Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (IPA: ) (June 4, 1867 – January 27, 1951) was the Commander-in-Chief of Finland's Defence Forces, Marshal of Finland, a politician, and a military commander. He was Regent of Finland (1918–1919), and the sixth President of Finland (1944–1946).
Mannerheim was born in the Grand Duchy of Finland to a notable Finnish noble family that had emigrated to Finland from Sweden. The family originated from Germany, having emigrated to Sweden during the 17th century. He started his military career in the Imperial Russian army, becoming the leader of Finnish government forces in the Finnish Civil War of 1918 and during World War II.
The Mannerheim family descends from a German businessman and mill owner from Hamburg, Hinrich Marhein (1618–1667), who emigrated to Gävle in Sweden and changed his name to Henrik. His son Augustin Marhein changed his surname to Mannerheim, and was raised to the nobility in 1693. His son, an artillery colonel and a mill supervisor, Johan Augustin Mannerheim, was raised to the status of Baron at the same time as his brother in 1768. The Mannerheim family came to Finland in the latter part of 18th century. It has long been believed that Hinrich Marhein had emigrated to Sweden from the Netherlands, but recent studies have shown this belief to be erroneous.
Mannerheim's great-grandfather, Count Carl Erik Mannerheim (1759–1837), had held a number of offices in Finland's civil service during the early years of the semi-autonomous Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, including membership of the Senate. In 1825, he was promoted to the rank of Count (in Finnish Kreivi, in Swedish Greve). Mannerheim's grandfather, Count Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1797–1854), was a renowned entomologist, and served as President of the Viipuri Court of Appeals.
Mannerheim's father, Count Carl Robert (1835–1914), was a playwright who held liberal and radical political ideas, but was an unsuccessful businessman. Mannerheim's mother, Hedvig Charlotta Helena (Hélène) von Julin (1842–1881), was the daughter of the wealthy industrialist Johan Jacob von Julin, who owned the Fiskars ironworks and village.
Carl Gustaf Mannerheim was born in the family home of Louhisaari Manor in Askainen. As the third child of the family he inherited the title of Baron (in Finnish Vapaaherra, in Swedish Friherre; the eldest son inherited the title of Count). Despite his father having earlier been a rather successful businessman his businesses became more and more troubled during the late 1870s. He suffered from what we now would call a hypomanic personality disorder, being overly optimistic in financial dealings. His addiction to gambling worsened the situation and eventually made him go bankrupt in 1880. He was forced to sell Louhisaari manor together with other landed estates and his large art collection the same year to cover his debts. He also left his wife and moved to Paris with his mistress to seek livelihood and better fortune, ending up living the life of a bohemian.
Countess Hélène, mentally shaken by the crash and her husband's desertion, took their seven children to live with her aunt Louise at this aunt's estate in Sällvik. Hélène died the following year from a heart attack. The shame and depression of this turn of events, and the social isolation she was thrown into, caused her early death. Her death left the children to be brought up by relatives, making Gustaf Mannerheim's maternal uncle Albert von Julin his legal guardian.
Due to the worsened economic situation of the family and the fact that Gustaf Mannerheim had had serious problems with accepting discipline in school, Albert von Julin decided that Gustaf at the age of 15, was sent to the school of the Finnish Cadet Corps in Hamina in 1882 to learn self-discipline (something he excelled in as an adult) and maybe a profession. Gustaf was a poor boy now, and he had to learn budgetting and economizing for a long time. He was humiliated by having to ask his uncle Albert for money for every small purchase. He was also forced to read his uncle's and other relatives' numerous exhortations to frugality and good conduct. But the disciplinary problems continued. Mannerheim heartily disliked the school and the narrow social circles in Hamina. In the end, he rebelled by going on leave without permission in 1886, - for which he was eventually expelled from the Finnish Cadet Corps.
Now, as a military career in the Finnish army was closed to Gustaf, the only choice left was to aim for a career in the Russian armed forces. Young Gustaf was not averse to this idea. His first choice had been, while still in the Finnish Cadet Corps, to enter the Imperial Page School in St Petersburg. But his report from the Finnish Cadet Corps, with his failure to show good conduct at school, made this dream impossible.
