Friday, May 26, 2017

100 years of the Hanging Tree

Just after midnight on the 3rd or 6th of October 1916 , a figure was escorted by soldiers to a wooded area outside of the city of Oulu and then hung from a tree. The next day his lifeless corpse was buried by the tree in an unmarked grave. He would become the last person hanged in Finland.

The man’s name was Taavetti Lukkarinen, a forestry foreman and his crime was high treason. But what were the details of his crime?

Finland in 1916 was part of the Russian Empire under the title of the Grand Duchy of Finland. While technically an autonomous region of the Empire, it was still ruled by the Tsar, Nicholas II, and his representative, the Governor-General Franz Albert Seyna, who were limiting the power of the Finnish Diet in a period know as the Russification.

When Russia went to war with the Central Powers in 1914, Finland was obviously in tow too, and many of Finland’s young men became part of the Russian war machine. Some, however, continued in their normal occupations and some others still supported the Central Powers.

Finland saw numerous Prisoner of War camps dotted across its landscape and became the ‘home’ of many German soldiers, captured on the Eastern Front until peace was declared. Like many POW camps, there were escape attempts, and one camp in the Oulu/Kemi area saw 3 German soldiers escape in December 1915. The harsh winter made it difficult for the Germans but they did find a sympathetic ear in the local population and soon found their way to Kemi (107km north of Oulu) with the intention of getting to the border city of Tornio and into neutral Sweden. Lukkarinen decided to help hide the Germans near the train station but all 4 were soon caught by the Russian authorities. On their way to a new holding facility, Lukkarinen managed to escape and cross the border into Sweden.

He would have remained safe there if not for homesickness. Getting passage to Finland on a forged passport, he made his way by train to Oulu but on getting jitters he jumped off shortly before the main station. His act would be witnessed by Russian soldiers who soon tracked him down and arrested him. His identity was discovered and he was taken to Oulu Prison to await trial. Finland, like all of the Russian Empire, was under Martial Law because of the war and so Taavetti’s trial was to be held in a secret court by the VI Corps. He was declared a traitor to the state and that he would be hanged for high treason. His execution was kept a secret and he saw himself moved in the dead of the night to a horse drawn cart surrounded by 40 Russian soldiers, the site chosen was a place known as Kontinkangas, part of the military area of the Oulu Garrison but outside of the city grid. The only Finns present at his hanging were the Prison Priest and 2 Finnish policemen.

However, the secrecy didn’t last long and despite orders to keep clear of the area, Finns started to visit the area on Sundays in an act of protest towards the hanging, they carved crosses into the hanging tree and the surrounding trees. Oulu’s Governor, Axel Enehjelm, was criticized for his lack of action to try and save Taavetti. Soon the Russian authorities became irate and orders were given to cut down the trees in the area and to deter Finns from visiting the area, forcibly if needed.

This did not deter the remembrance of the event and soon after Finland gained its independence the site became a sacred spot. In 1935 a memorial was erected in the area and given a very patriotic and moving ceremony, attended by Veterans of the Civil War and Lukkarinen’s widow and two children. The memorial is a iron fence on a red granite base surrounding a tree, obviously the tree isn’t the actual tree but its symbolism is what has become important. The tree became a symbol to many as a reminder of the harsh days of Russian rule. Until its closing down, the Oulu Garrson used to take the new recruits here as part of a three stop tour, it was used as evidence of what would happen to them if their motherland was ever taken by foreign troops.

As for the body of Taavetti, it was exhumed shortly after the independence of Finland and interned at the main Oulu cemetery. His memorial and grave are maintained by the Artillerymen guild of Northern Finland and the Oulu Chapter of the Lions Club. His memory is still remembered 100 years on and he has become a symbol for how important it is for Finland to remain independent and in charge of its own affairs.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Pudasjärvi Incident: A betrayal of Comrades?

If you head towards Kuusamo from Oulu you'll come across a lone M1938 152mm Howitzer just before you come into Pudasjärvi (about 70km from Oulu) For many people it is nothing more than just exactly that, an old piece of military equipment out on display for no particular reason. However for those interested in military history, the piece marks an important point in the Second World War and for Finnish-German relations.

Source:- Personal collection
The Finns started negotiating a separate peace with the Soviet Union from the end of 1943 to early 1944. Feeling the writing was on the wall for their cooperation, the Germans started to make plans for a withdrawal from Finland proper (with the exception of occupying the vital Petsamo nickel mines). However the negotiations broke down as the Soviets demanded too harsh a terms for the Finns to accept and so the Finnish-German military cooperation continued and in response the Soviet's launched a massive offensive on the Finnish positions in Karelia. From June the Finnish front started to collapse and a retreat through several defensive lines occurred in a short time. Soon the Finns found themselves in a precarious position, with the threat of their entire defence crumbling and allowing for a Soviet strike in the Finnish heartland. However, with the help of the Germans, they managed to stablelise the front by the end of July and reopened negotiations with the USSR.

A ceasefire was enacted by the Finns on September 4th (and curiously by the Soviets on the 5th). As part of the negotiations, the Finns were forced to demobilise their military to a peacetime footing within two and a half months and also expel all remaining German forces by the 15th September. The Finns had no desire to continue fighting, especially against their former brothers in arms, and so a period known as Syysmanööverit came into being. This basically was a secret agreement between the Finns and Germans for an orderly withdrawal, followed by Finns 'capturing' the lossed ground. The idea was to avoid any actual fighting and to save the kinship of the two nations. Coming into effect on the 14th September, the patomine helped save the city of Oulu from destruction (as it was evacuated on the 15th September and 'retaken' later in the same day by the 15th Brigade of the 6th Division). The Finns gathered their forces at Oulu (as well as other places like Kajaani and Suomussalmi) with the intention of slowly moving up behind the German retreat, however the soviet led Allied Control Commission arrived in Finland on the 22nd September and demanded that harsher and more rigorous action be used in the eviction of the Germans. Fearing 'help' from the Soviets in this task, Mannerheim assigned Lieutenant General Hjalmar Siilasvuo to the task and ordered that he take a more willing and prompt line.

