W.M.(40) 62nd CONCLUSIONS, MINUTE 7.
(7th March, 1940.)
ASSISTANCE TO FINLAND. (Previous Reference: W.M.(40)61st
Conclusions, Minute 5.)
THE SECRETARY OP STATE FOR WAR recounted a long
talk which he had had on the previous day with Major
Magill, who had returned by air from Finland on Monday,
the 4th March.
Major Magill, who had many and close connections
with the Swedes and Finns, had seen much of Field-Marshal
Mannerheim, and reported that he had never seen him
so depressed. Major Magill's assessment of the present
situation had been as follows. The Finns, by character,
had immense powers of endurance, but once they cracked
they would break altogether. There were signs of
physical failing, due to the tremendous strain to which
the rank and file had been put, but the fighting troops
would not be likely to give in unless the Finnish High
Command began to weaken. The fear, therefore, was that
the rot would set in at the top, particularly as the result
of the constant defeatist pressure which Sweden never ceased
to exert. Furthermore, the ability of the Russians to
follow up their recent attacks had undoubtedly come as
a catastrophic surprise to the Finnish High Command. There
was still time to save the situation, but the remedy - and
according to Major Magill, the only remedy in the opinion
of the Finns - was the immediate despatch of bombing
aircraft. The Finns had had to withdraw two Divisions
to deal with the attacks which the Russians were
launching across the ice, but these attacks could
easily be countered by bombing the very vulnerable
targets which were presented by the Russian columns
advancing without cover across the open ice. More
bombers were also required for attacking the Russian
lines of communication in the Karelian Isthmus, where
very telling damage could be inflicted. Above all,
these bombers were needed to put heart into the Finns,
without which there was grave danger that they might
make peace at any moment. Major Magill had informed
him that there were 3 Blenheim bombers in action with
the Finns and 5 in the workshops, 2 having been lost
in action. The remainder were apparently still on
their way. He had brought back with him a complete
statement of the ground facilities which the Finns
possessed for the operation of additional aircraft.
THE MINISTER FOR CO-ORDINATION OF DEFENCE said
that he had not any very up-to-date information of
what aircraft had actually arrived in Finland, but
the position so far as he knew it was as follows:-
The French were also sending 12 bombers, but it
was understood that these could not fly direct from
north Scotland and they would have to be shipped.
The only way to get immediate assistance to the Finns
seemed to be to send our own first-line aircraft over
by air. They would have to be flown by R.A.F.
personnel, either officially or in the guise of
"volunteers". It was true that if we sent these
aircraft, and some ground staff to accompany them,
the ground staff might be lost for a long time if the
Finns collapsed, but the aircraft could presumably be
flown back and the machines themselves put into
- 30 promised. All had arrived in Finland.
- 28 promised. 8 already shipped; none yet
arrived in Finland. Manufacturers were
supplying 2 a day to the packers.
- 12 long-nosed and 12 short-nosed promised.
1 long-nosed Blenheim had been lost in
transit and 1 delayed, for some unknown
reason, in Sweden; 10 had arrived in
Finland. 12 short-nosed Blenheims had
reached Finland on the 27th February.
- 17 promised. 9 already shipped; 6 had
left by air, of which 2 had crashed en
route. 2 more were due to leave by air
on the 9th March,
- 12 promised. 11 had reached Sweden, one having
crashed en route.
- 33 promised. 5 would go every four days by
air, starting about the 9th March.
A considerable quantity of bombs, spare
parts and ancillary equipment was being
sent at the same time as the aircraft.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS said
that he did not think we should do any good by
continuing to manoeuvre for position with Sweden and
Finland. According to Brigadier Ling, Field Marshal
Mannerheim felt that he had already made his appeal,
though it was for bombers that he had asked as being
his most urgent need. He thought that the right
course was, therefore, to send some bombers immediat-
ely, and to waste no more time haggling with
Continuing, the Foreign Secretary gave the War
Cabinet an account of an interview which Sir Alexander
Cadogan had just had with the French Ambassador, who
had informed him that, according to information in
the possession of the French, the Finns had started
negotiations with the Russians, but would not accept
the terms which the Russians had offered. They were
not prepared to give up Viborg, but would be willing
to cede Hango, which the Russians rented as a naval
base. They would not continue their negotiations
with the Russians after the 12th March, and if they
could not get the terms for which they were standing
out, would turn once more to the Allies for assistance.
The Swedes were pressing the Finnish Government
very hard to make peace, but when asked if they
would guarantee Finland against Russia, if the
Russian terms were accepted, they had refused.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR pointed out that
so long as we kept our expedition all ready to sail
to Scandinavia, we were less able to spare any
material for Finland. If it was decided definitely
to call the expedition off, we should probably be
able to let the Finns have more material.
