Monday, November 25, 2013

Gustaf Mannerheim – the Greatest Finn of All Time?

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951) was a legendary Finnish
military leader and statesman.

Every nation needs its heroes and myths, the great men and women of the history. We Finns have one great person above all. In 2004, Gustaf Mannerheim was voted the greatest Finnish person of all time in the Great Finns ("Suuret suomalaiset") contest. Who was this man and what did he do? I want to introduce Mr. Mannerheim to my friends around the world. Welcome to the journey to the Finnish history!

Baron Gustaf Mannerheim is a fascinating, even mythical, figure. He served as the military leader of the "Whites" in the Finnish Civil War, the Regent of Finland (1918-1919), the Commander-in-Chief of Finland's Defence Forces during World War II, the Marshal of Finland, and the sixth President of Finland (1944-1946). Besides his mother tongue, Swedish, Mannerheim learned to speak Finnish, Russian, French, German and English. He also spoke Polish and Portuguese and understood some Mandarin Chinese.

Mannerheim was an officer and a gentleman, a soldier and a war hero, a skillful politician and a diplomatic statesman, a patriot, but never a nationalist. In addition to that, he was an adventurous explorer, a warm-hearted supporter of humanitarian causes, a big-game hunter, a well-travelled cosmopolitan and a generous host in his own home. He possessed one quality common to all great men, an immense will-power that carried him through all the difficult times.

I have to say, the more I learn about Mannerheim, the more I respect him. It is fair to say that Mannerheim saved Finland three times: in 1918, in 1940 and in 1944 – always during wartime. Even Stalin respected and admired Marshal Mannerheim. Stalin told a Finnish delegation in Moscow in 1947 that the Finns owe much to their old Marshal. Thanks to Mannerheim, Finland was not occupied.

Mannerheim is a controversial but mostly loved person. Some people (for example communists) hate him and say that he was a fascist and a friend of Adolf Hitler's. That is a treacherous lie. In fact, Mannerheim was a monarchist and he hated Nazism and "the German barbarism". However, during World War II, Finland needed Germany's assistance against the Soviet Union. Germany was Finland's only "ally" or brother-in-arms in that situation, and the Germans also needed Finland when they started their Operation Barbarossa in 1941. It was a "relationship of mutual exploitation".

Anastasia Arapova, a Russian wife of Mannerheim.

Anastasie and Sophie, daughters of Anastasia and Mannerheim.

Youth in Russia

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was born on June 4th 1867 at Askainen in Finland. He served 30 years in the Imperial Russian Army (1887-1917). At the time, from 1809 to 1917, Finland was a nominally autonomous part of the Russian Empire. It was called The Grand Duchy of Finland. Mannerheim received his military training at the Nikolaevski Cavalry School in St. Petersburg.

During the Russian years of Mannerheim, many remarkable things happened to him, including service in various regiments of the Imperial Guards, marriage with a noble Russian lady called Anastasia Arapova (Анастасия Николаевна Арапова) in 1892, participation in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, an extended reconnaissance journey across Asia and China on horseback in 1906-1908, and the First World War.

Mannerheim and Anastasia had two daughters, Anastasie and Sophie. Both were born in St. Petersburg, Russia. The third child, a son, was stillborn. This tragedy probably destroyed the marriage once and for all. Mannerheim separated from Anastasia Arapova in 1902, and they divorced in 1919. Mannerheim never married again. Anastasia died in Paris in 1936.

Mannerheim loved Russia but he hated Bolshevism (communism). He said, "the Bolsheviks destroyed the Russia I loved". After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, General Mannerheim returned to Finland.

Mannerheim himself summed up his Russian period in the following words in his memoirs: "...and when I looked back on that time that I had spent in the uniform of the Tsar I had to admit with gratitude that my expectations had been totally fulfilled. I had entered higher circles and enjoyed broader perspectives than I could ever have done in Finland in those last decades of the 19th century. Each stage in my military career had been extremely rewarding, and to cap it all I had had the good fortune to belong to, and even to command, an elite force that had good officers and an excellent esprit de corps [the morale of a group]. The act of leading such troops, in peace and war, had given me the utmost satisfaction. I had seen much that was of interest on two continents." (Otava 1951. Part I, pp. 236-237.)

After the October Revolution in Russia, the Finnish government declared independence on December 6th 1917. The next year, a horrible Civil War broke out in Finland.

Mannerheim at Aksu in China in 1907. He was also an adventurous explorer. His Chinese
name was 马达汉 (Ma Dahan, 'The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds').

Mannerheim, the "White General" and the Commander-in-Chief (fourth from the left),
and other officers in Seinäjoki in spring 1918. During the Finnish Civil War, the headquarters
of the White Army operated in Seinäjoki longer than in any other location, for almost two
months. The headquarters were located in a train at Seinäjoki railway station.

 Mannerheim in his headquarters (a railway carriage). A lifelike wax figure in the museum.
This is my favorite room in my current workplace. By the way, Mannerheim was a
 tall man, about 194 cm. Photo by Teisuka (November 24, 2013).

