Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Finland

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Lieutenant colonel Laaksonen and Eurasian eagle-owl chicks, Suokumaa, Finland; ca. July 1941

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Dead child on the street in Tampere, Finnish Civil War; ca. 1918

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The 1918 Finnish civil war was horrible: about 37,000 people died, most of them Reds.

The war was related to the aftermath of WWI, and to the communist revolution and civil war in the neighboring Russia. In Finland the revolutionary socialist Reds were supported by the Soviets, and the anti-socialist Whites by the German Empire.

The civil war itself lasted only 3½ months with White victory, but still after that more than 11,000 Reds or suspected Reds died in prison camps due to hunger, disease, and executions.


 

The aftermath of an execution of Social Democrat sympathizers/militiamen, Finnish Civil War, 1918:

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The picture is taken May 11th, 1918 in Västankvarn, Inkoo (Ingå).

The incidence is known as Västankvarnin teloitukset (Västankvarn’s executions). During 2-26th May the whites executed over sixty of their prisoners suspected as reds including at least three women (Tekla Åhl (35), Hilja Heino (20), and Hilda Björk (32)).

They all were sentenced to death by  Erik Grotenfelt. He also did the killings himself at first, but later it was done by a white Västnyland’s Battalion commanded by Edward Ward. (Grotenfelt committed a suicide in 1919.)


 

Most of the civil war victims can be found in a searchable online database: The registry of names of the war dead between 1914-1922


Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:

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Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.

Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.

The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.

Sources

Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.

Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.

Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.


A camouflaged road 10 km from Russian border, in Finland; June 27, 1941

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Apparently the purpose was to conceal the road from a Russian watchtower which was located at the border.


The Helsinki white guard after the “Battle of Helsinki” in 1918.

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This was during the Finnish civil war between the conservative “whites” and the socialist “reds.” The picture was probably taken after the whites, with the support of German troops, won the battle for Helsinki. (This picture might be from the parade that was held in celebration of the victory.)


Finland: The Swedish Period.

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The earliest period of Swedish colonization of Finland proper (in the area around the city of Turku) occurred at the end of the 12th century, and could be considered a part of the religious and political movement known as the Northern Crusade. The Swedish monarchs and nobles would have had numerous reasons for the effort including

•suppression of piracy in the Gulf of Finland and Aaland archipelago.
•conversion of Finnic tribes to Catholic Christianity.
•creation of markets, establishment of feifs, and access to raw materials.
•to check the influence of Novgorod, and counter the spread of the “heretical” Orthodox creed.

Indeed, the spread of Swedish language and construction of fortresses goes hand in hand with the construction of Catholic churches and cathedrals in the early period.

Skipping ahead from the 1200s up to the 1400s, Sweden joined Denmark and Norway in a union of the skandinavian kingdoms called the Union of Kalmar, which was dominated by Denmark. Under Gustav Erikson, later King Gustav I Vasa, Sweden (and Finland) left the Kalmar Union in 1523. Gustav Vasa profoundly changed the Swedish monarchy, weakening the power of the nobility and church to enhance his own power. Following a dispute with the Pope about the appointment of Bishops, Gustav allowed the spread of the Lutheran church in his kingdom. This period also saw the administration of the provinces in Finland come under the supervision of royally appointed bailiffs, rather than being administered by local Bishoprics and noble families (who tended to be Germans appointed by pre-Kalmar kings).

Following Gustav I, his sons Eric XIV and John III ruled. John originally ruled as Duke of Finland during his brother’s reign, and used his power base in Finland to depose his mentally unstable brother. John had strong catholic sympathies, and under his reign and that of his son Sigismund, Sweden would see the reintroduction of many Catholic ceremonies and the drift back towards Catholicism being the state religion.

Sigismund was troubled in that his Catholicism as well as his duties as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth put him at odds with his Swedish nobles, and he was deposed in turn in favor of Gustav I’s youngest son Charles IX. During this conflict in Sweden proper, the provinces of Finland saw what has been called the Cudgel War, where peasants rebelled against burdensome and exploitative nobles and military garrisons. Charles IX expressed support for the peasantry, but his forces were engaged fighting Sigismund in Sweden.

The period of Charles IX reign would see the lessening of the old rivalry with the Russian principalities (Muscovy was descending into the Time of Troubles) and a heightening of rivalry with Poland-Lithuania ruled by the disgruntled Sigismund who never relinquished his claim to the crown of Sweden. In fact, this period would see Russia as the playground for Polish and Swedish invasions and puppet Czars (something never mentioned in discussions of Charles XII/Napoleon/Hitler).

Charles IX was succeeded by his illustrious son Gustav Adolph, also known by his latinized name Gustavus Adolphus. Gustav Adolph’s reign saw the conquest of Skane from the Danes by the young monarch, an extended war against his cousin, Sigismund, in Prussia, and eventually Swedish intervention in the 40 years war. During this long period of war, Finnish cavalry regiments known as Hakkapeliitas made a name for themselves for their endurance and savagery. Actually, Jean Sibelius wrote a concerto about them known as the Hakkapeliita March.