THE PRIME MINISTER said that there were two
questions to be decided. First, what was to be done
about the proposed expedition, and, secondly, what
immediate assistance we could send to the Finns. He
suggested that we should tell the Finns forthwith
that they must make up their minds within, say, 24
hours, whether they were going to appeal to us for
armed assistance. If no such appeal was received, we
should cancel the expedition altogether. We might
at the same time inform them what we could do in the
way of immediate assistance. As to that, he himself
was in favour of taking considerable risks and sending
a substantial number of bombers, provided always, of
course, that the Finns were not intending to give way
to the Russians.
Considerable discussion then ensued as to
what communication should be made to the Finns. The
following were the principal points which emerged:
THE PRIME MINISTER said that he would not have
acceded to any request for the despatch of further fighters,
since this would have meant a direct weakening of our
own defences. Our bomber force on the other hand was
only a deterrent to attack on this country. He
therefore suggested that we might offer 50 bombers to
- (i) The Finnish Minister had been informed
two days before that we could not take
any decision about the despatch of
additional aircraft until we received
our appeal from the Finns. But it
was agreed that the situation had now
changed. The Swedes were clearly not
going to allow our troops to pass through
and any hope of bringing off the major
project was therefore receding.
- (ii) If we made any mention in the communication
of our willingness to send additional
aircraft immediately, the Finns would
be encouraged to press us for this form
of assistance rather than for an Allied
expedition which was, of course, essential
to the carrying through of the main
project of getting control of Galivare.
The Finns probably had no intention of
appealing for armed assistance, but were
only hesitating to say so for fear of
losing their chance of getting more
- (iii) It was suggested that it might be better
to inform the Finns that we had now been
waiting for some time to receive their
answer; that this delay was very embarrassing
to. us; that we had therefore
no option but to treat them as if they
were not intending to appeal for Allied
land forces, and that in these circumstances
we now proposed that our
assistance should take the form of
sending bomber aircraft. It was felt,
however, that it would be undesirable to
give the Finns an opportunity for saying
that we had withdrawn our offer of help.
- (iv) The Finns were now being offered harsher
terms by Russia than those which had led
to the war in the first place. If we
promised them additional bombers, this
offer might well encourage them to hold
out for better terms. We could not forbid
them to come to terms of any kind, and we
could not make our offer of bombers conditional
on their not coming to terms with
Russia. If Finland did come to terms with
Russia, it might be possible to hold up at
least some of the bombers before they had
all been sent.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR pointed out
that to weaken our bomber force in this country might
invite attack on us by the Germans. He would like
to have an opportunity of consulting his technical
advisers before coming to a final decision. Suppose
that we sent these aircraft, and then after all the
Finns collapsed a short time afterwards, we should
have incurred grave risk to no purpose. He doubted
whether, if the Finns managed to last out till April,
they would then be able to hold on until July, during
the period of the thaw. His own opinion was that the
despatch of these aircraft would do nothing more than
postpone the inevitable for about three weeks.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR said that
Major Magill's report tended to confirm this view.
THE CHANCELLOR OP THE EXCHEQUER pointed out
that the offer of 50 bombers would make a very big
difference in the presentation of our case to the world.
The Swedes would no doubt try to make out that we were
only serving our own selfish interests and had no
real desire to assist the Finns at all. But if we now
offered 50 bombers, which we could ill afford, after the
Swedes had refused to allow us to send an expedition to
help the Finns, it would be clear that we had done
everything possible to aid Finland. This was an important
political consideration, which must be balanced against the
risk we were running in denuding our bomber force in this
THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO observed that if
we sent bombers, we must expect further demands from the
Finns for other material, such as artillery, which they
would say was essential to enable them to continue the
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR said that one of
the main reasons why the Finns wanted aircraft was for
counter-battery work. We had no artillery to spare which
were suitable for this purpose.
THE PRIME MINISTER suggested that the Secretary
of State for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State
for Air and himself should draft a communication to the
Finnish Government in the light of the discussion
which had taken place.
The War Cabinet: -
Richmond Terrace, S.W.1.
- i) Agreed that authority should be given for
the despatch of up to 50 bomber aircraft
to Finland, subject to further consultation
as to the technical problems involved,
the arrangements necessary in regard to
personnel, the dates of despatch, etc.
- (ii) Authorised the Prime Minister and the Secretaries
of State for Foreign Affairs and Air, in
consultation, to draft a telegram for despatch
to Helsinki on the lines indicated in discussion;
- (a) Asking for a definite answer within
a specified period as to whether the
Finns intended to issue an appeal for
Allied land forces.
- (b) Conveying to the Finns the promise of
further air assistance as at (i) above.
Source: British National Archives. WAR CABINET CONCLUSION: Minutes and papers: CAB/65/12/7.
Finland in Great Power politics, 1939-1940