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Mannerheim, Gustaf (1867 - 1951)

Marshal of Finland, President of Finland

Gustaf Mannerheim
Photo: Ovesén, The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Gustaf Mannerheim was a general in the Russian Imperial Army, an explorer and then - during and after Finland's struggle for independence - Commander-in-Chief in three wars and twice Head of State. During his own lifetime he became, alongside Sibelius, the best-known Finnish personage at home and abroad.

Gustaf Mannerheim, usually referred to in Finland simply as 'Mannerheim', was a general in the Russian Imperial Army, an explorer and then - during and after Finland's struggle for independence - Commander-in-Chief in three wars and twice Head of State. During his own lifetime he became, alongside Sibelius, the best-known Finnish personage at home and abroad. Even at an early stage in his career, he was the object of admiration and respect, a fact reflected in street names, statues and a home museum highly regarded by the public.

The admiration and respect have fluctuated with the changing times. The winning side initially regarded the Commander-in-Chief of 1918 even with the admiration due to a legendary figure; the losing side with resentment. Between 1939 and 1944 the enemy attempted to rekindle negative emotions that had already subsided - though what they achieved was more of a counterstroke. During the leftist upsurge of the 1970s, criticism of Mannerheim re-emerged. Admiration became correspondingly more marked at the time of the Marshal of Finland's death and burial, in connection with the great equestrian statue project in the late 1950s, and again in the 1980s and 1990s. Mannerheim has attracted lively interest on the part of scholars and novel and drama writers from the 1950s onwards.

Gustaf Mannerheim was born on 4 June 1867 at Louhisaari (Villnäs) Manor at Askainen north of Turku. He was the third child in the family and - as a younger son of a count - inherited the title of baron. His father, Count Carl Robert Mannerheim, and the close relative of his mother, Hedvig Charlotta Helena (Hélène) von Julin, were industrialists and businessmen, while his grandfather, appeal court president Count Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, and Carl Gustaf's father, the senator Carl Erik Mannerheim, were high-ranking officials. Identification figures among his close relatives were provided by Admiral Johan Eberhard von Schanz, who had had a distinguished career in the Far East and St Petersburg, by the explorer Professor Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, who moved to Sweden and achieved worldwide fame, and by his grandfather's Stjernvall cousins (one of whom was Aurora Karamzin), who attained success in the highest circles in St Petersburg. The beginnings of Gustaf Mannerheim's military career in St Petersburg were founded both on connections among his paternal relatives and the recommendations which they provided, and on financial assistance from his maternal relations.

His father's bankruptcy and precipitate departure from Finland, the disintegration of the family and his mother's early death left their mark on Gustaf Mannerheim's childhood and contributed to his enrolment, at the age of fifteen, at the Hamina Military College in 1882. The military career that had once been characteristic of the Finnish aristocracy had by now mostly given way to other goals in life, an example being the case of Mannerheim's father. But the rapid deterioration of the family's financial situation and Gustaf's ambitious and headstrong character made a military career precisely the right choice for him - though he was expelled from the Military College in 1886 for breaches of discipline. He then attended the Böök private grammar school in Helsinki, passing his university entrance examinations in 1887. Immediately thereafter he left for St Petersburg, where he succeeded in gaining entry to the Nikolayev Cavalry School in September 1887. He got on well at this demanding military school and was promoted to the rank of cornet in 1889. Mannerheim's goal was to gain admission to one of the elite detachments of the Imperial Guard, but initially he was assigned to a provincial garrison in Poland. After a year there - thanks to representations made to the Empress by female relatives of social standing and the financial support of an uncle - he was appointed to H. M. the Empress's Chevalier Guard, a cavalry regiment which formed part of the Imperial Life Guards. In 1893 Mannerheim was promoted to lieutenant of the guard, in 1899 to first lieutenant and in 1902 to captain. Mannerheim remained loyally devoted to the commander of the Chevalier Guard, the Empress (from 1894 Empress Dowager) Maria Feodorovna, paying courtesy calls to her in Denmark in the 1920s and keeping her photograph on a table in his drawing room in Helsinki, next to one of the Emperor Nicholas II.

