The old Finnish Army

Finland as a sovereign state goes back as far as 1809, when it was known as the Grand Duchy of Finland, attached to the Russian Empire but autonomous (and previously part of Sweden). In 1881 it had also raised its proper army, some inheriting the military organization of Swedish Armén and in general kept the allotment system (ruotujakolaitos) which benefited mostly to Russian troops based in the Grand Duchy. Three corps were levied in the Napoleonic Wars, and among these a famous topographic corps which was transformed in 1821 as the cadet officers school. One of the battalions became the Young Guard Battalion. During the Crimean war, nine sharpshooter battalions were levied in case of an allied or Russian invasion.

In 1978, conscription was established, while the Finnish guard (former young guard) intervened in the 1830 November Uprising in Poland and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, gaining an honorific title of Emperor’s guard in the process. However, during the “oppression years” ties with the Russian Army were severed and the very unpopular conscription was replaced by a tax. At the turn of the century, whereas the Russian Empire weakened, independent Voluntary defence organizations of opposite political sides were secretly created in Finland under cover of fire brigades. The liberal/right wing “white Brigade” and the socialist Red brigade will found opposed following the Russian revolution in 1917, leading to the Finnish civil war and independence.

The Finns in Word War 1

Although Finland remains neutral, activists of the “white brigade” secretly travelled to Germany to be trained as Jaegers (jääkärit). These will proved instrumental, with full support of Germany when after gaining its independence in december 1917, when opposed to the soviet-supported Red Brigade, which were declared illegal by the white government. The civil war raged three months until 15 May 1918, seeing the victory of the white government. In 1919 the Protection Guards became separate from the white guard, which was then defined as a voluntary (paramilitary) organization, whereas the Finnish Army was officially created, mostly headed by officers that were mostly former Jaegers. Their input was vital in shaping the newly created Finnish Army in the 1920s along the Prussian military tradition and German organization.

The Finnish Army in ww2

The first armoured units were created in the 1920s when Finland, outside a few captured ex-Russian armoured cars, purchased in France 26 Renault FT tanks in 1919-21 (see later) which formed the first two battalions of tanks. A few were lent early one to the white Russian fighting in the North Western threater. These FTs were only half of the battalions, the other being filled by some 26 more modern Vickers-Armstrong 6 ton tanks until 1939. They operated within a core of nine field divisions, four brigades and a number of independent battalions. But despite this lack of armour, the Finnish Army had many antitank guns and all its ingenuity was demonstrated during the “winter war” where it forged its own legend.

The winter war (1939)

Called this way as it was mainly fought between November 1939 and march 1940, under the snow for the most part, this war saw the Finnish army reorganized in three corps, one called the Army of the Isthmus, the other posted around the lake Ladoga and the rest was a defensive line from Petsamo to the arctic. Overall command was given to Marshall Mannerheim, which despite the lack of armour, guns, planes, managed to hold the soviet giant for several months and finally succumbed to overwhelming forces and exhaustion. Negotiations eventually led to the Moscow Peace Treaty and harsh territorial concessions, including Gulf of Finland islands, the Karelian Isthmus, Ladoga Karelia, Salla, and Rybachy Peninsula, plus the lease of the near-island of Hanko for 50 years.

During all these months of unrelenting soviet attacks, the Finns did not only defended themselves, but launched very efficient guerrilla tactics well tailored for the conditions of the terrain and climate. Despite limited assets, small groups of mobile column would use their superior mobility to surround and attack by surprise sections of advancing Soviet columns, often at night. These columns were divided into “Motti” or pockets of resistance where they were reduced to fight surrounded, either condemn to die from hunger or freeze to death. Finnish infantry became proficient also with Molotov cocktails, its most current way to deal with tanks as well as satchel charges. The other, more conventional way was the AT rifle, largely available and able to deal with the thin armour of most Russian tanks at the time. Since most of this story is related to infantry warfare this is out of the main subject but it is still a source of awe and fame internationally.

It should be noted that at the beginning of the war, the Finnish forces had only cartridges, shells, and fuel supplies to last 19–60 days. The extreme variety of origin of these weapons did not helped either. But fortunately they were able to maintain this level throughout the war thanks to a steady amount of captures from the same source (which also helped standardization !). So much so that at the end of the war they had been able to use even more PPSH submachine guns ans Mosin Nagant rifles than their own Suomi KP/-31 submachine-gun and Mauser rifles alongside. It should be noted that Finland, which was in a 1/20 ratio for tanks, re-established the balance only due to massive captures of soviet vehicles of all kind, from heavy tanks to armoured cars, especially in the Nothern Ladoga area. This process would go on under the continuation war.

The continuation war (1941-1944)

Re-armed, re-equipped and fully supported by the german Amry, the Finnish army was reorganized to prepare to play its part in “Operation Bararossa”, mostly in the Karelian sector, when the new Army of Karelia was formed in 29 June 1941. Until the autumn, it was able to take back lost territories in 1940, and pushed in Eastern Karelia in soviet territory. However in early 1942 the high command decided to stop offensives and prepare defensive positions which will not move much from the Gulf of Finland to Kainuu until the end of 1944. During the initial offensive, Finnish troops were able to capture against many russian tanks, so much so that almost any soviet AFV in its inventory before 1943 was seen with the Finnish svatiska and the typical three-tone camouflage.

