The Russian Front Awards of 1941-45

Now we come to Finland, which is a unique country for a number of reasons.

As is common knowledge, the USSR demanded to exchange territory and rent a naval base from Finland in 1939. These talks broke down when Finland flatly refused, resulting in Russia invading Finland on 30 November 1939 to take what it wanted by force. This period of time in Finland was called the Winter War of 1939-40. Europe was still in the ‘phoney war’ period. Both France and England wanted to send aid to Finland and a few independent volunteers did serve in Finnish uniform during this time.

(There are rumours of British units serving but I have been unable to substantiate this.)

It was also put forward that France and England would invade Norway and take aid to Finland that way. This plan did not come to anything, however, apart from Germany invading Norway in 1940!

The Nordic countries, on the other hand, namely Denmark, Sweden and Norway, did send both aid and volunteers to Finland to help in the war effort. Sweden helped so much to the extent that Russia called into question Swedish neutrality. Finland surprised the world and not least the Soviet Union by resisting the full weight of the Russian onslaught. Finnish losses were immense but so too were the Russian losses. Finland was forced to sign a treaty on 13 March when it looked as if Finland’s defensive line was going to crumble due to the sheer weight of numbers against it. In the ‘Peace Treaty’ Finland was forced to hand over the territories or districts of Petsamo, Sella and Karelia, being approximately one-tenth of Finland’s surface areas. More than 450,000 Finnish people were made homeless. Not only did Finland impress the world with its stubborn resistance and fighting quality, but it also showed the Germans how poor was the quality of Russian leadership after Stalin had purged the USSR army of threats to his power. Himmler was impressed enough to entice the Finns into his newly formed Waffen SS. With the stage set for the oncoming war between Germany and the USSR, many Finns joined some of the New Units in the hope of winning back their lost homeland areas.

Of the three Nordic countries that participated in the Winter War, Sweden gave its servicemen a Swedish Volunteers Plaque that came in two forms, and then later issued a commemorative cross for the Swedish Volunteer Corps. These were numbered to the reverse.

Norway also issued a Volunteers’ medal for the Winter War, which was issued just before Germany invaded.

Denmark issued a Danish Finnish Battalion Cross (DFB) in enamel. (These crosses can be seen being worn on Danish SS Uniforms and are often confused with the Schalburg Cross.)

Finland issued its own Winter War medal in two distinct versions: one for Finns in Soumi and the other in Latin for foreigners. The award was issued in black iron for combatants and bronze for civilians. The award also had 40 different campaign bars. It is also stated in some references that the award was given in silver and gold, but I am unaware of any.

When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, the Finns threw in their lot with Germany to recover their lost territory, and again issued a war medal. This award is called the continuation war medal and again comes in Soumi and Latin for foreign volunteers.

With the influx of different troops, and troops being troops, commemorative items were sought out and made for this market. The Swedish volunteers who were at Hango in 1941 received a clasp. The troops in the ‘Den Norske Legion’ received their own clasp showing the Norwegian and Finnish flags. Probably one of the most often recognised Finnish awards is the Front Cross. This comes in over 12 different types in three categories, the North Front, the Lapland Front and the Arctic Front Cross, the main differences being either a white or black centre, and the dates 1941-1943 or 1941-1944. These crosses have both the Finnish and German flags on them. Also German and Finnish troops who took part in the march from Rovrnemi to Petsamo received a blue and white badge to commemorate this, (they are more in line with the Finnish tourist awards that could be bought and these particular badges were given on a regimental level for travelling from one place to another in Finland). Soldiers both in Finland and Germany, as well as allies, collected badges like these in the towns and villages and could buy fobs to add the badges on. Some of these fobs were made by Inuits out of bone and metal. As well as the fobs, the soldiers fuelled a market in Inuit and Sumi sculptures that has continued into the present day with items such as polar bears, seals, walruses and eagles costing from a few hundred pounds to several thousands. These can sometimes be found in amongst soldiers’ trinkets and continue to be highly collectable across the globe.

After the war ended in 1944 (for Finland), it issued regimental crosses to its troops which can still be worn to this day. They also come in a range of designs, and there are even SS commemoratives that are highly sought after. (Please note that these have been heavily copied. Shown below is a picture of both a fake and wartime example, courtesy of Jani TiainenJ.The last commemorative, though, in this Nordic line was produced only a few years ago in Sweden for its troops and was limited to an issue of only 300, 50 in silver and 250 in bronze.

This is just a guide to Finnish related awards; it is by no means an exhaustive list.

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