- Chris Mann and Christer Jorgensen
It looks at a number of aspects of the fighting in Scandinavia and northern Russia after 1939. The establishment of Finland as an independent state (and the German support to do so) in 1920 are briefly explained and then the focus is in the campaigns at the beginning and then throughout World War Two. These include the Winter War between the Finns and the Soviets; the successful invasion of Norway by the Nazis; the invasion of Soviet Russia by Nazi Germany (with Finnish support); the interdiction of Allied convoys to Russia by the Germans; the fighting on the Finnish front up to 1944; and the Soviet invasion and defeat of Finland and the subsequent German actions. There is also an excellent chapter on the German occupation of Norway and the failure of the Nazis (both German and Norwegian) to change the country’s political attitudes.
The authors describe the problems faced by all the combatants (Finns, Norwegians, Russians, Germans, British and French) in operating in this theatre. The terrain and the temperature (and the exceptional differences between summer and winter) are well captured: I’ve done some miserably cold and wet / hot and horrible places but the Arctic convoys and the fighting in northern Finland are experiences well beyond anything I’ve done. Also, full credit to the Soviets for mounting amphibious assaults north of the Arctic Circle in late 1944: I felt cold just thinking about it!
Furthermore, Mann and Jorgensen capture the different ideologies and political aims of the combatants; Hitler’s economic and political/ideological intent had to be married to Finnish nationalism and their far more limited war aims which was not a simple fit which created problems for both of them throughout the war. They were then opposed by Stalin’s forces which were more homogenous in both command and war aims.
The pictures in the book are quite excellent. They capture the techniques and problems used (and a lot of the quite miserable conditions experienced) by both sides and add well to the script. The maps are a disappointment: place names are frequently mentioned in the narrative but do not appear on the maps which make it hard to follow the movement of the various units. Also, national borders are frequently not on the maps and this was especially frustrating during the otherwise excellent description of the German extraction into Norway after the Finns made peace with the Soviets. Additionally, given the German aim to capture Norway in order to ensure the supply of Swedish iron ore, a chapter on the convoys used to move it and the Allied attempts to interdict it would have fitted in very well but is unfortunately absent.
I very much enjoyed this book. It explained succinctly and deftly many of the issues of the fighting troops in this theatre and the sometimes quite complicated political and military arrangements that had to be made. As a general history of this period in Scandinavia, it is quite excellent and an excellent primer for anyone interested in the pertinent campaigns; I recommend it heartily to all.