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About C.G.E. Mannerheim

C.G.E. MANNERHEIM (1867-1951)


Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who was born in Louhisaari on 4.6.1867, had a major influence on Finnish history in several different periods.

Mannerheim had had a distinguished career in the Russian Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant general, when he returned to Finland on 18.12.1917. The following month, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish White Army. Tensions in the newly independent nation erupted into civil war in January 1918. The headquarters were initially set up in Vaasa but moved eastwards by rail with the battles. The decisive battle was fought in Tampere in April 1918. Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim moved with his headquarters to Mikkeli in the first half of April. The headquarters were situated in the Seurahuone Hotel near the railway station and in the town hall. The headquarters continued operations in Mikkeli until the middle of May.


C.G.E. Mannerheim
in his office. Photo: Military archives

Under Mannerheim's leadership, the Whites assembled in Helsinki for a victory parade on 16.5.1918. At the end of May, Mannerheim relinquished the post of Commander-in-Chief owing to differences of opinion with political leaders over Finnish foreign policy.

At the end of the year, on 12.12.1918, Mannerheim was appointed Regent, a position he held until the first presidential election. Mannerheim ratified Finland's republican constitution. After losing the presidential election, Mannerheim retired into private life.

In 1931 Mannerheim was named Chairman of the Defence Council. President Svinhufvud bestowed on Mannerheim the rank of Field Marshal in 1933. In the same year, the President decreed that Mannerheim, as Chairman of the Defence Council, had the right to give directions to the commanders of the army concerning operational preparations for war.

In conjunction with extraordinary exercises, the headquarters were established by order of the Defence Minister, Juho Niukkanen, on 18.10.1939. After the Soviet attack on 30.11.1939, a state of war was declared in Finland and Marshal Mannerheim was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Armed Forces. Mannerheim and the headquarters moved to Mikkeli on 3.12.1939.

Mannerheim was 72 years old when he became Commander-in-Chief. In spite of his age, he worked intensively at his duties. He arrived at his office at the headquarters at about 9 a.m. and left in the evening at about 22.30. His working day, which was broken only for lunch from 12.30-14.00 and dinner from 19.30-21.00, included numerous reports and briefings. During the Continuation War, his daily routine was broken by visits to the fronts, which he made in his own train.

Surveying the situation in the
C-in-C's office. Photo: Military archives

In the middle of the war, the Commander-in-Chief celebrated his 75th birthday on 4.6.1942 in Immola. Honouring this special day with their presence were the President of the Finnish Republic, Risto Ryti, and the Government led by the Prime Minister, Jukka Rangell. On the same day, Field Marshal Mannerheim was granted the title of Marshal of Finland. Another less desired guest was the Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler. As a result of the events of summer 1944, President Risto Ryti, who was responsible for the agreements with Germany, resigned from office on 1.8.1944 after Mannerheim had consented to be his successor. Parliament elected Mannerheim as President of the Finnish Republic on 4.8.1944.

His presidency was a transitional period in which he led Finland to peace. But Mannerheim's health deteriorated rapidly and consequently his term as President was short; he resigned from office on 4.3.1946. The following summer, he retired to his Kirkniemi Manor.

In the autumn of 1947 his health deteriorated further and he was moved to Stockholm for an operation. From there he went to the village of Glion sur Territet near the town of Montreux in Switzerland. He took up residence at the Val-Mont Clinic, where he spent the rest of his life interspersed with a few short visits to Finland.

Mannerheim wrote his memoirs in Switzerland. He had numerous assistants to help him with the writing. He became ill on a visit to Finland in autumn 1950. Mannerheim never fully recovered, suffering a relapse the following January. On 28.1.1951 he died in hospital in Lausanne. Marshal of Finland C.G.E. Mannerheim was buried with full military honours on 4.2.1951.