Upon his arrival in Oulu, General Siilasvuo ordered the 5th Jaeger Battalion (of the Armoured Division) to advance to the town of Pudasjärvi to disarm the German contingent there and secure the bridge in the area. The Battalion's vanguard arrived, led by Major Veikko Lounila, at the crossroads just outside of the town and encountered a rearguard of the 7th Mountain Division. Major Lounila demanded their surrender but was refused and a firefight broke out. The short exchange of fire ended with no Finnish casualties but 2 dead Germans, 4 wounded and 2 prisoners. A ceasefire was called and Major Lounila again demanded the Germans in Pudasjärvi surrender. He was refused again but instead of launching an assault, he ordered his battalion to adopt defensive positions. Small exchanges of fire occurred for the next two days until the Germans withdrew across the Ii river and the 5th Jaeger Battalion occupied Pudasjärvi.

Source: Personal Collection

The incident was seen by the Germans as a betrayal of the secret withdrawal agreement. General Lothar Rendulic, commander of the 20th Mountain Army, gave permission to Lieutenant General August Krakau, commander of the 7th Mountain Division, to defend themselves from the Finns, by force is necessary. He also got in contact with General Siilasvuo and demanded that the agreement be held or that open hostilities would follow. This incident was soon followed up by similar in Kemi, Olhava and the Tornio landings.

The memorial stands as reminder of the price of forming alliances, of being forced to take actions that don't sit well in the moral consitution, of the first shots of the Lapland War, of the epilogue of Finland's Wars.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Battle of Oulu: A forgotten liberation

Finland declared its independence from the Russian Empire on December 4th 1917, two days (6th) later the Finnish Senate adopted the declaration and thus taking its destiny into its own hands for the first time in its existence.

However like the birth of anything, there was to be pains in its coming. The Social Democrats and other left leaning groups refused to recognise the power of the slight majority held by Conservative and other right leaning groups.Soon both sides came to blows, each one claiming to be acting in defence, tearing the country apart along social, political and class lines. After a brief, 3 month conflict, the war ended with the Conservative and Right side (names the Whites) emerging victorious. But as the old adage says 'In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.' and Finland saw 1.2% of its population dead as a direct result of the war, its population growth took a -15, 608 nature change dive.

The Civil War saw several major battles between the Forces of the Whites and Reds, as well as numerous minor skirmishes throughout the Finnish landscape. One of these major, but often overlooked and forgotten, battles was for the City of Oulu.

Map of the division at the start of the Finnish Civil War.
Source: Wikipedia
Oulu occupied a strategic location for two reasons. Firstly it was a hub for the railway system (the lines on the map) and so whoever controlled the rails could transport troops and supplies rapidly to the major population centres of Finland. Secondly was that Oulu held a fairly large garrison of Russian troops who were now waiting around for orders. This meant that there was a large amount of military equipment ready to be appropriated for the cause.

As Oulu was a modest industrial city, it held more left leaning supporters than right and with this the local Red Guard  made their presence known. On the 30th January, the Oulun suojeluskunta (Oulu city’s White Civic Guard) went to the local Russian garrison to secure their arms in accordance with Mannerheim's orders to strip the Ostrobothnia are of all military equipment. However when the small contingent  arrived at the barracks they found themselves confronted by members of Oulu's  Workers Red Guard and a gunfight broke out between the two factions. Now the White Guard retreated to the Cathderal area of the City and entrenched themselves there, while also calling for support from nearby Suojeluskunta units. 

The Reds knowing they would soon need to repel an attack gathered as much firearms and munitions from the Russian Garrison and even took on volunteers from the soldiers. Soon the Red Guard ranks swelled from 700 to around a 1,000 and they fortified the area around the Garrison, train station and the fire house. They also laid siege to the defences of the local White Guard.

Upon hearing of the situation, Mannerheim ordered Colonel Alexander von Tunzelman Adlerflug, who had just taken control of the nearby town of Raahe (1st February). Colonel Adlerflug arrived with an advanced party by train and was met by a Workers Council led by Yrjö Henrik Kallinen. Kallinen was a pacifist and suggested that both sides throw their weapons into the Oulu river and go their separate ways but Colonel Adlerflug demanded unconditional surrender and the more militant members of the Red Guard wanted to fight. Mannerheim wanted quick results and so sent another column consisting of 200 men (including some veteran Jaegers, 14 machine guns and its only artillery guns, 2 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902 captured on the 28th January from the 106th Field Artillery Brigade of Russian Army in Ilmajoki), he also gave command of the Oulu situation to Lieutenant Colonel Johannes (Hannes) Ferdinand Ignatius. 
The original two 76.2mm divisional guns used by Colonel Ignatius during the Battle of Oulu. They are sited at the positions they held that very day.
Source: Personal collection

Negoations broke down on the afternoon of the 2nd February and the Red Guards launched an assault upon the White Guards' position around the Cathedral. The local Russian commander had also given away the majority of his weapons to the Red Guards in exchange for protection. However the Reds could not remove the Whites from their stubborn positions and eventually returned to their positions in the city in the early hours of the 3rd. Colonel Ignatius' column meanwhile arrived and set about deploying his forces for an assault on the city.

Map of the Battle of Oulu.
Source: Wikipedia
Colonel Ignatius put his two artillery guns in the north, on the beach of the Laanila area of the city, with a direct line of sight of the barracks and the Red Guard positions there. The rest of his men were spread in the North shore of the Oulu river, East overlooking the barracks and train station and the main assault force coming from the south from the direction of the railway. At 0900 the artillery guns rang out with the first shots of the battle (and the first shots by an independent Finnish artillery) marking the start of the retaking of the city. One of the guns though encountered problems after the first shot and so only one canon was able to continue its fire support for the day. The assault from the South spread through the city, some heading to relieve the besieged White Guards, others tackling the positions around the train station and workers' hall. The heavily fortified cemetery and garrison area were assaulted from the East and by 1300 the cemetery and city hall were taken. Fighting still continued around the workers' hall and garrison area but the combined weight of machine gun and artillery fire soon saw the Reds call out for cease fire. At 1510 the surrender of the Red was officially taken and 900 Red Guards surrendered themselves to the victorious Whites. However some Reds and Russians still held on at the barracks and the Raati island maritime station and it wouldn't be until 2300 that all fighting stopped and the 1,100 strong Russian garrison surrendered itself to Finnish custody. 

