All the Soviet Troops north of Ladoga, 1939: How many?

OK, I’m watching, rather more or less listening to the World War II in real-time youtube series, and in December 1939, Indy says that if the Finns could have cut off the Murmansk railway it’s likely all Soviet troops north of Lake Lagoda would have starved to death. How many troops is that? Are we talking about the central thrust by the ninth army or like even the Soviet troops in the far north trying to cut off Finn access to the White Sea?

I’ll fess up, I’m an alt-history nerd, and this little known opportunity is prime fodder, and I think should be wider known. If I can get a size of the scale of the disaster, it could be remembered as something as to where for a want of a nail…or rather I beam…the Winter War could have gone even worse.

One of the “problems” of even this kind of history is that without counterfactuals, it’s hard to understand what choices realistically were, and I’ve found that makes at least me a slave of hindsight.

In addition, if anyone could spitball the size and composition of a force necessary to cut the Murmansk rail and why, I’d love to hear it.


Totally agree, while counterfactuals often go way too far. E.g. what if Gemany invented X prolonged the war and the Allies implicitly stopped inventing the nukes and their jets.

As to the Winter war. I did a paper on it once so I know a little. It is mostly seen as a Soviet defeat (no they won at great cost and avoided British intervention).

The reason for invading in Winter was the 24 hour darkness and cold. Had Stalin invaded in Summer the Royal Navy could have projected it’s Naval sea/ airpower. It is important to note that the Biriish had invaded Russia in the civil war 20 years earlier so there was a threat.

So very good point and I want to know as well how likely it was.

PS Northern Finland is gorgeous and I went on the Murmansk road up to the Russian border. Didn’t have a visa not valid car insurance is


Yeah, well, this case, my next question will be about the volunteers, which I’ll make a thread about, but my first real exposures to World War II in Europe was Panzer General II, which isn’t the worst thing but also far from the best. They said in the Summosalmi battle that no German volunteers, “volunteers” were sent, but they could have. And in that campaign, you can take EVERYTHING, you’re not coming unarmed like Swedish volunteers, you’re coming with tanks, recon vehicles, heavy artillery and aircraft.

I want, if I ever learn enough to make it work, understand what Hitler could have realistically sent under the guise of bleeding off the hotheads, if they would have to tender their resignations officially, what they could and could not take with them. And mind you I mean realistically without provoking Stalin into a shooting war. Would they have to stay in Finland and out of Germany until Barbarossa, technically illegal mercenaries with “stolen” German equipment?


I like the thing some sympathetic pro-Finnish Swedish officers did, which is that they would place Swedish armaments near the Finnish border and just leave it there for the night, to come back the next day finding it gone :grinning:


Murmansk rail was not that important for the troops just north of the Lake Ladoga as there was at least some other infrastructure there as well. However further north you went the less chances there were for getting sufficient supplies to the front without the rail. Worst off would have been forces around Salla, Suomussalmi and Kuhmo/Lieksa areas.

Murmansk rail is a lone set of tracks through large tracks of wilderness. You would not have needed to hold it to cut it. Just raiding it and blowing it up would have sufficed especially if the bridges over even the smaller rivers (which are plentiful) would have been destroyed. So cutting it would not have required that much manpower - holding it on the other hand would have.


There were very few German volunteers in Finland during the Winter War. And in all likelihood the quality of them would have been bad - as was with most of the rest of the volunteers. The best volunteers Finns got were from Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Finnish-German relations were bad at the beginning (and during) of the Winter War. While the relations had been good right after the end of the World War I the Finns had not gone along the extremist route and more extreme the Nazi regime got the less popular Germany was in Finland.

By the 1939 Germans publicly complained of the hostility towards them in Finland. Also it is worth remembering that during the Winter War the USSR and the Nazi Germany were still bedfellows. So Germany opted to help the USSR instead of helping Finland. They interned shipments headed to Finland. They even proposed to the Soviets of using German ships for resupplying Soviet submarines operating against the Finnish merchant ships. It is not realistic to think that Germany would have been supplying anything (for free) to Finland. They didn’t even do so in 1940-44 - Germans would not donate, instead the material had to be bought (for profit too, so price was about twice the amount the same equipment cost to the Germans).



