Monday, June 25, 2018

Memorial Hunter – Memorials of the Ancestors of Karelia

At the conclusion of the Continuation War in September 1944, the Finns ceded a large part of Finnish Karelia to the Soviet Union in return for an armistice. This area included 3 cities, 2 boroughs and 39 municipalities as well as splitting 21 other municipalities.

This memorial is in Haukipudas' new Parish Cemetery is, to date, the most beautiful of the ones I have seen. Being a lot more simple than many others, it still encapsulates the dogged determination of those who had to leave their homes and set anew in a different place. Source: Personal Collection

The Karelians and Finns of the area were given a choice, similar to the choice given at the end of the Winter War in March 1940, to either stay and become citizens of the Soviet Union or evacuate to Finland and be resettled. The vast majority chose to leave their homes and settle in Finland. Around 280,000 had to be rehoused throughout Finland (in 1939/40 around 400,000 left Karelia and when the Finnish Army retook their ceded areas in 1941 280,000 returned to reclaim their land). This meant leaving behind for good their roots, their ancestors, the graves and houses that had been in their families for generations.

The Karelian Association

In the wake of the first evacuation in 1939/40, the numerous displaced Karelians sent 340 representatives to found an organisation on the 20th April 1940 that would monitor the interests of the displaced citizens, make sure that they were resettled and compensated quickly and that they would still be represented within Finnish Society as a whole.

The Association has always pushed to keep the memory of the Karelia that was lost alive in Finnish culture and society, while still maintaining a sense of independent identity. When the hope of recovering Finnish Karelia was dashed in 1944, the group worked in the best interests of all displaced Karelians throughout Finland so that they were be treated equally and fairly, it also became a place to allow members to come together and maintain their links.

The memorial in Hietaniemi cemetary, Helsinki. Sculpted by Amas Tirronen, it was built in 1957. Source: Personal Collection 

The memorials

Each kunta or municipality throughout contained a church that served that community. This included the burial of the deceased. Finnish culture is one that takes great care of its ancestors, where graves are lovingly tended over by families for generations and candles are lite at special occasions. As the over 400,000 displaced inhabitants of Karelia were now spread throughout, with very little to no chance of visiting the graves of their ancestors, an initiative was taken up by the Karelian Association. In 1951 the association approached sculptor Kirsti Liimatainen to design some memorials for the larger Karelian communities. In 1952 the first of such memorials was erected in Humppila, these were soon followed by others in places like Kajaaani, Rovaniemi, Kauhajoki and Riihimäki.

The one in my home town of Oulu. Source: Personal Collection

To date there is around 200 of such memorials around Finland, allowing Karelians and their descendants to honour their ancestors even though they cannot physically visit the graves.

Tampere. source: Personal Collection

Tornio. Source: Personal Collection

I will look more in depth at specific memorials in their own articles in future, but this was to give a small background to this little known but intimate piece of Finnish history.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Finnish Waffen-SS Battalion Investigation – Why it needs to happen and how Historical Revision isn’t always a bad thing

Thursday 31st May saw the Finnish Prime Minister’s Officer announced the opening of an independent probe into those Finnish citizens who served in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War.  The investigation will look to see if any Finns participated in “in the homicide of Jews and civilians during 1941-1943.”

Why it is happening?

Back in January, Efraim Zuroff, an American-born Israeli historian and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, made a request to President Sauli Niinistö to open an official investigation into the roughly 1,400 Finns who voluntarily served in Waffen-SS to see if they were involved in any war crimes.

However this request didn’t just appear unprovoked but due to the release of information by Historian André Swanström. In 2017, Swanström, went on record declaring the vast majority of the Finnish SS men were fascists and that some had taken part in war crimes during their service in Ukraine from 1941 to 1943. His words caused a ripple of controversy in historical circles that were heard outside of Finland as well. It was from this that Efraim Zuroff was made aware of the discussion and formally requested an official investigation.

A little background

After the conclusion of the Russo-Finnish Winter War in March 1940, Finland found itself in a precarious position. The Western powers had shown themselves unable to provide Finland with any legitimate support, Sweden had to look after its own (more so after the German invasion of Norway), and the Soviets (as victors) decided to put more pressure upon Finland. Also during this time Germany and the Soviet Union were joined together through the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which had seen Poland divided between the two powers and the Baltic States fold to Soviet pressure and so Finland felt itself more isolated and against the wall.

It was in this uncertainty that Finland found some support. Germany started making offers of military, economic and political support in confidence. One of these offers was for a group of Finnish men, similar to the 1917 Jaeger movement, to come to Finland and train in military matters. These men would fall under the administration of the Waffen-SS (the armed wing of the Nazi Party's SS organisation), serve a two-year contract, and would form their own Battalion within the 5th SS Division “Wiking”. Recruitment saw the German want a high percentage of far right members (over 60%) and to be racially pure (according to their own Aryan doctrine) but this wasn’t accomplished.

The Battalion on Parade. Source: LiveLeak

The 1408 men, coming from all over Finland, arrived in 5 separate batches from May to June 1941. Those men who had sufficient military training or were veterans of the Winter War were attached to combat ready units of the Division until the rest of the Battalion were ready. The Battalion was founded officially on 15th June 1941 in Vienna and was called SS Freiwilligen-Bataillon Nordost. In December 1941 the Battalion was ready for deployment and sent to the Ukrainian front to become the third Battalion in the Nordland Regiment. From this moment on, it fought with distinction, especially during the 1942 Summer offensive. It was here that the received their new title, Finnisches Freiwilligen-Bataillon der Waffen-SS, and were seen as brave and stubborn fighters, so much so that Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, stated "In the place where the Finnish SS man stood, the enemy was always beaten.”
The Waffen-SS wanted to retain such valuable soldiers when their contract expired by Marshal Mannerheim forbid their reenlistment and the Battalion arrived home  2nd April ,1943 in Hanko. The Battalion was officially disbanded 11th July, 1943 and the men were then sent to various units within the Finnish Army.

