Finland after the war

Hietaniemi cemetary
Part of the military section at Hietaniemi cemetary, Helsinki.

Finnish losses June 15, 1941 – May 31, 1945:
Source: Sotatieteen laitos, "Jatkosodan historia 6".


Finland lost almost 60,000 men as dead or missing in the Continuation War and Lapland War. Over 161,000 got wounded, of which around 3,000 in the Lapland War. The attack period in 1941 took the lives of more than 26,000 men; more than the 24,000 lost in the Winter War. Many of those reported missing were taken as prisoners, especially so in the summer of 1944. About 2,000 prisoners of war returned home after the war. The Army suffered 97.15% of the total losses, the Navy 2.27% and the Air Force 0.5%. The infantry was hit heaviest, making for almost 90% of the losses of the Army. The total losses of the Navy were about 4,700 men. A bit less than 86% of these were coastal forces who suffered heavily while fighting like infantry. The Air Force lost 1,100 men, split almost equally between flying and anti-aircraft troops. The AA-units were operating under Air Force Staff. Losses of civilian life in Finland were small compared to other nations taking part in World War II. Still more than 900 civilians died in bombings of towns and cities, and almost 2,700 got wounded. Soviet partisans killed a total of 190 civilians in northern Finland.


Territory-wise the 1940 Winter War peace treaty borders were returned, in addition to which Finland lost all of the Petsamo area. Hanko was exchanged with the Porkkala peninsula, to be leased by the Soviets for 50 years for use as a naval base.


In the interim peace agreement Finland was required to pay USD 300 million to Soviet Union in war indemnities in six years. Finland paid 28% in lumber and 72% in ships, machinery, cables and other equipment.


Together with the Allied, Finland was to arrest and convict its “war criminals”.


The army had to be demobilized in two months.


To monitor the implementation of the conditions of the interim peace agreement the Allied Control Commission arrived in Finland. In practice it was the Soviet Control Commission. The first parts of the Control Commission arrived in Finland on September 22, 1944. As stipulated in the interim peace agreement Finland had to support the Soviet Union in its war against Germany. The Soviet navy used Finnish territory in the Gulf of Finland for passage and Soviet war ships used e.g. Maarianhamina on the Åland Islands as a port. The Finnish navy started to clear the sea mines immediately after the intermediate peace agreement was signed. This work continued until 1950. The Control Commission demanded the abolishment of patriotic organizations like Lotta-Svärd and Suojeluskunta, which were dismantled.

Ceded areas Hotel Torni
On the left, areas ceded to the Soviet Union in 1944.
On the right, hotel Torni ("Tower") in Helsinki, where the Control Commission lived 1944-1947.


The Control Commission pressured the Finns on the point of war criminals. Since no one could be convicted based on existing laws, the Parliament had to create a new, regressive law specifically for this purpose. The general public in Finland perceived this as a mockery of justice. In the shameful display that the Finns were forced to put up for the Soviets men who had done their duty in defending their fatherland against Soviet aggression were convicted to prison terms of varying length:


-         President Risto Ryti, ten years in prison

-         Prime Minister 1941-1943 J.W. Rangell, six years in prison

-         Prime Minister 1943-1944 Edwin Linkomies, five years six months in prison

-         2nd Foreign Minister 1941-1942 and Foreign Minister 1943-1944 Henrik Ramsay, two years six months in prison

-         Minister of Trade and Industry 1941-1943 Väinö Tanner, five years six months in prison

-         Former 2nd Minister of Finance Tyko Reinikka, two years six months in prison

-         Minister of Education 1943-1944 Antti Kukkonen, two years six months in prison

-         Finnish Ambassador in Germany Professor T.M. Kivimäki, five years in prison.


The Soviets did not demand Mannerheim or the military leadership in general to be charged. After the Control Commission had left Finland in 1947, when the Paris Peace Treaty had been ratified in the Soviet Union, the first of these men were paroled, and amnesty was given to all in 1949.

President Ryti's statue
Monument for President Risto Ryti in Helsinki.


The Soviet Union also restricted Finland’s choices in foreign policy after the war. Finland had to decline Marshall Aid, which the United States was offering to European nations for rebuilding. The Soviets condemned Finland’s appearance in the Paris Peace Conference 1946 – 1947 and all attempts by the Finns to obtain alleviations to the conditions of the interim peace agreement were quickly nullified. In practice the Paris Peace Treaty followed the stipulations of the interim peace agreement. This left the Finns with a wide-spread feeling of grave injustice done to them by the Soviet Union, which survives until today, and betrayal by the Western Powers, who thus confirmed the Soviet Union's accessions of territory in the Winter War. From the Finnish side the Treaty was signed by Foreign Minister Carl Enckell in Paris on February 10, 1947. President Paasikivi ratified the law on accepting the Paris Peace Treaty on April 18. The Soviet Union ratified the Treaty on September 15. The last members of the Control Commission left Finland on September 26, 1947. On the same day President Paasikivi declared the State of War abolished.


