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There are not that many books available to the English reader on the Winter War and this has always been a problem for the Finnish-Collector and researcher. Many of the stories and facts of the Winter War have been gleamed from movies as well as Internet sites dealing with the subject, but printed reference works are few and far between. In this review it is hoped that an overview will assist the Finnish collector in their purchase of reference material.

Review One: The Winter War - The Soviet Attack On Finland 1939-1940 by Eloise Engle and Lauri Paananen ------ Reviewed By Tuco

This is by far the most commonly seen book on the Winter War and the book seems to have had great commercial success. It is often the first book on the Winter War the English reader encounters and as such is seen in many reference libraries. It has been widely distributed and can be located at a number of outlets, being one of the few books dealing with the Winter War that can be located at many local bookstores.

Overall this book is quite respectable and does lay a general overview of the events of the Winter War. The writing of the book is easy to follow, the maps are adequate, and the photos are excellent. The book does not go into great detail and will leave some gaps for the reader but I do not feel the intent of this book to be anything more than a general outline and history of the war. As such it does accomplish what the authors intended to do.

Most of the information that is found in the work seems to be correct and accurate but it does gloss over and leave the reader wanting a bit more. It is an excellent book for one with a slight interest in the Winter War and it also serves as a good introduction for later research. This is indeed the first book that I read that detailed the Winter War and I found it fascinating. The authors do a very good job at communicating what was taking place during the war, the major causes of the war, and many details of the major encounters of the war.

For the first time reader or researcher this is a good source to get your feet wet. It is not as good as the other books reviewed below but is still a nice start. I would recommend this as a starting point and the reader can later graduate to the more advanced works seen below.

Review Two: A Frozen Hell - From William R Trotter--- Reviewed By Tuco

This was the second book that I read on the Winter War and its scope is much greater and more in-depth than the work reviewed above. In fact the differences are almost night and day in the amount of details and coverage given to the war. The author did his research for the book while living in Finland and certainly did his homework.

One of the best sections of the book deals with the causes of the Winter War and how certain events lead up to the war. It gives an excellent insight into what leaders in both the USSR and Finland were feeling and dealing with before the outbreak of the War. This segment of the book is outstanding and covers many aspects of the Winter War that many Western readers often do not understand. Trotter pulls no punches in his assessment of the various point of views, so he gives a refreshing non-political standpoint of the events. I can state this assisted me greatly in getting a true feeling of what was happening just prior to the war and what lead to the outbreak of hostilities.

Where Trotter’s work shines is his detailed and accurate accounts of the actions that took place during the War. Where The Winter War - The Soviet Attack On Finland 1939-1940 by Eloise Engle and Lauri Paananen lacks in detail, Trotter is filled with details. While he does not follow the events of the War in exact chorological order, he does break the battles down by sections. As such his work gives an excellent picture of what was being faced in each sector of the war - the Isthmus, the area north of Lake Ladoga, and the Lapland area - and just how the
events took place in each sector.

He is very detailed in his effort when he covers the various battles as he not only mentions the geographical area of the battle as well as the names of the units involved but also in many cases gives the commander’s name and background even including the names of many sub-commanders and other notable persons that took part in the battle. Trotter is also skillful at detailing how events taking place in one battle had a direct effect on what was occurring in other sectors or other actions. These accounts alone give the reader a greater understanding of the “big picture” of what was taking place during the War. He also shows just how grave the situation was on both sides of the front. His accounts of the Lapland area are chilling. Lastly he is somewhat critical of the mistakes that both sides made during the fighting, which is a good example of his style of writing.

After reading this book one will be armed with a vast amount of facts and have a good understanding of what took place in the Winter War, what the root causes of the War were, and the reader will also have a great amount of sympathy for all of those that took part in the fighting. It is hard to compare this to the book reviewed above as the scope of Frozen Hell is much greater than The Winter War and is much more detailed. It is a work that is a “must have” for anyone interested in the subject. It is also easy to read as the author’s style of writing is enjoyable.

