The NAZI's launched Operation Barbarossa (June 22, 1941). Finland joined the Germans only 3 days later (June 26). Actually the Finns claim that the Soviets initiated hostilities with air attacks on Finnish cities. Prime minister Rangell then declared in a sppech to Parliament that Finland was at war with Soviet Union. I'm not sure if any historian has fully accessed the motives of the Finnish Government. Surely the desire to recover the lost territory was the primary factor. There may have been other factors such as the view at the time that the Stalin and the Skviet Union was a mortal threat to Finnland. Finland joined the Germans as a co-beligerent but not an ally or member of the Axis. The Finns refer to this as the Coninuation War. The Finnish Army innitiated an offensive om the cease-fire line (June 30). The Finns refused, however, to go significantly beyond the lost territory, much to Hitler's despleasure. This was a major reason that the NAZIs failed to capture Lenningrad.
It was the Soviet Union not Germany that first struck after the invasion of Poland. Only 2 months after seizing eastern Poland, the Soviet Union on November 30, 1939 invaded Finland, launching the Winter War. Stalin sought a security belt to the west. Finland was the next step in that process. Soviet planes and naval vessels bombarded Finish cities. Roosevelt called it the "rape of Finland". [Freidel, p. 324.] Former Ameican President Herbert Hoover, who had organized American relief efforts for Belgium during World War I, headed voluntary war relief for the Finns. (The President hoped that Hoover would work with Mrs. Roosevelt to work on Government sponsored civilian war relief for the Allies. Such was Hoover animosity toward Roosevelt that he refused. If he had agreed, he suely would haave eventually headed American World War II relief efforts. [Freidel, p.325.] The Finns and Soviets reached a peace agreement in March 1940. The Soviets got the security belt they wanted around Lenningrad. The Soviet invasion of Finland had significant repercussions. The Allies for a time considered actively aiding Finland, but the Germans offensives in the West soon made that impossible. The Red Army energed victorious from the Winter War (1939-40), but at considerable cost. The poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was a factor in Hitler's decission to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated.
The Soviet attack on Finland was followed by a series of other aggressions. Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled a long list of aggressions of their own. Operating within secret protocols to the Non-agression Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The Soviets invaded and anexed the Baltic states (Lithuais, Latvia, and Estonia) and seized areas of Romania. Soviet seizure of the Baltics in particular caused many Finns to be concerned about their security. The Great Patriotic War fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invsion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the virtul partition of Europe.
The Treaty of Moscow (March 1940) did not end Soviet demands on the Finns. The Soviets interfered in domestic Finnish politics as they did in the Baltics. They ordered the Finns to renove Vainö Tanner from the government. The Soviets used Finnish Communists to cause public disturbances. The Suomen-Neuvostoliiton rauhan ja ystavyyden seura (SNS--Finnish-Soviet Peace and Friendship Society) was a Soviet-controlled communist-front organization. Some Finns joined thinking thatthe Communists were about to take power. They began to defy the Finnish government and carried out a range of subversive activities. The Government banned the SNS (August 1940). The Soviets also began to make demands not specified in the Treaty of Moscow. They demanded that the Finns demilitarization the Aland Islands, an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden. They demanded control of the Petsamo nickel mines. Then they demanded the right to send troop trains through Finnish territory to the Soviet base at Hanko without any limitations. The Finns while banning the SNS complied with the Soviet demands. And the Finns saw the Soviets demands as identical to the tactics the Soviets used before invading the Baltic Republics. The Finns justifiably begin to fear that they would be the next target. The Finns began to resist further demand, however, after negotiations with the Germans led them to believe that they could rely on German assistance if the Soviets attacked again.
There is good reason to believe that Stalin was indeed planning a takeover of Finland. Soviet Foreign Minister Viacheslav Molotov visited Berlin for bilateral discussions on a range of bilateral issues (November 1940). Finlnd was high on the Soviet agenda. Molotov told Hitler that the Soviet Union planned to crush Finland. Hitler who was at the time moving German troops into Finland vetoed any such action.
