The Life Magazine, Oct. 30, 1939:



The power of Soviet Russia, expanding along the Baltic Sea, stands uncertain at the borders of little Finland. Last week the Russians wanted to impose on Finland the same "strategic occupation" they had just won from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, a control much like that which the U.S. once held over Panama, and Great Britain over Egypt. But the Finns had good grounds for suspecting Russia would not stop at "strategic occupation." They balked, as much as they dared. Moral support, came from Sweden, Norway and Denmark and, amazingly, from faraway America. For the U. S. is not only grateful for the picayune sums Finland has paid in as installments on its War debt. It is confident that Finland is one nation in complex Europe that entirely deserves the moral support of fellow democracies.

Finland's 4,000,000 people, spread out among myriad lakes and getting 75 % of their export income from timber, have won democracy the hard way. They have fought off Communism and Fascism, though submitted to pressures that make those on Spain seem trivial. For the Finns believe in laws, not in men, and they believe in the Rights of Man. It is small wonder that this admirable young democracy last week got the moral support of the Scandinavian nationsand the American democracy.




Finland is the one unquestioned democratic success created by the Treaty of Versailles. Its history since the War is an object lesson in democracy under pressure that should be read by the Spaniards, Poles, Rumanians, Serbs. For the Finns were not panicked by either Fascism or Communism: they fought them both off and proved that democratic methods are workable under even the most tragic pressures.

Almost as soon as Finland declared itself free of Bolshevik Russia in 1917, the city proletariat in Finland put on a parody of the Russian Revolution, on the theory that the enemy of the Finns was the same as the enemy of the Russians — the landlords of both. They were backed up by Soviet armies.

They were defeated by a Finnish landlord, Baron Mannerheim (LIFE, Oct. 23) at the head of a White Army, with German help. But, unlike Pilsudski, King Carol or King Alexander, Baron Mannerheim notably declined to become dictator and the Finnish landlords willingly gave up a large part of their estates to the peasants. Today there are 500,000 Finnish landowners supporting probably 2,300,000 people. This backbone of freemen and countrymen was what carried Finland through its subsequent troubles.

For after a decade, city Communists tried to enforce the closed shop on industry and limit admission to the unions to Communists. Communist terrorism by 1930 had grown so bad that bourgeois vigilante bands began counter-terrorizing the Communists. The Government, doggedly democratic, continued to maintain the Hill of Rights. When vigilantes demanded that the Communist right to agitate be abrogated, the Government put it to a popular vote. Communists lost and were suppressed.

This victory, however, went to the heads of the Rightists. Two years later they revolted in an attempt to seize the Government. Their revolts failed totally. The ringleaders were tried and jailed under the very laws they had got passed to suppress the Communists. The Premier announced:

"Finland, where serfdom never existed and where one may observe the development of democratic legality for nearly ten centuries, is incapable of submitting to any sort of slavery." The Finns long ago came from north-central Asia and, along with the related Hungarians and Rumanians, were driven to the edges of the great Mongol and Slav invasions. The sub-families of the Finns include the Karelians, Vepses, Ingrians, Esths, Livs, Muroma, Merians, Cheremisses, Mordvins scattered over the Eastern Hemisphere. The group who came to what is now Finland began raiding the coast of Sweden, until the irritated Swedes came over and conquered them. The democratic spirit of the Swedes and the vigor of the Finns, however, induced the Swedes to give the Finns equal rights in the election of the King and of the first Diets and in Finland's own university in 1640. In 1581, Finland became a Grand Duchy with considerable self-rule. Finns fought with the great Swedish armies against the Germans and Russians.

The Russians won these wars in 1809 but Czar Alexander I left Finland a Grand Duchy. Later Czars gave it its own currency, its own army and senate. But early in this century Russia reversed itself and tried to crack down on the Finns. It was too late. They had already become a free, stubborn, enlightened people, fond of their steam baths and their sports, their vast fir forests and their lakes.


Against great modern armies,little nations are saved only by terrain. Finland's lakes and vast swamps make an almost impassable barrier to the Russian tanks and armored cars. But in winter they are frozen over, vulnerable to expert ski troops. Furthermore, Finland's eoast is long and open. The Finnish Army totals 30,000 in peacetime, 300,000 in wartime, plus 110,000 veteran militiamen. Every man (perhaps a million) would fight and his place at home would be taken by the women of the famed Lootta Svärd organization. Whole families belong to the various defense organizations. Last summer volunteers dug trenches along the border of Russia where Finland has its only considerable fortifications.

An old grudge the Finns have against the Russians is the Treaty of Dorpat of 1920 by which Russia was to have given semi-autonomy to the Karelians, a people related to the Finns. After a revolt, the Soviets wiped out the Karelian leaders and put in the usual Moscow regime of bureaucrats, soldiers and secret police.

Soviet Russia regains the land of the Czars

Empires come and go, ideological regimes come to power, blazoning the arrival of a brave new world. Yet the inexorable laws of economics and of strategy operate alike to control the destinies of democrat and dictator, of czar and soviet. The Baltic is a good example.

