In 1939 Russia extended its border at the expense of several neighbouring countries but Finland refuses to be coerced. Poland was not the only country that figured in the secret clauses of the 1939 Russo-German Pact. They also mentioned the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, together with Finland, placing them all within the sphere of interest of the USSR. Joseph Stalin, having watched Hitler's army conquer one small nation so spectacularly, seems to have felt that it was time for the Red Army to bring him similar gains. The long columns of Soviet troops pressing into central Finland were cut to pieces in December. Chopped into pockets, some 30,000 Soviets were killed or captured around Suomussalmi, many frozen to death after their supplies ran out. The Soviet 44th and 163rd Divisions were annihilated. Political pressure and geographic realities were enough to persuade the three Baltic republics to sign treaties of mutual assistance, which allowed the USSR to establish garrisons and bases within their borders. However, Finland felt herself protected in her most vulnerable area by the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, and by the wilderness of forest, swamp, lakes and sheer arctic distances that made up her eastern frontier, stretching from Lake Ladoga up to the Arctic Ocean. The Finns also believed that the spirit and training of her armed forces would be enough to hold the first onslaught, and that the sight of their own David fighting off the Soviet Goliath would evoke active aid from the rest of the world. The Winter War was fought in a sparsely inhabited land of forest and swamp with a savage winter climate. From south of Oulu the countryside was heavily wooded and bad going for mechanised units. Following the German invasion of Russia in 1941 Finland swiftly recaptured the territories it lost in 1940, only to lose them and other areas after World War 11. Overwhelming odds When, on 28 November, after two months of verbal bullying by Molotov and defiance by the Finnish leaders Paasikivi and Tanner, the USSR broke off negotiations and attacked the Finnish defences two days later, it looked at first as though the Finns had been right. Certainly, all Western Europe and the USA applauded the Finnish stand - and Finnish military successes at first exceeded all expectations. Despite the size of the Finnish army (at its peak, never more than 16 divisions), despite its acute shortage of artillery and heavy ammunition, despite its shortage of transport, signals equipment and total lack of armour, it held the Soviet attack which came up through the Karelian Isthmus, along the whole of the Mannerheim Line (the main Finnish defences) from the Gulf of Finland to the River Vuoksi. The Finnish II and III Corps, in fact, beat back the Soviet 7th and 13th Armies, inflicting astonishing losses on the Red Army infantry by the accuracy of their rifle and machine-gun fire, and on the Soviet tanks with petrol bombs. By 22 December, after six days of pointless battering against a seemingly impregnable line, the Soviets broke off the action and withdrew to regroup and to re-think. This Soviet soldier wears the standard army greatcoat and high boots. The curious cap is the budionovka, which proved impractical in Finland, fur caps being much warmer. The red colour patches indicate arm of service. Matters had not gone so well for the Finns north of Lake Ladoga. The six divisions of the Soviet 8th Army crossed the frontier and advanced implacably to the line of Finnish defences between Kitela and Ilomantsi. But in doing so they had given some hostages to fortune: incredibly, the Soviets had no ski troops, whereas every Finnish soldier was well trained on skis and many were expert at using them in a military context. Soviet divisions thus found themselves cut off from communication and supplies; small formations were decimated, some units annihilated.