The Winter War
World War II started on September 1, 1939 when Germany attacked Poland. Yet there were other wars, even involving combatants in the world war, that seem to fall through the cracks in most histories. One such, was when the Soviet Union invaded Finland on November 30, 1939.
Join me for a brief look at a lesser known conflict, its impact on the world at war, and one weapon of that war.
At the start of World War II, Germany and the Soviet Union had a non-aggression treaty with each other. This may have been a major factor in leading Joseph Stalin to conclude that the rest of Europe being at war with each other, was a good time for him to expand territory into Finland. The Finns resisted. The resulting “Winter War” lasted from November of 1939 until March of 1940. Although Finland is tiny, its military was well led and trained to a high standard. They plainly exposed Soviet weakness in nearly every phase of fighting. Ultimately Finland couldn’t win, and the peace treaty signed in March left them pretty badly weakened.
This did impact the on going world war in several ways. The first thing accomplished was it led to some serious rebuilding and re-equiping of the Red Army that had been weakened by Stalin’s purges over the proceeding years. The most obvious impact may have been that the Soviets looked so bad, it emboldened Hitler into attacking the Soviet Union the summer of 1941. Next, it drove the Finns into the German camp when that next war started, as they were eager to reclaim what they lost. Finland would prove to be one of Germany’s more competent allies, although they were always hesitant to attack Russia outside of the territories lost in the Winter War.
But an odd impact of the Winter War was that it led to the Finns getting military aid from Britain, France, Sweden and the US. This would come to an abrupt end once they threw in with Nazi Germany; but they wound up with an interesting assortment of weapons from both sides in the greater war. Even more interesting, neutral Sweden actively engaged in defensive operations on behalf of Finland. The Gladiator Mk I (J8 in Swedish service) seen here is in Finnish markings, but it belongs to a Swedish volunteer group that defended the northern approaches of Finland. The unit had 12 Gladiators that scored eight kills for two losses.
Which leads to the aircraft itself. The Gloster Gladiator entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1937 as their first fighter with an enclosed cockpit, and their last bi-plane. The Hawker Hurricane was already entering production at this time, and the Supermarine Spitfire was in testing; so the Gladiator was obsolete even as it entered service. This led to it being posted to numerous distant stations, and sold off to minor friendly and neutral nations all around the globe. It would acquit itself well with many users, on many fronts, even if it was never anyone’s first choice of weapon.
This example is from the Lindberg kit with Aeromaster decals and an Aero Club propeller to backdate the kit to a Mk I. This is really an old kit! It has practically no interior detail, and even much of the exterior is soft and poorly defined. But it fit quite well for a kit of its age. Future Gladiators I build will be from the newer Roden kit; which looks much better in the box (much crisper detail). It will be fun to see how that builds up…
Up Next: Brewster F2A-2 Buffalo