Finland and the August Crisis of 1940

August Crisis. This is name given in the book Tuntematon Sota ‘Unknown War’ for the events that took place during the late summer of 1940. To understand why this was as important event as it ended up being the timing really mattered here since the Soviet takeovers at Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and the Baltics took place just prior to this. Additionally (per Mannerheim’s memoirs) the border violations by the Soviets especially in the air had greatly increased while the Soviet supported group aiming to overthrow the elected Finnish government was organizing protests in Helsinki.

In early July the Soviets moved additional formations to the Eastern Karelia just off the Finnish border. According to both the German as well as by the British estimates this was around 15 infantry divisions which had considerable armor assets attached to them. For example the German envoy to Lithuania (Zechlin) reported to the German foreign ministry on 3rd August 1940 that his sources (Soviet officers) had stated that the Soviet forced had to be ready for action at the Finnish border by 15th August. He appended the report on 7th August by stating that the Soviet units by the Finnish border had to kept at special alert starting from 15th August and that those units had been reinforced with well motorized armored units. He then concluded that it was to be expected that new ultimatum against Finland would be released on the second half of August and that it was expected to lead into complete Soviet occupation of Finland.

It is worth noting that it is very difficult to guess if the Soviet leadership had actual intentions of launching another attack against Finland at this time but its actions had alarmed the Finns, the Germans as well as the British. Or if they were waiting for some sort of provocation from Finland, likely at the pro-Soviet group aiming to overthrow the government. However just like the events had not passed unnoticed by the other powers Finland had been aware of them too. The Soviet demands had kept increasing and Finland was on the verge of starting mobilization at that time. So when the Germans then asked for permission for Finland for troop transit rights into northern Norway while starting discussions on selling weapons to Finland the Finns could not have been happier. This was really the result of the Soviet politics of 1940 - those only resulted in Finns wanting German arms & boots into Finland, the more and faster the better - regardless of the cost.

The importance of this for Finland can not be overstated. It was likened to a divine intervention. Finnish Colonel Halsti stated that ‘The one miracle which could have carried us over this autumn and winter without being invaded had happened. The cost of it remains to be seen but it can not be heavier that destruction’ (Se ainoa ihme, joka saattoi viedä meidät tämän syksyn ja seuraavan talven yli ilman hyökkäystä, on tapahtunut. Nähtäväksi jää, mikä sen hinta on oleva, mutta tuhoa suurempi se ei voi olla). Similar views were reflected more widely in Finland. When prompted to his opinion to the British envoy to Finland of the German presence a Finn responded (in German) that ‘Die Finnen nehmen jeden Deutschen mit offenen Armen auf. Das tue ich auch. Je mehr deutsche Soldaten ins Land kommen, desto ruhiger lege ich mich abends zu Bett’ (according to Upton).

Political fight between the Nazis and the Soviets continued after this culminating most crucially for the Finns to the discussions held in November 1940. Here Germans made their stance clear that they would not accept a further Soviet aggression towards Finland. As to the Soviet side - Molotov’s description of the Soviet plans for Finland were ‘similar solutions which had been made in Bessarabia and border states’ (i.e. the Baltic states). This politic squabbling is seen as further reinforcing the position Finland was in - even if it was just a pawn in the game of other powers. For the Germans the opinions were expressed like (from the State Secretary in the German Foreign Office Weizsäcker to German Envoy/Minister to Finland Blücher) ‘Der Führer hat seinen Regenschirm über Finnland gehalten’ (Führer has kept his umbrella over Finland). General Halder of OKH was even more blunt in his (war) diary on November 16: any further Soviet action against Finland would
constitute a “casus belli” for Germany.

Article ‘Elokuun kriisi’ (August Crisis) from the book ‘Tuntematon Sota’
‘Välirauha’ (Interim Peace) by Upton
‘Finland in the Twentieth Century’ by Kirby
‘Finland’s War of Choice’ by Lunde

Sooo… Any comments? I know it is glossing over a lot of the political games being done on the background as well as to the peculiarities related to the agreements made and by whom at the time but it ought to give an idea of the prevailing opinions held at the time and why they were such.


Interesting tension between Germany and the USSR. Thanks for sharing.