There are some downsides to this book but that is mainly due to publishing problems and not related to the author. The book was for years out of print and one can find various reprints of the book on the market. In some the photos and maps seem to be better than in some of the older versions. Overall the maps are outstanding but the photos in most copies are not quite as good as one would hope. Stating the above this not a large negative and should not prevent anyone from owning this volume of history.


Review Three: The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40 (Cass Series on Soviet Military Experience, 3) by Carl Van **** Reviewed by Kevin Beswisk

Don't expect to get a first hand account of the Winter War in this book. Instead, while it is often a near day by day account of specific parts of the war, it is really a study of the early failure of the Soviet Army, and how that failure resulted in major changes in its military doctrine, politics and tactics. The book is well written, but is aimed more at the academic (or amateur) military historian studying the Soviet Union than the casual reader. Carl Van **** is said to be the first to extensively make use of former confidential Soviet sources, and that point alone it makes the book interesting. But like any academic field, this one has its own brand of jargon. Much of this involves the Soviet system itself, and that alone is a bit of a learning experience. While it is readable and understandable, it does take some work and attention to get through.

Van **** briefly sets the stage in the preface. The first chapter covers the diplomatic and strategic background of the war. This is followed by a chapter on the initial stage of the war, and a chapter on the mid-war reforming of the Soviet Army's doctrine. A chapter on the final Soviet victory by Timoshenko is followed by an interesting chapter on "Lessons Learned," and finally an epilogue. The bibliography is extensive and the book is heavily footnoted.

I have always wondered how it was possible for Finland to hold off an invasion by one of the largest countries in the world. There is no single factor, but a number of reasons are given for the poor performance of the Red army. Not to take anything away from the bravery and tenacity of the Finnish defenders, but at the beginning, it is clear that the Red Army was in virtual chaos. According to Van ****, at the start of the war the Soviet's had an advantage of 3 to 1 in manpower, 80 to 1 in tanks, 5 to 1 in artillery, and 5.5 to 1 in aircraft. What is not given is how the odds got worse as the war progressed. While the numbers were on the side of the Soviets, as Van **** says, the Finns were "motivated by the conviction that they were protecting the nation from an age-old enemy."

Touched on briefly in the preface, is how the Soviet Army had emerged from the revolution and civil war with the most "theoretically sophisticated doctrine in Europe," and how its principles of "decentralized command and organizational flexibility" contradicted Stalin's "centralized political system." In the conflict between the professional military and Stalin's political revolutionary principles, the military lost. The end result was Stalin's purges, and the dismissal, execution, or imprisonment of 36,761 army commanders and about 3000 naval commanders. The troops were untrained, and as a result of the purges, unlead. Perhaps more important to the problems of the Soviet military is the communist ideology and how Stalin had attempted to integrate his version into every aspect of military command and operations.

In addition to discussions of military tactics and doctrine, the book is a fascinating study of what happens when ideological purity is considered to be more important than military capability. Some of these ideological concepts are hard to understand, and harder to describe. Others are just hard to believe. While I don't want to take too much away from the book, a few should be mentioned. Among them is the concept of "combat socialist competition." Derived from the pre war "socialist competitions" that were designed to encourage workers to exceed normal factory production, Van **** briefly describes how such competition reduced cooperation between units, and lowered combat effectiveness. This competition was confused with the object of the war, which was fighting the Finns. Later, soldiers were required to attend meetings to listen to rhetoric designed to improve morale via the competition, as well as an explanation as to just what this competition meant. They had to sign contracts outlining the terms of the competition. The terms included inflicting harm on the enemy, preserving their equipment, and aiding other units among others. Failure meant the contracts could be legally enforced. One of the few first person accounts in the book is by a prisoner of the Finns. His attack having failed and his tank too damaged to return to the lines, he waited to be captured by the Finns. Having broken his contract, he knew that what awaited him back at his own lines was worse than the treatment he would get as a prisoner.

