Have you ever wondered what happened in the battlefield in the real world during the myriad of battles on the popular World of Tanks map, 'Karelia'? This time, we'll look at the history of Karelia, and explore the fierce battles between two countries over the territory.
Bring yourself back in time with Karelia's background music below.
The Summer Map of Karelia
In World of Tanks, Karelia is a summer map known for its mountainous regions and long valleys. You can encounter this map through Random Battles (except encounter battles). It's a popular map with many strategic points of interest for tank destroyers and snipers.
Karelia in World of Tanks
The real Karelia is located near the border between Finland and Russia. In the past, Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom. But in 1809, Russia invaded Finland. So the Russian empire grew in order to prevent the growing sway of Finland, which is geographically near Russia's capital, Saint-Petersburg.
Later, during World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland was declared an independent state.
The present state of Karelia, hard to find traces of fierce battles
The beginning of the Dispute over Karelia
Several nearby countries, including Sweden, were willing to accept Finland's independence, but the relationship with the Soviet government, which was established after the Russian Revolution, was always contentious. After Stalin took office, the border issue between Finland and the Soviet Union was raised again. At the time, the Soviet Union held that the capital Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) is not safe because it is too close to the Finnish border. In November 1939, the Soviet Union delivered a deal to transfer the other territory of the Soviet Union to Finland instead of moving the border with Finland to the west so that the Karelia region could become part of the Soviet Union.
But for Finland, this proposal would cause so many territorial losses that it was rejected. Counter offers were made by Finland, but no agreement was reached. On 26th November 1939 a border incident resulted in artillery shots seemingly being fired at Soviet troops. The result was the suspension of all non-aggression pacts between the USSR and Finland two days later. To date, it is suspected that this incident was staged by the Soviets, although full proof has never emerged.
On 30th November, the Soviets invaded Finland through Karelia with 21 divisions – around 450,000 men. No formal declaration of war had been made, and the Finns were woefully under-equipped to fight back against the Soviet tanks. By 6th December, the Finns had been pushed back to the Mannerheim Line, a string of defensive fortifications across the Karelian Isthmus that had begun to be constructed in the 1920s but still hadn’t been finished in 1939.
※ Mannerheim Line: Fortified defense line built in Karelia on the Karelian Isthmus against the Soviet Union. Named after Baron Mannerheim in Finland. Source: Wikipedia
What the Mannerheim Line looked like
The Brutal Winter War
The winter war between the Soviet Union and Finland began. In the winter of the war, it was very cold, but the Finns, who were accustomed to the harsh weather, skied and used camouflage guerrilla tactics. As a result, the advance of Soviet troops near the Mannerheim was slower than expected, bringing great shame to both Soviet troops and Stalin. Stalin launched an enormous propaganda offensive, claiming that the Mannerheim line is as strong as the French Maginot line, and that its unique harsh climate and terrain made it difficult to break through.
※ Winter War: A war broke out on 30 November 1939, during the Second World War, when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Also known as the Soviet-Finland war. Source: Wikipedia
※ Maginot Line: A 750-kilometer fort built by France after World War I to stop German tanks from 1927. It was named after Andre Maginot, the French Defense Minister at the time who suggested the construction of the fort. This phrase now means "a defensive barrier or strategy that inspires a false sense of security" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Despite the fierce resistance of Finland, it was impossible to prevent the Soviet advance. Soviet troops had already tripled Finland's and thousands of Soviet tanks and fighters were also part of the country's formidable military force. In spite of the of Soviet troops from fierce fighting, Finland's Mannerheim line of defense began to crumble gradually. One by one, the Finnish defensive fortifications began to fall, although not without a cost to the invaders – Soviet casualties were high.
Throughout the Winter War, Finland had tried to negotiate with the USSR but no response had been given. Towards the end of February both Sweden and Germany tried to intervene, demanding an end to the war. The Soviets issued peace terms and on 29th February 1940 these were accepted in principle by Finland, with a full ceasefire called on 13th March. Politically, the result was that a large amount of Karelia was handed over to the Soviets and most of the 400,000-strong population had to relocate to other parts of Finland.
Finnish soldiers looking at the defeated Soviet T-34. At that time, the Finnish uniform was similar in style to the German army, and the Finnish soldiers wore German helmets, which were provided through German assistance.
An Unending War
But the war did not stop here. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the opportunist Finns took their chance to strike back as well. This would be known as the Continuation War. In just three months, the Finns had pushed all the way back through Karelia, halting at the original border. They held this point, which had previously been lost to the Soviet Union, for the next two and a half years.
※ Continuation War: Also called the Second Soviet-Finland War. The war started when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union during World War II and Finland attacked the Soviet Union as a German ally. The two countries entered the war again in a year, following the Winter War of 1940 (the first Soviet-Finland war). Source: Wikipedia
Although Finland claimed to be neutral during World War II, its conflict being only with the Soviet Union, its success against the USSR relied upon German victory. After the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, Finland knew that its days were numbered. It started to look for a way out of the war but no agreement was reached. In June 1944, the Soviets again began a major offensive in Karelia, using artillery to break down the Finnish positions.
Finland couldn’t win and was forced to admit defeat. An armistice was signed on 19th September but Finland had to make huge concessions, including a large financial reparation payment to the USSR and the reversion of the border back to the position agreed in 1940. Karelia again fell mainly under Soviet control. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, it became an autonomous region of Russia known as the Republic of Karelia.
The Republic of Karelia famous for its unique wooden buildings