After spending some time with Albert von Julin's brother-in-law, Edvard Bergenheim, at Kharkiv, in Ukraine - where he received lessons in Russian - Mannerheim attended the Helsinki Private Lyceum, passing his university entrance examinations in June 1887. Now he had a better school report to show, than the one from the Finnish Cadet Corps. He wrote to his godmother, baroness Alfhild Scalon de Coligny, who had connections to the Russian court, to help him enter the Nicholas Cavalry School. His real wish was to join the Chevalier Guard , but his relatives balked at the costs, so he dropped it. Her godmother invited him to her husband's country house, Lukianovka, in the summer 1887. There Gustaf worked hard to improve his Russian. While in Russia, he spent some time at a military camp at Chuguyev, which strengthened his decision to choose a career in the military.
In the end of July 1887 young Gustaf received the message that he could attend the entrance examination of the Nicolas Cavalry School. He passed it and swore his soldier's oath 16 September 1887. He graduated in 1889 - passing as the second of his group - and was promoted to the rank of Cornet. He was then posted to the 15th Alexandriyski Dragoons at Kalisz in the borderland to Germany.
Eventually, in January 1891, Mannerheim was transferred to serve in Her Majesty's Maria Feodorovna's Chevalier Guard in St Petersburg. His godmother, countess Alfhild Scalon de Coligny with her friends among the aristocracy in St. Petersburg arranged for him to be married in 1892 to Anastasia Arapova (1872–1936), the orphaned daughter of the Russian Major-General Nikolai Arapov, largely for financial reasons. They had two daughters, Anastasie (1893–1977) and Sophie (1895–1963) the third child, a son, was stillborn. Anastasie would later on convert to Catholicism and become a Carmelite nun in London. Mannerheim's marriage with Anastasia Arapova ended in an unofficial separation of the spouses in 1902 and in a formal civil divorce in 1919.
Mannerheim served in the Imperial Chevalier Guard until 1904, though he was posted to the Imperial Court Stables Administration from 1897 to 1903. Mannerheim specialised as an expert on horses, buying stud stallions and special duty horses for the army. In 1903 he was put in charge of a display squadron and became a member of the equestrian training board of the cavalry regiments..
After the separation with his wife, Gustaf Mannerheim's financial situation became again bleak. This was exacerbated by losses in gambling. He became depressed, which he tried to solve through a change of environment. Mannerheim enlisted voluntarely in the Russo-Japanese war 1904-1905. In October 1904, Mannerheim was transferred to the 52nd Nezhin Dragoon Regiment in Manchuria, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was promoted to Colonel for his bravery in the Battle of Mukden in 1905.
On returning from the war, Mannerheim went on an informal vacation among his relatives in Finland and Sweden 1905–1906. As a representative of the baronial branch of his family, he was present as a member of the Estate of Nobility in the last session of the Diet of Finland.
When he returned to St.Petersburg he received a surprising proposal; would he like to make a journey through Turkestan to Beijing as an intelligence-officer and an ethnologist? He would join the French archeologist Paul Pelliot's excursion to China. After much deliberation Mannerheim accepted this task. He started this journey in July 1906, a journey which would take all in all two years and the greater part of which would turn out to be a quite solitary enterprise. He travelled from Tashkent to Kashgar from July to October 1906 together with Paul Pelliot. Shortly thereafter, he led a separate expedition into Manchuria and China until the autumn of 1908. He met with 13th Dalai Lama during his journey, giving him his own pistol as a gift. The expedition had strategic purposes, in addition to the ethnological and anthropological ones, because these areas in northern China were a potential point of crisis between Russia and China, and even the United Kingdom (see: The Great Game).
After the trip, in 1909 he was appointed commander of the 13th Vladimir Uhlan Regiment at Mińsk Mazowiecki in Poland. The following year, Mannerheim was promoted to Major General and was posted as the commander of the Life Guard Uhlan Regiment of His Majesty in Warsaw. In 1912 he became a part of the Imperial entourage, and the following year he was appointed as a cavalry brigade commander.