Picture of 13 year old Onni Kokko. The youngest soldier present at the Battle of Oulu. This picture was taken soon after the disarming of the Liminka garrison. After this Onni went with an advance party to help the Oulu Civic Guard but was taken prisoner soon after arriving. He escaped and linked up with the incoming main force and being assigned as adjutant to Oskar Peltokangas and went out to fight in Tornio, Vilppula and Ruovesi before being morally wounded during the Battle of Tampere and dying of his wounds shortly after. He is the youngest recipient of the Order of the Cross of Liberty.
Source: Wikipedia

The end allowed for the taking account of the losses of the day. The White forces saw 33 killed and 34 wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius was given a promotion to full colonel for his excellent handling of the situation. The Reds had 26 dead and another 26 wounded. The Russia's also saw a few of their number killed or wounded but numbers vary on how many. 

The ultimate sacrifice. A funeral procession for the White dead.
Source: Pohjois-Pohjanmaan museum

The prisoners soon saw themselves interned at the local prison, the police station and a school house until March when a purpose built Prison camp was constructed. This camp was one of 13 big and 60 smaller prison camps set up at the end of the Civil War to hold Red prisoners and sympathizers until trial. The majority of the White Force went north to help take the town of Tornio from Red Forces, they took their war booty of over 500 rifles and 10 machine guns with them.  The town was liberated February 6th and thus secured the entire railway network in the North of Finland to the White cause. 
Memorial to the Prison camp at Raati Island, Oulu.
Source:Personal collection
The victory parade for the liberation of Oulu held at the seaside market place on February 4th.
Source: Wikipedia 

Today a memorial to the liberation of Oulu stands tall in Mannerheim Park and despite a memorial service held every 3rd Febuary, the battle has seemed to have been forgotten by the majority of citizens of this Nordic city. 

Memorial dedicated to the Liberation of Oulu, called the Statue of Freedom, it was erected in 1920 and sculpted by Into Saxelin.
Source: Wikipedia

Memorial to all the victims of the Finnish Civil with the interned remains of over 20 souls.
Source: Personal collection

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Weapons of War: De Bange 155 mm long cannon model 1877 - 155 K/77

When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939, the Finnish military was severely under equipped in many areas. Artillery was one of these areas and Finland set about buying and deploying any artillery piece it could get. This meant getting many old, outdated pieces from the armouries of European countries like France and Britain.

One of these older pieces was the French de Bange 155mm Long modèle 1877.

The 155 L de Bange was a result of a French artillery committee meeting held in the aftermath on the Franco-Prussian War. The committee discussed new Fortress and Seige artillery models and on the 16 April 1874 settled upon the 15.5cm caliber as the new standard piece. In 1876 three competing prototypes were tested at Calais but it was the design by French Artillery Colonel Charles Ragon de Bange that won the day (it probably helped that he was Director of the "Atelier-de-précision" (Paris arsenal's precision workshop) in the Central Depot in Paris.

Like with all De Bange’s cannons, it used the De Bange breech obturator system, which basically used the force of the firing charge to push back an asbestos pad that sealed the rear breech and thus directing all the pressure forward, increasing velocity and reducing danger. It was inspired by the rubber o-rings in use on the Chassepot rifle.

(The de Bange system and how it works)
The French Government placed an initial order in 1877 for 300 pieces and by the turn of the 20th Century about 1,400 were produced. The vast majority were posted to the fortresses of the Séré de Rivières system but 200 were reserved as offensive siege artillery.

The biggest downside to the 155 L de Bange, and by extension all de Bange guns, was they had no recoil system and as such needed to be realigned after every shot. The gun could jump back a metre or two after firing and thus presented a problem in terms of accuracy and rate of fire. While obsolete, the French military used them throughout the First World War and even in the early stages of the Second World War (France still had 305 pieces at various locations, including the Maginot Line).

The Finnish overlooked the downsides of recoil issues due to the desperateness of the situation they now found themselves in. French was unwilling to sell large amounts of modern artillery (the number amount to less than 30 field guns with a modern recoil system) but happily parted with older, more obsolete models such as the 155 L de Bange. The Finns preferred the French 19th century guns over the similar Russian models as they were of better quality and had more reliable ammunition.

These guns developed an exaggerated reputation within the Finnish military. Due to their ability to ‘jump’ and need to be realigned after every shot, the earned the nicknames "Hyppyheikki" ("Jumping Henry") and "Hyppyjaakko" ("Jumping Jack") and jokes such as, "Why does "hyppyheikki" need two observers?…The first observer will keep track of where the projectile lands while the second observer will check where the gun goes". While not totally undeserving, they are exaggerated. With proper preparation of positions, the use of earth slopes and wedges, the guns recoil could be reduced greatly and the need to realign is not as great. Luckily for the Finns, they were on the defensive and thus having prepared positions was something they could do.

48 155 L de Bange and 48,000 shots were sent to Finland, taking a route from France to Narvik, Norway by ship, then the guns were transported by rail to the Swedish/Finnish border town of Tornio. They would then need to be offloaded and reloaded onto Finnish trains as Finland used a narrower gauge. Then they would go from Tornio to various depots in the South for inspection and issue. Due to the long, arduous journey, none of the guns reached front lines during the Winter War. However they were still issued.

They were given the designation 155 K/77 and 44 were assigned to Fortification Artillery Battalions of the heavily fortified Salpa-line and the other 4 were were given to the Coastal Artillery, where they were fitted with special mounts and designated 155/27 BaMk. They were assigned to Fort Herrö in Ahvenanmaa (Åland) Islands until end of the Continuation War. Due to their good range (12.3 km), high degree of accuracy (produced by the gain-twist rifling) and reliability, the Finns used them mainly in a counter-battery role. The first use of these heavy pieces in action was at the Siege of Hanko (an area leased to the Soviet Union as part of the Winter War Peace terms, designated as a Naval Base, it had a contingent of mainly Red Army troops numbering abour 26,000). They saw most use in the Svir River area, with 36 guns assigned there. When the Soviets pushed their grand offensive in 1944, the Finnish forces started to withdraw, as the 155 K/77 were old and heavy, they were lower on the priority list for pulling back and eventually 24 guns were destroyed to prevent the Soviets from gaining them.