Finnish SS volunteers in Gross Born Truppenlager, 1941. Source: Wikimedia

Did they commit War Crimes?

Originally, the statement from historians and layman alike have been that the Finnish Battalion did not commit anything that would be construed as War Crimes. This statement is supported and traced back to the phenomenal work by Professor Mauno Jokipi. Jokipi is seen as one of the foremost Finnish historians on the Second World War and in 1968 he published the book, Panttipataljoona: suomalaisen SS-pataljoonan historia (I unfortunately have yet to read it as it is way passed my current abilities in Finnish). This 936 page epic is seen as the go to book for anything related to the Finnish SS men, Jokipi used records available from the Finnish National Archives, as well as material made available to him from the Veljesapu-Perinneyhdistys ry (the organisation set up to support veterans of the unit and their families, as well as provide information about the Battalion). Jokipi put out the statement that the Finnish SS soldiers did not take part in any executions of civilians but that some were eyewitnesses to these horrible acts. However this has been challenged by some, with Swanström being at the forefront.

The Battalions Chaplain, Major Kalervo Kurkiala, at Hietaniemi Cemetary, 1943. Source: Wikimedia

Swanström wrote in 2017 that Jokipi’s work is flawed and that he made a deliberate choice to select certain source materials over others. During his research, Swanström, came across a letter written by one member of the unit, Olavi Karpalo, who stated that ‘the executionof Jews is for those with poorer shooting skills that ours’. He postulates that Karpalo would not have written those words if he had not committed such acts. Karpalo, who had fought during the Spanish Civil War on Franco’s side, was frustrated that he had been assigned to a rear area vehicle maintenance unit, alongside 5 other Finns, while the rest were off getting glory. Swanström accuses Jokipi of having access to the letter but ignoring its contents during his research and that he has deliberately ‘hidden’ evidence in order to push a narrative.

In light of the evidence that Swanström has brought forward, as well as those thoughts by other historians like Oula Silvennoinen and Marko Tikka, it is very possible that some Finns serving within the Waffen-SS committed war crimes.

Reactions and the Need for the Investigation

When news was released about the request for the investigation were published, and the follow up confirmation that the probe will go ahead, there was the expected reaction from the internet. Unfortunately there were far too many comments of an antisemitic nature which are not worth repeating or given more than just a mention here. There were, however, several comments proclaiming a historical revisionism in progress in order to push some political correctness agenda. Within recent years whenever a new book/article/lecture or academic publication makes a statement that challenges the status quo it is accused of Revisionism, and well they are a degree.

The Battalion arriving at Hanko, 1943. Source: Wikimedia

What is Historical Revisionism?

Historical Revisionism is the act of challenging the status quo in light of new evidence. It is a process that has always taken place, indeed, the American Historical Society’s President James McPherson stated in 2003,

“The fourteen-thousand members of this association, however, know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue, between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable “truth” about past events and their meaning.”

History is constantly in flux, we are uncovering new things about the past. When new things are discovered, the historical process takes over, where we see historians debate and challenge each consecutive  hypothesis.

This doesn’t mean that negative historical revisionism doesn’t take place, however in the academic world this type of revisionism is called Historical negationism or denialism and is done for mainly  ideological  reasons. It strives to muddy the waters of historical discourse for the masses and pass of their poorly supported evidence as honest revisionism.

A few other comments I saw made attempts to deflect the discussion into points about Soviet war crimes and how those should be investigated (some stated before the investigation into Finns). However these comments are only attempting to put wrongness on a scale and fit it into a narrative.

The following video by the brilliant TIKhistory channel explains why Historical Revision is not negative much better than I can.

The Battalion on board ship leaving Tallinn to Hanko, 1943. Source: 

The need for an official investigate is paramount to Finnish history. In 2003, President Halonen, after an official request by Simon Wiesenthal Center, launched a probe into the deportations of around 3,000 Soviet POWs to Germany. The project was undertaken by the National Archives and after several years a 568 multilingual report was published that showed how Finland’s treatment of Soviet Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees were not as up to par with International Law as first thought. All this stemmed from the research of Elina Sana. The report allowed for a more open and honest discussion on Finland’s role during the Second World War.

Following the same light, an official investigation, using all the resources available (this includes archives outside of Finland, like Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Germany).

In Tampere, 1943. Source: SA-Kuva

What will happen?

According to a statement on the National Archives website, there will be a steering group appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office with members of the National Archives, the President’s and Prime Minister’s Offices. This group will oversee a project team from the National Archives  and also use external experts as required. The project team will use any and all resources available to them in order to assess and evaluate evidence in order to present a complete study. The team will also work with Docent Lars Westerlund, who led the National Archives project in the 2003 study mentioned above, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office funded 2002 War Victims of Finland 1914-1922 Project database. His expertise will be much required during this delicate study.

The Project Team consists of:-
Chair: Director-General Jussi Nuorteva
Vice-Chairman: Research Director Päivi Happonen
Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki, Professor Pia Letto-Vanamo
Professor of Political History at the University of Helsinki, Kimmo Rentola
Professor Vesa Tynkkynen of the National Defense College
Antero Holmila, Associate Professor at the University of Jyväskylä
Docent of Åbo Akademi André Swanström
President of the Holocaust Victim Records Association, Docent Oula Silvennoinen.
Researcher Docent Lars Westerlund
Assistant Researcher Ville-Pekka Kääriäinen

The investigation is reported to be finished by November of this year and will cost no more than 69,000 euros.

Once the report is completed, the next stage will be to see if there is a need for any legal proceedings. As Jussi Nuorteva of the National Archives said to YLE, "About 1,400 volunteers from Finland took part [in the battalion] and only about a dozen of them are still alive. The youngest of them were 17 when they enlisted and are now 95 years-old or older,”. This mean that the handful of SS men left alive will be of similar health to those of German and other SS soldiers who have recently been on trial in Europe.

