On this day in 1939 the Battle of Suomussalmi started. It was one of the decisive battles of the Winter War between the Finnish and Soviet Armies.
Theoretically, the vastly superior Soviet forces, consisting of elements of the 9th Army, should have been able to defeat the Finnish forces with ease.
The Finnish forces had almost no heavy equipment, the little they had was also mostly outdated, and were outnumbered 5 to 1.
What they lacked in gear they made up in ingenuity, tactics and spirit. They made excellent use of the terrain, which is illsuited for mechanized formations, and they had one mighty ally: Winter.
The Soviet forces had little equipment for the harsh winter conditions they found themselves in and the Finns made their situation worse by picking out field kitchen units, deprieving the Soviets of hot meals. Nasty but ingenious.
In contrast, the Finnish forces had excellent winter equipment and their mobile ski-troops were well suited to fight in the terrain around Suomusslami.
The Soviet Army was also suffering from lack of qualified and competent leaders, due to Stalin’s Great Purge.
In the end, the result of the battle, which lasted until January 8th 1940, reflected this disparity:
The Soviets took a really nasty beating. Estimates of casualties vary, but it is generally agreed the Soviets lost at least a dozen men for every casualty inflicted on the Finnish forces and may have lost in excess of twenty for every dead Finnish soldier.
More importantly: The victory at Suomussalmi was a moral boost for the Finns and they managed to capture a lot of heavy and modern equipment, especially during the Battle of Raate Road, fought as part of the Battle of Suomussalmi, from 1st to 7th January 1940.