With the remaining 12 guns, they were assigned to the newly established Syväri Fortification Battalion 1 and were used in the defence of Koirinoja, firing their last shots on the 13th July 1944. It is quite possible that these were the last shots fired from 19th century canons with no recoil systems anywhere in the world.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Weapons of War: Berdan Rifle II

When the nine Rifle Battalions of the newly created Army of the Grand Duchy of Finland were raised in 1881 the most obvious choice for arming them was the Berdan II (Model 1870) which had been adopted by the Russian army in 1870's. The rifle was designed by famous American firearms inventor Hiram Berdan in 1868. The rifles (both the Berdan I and II) became the standard Russian small arm from 1870 to 1891, where it saw itself replace by the Mosin-Nagant line of rifles. However, despite this, it still saw service in the Russian army up to the Revolution of 1917.

The Model 1870 was a single shot, bolt action rifle that was characterised by a distinctive short, pear shaped, bolt handle. This handle also represented the only locking lug (it holds the bolt in place when the weapon is fired) and when closed, stood up at a 30 degree angle, instead of the normal horizontal. All the rifles  as well as their accompaniments (cartridges, bayonets etc) came from Russia, mainly from the famous Izhevskii ordnance factory.

It weighed 4.3 kg without its bayonet (4.8 kg with bayonet) and was 1.35 m long without its bayonet (1.85 m with bayonet). It used a 10.75x58 mmR Cartridge which had a 5 gram charge of black powder, which were issued in blue paper packets of 6 rounds each. The round was also developed by Hiram Berden in conjunction with Russian Colonel Gorloff. There was also 'half-cartridges' which were used for training purposes and contained only 0.5 grams of powder. These cartridges were breechloaded and a well trained unit could fire 6-8 rounds a minute. It had a muzzle velocity of 437m/sec and was sighted to 1500 paces (1065 m) but its effective range was 450 paces (630 m). It became known for its ruggedness, reliability and simplicity. 

The Finnish army as a whole maintained a high standard of marksmanship with this rifle, better than the Russian army. The Rifle was still in many Battalions and Reserve companies armouries way after the introduction of the Mosin-Nagant in 1890s. When Civil War broke out in January 1918, there was still many Berdan II's in storage and it saw itself employed by 2nd Line troops during World War one. Both sides of the Civil War (Reds and Whites) obtained many Berdan IIs. Once the war was over, the newly created Finnish Defence force was not interested in the obsolete Berdan and stored most but gave around 2,500 to the Suojeluskunta (Civic Guard, a Militia unit that gained infamy as the White Guard during the Civil War). The Civic Guard soon upgraded to the more modern Mosin-Nagant rifle versions. When the Winter War broke out in 1939, the Finnish army was short on many small arms and so the Berdan II saw service again, over 3,000 were issued (mainly to rear echelon and reserve troops) but these were replaced as soon as possible by more modern firearms. When World War two ended in 1945, the Finnish military started to scrap its stores of Berdan IIs, in 1955 the remaining 1,029 were sold off, many to surplus dealers abroad.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Heroes of Finland: Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

Voted to be the Greatest Finn of all time during the Suuret Suomalaiset (Great Finns) TV show in 2004, Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim has had a colourful history and a profound impart of Finland as a society. 

Mannerheim was born on June 4th 1867 in Askainen in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland into a Swedish-speaking aristocratic family. His paternal line comes from Hamburg, Germany, whilst his maternal line is rooted in Södermanland, Sweden. His Great-Grandfather, Carl Erik Mannerheim, was one of the "founders of the Finnish Government", he was appointed the first Vice-Chairman of the Economic Division of the Senate of Finland, he was given the title of Count in 1825. Mannerheim's father, Count Carl Robert Mannerheim, was a playwright who was known for his radical and liberal political ideals, he was also a businessman and industrialist with varied success. His mother was Hedvig Charlotta Helena von Julin who was the daughter of industrialist Johan Jacob von Julin, owner of the Fiskars ironworks and the village of the same name.

Carl Gustaf was the third child of seven and so inherited the title of Baron (Only the eldest son could inherit the title of Count), he was born in the family home, Villnäs Manor in Askainen. Soon after Carl Gustafs birth, the family ran into financial difficulties and his father soon left his mother to move to Paris and live in the Bohemian Paris Commune (He later returned and founded.the Systema company in 1887). Countess Helena was so badly shaken by this turn of events that she died of a heart attack a year after moving the family to her aunts estate in Sällvik.

Carl Gustaf soon started to develop discipline problems and so his guardian, Albert von Julin, thought it was best to send him to the Finnish Cadet Corps School in Hamina in 1882. His thinking was it would help the boy get some self-discipline and get a profession. However the school didn't seem to solve his problems, he became disliked the school and didn't like the small social circles in Hamina. In 1886, his final year of the school he went absent without leave, it was this final act of disobedience he was expelled. He still wanted to serve in the military, whilst in Hamina he had wanted to join the Imperial Page School in St. Petersburg. The report from the Cadet school, coupled with his behaviour problem, meant this option was now closed.

After a small stint in Kharkov, Ukraine with relatives  he attended the Helsinki Private Lyceum (A school designed to prepare students for University) where he passed his University entrance exams. He then asked his godmother, Baroness Alfhild Scalon de Coligny for help to enter the Nicholas Calvary School. In July 1887 he gained entrance to the Calvary School, he passed and took the Soldier's Oath in September of that same year. He graduated in 1889, originally he was second in his class but was dropped down to tenth after a drunken argument with a superior officer about Finnish autonomy. After this incident he swore never to get drunk again. He originally wanted to join the elite Chevalier Guard (A Russian Heavy Calvary Regiment) but he and his relatives couldn't afford the costs, so he was commissioned as a Cornet in the 15th Alexandriyski Dragoons. This was to be the start of an illustrious military career. 