The Battalion's disbandment ceremony, 1943. Source:


YLE news
National Archives
National Archives
Will Holocaust crimes of Finnish volunteers in Ukraine go unpunished
YLE News
Prime Minister's Office
Revisionist Historians
Finnish SS Men and War Crimes

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marshal of Finland - A birthday gift from Finland

On the morning of the 4th June 1942, Field Marshal (Sotamarsalkka) Mannerheim found himself confronted by a large delegation of civilian ministers, including President Risto Ryti, and military officers. This group then bestowed upon him the unique and specially created title, Marshal of Finland.

Mannerheim on his 75th birthday Source: Wikimedia

Mannerheim’s Ranks

When Mannerheim returned to Finland in 1917 he held the rank of Lieutenant General, but this was within the Imperial Russian Army. Upon the formation and reorganization of the Finnish Army in 1918 he was made General of the Cavalry (ratsuväenkenraali), a General rank but with a special recognition for the branch of the individual. This was and is the highest rank within the Finnish Defence Forces.

Mannerheim as Commander-in-Chief in 1918. Source: Wikimedia
Mannerheim maintained his rank and place within the officers list in the post-civil war turmoil. He had stepped down as Commander-in-Chief in 1919 but was seen as honorary Commader-in-Chief of the Protection Corps (which didn’t sit well with some politicians). With each new administration he was offered the title of Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces but he refused every time.

1928 saw in tenth anniversary of the Finnish Civil War, and with wounds still fresh, Mannerheim made plans to be out of the country. However he was persuaded to attend the official parade. Behind the scenes though there was discussion about presenting him with the title of Field Marshal (Sotamarsalkka) as a gesture of thanks for his services to Finland. While some politicians were in support of the idea, there were just as many against and so the idea didn’t pass. But while the Government didn’t support the idea of making Mannerheim a Field Marshal, the Protection Corps presented him with a Marshal’s Baton.

In 1931, P.E. Svinhufvud was voted in as President and as others before him had done, he asked Mannerheim to become Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. Mannerheim once against refused the offer, he felt his age made it too heavy a task for him, nor did he want to push out the current commander, Major General Hugo Österman. Mannerheim instead became Chairman of the Defence Council. This position allowed him to serve his country again and contribute to its continued growth.

The question of making Mannerheim a Field Marshal was again visited in 1933. This time the motion was passed with large support and so on the 19th May Mannerheim was presented with the title Field Marshal and presented with an official baton to signify his position. The baton was designed by artist Aarno Karimo (a former Artillery officer during the Civil War) and made from ebony, ivory and gold. Mannerheim did not know of the discussion and so was taken by surprise but was delighted about it. In his address he emphasised that the appointment was in recognition of the support of the armed forces and the country as a whole. The was one twist in the tale though, the title came with a stamp duty (a tax to make the document official) of 4,000 marks and normally this bill would be paid by the nominees. Lieutenant Colonel Aksel Airo, Mannerheim’s secretary, tried in vain to get someone to foot the bill, either the Defence Forces or even the Army Officer’s corps but none would and so presented the bill to Mannerheim who wryly replied ‘It’s a good job they didn’t make me a more important man’.

Mannerheim's appointment to Field Marshal, 1933. Source: Wikimedia

Marshal of Finland

As Mannerheim’s 75th birthday approached he made plans to visit the front, not out of celebration or anything but because he thought ‘Holding any sort of party at the headquarter now would simply be in bad taste, as all the men and officers are in such a tight spot, and often have to see one of their comrades being carried off.’ But he was ordered by President Ryti to make sure he was present at Immola. He was informed that Adolf Hitler, Führer of the German Reich, would be present as well.

Mannerheim's carriage, today it is now a tourist attraction in Mikkeli where he held his headquarters. Source: Wikimedia
On the morning of the 4th June, the Government and Military entourage arrived and President Ryti conferred onto Mannerheim the title Marshal of Finland. The title was in honour of his long service and to pay him the respects of the Finnish people. However it wasn’t the title that topped him that day but the deputation of trade unionists. These men, representatives of the workers of Finland, praised Mannerheim for his efforts in uniting Finland, in helping to remove the division of 1918 and make the Finnish people one nation. Mannerheim was so touched that in he wrote to his sister, Eva Sparre ‘It was all moving. A people who are fighting for the right to live in the land which their forefathers made with great toil, and where church bells daily toll their sons into eternal rest, and who show me in such an overwhelming way their trust and recognition, a trust which you understand is difficult to bear.’

Mannerheim with Hitler and President Ryti. Source: Wikimedia
While the rank was never made a substantive military one, he remained General of Cavalry within the officers list throughout his career, it put him unto par with his peers throughout Europe. It also solidified, as the accompanying document describe, Mannerheim as ‘greatest soldier in our history.’

Today the 4th June is Defence Forces Day (puolustusvoimat päivää) and is a day of honour to the servicemen and women of Finland, past and present. It is also the traditional day for promotions and awards.

Mannerheim's certificated conferring the title of Marshal of Finland. Source:


Jägerskiöld, Stig, Mannerheim-Marshal of Finland (C.Hurst & co Ltd. 1986)
Clements, Jonathan, Mannerheim- President, Soldier, Spy (Haus Publishing Ltd. 2012)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Weapons of War - 76 K/02 – Finland’s first gun

At 0900 on the morning of the 3rd February 1918 two shots rang out over the Oulujoki river. These shots, fired from two 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902, marked the start of the assault on the Red positions at Oulu. It also marked the first shots of an independent Finnish artillery corps.


In 1902 the Putilov Plants (now known as the Kirov Plant) produced the 3-djujmovaja pushka obr. 1902 (or 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902). Designed by engineers LA Byshlyak, KM Sokolovsky and KI Lipnitsky and engineer N. A. Zabudsky, the gun was over the previous gun produced by the team (the 76 mm gun model 1900).