Other problems inherent in the Red army involved the vertical command structure that limited horizontal communication between units. Combined actions using artillery, armor, and infantry often disintegrated into "mob tactics." Amazingly, according to Van ****, even the structure of the Soviet Army was known only to the NKVD. Another example of the state of the Red Army is illustrated by a "law" announced by the Political Administration involving relations between Party and non-Party members of the Army. In the future, should a member of a unit show "extraordinary offensive spirit" the rest of the unit should support him, whether or not he was a party member. The fact that something like this would even be required is astonishing to me at least.

Propaganda was also important, but in the final analysis, may have been detrimental to the Soviets. The Finish Army was depicted as degraded and ineffective, and the Finish people would rise to join their Soviet brothers as soon as they could. The Soviets were told they had "moral" superiority: they would fight with their bayonets, while the Finns would only fight with bayonets when they were drunk. At the same time that the "invincibility" of the Soviet Army was being touted, problems with the troops were rising and authority over troops was being lost. It's interesting to contemplate that the "party" members telling them this, were also probably the ones ordering the NKVD to shoot anyone that lacked this "moral" superiority. When this propaganda was proven false, morale suffered greatly.

The Lessons Learned is interesting in that in focusing on the military lessons by the Soviets, I learned much of how the Soviet system operated during that time period. While it might be argued that a major cause of the failure was Stalin's purges, for obvious reasons, little was mentioned of this, and then not directly. The consequences of criticizing Stalin were well known.

There is much more in the book. Problems with supplies, intelligence, and the continuing lack of competent leaders plagued the Soviets. These problems and others were not really fixed until the middle of the Great Patriotic War according to Van ****.

I found very few problems with the book itself. There are some maps in the book, but I would have liked to have seen more. (Spoiled by the trip to Finland and Russia I suppose.) I would have liked to have seen more pictures, although this would probably have been out of place in a book of this type. Another minor annoyance is that there are a few propaganda "comics" that are reprinted in Russian, without translation. The footnotes and bibliography often contain references to documents in Russian as well, and although it's highly unlikely that I would ever go to the original Russian source, it might have been nice to see the document titles translated.

I recommend this book to those who want to see what the "other side" was going through in the Winter War, and how that experience brought about changes in the Soviet military. In addition to being about the Winter War, the book is a trip through the Soviet military mentality. It is at times both fascinating and repugnant. To me "foreign" might be the best adjective. It's not an easy book to read, and demands more attention than some, but is in the end worthwhile if you have an interest in the subject. As a final thought, I have heard an opinion that had the Soviets not done so badly in the Winter War, Hitler might not have been so quick to attack. On the other hand, the poor performance of the Soviets provided the impetus to reform the army and its doctrine. It's interesting to contemplate the result had the Army been forced to make such major changes in the middle of an attack by the Wehrmacht, rather than during an invasion of Finland.


Review Four: The White Death: The Epic of the Soviet-Finnish Winter War, Allen F. Chew------------ Reviewed By Tuco

For many years this has been one of the more difficult to locate English language works on the Winter War, which is a shame as in many regards it is the best work there is. Today readers are lucky as Michigan State Press has brought this book out of mothballs and as of 2002 the book is being reprinted. This is a great happening for the Finnish collector and researcher as this once tough find is now widely available.

Like Frozen Hell this book is a bit more geared to one that wants more information than is offered in other works. The White Death is much like Trotter’s work as it is very detailed and has information that simply can not be found elsewhere. The basic work is based on first hand accounts of the fighting as well as massive research into Finnish archives. As this was done in the early 1970’s it is rather amazing to see such a complex undertaking, as at that time very few Westerners were at all interested in what took place during the Winter War. There are even some sections of the books that deal with the Soviet outlet of the fighting which is always interesting to read. This is also a book that heavily influenced the author of A Frozen Hell and that fact speaks for itself.

