Carl Mannerheim

Carl Mannerheim

Carl Mannerheim was born on the family estate in Turka, Finland on 4th June 1867. He became a cavalry officer in the Russian Army in 1889 and later married the daughter of a Russian general.

Mannerheim fought in the First World War against the German Army. However, after the Russian Revolution, he fought against the Red Army and on 29th April 1918 led Finnish forces to victory at the Battle of Viborg.

Russia lost all control over Finland after the new Bolshevik Government signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. Mannerheim became regent of Finland and held office until a republic was established. Mannerheim was known to be an opponent of democracy and parliamentary government and unsurprisingly failed to win election as president in July 1919.

Mannerheim retired from the army but in 1931 was recalled as head of the defence council. Afraid of being invaded by the Red Army, he organised the construction of the Mannerheim Line across the Karelian Isthmus.

In the late 1930s Joseph Stalin became concerned about the Soviet Union being invaded from the West. Stalin argued that Leningrad was only thirty-two kilometres from the Finnish border and its 3.5 million population, were vulnerable to artillery fire from Nazi Germany.

After attempts to negotiate the stationing of Soviet troops in Finland failed, Joseph Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade on 30th November 1939. Adolf Hitler, who also had designs on Finland, had under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, was forced to standby and watch the Soviet Union build up its Baltic defences.

Although the advance of Soviet troops was halted at the Mannheim Line the Finns lost more that 20 per cent of their 200,000 soldiers in three months. In March 1940 the Finnish government signed a peace treaty in Moscow that surrendered 16,000 square miles of territory to the Soviet Union.

When Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to invade the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941, Mannerheim led the Finnish Army that retook the Karelian Isthmus. The following year Mannerheim, now aged 75, became a marshal of Finland.

The Red Army launched a counter-offensive and penetrated the Mannerheim Line taking Viipuri on 20th June 1944. Finnish defences were gradually overwhelmed and on 4th September 1944, Mannerheim, now president of Finland, was forced to sign a peace treaty with Joseph Stalin.

Mannerheim resigned from office on 4th March 1946. He moved to Switzerland where he died on 27th January 1951. His autobiography, Memoirs of Marshal Mannerheim, was published in 1953.

Carl Mannerheim, Adolf Hitler and Risto Ryti on 6th June 1942.
Carl Mannerheim, Adolf Hitler and Risto Ryti on 6th June 1942.

Primary Sources

(1) Manchester Guardian (1st December, 1939)

Russia invaded Finland early yesterday morning, and at once began to try to enforce submission by air attacks.

The Finnish Government resigned early this morning. It is reported from Copenhagen that Dr. Tanner, the Finnish Finance Minister, who was one of the Finnish delegates to Moscow, will form a new Government to open negotiations with Russia.

News of the resignation came after the Russian threat, broadcast from Moscow, that unless Finland surrendered by three o'clock this morning Helsinki would be completely destroyed.

A representative of the United States Legation in Helsinki sent the information of the Government's resignation to the American Embassy in Moscow, which is expected to communicate with the Kremlin.

M. Erkko, the Finnish Foreign Minster, in a broadcast to the United States last night, said "We remain ready to work for a solution of the dispute by conciliation."

The Soviet Government yesterday rejected the United States' offer of its good offices in settling the dispute; the Soviet Government did not think they were needed. Finland accepted the offer.

The invasion of Finland without any declaration of war has cause the greatest indignation throughout the world, especially in other Scandinavian countries and in the United States, Italy, and Spain. In the House of Commons yesterday Mr. Chamberlain made a statement on the invasion.

(2) Dr. Tomas Ries, Lessons of the Winter War, National Defence College, Finland (2001)

The Winter War erupted on 30 November 1939, when Stalin unleashed his Red Army in an all-out assault against Finland. In August that year Stalin and Hitler had divided eastern Europe between them in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, leaving Finland isolated in the Soviet sphere of influence. During the fall Stalin demanded that Finland cede key parts of the country to the USSR. When Finland refused to meet all his demands Stalin unleashed his armies.

In the winter dawn of 30 November four Soviet Armies with 23 divisions - some 460,000 men with over 2,000 tanks - began advancing across the length of Finland's 1,200 km long eastern border. Their objective was to occupy the entire territory of Finland by the end of the year, installing Moscow's puppet 'Terijoki Government' in Helsinki, and establishing a new 'Democratic Republic of Finland'. Their troops were issued with detailed written warnings not to cross into Sweden once they had reached Finland's western border, and the 7. Army included a military band for the victory parade in Helsinki.

Few at the time expected the tiny Finnish nation of 3.6 million to survive. But despite the odds Finland reacted with desperate determination. On the one hand the country was determined to fight, and the full field army of some 160,000 men had been mobilized and sent eastwards into position along the front during the fall. On the other hand Finland also was grimly prepared for the worst, and began sending her national treasure - her children - to safety in Sweden, to cover the possibility of a Soviet victory and Stalin's national extermination programmes. Leaving at night from blacked out harbours along Finland's western coast, in the gaps between wailing sirens warning of Soviet bombers, none of the thousands of departing children or their parents remaining behind knew whether they would see each other again.

(3) Manchester Guardian (2nd August, 1944)

It is officially announced from Helsinki that President Ryti has resigned and that he has been succeeded by Marshal Mannerheim.

Mannerheim was appointed by decree and not elected, as is customary. Linkomies, the Premier, moved in Parliament that Marshal Mannerheim should be decreed as Finnish President. This decree also provided that what was called "a great burden of functions on the shoulder of the President" (Mannerheim is 77) should be transferred to the Premier.

A delegation from the "peace opposition" asked Mannerheim to assume leadership of the peace movement, according to a usually reliable Swedish source. They said that a move towards peace would faithfully represent the views of the majority of the country. The delegation reminded him that the recent pact with Germany was made on the personal initiative of Ryti, and that if he resigned it would not be incompatible with Finland's honour to denounce the pact.

Mannerheim held no office in the administration and thus had no responsibility for the treaty keeping Finland in the war which Ribbentrop negotiated with Ryti two months ago. The treaty was never submitted to Parliament.