In taking advantage of the present situation to extend military dominance over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Soviet Union has reoccupied the old military position of Imperial Russia in the Baltic, except that she still lacks control of Finland. The contrast between Russia's Baltic position at the beginning of the present war and that position today is striking. The erection of Finland and Estonia into independent republics confined Russian sea power in the icebound head of the Gulf of Finland, where she could be easily blockaded, and from which she would find it extremely difficult to offer any serious threat to Germany or Sweden — the other two principal Baltic powers. But the new arrangements give Russia control of the naval anchorages of Moon Sound and Arensburg in the mouth of the Gulf of Riga, as well as the old imperial naval base at Libau. The latter presents difficulties for heavy ships but is a useful advance base for light forces. Russia's threat to Finland, if it succeeds in establishing Russian control of the Aland Islands, would complete Russian dominance of the upper Baltic.

It would, however, be a mistake to consider the problems of the control of the Baltic entirely from the naval point of view. We have already had in the North Sea a demonstration of the necessity for coordinating, both by sea and by land, the operations of air and surface forces. While it is not yet certain how far the coming of air power has altered the former conditions under which sea power functioned, it is becoming increasingly plain that in narrow waters such as the North Sea and the Baltic, dominated by shore-based aviation, the influence of air power must be taken very seriously.

It is difficult to understand how any German government can view with complacency the return of the Russians to Moon Sound and Libau. The occupation of Ösel Island (see map below), dominating the former position, was the objective of a combined land and sea operation by Germany in the World War, which was an example of all that a successful amphibious operation should be. Moreover, it is a very different thing today for the Russians to return to their ancient positions south of the Gulf of Finland, than it was for the Czars to possess these bases 45 years ago. The presence of the comparatively weak Russian Baltic Fleet in these ports was of comparatively little significance to Germany in 1914, and would be so today, so far as surface vessels are concerned. The presence there, however, of strong flotillas of Russian submarines might prove disquieting. Still more serious from the German point of view should be the advance down the Baltic of the powerful Russian Air Force.

Of course, if Germany can obtain a free hand in the west she may be able to deal with the situation presented by the Russian advances. Her rulers may also have in mind some project for the economic or perhaps political domination of Sweden and Denmark which would give Germany controlling positions and the command of the entrance to the Baltic from the Atlantic. It may even be that the Germans are looking forward to the possibility of obtaining Norwegian ports on the Atlantic itself, from which their submarines might operate against British communications with greater facility than is now possible from German bases.

On the other hand, it has long been an object of Russian ambition, even under the Czars, to push across the northern end of Europe and obtain ice-free ports on the upper coast of Norway. This would be greatly facilitated by Russian domination of Finland. The possession of the Åland Islands would enable Russia not only to be in a position to block the vital German imports of iron ore from Swedish ports on the Gulf of Bothnia but also to threaten the important centers of Sweden itself.

In view of all of these considerations, the great anxiety now being displayed by the four Scandinavian powers is understandable. If the three kings who met with Finland's president last week should ever form anything resembling a firm military-defense pact, the forces at its command would be by 110 means negligible. The Swedish Navy is a most efficient force. With assistance from the other three, it ought, on form, to be able to deal with the Russian Baltic Fleet, though not, of course, with the German Navy. None of these countries possesses a large air force, though the Swedish Air Force is considered of excellent quality. The Swedish Army is one of the best equipped of the smaller European armies, and is very well trained and officered. Provided the Finns can hold the Russians in the difficult terrain along the eastern frontier of Finland and Swedish assistance could arrive, the two together should be able to put up a fairly good fight. In this wooded and difficult country Russian control of the air should be of less proportionate importance, quite aside from the factor of relative efficiency, than German control of the air in the Polish campaign.

Caption: The Baltic in 1918, before the War ended, had fallen mostly to Germany. This map shows how Russia, during the War, had blockaded the narrow Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Riga at seven points. After her separate peace with Germany, the Germans got the naval bases whose names are underlined, leaving Russia only Kronstadt and Leningrad. The circled dots show all German naval bases at end of the War.

Caption: Strategy of the Baltic depends on fact that its northern branches, the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland, nre frozen in an average winter. The parts frozen solid are shown in light gray, shifting ice floes in darker gray. After the last War, Russia lost the striped territories, thus had no ice-free Baltic port. Now she regains the Polish territory (striped from upper right to lower left on map) and gets bases nearer western Europe. Plane bases are marked by tiny planes. The shaded white line running from top to bottom is the limit of effectiveness of Russia's Air Force (500 miles), which now covers the entire Baltic. Shown also are the strategic rail lines, many spoking from Leningrad. Important is the line to Sweden's Kiruna Mines, down which ore may he shipped when the Gulf of Bothnia is frozen or blockaded.

Caption: The Baltic now is under the control of Russia, whose recent moves will give her the bases underlined below. German naval bases are shown as circled dots, other nations' bases as plain dots. Russia wants to fortify the little islands, now Finnish, off Leningrad and would also like the Åland Islands. Fearing Russian attack, Finland has built fortifications across the dry isthmus north of Leningrad.

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