At the beginning of World War I, Mannerheim served as commander of the Guards Cavalry Brigade, and fought on the Austro-Hungarian and Romanian fronts. After distinguishing himself in combat against the Austro-Hungarian forces, Mannerheim was in December 1914 awarded one of the highest honours of Imperial Russia, the Order of St. George, 4th class. He has said after having received this award that "now he can die in peace." In March 1915 Mannerheim was appointed to command the 12th Cavalry Division.
He received leave to visit Finland and St Petersburg in early 1917 and, whilst in the Russian capital, he witnessed the outbreak of the February Revolution. After returning to the front, he was promoted to Lieutenant General in April 1917 (the promotion was backdated to February 1915), and he took command of the 6th Cavalry Corps in the summer of 1917. However, Mannerheim fell out of favour with the new government, who regarded him as one of the officers who did not support the revolution. Actually, Mannerheim became a determined opponent of communism. In September he was relieved of his duties, while he was on sick-leave after having fallen from his horse. He was now in the reserve and trying to recover his health in Odessa. He began planning to retire and return to Finland to live a civilian life. He arrived in Finland on December 18.
After the victory of the Whites in the war, Mannerheim resigned as Commander-in-Chief, dismayed at the increasing German influence in Finnish military and political affairs. He feared the reaction of the Allies to the seemingly pro-German policies of the Finnish government during the last months of World War I. Seeking to distance himself from the current Finnish government, Mannerheim left Finland in June 1918 to visit relatives in Sweden.
In Sweden, Mannerheim conferred with Allied diplomats in Stockholm, stating his opposition to the Finnish government's pro-German policy, and his support for the Allies. In October 1918, he was sent to Britain and France, on behalf of the Finnish government, to attempt to gain recognition of Finland's independence by Britain and the United States. In December, he was summoned back to Finland from Paris after he had been elected temporarily to be Regent (Valtionhoitaja; Riksföreståndare) of Finland. There were even monarchists who wanted to make him King of Finland.
After Frederick Charles of Hesse who had been elected king of Finland, renounced the throne, Mannerheim secured recognition of the independence of Finland from Britain and U.S.. He also requested and received food aid from overseas to avoid famine. Although he was an ardent anti-Bolshevik, he eventually refused an alliance with the Russian White generals and their armies, because they probably would not have accepted the independence of Finland. In July 1919, after he had confirmed the new republican constitution, Mannerheim stood as a candidate in the first presidential election, supported by the National Coalition Party and the Swedish People's Party. He lost the election in the Parliament to Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg and retreated from public life.
In the interwar years, Mannerheim held no public office. This was largely due to the fact that he was seen by many politicians of the centre and left as a controversial figure due to his outspoken opposition to the Bolsheviks, his supposed desire for Finnish intervention on the side of the Whites during the Russian Civil War, and the antipathy felt against him by the Finnish socialists, who saw him as the 'bourgeois' 'White General'. During the interwar years, Mannerheim's pursuits were mainly humanitarian. He headed the Finnish Red Cross and founded the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Mannerheim also returned to Asia, where he travelled and hunted extensively. On his first trip in 1927, to avoid travelling through the Soviet Union, he went by ship from London to Calcutta. From there he travelled by land to Burma, where he spent a month at Rangoon, and in Gangtok, in Sikkim. He returned home by car and aeroplane, via Basra, Baghdad, Cairo, and Venice.
His second voyage, in 1936, was to India, travelling by ship via Aden to Bombay. During his stay in India, Mannerheim met with various old friends and acquaintances from Europe. During his travels and hunting expeditions, he visited Madras, Delhi, and also Nepal. While in Nepal, Mannerheim was invited to join in a tiger hunt by the King of Nepal. He killed a 2.23m long tiger which was one of the largest ever measured and which had reputedly killed two men. The pelt is on display at the Mannerheim Museum in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki.
