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Thread: Centurion

  1. #1

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    Centurion

    Finland celebrates its 100th birthday today, gaining its independence from Russia on 6.12.1917. It was a largely autonomous state within the Czarist empire prior to that, and even earlier in its history had been part of the Swedish empire. The political process to independence was swift: it took just two days from the vote in the senate to the gaining of independence, the nascent communist regime in St. Petersburg being pre-occupied with weightier matters.

    If the route to independence was quick and easy, however, the aftermath was anything but. A civil war broke out at the beginning of the following year, and this would leave deep divisions in society for a generation or more. The war didn't last too long, just a bit over three months, but was marked by a viciousness that continued once fighting was over. Some 38000 people, well over 1% of the entire population of the day, died during this period, of which fewer than 10000 could be counted as combatants in action. The largest number were lost in prison camps through illness, starvation, neglect, mistreatment, executions and murder. The Whites won the actual war, but the Finland that has emerged since then is closer to what the Reds were fighting for than what the White leadership were fighting for.

    The start of the healing process of these self-inflicted wounds came courtesy of our eastern neighbour. Stalin, in his bid to keep up with the nazis, absorbed the Baltic States outright and demanded chunks of Finland. The White leader during the civil war, Mannerheim, was appointed head of the army, and his main strategy was to fight the enemy hard, both to dissuade it and also to buy time for foreign assistance to come to the Finns' aid. The latter never materialised, and the Finns fought the Winter War alone but with a ferocity that shocked the Soviets. Aided by some poor Soviet equipment and training, and some spectacularly inept Soviet tactics and leadership, the Finns put up a defence that left one, ultimately victorious, Soviet general to comment bitterly that they had conquered just enough territory in which they could bury their dead. Defeat was defeat, however, and the Finns were in no position to resist Soviet demands for further territory: The whole of the Karelian isthmus and the second city of Viipuri were lost, as well as the northern port of Petsamo.

    The Continuation War that followed in 1941 on the back of Barbarossa brought, at first, substantial Finnish victories and gains, but once the Red Machine started rolling back the German army then a second defeat for the Finns was inevitable. As a sign of shifting alliances, by the end of hostilities the Finns had fought against both the Soviets and Germans with equipment supplied by the British, Americans, Soviets and Germans. The peace negotiations forced the Finns to cede even more territory, as well as acknowledging that they were responsible for starting the conflict with the Soviets, and the payment of hefty reparations.

    If the birth and infancy of this nation was violent, then that that followed was peaceful. The mid-fifties saw the publication of Väinö Linna's magnum opus Tuntematon Sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), a work that has been widely credited as helping healing the wounds of Finland's earlier days. The original film of the book is a magnificent piece of cinema, and is shown on national television on this day every year. Reparations were paid in full and on time, the country slowly industrialised and by the 1970s the economy was prosperous and near full employment. President Kekkonen kept Finland loosely aligned with the Soviet Union while remaining outside the Warsaw Pact. The break up of the Soviet Union, by far Finland's largest trading partner at the time, brought disaster to the economy here, and by the late '80s very early '90s the country was near bankrupt. Then came Nokia.

    For my part, it's difficult to believe that I've lived here for the very thick end of 25 years. I first arrived on 2.3.1992 out of idle curiosity as to what kind of country this was. A year earlier Nokia had bought our company, Technophone, as the first step on the road that would take it first to mobile phone world domination and then its own rapid destruction. It was still a culture shock, though, to be told on my arrival at the hotel that my compatriot was singing in the cabaret there that very night. Upon asking the identity of the crooner, I got the reply "Eddie Edwards". Much has changed over the past quarter century. Unemployment was at about 22% nationally when I arrived, and numerous people were in dire financial difficulty. Crime was very low though: for example, in those days women would almost routinely leave their handbags unattended at a restaurant or night club table while they went to the toilet, secure in the knowledge that it would remain there intact for their return. Most shops except for the largest were routinely shut on Saturdays during the summer. The Christmas season never started proper until Independence day was out of the way. The country has gradually westernised during this period, a process undoubtedly accelerated by our joining the EU. Where MiG-21s used to scream down the runway at Oulu airport, nowadays F18 Hornets do the same thing. Christmas begins in October and shops opening hours are indistinguishable from those elsewhere in the EU. Crime remains low by international standards, though the days of seeing handbags being left on tables are long gone, as are the days of Eddie Edwards singing in night clubs.
    Last edited by Muukalainen; 08-12-2017 at 06:57. Reason: Date of arrival was 2.3, not 3.2.