Thanks to his handsome appearance and social graces, Mannerheim was given an impressive role at the coronation of the Emperor Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra in Moscow in 1896. In 1892 he wed Anastasia Arapova, daughter of a well-to-do general. The marriage, arranged by relatives, freed Mannerheim from the constant financial worries that had plagued him until then. Service in a Guard regiment required expenses on entertainment and so forth quite beyond what an officer's pay could cover. And from Miss Arapova's viewpoint the handsome and socially desirable Mannerheim was a happy choice. The couple, who had two daughters, Sophie and Anastasie, probably used French as their domestic language; Russian and German would have been spoken on the farms near Moscow and in Courland. The marriage drifted into crisis, however, and the two were divorced in practice in 1903 and later legally. However, they re-established relations in the 1930s, and on the death of his former wife, Mannerheim had an Orthodox requiem celebrated in Helsinki in 1937. Mannerheim's picture of marriage was probably influenced by the tradition of the independent, enterprising Finnish woman and especially by the model of his elder sister Sophie, who was very close to him. Anastasia Mannerheim in turn was the type of woman who had by all accounts been raised for upper-class social life, but who also exemplified religious self-sacrifice - a trait which manifested itself when she left to do humanitarian work in the Far East in the service of the Red Cross in 1904. Baroness Mannerheim later moved to France with her daughters, with whom Mannerheim renewed ties when he settled in Finland after the First World War. Sophie in particular visited Finland from time to time and learned a certain amount of Swedish. In 1919 she played the role of Consort during her father's time as Regent and also that of public honorary garland-maker for the magisters' ceremony of the University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Mannerheim was not admitted to the staff-officer academy - mainly, it would seem, because of his inadequate Russian. Instead, he specialised as an expert on horses; he bought stud stallions and special-duty horses for the army, and he attempted to maintain a stud farm himself, partly inspired by the example of his brother Johan Mannerheim, who had settled in Sweden. In 1903 he was put in charge of a display squadron and became a member of the equestrian training board of the Guard's cavalry regiments; he also won fame as a jockey. He was, however, looking for a way to advance his career. When the war with Japan broke out in 1904, he volunteered for the front and was assigned, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, to the 52nd Nyezhin Regiment of Hussars on the Manchurian front.

During the same period Mannerheim's elder brother, the bank director Count Carl Mannerheim, was deported to Sweden for anti-government political activities, and the circles to which he was aligned sought contact with Japan in order to instigate a rebellion in Finland. Other relatives also moved to Sweden, and arguments on both sides are revealed in the correspondence between family members. Mannerheim emphasised the importance for his career of participation in the war. In this way he could make up for his failure to gain admission to the staff-officer academy and at the same time alleviate the psychological and social problems caused by his divorce. At the front, Mannerheim acted with initiative and tried hard to distinguish himself, but he had to contend with the poor way in which the war was being directed and with internal quarrels in the ranks of the supreme leadership. He won the respect of his superiors, and although he did not receive the reward that he most desired, the St George Cross, he was promoted to colonel for the bravery that he showed during the Battle of Mukden, with effect from the date of the battle.

Even at this stage Mannerheim was planning a reconnaissance expedition to less well-known areas of Asia; in this he was influenced by the examples of Nordenskiöld and of Swedish and Russian explorers (Hedin, Przewalsky) as well as that of certain other officers. At the same time he calculated that a successful expedition would give him the chance to distinguish himself that he needed in order to further his career; his goal was evidently the command of a Guard regiment.

On returning from the Japanese War, Mannerheim spent time in Finland and also Sweden in 1905 - 06. As a representative of the baronial branch of his family he was present for the first time at a session - the last one - of the Finnish Estates. Mannerheim did not participate in public political debate during the session, but he did form personal ties, and he became known as a person who, if political conditions changed, might be considered - in line with earlier tradition - for a post as a senator or even as Minister State Secretary (the highest official in Finland apart from the representative of the Emperor in Finland, the governor-general). At the same time he also forged important links with academic and culturally nationalist Fennoman circles while preparing carefully for the Asia expedition, to which he had already been assigned. It is possible that the Chief of the General Staff, General Palitsyn, and his reform party wished to keep Mannerheim away from the world of political agitation in order to prevent him from becoming stigmatised and to save him for future duties. However, Palitsyn was forced to resign during Mannerheim's Asian trip. The idea of appointing Mannerheim as the assistant to the Minister State Secretary or to the post itself was in fact raised later, but the political situation did not seem to permit a solution whereby the Minister State Secretary could be accepted both by the Russian Emperor and the Finnish elites.

