from the University of Washington in Russian and Baltic studies.
Admission to his presentation is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th & Baltimore.