Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (June 4, 1867 – January 28, 1951) was Finland's reputed Commander-in-Chief and later President of Finland (1944 – 1946).
Mannerheim was born in Louhisaari Castle in Askainen to a Finland-Swedish family of Dutch ancestry that had been ennobled in 1768. He was related to Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. He was the third child in a comital family in which the younger sons inherited the title of Baron. Besides his mother tongue, Swedish, Mannerheim also spoke Finnish, Russian, French, German and English.
Mannerheim's great-grandfather, Count Carl Erik Mannerheim, had held a number of offices in Finland's civil service during the early years of the semi-autonomous Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, including membership of the Senate. Mannerheim's father, Count Carl Robert, was a poet, writer and businessman. His businesses were not successful though, and he eventually became bankrupt. He later moved to Paris and lived the life of an artist.
On December 5, 2004, Mannerheim won the Suuret Suomalaiset programme and was voted as the greatest Finnish person of all time.
A Cavalry Officer in the Imperial Russian Army
Due to the worsened economic situation of the family, Mannerheim was sent to the Military College in Hamina in 1882, at the age of 15. He was later expelled for breaches of discipline in 1886. He then attended private grammar school in Helsinki, passing his university entrance examinations in 1887. Immediately after that he left for Saint Petersburg, where he was accepted into the Nikolai Cavalry School. At that time Finland was a Grand Duchy in personal union with Russia. He graduated in 1889, was promoted to the rank of Cornet, and although he was initially stationed at a cavalry garrison in Poland, he was eventually accepted into the chevalier guard cavalry regiment that was part of the Russian Empress' bodyguard. His family arranged him to be married to Anastasie Arapova, daughter of a Russian general, for economic reasons. They had two daughters, Sophie and Anastasie. The marriage ended in an unofficial separation in 1902 and in a formal divorce in 1919.
Mannerheim was not admitted to the staff-officer academy - mainly because of his inadequate Russian. Instead, he specialised as an expert on horses, buying stud stallions and special duty horses for the army. In 1903 he was put in charge of a display squadron and became a member of the equestrian training board of the cavalry regiments.
Mannerheim volunteered for the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and was stationed at the 52nd Njzhin hussar regiment in Manchuria with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was promoted to colonel for his bravery in the battle of Mukden.
On returning from the war, Mannerheim spent time in Finland and Sweden 1905-1906. As a representative of the baronial branch of his family, he was present as a members of the Estate of Nobility in the last session of the Diet of Finland.
He also led an expedition to China, travelling from Tashkent to Kashgar from July to October 1906, with the French scientist Paul Pelliot. Shortly thereafter, he led a separate expedition into China until the autumn of 1908. The expedition had strategic purposes, in addition to anthropological, because these areas in northern China were a potential point of crisis between Russia, China and even the United Kingdom (see: The Great Game). After the trip, he was in 1909 given a position as a regimental commander in Novominski , Poland. Mannerheim was promoted to major general in April 1911 and in 1912 he became a part of Imperial entourage.
In World War I, Mannerheim served as a cavalry commander at the Austro-Hungarian and Romanian fronts. At the beginning of the war in August 1914 he commanded a Guards Cavalry Brigade in Warsaw. After distinguishing himself in combat against the Austro-Hungarian forces, Mannerheim was in December 1914 awarded one of the highest honours of Imperial Russia, St. George's Cross, 4th class. In 1915 Mannerheim rose to command the 12th Cavalry Division and, after the February Revolution of 1917 , he took the command of the 6th Cavalry Corps in the summer of 1917. Already in April 1917 Mannerheim had been promoted to lieutenant general (the promotion was backdated to February 1915 ). However, Mannerheim fell out of favor with the new government, and in September was relieved of his duties, when in sick leave after falling from his horse. He was now in the reserve and trying to recover his health in Odessa. He began planning retirement to civilian life and a return to Finland.
From Civil-War Victor to Head of State
In January 1918 the Senate of the newly independent Finland, under its chairman Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, appointed Mannerheim as Commander-in-Chief of Finland's almost nonexistent army, which was then not much more than a number of locally set up White Guards. His mission was the defence of the Government during the Civil War in Finland. He accepted the position despite of his misgivings about the German influences in the government. He founded his headquarters in Seinäjoki and begun to disarm the remaining Russian garrisons and their 42,500 troops. During the ensuing Civil War (or War of Liberty, as it was known among the 'Whites') in March 1918 , Mannerheim was promoted to general of cavalry (ratsuväenkenraali).
Dismayed at the increasing German influence Mannerheim left the country temporarily in June 1918. Mannerheim was thus out of the country during the last, fateful period of the civil war, a time of mass deaths as a result of disease and starvation in prison camps and of lengthy trials. During the war he had already tried to stop the 'White terror' and had opposed the mass imprisonment of Reds.
In autumn 1918, Mannerheim held discussions in London and Paris. In September he was summoned back from Paris to become Regent. There were even monarchists who wanted to make him Finland's king. After the elected Väinö I of Finland had aroused the victorious Allies' suspicions, and renounced the throne, Mannerheim secured recognition of the independent Finland from the United Kingdom and USA. He also requested and received food aid from overseas to avoid famine. Although he was an ardent anti-Bolshevik, he eventually refused an alliance with Russian White generals because they would not have recognized Finnish independence. In 1919 he lost a presidential election in the Parliament to Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg and retreated from public life.