Mannerheim (Right) with an unknown student at the Nicolas Calvary School.
After only two years he was transferred to the regiment he originally wanted to join, the Chevalier Guard. It was in this posting that he was made responsible for the Guards at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. He saw himself daily within the court of the Tsars. During the coronation of the last Romanov, Nicholas II, in 1886 he had the honour of being in the guard that flanked the stairs leading to the throne. For four and a half hours he stood completely motionless, in full dress uniform, whilst the grand ceremony went on. The lavish event burned itself into Mannerheim's mind, he would later recall in his memoirs that it was "indescribably magnificent". He served with the Chevalier Guard until 1904. He had various positions, including being posted to the Imperial Court Stables administration from 1897 to 1903, in charge of a display squadron and being a member of the equestrian training board of cavalry regiments. He became an expert on horses, buying studs for breeding and special duty horses. It was whilst he was serving in this regiment that his godmother arranged for Mannerheim to be married to Anastasia Arapova , who was a daughter of a Major-General, in 1892. They had two daughters, Anastasie and Sophie, and a son who was stillborn. The marriage did only lasted ten years when the two separated, they were officially divorced in 1917.

Mannerheim in the full dress uniform of Her Majesty's Maria Feodorovna's Chevalier Guard

When Russian and Japan went to war in 1904, Mannerheim was suffering from depression, as well as suffering from financial problems, which wasn't helped by gambling. So he decided a change of environment will help with his depression, this saw him transferred to the 52nd Nezhin Dragoon Regiment in Manchuria with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He gained a reputation for bravery and sternness. He participated in the battles of Sandepu, Inkou and Mukden. He became adept at reconnaissance missions even though his horse was shot out from under him on one of these scouting patrols.He briefly commanded a local militia unit with which he scouted Inner Mongolia.  During the Battle of Mukden, which was the last major land battle of the war, he was wounded in the left ear which later got infected. For his bravery at Mukden he was promoted to Colonel by the Emperor. For his actions he was later awarded the 2nd Class decorations of the Orders of Stanislai and Anna, and the 4th Class decoration of the Order of Vladimir by the Commander of the 3rd Manchurian Army, General Bildering. 

After the war he returned to Finland and was present as a member of nobility during the last session of the Diet of Finland. On his return to St. Peterburg he was asked by General Palitsyn, Chief of the General Staff, if he wanted to join a two year expedition as a secret intelligence officer for the Tsar. He was disguised as a ethnographic collector and joined Paul Pelliot's Expedition. They travelled from Turkestan to Beijing on horseback, a distance of roughly 5,000 miles (8,046 km), with a Cossack escort. Mannerheim's mission was to be very important for Russian, gathering up to date intelligence on the modernisation of the Qing Dynasty. On his expedition he was to catalogue many things that had been hidden by the vast distances and mountains that covers most of Central Asia. He was to be the person to conduct a proper ethnographic investigation of the Yugur tribe, he was stoned by xenophobic Tibetan monks in Labrang, he took over 1,500 photographs of the region, collected about 1,200 artefacts for the National Museum of Finland, mapped over 1,2000 miles (2,000 km) of roads and published a 27 part article in the Finno-Ugric Societies periodical. Probably one of his crowning achievements of his journey was meeting the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, in Utaishan. This really showed off his diplomatic skills as Utaishan was a place very few outsiders had seen and to also have an audience with the most sacred and least accessible ruler in Asia. They exchanged gifts, Mannerheim receiving some white silk to present to the Tsar and the Dalai Lhama being given Mannerheim's Browning pistol, including a lesson in the principals of pistol shooting. He returned to St. Petersburg after two years and travelling a distance of nearly 9,000 miles (14,000 km) with two massive volumes of detailed observations. His report included how Xinjiang could be invaded by Russia and its use as a bargaining chip with China.

Mannerheim taking notes during his 1906-1908 Asia Expedition
In 1909 Mannerheim was appointed commander of the 13th Vladimir Uhlan Regiment, which was based in Poland. He had achieved his dream of command and soon turned the 13th into the best regiment in the district. His performance came up in all the audits and soon he came to the attention of the Tsar who personally appointed him commander of the Life Guard Uhlan Regiment of His Majesty and soon after was promoted to Major General. In 1912 whilst the Tsar was at his hunting lodge in Spala he appointed Mannerheim 'a general of the Imperial entourage'. At the beginning of 1914 Mannerheim was awarded command of the Seperate Guards Cavalry Brigade based in Warsaw. The Poles and Russians didn't always get along and after a series of uprisings in the mid and late 1800s, relations with the local populace was stretched at the best of times. Mannerheim, who had one relative in Poland, started to mix with Polish social circles and soon through his love of horse racing bridged the gap between the Russia soldiers and Polish people. The friendships he made in Poland would stay with him throughout his life.

When the First World War broke out, Mannerheim and his Cavalry Brigade were involved in the campaign to secure Galicia from Austrian-Hungry attack. The brigade was present at many major battles during the campaign, from the opening battle at Krasnik through to Opole, Annopolis and Sloptov-Klimonotvi to name just a few. For his bravery at Krasnik he was awarded the Sword of St.George, he later said he could now die in peace. By the end of the first year of the War (1914) Mannerheim had also been awarded Order of Saint Vladimir 3rd Class and the Order of Saint Stanislaus 1st Class and the Cross of Saint George 4th Class. In February 1915 he was given command of the 12th Cavalry Division and participated in the Battles of Opolje and Hajworonkan, as well as numerous smaller battles throughout Southern Ukraine. The next year saw him taking part in the famous Brusilov Offensive, which he did with distinction. In the final months of 1915 Mannerheim and his Division were moved to Romania where a new front was opening. The march was 350 miles (560km) and ended in Odobesti without the loss of a single horse. From 1916 to 1917 saw the 12th Cavalry Division fighting some tough battles in the mighty Transylvania Carpathian Mountains. On May 8th he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and in June he was given command of the 6th Cavalry Corps which was responsible for the entire Northern Bukovina front. He unfortunately fell from his horse in September and sprained his ankle by the time of the infamous October Revolution, this probably saved his life as he was away from the front line recovering in Odessa where many Tsarist Officers were being executed by their troops. He also received a telegram from the last Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Nikolay Dukhonin placing him on reserve as Mannerheim was 'not adaptable to present circumstances'. 