Mannerheim began his long expedition at Kashgar in Turkmenistan in October 1906, his goal being Peking. At the head of only a few men, he rode through areas belonging almost entirely to China. His task was to investigate these mostly uninhabited mountain and desert regions, which were of interest to Russia, China and Great Britain. As well as his scientific objectives, there were also military goals involved in achieving as complete a description as possible of the region. The way in which Mannerheim studied the customs, languages, ethnic traits and regional archaeology of the tribes that he encountered, collected objects and took photographs showed considerable scientific talent and ambition. The collection of objects went to the Finno-Ugrian Society (Suomalais-ugrilainen Seura), which later published Mannerheim's detailed journal and helped him in the preparation of a description of his travels intended for the general public; the photographic material was published in the 1990s - at the same time as public access to the collection through an Ethnographic Museum now being established in Helsinki became topical.

Mannerheim returned to St Petersburg in September 1908. The Emperor listened with interest to his report on his travels. Mannerheim had now earned a regiment of his own, but the matter dragged on until January 1909, when he attained his desired position as commander of a Guard regiment - though admittedly initially at the provincial garrison at Novominski in Poland. The Guard detachments were generally stationed in St Petersburg, but some were in Poland (and one had been in Helsinki up to 1905). The Polish front was of vital importance in preparations for a possible war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Mannerheim proved to be a successful trainer of his troops both at Novominski and after his transfer to Warsaw in 1911 as commander of H. M. the Emperor's's Guard Regiment of Uhlans. In 1911 he was promoted to major-general, and in 1912 he was appointed a member of H. M. the Emperor's Entourage, which gave him a rank equivalent to that of lieutenant-general.

In Warsaw Mannerheim spent one of the happiest periods in his life: he had been successful in his career, felt that his job was an important and pleasant one, forged close and fruitful links with the best circles of the Polish aristocracy and was able to maintain close relationships with his brothers and sisters in Finland and Sweden. He became deeply devoted to Princess Marie Lubomirska; most of his letters to her have been preserved and published. They provide posterity with an opportunity to become acquainted with Mannerheim as a refined, considerate and sensitive human being.

Most of the letters to Lubomirska were sent from the front, after the outbreak of the World War in August 1914. Mannerheim spent the whole war as a front-line commander, mostly on the fronts with Austria-Hungary and in Rumania. He was forced to spend these years in conditions that were both physically and psychologically stressful, and he experienced both successes and setbacks. After initial losses, Russia generally succeeded in holding its positions, and the war turned out to be a long one. On 18 December 1914 Mannerheim received the longed-for St George Cross for valour.

The February Revolution of 1917 had an immediate effect on the army and the war. Mannerheim did not enjoy the favour of the new government, and in September he was relieved of his duties; he was now in the reserve and trying to recover his health in Odessa. As conditions in Russia became ever more confused and after Kornilov's great offensive failed, Mannerheim began planning retirement to civilian life and a return to Finland. But in autumn 1917 the situation in Finland was also becoming increasingly chaotic, and the danger of a civil war increased when, after the collapse of the machinery of government, both Red and White voluntary Guards were established. In January 1918 Svinhufvud's bourgeois Senate and its military experts now chose Mannerheim as the commander-in-chief of the pro-government Civil Guards; Mannerheim was considered the most suitable of the many Finnish-born generals who had served or were serving in the Russian army. This assessment was no doubt based on his background and social connections, and on his political connections even to relatives who were on the opposition side. The choice did not take account of Mannerheim's basic anti-German and pro-Entente convictions, and this later led to conflict, since earlier that autumn Svinhufvud and Finland's leading bourgeois circles in general had already committed themselves to Germany and were counting on Germany's also providing a military guarantee of Finland's separation from Russia.

