Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia
Summary: The Winter War was an epic life and death struggle that changed the course of World War II, and saved a democracy. Fire and Ice documents this timeless story of courage against all odds by a people united to preserve their freedom. In November of 1939, when Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, no one expected this tiny nation would resist the largest military force in the world. Also, no one anticipated one of the coldest winters in recorded history. Outnumbered and outgunned, Finns knew the war was not about territory; it was a total war for their very existence as a people. The war begins with the aerial bombardment of Helsinki. Fires rage in the city. Dazed citizens run for their lives. Poorly equipped Finnish troops face a massive Red Army attack supported by thousands of tanks, heavy artillery, and airplanes. The invasion is almost three times larger than the Allied landing at Normandy on D-Day. The Russians are confident of a quick victory. A Finnish poet remembers how the war started. We enter her world as a child of eleven. An American remembers how at 21, he volunteered to drive an ambulance as he leads us deep into the frozen forests of northern Finland. Finnish soldiers improvise a defense. They attack tanks with Molotov cocktails and crowbars. Finlands women form a unique corps called Lotta Sv?rd. And as temperatures descend to 50 below zero, their mastery of winter becomes a strategic advantage. Finnish resistance is relentless. They know this war is not about changing borders; their lives, their independence and their identity as a people are at stake. They unite against a common enemy as never before. The narrative is enriched with the contemporary accounts of journalists and soldiers on both sides of the conflict, many from war diaries translated into English for the first time. Rare archive footage, enhanced by meticulous attention to historical detail in re-creating scenes of both the battlefront and home front, brings this history to life.
Weaving a combination of personal interviews, contemporary diaries and source material, historians, live re-enactments, and computer generated graphics, Fire and Ice tells the story of the personal, military, and historical significance of the Winter War. The style is one that viewers have come to expect from documentaries. The overall history is well told and periodically punctuated with the minutia of personal accounts from those who fought and lived it. A narration opens the documentary and explains the events which caused the conflict: Stalins fears that St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) might be vulnerable to an attack via Finland through the Karelian Isthmus. The documentary then moves deftly to a more personal perspective, such an the interview with Jack Hasey, the American who voluntarily founded the Iroquois Ambulance Corps, and shuttled wounded Finnish soldiers to medical care. Clear, polished graphics show the strategic plan of advance of the 14th, 7th, and 8th Soviet Armies as they attempted to crush Finland within two weeks. Other graphics are used to explain the tactics used. These are reminiscent of the high quality views that gamers have come to expect from top shelf first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, Red Orchestra, and Battlefield 1942 and even those viewers who lack an appreciation of military tactics will find them interesting and informative. Further bolstering the story are interviews with military professionals, narrations of contemporary documents, and historians, of whom Bill Trotter is prominently featured. His easy, almost casual recollection of the history and his ability to encapsulate it into an intelligent, accessible format draws the cameras attention repeatedly. It is evident from his knowledge that he could have single-handedly narrated the entire documentary, and he nearly does so. I would estimate he appears in about half the time that any expert accounts are shown, and at times he is a part of the glue which holds the documentary together. The mixture of a birds eye view of history and personal trivia (for instance, the Winter War was where the moniker Molotov Cocktail originated) makes for a compelling and informative documentary. My personal interest is in the area of military history, and if I had to find a blemish in Fire and Ice, it would be that there was perhaps a bit too much emphasis on the wars impact on the home front. The impact of the war on the Finns was not insignificant and should not be dismissed. The story of the home front is important, should be told, and makes the documentary accessible to a broader audience than just military history buffs. It is also quite compelling, and despite my preference, I found the story of the home front interesting and moving. These personal accounts help to place the impact of the conflict in both human and military terms. The story is well-balanced and viewers will come away with a solid appreciation and knowledge of the military and historical significance of the Winter War. The Winter War is a conflict that is intimately tied with World War II. It was made possible by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the Soviets abysmal performance in the Winter War was a decisive factor in convincing Germany to launch Operation Barbarossa. I would highly recommend Fire and Ice to anyone with an interest in World War II. It fills a gap in history that is both significant and nearly forgotten and it does so in a riveting and informative manner. The DVD which I reviewed is about 12 minutes longer than that which is airing on public television stations. Anyone who cannot view the public broadcast, or who wants to obtain the longer version can purchase it from the producers website, or even view a brief trailer from that same site. Both the Fire and Ice DVD and Bill Trotters A Frozen Hell can be purchased at the website, and special bundled pricing is available for anyone interested in both the book and the DVD.