During the demobilization of the army in the fall of 1944 a secret hiding of weapons took place on orders from the Headquarters. The Operative Department planned precautionary measures against the possibility that the Soviet Union would not honor the interim peace agreement and would try to occupy the country. The Finns would start guerilla warfare to resist occupation. To make resistance possible weapons and equipment were hidden, spread across the country. There were enough weapons to arm about 35,000 men hidden away. The principle was that each military district would be able to arm and equip one battalion. As the situation calmed down the Headquarters planned emptying the hideaways, but it was decided to leave the weapons where they were until the snow had melted. In May 1945 a man who had taken part in transporting the material “blew the whistle” in Oulu and denounced the operation. This caused a wide-spread investigation, and the Control Commission demanded severe measures to punish the guilty. 1,700 people were arrested, including the Chief of Staff of the time, Lieutenant-General A.F. Airo, who was held arrested for nearly two years. His guilt could not be proven. The Commander-in-Chief at the time, General of the Infantry Erik Heinrichs had to resign, although he apparently was not informed of the hiding of weapons. In the end the Control Commission agreed to see this as a safety precaution of the army and not a wide-scale conspiracy. The Finns were left to handle it by themselves, but the leaders of the operation had to be punished. Several prison sentences were given in the resulting long trials that lasted until 1948. The hiding of weapons was a display of the Finns’ readiness to resist even in the most difficult situations.


Due to the cession of territory some 430,000 people had to be evacuated and relocated. This included Karelians, who now had to leave their homes for the second time in five years, many having just rebuilt homes destroyed in the Winter War, and the smaller population of the Petsamo area. Inhabitants of the Porkkala area, 7,300 people, also had to leave their homes. Porkkala was emptied by September 29, 1944; only eight days were given to manage this vast task. The relocated people were given land inside the new borders. For reference, the entire population of Finland after the war was just 3.7 million.

Porkkala, cemetary
Soviet cemetary in the Porkkala area.


The Porkkala peninsula has always been a central location for seafaring on the Gulf of Finland. It is where the gulf is the narrowest. On the other side is Estonia - occupied by the Soviets at the time. In 1944 the Soviet Union chose this, instead of Winter War’s Hanko, as the place to lease for 50 years. The leased area was 390.1 km2. A huge naval base was built there. It had two airfields, Soviet civilians lived on the base, there were schools, sovkhozes, stores, hospitals; everything that was needed for self-sufficiency. All this existed just 30 kilometers from the center of Helsinki. The Helsinki – Turku railway crossed the base, which prevented traffic. Eventually the Soviets agreed to let passenger trains go through it. The trains had to have shutters on all windows and a Soviet locomotive would pull the train through the base, exchanged again to a Finnish one at the base border. Soviet guards came aboard at the base border and made sure no one was trying to take a peek. This was called “the world’s longest tunnel”. By mid 1950s the strategic situation had changed and Porkkala was no longer important to the Soviets. As a token of milder weather in the cold war, the Soviet Union returned Porkkala to the Finns on January 26, 1956.

Porkkala arc de triumph
Porkkala, Soviet "arc de triomphe" remains.


What is the closing of accounts for Finland, then? Could the Winter War have been avoided? Undoubtedly, but the price would have been the loss of independence. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania decided differently in the fall of 1939; they gave in. They were forcibly brought into the Soviet family of nations in the summer of 1940. The Baltic States didn’t get liberated from oppressive occupation until August 1991. During World War II Estonia lost more than 200,000 of its citizens as fallen, executed, or transported to Siberia without a chance to return. And still it lost what was most valuable: its independence and freedom. Could the Continuation War and Lapland War have been avoided, then? It seems the preconditions didn’t exist for that option. Had Finland not joined Germany in the attack in 1941, the war between Germany and the Soviet Union would soon have been taking place on Finnish soil. Finland would have become driftwood, without the ability to decide for itself. The Lapland War was also unavoidable. Finland didn’t have the possibility to neglect the conditions and obligations of the interim peace agreement. The fact that for a while it was possible to conduct the Lapland War in cooperation with the Germans saved many lives and cities like Oulu from devastation. Finland, caught in the vortices of war, paid a heavy price for its freedom. In many ways, however, Finland got through war better than many other countries. Civilian losses were small. Only three percent of the total losses were civilians. This is due to the practice of evacuating civilians from the way of war; also aerial bombings were not as destructive as in many other countries. Finland’s air defense fared well. Although the losses were high, the Finns were optimistic about the future. This belief in their survival has turned out to be well justified.

Mannerheim's grave
Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim's grave, Hietaniemi cemetary, Helsinki. Mannerheim died in 1951. His grave is
surrounded by those of his soldiers.


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