Hitler for strategicic and racial reasons was sympathetic toward the Finns. After the occupation of Norway (April 1940) and success in the West (May-June 1940), Hitler began negotiations with the Finns. To preclude further Soviet demands on Finland the Germans agreed to an informal understanding (August 1940) which was formalized the next month (September 1940). Finland gave the Germans the right to move troops through its territory. The reason released to the public was to support German operations in northern Norway and thus was not an anti-Soviet measure. Germans in Filland, hpwever, had obvious potential consequences for the Soviet Union. An additional aggreement permitted the Germans to station troops in Finland followed (December 1940). And substantial German forces began arriving in Finland during early 1940. The details of these agreements were not widely publicized, but most Finns were relieved to see German soldiers arriving in their country because they feared another Soviet attack. Many Finns, especially those displaced from the lost territory, still hoped to recover the territory annezed by the Soviets in the Winter war. We have not yet seen the actual agreement document agreed to by the Germans and Finns. As far as we can tell, the Germans primarily wanted a launching point for a northern front and the Finns their lost territory. Apparently there was no provisions setting out how far the Finns would continue the War. Hitler wanted into the Soviet Union to destroy the Soviet Union and turn the East into a vast German colonization area. Mannstein simoly wanted the lost territory back.
German military discussions with the Finns began after the signing of the military cooperation agreementi (September 1940). The Finns were primarily interested in German military equipment and support to prevent aSoviet invasion. It is not clear just when the Finnish Government agreed to participate in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. As far as we can tell, this was not involved in the 1940 agreements. The Germans had to be concerned with security. The German plans for the attack on the Soviet Union envisioned by December 1940 Finninish military participation. Hitler did not permit his generals, however, to inform the Finns and initiate talks until several months later (April 1941). [Weinberg, pp. 127-128.] The Finns kept their army completely outside the German command structure even after entering the War, despite pressure from the Germans for greater control. It is not altogether clear what the Finnish war aims were and what if any was agreed to with the NAZIs. It is certain that they wanted the lost territory. If they planned to acquire ant additional territory, we do not know. In all probability give earlier NAZI successes, the Finns seem to have believed that the NAZIs were going to succeeed in one massive blow. Hitler after destroying Lenningrad and starving and/or deporting the population , was prepared to make the Neva River the new border between Finland and the Greater German Reich. This apparently was a unilateral decision on Hitler's part and not the result of negotiations with the Finns.
The poor showing of the Red Army in the Winter War was noted by Hitler. The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy he Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the Germna preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The German scaptured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns too the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".
Finland mobilized its army when the NAZIs struck (June 22). The Finns for both domestic andc international reasons did not, however, want to participate in an unprovoked invasion and did not invade the Soviets with the Germans. The Soviets launched air attacks on Finnish cities (June 25). This provided the pretext the Government needed. Finland declared war (June 26). Prime minister Rangell declared in a speech to Parliament that Finland was at war with Soviet Union. This was infact a convenient pretext. Actually the Finns had held secret meetings with the Germans to coordinate military operations. I'm not sure if any historian has fully accessed the motives of the Finnish Government. Surely the desire to recover the lost territory was the primary factor. There may have been other factors such as the view at the time that the Stalin and the Soviet Union was a mortal threat to Finnland. Finland joined the Germans as a co-beligerent but not an ally or member of the Axis. The Finns refer to this as the Continuation War.
The Finnish Army launched an offensive on the cease-fire line (June 30). Thus fighting on the the northern front near Lenningrad began long before the Germans arrived to the south and cut off the city. The Germans launced Barbarossa with the support of its Axis Allies (Hungary, Italy, and Romania as well as a volunteer Spanish (Blue) Division). The most potent force assisting the Germans, however, were the 18 Finnish divisions that attacked over the cease-fire line. The problem for the Germans was that the Finns were not committed to a life-and-death racial war, their objective was only to reclaim lost territory. A reader writes, "The Finns were very reluctant to have another full scale war with the Soviet Union. They were very happy just to get their old territory back. And I think that came as a bit of a surprise to the Germans." The Finns refused to go significantly beyond the lost territory, much to Hitler's despleasure. The Finnish Army achieved this objective in the 1941 summer offensive. In some areas they went slightly beyound the old frontier. This was done to achieve an frontier that could be effectively defended using natural terraine features, hills, waterways, and lakes). The exception to this was an offensive into East Kerelia. They did not, however, continue the attack into Lenningrad after reaching the 1939 border. "Mannerheims refusel to attack Leningrad was what ultimately saved Leningrad, for if a coordinated German-Finnish attack had been lanched in September 1941 there is a little doubt that the Soviet defence of the city would have been overwhelmed." [Jackson] p. 105.] This was a major reason that the NAZIs failed to capture Lenningrad in 1941. Marshall Zukov who took over the defenses of the city could concentrate his forces to the south to stop the Germans."