  2. #2
    One on my to do list, I've covered most of Europe at this stage, Finland and Portugal are my two big gaps (never been to Russia and no interest in going either ) my friends sisters family are heading there this weekend to see Santa Claus, a very popular trip from Ireland and no doubt welcomed by the local community

  3. #3

    Dhéanfadh mé mo chuile dhícheall chun a bheith ar meisce, go scanreoidh sé an saol mór
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    Thanks for that, Muukalainen.

    I visited Finland with my Dad and a couple of his work colleagues on a week of "work experience" during Transition Year back in 1997. My most salient memories of the country are the quality, for want of a better term, of the snow. Most snow that you get in Ireland, like we're apparently due to get at the end of this week, has the consistency and appearance of small pellets of polystyrene that crunches underfoot. Not in Finland. I remember sticking my (gloved) hand into a snowdrift by the side of the road on a sunny morning after we'd arrived and being amazed at the soft, almost crystalline nature of the snowflakes. Each one looked like it had been individually crafted just for my appreciation.

    The group had travelled to Finland as part of a location scouting expedition for a documentary series on the history of timber in architecture which meant a lot of short flights and long drives around the more remote parts of the country (I wish I could remember the names of the towns we visited) photographing and filming some very striking old buildings, primarily these beautiful Orthodox Christian churches that you find dotted around the small towns. Driving through the pine forests was another fantastic sight - kilometre after kilometre of snow-capped trees stretching out in front of you.

    The Winter War is something I'd love to read more about and if there are any books on the subject you'd recommend please flag them. I've always been fascinated with it for two reasons. Firstly, my amazement at how such a comparatively small nation held off the might of the Soviet Union for so long and secondly the incredible story of Simo Häyhä, aka "The White Death."

  4. #4
    Duncan Gardner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duncan Gardner View Post
    Kiitos
    Olepas hyvä! Syötkö vielä keksejä?

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reginald Christ View Post
    The Winter War is something I'd love to read more about and if there are any books on the subject you'd recommend please flag them. I've always been fascinated with it for two reasons. Firstly, my amazement at how such a comparatively small nation held off the might of the Soviet Union for so long ...
    I do have a recommendation for a book, but it seems to be in a box at the back of the garage somewhere and up to now I've not been able to find it. If it's where I think it is then I'll have to shift some other stuff to get to it. I'll have another dig for it in the coming days.

    Regarding the mighty Soviet army, well in 1939 it was basically incompetent. Stalin's purges of that decade had deprived the army of most of its good commanders, and the training was mostly quite poor. On the other hand, they had some good equipment -- small and medium arms were good, tanks were very good though not much use in the terrain as you accurately described -- though their air force was inept. Some Finnish pilots were able to rattle up cricket scores in kills despite being lumbered with obsolete UK and US equipment.

    Even worse were their tactics. Geography dictates that the major attack had to be through the Karelian isthmus and the Finns obviously reinforced this area. Less obvious was the Soviet idea of diversionary tactics. The foray to the north of Lake Ladoga at least had the merit of tying up Finnish forces that were badly needed further south, but the concept of trying to move large bodies of troops and equipment over vast distances down single track roads covered with snow, their troops not even used to the conditions, against defenders mobile on skis and who regard the forest as their home, was plain madness. The inevitable outcome was that both columns were stopped nowhere near their objectives and destroyed, the end result being that the Soviets supplied the Finns with much needed equipment. The Soviets' tactic in the isthmus was to hammer relentlessly across as wide a front as possible, but the Finns had built good defensive positions and fought stubbornly. It's easy to understand the cost in casualties in such a scenario, especially amongst the attackers. Nevertheless, by the cessation of hostilities the Soviets had pushed the western end of the Mannerheim line back almost to Viipuri, and for all intents and purposes had broken through the Finnish defences. With the onset of spring robbing the Finns of their best army, they had little choice but to sue for peace.

