Praise for The Hundred Day Winter War

By Gordon F. Sander


The Journal of Military History
“The Winter War, ‘Talvisota’ in Finnish, is an icon in Finland’s nation identity. Certainly the elements of a Finnish Thermopylae are there: a democracy of some three million people refuses the territorial demands of a major totalitarian power. At her hour of need the right man, Gen. Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, appears to lead the defense with an outnumbered, underequipped and under-supported military. Only when exhausted and realizing that no significant military assistance is forthcoming, does the country negotiate peace, losing territory but keeping her independence intact.

That at least is the mythic version of events. Sander’s book goes deeper to give the reader the reality of war from home front experiences to international political maneuvering. A major source for the author is the extensive media coverage generated by the next big event in a war that was only some 80 days old. Regarding this ‘media frenzy,’ one of the author’s more significant conclusions is that the desire to aid Finland, particularly in the USA, may have given the Finns more confidence in direct aid and a subsequent victory than was otherwise justified.

The Hundred Day Winter War is a well-written, engrossing popular history that should be in the library of anyone with a general interest in World War II or as a starting point for further research into the Winter War. “

H-Net, Humanties and Social Sciences Online

“Journalist Gordon F. Sander’s The Hundred Day Winter War offers a detailed look at the brief but influential conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union during the depths of the winter of 1939-40. While the episode is often overshadowed by the Second World War, which opened just three months before the Winter War and also featured a second war between Finland and the Soviet Union, Sander manages to capture both the daily feel and broader international significance of this relatively brief episode. His main argument, that Finland made a ‘gallant stand’ before being overwhelmed by both the sheer numbers and increased effectiveness of the Soviet forces, is well supported by stories from both the frozen front lines where soldiers of both nations decided the issue and the backroom parlors where diplomats negotiated the consequences. The final result is a broad, compelling and significant study of the war.

“(con’d) Sander organizes the work chronologically, tracing generally the initial Soviet assault which floundered in the deep snows and dark nights of the Finnish winter, the interregnum when Finland was unable to marshal significant external support, either militarily from the Allies or diplomatically from its neighbor Sweden while the Soviets implemented the necessary reforms, and finally the decisive Soviet spring offensive that finally broke the vaunted Mannerheim Line. Sander jumps with ease from exhausted Finnish ski troopers maintaining the inadequately supported pillboxes, to the halls of government in Helsinki and Moscow, the feckless League of Nations, and the numerous fundraisers in the United States in which the nation, paralyzed by isolation and unpreparedness, salved its conscience with generous funds for nonmilitary relief. The result is a comprehensive coverage of the war which includes a deft blend of diplomatic, military, social, and cultural aspects, all of which makes the book a very enjoyable read.

“The work highlights the global community’s inability to come to the aid of ‘brave little Finland’ and respond to naked aggression under the derelict League of Nations. Unable to deter the Soviets, France and Britain finally raised a military relief force, too small and too late to impact the outcome, but sufficient to arouse German suspicions, especially for the security of the high-grade iron ore it received from ever-neutral Sweden. The western Allies would eventually use the forces destined for Finland in an ill-fated intervention in the German invasion of Norway, itself an immediate byproduct of the Winter War…Diplomatically, Sander’s biggest lesson seems to be the necessity of quick and decisive foreign intervention, the lack of which surely sentenced Finland to her fate.

“Militarily, Sander contrasts the incredible destructiveness of the Soviet air force’s indiscriminate raids on Finnish cities with the heightened will to resist among the Finnish civilian population, for whom the end of hostilities and subsequent territorial concessions came as a shock…Despite complete command of the air, the Soviets were unable to shake Finnish resolve with terror bombing and required a land campaign to finally force the Finns to concede the territory they desired.

“In the end, Sander’s work is a deeply satisfying and enriching account of one of the lesser-known episodes of the Second World War and a model of how to integrate the numerous strands of inquiry within the field of military history into an illuminating and enjoyable work of scholarship.

–Christopher Rein, professor of military history
United States Air Force Academy

From The New York Military Affairs Symposium Review

“Although quite a number of books have examined Finland’s heroic, if doomed, resistance to Stalin’s aggression, journalism and historian Sander manages to throw a great deal of new light on the 105 day conflict. In a book that was a best-seller in Finland, he covers much more of the civilian side of the war than is common, and tries to give the reader the feel of events as they unfolded, rather than from a long-term view. Sander reveals some of the warts on the Finnish side, including an overly rigid press censorship that contributed to false hopes of victory, gives us some detail on foreign aid to the Finns (even from Mussolini!), the proposed Anglo-French relief expedition, Stalin’s decision to end the war at a time when he might have overrun all of Finland, and more. Sander’s discussion of military matters is very good, and his battle pieces are very well done, often gripping, and with more coverage of the Soviet side than is common, including the effect of the war on the Red Army. An excellent look at one of the most unique conflicts of the twentieth century.”


Note: The Hundred Day Winter War was originally published in Finland by WSOY, the preeminent Finnish publisher, under the title Taistelu Suomesta (The Battle of Finland) in 2010 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the war. It reached No. 2 on the Finnish non-fiction best-seller and remained on the Finnish best-seller list for six months.

From STT*

“Sander’s outstanding book, The Battle of Finland, differentiates from the many works on this subject in many ways. His work combines brilliant writing, faithfully rendered by Arto Haila’s excellent translation, with a rock solid factual foundation. The book successfully weaves the broad outlines of world history and the situation in Finland, so that the book works on several levels at once.”

From Helsingin Sanomat1

The Battle of Finland is a paean to the will of the Finns to defend themselves and to their military prowess. Sander is a superb writer. His text moves cinemtographically from the battles of the frozen forests of Karelia to the cigar smoke-filled map room of Finnish Army headquarters in Mikkeli, from the mundane concerns of the home front to diplomatic discussions in Moscow, London, and Washington. Sander weaves a bittersweet morality play in which a democratic David defends itself against the aggression of a communist Goliath as the world watched on with admiration.”

Kainun Sainomat2

Sander’s work functions like a kaleidoscope, allowing the reader to view the events of the wars while providing new perspectives from foreign war correspondents and the takes told by soldiers who fought in the ranks, including both Finns and soldiers of the Red Army. Although the Battle of Finland is to a great degree a paean to the Finns, it is also a solid package about the Winter War for anyone who is interested in the conflict or who simply wants a great read.

“..Sander succeeds in shifting from one level to another. The tale moves quickly from the trenches at Summa to a cocktail party in Washington, from there to accompanying foreign correspondents observing the daily life of Finnish civilians in their bombed-out cities. All in all, his book can be characterized as a successful general presentation of the Winter War. Another advantage is [his] stress on a neutral point of view.

Lappin Kansa3

“Gordon F. Sander delves into the Winter War to open up this quintessentially Finnish myth to the world’s readers. His book has the difficult challenge of quenching the thirst of know-it-all Finns themselves, while standing up to the merciless scrutiny for errors. In this, Sander is successful.

The Battle of Finland is a refreshing alternative to the usual military history book. By using the many illustrious English and American journalists who coverered the war, like Martha Gellhorn and Geoffrey Cox, Sander is able to examine [the war] as if through a third set of eyes. Another distinctive feature are the connections Sander is able to make between the events of the war and the policies pursued by Finland and the Soviet Union.”

* STT is Finland’s leading daily news service.
1. Helsingin Sanomat is Finland’s leading daily newspaper.
2. Kainun Sanomat is the leading paper of central Finland.
3. Lappin Kansa is the leading newspaper of Finnish Lappland.