Mannerheim was formally appointed Commander-in-Chief on 16 January 1918 and travelled to Seinäjoki, where he set up his staff in a White stronghold situated along key communication routes and at a distance from the government, which had moved to Vaasa. He formed his staff from among Finns who had served in the Russian army, and it was strengthened by a considerable number of volunteer Swedish field officers, who were of important military and also political significance. Mannerheim did not want Germans on his staff, and before the conclusion of peace at Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918, Germany was not in any case prepared to send any soldiers to Finland. When Germany then did decide to participate in resolving the situation in Finland and sent the Baltic Division under the command of General Graf von der Goltz, Mannerheim was forced to change his strategy for political reasons.

The war began in Ostrobothnia as a 'war of liberation' with the disarming of a number of Russian garrisons. This was of vital importance not only from the viewpoint of acquiring weapons and forming a northern stronghold but also as far as the legitimisation of the whole struggle was concerned. Mannerheim's aim was now to assemble forces (conscription was introduced) and train them, and to acquire weapons from Sweden and elsewhere. As German intervention approached, he decided to conquer more speedily than he had intended an important Red stronghold, Tampere; after hard battles and great losses on both sides, he succeeded. At the same time the White army was advancing in Savo and towards the south, and the headquarters was moved to Mikkeli. Undoubtedly Mannerheim always had on his mind the possibility that sooner or later the Russian Whites would attempt, with the help of the Entente states of the West, to overthrow the Bolshevik government, and that Finland would participate in this operation. In order to emphasise the Finnish, non-German nature of the war of liberation, Mannerheim organised a great victory parade of his 'peasant army' in Helsinki on 16 May 1918: the Red government in Helsinki and its forces there had been crushed a month earlier by von der Golz and his troops, and pro-German feeling was strong in the city. Mannerheim now set himself in opposition to the Senate's pro-German political and military orientation, which was moving Finland entirely into the German sphere of influence in order to gain security against Russia and Finland's own Reds. When the Senate refused to agree to Mannerheim's demands, he left the country on 1 June 1918, convinced that the Entente would win in any case.

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 the large 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 and the legalistic, case-by-case way in which they were tried for treason.

In autumn 1918 Mannerheim held discussions in London and Paris, and when a change of government had to be undertaken in Finland after the collapse of imperial Germany, the forms of government of the years 1772 and 1789 were followed, and Mannerheim was invited to assume supreme power temporarily with the title of Valtionhoitaja (Swedish Riksföreståndare = Regent) until the question of a form of government - already of current concern in 1917 - was resolved. To support Mannerheim's position and his pro-Entente orientation, the countries concerned sent large shipments of food, which saved Finland from mass starvation; and in the spring of 1919 he succeeded in gaining recognition of Finland's independence by Great Britain and the United States and the renewal by France of the recognition which it had already agreed to grant but had then withdrawn. Mannerheim used this recognition and his State Visits to Stockholm and Copenhagen, as well as other symbolically important acts, to fundamentally consolidate Finland's new sovereign status, attempting to bind the country to the victor states France and Britain, and to Sweden. The question of Russia's future was, however, open. Mannerheim hoped that Communist rule could be overthrown there; after all, this had already happened in Hungary, for example.

The greatest issue during Mannerheim's regency was what attitude to adopt towards the attempt of Russian White forces to capture St Petersburg, a victory that would probably have led to the overthrow of the Bolshevik government. Mannerheim thought that Finland should take part in the operation, but negotiations with the Russian Whites proved difficult. The Russian Whites could not take decisions which were the prerogative of a future national assembly, nor could they guarantee Finland's independence. By committing itself to Germany, by crushing the Reds, who favoured firmer ties with Russia, and by then strengthening its sovereignty with the help of the Western powers, Finland for its part had detached itself quite clearly from Russia, regardless of how that country might be constituted in the anticipated national assembly. As border skirmishes continued on the Karelian Isthmus, especially in June 1919, activist circles attempted to induce Mannerheim to use his monarchical power in order to launch an attack. But Mannerheim refused to cooperate, because he could not find sufficient political support for the enterprise in Finland. On 17 July 1919 he confirmed the form of government that the parliament had worked out as a compromise in June. Mannerheim did not intervene directly in the debate on the constitution; but for reasons of domestic and foreign policy, his speech of 16 May 1918 had presupposed firm governmental power, and it could be justifiably assumed that he certainly would not confirm a purely parliamentary form of rule. Since the monarchical form of government proposed in the autumn had been tied to Germany, which had now been defeated, and since opting for a king could not win over any other great power as a guarantor of Finland's security, the only remaining alternative was a compromise between a monarchical and a parliamentary State - a presidential republic, which has sometimes been described as an elective monarchy. This form of government gave the president such sweeping powers of decree and other rights that these have never been fully exercised. The constitution of 1919 was created at a time of civil war in Russia and of a state of war between Finland and Russia, and it has proved its viability, especially during periods of difficulty from the viewpoint of foreign politics.