    It's a moot point as to how Barbarossa would have developed had the Soviets not invaded Finland (or had Italy not invaded Greece, for that matter).

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Muukalainen View Post
    The foray to the north of Lake Ladoga at least had the merit of tying up Finnish forces that were badly needed further south, but the concept of trying to move large bodies of troops and equipment over vast distances down single track roads covered with snow, their troops not even used to the conditions, against defenders mobile on skis and who regard the forest as their home, was plain madness.
    Yes, I remember reading something before that said many of the Soviet troops that fought in the Winter War were actually originally from places like the Caucasus, the Steppes and the Central Asian states - places with vastly different climates to Finland. And it's not as if the Soviets couldn't draw on a large population who spent most of their lives in the Arctic Circle to supplement their armies. Staggering incompetence or lunacy, however you want to view it.

  8. #8
    Lovely, Muukalainen.

    My wife was at the Finnish embassy in London yesterday, invited as she helps run a Finnish Saturday school in East London. i’m trying to study Finnish at the moment.

    The Winter War is amazing - read a book about it a good while back. Aside from the numerical advantage in troops, I think the difference in tanks and planes was essentially ‘none’ versus ‘loads’. Finland just didn’t have such things at that time.

  9. #9
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    That’s some post there Muukalainen, thanks. Those casualty figures from the Civil war are terrifying. Ireland at around the same time had 3000 dead in its pointless Civil War, yet the scars run deep enough the two main centre right parties are the Pro/Anti Treaty factions of the Civil War. Apart from FF veering toward populism more than the Big House FG English Tory wannabes, the effects of the War are the only reason for them not to be one giant horrible right wing blob.

    Did WW2 (and then being the Soviets’ window to the West) erase some of the fissures in society?

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lang Spoon View Post
    Those casualty figures from the Civil war are terrifying.
    Indeed they are. The excesses by both sides, though more particularly the Whites, knew almost no bounds. Civil war by name, absolutely uncivil by nature.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lang Spoon View Post
    Did WW2 (and then being the Soviets’ window to the West) erase some of the fissures in society?
    Yes, my understanding is that fighting a common enemy, particularly one that can be easily identified as Russian, did a lot to unify Finns. It must have been particularly difficult at first for soldiers who were associated in one way or another with the Red cause in the civil war, having to fight alongside and take orders from their former enemies. To add to their difficulties, their former allies were now invading their homeland. It's also my understanding that the book I mentioned, Tuntematon Sotilas also played a significant part in the healing of the wounds. It's a work of fiction set in the Continuation War, but draws heavily on facts. Through a number of characters, it depicts the ordinary Finnish soldier for what he was: brave, cowardly, obedient, insolent, jocular, grim, ... More or less everybody could identify themselves with one of the characters.

    I think it's fair to say that for most people nowadays the civil war is more or less just part of history. The subject isn't taboo but it can be awkward. I've witnessed a couple of occasions where people have become visibly upset when the war is discussed, but not to the extent of affecting their everyday life. Such people are mostly elderly and few and far between. At least that's my perception here in the north; it might be more pronounced further south where most of the fighting took place.