By looking at the Model 1900, they made improvements upon it while keeping to the guidelines of the original specifications, these being a three-inch gun of modern design, mobile and effective. They added a hydraulic recoil mechanism, allowing for quicker resetting after each shot, traverse and elevation tracking mechanisms, better sights for direct and indirect fire, and single piece ammunition. It also had two seats, on either side of the breech, for the crew but these were removed in 1906 and replaced with a two piece shield that also had folding upper and lower plates (these were added due to experiences in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05). It also took the French style interrupted screw breech block used on the Model 1900 (the first Russian gun to use it). To help with production and keep costs down, it cut back on expensive and labour heavy materials and was made using low alloy carbonized steel.

A Model 1902 on a special anti-aircraft mounting. Source: Niva magazine, 1916, Wikimedia

They were tested in April 1902, with the first 12 being produced that month. The gun was officially adopted in March 1903 as the main weapon of the Imperial Russian Artillery. Their first taste of action was at the Battle of Te-li-Ssu during the Russo-Japanese War but did not perform well due to mishandling but they soon did garner a good reputation in the Russian army and were well liked by the men, especially once more modern doctrines had developed on their deployment and use. They were comparable to their counterparts in the French, British and German militarys (Canon de 75 modèle 1897, Ordnance QF 18-pounder and 7.7 cm Feldkanone 96 neuer Art).

They saw deployment from 1904 right to the end of the Second World War, serving the Soviet Union, Finland, Poland and Nazi Germany artillery arms.

Finland’s First Gun

Finland did not have a standing army of its own due to the disbandment in 1905-06 as part of the Russification of the Grand Duchy of Finland. However, it did still house a substantial amount of Imperial forces within its territory, especially as it was a potential gateway to the capital, St. Petersburg. A large part of the Baltic Fleet, as well as the 42nd Army Corps, were stationed in Finland to guard against potential German invasion. When the Civil War broke out, many of these units were frozen by the confusion reigning across the Empire, some attempted to return home, others went to support the Finnish Reds, but the majority stays in their barracks waiting.

The original two 76.2mm divisional guns used by Colonels Ignatius and Nenonen during the Battle of Oulu. They are sited at the positions they held that very day. Source: Personal Collection

One such unit, a battery of the 106th Infantry Division, was stationed at Ilmajoki awaiting for orders or direction when members of the local Civic Guard demanded that they, alongside the rest of the 350 strong garrison hand over their weapons, on the 28th-29th January. Six 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902’s were captured, two with breeches intact, and these two were sent with Lieutenant Colonels Johannes Ferdinand Ignatius and Vilho Petter Nenonen as part of the relief force to Oulu. These guns were deployed by Nenonen to the north of the city, in Laanila, where they had a line of sight of the Russian barracks and Red Guard positions. At 0900 (or 0920 depending upon your source) of the 3rd February, these guns rang out, signally the start of the Oulu operation. By the end of the Civil War, Finland had 179 of these guns, more numerous than any other gun acquired, and so it was selected to be the main field gun of the newly independent Finnish Armed Forces with the designation 76 K/02.

A very beautiful looking 766 K/02 at the Tampere 1918 exhibition. You can see the folded upper and lower shield. Source: Personal Collection

Finnish Service

After the Civil War, the gun was deployed in Field Artillery units, as well as in the two armoured trains, they also were put into fortifications and in coastal artillery emplacements. Finland always tried to get their hands on more of these guns and by the end of the Second World War, 249 had seen service (however they lost 21 during the Winter War and 29 during the retreats of 1944). During the Winter and Continuation Wars the guns fired an amazing 1,581,618 shells (one site states that this accounts for about half of the field gun ammunition fired during this period).

The famous Winter War picture of the 76 K/02 outside Viipuri, 10th March 1940. Source: SA Kuva

However, as the gun was developed at the turn of the century, it wasn’t a perfect design. Like many early 20th century field guns, it suffered from poor elevation, which resulted in a lower maximum range than could be achieved by the weapon. So to fix this problem, two modernisation projects were started in the 30s (designated 76 K/02-34 and 76 K/02-38, the last number correlating to the year of the project) but besides some prototypes, which increased elevation from a maximum of 17 degrees to 35 degrees, nothing came of it. The main issue was decreased stability, and Chief Inspector of the Artillery, now General Nenonen, canceled the projects.

The Finns also developed their own ammunition for the guns to help keep them relevant. Not only did they improve on the original High Explosive and Shrapnel Shells, but they also developed a range of Anti-Tank ammunition from simple solid armoured piercing, to APHEBC-T and HEAT. There was also an incendiary shell containing a mixture of thermite and blackpowder, plus any captured Soviet 76,2 mm x 385 R were quickly re-issued to frontline units.

After the Lapland War the guns saw some upgrades in the form of replacing the iron rimmed wooden wheels with rubber ones to allow for better towing by motorised vehicles. These guns stay on the books of the Finnish Defence Forces (mainly in the depots of the reserves but also as a training and practice weapon) until the 1990s.

Today, due to the vast amounts of them, these guns are found on many memorials and museum exhibitions.

A 76 K/02 set up as a memorial to the men of the 1 Battery, 16th Field Artillery Regiment which used this area as their fire base for the Battle of Oulu. Source: Personal Collection


Type: Field Gun
Origin: Russian Empire
Production: 1903-1931
Weight (combat ready): 1100 kg
Barrel length: 2.28 m, 30 calibers
Calibre: 76.2 mm (3 in)
Elevation: -3° to 17°
Traverse: 5°
Rate of fire: 10-12 rpm
Muzzle velocity: 589 m/s
Maximum firing range: 8.5 km

Another picture of the Tampere 1918 canon. Here you can see the breech and sights as well as all the other mechanisms needed to make the gun function. Source: Personal Collection

Hannula, J.O., Finland's War of Indepence with an Introduction by Sir Walter M. St. G. Kirke (Faber and Faber Limited, 1939)
Haapala, Pertti, Tampere 1918: A Town in the Civil War (Tampere Museums, Museum Centre Vapriikki, 2010)
Aunesluoma, Juhana, Suomen vapaussota 1918. Kartasto ja tutkimusopas (WSOY, 1995)

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Finnish Army of the Grand Duchy of Finland - An impressive but incomplete force

Between 1809 to 1917 Finland was an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, entitled the Grand Duchy of Finland. This time saw Finland transform and grow, and while it wasn’t entirely stable, nor beneficial, it certainly helped improve the Finns into a more independent and proud people.