In addition to the constitution and recognition by foreign countries, Mannerheim's regency was notable for the permanent military and civil Order of Knighthood of the White Rose that he founded; as Commander-in-Chief he had in the previous year established the Order of Knighthood of the Cross of Liberty, which was re- established in 1939 as an order of military merit. The decorations for these orders were designed by the well-known artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Slightly older than Mannerheim, Gallen-Kallela had acted as one of his adjutants in 1919 and was made an honorary professor later in the same year. Gallen-Kallela also designed other state symbols for Finland, but after Mannerheim's resignation most of these were not adopted.

Under the provisions of the new constitution, a President of the Republic was elected on 25 July 1919, though the votes were cast not by an electoral college but - as an exception - by the parliament. Mannerheim received 50 votes from members of the (Conservative) National Coalition Party and the Swedish National Party; but the President of the Supreme Administrative Court, Kaarlo Juho Stshlberg - the candidate of the Agrarian Party, the Progressive Party and the Social Democrats - won 143 votes and was elected. Relations between Mannerheim and Stshlberg did not become confidential, and plans to appoint Mannerheim as commander-in-chief of the Army or as the fairly independent commander of the Civil Guards were not implemented. After this, Mannerheim retired to private life, and quite a large public fund was collected for him, thus securing his livelihood. He rented a villa owned by the Fazer family in Kaivopuisto Park and had it done up to meet his needs as someone leading the simple everyday life of a soldier - but also the requirements of a gentleman without children who, as a former head of state, had to entertain in style. During the 1920s he devoted much of his time to the Finnish Red Cross and to the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare. He founded the latter organisation in 1920 and strove within its framework to unite the nation and to heal the rifts in society created by the Civil War. He was helped by his sister and later by the internationally renowned pediatrician Arvo Ylppö, as well as many others. Mannerheim also travelled abroad on hunting and spa trips and maintained links with political and diplomatic circles. He seems to some extent to have yearned for an active life - a longing not completely satisfied by humanitarian work, minor business activities (chairman of the supervisory board of the Liittopankki Bank, a summer café at his Hanko villa), reading, concert-going and social life.

The economic and political crisis that began in 1929 made Mannerheim's status topical again, and certain groupings of the radical right wanted him to become a military dictator. He was, however, cautious with regard to the extreme-right Lapua Movement and its various groups of supporters, and he did not make any commitments; he followed developments closely, apparently preparing himself even for a possible seizure of power by Lapua supporters. In March 1931, soon after coming to power as president as a result of the period of agitation, Pehr Evind Svinhufvud appointed Mannerheim Chairman of the Defence Council and Commander-in-Chief in the event of war, thus formally reintegrating him into the governmental system. In 1933 Mannerheim was given the rank of field marshal.

Changes in the global situation from 1933 onwards altered the emphases in Finnish defence policy. The fervour over Eastern Karelia and Ingria which had persisted up to this point died down - along with the Greater Finland ideology - as Germany and the Soviet Union grew rapidly in power; there was a simultaneous decline in the relative significance of the League of Nations, which had previously been regarded as important for Finland and other small countries. Mannerheim was in involved in achieving a 'Nordic orientation', a policy which was actually agreed upon officially in 1935, but which did not provide Finland with any guarantees of security. The Nordic orientation was, however, to be of great political and psychological significance; and when war broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939, it led to a Swedish volunteer movement and to considerable humanitarian and military aid from that country, and it also bolstered the sympathy for Finland that had sprung up in Western countries.

In addition to ties with Sweden, Mannerheim assiduously cultivated relations with Great Britain in the period 1933 - 39. He represented Finland at the funeral of George V and was in contact with the Royal Air Force and the aviation industry. He maintained relations with Germany on hunting trips with Marshal Göring; but during his 70th birthday celebrations in 1937 and the 20th anniversary of the War of Liberation in 1938 - both of which were turned into great national events - he concentrated on national unity and closer relations with the Social Democrats (who were now in the government for the first time, in coalition with the Agrarian Party) rather than on links with Germany.

