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Every country has several grey areas in its postal history about which little or nothing at all is known. This is no truer than in the case of the postal history and classic philately of Russia and the USSR, which abound in grey areas, with ever new discoveries still being made. In this article, I would like to describe the postal history of the newly acquired Soviet territories following the Soviet-Finnish “Winter War” in 1939 and in the years of World War II.
After the quick fall of Poland in October 1939 and the so-called VI Partition of Poland among the USSR and Germany, the USSR focused its attention to its north-western neighbour Finland. Following the Soviet false flag incident – the Shelling of Mainila, on 30.11.1939 the Red Army attacked neutral Finland, marking the start of the so-called Winter War. Stalin was determined to conquer the whole of Finland and so annex yet another lost territory from the Russian civil war to the USSR. The USSR was expelled from the League of Nations on 14 December 1939 for its aggressive campaign against its neutral neighbour. The original Soviet plan was to have a quick war and overtake Helsinki within 14 days, but the Soviet leadership fatally underestimated the strength of their adversary and the experienced commander-in-chief Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, as well as the determination of the Finnish soldiers to defend their country.
What’s more, the Red Army was already weakened by Stalin’s purges of the officer corps. The conflict that was initially supposed to last just a few weeks would end up prolonging to over four months. Finish troops truly defended their country heroically and caused huge losses to the enemy. Over 175,000 red Army soldiers fell in the war, compared to just 25,000 on the Finnish side. The Soviet troops eventually managed to seize several border territories, but at the cost of heavy losses. On 13 March 1940, the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed, meeting Soviet demands only minimally. Finland ceded around 11% of its pre-war territory to the Soviet Union: Rybachy peninsula, almost all of Finnish Karelia, Salla, the islands in the Gulf of Finland, and the Hanko Peninsula was leased to the Soviet Union as a naval base for 30 years. For Finland, surely the most agonizing was the loss of its second largest town Vyborg (Viipuri). A puppet Finnish Democratic Republic was firstly established for the newly acquired Soviet territories, which later merged with the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and 31 March 1940 saw the creation of the new Soviet republic of Karelo-Finnish Soviet SR, which was abolished sixteen years later to become an ASSR as part of the Russian SFSR.
The relinquished Finnish lands were almost completely vacated before being handed over to the Soviet Union, even though this was not necessary according to the Moscow Peace Treaty. The most populated area, Finnish Karelia, saw the evacuation of around 410,000 inhabitants, representing over 99% of those living there. Only a few thousand of the original residents remained in the surrendered territories, meaning the Soviet troops literally entered ghost towns and villages. The newly acquired territories were later occupied by a population of predominantly Russian ethnicity and the towns were renamed according to Russian historical names. For example, the second largest town before the war, Vyborg (Viipuri), which at that time boasted over 80,000 residents, only had about 38,000 new inhabitants by the end of 1940.
In the wake of the attack of Nazi Germany on the USSR on 22 June 1941, Finland took sides with Germany on 25 June 1941, but not as an Axis power. This was the start of the so-called Continuation War between the USSR and Finland. In the space of a few months, the Finnish troops managed to seize back lost territory from 1940 and even the Soviet part of Karelia, while managing to get within firing distance of Leningrad, which the Finnish besieged together with German troops for 872 days. However, at the command of the Finnish commander-in-chief Marshal von Mannerheim, the Finnish troops were not to get actively involved in military actions. Marshal Mannerheim was a former Tsarist officer who had studied at Nicholas Cavalry School in Petrograd and had most likely grown fond of the city. The repossessed territories from before 1940 were administratively annexed directly to Finland, unlike the newly acquired territories of Soviet Karelia, where a temporary military administration was established and it was renamed to East Karelia/Itä-Karjala.
Around 260,000 of the original inhabitants returned to the regained lands during the Continuation War. Meanwhile, many residents who came to the area during the Soviet administration in 1941 fled from the advancing Finnish army to nearby territories under the control of the Red Army. The Continuation War between Finland and the USSR prevailed until the summer of 1944 practically without change. The Finnish army did not actively advance, but merely held its position and defended against Soviet attacks. The status quo ended, however, in the summer of 1944 when the Red Army regained East Karelia and the southern part of Finnish Karelia after the Vyborg- Petrozavodsk Offensive.
The Continuation War ended on 19 September 1944 with the Moscow Armistice in which Finland acknowledged the border from 1940, while agreeing to war reparations for the USSR and allowing the establishment of the Communist Party of Finland. Finland subsequently declared war on its former ally Germany, switching forces to join the Western Allies. With the encroaching end of the war, though, this was more of a symbolic gesture from the side of Finland and from a purely military perspective it was not a key part of World War II. The territory of Finnish Karelia was once more evacuated as it had been in 1940. Peace treaty was signed between both countries at the Paris Peace Conference in 1947. The years that followed saw substantial normalisation of relations between Finland and USSR, as well as successful co-operation in various sectors, which was far from common between capitalist and communist countries during the Cold War period.