When Finland was ceded to Russia from Sweden with the Treaty of Fredrikshamn (also called the Treaty of Hamina), the Finnish raised regiments of the Swedish Army (12 infantry regiments, 2 infantry battalions , 2 dragoon regiments and 1 artillery regiment, plus depot and engineer staff) were theoretically adopted by the Russian Empire but a declaration on 27th March 1810 made it an army without soldiers.

The Finnish raised units of the Swedish Army fell into either one of two catergories; a Tenure (or allotted) Regiment or Enlisted Regiment. A Tenure Regiment was one that was a part time force, in which the soldiers, outside of training, were mainly tending to the crofts provided to them by local farmers. An Enlisted Regiment was a full time garrison or semi-continuous force made up of volunteers, these were normally garrisoned in towns and cities rather than supporting themselves upon crofts of the countryside. The original purpose was that the tenure regiments would be brought together and used to support the enlisted army in times of war but the reality was that both units would be used in whatever way the commander they fell under wished.

The famous painting, Porilaisten marssi (March of the men from Pori), by Albert Edelfelt in 1892. It depicts the Finnish raised Pori Regiment as it marches to war in 1808-09. Source: Wikimedia

Despite some people referring to these regiments as a ‘Finnish Army’, they were not independent and appeared in Swedish army lists without separation based upon whether they were from Sweden or Finland. Indeed, the Finnish units had many an officer from Sweden (for example the Finnish Guards Regiment had 80-85% of its Officers cadre from Sweden), not only this but a lot of the resources to keep the Regiments going came from Sweden.

The Finnish Armies of the Grand Duchy of Finland

The history of the Army of the Grand Duchy of Finland can be broken down into three separate periods. These are, 1812 to 1830, 1854 to 1867 and 1881 to 1901.

  • 1812 – 1830

On the 24th June 1812 Napoleon crossed the Niemen river with a force of 449,000 men, starting the Patriotic War of 1812. The first months of the invasion saw Russian forces push back and forced to retreat time and time again, sending panic through the command of the Russian military. It was during this grim period that Count Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, the Minister State Secretary of Finland (the Grand Duchy's highest representative), suggested to Tsar Alexander I that a force of light infantry be raised from Finnish volunteers. The Tsar ordered the formation of 3 light infantry regiments (divided into 6 battalions), each made up of 1,200 men, on the 16th September 1812. These units were mainly to be for the defense of Finland, but could also be deployed to the Baltics or St.Peterburgs in times of need.

These units never saw combat and this is probably a good thing as they received little training. There was only three times a year in which the soldiers fired their rifles and these were limited to only four times per solider at 80 paces. It was decided that these units were a waste of resources and so in 1830 they were disbanded. In its place a Naval contingent of 1,100 men were raised, which manned not only coastal fortresses but even had an array of vessels, including two steam powered frigates. These sailors saw combat during the Crimean War as French and British ships bombarded the Sveaborg harbor at the entrance to Helsinki. This detachment would continue until its disbandment in 1880.

  • 1854-1868

The second phase was in response to the outbreak of the Crimean War. Finland had one of the largest merchant fleets in the world at that time and was prospering in both economic and social spheres. Finland’s position allowed it to become a place of importation for Russia, which heavily relied on imports from neighbours and abroad, it also helped to protect the capital, St Petersburg and the major naval base at Kronstadt.

The raising of this ‘National Defence’ Force was seen more as a way to secure the loyalty and keep the morale high of the local Finns. General Baron Platon Rokassovski, acting Governor-General of Finland, proposed to Tsar Nicholas I that “There is no doubt that the enemy will seize on every opportunity of making the people of the coastal areas of finland waiver in their feelins of duty and loyalty…. [A national defence force would form] a powerful obstacle not so much physically as morally. To drive the enemy back is a natural wish. When the people have their own sons and brothers among these troops, they too must sincerely wish them success”.

With this recommendation, a small force was raised using the old Swedish allotment system. 9  tarkk'ampuja (sharpshooter or rifle) battalions were formed between 1854-1855. Like the Swedish tenure Regiments, these units weren’t permanent but worked on small farms and assembled occasionally for training. These units were immediately reduced after the war ended and the last of them were disbanded in 1868. This decision was made due to economic constraints brought on by bad harvests and subsequent famine (1866-68). Alongside these battalions, there were some ad-hoc  militia groups, like the one that helped Russian forces at the ambush of Halkokari (which successfully repelled a British Royal Navy landing force of around 200 troops).

A painting by Johan Knutson depicting the Russian Army and Finnish miltia forcing defending against the British Royal Navy landing at Halkokari. Source:

  • 1881-1901

This last grouping was to be a new army, one that helped answer the question of Finland’s defence as an autonomous state within the Empire. Tsar Alexander II introduced a universal conscription in 1874, in which Russian subjects upon reaching age 20 were to serve for 6 years. During the discussion, the question about Finland came up, due to its special legal position, it required the input of the Senate, the Estates (Finland’s Parliament) and the Russian War Ministry. What came about was the Military Service Law of 1878, which created a Finnish conscript army made up solely of Finnish citizens, that would only serve within the borders of the Grand Duchy and outside of the Russian War Ministry’s Finland Military District. The Finnish people would have to bear the burden of equipping and supporting their own national force.

