When thinking about World War II (you know, like when you're in the tub or before a big job interview), it's really easy to focus solely on the fighting in the Atlantic or Pacific theaters. But there were other theaters of war that were just as harsh, and the badass Finnish warriors of the Winter War prove it. When faced with an overwhelming invasion from the Soviet Union, the Finns stayed and fought to defend their homeland with little more than grit and determination on their side.
The Winter War lasted less than a year, but resulted in more slaughter than other entire regions saw during the duration of WWII. The Finns stopped at nothing to destroy their enemies. Self-destruction, gruesome improvisation, and psychological warfare were all parts of their guerrilla campaign to destroy the Russians invading their home. In the process of fighting for their freedom, they changed the history of military warfare forever.
The Finnish Took On The Soviet War Machine Alone
In the early days of World War II, the Soviet Union (eager to scoop up more territory in the chaos) invaded Finland with about one million soldiers. The Finnish people were bombarded with artillery to weaken their defenses, and they had no chance of returning the fire in any meaningful way with their handful of outdated batteries.
The Soviets also entered the country with several armored divisions and more than enough ammunition to kill the population of the country many times over. Yet despite this overwhelming material advantage, by the time the war was over the Soviets couldn't retreat from Finland fast enough.
They Used Dead Bodies For Psychological Warfare
The Finns used anything and everything at their disposal to win their war with the Soviets. Usually in conflicts such as these, there was a gentleman's agreement between both sides that would allow them to retrieve and bury their dead during periods of cease fire. But the Finns were loose cannons that didn't play by the rules. They were waging a guerrilla campaign, and that means striking fear into the hearts of their enemies.
So, the Finns would take the frozen bodies of fallen Russians and prop them up for their comrades to find. Kind of like the most terrifying scarecrow in existence that you also might have once been friends with. This act had a devastating impact on enemy morale. Not only was it horrifying to find the frozen corpses of your comrades, but it also meant you were fighting an enemy that would do whatever it took to win.
The Finnish Perfected The Molotov Cocktail
While the general idea of the Molotov cocktail had been around since the Spanish Civil War, it was the Finns who perfected the recipe for the popular IED and gave it its popular nickname.
During the early days of the Winter War, Stalin's Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyachislav Molotov insisted that Soviet planes were actually dropping supplies (rather than bombs) on Finland. That earned the Soviet bombs the nickname "Molotov's Picnic Baskets," and the Finns decided to greet their tanks with "Molotov Cocktails."
Contrary to popular belief, Molotov cocktails weren't used against infantry. Their primary use was to take out Soviet tanks. Finnish cocktails added tar to the flammable liquid, which produced a heavy smoke. The explosives would shatter against the tanks, sending smoke into the interior and making it impossible for the drivers or gunners to breathe.
They Could Surround A Much Larger Army
Because of their superior mobility, the Finns adopted a "hit and run" mentality. While the Russians had larger numbers and superior technology, they were also a lumbering force that was slow to move.
Therefore, the Finns would draw large pockets of the Soviet army after them, then break apart and surround the large force. The crazy thing is, it kept working. It was kind of like Lucy tricking Charlie Brown with a football. After the Finns surrounded the invaders, it was just a question of wearing them down with long range fire from all directions. Between this tactic and the cold, the Russians were hit with a war of attrition they simply couldn't win.