At the end of Gustav Adolph’s reign, Sweden could be considered one of the “great powers” of Europe to come out of the 40 years war, along with France.

However, Swedish strength would ebb away with the reforms of Peter the Great of Russia. King Christian XII fought the Russian Czar to a standstill in the early phases of the Great Northern War in 1700, but the Swedish monarch made the drastic mistake of engaging in a long and inconclusive war with Poland while the Russians recouped their strength. The result was Russia took over the territory of Estonia, gained access to the Gulf of Finland including the site on which St Petersburg was constructed, as well as the loss of Viipuri/Vyborg, the lynchpin of the eastern defenses of Finland.

Finally, Sweden would lose the entirety of Finland in the 1808-09 Finnish War.


Why exactly did the Soviet Union go to war with Finland?

There was a lot of tension between the two countries, due to what the Finns called the Heimosodat or Kinship Wars. These were wars fought between 1918 and 1922 where areas surrounding or historically linked to Finland fought to gain independence from Russia. Volunteer soldiers from Finland itself aided this movement, and many of them were inspired by the idea of Greater Finland. Greater Finland was a nationalist idea which emphasized territorial expansion of Finland. Have a map: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Suur-Suomen_kartta.png] (The current borders of modern-day Finland and lands lost to the USSR in 1940-1944 are light blue, the rest are lands that Finland could have expanded into in the context of Greater Finland.)

Now, to the buildup to the war. As Nazi Germany expands, Soviet military planners begin to realize that any attack on the USSR would be likely to be many-pronged, and one of these prongs could be Finland. They were also concerned with the potential vulnerability of Leningrad. Thus, the Soviets attempted a rapprochement with Finland, asking for a secret military alliance, or in lieu of that, a written promise that Finland that the country would resist any German approach. They also wanted to install air and sea defenses on the island of Suursaari to guard the approach to Leningrad and Kronstadt. In return, the USSR would guarantee the integrity of Finnish borders.

The reasons that the Finns did not accept this treaty is more complex. The Finns generally distrusted the Soviets, although the Anschluss in Austria had caused a stir. However, many Finns continued to regard Germany as the only possible ally in case of trouble with Russia. A Soviet envoy had also mentioned to an earlier prime minister, Kivimaki, that, “In the case of war, the USSR could not avoid occupying Finnish territory.” The Finns accordingly responded that any treaties with the Russians would undermine Finnish sovereignty and would run counter to Finnish policy of neutrality and Scandinavian orientation.

This then leads to a long series of complex negotiation, over which the status of the Aaland islands was a key issue, although the primary intention of the Soviets was to secure the position of Leningrad. Stalin at one point took a military map, and drew, in the presence of a Finnish envoy, where the border should run, leading one of them to note ominously that “[Stalin] was obviously well oriented in the geography of the area”. Neither side is willing to give much ground, and this leads to rising hostility. The November 3rd Pravda stated bluntly that “The Soviet Union does not only have the right, but the duty, to take measures which will guarantee the security of the sea and land approaches to Leningrad”. Molotov then claimed that the Finns had fired shots upon Soviet soldiers, despite the fact the shots came from the Soviet side of the border (according to a Finnish investigation at least). This then lead to war, where Soviet troops crossed the frontier in several places.

The reasons the Soviets were so ill-prepared was largely due to the purges of the Soviet army. These had crippled the “bourgeois” officer class, and left the Soviets woefully short of the middle stage of the chain of command. For example, despite the fact that the Finns had few anti-tank weapons and insufficient training in modern anti-tank tactics, the favored Soviet armored tactic was a simple frontal charge, the weaknesses of which could be exploited easily. Had they had officers, the weakness of this strategy would probably have been realized much more quickly.

The problem of the Red Army with regards to terrain was that it was too modern. There were virtually no roads along the front, and while the Finnish soldiers could almost all ski, hardly any Soviets could. The winter was also especially cold, and while most of the units on both sides had adequate winter gear, some Soviet units certainly didn’t, and many died from frostbite at the battle of Suomussalmi. Furthermore, the Red Army lacked proper winter tents, and men had to sleep in improvised shelters. Some Soviet units had frostbite casualties as high as 10% even before crossing the Finnish border. Before the Winter War, no army had fought in such freezing conditions. In Soviet field hospitals, operations were done and limbs were amputated at −20 °C (−4 °F) while just past the canvas tent wall the temperature was −30°C.


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Finnish Defense Forces on horses in Winter – Continuation War; ca. 1942

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Men trying to put out fires from a bombing in Helsinki, July, 9th. 1941 in World War II

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Original from SA-Kuva Finnish Wartime photograph Archive


White Guards in Vasa at the beginning of the Finnish civil war; ca. 1918

These machine guns were water cooled, and that hose was to allow the steam generated in the water jacket to condense into water (as to not reveal the gun's position with a plume of steam rising into the air).

These machine guns were water cooled, and that hose was to allow the steam generated in the water jacket to condense into water (as to not reveal the gun’s position with a plume of steam rising into the air).

