The best books on the Russian-Finnish Winter War, 1939-1940

William Durbin Author Of The Winter War: A Novel
By William Durbin

Who am I?

As the author of four novels based on Finnish culture and history, I admire and respect the Finns for many qualities, including their intelligence, their strength and endurance, and their understated sense of humor. But the quality that impresses me most is what the Finns call sisu, which roughly translates to an ability to show stoic courage and tenacity in the face of adversity. The Finnish resistance to Stalin during the 105 days of the Winter War was a classic demonstration of that national trait. While researching this book, I had the privilege of interviewing five Finnish veterans, all of whom exemplified sisu while serving during the Winter War.


I wrote...

The Winter War: A Novel

By William Durbin,

Book cover of The Winter War: A Novel

What is my book about?

When the Soviet Union invades its tiny neighbor Finland in November 1939, Marko volunteers for the army. Even though his leg was weakened by polio, he can ski well, and he becomes a messenger on the front lines, skiing in white camouflage through forests at night in temperatures that drop to -40 and -50. The odds are against the Finns: The Russians have four times as many soldiers and one hundred times as many tanks. But the Russians don’t know winter the way the Finns do, or what tough guerrilla warriors the Finns are. To this day, Finland’s brilliant defensive strategy is studied in every military academy in the world.

The books I picked & why

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Finland at War: The Winter War 1939-40

By Vesa Nenye, Peter Munter, Toni Wirtanen

Book cover of Finland at War: The Winter War 1939-40

Why this book?

The story of the Winter War between Finland and Soviet Russia is a dramatic David versus Goliath encounter. When close to half a million Soviet troops poured into Finland in 1939, Stalin expected Finnish defenses to collapse or surrender. But they held firm. The Finns not only survived the initial attacks but succeeded in inflicting devastating casualties before superior Russian numbers eventually forced a peace settlement. This is a detailed and compelling guide to Finland's vital, but almost forgotten role in World War II. It reveals the untold story of determination and mastery of winter warfare that characterized Finland's fight for survival on the Easternn Front.


A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

By William Trotter,

Book cover of A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

Why this book?

When Russia invaded in November of 1939, Stalin predicted the war would last a week or perhaps ten days. However, the genius of Field Marshal Mannerheim and the courage of the Finnish soldiers, allowed them to resist for 105 days through one of the coldest winters in Finnish history. Soldiers used cross-country skis to move quickly. And they often employed “motti” tactics, cutting the Russian columns into smaller units that they could isolate and attack. Also, having few anti-tank guns, they used Molotov cocktails with deadly effect on Russian tanks. These clever battle strategies, combined with the incredible endurance of the Finnish soldiers, make for a heroic tale.


The Winter War: The Soviet Attack on Finland, 1939-1940

By Eloise Engle, Lauri Paananen,

Book cover of The Winter War: The Soviet Attack on Finland, 1939-1940

Why this book?

The Soviet invasion of Finland remains one of the lesser-known but critically important events in the lead up to World War II. This book, co-authored by two Finns who have an intimate knowledge of both the Finnish people and the war, recounts all of the major battles in vivid detail. And it shows, how against all odds, the skills and the fortitude of the Finns allowed them to resist the Russian advances through an incredibly cold winter. While Russia lost close to 500,000 soldiers (Nikita Khrushchev, former Premier of the USSR, claims it was a million) there were only 25,000 casualties on the Finnish side.


The White Sniper: Simo Häyhä

By Tapio Saarelainen,

Book cover of The White Sniper: Simo Häyhä

Why this book?

Simo Häyhä (1905 – 2002), an unassuming and quiet man, is the most famous sniper in the history of warfare. During the Winter War he achieved a remarkable 542 confirmed kills while using his own rifle, a m/28-30 with iron sights and no scope. His record still stands today, and he has become a role model for snipers all over the world, both in terms of the techniques he employed and by demonstrating the significance that a lone sniper can have on the battlefield.


The Finnish-Soviet Winter War 1939-40: Stalin's Hollow Victory

By David P. Murphy, Johnny Shumate (illustrator),

Book cover of The Finnish-Soviet Winter War 1939-40: Stalin's Hollow Victory

Why this book?

This definitive study explores the Soviet invasion of Finland and details the major events of the Winter War of November 1939 to March 1940. The Russian attack, which was expected to be swift and decisive, was blunted by the extraordinary fighting qualities of the Finnish Army and high number of casualties they inflicted on the Russians. The challenges caused by the weather, the wilderness terrain, the Mannerheim Line defenses, and the superbly executed Finnish military tactics resulted in a fascinating David vs Goliath struggle.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Winter War, Finland, and World War 2?

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