I believe you, I just am hoping you can provide a source so I can get a better picture of what’s going on. Little acts of kindness like that warm my heart, I’d like to know more.



OK, See I understand the German GOVERNMENT wouldn’t do such a thing…although if Hitler could get away with it, Finland is a great place to test German equipment, winter tactics and to get rid of troublesome generals who are more in it for killing Communists than being good automatons. I’m not sure who’d that be but if you can get men as principled as Blaskowitz still in the Wehrmacht as of 1939 speaking some truth to power, I’m sure there’s gotta be a few who are in it to make sure Stalin can’t go all Red Napoleon all over Europe.

But to get down to brass tacks, the supplies are coming north, and never south from Murmansk? So you have to cut the rail…where? Do you have to use skis or would cavalry raiders with good knowledge of the terrain suffice? I know the snowdrifts can bury a man, would they stop a horse?

How do you cut the rail in a way that it can’t be easily repaired, at least until this mass of Soviets starves or surrenders?

And how many many men are we talking about? Also ig it’s EVERYTHING from Summomosalmi on up, does that mean the Finns could retake their White Sea Port? And allow Allied/Nuetral arms shipments to come pouring in?


Germans were still making a real effort of showing friendship with the USSR at the time. They were not truly neutral in the matter so having German forces on the side opposing the USSR would not have been possible at the time.

The problem with the Murmansk rail and winter was that the White Sea freezes over and there are no ports to which ship goods to Murmansk. Which means that without the railroad Murmansk relies on its own stockpiles and on imports (which were not that plentiful) as it would then be in practice cut off from the rest of the USSR. So it would not seem reasonable to assume that without explicitly preparing for it the USSR would have had that much excess capacity to keep everything running. You could use roads (those exist) but their capacity is much lower than that of railroads.

By blowing it up from multiple locations, mining it. And most importantly repeating the actions over and over. Keep in mind that the Soviets had already deployed more troops than what could reasonably supply for long periods so even small disruptions could have had dire consequences in the already overstretched supply system. Also Finland never had a White Sea port. They had an Arctic Ocean port at Petsamo.

Finland never planned on beating the Soviets alone but holding on long enough for help to arrive. And to make the Soviets bleed enough for them to seriously reconsider advancing further. As to the effect of the delay. Long enough delay could have allowed for the kelirikko (or rasputitsa) to begin. Which would have made it quite difficult for heavily equipped Soviet forces to advance until ground had dried. So even a relatively small delay could have bought quite a bit of more time.


OK, I get no German forces, that’s obvious, I’m talking about “volunteers”, who have…“stolen” equipment, or something. Thing is if there was no way german volunteers could show up in any capacity, why does the PGII manual say there could have been? That’s not a claim a wargamer company is gonna pull out of their buttocks, so where did it come from? Even if it’s not true, I wanna figure out the historiography on that.

But in any case, how many men? So it would be Summomusalmi and north, but how many men is that? Are we talking about 100,000, 200,000?


I understood that. Thing is i doubt the Germans wanted to do anything to provoke the USSR at the time. The seeming weakness of the Red Army only came to light because of the Winter War. What the Germans wanted and needed were the supplies flowing in from the USSR so they would not have wanted to create any obstacles to stop them. After all in the real world there were just 17 volunteers in Finland who had identified themselves as ‘German’ when the Winter War ended. To have that policy reversed would require quite a leap to the alternate timeline territory.


@WandererRTF Getting into alt-history is the point, cause while you bring up good points as to WHY these things weren’t done, that’s not enough for true understanding, you have to have some idea of the alternatives. Actually, what you say makes sense, but in only one way, the German government officially sending an expedition and doing immediately upon the declaration of war. You’re assuming there’s no plausible deniability nor that Stalin would feel betrayed or something. Both him and Hitler knew there was gonna be a throwdown and everything up till them was just positioning the pieces.

