Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: A Frozen Hell - William Trotter

Writing the perfect war movie script is difficult since no war movie has ever been made that inspires fighting as well as provide justification for the cause. Glory is a movie that came close, but did white people really get inspired? I didn't. The Soviet-Finnish Winter War has the perfect set up as well as actual narrative to be a great war movie framework. William Trotter's short (258 pages) book, A Frozen Hell, told with a sympathetic view of the Finns but balanced in review is a fantastic history of the 100 day war between the colossus and the small fry. A reader gets the run up as to how Finland separated from Russia after WW1, the diplomatic stupidity on both sides, and then the set up of how the sides were stacked as the war began in winter of 1939. Trotter spins stories that read like movie scenes, paints settings that really stick and form in the reader's mind and has great technical knowledge of the weapons, machinery, terrain and leaders. It is a quick read as he segments the book to relate to an area of fighting in Finland, and the sections feel like minibooks. I highly recommend this book as a fun read that is not dry at all. If someone is an aspiring screenplay writer, read this book and craft an awesome war movie somehow tied to this 100 day war.

In a spirit of not just reviewing the book but discussing a thought tangent that I had while reading it, what were the Nazis thinking? Were they ever thinking? As I read the book, I could not help but think how stupid the Nazis were once again in their approach to WW2. Sure, Hitler laid out his entire plan in Mein Kampf that no other leader besides Churchill read, but his Army staff should have KNOWN an attack on Russia would happen even if they signed the non-aggression treaty. Planning for an eventual attack on Russia, why would the Germans concede Finland to the Russian zone of influence, when they would later use it as a launch of attack for their invasion of Russia? What a dumb move!?!?!? Considering their approach for Barbarossa, even devoting men to that Army Group was a waste. I've blogged before about what the Germans could have done to take the Russian giant down.

Providing that the Germans allowed the Finns to be part of the Soviet sphere of influence, when hostilities started, the Germans cut off all shipments of material to the Finns. This was incredibly short sighted and displayed a few critical things which would blow up later.

1. By underestimating the Finn resistance, the Germans displayed little diplomatic feel, which would pop up with other countries as well.
2. No grand strategy beyond the basics that a corporal in his 1920s book wrote. Hitler rarely thought globally or even beyond land fighting. It showed up here as well as later on in the war.
3. Hitler honored a pact that he would break within 18 months. Inconsistency of action. This was a killer later on during the fight with Russia.

The Nazis had no feel for Finland, and this cost them a potential puppet guerilla ally. The Nazis were so dumb as to not understand the Mannerheim line defenses, and not see the potential battle from the Finns POV. They could not see the defensive position as their warfare had been offensive in nature for arguably decades. German brass always planned attacks, rarely ever defensive situations. They could not see the strength of Finnish defenses nor the home field advantage they would have as the Germans had not even been invaded in WW1 when they lost. The Nazis also failed to see that by prolonging the Winter War through aid to Finland, they could have inflicted huge losses beyond the 250,000 dead Russians. Just shipping artillery to the Finns would have lengthened the conflict and killed more Russians. A batch of 88s would have strengthened the Mannerheim line as well as provided crucial mental support for the part of warfare that bothered the Finns the most, fighting against tanks. Planes would have changed the game early on, and the Nazis could have claimed they were plane orders put through prior to the conflict starting. Planes may have been too much, but sending artillery, mortars and anti-tank mines would have helped.

The Nazis could not think big picture. Hitler failed to see how a prolonged conflict with 500K Russians dead and the world's media portraying the Russians as big bad guys would help him. Had the Brits and French ever made it to Finland in time, it might have allowed the Finns to negotiate with worldwide help to retain its territorial borders. This would have given Germany a headstart when Operation Barbarossa started. It also would have drained Russia of even more trained soldiers and officers. Considering the Nazi's western front plans, imagine how much faster France would have fallen after diverting forces to Finland for months. The Nazis instead stopped aid to Fin and remained out of the fray. That is poor strategic planning. It is no wonder they lost, and thank God they did.

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