An army of 8 Rifle Battalions and the Guards Finnish Rifle Battalion was raised in 1881, soon to be supported by 32 reserve companies in 1883 and the  Finnish Dragoon Regiment was founded in 1889. Another stipulation to an independent Finnish army was that its strength would not be more than half of the number of Russian troops serving within the Finland Military District. The purpose of the 1881-1901 Finnish Army was ‘to defend the throne of the fatherland and thus contribute to the defense of the Empire’. However, as the Army consisted of light infantry, it was dependent upon the Russian army in the country to provide artillery and engineer support in the event of war.

The Finnish Dragoon Regiment as it looked in 1899. Source: Wikimedia

The Army was recruited, with the exception of the Guards Rifle Battalion and the Dragoon Regiment, locally. These units were:

Guards Finnish Rifle Battalion
1st Uusimaa Finnish Rifle Battalion
2nd Turku Finnish Rifle Battalion
3rd Vaasa Finnish Rifle Battalion
4th Oulu Finnish Rifle Battalion
5th Kuopio Finnish Rifle Battalion
6th Mikkeli Finnish Rifle Battalion
7th Hämeenlinna Finnish Rifle Battalion
8th Viipuri Finnish Rifle Battalion
Finnish Dragoon Regiment
Finnish Cadet Corps

This army would serve, without firing a shot in anger, until 1901 when a new Military Service Law came into effect. This was part of the Russification of Finland and called for Finnish men to now serve in the Russian Imperial Army. However there was a lot of opposition to this new law and after the 1905 revolution, Finland was exempt from it but had to contribute money instead.

One of the Rifle Battalions during summer field exercises in 1901. Source: Wikimedia

Guards Finnish Rifle Battalion – The exception to the rule

Finns very often joke about exceptions to the rule, especially when one is learning their language. The Guards Finnish Rifle Battalion is just another Finnish exception to the rule.

In 1817 the 5th Viipuri Battalion was broken up and a 274 strong special contingent was formed. In 1819 it was named the Helsinki Teaching Battalion and in 1824, after moving into new quarters in Helsinki, was named the Finnish Training Battalion. In 1827 a decision was made to disband the Finnish Army and a reorganisation took place, however the Finnish Training Battalion was saved from the save fate as the other Battalions.

In July 1829 it was ordered to join the Imperial Life-Guards' exercise camp in Krasnoye Selo south-west of Saint Petersburg. On the 27th July, the Battalion was inspected by Tsar Nicholas I and he announced that it would be promoted to the ranks of the Young Guard. The next day it was officially renamed Henkikaartin 3. Suomen Tarkk’ampujapataljoona (Leib-gvardii 3-j strelkovyi Finski bataljon in Russian) and was assigned to the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Guards Infantry Division. It occupied a unique position in being under command of the Governor-General of Finland but also under the command of the Inspector of the Imperial Guard, its costs were covered by Finland but the regulations and command language were Russian. It was to be recruited entirely from volunteers from across the whole of the Grand Duchy of Finland and on 17 September 1829 it was inaugurated with a new uniform and colours.

The Finnish Guards Rifle Battalion as they looked in 1830. Source: Wikimedia

The Battalion became a point of pride to Finland as the Guards held a privileged position within Russian society. They were protectors of the Sovereign, gained the favour of the Imperial Family and held superiority over Line Regiments. The Battalion showed Finland’s loyalty to the Tsar and commitment to the Empire. However, just because it was a Guards unit, it didn’t mean it was all for show and in January 1831 it was deployed as part of the Imperial reinforcements sent to crush the Polish Uprising. In April it received its baptism by fire when it, alongside other Imperial forces, were to evict Polish forces from the area between Bug and Narew rivers. It continued to fight, and earn distinction as a marksman force, till the end of the campaign in October 1831.  It only lost 9 men and 1 officer during combat but about 399 officers and men succumbed to wounds or disease out of the original strength of 746. For its service, the Tsar granted the Battalion with the Saint George Flag and the text "In honour of the defeating the Polish uprising in 1831".

This wouldn’t be their only campaign. They were deployed during the Hungarian Uprising of 1849 but the rebellion had been quelled before the Battalion arrived. During the Crimean War it was first sent on guard duty at the Winter Palace in St.Petersburg before moving through the Baltics to protect the coast from invasion and raids. It ended the War in Belarus, helping to secure the border from any Austrian attempts of taking advantage of the situation.

The Finnish Guards Rifle Battalion during the 1850s had a German style Pickelhaube for a headdress. Source: Wikimedia 

Its last military campaign was during the Russo-Turkish War 1877 – 78. It was during this campaign that it gained its fame. It was deployed alongside other Imperial forces after the offensive stalled in July 1877 and more forces were needed to help break the stalemate. 870 officers and men left Helsinki on 6th September to cheers and wishes of luck by the populace, and arrived in the Bulgarian warzone on 3rd October. The Battalion, alongside the rest of the Guards' Rifle Brigade, served under Lieutenant General Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko. The Finns lead the assault against the fortress of Gorni-Dubnik. Helping to secure victory, losing  22 men as fallen, with 95 wounded, including 8 officers, 5 non-commissioned officers and five bandsmen. However their actions earned them much fame and praise from their Russian peers. It would see action in some other battles but it would be Gorni-Dubnik that the Battalion would become known for.

It would end the campaign at the Gates of Constantinople and would be subjected to a deadly  Typhoid fever epidemic which plagued it until its return home in May 1878 to jubilant crowds. It was also awarded Old Guard status from Tsar Alexander II for its heroic deeds during the campaign.

When the Finnish Army of 1881 was created, the Guards were to merge into the organization and become an all-volunteer force to a national conscripted one. However it still retained its Guards status and participated in the Guards exercises and was the only unit of the Finnish Army of 1881 with a mandate to serve outside of its borders. It survived the disbandment of the Finnish Army in 1901 and was reintegrated fully in the Imperial Russian Army but due to the 1905 Revolution and the increased hostility in Finland against service to Russia, the decision was made to disband the unit and so in 1905, after 97 years, Finland did not have a domestic military force.