Besides, Stalin has no reason to stop the shipments to Germany. He wants Hitler and the Entente to destroy each other in a long trench war. He wants to Iran-Iraq Europe to death so he can sweep up the pieces in a matter of weeks like the four-eyed aliens from Resistance Fall of Man. And unlike Western powers, Stalin isn’t beholden to public opinion or even the opinion of party insiders: he’s killed the crap out of anyone not a yes man and many besides that. There’s not a lot he can realistically do. And if it’s a shooting war in 1939, well that suits Hitler just fine because the Allies have NO intention of attacking Germany until 1941 at the earliest. If Hitler’s smart he’ll swing straight for the Dombass and Baku. Can the Entente support Russia when Germany would be nominally fighting for Finland’s independence? Churchhill could give a kind word about Devil because when Hitler invaded Hell because Hell wasn’t in the very midst of raiding Heaven and bringing plagues to earth.


The problem is that for the policy to change that much you could no longer limit the change just to German ‘volunteers’ going to Finland. It would change the balance quite a bit all around as it would make fair few of the other assumptions (i.e. that things would have otherwise stayed as they were) void. So it would not really seem to that useful method - not at least in this case. Keep in mind that in the real world Hitler was more prepared to arm and supply the Soviets than the Finns during the Winter War as the case with the submarines shows.

Also for part of getting Germans to fight for Finns - the German leadership were all aware that they had sold off Finland and the Baltic states to the USSR as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And that had happened just few months earlier. So would require massive shifts in policy for that to be even remotely possible. It would have pretty much required some one removing Hitler from power.


@WandererRTF Not as hard as you think, although let’s table that line for a moment.

Do you know how many men are north of Summosalmi in the Red Army? I need a number, or a way to figure out that number cause mere divisions don’'t always give the numbers away.


Unfortunately i do not have a reliable number to give.


@WandererRTF That’s A-OK,! Thank you!

Now getting back to Hitler, Hitler is imperious, dishonest, and at this stage of the war cunning. But, at this stage of the war he probably doesn’t have a lot to test out. Like, say the Germans were developing Vampire night sights in 1939, this would be the perfect time and place to test it out because it’s winter in the arctic, where the nights are very very long, or trying out various kinds of all-terrain vehicles. Remember, “Volunteers,” not approved by the German government.

Hitler was known for being a very canny and ruthless politician and was a master of what Tvtropes call the Batman Gambit:

Remember, for Hitler, the longer the Winter War goes on, the longer, the more operational latitude he has, now friendship with the Soviet Union IS important, but this friendship is skin deep and ALL parties understand this. Unlike in China, where the Soviets have an interest in keeping Chang alive but it’s entirely one-sided, the German trade deal is not one-sided, it’s a security arrangement: all those materials to Germany ensures the Germans don’t attack into the Soviet Union and buys Stalin time AND the opportunity to redraw the map n his favor. Thus Stalin isn’t in a position to punish Hitler, and even if he did, once the attack in the west went down, Germany would have to win quickly or else. If they won, shipments would resume because Stalin would now need to buy off the Germans who just trounced the world’s best army.

Hitler’s not doing anything in the winter war I think was driven by a lack of imagination, because the Wehrmacht officers were technically proficient pinheads. If Germany had special forces at the time, and they didn’t, the Brandenburgers wouldn’t be formed for some time, this would have been the perfect place to use them. Churchill for all his “hair-brained” ideas, which were almost never such, but at least he had them. This is one of the great weaknesses of the German military thinking.

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Problem is that Finns do not trust the Germans at this point due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, joint invasion of Poland, German willingness to look the other way from the Baltics, and would certainly not allow German troops under any ‘volunteer’ disguise (be it governmental or not) into Finland as at this point Finns couldn’t even be sure who the Germans would shoot at. That the Germany interned many shipments headed to Finland did not endear them either. From the Finnish POV Germany was the most hostile country towards them during the Winter War - after the USSR of course. The Finns could accept actual volunteers from Germany however but that is very different from what you are describing.


OK, so how about a high ranking German with impeccable anti-communist credentials and a long and storied career (as in consistently fought the Reds longer than serving in World War I), coming in as an adventurer, with a findable paper trail that they’re being ‘secretly’ financed by Fritz Thyssen. We’re taking a brigade (no more than 4,000) with commercially available all-terrain vehicles of the time or horses suitable for winter travel, may be purchased in Norway and Sweden at a premium. He takes leave and a bunch of soldiers follow him, maybe have Hitler fly into a rage and order this guy’s arrest yada yada…