As the title of this article denotes, I would like to focus mainly on the postal history of this territory following the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty in March 1940 until the breakout of the Continuation War in June 1941, but marginally also on the postal history during the Continuation War. As was noted already in the historical section, the ceded Finnish territories were all completely vacated before being handed over to the Soviet Union. Postal relations could logically only develop very slowly. It is not known how many people in total lived in these territories before the start of the Continuation War at the end of June 1941, or exactly how many regular or traveling post offices operated in these territories. All the ceded territories with the exception of Finnish Karelia were very sparsely inhabited during Finnish rule, and continue to be so today.
From available sources I managed to discover only that the largest town Vyborg (Viipuri) had about 38,000 inhabitants at the end of 1940. Other issues also remain open, like when exactly was a regular postal service established in these territories or if traveling post offices existed? Was it possible that there was mixed Finnish-Soviet franking? Or Soviet-Finnish franking once the lands were reacquired by Finland? These are just some of the minor questions that still remain open.
Postal history in this territory in 1939-1942 represents following 8 items
No.1: standard international letter sent from Vyborg (Viipuri) on 4 October 1939 to Germany, less than two months before the start of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.
No.2: standard inland letter sent from Vyborg on 13 September 1940 to Petrozavodsk (capital city of KFSSR) on 15 September 1940. The letter was already franked with the new Russian-Finnish bilingual postmark ВЫБOРГ: VIIPURI. The receipt postmark is the then old postmark ПЕТРОЗА-ВОДСК KACCP, Karelia Autonomous SSR. This is the earliest example of item posted from this territory that I have seen so far, precisely 6 months from ceding the territory in favour of the USSR.
No.3: standard postal stationary sent inland from Vyborg on 17 December 1940 to Leningrad on 18 December 1940, meaning roughly 9 months after the city came under Soviet control. The stationary was already franked with the Soviet bilingual Russian-Finnish postmark ВЫБOРГ: WIIPURI: KФ.CCP. Unlike the first example, a different date postmark is used on the stationary and the name of the town is given in Finnish – Viipuri: Wiipuri.
No.4: postal stationary without sent postmark from Turovskiy State farm (Moscow region) addressed to the district prosecutor in Vyborg. An interesting feature of this postal stationary is that the receipt postmark used on the back was the old Finnish mechanical postmark VIIPURI 2.VI.41, this more than one year after being ceded by Finland.
No.5: 20 kopeks postal stationary sent inland from the town of Suojarvi on 30 January 1941 to Vyborg 6 February 1941. The stationary was franked in Suojarvi already with the new bilingual Russian-Finnish postmark SUOJÄRWI: СУOЯPВИ. In Vyborg, however, the receipt postmark was the old Finnish date postmark VIIPURI, which is the same, for example, as in the case of item no. 7.
No.6: 20 kopeks postal stationary sent inland from the town of Lahtenpoja on 2 May 1941 once again to Vyborg, arriving on 11 May 1941. Just as in the previous example, this was also franked with the bilingual Russian-Finnish postmark LAHTENPONJA: ЛАХТЕНПОНЯ. In Vyborg, once again the old Finnish postmark was used, this time as a mechanical postmark on the back, which is the same as the postmark on example no. 4, while not being as nice.
No.7: Registered international letter sent from Viipuri on 27 September 1941 to Ikast (Denmark) on 5 October 1941, sent less than one month after the city was regained by the Finnish army. This is clearly a philatelic cover, proven by the use of a complete series issued to commemorate the reacquisition of Vyborg (Viipuri). An interesting feature is that the stationary is also censored by the Danish censor, indicated by the censor tape on the back.
No.8: standard letter sent by airmail from the town of Sortavala (Со́ртавала) on 24 October 1941 to the Swedish town of Borås.The postal stationary was also censored by the Finnish censor, proven by the Finnish censorship band on the left.
As mentioned in the introduction, very little is truly known about the postal history of the newly acquired originally Finnish territories. I browsed all magazines and journals in my bookshelves such as the British Journal of Russian Philately or Rossika + other sources, but in vain. It would still be necessary to check all issues of the DZRP (Deutschen Zeitschrift für Russland-Philatelie) that are issued ArGe Russland. I also turned to a friend, philatelist Vesa Jarvista from Finland, who is also a trader, and who likewise said he had only seen similar material only few time in his 20 years of trading and that is truly rare to see it in Finland. Please check your collections my fellow rossica members you never know what you will find!!!! Many great items are still waiting for their finders.
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