Monday, November 26, 2012

The First Shots of War

On November the 26th 1939, tensions were high with all the negotiations between the Soviet Union and Finland and the mobilisation of the military on both sides. Near the Village of Mainila, on the boarder between the two countries, three Finnish Observation posts and several other Boarder Guards on patrol heard and witnessed 7 shells, and there subsequent denotations, within Soviet territory. Within hours of this incident, the Finnish delegation was informed by Soviet Authorities that due to Finnish Aggression that the Non-aggression pact that was signed in 1932 and also in 1934 were null and void and all diplomatic avenues between the countries were to cease. The incident was possible inspired by the Gleiwitz incident that had taken place earlier that year, this was used by the Third Reich as an excuse for it to withdraw from its non-aggression pact with Poland.

Why did this False Flag incident happen?

The Soviet Union had been negotiating with Finland for several bits of territory in an attempt to expand its influence. It had succeeded in incorporating several other Baltic states using a similar tactic and thought Finland would be its next victim. However Finland refused the Soviet Union in its demands for the Finnish Border to be pulled back 25 miles from its current position which would mean it would lose its defences on the Karelian Isthmus, the lensing of the peninsula of Hanko which would be the site of a Naval Base for the Baltic Fleet and in conjunction with Coastal Artillery in Estonian would effectively seal of the Gulf of Finland, as well as other demands. In return Finland would receive 3,450 square miles of Soviet Karelia but the exchange was not advantageous to Finland. Finland gave two counter offers, respectively on 23 October and 3 November and would mean the cedeing of only Terijoki to the USSR. These were flatly refused and the Finnish delegation in Moscow returned to Finland on the 13th November, hoping the negotiations would continue.

The Set-up

It was a Sunday afternoon and Finnish Border Guards did what they normally did, patrolled the border, played cards, listened to the radio, chatted about things back home mainly of the female variety and maintained their weapons. All knew about the recent negotiations and how high the tension was (from the 9th of October the Finnish Army had been slowly mobilised under the guise of refresher training), they also knew they were be the first line of defence against the tidal wave of the Red Army. At about 1440 the Border Guards heard 7 successive artillery shots being fired, soon it was worked out that the shots hand landed 800 meters behind the border and that the weapon used was a high trajectory Trench Mortar. The Guards thought it was training exercise and recorded a smoke screen going up soon after the shots, which thus blocked all observation. Three Guards saw a officer on Horseback approach their Russian counterparts who were standing about the nearest building in Mainila, soon all 12 men marched off in an easterly direction and within ten minutes 7 shells landed on that very same spot. The guards also reported six men coming back to inspect the damage and saw no sign of dead or injured people.

At 2100 Moscow Time (2200 in Helsinki) Baron Yrjö-Koskinen received a call asking him to report to the Kremlin. He was informed by Molotov that Soviet Border Guards stationed at Mainila had been fired upon resulting in the deaths of three privates and one NCO, two officers and seven privates were also wounded. The Finnish Government attempted to deal with this incident in the diplomatic way and drafted a letter which stated that the shots had come from the Russian side of the border and that to put in place protocols relating to border incidents that were part of the 1932 non-aggression Pact (which was extended in 1934) and that both sides should withdraw their forces to the same distances. It was impossible for Finnish Artillery to have fired the shots because on the orders of Field Marshal Mannerheim, all Finnish guns were withdrawn from range of the border for several weeks before the shots were fired.
The Soviet government was unwilling to accept such an answer stating that “the deep hostility of the Finnish government towards the Soviet Union” was forcing the tensions to boiling point and “The fact that the Finnish government denies that Finnish forces fired upon Soviet forces with artillery and inflicted casualties, can only be explained as a device to mislead public opinion”, and so Molotov informed the small Republic of Finland that the Soviet government was no longer bound by the non-aggression pact. Within four days of this announcement Helsinki was on fire from Soviet Bombs and troops had crossed the border in several locations.


When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 hundreds of documents were declassified and Russian Historian Pavel Aptekar analysed the dairies and reports of the units who were posted in the area and found no record of any losses on the day of the 26th or in the immediate dates surrounding it. Nikita Khrushchev (who at the time was a Commissar and served as an intermediary between Stalin and the Generals of the Red Army) claimed in his memoirs that the incident was set up by Marshal of Artillery Grigory Kulik, an infamous NKVD General who would contribute to the failure of the Soviet defence during the first weeks of the German invasion. However he very coy about who fired the first shots and is quoted as saying “It's always like that when people start a war. They say, 'You fired the first shot,' or 'You slapped me first and I'm only hitting back.' There was once a ritual which you sometimes see in opera: someone throws down a glove to challenge someone else to a duel; if the glove is picked up, that means the challenge is accepted. Perhaps that's how it was done in the old days, but in our time it's not always so clear who starts a war.” Boris Yeltsin, the First President of the Russian Federation (which followed the Soviet Union) made a statement in 1994 denouncing the Winter War as a War of Aggression.

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