The Colours of the Finnish Guards Rifle Battalion after 1831 with the commemoration to the Polish Campaign. Source: Wikimedia

The Legacy

Despite an unstable and incomplete structure, the Armies of the Grand Duchy of Finland held up well when faced with trials. They showed loyalty to the Empire and performed bravely under fire. Despite them being seen more as a secondary force, one to help keep the spirits of the population up, they stepped up when required and earned their share of honours.

Several modern Finnish units claim the heritage of the former Battalions of the Finnish Army and uphold the traditions of these units. The Guard Jaeger Regiment claims descent from the Finnish Guards Rifle Battalion, it even holds a special honorary day on 24th October to celebrate the Battle of Gorni Dubnik. The Pori Brigade keeps the traditions of 2nd Turku Finnish Rifle Battalion alive.


J.E.O. Screen, The Finnish Army, 1881 - 1901 - Training the Rifle Battalions (Finnish Historical Society 1996)
J.E.O. Screen, The Army in Finland – During the Last Decades of Swedish Rules 1770-1809 (Finnish Literature Society, 2007)
Basil Greenhill, The British Assault on Finland, 1854-1855: A Forgotten Naval War (Naval Institute Press, 1988)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

'Built upon this Rock' - The Lost Speech that helped unify Finland

On the 5th May, in the small town of Nivala, hundreds of citizens of Finland gathered outside the Town's Church, including the country's President, Sauli Niinstö and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. They were all there to celebrate the 100th anniversary of what has become known as the Reconciliation Speech. 

Part of the crowd at the Nivala Church, 5th May 2018. Source: Kaleva, Jukka-Pekka Moilanen

The Background

From late January 1918 till May of that year, Finland was torn apart by a vicious civil war that saw the country completely divided and confused. With the collapse of the Russian Empire and the subsequent Civil War raging their between various Red (Communist and Socialist elements) against various White (Monarchists and Parliamentarians) , as well as smaller other groups, Finland saw itself free for the first time in its existence but despite unifying to form a new Finnish state, the country was engulfed by a political match for power that soon broke into open warfare. 

Even though it was on the peripheral of the Eastern Front of the First World War, it was still of value to both Russia and Germany, who both put their influences into their respective sides and sent various forms of aid. Despite this though, the war remained heavily Finnish based.

On the 8th April the Battle of Tampere was over and no longer would the Reds hold the upper hand. From here it was retreat followed by retreat, with small scatterings of holdouts that quickly collapsed, for the Finnish Red forces. 5th May saw the final defeat of the Finnish Red Forces (but not the end of the Finnish Civil War as there were still several small Russian garrisons holding out in the country) at Ahvenkoski and it was on this day that the foundation for the unification of Finland was laid.

Kyösti Kallio

President Kyösti Kallio at his desk. Source: National Board of Antiquities

Born on the 10th April 1873 in the farming town of Ylivieska, Kyösti was brought up in a politically active and hard working family. He was educated not only in his birth town but also in near by Raahe and eventually moved to Oulu to study at the Lyseo (Secondary education). It was here that he became influenced by the Young Finnish Party and eventually became an active member of the organisation and its protests against the Russification of Finland. At 31 years old he was voted into the Diet of Finland which was remarkable for someone so young, he wouldn't let his young age be tempered by older heads and was known to be a very opinionated and vocal politician, especially against policies that were detrimental to the Finnish state. 

He rose in political prominence, being voted into the first parliament in 1907, being made agricultural minister in 1917, and during the Civil War he was in hiding until the liberation of Helsinki, in which he led the Senate of Helsinki.

After the Civil War he held various positions within the newly independent Finnish state, from Agricultural minister to President. He led the country during the Winter War and thus signed the 1940 Moscow Peace Treaty, in which he stated "May my hand, which is forced to sign such a paper, wither." It would not be long after that his prophesy came true, as due to failing health, his right arm became paralysed. He suffered a stroke in August and his duties passed to his Prime Minister, Risto Ryti. After a long struggle, he decided to resign from office in November and wanted to retire to his farm in Nivala. In December he attended a formal farewell ceremony at Helsinki train station, where he suffered a heart attack and died whilst the band played the Porilaisten marssi.

Taken as President Kallio goes to retirement. The farewell ceremony on the 19th Decemeber 1940 at Helsinki train station. Seconds after this photo was taken, he would suffer a heart attack that would claim his life. Source: Hugo Sundström, Wikimedia

The healing starts

Even though the war was still in effect, it was in the final stage, and almost all but the very South Eastern areas were in the hands of the Whites, the process of healing a divided and broken Finland needed to be started.

Kallio had taken a train from Helsinki to Nivala, passing through the devastated Finland (especially the heavily mauled city of Tampere). It was here that he, acting as a senator, gave a message for peace and reconciliation between Red and White. This wasn’t exactly an easy message to deliver, the senate was still suspended (it would be called again the next day, 6th May), martial law was still in effect, thousands of reds and their supporters were in prison camps and there was still violence in the streets (summary executions was not unheard off).

So what was the speech? That, in the words of President Niinistö, is a great “irony of history that the speech was not saved in its entirety for posterity”. To date there hasn’t been a single copy of the speech found, nor do any Newspapers record it. However, what has been quoted, and passed on to this day, is “We need to create a Finland where there are no Reds and Whites but only Finns who love their fatherland, citizens of the Republic of Finland who all feel themselves to be members of society and who are at home here”.

These words started the process to create an independent Finland, one united together in a common cause of national identity and pride above such petty divisions like politics. Some historians have questioned the validity of this much repeated quote due to no copies being saved, but Professor Kari Hokkanen believes it to be correct albeit that Kallio didn’t have it in written form but freely spoke it. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said at the ceremony, "Thousands of people were killed in post-war altercations and prison camps before the reconciliation policies began to be implemented in earnest. Kallio preferred a policy of mercy over revenge,...This integration effort reached its fulfillment years later, after Kallio was elected president and named both the winners and losers of the conflict to work side by side in the government,"

The relevance today

With the centenary of the Civil War, there is obvious discourse within public and academic forums about the war. Most have been of a civil disposition, with many books and articles being published taking a more middle ground approach to the war, but some have pushed a more extreme position, blaming one side or the other for the bloodshed.

