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The Winter War

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For some unfathomable reason I was reading the January 2006 issue of Military History today at the gym, and came upon a pretty good article about the Battle of Suomussalmi, centerpiece of the Winter War. The battle pitted two Red Army divisions against 3 Finnish regiments plus auxiliaries. I won’t go into too many details (check out the War Nerd), but the Finns ended up killing or taking prisoner 30000 Russians while suffering losses of less than a thousand. Moreover, they did so in a battle of maneuver, rather than through static defense.

The Russians eventually won the Winter War (all wars deserve such fine websites), but much more slowly and at much greater cost than they had expected. On the upside, the Russians learned that the Red Army was a disaster waiting to happen; on the downside, they were still in the process of reforming it when the disaster happened. I’m not sure that any lessons from the Winter War can be applied to the Russia-Georgia War, other perhaps than fine tuned questions about Russian and Georgian military effectiveness fade in the face of overwhelming Russian numerical superiority. One point, I suppose, is that the scale of war has changed in the last seventy years. The Russians lost twice as many men killed in one battle against the Finns in 1939 as they did in the entire Afghan campaign, which makes the war against Georgia look like a minor skirmish.

On that note, also check out this NYT article comparing Russian and Georgian military performance. It contains some preliminary thoughts about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of US training, and also suggests that the Russian Air Force had big effectiveness issues during the war.

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