With winter closing in around us here in Nottingham, we’re casting our eyes eastward to the frozen forests of Finland and the bitter struggle of the Winter War 1939!
In three short months, the Soviet army suffered over 300,000 casualties. This appalling statistic neatly illustrates the brutality of the Winter War and highlights the numerous defects in Soviet war-making that would almost be their undoing during Operation Barbarossa two years later.
The war began with a typically Soviet deception. An isolated border post at Mainila came under sustained artillery fire from Finnish territory, supposedly killing four men and injuring a further nine. While it would later come out that an NKVD unit had orchestrated the attack, it provided the Soviet Union with all they needed to launch an all-out assault on their northern neighbour.
Four Soviet armies crossed the Finnish border in December 1939. The first (and largest) of these struck up the Karelian Isthmus, straight into the teeth of the Finnish Mannerheim line. These fortifications repulsed numerous Soviet attacks, despite a high concentration of armoured vehicles and aircraft. Using Molotov cocktails and improvised weapons (logs and crowbars), the Finnish defenders were able to counter head-on tank assaults with relative ease.
While the weight of numbers would eventually grind through the Finnish defences, it would cost the Soviets a vast amount of men and material.
Further to the north, Soviet offensives became bogged down by abysmal weather conditions and freezing conditions. Knowing they would be unable to beat the Soviets in open battle, the Finns began a guerrilla campaign against the strung-out Soviet columns.
Using their increased mobility and local knowledge to their advantage, the Finnish army inflicted massive casualties on the Soviets, attacking then melting away into the trees before a counter-attack could be mounted.
The Soviets found themselves corralled into Mottis or pockets, unable to move forward or backwards due to marauding Finns, who lacked the numbers to assault the now dug-in Soviets. In some cases, these pockets would be bypassed – with the Russian defenders lacking the initiative or supplies to launch a breakout. In other cases, specialist units were brought up and the motti were destroyed in detail.
The Finns proved to be tenacious opponents in both attack and defence, making good use of snipers – some of whom, like Simo Hayha, managed to eliminate hundreds of hapless Soviets, silhouetted in khaki uniforms by the Arctic sun.
The Winter War in Bolt Action
If you’re looking to refight the Winter War on your tabletop, the best place to start is the fantastic Ostfront supplement. It’s packed full of advice on which core scenarios to use, plus guidelines on terrain and a pair of additional scenarios specifically designed to recreate the fighting conditions present on Winter War battlefields.
Finnish players will also need Armies of Italy and the Axis for their Winter War selector.
The Winter War provides a whole range of tactical challenges for both sides. Finnish players must address the disparity in numbers and equipment by utilizing their high mobility and morale. The Finnish army list is bursting with characterful and unique veteran units and special characters to help theme your force.
Soviet players must address their chronic morale and command issues by overwhelming the enemy with massed charges. Once pinned down, the fast-moving Finnish veterans can be surrounded and destroyed with massed firepower.
Finnish players looking to bulk out their collections can quickly assemble appropriate-looking infantrymen out of our Blitzkrieg German plastics, replacing the weaponry with gear from the Soviet weapons sprue.
Converters looking to go the extra mile can shave off the gasmask case from the German infantryman’s torso and replace it with a strap.
We also sell metal Finnish heads in soft caps to add some variety to your infantry. We’ve also got a versatile range of metal miniatures to supplement your kitbashed plastics!
Soviet players will find everything they need for small games of Bolt Action in our 500pt Starter Army bundle!