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)

No comments:

Post a Comment