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Lapland War

History -- Military history -- War -- History of Germany -- History of Finland -- World War II

The Lapland War is a name used for the hostilities between Finland and Germany between September 1944 and April 1945. It carries its name since it was fought in the northernmost province of Finland, Lapland.

As early as the summer of 1943, the German high command began making plans for the eventuality that Finland might make a separate peace agreement with the Soviet Union. The Germans planned to withdraw their forces northward in order to shield the nickel mines near Petsamo. During the winter of 1943-1944, the Germans improved the roads from northern Norway to northern Finland by extensive use of POW labour (many captured in southern Europe and still in summer uniform; casualties were high), and they accumulated stores in that region. Thus the Germans were ready in September 1944, when Finland made peace with the Soviet Union.

While German ground troops withdrew northward, the German navy mined the seaward approaches to Finland and attempted to seize Suursaari Island in the Gulf of Finland. Although some Wehrmacht and Finnish army officers tried to organize relatively peaceful withdrawal, fighting broke out between German and Finnish forces even before the Soviet-Finnish preliminary peace treaty was signed. Fighting intensified when the Finns sought to comply with the Soviet demand that all German troops be expelled from Finland. The Finns were thus placed in a situation similar to that of the Italians and of the Romanians, who, after surrendering to the Allies, had to fight to free their lands of German forces. The Finns' task was complicated by the Soviet demand that the major part of Finnish armed forces must be demobilized at the same time, even during the campaign against the Germans.

The Finnish general Hjalmar Siilasvuo, the victor of Suomussalmi, led the operations against the Germans. In October and November 1944, he drove them out of most of northern Finland. The German forces under General Lothar Rendulic, however, devastated large areas of northern Finland using the scorched earth tactic. More than one-third of the dwellings in that area were destroyed, and the provincial capital of Rovaniemi was burned down. In addition to the property losses, estimated as equivalent to about US$ 300 million (in 1945 dollars), about 100,000 inhabitants became refugees, a situation that added to the problems of postwar reconstruction. (After the war the Allies convicted Rendulic of war crimes, and they sentenced him to twenty years in prison.) The last German troops were expelled in April 1945.

Military casualties had been relatively limited: 1,000 lost lives for the Finnish troops, and about 2,000 for the Germans.

See also: List of Finnish wars