The border area between southern Finland and the Soviet Union is Karelia. It is the area between the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland. It is an extensive area which includes the two largest lakes in Europe, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. What is often referred to as the Karelian Isthmus is located between the Baltic Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga. To the south is Ingria, the land of the closely related Ingrian people. The traditional western boundary was the Neva river itself but was eventually shifted northward into the Karelian isthmus to follow the Sestra River which since Napoleonic times was the Russo-Finnish border.The River Svir on the other side of Lake Lagoda completed the souther border of Karlia. Lake Saimaa marked the Western border while Lake Onega and the White Sea mark the Eastern border. Thevland to the north was occupied by nomadic Samis (Lapps), but unlike the south there were no natural border onky trackless woods (taiga) and tundra. Karelia became the primary bone of comtention between Finland an the Soviet Union during World War II. This clash was not new. Russian Novograd and the Sweses fought over the area during the medieval era. It was the border area between Swedish controled Finland and the Tsarist Empire. The issue was settled for a time by the Great Northern War in which Russia seized Finland. With Finnland part of the Tsarist Empire, Karelia became a dead issue. This changed after the Russian Revolution when Finland managed to achieve its independence and Karelia again became an international border area. Finland had almost all of Karelia and it included because of its southern location, a substantial part of the best aricultural land in Finlnd.
Russian historians take issue with the idea that the Finns did not continue their attack after regaining the lost territories because they had limited war aims. One Russian historian writes, "futher attack to Leningrad would require an assault to a heavily fortified lines of Karel Fortified Area (KaUR, Karelskij Ukreprajon), and finnish army was absolutely unprepared to do that." [Shirokorad] A Russian reader writes, "This mongrel Mannerheim didn’t wish to send his troops to a suicidal attacks - he just let one million of children, women and other civilians die from famine. How noble it is from his side, I have no words. You must agree that there were not any political suggestions to soviets from finnish side in 1941. Kinda "We have returned our territories, and since then we have no reason to fight, let us sign a small peace treaty and save a couple of million of civilians in Leningrad". HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Those Finnish bastards, like hyenas, sat and waited when people in Leningrad will die from famine or when Germans will break soviet lines. 11th of September 1941 Finnish Presiden Ruti said to the German Ambassador: 'If Leningrad will not exist any more we suggest Neva river would be a best border. Leningrad must be destroyed'. Here they are - 'saviors' of Leningrad." Here HBC has a problem with this view. Our Russian reader is certainly correct that the 900-day NAZI encirclement of Lenningrad was a horendous event during which thousands of civilians, including many children and elderly residents starved or froze to death. On this we fully agree. And we do not disagree that the Finns as a NAZI co-beligerant share some responsibility. Where we disagree is the extent of Finnish culpability. We tend to see Stalin and the Soviet Union for forceing the Finns into NAZI arms. Not only did Stalin seize substantial Finnish territory in the Winter War (1939-41), but even after signing the Peace Of Moscow (March 1940), began the same kind of actions that preceeded the Soviet invasion of the Baltics. The Finns had ever reason to believe that they would be the next Soviet victim. Of course we tend to view any country which joined the NAZIs as evil. The obky problem with this from the Soviet point of view is that the Soviet Union when it signed the Non-Aggression Treaty became a NAZI ally without joining the Axis. (Very similsr to what the Finns did.) The NAZIs and Soviets divided up eastern and central Europe and conducted joint military action against Poland. The Soviets also began shipping strategic matrials to the NAZIs.
The NAZIs and Soviets treated each other's POWs with unimagined barbarity. The POWs each country held died in large numbers thriygh starvation and lack of sheltered . Many were killed outright. We do not know at this time how the Finns and Soviets treated each others POWs.
When the Russians advanced into Finnish territoryvduring the winter war, the Finns first evacuated their civilians. Thus there were no Soviet concentration camps for Finnish civilians or deportments. The Soviet had a huge network of camps. Many people from the countries they invaded pr partioioned (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Romania) were arrested. Some were shot. Others were sentenced to the camps or deported to various deslate areas of Central Asia or Siberia. [Solzhenitsyn] This did not, however, happen to the Finns. When the Finnish Army advanced into East Karelia during the Continuation War, they did encounter Soviet civilians.
The Finns set up concentration camps for the civilians which theu operated until the Red Army reoccupied the area. The first camp was located at Petrozavodsk (October 24, 1940). One source estimated 4,000 people perished their, primarily because of malnourishment, most dieing during the spring and summer of 1942. [Laine] A Russian reader writes, "According to Finish sources more than 64,000 Soviet citizens were imprisoned in Finnish KZ camps and more than 18,000 of them died.
We are unsure at this time what Finish organization was repoonsible for the camps and why so many people perished there.
