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About A.E. Heinrichs

Axel Erik Heinrichs (1890-1965)


Axel Erik Heinrichs was born in Helsinki on 21.7.1890 to a Swedish-speaking family. His father was a civil servant. Heinrichs spent his childhood and youth in Helsinki. Erik Heinrichs matriculated from the Nya Svenska Samskolan in 1908 without clear plans for the future. With a gift for writing, Heinrichs was more interested in working as a journalist than in studying at university. Working for Dagens Tidningen and later for Dagens Pressen clearly did not present the young Heinrichs with enough challenges, for he was among the first to go to Germany for military training in February 1915. Three years later, in February 1918, Heinrichs arrived in Vaasa with his fellow infantrymen to take part in the Civil War on the side of the White Army. Major Heinrichs commanded an infantry battalion at the battles of Tampere and Vyborg, both towns being captured by the Whites.

Chief of the General Staff Heinrichs and C-in-C Mannerheim at the headquarters.
Photo: Military archives

After the war, Heinrichs worked in many administrative posts in the army. He was Chief of the General Staff in 1922-23, Commander of the Regiment of Central Finland in Kouvola in 1923-24, acting Chief of the General Staff in Helsinki in 1924-25, attended the Military Academy and courses in France in 1925-28, was the Commander of the Savo Brigade in Vyborg in 1928-29, and was the head of the War College in Helsinki in 1929-30. After also being Governor of the Province of Vaasa, he was appointed Commander of the 1st Division, a post he held until 1938.

Before the Winter War he also served for a short time as an inspector of infantry. On the outbreak of the Winter War, Heinrichs was made Commander of the Third Corps. Heinrichs was given command of the Army of the Karelian Isthmus in February 1940. His posts changed quickly, for, in March, he was appointed Commander of the Land Forces and stationed in Mikkeli. In June Heinrichs was made Chief of the General Staff.

At the beginning of the Continuation War, Heinrichs was Commander of the Karelian Army. In January 1942 Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim again appointed Heinrichs Chief of the General Staff. Heinrichs served as Chief of the General Staff until the end of the Continuation War. In October 1944 he was made Chief of the Main Headquarters.

Besides Marshal Mannerheim, Heinrichs is the only man to have been awarded a Mannerheim Cross, First Class. Mannerheim presented him with this cross on 31.12.1944.

At the beginning of 1945 Mannerheim resigned as Commander-in-Chief and supreme command passed to General of Infantry A.E. Heinrichs, the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. It was his task to see that the terms of the armistice were fulfilled, to bring the war in Lapland to an end and to demobilize the troops. The weapons cache case also led Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Heinrichs to tender his resignation. In the summer of 1945 he retired from regular service and withdrew from public life.

Heinrichs returned to public life in the winter of 1948, when he drafted several memorandums for President Paasikivi dealing with the military agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union. Heinrichs was named as one of the military experts in the delegation that travelled to Moscow on 30.3.1948 for the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. Heinrichs's expertise was valued, for the President of the Finnish Republic, J.K. Paasikivi, consulted him on numerous occasions in the years 1948-51. There was a wish to give Heinrichs, a semi-official expert, an official position. He was nominated as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to follow General Aarne Sihvo.

Nothing came of this, however, and soon afterwards Heinrichs was offered the post of social and personnel manager at the Union Bank of Finland. He resigned from this post in February 1952 and devoted himself to writing.

Heinrichs's hand can be found in Mannerheim's memoirs, for he was one of the ghost writers. Heinrichs penned the sections of the memoirs covering the Civil War, the 1930s and the Continuation War. Heinrichs returned to Mannerheim when writing his two-part work, Mannerheimgestalten, in the late 1950s. This was also published in Finnish under the title Mannerheim Suomen kohtaloissa (Mannerheim in the Fate of Finland). Heinrichs had published literary works as early as the 1910s, when Kring Östersjön (1918) and Hotel St. Petersburg (1919) appeared. He returned to literature after the war with a book published in 1946 called Kleber i Egypten, in which he describes Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. He returned to French history with his 1957 book, Vid Atlantkusten i de hundra dagarnas spår, in which Heinrichs describes the final stages of the Napoleonic empire. General of Infantry Axel Erik Heinrichs received recognition for his literary work when he was given an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the University of Helsinki in May 1957.

General of Infantry Axel Erik Heinrichs died in Helsinki in 1965.