Despite constant pressure from Mannerheim, large sections of the army were poorly equipped in the autumn of 1939. During the Finnish-Soviet border and security negotiations, Mannerheim felt that Finland did not have the wherewithal to pursue such a tough line as that taken by the government, and he recommended agreement to territorial concessions and exchanges, several times threatening to resign. When, however, negotiations bogged down and war broke out on 30 November 1939, Mannerheim assumed the position of Commander-in-Chief and again established his headquarters at Mikkeli. He remained Commander-in-Chief until 31 December 1944, and during this period he spent most of his time at Mikkeli. Despite his age and health problems, he worked incessantly throughout the war, except for a few very short leave periods, thus setting an example to his headquarters and to the whole army and nation of the commitment demanded by the situation .

During the Winter War, the ensuing period known later as the 'Interim Peace' and the Continuation War, Mannerheim was a member of the group of four or five people that constituted the country's de facto leadership. In addition to Mannerheim, this circle included Risto Ryti, who became president in 1940, the prime ministers Johan Rangell and Edwin Linkomies, the foreign ministers Väinö Tanner, Rolf Witting and Henrik Ramsay, and General of the Infantry Rudolf Walden, who was defence minister throughout this period.

Thus in 1939 - 40 Mannerheim already exercised an important influence on the conduct of the Winter War and attempts to achieve peace. He placed strong emphasis on the fact that despite its heroic defensive victories, the army was weak and its endurance stretched to the limit; even tough peace terms must therefore be accepted - as in fact happened. The conclusion of the Winter War was followed by constant pressure from the Soviet Union, pressure resulting from the general global situation. The only possible counterweight was Germany, which was, however, in alliance with the Soviet Union. But from September 1940 onwards, Germany gradually began to take Finland under its protection with regard to the Soviet Union, and from the beginning of 1941, military contacts between the two countries' headquarters were gradually strengthened; though right up to the last moment it was uncertain whether (and when) Germany would launch a war against the Soviet Union. During this period Finland was, however, able to significantly improve its army's level of equipment. Finland's entry into the war in the spring of 1941 has attracted great interest among immediate postwar and later researchers; attempts have been made to specify at what point Finland became 'decisively' involved in preparations for Germany's war against the Soviet Union and what persons in Finland directed such preparations or were aware of them.

An important part of the Marshal's conduct of the war from 1941 to 1944 was the psychological aspect: he maintained his authority over the generals at headquarters and the commanders on the front, and as the conflict dragged on, he reduced the quarrelling and competition characteristic of wartime. The political importance of such authority was also evident in the relationship with Germany: of all the Finnish leaders, Mannerheim made the clearest demands - and was able to make them - concerning formal and actual respect for Finland's political and military independence. There was an interesting example of this when, on Mannerheim's 75th birthday on 4 June 1942, Germany's F;hrer Adolf Hitler arrived to offer his personal congratulations to Mannerheim, who had just been appointed Marshal of Finland. Mannerheim's behaviour on this occasion has been described as an exemplary combination of extending courtesy while at the same time keeping a firm grasp on one's own authority. This enabled Finland to reject Germany's demands for ultimate authority or for a formal treaty of alliance and thus to get away with the guarantee given by President Ryti in summer 1944, a guarantee that was in force for only a few weeks.

During the war Mannerheim's psychological importance and his position as a figure of national unity were highlighted in various ways - for example, by postage stamps and the fact that on his 75th birthday streets were named after him in almost all cities and towns in Finland. The Mannerheim Cross for especial heroism was created within the Order of the Cross of Liberty; there was a monetary reward attached to it. The old Marshal made several visits to the front and also appeared at various patriotic occasions, where he consoled war orphans and relatives of the fallen.