Finland permitted the Germans to transit Finnish territory in the north to launch an offensive against the Soviet port of Murmansk. The British and then the Americans began shipments of war material to the Soviet Union. The most direct route was taken by the Arctic convoys which brought supplies to the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangel. These ports were relatively close to the fighting fronts. German air and naval forces in Norway devestated some of these convoys. The Germans then launched an offensive with troops in northern Norway which moved through Finland in an effort to seize Murmansk. It was the largest land operarion conducted in the Arctic during the War, but failed to reach the ports.
The Western Allies (America and Britain) were conflicted about the Finnish role in the War on the NAZI side. There was considerable sympathy for Finamd. Britain and France had considered declaring war on the Soviet Union when they invaded Finland in the Winter War (1939). On the other hand both America and Britain saw the necessity of supporting the Soviet Union. Britain demanded that the Finns cease offensive operations. When the Finns refused to comply and after they had driven into East Kerelia, beyond the historic borders of Finland, Britain declared war (December 1941). The United States never declared war on Finland. Neither Britain or America engaged in military action against Finland. There was continuing lingering respect for Finland. The Finns had paid their World war I debt, a matter of some importance to Congress at the time. Americans also admired how the tiny Finnish Army resisted the massive Red Army after the unprovoked Soviet aggression (1939).
Finland's record with regard to its small Jewish community is one of the most laudable in Europe. Finland was dependent upon Germany for food and arms during the War. Even so, the Finish Government refused to enact anti-Semetic laws. And the Finns rejected repeated orders by Heinrich Himmler to deport the 2,000 Finnish Jewish to the death camps for the NAZI Final Solution. The only exception was eight Jews. We are not sure yet just how the NAZIs got hold of these eight Jews. Finish police refused to cooperate with the Gestapo which demanded the Jews be turned over. As a result, nearly all the Finnish Jews survived the War.
Jews were not only tolerated in Finland, but the Finns offered sanctuary to any Jewish refugees who managed to reach the country. Curiously Jews in the Finnish Army actually wound up fifging along side the NAZI forces actively killing Jews.
Major battles between the Wehrmacht and Red Army waged during 1942-43. The northern fromt with Finland was static with little fighting. The Finns did not want to move beyond the pre-War border and the Soviets were fully occupied with a life and death struggle with the NAZIs. The Finns and Soviets conducted secret negotiations, but without any resolution. With the Soviet surrender in Stalingrad (February 1943) and defeat at Kursk (July 1943), it was clear that the NAZIs were going to lose the War.
Red Air Force attacks on Helsinki and other Finnish cities were very limited during the Winter War (1039-40) despite theSoviet Red Air Force attacks on Helsinki and other Finnish cities were very limited during the Winter War (1939-40) despite the enormous size of the Red Air Force, the largest air force in the world. Far more Soviet attacks occurred during the Continuation War (1941-44), although again rids were fairly limited given the size of the Red Air Force. This was primarily because the Luftwaffe did such a thorough job of destroying the Red Air Force in the opening phase of Barbarossa (June 1941). As the Soviets rebuilt the Red Air Force, their primary focus was on the German Whermacht. The Soviets bombed Helsinki 39 times during the Continuation War. Most were small scale attacks causing only limited damage. They killed 245 people and wounded 646. These were very small numbers in World War II terms. The primary Red air Force effort was in 1944 and aimed at knocking Finland out of the war so the Soviets could focus on the Germans. Stalin wanted to force the Finns out of the war and break the alliance with the Germans. The Finns desperatly wanted to retain the territory the Soviets had seized during the Winter War. The primary strategic bombing campaign of World War II was the Allied bombing of the Reich. The Soviets did not participate in this to any significant extent. The Red Air Force had only a small bomber fotce. The Soviets, however, did bomb Finland. The Red Army began intensive bombing of Helsinki along with German occupied Tallin in Estonia. The Finns were prepared for the air raids. The whole idea of bombing Finnish cities was sensitive give the criticism aroused during the winter war. The Allies were providing the Soviets vast quantities of war material which Stalin did not want emperiled. Allied attitudes toward bombing changed with the Blitz and by the time of the Tehran Conference (November-December 1943), the Allies had begun the sytematic distruction of Germany's war ecomnomy which was largely located in the cities. The Allies accented to the Soviet bombing of Finland. Stalin ordered the largest Soviet raids of the War (February 6–7, 16-17 and 26-27, 1944). The Finns sucessfully deceived Soviet pathfinders leading the bimber streams. Here The Soviets had only limited experiebce with strategic bombing. Their primary focus was on tactical operations supporting the Red army. The Finns pursued various tactics. They lit fires on the islands beyond the city. and they only used the bomber locvating searchlights operated wuth anti-aircradt guns to the east of the city. Both tactics dislocated the Red Air Force pathfinders and a large part of the Soviet bombs missed Helsito believe that it was the city. Only 530 bombs fell within the city itself. The majority of the population of Helsinki. This combined with the city's bomb shelters limited civilian casualties. The impact of the Soiviet bombing may have been to strengthen Finnish resistance. In end it was the Soviet distruction of German Army Group Center as part of Operation Bagration (June-July 1944) and realization that the Germans had lost the War that finally forced the Finns to seek an armitice with the Soviets.