  11. #11

    Dhéanfadh mé mo chuile dhícheall chun a bheith ar meisce, go scanreoidh sé an saol mór
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    How would you describe Finland's current attitudes towards Russia and Russian people? Someone close to me who spent a week in Helsinki said it was a very welcoming city but he'd been told that anyone heard speaking Russian while out and about would get short shrift from the locals.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reginald Christ View Post
    How would you describe Finland's current attitudes towards Russia and Russian people? Someone close to me who spent a week in Helsinki said it was a very welcoming city but he'd been told that anyone heard speaking Russian while out and about would get short shrift from the locals.
    It's going to depend on whereabouts in the country you are and the age of the person(s), but what you describe is pretty accurate. Most of the older people hate the Russians, and you can add to that those from families that were displaced following the Soviet invasion. Bearing in mind that included what was then the second city of Viipuri, then that's a lot of people. The invasion, the forcible ejections, often with nothing more than you could carry (Stalin cleaned the ceded territory of Finns), the loss of territory (especially it being Karelia), the economic hardship that came with reparations, and probably more, could all be laid at the door of the Russians.

    The attitude of the middle aged and younger people is less severe, and the word that comes most readily to my mind is "distrust". Several times I've been with Finns when Russian voices have been heard, and almost always the conversation goes, if not quiet, then quieter. Everybody knows the history, and Russian behaviour more recently in its former Soviet Republics hardly inspires peace of mind. If you think that that sounds far-fetched with respect to Finland, then I'd point out that extremists in the Russian parliament have called for the annexation of Finland. That's this century I'm talking about. If Putin carries on as he has, and it's difficult to imagine that he won't, then the Finnish attitude to Russia is unlikely to change.

    Having written that, I don't see the whole country. It would be interesting to know the attitude of people from, say, Lappeenranta, where there are a lot of Russians. The attitudes there may be different, I genuinely don't know.

    As a note, military service remains very much in force, and the guns point only in one direction. Finnish doctrine remains as it did under Mannerheim: fight hard.
    Last edited by Muukalainen; 09-12-2017 at 10:26. Reason: Corrected a tiny little typo

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    Terve from a briefly snowy English Midlands- sorry but I give up on the translation test above

    On holiday in Finland I've heard Russians out and about- and of course many Estonians across the Lahti/ Zaliv are ethnic Russians

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    Duncan Gardner's Avatar
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    ps as you may have noticed Finland is mis-spelt in my avatar...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Muukalainen View Post
    the loss of territory (especially it being Karelia)
    It's always nice to know where the title of a piece of music comes from...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Duncan Gardner View Post
    Terve from a briefly snowy English Midlands- sorry but I give up on the translation test above
    Nothing important, I was resurrecting our biscuit joke from years back.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gangster Octopus View Post
    It's always nice to know where the title of a piece of music comes from...
    I'm going to have to plead dimness on that one, please enlighten...

  17. #17
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    The Karelia Suite is a piece (I want to say tone poem but I'm not certain it is) by Jean Sibelius.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Levin View Post
    The Karelia Suite is a piece (I want to say tone poem but I'm not certain it is) by Jean Sibelius.
    Ah, I was assuming that that was well known and GO was being obscure... Yes, Karelia is the traditional / spiritual / romantic home of the Finns.

  19. #19
    Congratulations Finland. And Muukalainen and other Finnish realted posters.

    Two brief visits to Finland, one to a conference in Helsinki and one brief holiday trip to the islands. Loved it and would very happily return.

  20. #20
    Gangster Octopus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Muukalainen View Post
    Karelia is the traditional / spiritual / romantic home of the Finns.
    I did not know that. Still, I've learned quite a lot on this thread. Thanks Muu.

    One of the few things that I knew about the Winter War was that the Finns were using Gloster Gladiators with skis fitted...

  21. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reginald Christ View Post
    The Winter War is something I'd love to read more about and if there are any books on the subject you'd recommend please flag them.
    Sorry for the delay, Reg, but it's a bit parky out there this time of year and it took a bit of finding. Anyway, it's "The Winter War" by William R. Trotter, ISBN 1-85410-932-4, published in the UK by Aurum of 25 Bedford Avenue, London WC1B 3AT, and probably available from e-bay. I think I'll re-read it now it's in the house.

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