Photo Essays

The Front Lines and the Fallen: Photographs of Finland in WWII

by Allison Meier on May 2, 2013

A soldier in the Finnish Defense Forces (all images courtesy SA-kuva)

The military history of Finland during World War II remains overlooked in those brutal years of battles, as the Nordic country was actually fighting three wars between 1939 and 1945, all aimed at guarding their independence. Now a massive photo archive of around 160,000 images has been made available online, giving an incredible look into those dynamic years of the country’s history.

The Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive was launched in honor of Finland’s 2013 Veterans Day, and while the site is a bit hard to navigate (search terms must be in Finnish), just wandering through the pages of black-and-white photographs gives a sharp insight into the wintry front lines and civilian home life in Finland’s World War II years, which included the Winter War, fought against the Soviet Union; the Continuation War, where the country joined with Germany to continue the fight against the Soviet Union; and finally the Lapland War, where it then fought Germany. (More details are here; it’s more complicated than this quick summary.) The photographs show the ferocious toll the wars took on the country, from architecture reduced to rubble to images of the dead. Yet this is just one side of a complex history, and through the photographs, taken by both those working for the country’s information services and the soldiers themselves, the faces of the people who lived through it are revealed.

At the end of World War II, Finland had only lost 10% of its territory, successfully guarding its independence. Many of the photographs in the Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive were once only negatives, and they’re now available to anyone who wants to delve into this history that’s often overlooked by outside countries. Here are just a few choice images from the thousands now online:

Major General Fagernäs posed in front of a bear skin.

Major General Fagernäs posed in front of a bear skin

Cavalry soldier in winter.

Cavalry soldier in winter

A building in ruins.

A building in ruins

An airplane that has been shot down.

An airplane that has been shot down

In the hospital.

In the hospital

An impressive megaphone.

An impressive megaphone

One of the wounded.

One of the wounded

A church with a bombed out roof.

A church with a bombed-out roof

Reading up on skiing?

Reading up on skiing? Stalin?

View the whole Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive here.

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  • Nic Nicholson

    Simo Hayha is in 4 of the pictures.

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