Mannerheim's Sword of St.George
At the outbreak of the Russian Civil War, Mannerheim made his way back to Petrograd (St. Petersburg). Now many officers of the Imperial Russian Forces would have made the journey as inconspicuous as possible but not Mannerheim, true to his form, he acquired a private sleeping car and in full Dress Uniform arrived to scenes of dismay at Petrograds main station. He later commented in his autobiography "It disgusted me to see generals carrying their own kit. However, I found two soldiers who quite willingly took charge of mine", Mannerheim arrived on December 18th 1917, 12 days after Finland declared its independence. After thirty five years of service in the Imperial Army, Mannerheim was the most experienced officer Finland had and as such the Chairman of the Finnish Senate, Pehr Svinhufvud, asked him to become Commander in Chief of Finland's army. Mannerheim pursued his new appoint with zeal, he was a fierce opponent to Bolshevism and led the handful of White Guard in its mission to defend Finland and its independence. Finland broke out into Civil War on January 27th 1918, as both sides of the political spectrum decided they had the right to lead Finland. During the Civil War the White Government took a pro-German stance (something that worried Mannerheim) and soon received support for Germany. Mannerheim ruthlessly pursued the Reds, he inspired the White Guard, his order of the day for March 14th, 1918 sums up his devotion to the cause: "The hour has come, the hour for which the whole nation is waiting. your starving and martyred brothers and sisters in southern Finland fix their last hope on you. The mutilated bodies of the murdered citizens and the ruins of the burnt down villages call to Heaven: vengeance upon the traitors! Break down all obstacles! Advance, White army of White Finland!". Mannerheim believed that his White Guard could defeat the Red Guard without any foreign assistance but the Senate (now relocated to Vaasa) looked to Germany. The Germans formed the Baltic Sea Division which arrived on the Åland Islands in March and landed on mainland Finland on April 3rd at Hanko. With the professional German forces leading the attack on the main strongholds of Red Finland, the Reds soon capitulated, with the battle for Helsinki being the final nail in the coffin of the Communist Dreams of the Red Guard. Many Reds fled to the Soviet Union. During the Civil War and soon after, Mannerheim became known as 'The Bloody Baron' for the treatment of the Red, this became known as the 'White Terror' and has become one of the most shameful parts of Finnish History. Over 80,000 Red Finns (woman and children were not exempt) were put into numerous makeshift concentration camps, around 8,000 saw their lives lost to executions and a further 13,500 died from disease and starvation (indeed there were even rumours of cannibalism from some districts). 

Mannerheim at the head of the victory parade in Helsinki, May 16th 1918

Historians are still divided by how much Mannerheim knew about these atrocities. Some hold him responsible for every death, whilst others claim that he didn't know how bad the butchery was. Mannerheim's avowed policy for dealing with the Reds was simple: Execute the ringleaders and get the workers back to work as soon as possible. There is nothing in his writings or in any record of his life that suggest he was doing this out of pure cruelty. His hatred was for Bolshevism itself, not for his fellow Finns who followed its impractical and wishful ideals. Whether he was responsible for the White Terror or not, there is no denying that he had secured Finland's Independence and put to bed any hope of a further Communist insurrection. Kaiser Wilhelm awarded Mannerheim the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, this made Mannerheim the only person to have fought against Germany to receive these coveted decorations.

After the victory of White Finland, Mannerheim resigned as Commander in Chief. He travelled to Sweden to visit relatives and also stated his opposition to the pro-German stance that Finland's government had taken and support of the Allied cause with several Diplomats in Stockholm. He was travelled to France and Britain on behalf of the Finnish Government to gain recognition for Finland, it was whilst in Paris that Pehr Svinhufvud resigned as Regent and the Parliment had voted Mannerheim their new Regent. Mannerheim took to the official business of running Finland and soon employed Gallen-Kallela, the famous Finnish painter, to design the regalia and symbols of Independent Finland. There were several Monarchists who wanted to make Mannerheim the first King of Finland. Soon after King Fredrick Charles of Hesse renounced the throne of Finland, Mannerheim finally got recognition from the Allied states and then supervised the transition of a new republic constitution. He then ran to be the first president of Finland but was completely trounced by Kaarlo Stahlberg, 143 votes to 50.

From 1919 Mannerheim had become a shadowy figure with Finnish politics. No party wanted to touch him for fear of his outspoken and controversial views. He instead dabbled in domestic affairs, he founded the Mannerheim Child Welfare Association in 1920 and was chairman for the Finnish Red Cross for a staggering  32 years. He was elected chairman of the supervisory board for the Bank of Finland and a member of the board for that famous Finnish electronics company, Nokia. He also travelled to Asia twice meeting up with friends and acquaintances he had made through his years. He was even invited on a hunting trip with the King of Nepal and killed a 3.23 meter long tiger that had previously killed two men. During this time he also had an attachment with the Lapua movement. The Lapua Movement was a far-right political movement that was more akin to Germany's Brown Shirts than to a political party. Mannerheim saw the movement not as a bunch of street brawlers but as a "expression of the Finnish people's reaction to the abuse of freedom and democracy" and thought that the violent tactics of the Lapuans would soon subside when the status quo was restored. However he soon distanced himself from the movement as it become more extreme and to his eyes was more of a terrorist movement than the patriotic voice of the people he first saw it as. He lived in his big house in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki with a handful of servants, the place was decorated in true form to his character- hunting trophies, weapons, certificates of honour, plaques, dark mahogany furniture etc. One of his most favoured piece, that was displayed in a place of honour in his living room, was a autographed portrait of Tsar Nicholas II. Whenever any visitor questioned him about its inappropriateness, Mannerheim would just reply "He was my Emperor".

In 1931, Pehr Svinhufvud was elected to be Finland's third President and one of his first acts was to recall Mannerheim to public service and make him chairman of the Defence Council. He became increasingly worried by the state of European affairs (namely the dictatorships) and commissioned a secret report on how Finland would prepare and fair if it was invaded. He struggled for every markka of his budget, he advocated a defence union with Sweden and started construction of the soon to be notorious Mannerheim Line. In 1933 he became Finland's first and to date, only Field Marshal. He soon became fed up of the red tape that surrounded his efforts to build up Finland's defences and so he resigned his post in 1937 only to be reinstated by President-elect Kyösti Kallio.