White Knight of Finland

The Finnish Civil War was fought between the forces of the Social Democrats led by the People's Deputation of Finland, commonly called the "Reds", and the forces of the non-socialist, conservative-led Senate, commonly called the "Whites". In January 1918, General Mannerheim was appointed supreme commander of the White Guards. The Red Guards refused to recognise the title, and decided to establish a military authority of their own.

General Mannerheim located his headquarters in Vaasa. From Vaasa, the headquarters moved to Seinäjoki, and later further south. It was an ugly and bloody war, as only civil war can be. During the war, the White Army and the Red Guards both perpetrated acts of terror. 37 000 people died. It was a terrible national tragedy for the young nation. Finally, the White Army (the legitimate government forces) won the war in May 1918.

After the Civil War, Mannerheim was the chairman of the National Defence Committee from 1931 until the outbreak of the war, and he was the Regent of Finland in 1919 and the President of Finland from 1944 to 1946. The 1920s was the only era when he was without any public office. In 1920, he founded General Mannerheim's Child Welfare Association, with the aim of improving the health of the nation's children over the social boundaries that had emerged more prominently than ever as a result of the Civil War.

In 1921, Mannerheim also became the chairman of the Finnish Red Cross, a position which he held for the next 30 years. The operations of the organisation that similarly spanned all social boundaries was very close to his heart and he devoted all his energy to it. He was still destined to serve as the supreme commander of the Finnish Armed Forces in two wars with the Soviet Union, the Winter War of 1939-1940, and the Continuation War of 1941-1944.

Mannerheim was the General of the Cavalry, and he
loved horses throughout his life.

Mannerheim – the Marshal of Finland.

"With Pure Arms"

Of course, Mannerheim wasn't perfect human and he also made some mistakes. We must still realize that during World War II, he was an old guy already: over 70 years old. At that time, Mannerheim's "right hand" was the Lieutenant General Aksel Airo (1898-1985), a main strategic planner during the Winter War and the Continuation War. Airo was the virtual second-in-command of the Finnish Army under Field Marshal Mannerheim.

One more thing about World War II: The Finnish Army didn't take part in the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). It never shot artillery fire at Leningrad nor did it bomb the city. Mannerheim refused the offers of the Germans. Finland didn't even cut supply lines of the city. I think Mannerheim didn't want to participate in the destruction of his former hometown.

Mannerheim's Latin motto was: "Candida pro causa ense candido" (With pure arms for a pure cause). This sums up the ideal towards which he strove in everything that he did.

After leaving Presidency in 1946, Mannerheim spent his last years in quiet retirement, the summers in Finland and the winters in Switzerland. He died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on January 28th 1951, at the age of 83. He was buried with full honors in Helsinki, Finland, on February 4th.

Innumerable books have been written about Mannerheim. If you want to read one good book, I recommend the book called Mannerheim by  J. E. O. Screen (2000). Screen was a British historian who had an objective attitude towards Mannerheim.

museum assistant


  • Mannerheim, Muistelmat [Memoirs] (1951)
  • Pekka Nieminen, Päämaja Seinäjoella 1918 [The Headquarters in Seinäjoki in 1918] (2013)
  • J. E. O. Screen, Mannerheim (2000)
  • Paavo Suoninen, Mannerheim – suurin suomalainen [Mannerheim – the Greatest Finn] (2007)
  • The Mannerheim Museum Website, The Marshal of Finland
  • Леонид Власов, «Маннергейм в Санкт-Петербург 1887-1904» [Leonid Vlasov, Mannerheim in Saint Petersburg 1887-1904] (1994)
  • Wikipedia articles (Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, The Finnish Civil War, The Continuation War, The Winter War, etc.)

The Soviet propaganda poster from 1940. This poster claims
that Mannerheim is a murderer, an executioner of the working
class, a minion of the "Bloody Nicholas" (Russian Tsar)  and
so on. Not so nice nicknames, but the communists hated
Mannerheim – and he hated communism.

The White General covered in snow. The world's first "not-abstract"
Mannerheim statue is in Seinäjoki. The statue is designed by Lauri
Leppänen, unveiled in 1955. Photo by Teisuka (November 24, 2013).


  1. Hi, Teisuka! Thank you for informative and interesting article! Mannerheim seems to be a wise leader and statesman. And I love such old photos with portraits, it usually looks very majestic. In my memory his name is closly connected with a defensive fortification line during the winter war - The Mannerheim Line. That is my recollection of school history lessons :) By the way, I am 3 cm taller than Mannerheim :)

    Blessings from snow-covered Moscow,


    1. Hi Victor,

      You're welcome, and I thank you for visiting and giving a good feedback. Большое спасибо! Glad to hear Moscow has been also covered by snow. Yes, the Winter War and the Mannerheim Line (a defensive fortification line on the Karelian Isthmus) - that is a legendary combination. It is nice to hear you also know them. Well, I know your historical knowledge is extensive. You are 3 cm taller than Mannerheim? Oh no, my Russian friend is greater than our great man! Haha. Just kidding. :-D

      Blessings and all the best to you, my friend! :)

      Greetings from rainy Finland,


  2. Hi Teisuka,
    What a well-written article! Thank you for taking us through this fascinating journey of Finnish history. I learned a lot from your article and got a better idea about the war periods in Finland. To me, Finland has always been a peaceful nation. So it was a bit surprise to me to learn that the Finnish civil war was actually quite bloody.