The Lappland war (1944-45)

When it became obvious that Germany was loosing the war, there was a significant change in attitude towards German troop occupying Lappland (in the German mind this was help to an ally)

The Continuation War

Work in Progress !!!

Links & resources

An article by Juuso ‘Kantti’ Marttila (ww2)
An article about the “Sturmi” by Andreas Larka
Captured BT tanks in Finnish service by Andreas Larka

WW2 Finnish Tanks

Finnish Tanks in 1939

Finnish Koiras (14 in service). This was the gun-armed version. The MG armed was named “Naaras”.

MG-armed version of the renault FT in Finnish service, the Naaras (18 in service). Most were dug in as pillboxes in the defensive lines, negating the mobility and armour issues compared to Russian tanks.

Finnish Vickers Mark E (6-tons). 26 were purchased in 1938, rearmed with effective Swedish Bofors 37 mm (1.46 in) guns. They only took part in a single action until the very end of winter war, in late February 1940. The 4th Armored company equipped with 15 Vickers indeed perapred to engage 20 heavy T-28 tanks of the 120th Armored Regiment. However only five were committed to the fight (four lost, vs. height T-28 armed with low-velocity howitzers), the others never made it into the action due to mechanical breakdowns caused by the cold weather. The remainder were later rearmed with soviet 45mm guns and were known as the T26E and soldiered on in the continuation war.

List of captured vehicles used during the war


Very close to the Vickers 6-tons, they shared similar components. T-26s were the most abundant of any soviet tanks and the most were captured in the winter war. 47 were repaired of which 34 were pressed into the front line, midly appreciated since their engine was more reliable than the Vickers model. Some T-26A (twin turreted) and OT-26s were converted with spare 45 mm armed turrets, but eventually their service time was limited and most had been retired at the end of the summer 1941.


These comparatively rare infantry tanks were also heavily engaged in the winter war, and apparently the few models photographed under Finnish colors had extra protection for the gun mantlet like this T-28M in winter paint.


: This 50-tons monster became operational just before the continuation war. Therefore most were captured in 1941-42. However a single prototype was tested already in December 1939 with the 91st Tank Battalion.

Finnish T-34B
Finnish T-34B, continuation war, 1942.

Finnish T-34/85


The most prolific tank of all time was not available before the end of the winter war, therefore like the KV-1, almost all captured were so in 1941-42 and of the corresponding types. However some T-34/85s were also captured.


The “fast tank” was the second most current soviet tank during the winter war and proved unable to cope with the Finnish terrain and deep snow. Many were captured and some were even transformed into the first and only ww2 Finnish tank, the BT-42. Two were active in the summer of 1941 as the “Christie detachment” or heavy tank batallion (Raskas Panssarijoukkue) which also counted three BT-5s (R-97, 98 and 99).


These “fast tanks” were also captured in some numbers (900 were committed by the red Army). After september 1941 (when the Christie detachment was disbanded) BTs were no match for the new generation of Soviet tanks. There is no record of captured BT-2 although some fought in the North Ladoga lake sector. In fact much more soviet tanks could have been reused by the Finns, but their fate in the “Mottis” (pockets) prevented that. Indeed they were often dug in in low turret position and the Finns had no efficient towing capabilities, plus most had been already damaged beyond repairs by Molotov cocktails and satchel charges. BTs in general were considered having an even lower technical reliability than T-26s and limited range because of a high fuel consumption. 62 were listed in the Armor Centre repair facility, but only 21 were fully repaired, stockpiled and eventually scrapped.



Properly speaking these were captured BT-7 modified to carry a Finnish 114 mm howitzer in a custom-built superstructure. Top heavy and unstable, the BT-42s proved unable to penetrate the thick sloped armour of standard soviet tanks in 1942.

Disabled BT-42. This only true Finnish tank was a risky compromise that did not paid off to the numerous shortcuts that had to be done in order to be completed. On the paper, a fast tank armed with a 114 mm gun seemed quite a good idea.


Many of these amphibious light tanks were also captured.


A single one of these rare and promising light tanks of 1941 was captured and pressed in service apparently up-armoured, known as “Niki” and attached to the heavy tank company in the winter 1942-1943.


These already obsolete armoured cars were of no help in the snow and mud. Most captured were put in good use for patrols and “battle taxis” in the summer of 1941.


The list of soviet Self-propelled guns reused by the Finnish forces includes SU-76s, SU-152s and even two ISU-152s. However there is no record for captured SU-85, SU-100 or SU-122 and ISU-122s in Finnish service.

German tanks in Finnish use

Panzer IV

By 1944, only 15 Panzer IV ausf J were delivered to the Finnish Army. These were of simplified construction but with the best armour of the serie and the long KwK 43 version 75 mm well capable to destroy a T-34 or a KV-1.

Stug III Sturmi

STUG-III “Sturmi”

In all about 59 were obtained between the fall of 1943 and the beginning of 1944 in two batches, 30 and 29. These were of the Ausf G type, with the long barrel. The first batch killed in a few week no less than 87 Soviet tanks for only 8 losses… The Finnish nicknamed them “sturmi” for “sturmgeschutz”, and often protected them with extra logs.