When the Soviet demands for Finnish territory first reached Mannerheim's ears he advised that the Government make a policy of conciliation but also suggested a quiet mobilisation of the armed forces under the guise of refresher training  He later became irate when funds were diverted for the preparations of the 1940 Summer Olympics and a request for a loan from the United States were turned down. He was being openly criticise by numerous parliament members for many things, these included being too old, too afraid of the Russians and not being trustworthy. This was the final straw for the Proud Baron, he penned a resignation and handed it over to the offices of the President but before the President could accept his resignation bombs fell on Helsinki and troops had crossed the border.So at 72 Field Marshal Mannerheim was made Commander in Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces, no one, not even his worst political opponents could deny he was Finland's best and only hope in the conflict. In a letter to his youngest daughter, Sophie, he wrote: "I had not wanted to undertake the responsibility of commander in chief, as my age and health entitled me, but I had to yield to appeals from the President of the Republic and the government, and now for the fourth time I am at war." His first order of the day, given on the 30th November, went: "The President of the Republic has appointed me on 30 November 1939 as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the country. Brave soldiers of Finland! I enter on this task at a time when our hereditary enemy is once again attacking our country. Confidence in one's commander is the first condition for success. You know me and I know you and know that everyone in the ranks is ready to do his duty even to death. This war is nothing other than the continuation and final act of our War of Independence. We are fighting for our homes, our faith, and our country".

One of his first acts was to move his headquarters to the town of Mikkeli and appointed a general staff. He spent most of his time during the Winter War at his headquarters but he did make frequent trips to the front. These trips held solidify the image of the Field Marshal as a officer who lead from the front and was a big morale boost for the troops. With what merge resources he had, Mannerheim manage to stall to Russian advance, he was fortunate for his history in the Russian armed forces meant he had a unique insight into the Russian war machine, for even though it now flew a different flag, the tactics stayed mainly the same as they had during the late 1800's. 

Mannerheim at his Headquarters in Mikkeli during the Winter War
After the Winter War, Mannerheim stayed commander in chief, even though the position should have returned to the president. He continued his work of rearmament and organising the Finnish forces. German and Finnish relations hit a high point soon after the Winter war and Mannerheim was offered command of over 80,000 German troops but he declined as he didn't want to be tied to the Nazi regime. He kept his relations with the third Reich as formal as possible but did oppose an Alliance between the two nations (Finland was only a co-belligerent in Germany's war against the Soviet Union). When Finland went to war again in what was called the Continuation War, Mannerheim's instructions were to reclaim the lost borders and a little buffer zone beyond that. Even against repeated calls for assistance Mannerheim refused to send troops into the meat grinder that was the Siege of Leningrad, the closet the Finns got to Leningrad was 12 miles (20km). On his 72nd Birthday, the Baron received the unique title 'Marshal of Finland'  and he was even surprised by a visit from Hitler. He did not want to meet Hitler at his headquarters or at Helsinki as it would appear to be an official visit, so he arranged for the two of them to meet at Imatra. Hitler, accompanied by President Ryti, arrived at the small town where Hitler gave a birthday speech to the Marshal, followed by a meal and some negotiations between the two giants. The two talked for five hours, mainly about the war and after the official business was over Hitler boarded a train to head back to Immola Airfield. From this event two astonishing events happened. Thor Damen, a YLE broadcasting Engineer, managed to set up microphones in a railway car he thought would contain the Baron and Hitler, however the two chose a different carriage. With quick thinking, Damen manage to set up one microphone directly above the pair and recorded the first 11 minutes of the conversation before Hitler's SS bodyguards spotted the wires. After demands for the reel to be destroyed, YLE managed to persuaded the SS to keep the reel in return for sealing it forever. This became the only known recording of Hitler speaking in an unofficial tone, it was released to the public in the late 50's and was even used by Bruno Ganz for his role as Hitler in 'Downfall'. You can listen to it here. The second event was Mannerheim lit up a cigar in the presence of Hitler, much to the astonishment of those present, Hitler's aversion to smoking was well known. The Nazi Government being the first government to back anti-smoking advertisements. Hitler continued his conversation without any comment, Mannerheim used this to judge that Hitler was speaking from a weakened position and so had even less respect for Hitler than he already had. 

Mannerheim with President Ryti and Hitler during Hitler's visit to Finland in 1942.
Mannerheim was a soldier through and through, after his failed run for President in 1918 he maintained as much distances as he could from politics  Sometimes this was not possible, like when arguing for funds for his military forces or when he thought the Third Reich were dictating Finnish policies and strategies. President Ryti resigned on the 1st of August 1944 and the responsibility for the country passed to Mannerheim who was voted by overwhelming parliamentary support. One of his first acts was to start suing for peace with the Soviet Union, Mannerheim was in a unique position thanks to the Finnish forces heroic efforts of stalling the Soviet advance and Germany's weakening grip on Eastern Europe. Soon he had agreed to a truce between the two nations but was forced into a war with Germany that saw much of Lapland wasted by the retreating German forces. Under the Moscow argument  Mannerheim was forced by article 21 to shut down the Civic Guard (of which he was closely associated too, he worn the 'S' patch on his uniform) and the Lotta Svärd (which he had first coined in a speech in May 1918). He was also forced to pay compensation amounting to $300,000,000 ($4 Billion today) in various commodities within six years, allow War Crime trails to be conducted and also lease the Soviets, Porkkala for use as a Naval base, amongst other things. However he had the support of many Finns and was seen by many throughout the world as the only man who could help Finland transit from war to peace.

When the Allied Control Commission started to prosecute members of the government for war crimes, Mannerheim was worried he would be called to stand trail, but even though many Communists called for him to stand, he was never called. The main reasoning behind this was that Stalin respect this man who had stood against him numerous times, who had halted the Red Army on every front even though the odds were in Stalin's favour. Stalin told the Finnish delegation in 1947 that the Finns had Mannerheim to thank for Finland's continued independence for he was the reasons why the Soviets didn't occupy the country. Even though he was elected for the full six year term, Mannerheim, who was by now in his late 70's was suffering from ill health and after two leaves of absence and a stay in Portugal, he resigned as President feeling he had done as much as he could for Finland.

