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Friday, February 5, 2016

Osprey Books - Finland at War Vol 1 - A Review

By Old Man Morin

Many of us in the wargaming world, particularly those of us who come from fantasy or sci-fi based
games systems, rely heavily on background material, or 'fluff' to inspire our choice of armies and units. When I started playing Bolt Action I discovered a new world, rich with information about units and battles within what some consider to be a "short" war. 'The Armies of...' and the Bolt Action Theatre books provide a glimpse into these conflicts and the forces that fought in them but because of their length and purpose, this information is condensed down to brief overviews. Now there is quite a lot of information online and there are literally thousands of books and biographies about this global conflict and to be honest the sheer volume of text can be daunting. To focus my searches I have been researching things that I find interesting when reading Bolt Action books. Not the most holistic view of the war but it is a starting point (and I have been at it for close to 4 years now). Now Osprey publishing puts out vast numbers of short, soft cover books covering everything from specific units and battles to technology and tactics. These are great resources and I am sure I will discuss them again in an article soon. Today though, I want to talk about something else. Their 'Finland at War' series.

Osprey is a major publisher and distributor of military texts. I knew this. I also knew that they put out longer, hardback texts, but I had never opened one. Until now. Now I own a half painted Finnish army based around the Winter War and I have read a number of shorter texts on the subject and I have watched a few excellent documentaries on the subject. In short, I know more than a little bit about the subject. Or... I thought I did until now.

For those unfamiliar with the topic, Ye Olde Wikipedia tells us:
"The Winter War (FinnishTalvisotaSwedishVinterkriget
RussianЗи́мняя война́tr. Zimnyaya voyna)[26]was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940. It began with the Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940." 

This description, obviously, leaves out tons of important information, most notably (in my opinion) that this is one of the great underdog fights of the era. A vast Soviet army pours into it's tiny neighbour to take land and resources it wants for its own. Despite the odds, the Finns hold out and punish their invaders, inflicting crippling damage to Soviet forces. It is estimated by some that over 200,000 Soviet troops died in the conflict to Finland's losses of 25,000. In the end though, the Soviets had heavier weapons and tanks, and had the numbers to overwhelm the defenders. The Finns sued for peace and gave the Soviets the territories that they had wanted.

Finland at War: Vol 1 is roughly 350 pages of incredible hard backed joy to read. It is a cross between a coffee table book, in that it is filled with beautiful photographs and maps and a historical text, in that those pictures are surrounded by informative, interesting information about the conflict from beginning to end.

One of the things that I enjoyed reading most about this text is the first chapter. While I thought I had an idea about why the Winter War occurred, the authors write an engaging narrative describing the complex relationship and history between the Finns and the Soviets that put the war itself into a much clearer perspective. Included as an aside to this introduction is a multiple page timeline that really helps the layman to understand the timing of the significant events leading up to and causing the war.

Another aspect of this text that I really enjoyed, and found incredibly enlightening, were the 'character' profiles. Throughout the text, as significant individuals and commanders in the conflict are introduced, the authors include text boxes detailing the lives of these people. I really feel like I got an insight into the major players and their decision making process as the drama of war unfolded.

I also like how the text is laid out. After the stage was set in the introduction, the authors broke the war into the first half and the second half. They then spent a chapter describing each significant region of the conflict during that time period. They then pause and pull back to discuss what is happening globally around and because of the conflict (in its own chapter) before returning to the previously discussed regions to discuss the second half of the war and its conclusion. The depth of coverage of the conflict is often down beyond battles and includes significant skirmishes. This allows the authors to explore troop feelings and tactics in an interesting and informative manner. I found this interesting in a text that also clearly discusses the goals of the forces at national level.

Last but not least, I find that the pictures interspersed throughout the text really help to tell the story of the war alongside the text beside it. As a Finnish and Soviet player, I found these pictures inspirational and I have already ordered new models to represent figures, equipment and tanks beautifully portrayed on film. The captions should be mentioned as well, they not only explain what is occurring in the pictures but they also give the authors opportunities to drop interesting facts about the conflict into the text without interrupting the narrative flow of the main story.

I HIGHLY recommend this text to anyone who is even vaguely interested in this conflict. It is an excellent read and a fantastic reference. Reading this text has me scrolling through Osprey's other titles and I get the feeling that this is just the beginning of my trip down the rabbit hole of historical texts.

You can find this text on Osprey's website or on Warlord Games's website.

Until next time...

Survivor of a thousand game systems, a thousand podcasts, a thousand journeys, and a thousand years, 
Old Man Morin... 
Salty and experienced.

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