According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, food is one of our basic needs, along with water, warmth, and rest. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Maslow categorized it like that. I mean, have you ever tried eating the food you’ve been craving after starving all day? Well, plus the fact that our bodies need nutrition from all these different food. Another proof that we couldn’t go without it was during the Winter War when hunger got the best of the Red Army, and they were left vulnerable. The reason: Sausages!

It is ironic that in the current Ukraine War, the Russian soldiers in the field are still known to be starving. Both Frederick the Great and Napoleon both noted that an army marches on its stomach and it’s a truism of war that well-fed and provisioned troops just fight better.

Winter War

The beginning of the first Soviet-Finnish War was marked by hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops, tanks, and aircraft flooding over the border of Finland on November 30, 1939. Joseph Stalin wanted Finland back, as it was once Russia’s territory. At that time, the world was focused on the invasion of Nazi Germany of Poland, just almost three months ahead.

A Red Army Party Convention on the trenches during the Winter War. (Postcard series of “North-West Frontier of the Soviet Union on the Karelian Isthmus” by N. Petrov and V. Temin, number 1571, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The invasion, as Stalin thought, would be quite an easy one, considering Finland’s size compared to theirs. Unlucky for them, that was not the case, and for some reason, that pointed back to Stalin.

Stalin’s Mistakes

Just a few years before the Soviets marched to conquer Finland, Stalin purged the Red Army in an effort to secure his throne of power. He rearranged the whole Soviet command structure and sent some 30,000 high-ranking officers that he had either arrested, imprisoned, killed, or sent to punishing work camps. Anyone who was deemed his political opponent, obstacle, peasants, or from selected ethnicities was purged out.

This affected the Soviet’s chain of command in the sense that experienced officers were replaced with less experienced ones, as long as they were supporters of Stalin. Of course, the inexperienced officers would produce poorly trained troops and add their inadequate supplies, food, and clothing for a place as cold as Finland.

On the other hand, the Finns were used to the low temperatures of the region, and they knew how to work during freezing operations. They were well trained, well equipped, properly dressed, and motivated.

The differences between the two sides would be realized when the Soviets invaded, and the Finns basically owned their enemies from the beginning of the war. Moreover, they soon found another weapon, not of destruction but a distraction: sausage.

Weapon of Distraction

On December 10, 1939, the Soviet 718th Rifle Regiment launched a surprise attack on the Finnish soldiers near Ilomantsi village, Finland, just 10 miles away from the border. The Finnish had to retreat, which left the Soviets in the area. Soon, an inviting smell lingered all over the place, coming from the cooking tents of the Fins. They could immediately tell that it was the smell of sausage stew.

The Finnish troops ate sausage because it was high in fat, which was essential to keeping them energized in the freezing cold temperatures. Now, the Red Army had been marching for five days, and they were cold, exhausted, and starving. They just couldn’t resist the thoughts of slurping hot sausage stew dancing in their heads. So they paused and served themselves the delicious food. This reminds me of how lentil soup saved the Germans from hungry Russians during World War II.

Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images via

This gave the Finns ample time to regroup, go back, and surround the Soviet troops. They attacked the vulnerable enemies, and what happened next was a hand-to-hand slaughter. The Finns used their attached bayonets and drove the Red Army back. According to estimates, some 100 Soviets died, while there were 20 deaths from the Finnish side.

The battle was formally called the Battle of Varolampi Pond, but to the troops, it was known as the “Sausage War.” I prefer the latter.

In the end, the Soviets would prevail, and Finland and the Soviet Union would sign the Moscow Peace treaty that ended the war in favor of the Soviets.