Between the Wars
In the interwar years, his pursuits mere mainly humanitarian. He supported the Finnish Red Cross and founded the Mannerheim's Children's Foundation. In 1929 he refused right-wing radicals plea to become a de facto military dictator, although he did express some support of the right-wing semi-fascist Lapua Movement. After President Pehr Evind Svinhufvud was elected 1931, he appointed Mannerheim as chairman of Finland's Defence Council. At the same time Mannerheim received the written promise that in the event of a war, he would become the Commander-in-Chief (Svinhufvud's successor Kyösti Kallio renewed this promise in 1937). In 1933 he received the honorary title of field marshal (sotamarsalkka) -- the only person in the history of independent Finland to have been so honored. He supported Finland's military industry and sought (in vain) to establish a military defence union with Sweden. However, rearming the Finnish army did not occur as swiftly or as well as he hoped and he was not enthusiastic about a war. He had many strifes with various Cabinets, and signed numerous letters of resignation.
When negotiations with the Soviet Union failed in 1939, Mannerheim on October 17 again withdrew his resignation, thereby again accepting the position as Commander-in-Chief of Finland's army in case of war. He reorganized his headquarters in Mikkeli. Officially he became the Commander-in-Chief after the Soviet attack on November 30. His strategic aide was Lieutenant General Aksel Airo.
Mannerheim spent most of the Winter War and Continuation War in his Mikkeli headquarters but made many visits to the front. Between the wars, he held on to the authority as Commander-in-Chief, which according to the letter of law should have gone back to the presidents (Kyösti Kallio and Risto Ryti) after the Moscow Peace, March 12, 1940.
In the Continuation War, Mannerheim kept relations with Nazi Germany's government as formal as possible and successfully opposed their proposals for a treaty of alliance. Mannerheim also firmly refused to let his troops contribute to the siege of Leningrad.
Mannerheim's 75th birthday on June 4, 1942, was a major occasion. The government granted him the unique title of Marshal of Finland, and a surprise visit by Adolf Hitler caused some embarrassment.
Mannerheim's record as the Finnish Commander-in-Chief is not easy to assess. At the time, and even to this day, Mannerheim's immense prestige made criticism of his conduct of war almost tantamount to treason (especially as the criticism often came from Soviet sources and Finnish communists). It is perhaps easiest to divide Mannerheim's role in two: Mannerheim the warlord and Mannerheim the politician.
As a warlord Mannerheim was a mixed success. Under his leadership the Finnish Defense Forces fought a generally successful war that in the end saved Finland from Soviet occupation. Mannerheim took great care not to waste the lives of his soldiers, and avoided unnecessary risks. Perhaps his greatest shortcoming was his unwillingness to delegate. While he had a number of very able subordinates, foremost among them Lieutenant General Aksel Airo, Mannerheim insisted that all the department heads in the Finnish General Headquarters report directly to him, leaving Chief of General Staff General of Infantry Erik Heinrichs little to do. Indeed, Mannerheim said that he did not want to be 'one man's prisoner'. Mannerheim overwhelmed himself with work, and as a result coordination between the different departments in the General Headquarters suffered. It has been suggested that one reason why the Soviet offensive in Karelian Isthmus in June 1944 took Finns by surprise, was that Mannerheim was unable to see the forest for the trees. There was no other authority save Mannerheim who could collect all the intelligence and turn it into operational directives.
On the other hand it can be argued that Mannerheim excelled in politics. Even though a soldier, and as such not supposed to take part in politics, Mannerheim could not but be a highly political figure. As soon as it around 1942 became increasingly clear that Germany would not necessarily vanquish the Soviet Union, Mannerheim was kept, as it were, in reserve, in order to potentially take the leadership of the nation and lead it to peace. Mannerheim played this role very skilfully, he had a clear vision how Finland should conduct its war in the sensitive situation when the war's ultimate end was unclear. He knew how to treat the Germans to secure as much military support as possible without involving Finland in any binding treaties. This policy reached its logical conclusion when Mannerheim succeeded Risto Ryti as the President of the Republic in August 1944.
End of the war and a brief presidency
In the moment when Germany was deemed sufficiently weakened, and USSR's summer offensive was fought to standstill (thanks to President Risto Ryti's agreement with the Germans in June 1944), Finland's leaders saw a chance to reach a peace with the Soviet Union. Risto Ryti resigned, and Mannerheim was elected as president on August 4, 1944, mainly because he was the only one with sufficient prestige both internationally and domestically. After a month the Continuation War was concluded on harsh terms, but ultimately far less harsh than those imposed on the other states in the power of USSR. Finland retained its sovereignty; the territorial losses were limited, but the war reparations were heavy. Finland also had to fight the Lapland War against the withdrawing German troops in the north, and at the same time demobilize her army.
Mannerheim resigned for reasons of declining health in March 1946. Even Finnish communists, his enemies in 1918, recognized his peacemaking efforts. The Parliament of Finland awarded him with the title Marshal of Finland. He was the first and only person to receive the title.
Mannerheim was succeeded by his conservative but Russophilic Prime Minister, Juho Kusti Paasikivi.
Mannerheim retired to the Valmont sanatorium in Montreux, Switzerland to write his memoirs. He died on January 28, 1951 in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was buried in the Hietaniemi cemetery in Finland in a state funeral with full military honors, and today retains respect as one of Finland's greatest statesmen.
- C.G.E. Mannerheim in the history of Finland http://www.mannerheim.fi/
- Mikkeli Headquarters Museum http://www.mikkeli.fi/fi/museot/english/02_the_headquarters_museum/
- Mannerheim League for Child Welfare http://www.mll.fi/in_english/
- The Mannerheim Cross and Knights http://www.mikkeli.fi/fi/museot/english/02_the_headquarters_museum/02_mannerheim
Last updated: 02-18-2005 23:30:29
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17