Marshal Mannerheim - A major leader for a small nationMarshal Mannerheim - A major leader for a small nation

My roots are Finnish

 

"I know You and You know me!"

Mannerheim's address to his troops at the outbreak of the winter war

 

Marshal CGE Mannerheim (1867-1951)

... Saviour, National Hero, Statesman, Humanist, Adventurer, President, Officer and Gentleman!

Much could be written about this iconic man that lead Finland's armies through no less than 4 conflicts ... and probably the superlatives will run dry halfway through the text. I will not even attempt to add more to the amounts that have already been written about him, more than to say that Mannerheim's name and his deeds will for ever by intertwined with the history of independent Finland and he will forever be my biggest Hero.

Mannerheim returned to his home country in 1917, from a disintegrating Russia, after an illustrious military career in the Tsar's Army. As Finland declared it's independence, he was immediately tasked with leading the fledgling Finnish Army. As the Red Guards, wishing to expand the Russian Revolution to Finland, overthrew the elected government in 1918 a bitter and bloody Civil War ensued. The (Government) White Forces, led by Mannerheim, had to disarm the many Russian troops still in Finland and also fight against the Red Guards who had taken over Southern Finland. Luckily, for Finland today, the White Forces prevailed against the Red Guards and all the remaining Russian forces were expelled from Finland.

After the Civil War or War of Liberation, as it was also known, Mannerheim resigned from the Army. He did a lot of diplomatic work, especially in securing international recognition for Finland as an independent nation. Apart from all this important work he was head of the Finnish Red Cross and also founded the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare. He was later appointed Chairman of the Finnish Defence Council, with the addition that he would automatically be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army in the event of war. He worked tirelessly for reconciliation and unity between the former warring parties and emerged as unifying figure for the entire Country. In 1933 he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

In 1939, war clouds gathered above Finland as the Soviet Union demanded major land accessions from the Finnish, something that Finland declined. At the age of 72 he was once again forced to shoulder the responsibility of leading the small and ill-armed but ever so resilient Finnish Army against the might of the Red Army - an army he had to face in two separate wars - the Winter War and the Continuation War - a superhuman task!

He did it so well that Finland remained a free nation after the war, in contrast to almost all others facing the Soviet Union, as most of them were imprisoned behind the iron curtain after the war. There can never be a bigger debt of gratitude owed by a nation to one of it's leaders as that of the Nation of Finland to it's Marshal - the one and only Baron (Friherre) Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.

 

Famous Mannerheim quotes

Mannerheim on his 75th BirthdayMannerheim on his 75th Birthday- (On Hitler's visit to Finland in 1942) When Hitler saw the Marshal, he ran towards him. "An officer doesn't run ..." Mannerheim is said to have remarked to his staff-officers accompanying him. "... only corporals do that."

- Questioning the front report from Taipale, after 1,000 Russians were killed in action, Mannerheim received the confirmation that over 1,000 enemy rifles had been collected and inventoried "I did not think that my men were so good, or that the Russians could be so bad."

- During a dinner with a German Liaison officer, who asked whether he dared to smoke, before the Marshal had finished his meal, the Marshal simply replied "I don't know, no one has ever tried it.'"

 

Miscellaneous "Mannerheimia"

Mannerheims speech to the troops after the Winter War

The Mannerheim Museum (Helsinki)

Louhisaaren Kartanolinna (Askainen)

Mannerheim information (Helsingin Suomalaisklubi)

 

In the footsteps of my grandfathers

Vilppula WWII memorial:
"Remember past times -
Investigate from time to time, from relatives to relations -
Ask Your parents and they will tell the stories of these (grave)stones"Vilppula WWII memorial: "Remember past times - Investigate from time to time, from relatives to relations - Ask Your parents and they will tell the stories of these (grave)stones"My family moved from Finland to Sweden in 1970, my parents having been recruited by Swedish companies in a time when industrial work force was in great shortage in a booming Sweden.

The first decades of post-war Finland were dire, having been laiden with the excessive War Reparations metered out to the country after the war. The nation had exhausted it's resources to the full honouring those commitments. The nation also grew up with a "lost generation", as so many fathers and young men were lost in the war and those who returned were scarred for the rest of their lives with wounds and/or horrific experiences, many of them simply unable to live a normal life.

The first years in Sweden proved difficult in many aspects, especially learning a completely different language and adapting to life in a foreign and sometimes completely different country and way of life, also in a strange city environment.

There was always the longing back to the Fatherland, in the back of Your mind. As the years passed the longing waned but the roots have always prevailed and have come to the fore as middle-age sets in.

I am tracing the history of my country as well as that of my grandfathers, Niilo Järvinen (Grandfather on Mother's side) and Mauno Nieminen (Grandfather on Father's side), who both served in the Finnish Army. They along with hundreds of thousands were facing the invasion of the Red Masses, attempting to eradicate Finland from the map of independent and free nations.