President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä were both present at the ceremony this year and urged all those in Finland to respect one another regardless of views. Source: Kaleva, Jukka-Pekka Moilanen

President Niinistö stated at the ceremony, "The events which took place a hundred years ago are still of relevance for Finland today, and it is not insignificant how we account for the past. Civil war is the worst thing that can happen to a nation. Let it be a lesson to us to remember and preserve our stability at a time of turmoil in various parts of the world,". He would continue by pointing out today’s issues, especially with regards to social media and internet forums and the rise in antagonism, "I encourage you, ladies and gentlemen, to take the responsibility. Nurturing democracy is an invaluable tool in reconciling different points of view. This is a good rule of thumb: even where there is diversity and people of different backgrounds, convictions and goals, we have a right to disagree. This is something we must be able to respect, however differently we ourselves might think. This is what Kyösti Kallio urged his fellow citizens to do, to seek reconciliation, in his famous Nivala speech as well as consistently in his other actions. Let's not forget it."



The title 'built upon this rock' was chosen not only because Kallio's speech was seen as the cornerstone for building a new Finland but also because Kallio translates to rock. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Memorial Hunter - Raatisaari Prison Camp 1918

One of the many things I like to do in connection to my hobby of studying Military History is tracking down related memorials. I have done it so much that my son has taken on the habit of looking at memorials, much to the chagrin of my wife. Whenever we go to a new place, I will scour the internet looking for interesting memorials for us to visit, pay our respects and learn more about the event in connection. It is with this in mind that I thought I would write about these memorials I have come across; where they are, what is the background and other interesting facts.

So without further ado, here is the first of my Memorial Hunter posts.

1st May, also called May Day or Vappu in Finnish, is one of the biggest holidays in the Finnish calendar. It’s a day filled with celebration, parades, eating munkki (Finnish doughnuts), tippaleipä (Finnish funnel cakes) and drinking sima (mead). It is also the day that Socialists and Communists have chosen for International Workers’ Day and so throughout Finland various memorials to the Reds (Socialists and Communists of the Finnish Civil War) will be remembered with wreaths, flowers and ribbons. It was during this festive day that a memorial I had passed many times on my way to work caught my eye.

The memorial as it looked on 1st May 2018. Source: Author's collection
The Raatin punavankileirin muistomerkki, Raati Red Prisoner Camp Memorial, was created in response to Oulu City’s Council request to the Oulu Arts Council to mark the 70th anniversary of the Prison Camp’s operation in 1988. It is part of the overall attempts in Finland to help build solid relations between the two main divisions in the country, that despite years of outward unity, still displays the scars on society.

The Prison Camp

In the aftermath of the Battle of Oulu the Whites found themselves with around 850 prisoners and no where to house them. At first they were placed into various buildings around the city, like the Lyseo (Secondary School), the theater, and the State Provincial Office. However, these accommodations were not ideally suited for long term holding and so a new, centralised institution was needed. In several areas, like Raahe and Kokkola, small camps had been constructed to house Red prisoners and so it was decided to copy that idea but on a larger, more permanent scale.

Some Red Guard Prisoners at the Lyseo. Source: OUKA
To decide where to build this new prison camp was fairly easy. Raatinsaari was home to a Russian Coast Guard Station manned by troops tasked with guarding the coastal area during the First World War. Turning the barracks and station into a prison camp started on 20th March, between 40-140 prisoners were assigned to a building and the whole facility was surrounded by barbed wire.

Like in other camps across the country, treatment wasn’t of the best quality but due to the need for volunteers at the front, Oulu’s camp saw many conscripted guards. These conscripts were often described as ‘Red Hearted’ which isn’t all that surprising as Oulu was an industrialised Workers’ city at that time. Also, unlike in some camps, Oulu’s prisoners were used as labour in the area; this allowed them to have more freedom, better rations and generally better lifestyle than other prisoners elsewhere. All these things contributed to Oulu having the second lowest mortality rate out of all the camps of the Civil War.

The mortality rates of Finland’s Civil War camps are well known in Finland, some had a rate of more than 20%, but out of the around 2,100 prisoners who were housed there from its opening in March to its closing in August, only 46, 49 or 51 died (depending upon the source used). Out of this number only 9 were executed and the rest mainly succumbed to disease.

The Memorial

Jouko Toiviainen was chosen to produce the sculpture. He said he was inspired by an incident that occurred when a prisoner was hunting a frog to eat but a guard thought he was trying to escape and proceeded to shoot him. He described the memorial as a broken shell of a man on top of a slab cracked in half with something fallen from the man’s grip in the middle.  He also goes on to say that he doesn’t see heroism in the Civil War but the human tragedy during that time has touched him.

A close up. Source: Author's collection
On one half of the slab there is the text "PUNAVANKILEIRI RAATISSA 1918" which translates to Red Prison Camp Raati 1918.

The memorial is located at 65.019622, 25.461415, opposite the Sports Stadium, in front of the YMCA.

Significance Today

Even at, or even because of, the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, there is still tension surrounding the event. People still search for reconciliation and understanding and it is only in recent years through open and diverse research and discourse that we have seen the wounds start to heal. The building and maintaining of these memorials is a part of this reconciliation.


Ala-Häivälä, Kai: "Vankina valkoisten – Oulun vankileiri 1918" Suomen historian pro gradu -tutkielma (Helsingin yliopiston historian laitos, 2000)
Haapala, Pertti, Tampere 1918: A Town in the Civil War (Tampere Museums, Museum Centre Vapriikki, 2010)
Memorials to the Reds: Raatinsaari Red Prison Camp