The book is a very easy to read and I do not think the reader will be overwhelmed by the style of writing. Even the non-military collector should have no real issues in following the book. It is a book that will leave one with a healthy respect for those that kept Finland free, as many sections of the book are riveting. In some regards this is a difficult book to review but I can state that of all the books reviewed in this section, The White Death is by far my favorite. I would really recommend buying this book at one’s earliest opportunity as one never knows how long the reprint of this book will last. As stated earlier this has long been a very difficult work to find and in the future it might be hard to locate once again.
Added Note - I think this is the best of all the books listed in the reviews. If you are really interested in the Winter War - this is the one book to buy.


Review Five: The Winter War - Russia Against Finland - A Ballantine Book
This is another common book that can be located on Ebay or with ease. It is much like The Winter War - The Soviet Attack On Finland 1939-1940 by Eloise Engle and Lauri Paananen as this book is more a starting out point than a detailed work on the subject. It does give a good overview of the War and has some excellent photographs but it is not a very in-depth work on the details of the fighting. Still if one is looking to get the basic facts this book is very good for that purpose. Of all the books listed above this is buy far the cheapest in costs as in almost all cases it can be located for $10 or less.

Almost all the above works can be located either at your local bookstore or can be accessed by searching the Net. At this point it seems that Amazon Dot Com is running a number of combination specials on these works and these appear to be a good deal. In these combination deals one can buy any combination of two of the titles above for a discounted price. In looking at these combo deals they seem to be a good bargain so would be worth a look. One other outlet that is always one to check out is as in many cases one can locate books from this selling group at bargain basement prices.
It is my hope the above reviews were helpful to the readers of the site. The history of Finland is fascinating and many here in the USA only have a basic grasp of the events that took place. If one is indeed interested in learning more then the above works should get you started in the right direction. - Thanks Tuco (Mosin-Nagant Dot Net & Gunboards Dot Com)

628 Posts
Do not forget my book Finland At War - Osprey Pub.
While I can not review my own book I do think it worth reading
I can be found on
I ordered it from for under $14 & it arrived today & I am very pleased with this well written book. I think this book is a MUST HAVE book for anyone interested in the Winter War or Finnish weapons & militaria. So far I only browsed through it as it just arrived a short hour ago, but do plan to sit & read it from cover to cover in one sitting. :)

Interesting also to learn about The Lapland War which I did not know about til getting this book

961 Posts
Another super book is the thinly-veiled novel "The Unknown Soldier" by Vaino Linna about a MG Company during the Continuation War. Linna was a grunt during the same time,and the book is considered one of Finland's classics [it must be... he is on the 20 Markka note!] It is a picture of the war none of these other [excellent] books portray. The characters are a true cross-section of Linna's Finnish Army in WW2. It is available in English, but you have to work a bit at finding it.

197 Posts
I Reviewed Your Book

Hello, Tuco,

I reviewed your book on Amazon and gave it five stars,the highest rating. You have my permission to post that review of your book in your list if that doesn't violate anybody's rules.


long rifle (John M. Lane)

401 Posts
Roger Edwards' Book - The Winter War reviewed

I liked the Edwards book very much - it has really nothing to do with rifles, but is a terrific political & military history of the war and the events leading up to it. Well-written, too. I get almost as much pleasure out of studying the history and provenience of my Mosins as I do from reloading for them and shooting them. Anyway, I posted a review of it somewhere here on "First Shot" reviews, on 10.31, I think. Just finished "The Unknown Soldier" by Vaino Linna and "The Winter War" by Antti Tuuri. I sent the reviews to Tuco, he can post them if he doesn't think they are too long. I think they are both "must reads" if you want to get a real sense of what the war was like, absent the heroism. Tuuri's book is a fast read and recently published, so it is easy to find. I'm reading a novel called "Molotov Cocktail" right now. Not the best writing but yet another view of how the war was seen by the participants.
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