My grandfathers survived the wars but came home as broken men, broken by experiences we can hardly imagine. Sadly, I never got to know them as they passed away when I was too young. The spoken memories of my mother remain clear to me though. When still living at her father's house, she recalled: "Grandfather was standing by my cot, with a rifle pointing out of the window shouting ... the Russians are coming!" Having one of his countless nightmares, he was still protecting his own family against the communist invaders.

Thanks to the heroic and supernatural efforts of the Finnish soldiers, women and children of the home front - the nation was saved from ending up on the wrong side of the iron curtain. This is quite a feat considering the fact that a population of merely 4 million resisted a nation of more than 180 million and far superior resources.

 

Keeping their memory alive

Air Force memorial in my birth town of Kolho.Air Force memorial in my birth town of Kolho.In a time when people become more and more indifferent to past events I get more and more fascinated by these. History, to me, is a vital and also living aspect that has shaped nations to what they are today. Ignoring or forgetting about this is a great shame, not only as it tends to leave the lessons of the past unlearned.

A nation that cuts down on it's defence and also obliterates it's own history, risks not only repeating mistakes from the past, but also becomes a possible target for future aggression.

In the words of George Orwell: "The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history!"

Had it not been for the heroic resistance of our ancestors, Finland would have suffered the same horrible fate as so many eastern European nations did, by ending up under soviet rule - and would not be as advanced and democratic a nation as it is today.

On a personal note, I probably wouldn't even be writing these lines at all.

With the horrendous Katyn-massacre of Polish officers in mind and also the occupation of the Baltic countries, it is not hard to believe that both grandfathers would have perished at the hands of the NKVD-butchers had the communist invaders succeeded. Death camps for the Finnish officer cadre had already been established inside the USSR, near Katyn. Especially "incriminating" for my grandfather (on father's side) was that he was a member of the Civil Guard.

As for the destiny of the rest of the Finnish people the quote from Stalin really says it all: He was known to have ranted to his generals during the winter war when the Soviet advance had stalled and casualty figures rose to embarrasing levels: "... after all, there are less people in all of Finland than in Leningrad, therefore they can all be moved!". No prizes for guessing WHERE they were supposed to have been moved!

 

Finnish uniform and equipment

The Lynx badge as used by the 5.Div (1941-44)The Lynx badge as used by the 5.Div (1941-44)

The very first Finnish uniform system was established with the m/19. It resembled the german WWI design. This was slightly modified between the wars until the m/36 was adopted, just before the outbreak of WWII.

The general appearance of the Finnish WWII soldier does give a very spartan outlook. The many different shades of grey combined with the lack of uniform equipment makes them look a truly mixed bunch, especially in comparison with the impressive German soldiers in their Hugo Boss designed outfits, but this will always be the proudest uniform in my collection - as it is shrouded in glory!

The uniform is very much modeled on a tunic that was brought from Germany in 1934. This design was used when creating the Finnish uniform system that was established in 1936. The woollen m/36 Winter Tunic was almost identical in cut and design to the German whereas the m/36 Summer Tunic completely different, being a very basic cotton/denim tunic. The troops wore woollen breeches while the hose became more prominent in the continuation war. Ranks and other insignia were completely of Finnish origin, some of which was designed by the well known Finnish painter - Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

During the winter there was also the m/36 Great Coat, also based on the German versions with slight differences ... and above all the winter camouflage covers that were so effective during the winter war, a lession the Red Army picked up very quickly.

For headwear the m/36 Field Cap (based on the Austrian WWI design) was standard issue, but there were also other options like the m/39 Side Cap  (mostly staff personnel) and the m/39 Winter Fur Cap. The cap was adorned with the National Cockade for EM and NCO's whereas the officers had button with a Rampant Lion on red enamel backing. As for helmets the Finnish had the biggest variety, probably in the history of time, as they had to use whatever they got hold of. Among these can be mentioned the German m/17, Swedish m/26 and m/37, Italian m/33, Czechoslovakian m/34, German m/35 and Hungarian m/38 versions.

German style boots were utilised throughout the wars, also with the very practical civilian made "lapikkaat" (Laplander boots) in use during winter.

At the outbreak of the Winter War there were not uniforms to all men called into arms, some were issued only with a national cockade, an ammunition belt and a standard infantry rifle. Some luckier members of the Civil Guards had their khaki/grey m/27 Civil Guard uniforms to wear at the front.

The main armament of the Finnish soldier was the standard infantry rifle m/27 "Pystykorva" and his personal knife, used mainly as a tool but also as a deadly weapon. A few lucky soldiers were supplied with the outstanding KP/31 "Suomi" Sub machinegun ... a most reliable and well-manufactured piece of weaponry that the Soviets duly copied in their later PPSh-41.

Other personal equipment were an ammunition belt with German style pouches and buckle, rucksack, a plain blanket, bread-bag with mess-tin, water bottle, fork/knife, foot wraps and woollen jumper. Many soldiers also used civilian clothing under their tunics for warmth.

An important item was also the identity disc, they differed from the winter war to the continuation war.

More information and above all pictures can be found on our 5 Ilves Div FaceBook-site: