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Mikkeli - the Headquarters City

Mikkeli - The Headquarters City

 

 

On 18.10.1939 the headquarters of the Finnish Armed Forces were set up in Helsinki. But Mikkeli had already been chosen as the headquarters city and by 3.12.1939 the headquarters had been transferred to Mikkeli. The headquarters were centred on the Central Elementary School but most of the public buildings in Mikkeli were taken over by the headquarters.
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Mikkeli in the 1930s.
Photo: Military archives

The work of the headquarters was in great part personified by the Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Mannerheim, and the other prominent military commanders. This led to the common belief that the headquarters operated only at the Central Elementary School. In the offices scattered around the town were employed some 650 people in the Winter War and about 2,500 people in the Continuation War. Such a large personnel made an impact on the streets of Mikkeli, for at the beginning of the Winter War Mikkeli was a small town of some 10,000 inhabitants.

The Commander-in-Chief and the other military leaders were a part of Mikkeli life over a five-year period. Political leaders headed by President Risto Ryti visited the headquarters often. The President was often accompanied by the Prime Minister, Jukka Rangell, and Minister Väinö Tanner. In addition to Finnish visitors, Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, among others, visited the headquarters. During the Continuation War, German officers were frequent visitors to the headquarters.

In the Winter War Mikkeli was bombed several times, which resulted in considerable destruction. The most destuctive bombing of Mikkeli was carried out on 5.1.1940. Mikkeli was again the target of Soviet air raids in February and March. In the Winter War bombing, 125 buildings were destroyed or damaged and 64 people were killed. In the Continuation War Mikkeli was bombed on only two occasions and the damage caused was slight.

The Winter War bombing also hindered the operations of the headquarters because its offices were located in a relatively small area and suffered substantial damage. As early as January 1940 it became necessary to disperse units to the countryside.

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The Granite House after bombing in 1940. Photo: Military archives

A memento of the headquarters period is the crossed Marshal's staffs and the Cross of Liberty in the coat of arms of the city of Mikkeli.

As a result of the bombing, the townscape of Mikkeli changed. Buildings of several storeys appeared on the previously low silhouette of the town.

The bomb damage accelerated the change in the townscape to its present appearance.