Mannerheim leaving the Presidential residence on the day of his resignation, March 4th 1946

The Finnish Government originally planned to buy Borman Villa for Mannerheim but Karl Fazer (The origin of the famous chocolate makers) refused to sell it, so they gave him 12 million Markka with which he bought Kirkniemi Manor but after an operation on a ulcer he moved to Switzerland to recuperate and work on his memoirs. His residence was the private hospital of Val-Mont, where he purchased two floors. He also visited Sweden, France, Italy and Finland numerous times to meet relatives and friends. Unfortunately because of his increasing illness he was only able to write some of his memoirs personally but many assisted including General Erik Heinrichs and Colonel Aladar Paasonen. He personally proofread as much as he could, though most of his memoirs were about events in Finland, especially from 1917 to 1944, he did allow some rare glimpse into his very private, personal life.  

At 2330 on January 27th 1951 (It was already the 28th in Finland) Mannerheim passed away at Cantonal Hospital in Switzerland. He was returned to Finland where he was given a State Funeral with full military honours and interned in Hietaniemi Cemetery. He was and still is regarded as Finland's greatest Hero and Statesman. His birthday, June 4th, is the Flag Day for the Finnish Defence Forces and he has been honoured by having his portrait represented on the €10 Coin. Boman Villa was turned into his official Museum soon after his death and Aimo Tukiainen sculpted the Mannerheim Equestrian Statue that sits just down the road from the Finnish Parliament building. His effect on Finnish society has not and probably will never be overshadowed.

The Mannerheim Equestrian Statue outside the Museum of Modern Art in Helsinki, unveiled in 1960.

Mannerheim's State Funeral. Outside the Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki, February 4th, 1951.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Finnish Swastika

I decided that it would be important to write about the Swastika that is presented on Finnish military equipment. I was prompted because there is a lot of hatred regarding the Swastika but also a lot of ignorance to it's application outside of the Third Reich. I read on a military history forum recently someone making the dubious claim that the Finnish Blue Swastika (known as Hakaristi) was actually used because the Finns were allied with Nazi Germany and thus needed something to be identified with them. This poster also didn't seem to believe others when they tried to correct him.

So the first thing we need to establish is that the Swastika is not a modern symbol but in fact goes back thousands of years. The word Swastika comes from the Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language) svastika, which means lucky and is used to denote auspiciousness (good fortune, luck) upon on person or object.

Seals from the Indus Valley Civilisation (4,000-5,000 years ago)

Seen at a Buddhist Temple
So as we can see the swastika is not a modern symobl and not just associated in to Germany. The oldest known swastika is from 10,000 BCE and was uncovered by archaeologists in the Ukraine. The symbol has been found to be used in almost all countries and civilisations, from Indus Valley to the Sami Tribes, from Coptic Egyptian to the Native Americans. It is believed to have become so common because of its simplicity  and symmetry, which led to independent development by those countries who used it.

The second thing that needs to be cleared up is the Finland was using the swastika before Germany's Nazi Party adopted it. The National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP, more commonly known as Nazi Party) adopted the symbol in 1920 due to the symbols increasing popularity across Europe as a symbol for Luck. Indeed the symbol has been used by pilots as a good luck charm.
American aviatrix Matilde Moisant seen with her Swastika lucky charm in 1912.
Raoul Lufbery, an American Ace serving in the French Lafayette Escadrille Squadron in World War 1.
 There is even a town in Canada named Swastika. It was founded in 1906 and became a Mining town in 1908 after Gold was discovered. The local Government tried to get the name changed in world war two because of the symbols now infamous association with the Nazi party. However the town refused and posted signs stating 'To Hell with Hitler. We came up with our name first'. The town has had to 'defend' its position numerous times since the Second World War and as yet has resisted every attempt at changing its name.

So now we have established the history and meaning of the Swastika, I think we can move onto the history and meaning behind the Swastika used by Finland on military equipment.

On March 6th 1918, Lieutenant Nils Kindberg landed at Vaasa in a Thulin Typ D carrying it's donor Swedish Count Eric von Rosen. This became the first aircraft of the newly created Finnish Air Force but incorrectly thought of as the first aircraft to fly for Finland. Finland at the time was gripped by Civil War (which started on 27th January and ran till May 15th 1918, only a month and a half after Finland declared its independence) and many Swedes decided to help 'White' Finland despite their Governments refusal (Kindberg was fined 100 Kronor for his flight as he left the country without permission). Von Rosen had his personal Good Luck symbol painted onto the aircraft, this was the Blue Swastika. The White Circle came about when the Finns painted over the Thulin Air Academy advertisement. On the 18th March 1918 the Swastika was formally adopted by the Finnish Air Force by decree of Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish White Army.

From that moment in 1918, the Swastika became a official national symbol. It was used on the Medal of the War of Liberation, the Mannerheim Cross, Tanks, Aircraft and even a Women's auxiliary organisation. Also as you can see from the following pictures, the Finnish Swastika comes in two varieties, the Full Cross which is normally represented parallel to the ground and the Short Fylfot Cross.

Finland never was a Fascist country and even though it was allied to Germany during the second world war it did not support its goals entirely (this is seen by Mannerheim's refusal to allow Finnish Troops to march on Leningrad). There seem to be many people out there that like to tell stories that Finland was a supporter of Nazism but with a bit of research it can be easily disproved. After the Second World War, the Allied Control Commission forced that symbol be dropped because of it's association with the Third Reich. However the Swastika has survived in Finnish culture, being seen on textiles and art in association with the age old belief that it is an Nordic symbol for Happiness. Also it is still used by the Finnish Defence Forces, the Air Force uses it on its colours as well as shoulder insignia. Some Army units use the symbol too, most notably the Utti Jaeger Regiment (Finland's Special Forces). It still appears in various medals and decorations, the most famous being the Order of the Cross of Liberty. The collar of The Order of the White Rose of Finland originally had 9 Swastikas on it but these were replaces by Fir crosses in 1963 by order of President Urho Kekkonen when he learnt of President Charles De Gaulle's discomfort of wearing Swastikas. 

It also appears on the Presidential Standard of Finland. The fact of the continual use of the Swastika in Finnish culture sparked a debate within European media in 2005.  So I think it is safe to end this article. We have covered many areas and have firmly established Finland's use of the Swastika and it's detachment from the Third Reich and Facist use.