The Soviet offensive of June-July 1944 forced the Finnish army to retreat in Karelia and to withdraw to the west of Viipuri/Vyborg on the Isthmus. This led to a readiness to agree even to harsh peace terms. A precondition for peace was a change of government and the severing of ties with Germany. Mannerheim consented to this, and on 4 August 1944 he was elected President of the Republic by the Parliament. Thus began the process of making peace, the timing of which Mannerheim clearly achieved in the best possible way. Despite its military positions and air power in the Baltic states, Germany was already considered too weak to squander its energy on occupying Finland (as had happened in Rumania), and small attempts were nipped in the bud. For its part, the Soviet Union was no longer interested in a total surrender or the military conquest of Finland, since it was now concentrating its energies on the Baltic states, Poland and Germany. The Western powers and Sweden were prepared to give political and also economic support for a separate peace for Finland. And after the loss of Eastern Karelia, the Isthmus and Viipuri, the Finnish public was prepared to accept harsh peace terms which - if they had been agreed upon in spring, when the army was still undefeated at Syväri and on the southern Isthmus - would have led to a crisis of loyalty in the country and the army.

In August and September 1944, with the firm support of the Ambassador to Sweden, Georg Gripenberg, Mannerheim thus directed the peace negotiations simultaneously as president, commander-in-chief and in practice also as prime minister and foreign minister (especially after Prime Minister Antti Hackzell became paralysed in the midst of the process). Thus for a brief period Mannerheim held all power in his hands; his authority was of crucial importance in dealing with the moods of the nation and especially in managing the army. The army had to be re-oriented swiftly and in the most concrete fashion when relations with Germany and its forces in northern Finland were broken off and corresponding ties had to be created with soldiers - and soon civilian representatives - of the former enemy, the Soviet Union. Mannerheim's authority was of constant importance when the Allied Control Commission was installed in Helsinki after the interim peace settlement, and likewise when a new government of politicians formed by Juho Kusti Paasikivi replaced the short-lived presidential caretaker governments of Hackzell and Urho Castrcn in November 1944. At this point the concentration of powers that Mannerheim had held during the peace process came to an end, and despite grave misgivings, he also finally accepted a communist - Interior Minister Yrjö Leino - as a member of the new Paasikivi government. But even after this, Mannerheim in principle supported the Paasikivi government, especially in the face of right-wing suspicions, although he did not actively support the government and its new political orientation, presumably both because he had doubts about its policies and because he wished to retain the opportunity of changing the government.

A further reason for Mannerheim's diminishing role in the leadership of the State from this time on was his failing health; he travelled to Stockholm for an operation and later to Portugal for a holiday. Although Mannerheim had been elected president for an emergency period, he did not wish to resign immediately after the parliamentary elections of spring 1945, for example. This was partly because the world situation was still unclear, with the war in Europe continuing until May 1945, and partly because Mannerheim feared that he would be convicted in the war-guilt trials provided for by the interim peace treaty and now being pressed forward by the Allied Control Commission. It was, however, in the interests of both the Finns and the Soviet Union to spare Mannerheim from such a fate, and after this matter had been cleared up, he resigned in March 1946; university students showed their respect with a torchlight procession - an important gesture considering the times. The communists, too, were prepared to recognise Mannerheim's significant role in the achievement of peace.

Thereafter Mannerheim devoted himself to attending to his failing health in Stockholm and - mainly - at the Valmont sanatorium in Montreux in Switzerland. There he wrote his memoirs together with his assistants, who included General Heinrichs and Colonel Paasonen. He narrated the periods of his life to his collaborators, who then wrote them up as chapters of a future book. After this, Mannerheim revised the manuscript, sometimes making considerable alterations. When Mannerheim died on 27 January 1951 (28/1 Finnish time), the work was so nearly complete that it was possible to publish the first volume in the same year.

Mannerheim's body was brought to Finland, his coffin was placed on a lit de parade in Helsinki's Main Church (now the Cathedral), and tens of thousands of Finns filed silently past it. Mannerheim was buried at the Hietaniemi Heroes' Cemetery on 4 February 1951 with full military honours. An avenue of honour formed by reserve soldiers, students and scouts stretched through the city on a particularly cold, frosty day. For reasons of political caution, the government had decided not to participate in the mourning ceremonies. But despite this, Prime Minister Kekkonen and Foreign Minister Gartz were conspicuously present in the funeral procession. The commemorative address in the Main Church was given by Karl-August Fagerholm, the Speaker of Parliament. The fact that he was a social democrat was a remarkable symbolic indication of an idea which had manifested itself as early as the 1930s and had become reinforced during the war: the idea of the historical acceptance of a Finnish national consensus. All social groups and the press were involved in this consensus - except for the communists.

