A Grim Anniversary: the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Today, August 23, is the 78th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that paved the way for World War II to begin.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and two weeks later the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland.  These events had been set in motion on August 23, 1939, with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Hitler and Stalin.  This was a deal agreeing to stay out of each other’s way while each carried out his own agenda. The pact included a secret protocol carving Europe into two spheres of influence.  Finland was in the Russian sphere.

After the invasion of Poland, Hitler put his plans on hold, but Stalin rushed to fulfil his side of the deal. In October, Moscow issued demands to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and to Finland.  When negotiations with the Finns broke down, he said “It’s time to let the soldiers do the talking.”

As a result, Russia invaded Finland on November 30, 1939, and the Winter War began, the backdrop for my novel Lost Ground.

The David-and-Goliath struggle caught the imagination of the world.  Support poured in from all over the globe, although not the military support the Finns needed. Until now Finland had been almost totally unknown, even in Europe. Now the eyes of the world were fixed on its life and death struggle.

And it was indeed a heroic struggle. Stalin’s generals had told him the war would be over in 2 weeks, but the Finnish army stopped their advance. The Finnish people united behind their army under Marshall Mannerheim. Former differences were put aside and everyone pitched in. Special mention must be made of the role of Finnish women. Some worked as Lottas (the women’s auxiliary) and others ran the home front in the absence of their men, taking on unprecedented roles.

In the end the tiny Finnish army was forced to bow to an armistice, after inflicting huge casualties on the invaders. The result was the loss of most of Karelia, including the city of Viipuri. The armistice was signed on March 12, 1940.

Here is a gallery of pictures and images of the Winter War. (Photos from SAKuva Finnish War Archives unless otherwise noted).

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