    It seems that Mannerheim did have an amazing life. Not only was he a hero with a lot of adventures, but also he was so talented, especially in learning languages. So he even could understand some Mandarin Chinese! He was just like a genius. -:)

    I really like the pictures you took at the museum, especially the life-size was figure of Mannerheim. He was really tall! It looks like you're taking full advantage of your job. Ha ha...I'm glad that you've enjoyed your job and at the same time have learned new things on a daily basis. It sounds like a dream job to you. -:)

    Thank you again for the great blog. Hope everything is going well for you now, my friend. It will be the thanksgiving holiday in my part of the world tomorrow, and I will be out of New York City for about two days. So for the next two or three days, I might be offline. The weather was quite nasty here, raining for almost whole day today. It will be sunny tomorrow, but will still be cold. It seems that you've got some snow in your area lately, and you must have liked it a lot, -:)

    May you enjoy the rest of the week! Blessings to you!

    1. Hi Bao,

      Thank you very much for your great comment and compliment, my friend. I must confess that I used some clips from the Wikipedia article and the website of Mannerheim Museum in my article. Anyway, I edited everything by myself and the most of the text I wrote by myself. :)

      Unfortunately, a civil war "belongs" to the history of many nations, including Finland, Russia, England, China, Vietnam, America, Spain, Greece, Iraq, Syria, and so on... People fight for power or power politics, religion, form of government, or for some other reason.

      I agree with you, Mr. Mannerheim had a very rich and adventurous life. He even visited China. Regarding my job: yes, it really is a dream job for me. By the way, snow has almost melted in my area. Hope there is a good weather in New York City. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, my friend! :)

      Blessings from Finland,


  3. hello Teisuka. very well written and illustrated article. i read it with great pleasure. excellent the old photos. thank you! good work, as always.
    have a nice day my dear friend!
    greetings from snowy Moscow^^

    1. Hello, Nika.

      Thank you very much for your kind words and compliment. Your comment made me glad. It was you who first asked me to tell more information about Mr. Mannerheim, and that's why I made this article. So I thank you for giving me the enthusiasm, Nikuska. ^^ Have a wonderful week, my dear friend. Stay warm and be happy. :)

      Warm greetings from snowy Finland,


  4. Hi Teisuka,
    Thank you for sharing that interesting picture! At that time, China was still until the rule of Qing Dynasty, and you can see that the costumes worn by these Chinese officials are quite different from the clothes Chinese wear today. Aksu is in a remote area in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in west China, populated by quite a few ethnic groups, mainly the Uygur people.

    I'm sure there were a lot of interesting stories about his visit to China at that time. But probably there is little records, if any, of them today. Maybe you can "dig out" some of them. -:)

    Thanks again for sharing the great pictures of Mannerheim. Enjoy the week!


    1. Hi Bao,

      Many thanks for your kind comment and detailed information, my friend. 非常感谢! I really appreciate it, and I feel privileged to have a great friends from so many countries and cultures. :)

      Mannerheim wrote one great book about his adventures in Asia, its name is 'Across Asia from West to East in 1906-1908'. I'm glad to tell you this book have been also translated into Chinese by Wang Jiaji. The publisher is China National Photography and Art Press of Beijing (2006). Of course, the English translation is also available (even free e-book on the Net). And here is the website where you can see the whole route of Mannerheim (the map):

      14 000 kilometers mainly on horseback! That's a quite (ahem) long journey, isn't it? Haha.

      You too, enjoy your week, Bao! 保重! ┗(^o^)┐


    2. Hi Teisuka,
      Thank you for your information about his book. I will definitely check it out when I have a chance. Wow...14,000 kilometers on horseback. He was really a brave man.

      Hope everything is going well for you, my friend! -:)

  5. Congratulations from Brazil. Mannerheim was a hero.

    1. Thank you very much. Glad to hear that our hero is well-know also in Brazil. Wow! Blessings! :) Teisuka

  6. Mannerheim is an inspiration for all progressive people. He won the Soviet Union and ensured the Finnish independence. I hope someday I can visit the tomb of this great man. :)
    Congratulations from Brazil.

  7. I also could not fail to lay flowers on his tomb.


  9. A modern George Washington. A hero of immense status. My strand of Finnish ancestry is stirred by his story. God bless my Finn brothers & sisters. With much respect and deference to your special sisu. A Texas brother Finn

    1. Hi, Finnish brother of Texas!

      Many thanks for your comment and kind words. I really appreciate it. Yeah, you can be proud of your Finnish roots and this great hero of us. May God bless you always. Cheers! :)