During the first years of the 20th century, Russia had been working on the abolition of Finland’s autonomous status. As a result, there was strong discontent in Finnish society. In 1905 Russia lost the Russo-Japanese War. This stunning and unexpected defeat led to the Russian Revolution of 1905. In Finland the unrest was expressed in the Finnish general strike of 1905. During the strike Finnish police forces were effectively disbanded, as they had been closely associated with the occupying Russian authorities. Municipal, mostly unarmed, security guards were spontaneously organised by individuals associated with the constitutional and Social Democratic parties. At first all political groups were able to work together, but towards 1906 the civil guards of large towns had become divided along party lines. The first violent clash between Red and White Guards occurred in July 1906 in Helsinki, but after the return of Finnish autonomy the moderate Social Democrats and the whole constitutional party withdrew from military activities. However, the radicalized Red Guard of Helsinki did not disband, despite an order from the Social Democratic leadership to do so, and took part in the mutiny at Viapori fortress alongside revolutionary, anti-imperial Russian soldiers. In the ensuing fighting Czarist Russian troops destroyed the Red Guard as an organisation.

The collapse of discipline in the Czarist Russian armed forces in 1917 created a power vacuum. Here, anarchist Russian sailors are photographed in Helsinki during the summer of 1917.

The February Revolution in Russia in 1917 caused the collapse of Russian political and military power in Finland. Again, the Russian-associated Finnish police were effectively disbanded, while the largely undisciplined Russian troops engaged in violence, mostly towards their own officers. During the summer of 1917 paramilitary groups were formed for protection and to preserve order. Although the founding of these “fire brigades” was often done in a non-partisan manner, they often split into two opposing factions during the autumn of 1917. The initially unarmed Red and White Guards strove to obtain weapons. The Red Guards usually were able to get arms from revolutionary Russian military units, while the White Guards got theirs from Swedish and German supporters abroad. At the same time, political tensions between socialists and non-socialists escalated. Inside the Social Democratic party, the official leadership was derailed while the executive committee of the Red Guards and the labour unions gained more power.

The Senate, led by Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, proposed a Declaration of Independence, which the Parliament adopted on December 6, 1917. Declaring independence was one thing, but exercising control over the territory was another. Svinhufvud’s “White Senate” had nothing but the White Guards to rely on as yet. There were 42,500 Russian soldiers in Finland. Although the Imperial Russian Army was slowly disintegrating and had already started to withdraw its units from Finland, the demoralized, poorly trained and undisciplined Russian military forces in the country posed a substantial challenge to Finnish authority.

In parliament the question on forming a new security force was hotly debated. On January 13, 1918, the non-socialist majority gave authorization to the Senate (Finnish cabinet) to organize a police force of the White Guard. Soon the Senate asked General Mannerheim to form a new Finnish army on the basis on the White Guard militia. In southern Karelia the White and Red Guards clashed in small-scale engagements as both sides attempted to secure the railway to St. Petersburg. During the night of January 27–28, 1918, the White Guards started to disarm and arrest the Russian garrisons in Ostrobothnia. During the night the executive committee of the Red Guards declared the Finnish Socialist Workers’ Republic in Helsinki. The Civil War of Finland had begun.

Neither the Red nor the White Guard were trained for combat. Structures had to be built in extreme haste by both parties. The White Army had a better foundation for this, as it received the Finnish Jaeger troops, some 2,000 men trained by Germany since 1915. These soldiers were able to act as instructors and officers, forming the officer and NCO corps of the new conscript army. In addition, the White side had 1,200 volunteers from Sweden, many of whom were officers), and a significant number of Finnish officers who had previously served in the imperial Russian Army but returned home after the revolution.

Although in the beginning of the war the White Guard formed the bulk of the White army, the conscript units very soon matched the White Guard units in number. These troops, which were much better disciplined and trained than the volunteer Guards, proved to be crucial for the outcome of the war. The Red side never accomplished conscription, which was one of the reasons for its demise.

After four months of bitter fighting, the Red Guards were defeated and the White Guards were recognized as one of the key agents in the victory, downplaying for political reasons the role of the German intervention units and the German-trained 2,000 Jaegers. The Civil War was portrayed as a liberation from Russian control after a 20-year-long Russification programme, with the Whites stressing the links of the Reds to the Russian Bolshevik regime. However the White victory was achieved with assistance from the Germans. German influence after the war was so strong that the independence of Finland was greatly in question until the end of World War I.

There were reparations in the aftermath of the Civil War. As the Reds had murdered some 1,100 people in their zone of control (the so-called Red terror), the Whites retaliated ruthlessly, executing some 7,370 people after the recapture of the Red areas (the so-called White terror).Approximately 4,000 Whites and 4,500 Reds were killed in action. The famine of 1918 claimed another 20,000 lives. Of those who perished, some 13,000 died in the prison camps. Because of their ruthlessness and eagerness to retaliate, the White Guards earned the title Lahtarikaarti (Butcher Guard) among the Reds.

(From Wikipedia)