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.