Mannerheim's funeral and the subsequent attention and respect accorded to him abroad and especially at home - emotions which were considerably strengthened by the publication of his memoirs and the opening of his home in Kaivopuisto Park as the Mannerheim Museum - marked an ideological turning point, a shift away from the 'postwar' ideological phase, with its disowning attitude towards earlier history, and a move towards an identity which united the various phases of Finnish history belonging to the Imperial and interwar periods with the postwar period, to form a single continuity.

With Mannerheim's consent, a fund had already been set up in 1937 to finance the erection of an equestrian statue - the first in Finland - in his honour. Some accused Mannerheim of vanity, but certainly what was more important was his awareness of the pressing need for symbols to unite the nation. In any case, Mannerheim had become a symbolic figure as early as 1918; he became even more of one during the 1930s and the war, and in this 'role' of his he was able to steer the development of a national identity in a direction which he considered important. His central values were Europeanism, i.e. close ties with Sweden and Western European culture, the maintenance of military preparedness and the strong national consensus essential for this - a consensus that necessitated healing the rifts caused by the White-Red conflict and caring for the health and future of young people. He opposed socialism as a doctrine and the Soviet Union as its embodiment - and likewise the nationalism which manifested itself as national socialism in Germany and ultra-Finnish jingoism at home. Regarding the language question in Finland, he was a strong advocate of a spirit of conciliation. Himself an excellent linguist and a man of wide international experience, he regarded the maintenance of international contacts at various levels as important. For him it was important to lay emphasis on foreign policy and an understanding of international power relationships rather than on internal dissension, petty politicking and legalistic thinking. During the First World War, Mannerheim learned the importance of conserving and looking after one's troops, and during Finland's wars between 1939 and 1944 (1945) he took especial care to minimise casualties, tend to the wounded and honour the fallen.

The relaunching of the equestrian statue project was due in particular to the initiative of the Helsinki University Students' Union, and it led to three results: to an increased public awareness of Mannerheim, thanks to the collection of money and the collection badge; to the statue itself, which (after a number of competitions) was sculpted by Aimo Tukiainen and unveiled amidst great celebrations on 4 June 1960; and to surplus funds, which were used, amongst other things, to purchase Mannerheim's birthplace - the historically valuable Louhisaari Manor - for the nation. Mannerheim monuments were subsequently erected in a number of other Finnish cities: in Mikkeli and Lahti, near Tampere and in Turku.

Two biographies of Mannerheim (by Kai Donner and Anni Voipio-Juvas) appeared as far back as the 1930s. After his death, a film consisting of a collage of documentary material was put together. The years 1957 to 1959 saw the publication of the first comprehensive and thoroughgoing Mannerheim biography, written by his close wartime associate, General of the Infantry Erik Heinrichs. In the 1960s the Mannerheim Foundation, which was provided for in his will and whose main function is to send Finnish officers to military colleges abroad, made the written material that it had inherited available to one of Mannerheim's relatives, the Swedish professor Stig Jägerskiöld. The really remarkable archive research undertaken by Jägerskiöld in various countries, the discoveries of letters and the interviews that he conducted finally resulted in a massive, eight-volume work. During the same period the Englishman J. E. O. Screen took up the topic of Mannerheim's Russian period, attention began to be focused on the phases of the Mannerheim cult, and Mannerheim became the subject of novels and plays (including works by Paavo Rintala and Ilmari Turja). The leftist movement of the 1970s produced criticism of Mannerheim - and perhaps even more so of the Mannerheim cult. The most notable recent Mannerheim study is Veijo Meri's psychologically perceptive biography (1988).

Matti Klinge

Translated by Roderick Fletcher


Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, born 4.6.1867 Askainen, died 27.1.1951 Lausanne. Parents: Count Carl Robert Mannerheim and Charlotta Helena (Hélène) von Julin. Wife: 1892 - 1919 Anastasie Arapova, born 1872, died 1936, wife's parents: Major-General Nikolai Arapov and Vera Kasakova. Children: Anastasie, born 1893, died 1978; Sophie, born 1895, died 1963.

© Biografiakeskus, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, PL 259, 00171 HELSINKI

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