The Soviet Union prepared major offensives mid-1944 timed to ensure that the Germans could not shift forces west to defeat the Normandy D- Day landings. The major attack was Operation Bagration which occured in Belarus/Poland and destroyed Wehrmacht Army Group Central--the most importnt German formation.
This even more than D-Day was a game changher. Army Group Center was the major German force. As long as it was in tact and controlled the center of the Eastern Front, there was no way the Soviets coulf get at the Reich. Its destruction along with the Western Allies destruction of the Army Group West (OB West) in France meant that not only had the Germans unquestionsbly lost the War, but unlike some estimates, meant that NAZI German's existence was now only a matter of months. The NAZIs understood that vthe War was going badly, but few understood that the cReich only had months to live. By the end of Bagration, the Red Army reached rhe Vistula, only about 320 miles from Berlin and American armies were moving toward the Rhine.
The Finns still held Karela when the Western Allies landed in France (June 6, 1944). The front had been stratic with little action for nealy 2 years. The Soviets at the same time the Western Allies opened a western froint, attacked on the Finnish front north of Leningrad. The Red Army struck with massive forces on the Karelian Isthmus (June 9, 1944). The attack with strong armored forces broke the Finnish front at Valkeasaari (June 10). The Finns withdrew to their secondary defence line at the Vammelsuu-Taipale (VT) Line. Again Soviet tanks and infantry were supported by massed artillery and aircraft. Within only a few days the Soviets breeched the VT Line at Sahakylä and Kuuterselkä (June 14). The single Finish armored division counterattacked at Kuuterselkä but failed and the Finns had to retreat. The Sovierts took Viipuri (June 20). The Finns were able to establish a new defensive front--the Tali-Ihantala Line. Here the Finns fought the largest battle in Scandinavian history (June 25-July 6). Finish reserves and new German anti-tank pieces were able to stop the Soviets. The Soviets suffered very substantial losses, especially in tanks. The Finns might have been able to hold, but with Operation Bsgration and the destruction of German Army Group Center, the fight ws hopeless. Stopped on the main front, the Soviets offened other offensives. They attempted to go arrond the main Finnish defense line by an amphibious attack at Viipurinlahti Bay on the Gulf of Finland (July 4). Here they used a chain of islands but the Soviets failed to gain a lodgement on the mainland. After a series of furious battles, the Soviets called off the attack (July 10). The Soviets also attemoted to cross the Vuoksi River (July 4). The ininital attack could not be exploited because of the strength of Finnish artillery supoported by the Finnish Air Force. The Luftwaffe "Kuhmley unit" also participated. After suffering substantial losses, the Soviets ended their offensive (July 11).
The Finns had blunted the Soviet summer offensive, but the military situation was desperate. The D-Day landings in the West and the Soviet destruction of German Army Group Central made it clear that the War was lost. The Finns had to make peace. A cease-fire was negotiated which went into force (September 4). An armistice was signed in Moscow (September 19). A provision of the armistice was that the Finns had to eject the Germans still fighting on Finnish soil. The final peace treaty was signed in Paris after the War (October 2, 1948). The final boundary was about the same as had been draw after the Winter War. The Finns, however, had to pay a huge indeminity to the Soviet Union.
Finally as the War went against the NAZIs, the Finns fought the Germans in the Lapland War. Under the terms of the Finnish-Soviet Armistice (September 19, 1944), the Finns had to expel German military units still fighting on Finnish territory. This meant primarily the Germans still fighting in the north after the failed attempt to take Murmansk. Hitler refused to allow the German units to withdraw. Thus the Finns had to fight the Germans in the far north. Fighting began (September 27). The fighting deagged on until the last remananent of the German Army in Finland withdrew into occupied Norway (April 27, 1945).
Laine, Antti. Suur-Suomen kahdet kasvot (Otava, 1982).
Fridel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.
Jackson, Robert. Battle of the Baltic: The Wars 1918-1945 (2007).
Shirokorad, A. Wars of Russia in the North.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. Gulag Archipelago (1973).
Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany and the Soviet Union, 1938-1941 (Leyde, 1954).
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