In 1929, Mannerheim refused the right-wing radicals' plea to become a de facto military dictator, although he did express a degree of some support for some of the demands of the right-wing Lapua Movement (Screen, 2000). After President Pehr Evind Svinhufvud was elected in 1931, he appointed Mannerheim as chairman of Finland's Defence Council. At the same time Mannerheim received the written promise that in the event of a war, he would become the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army. (Svinhufvud's successor Kyösti Kallio renewed this promise in 1937). In 1933 he received the title and rank of Field Marshal (sotamarsalkka, fältmarskalk). By this time, Mannerheim had become seen by the public, including some former socialists, as less of a 'White General', and more of a truly national figure. This feeling was further enhanced by his many public statements of the time, urging reconciliation between those who had fought on opposing sides in the civil war, and the need to focus on national unity and defence.
Mannerheim supported Finland's military industry and sought (in vain) to establish a military defence union with Sweden. However, rearming the Finnish army did not occur as swiftly or as well as he hoped and he was not enthusiastic about a war. He had many disagreements with various Cabinets, and signed numerous letters of resignation.
He addressed the first of his - often controversial - orders of the day to the Defence Forces as Commander-in-Chief on the same day as the war began:
Mannerheim quickly reorganised his headquarters in Mikkeli. His strategic aide was Lieutenant General Aksel Airo, while his close friend, General Rudolf Walden, was sent as a representative of the headquarters to the Cabinet from 3 December, 1939 till 27 March 1940, after which he became the Defence Minister.
Mannerheim himself spent most of the Winter War and Continuation War in his Mikkeli headquarters but made many visits to the front. Between the wars, he held on to the authority as Commander-in-Chief, which according to the letter of law should have gone back to the presidents (Kyösti Kallio and Risto Ryti) after the Moscow Peace, March 12, 1940.
Prior to the start of the Continuation War, the Germans offered Mannerheim command over the German troops in Finland, around 80,000 men. Mannerheim declined so as to not tie himself and Finland to the German war aims. Mannerheim kept relations with Nazi Germany's government as formal as possible and successfully opposed their proposals for a treaty of alliance. Mannerheim also firmly refused to let his troops contribute to the Siege of Leningrad.
Mannerheim's 75th birthday on June 4, 1942, was a major occasion. The government granted him the unique title of Marshal of Finland (Suomen Marsalkka in Finnish, Marskalk av Finland in Swedish). He was the first and only person to receive the title. A surprise visit by Adolf Hitler in honour of Mannerheim's birthday was less pleasing to him and caused some embarrassment.
Adolf Hitler had decided to visit Finland on June 4, 1942, ostensibly to congratulate Mannerheim on his 75th birthday. But Mannerheim did not want to meet in either his Headquarters at Mikkeli or Helsinki, as it would have seemed more like an official state visit. The meeting took place at a railway siding near the airfield at Immola, in south-eastern Finland, and was arranged in secrecy.
From the airfield, Hitler, accompanied by President Ryti, was driven to where Mannerheim was waiting at a railway siding. Hitler, who was much shorter than Mannerheim, wore special high-heeled boots, and had asked his photographers to photograph him only from an angle that showed his height favourably alongside Mannerheim. After a congratulatory speech from Hitler, and following a birthday meal and conference between him, Mannerheim and other high ranking German and Finnish personnel, Hitler returned to Germany, having spent around five hours in Finland. Hitler had reportedly intended to ask the Finns to step up their military operations against the Soviets, but he apparently made no specific demands.
During the visit an engineer of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE, Thor Damen, recorded Hitler and Mannerheim in a private conversation, something which had to be done secretly as Hitler never allowed recordings of himself off-guard. Today this is the only known recording of Hitler not speaking in an official tone. (Recording available YLE's web-archive Some English transcripts exist , )
There is an unsubstantiated anecdote that during his meeting with Hitler, Mannerheim lit a cigar. Mannerheim supposed that Hitler would ask Finland for help against the troops of the Soviet Union. Mannerheim was unwilling to do so. When Mannerheim lit up, all in attendance gasped, for Hitler's aversion to smoking in his presence was well known. Yet Hitler continued the conversation calmly, with no comment. In this way, Mannerheim was able to judge if Hitler was speaking from a position of strength or weakness. He was able to refuse Hitler the help he needed, knowing that Hitler and the Germans were in a weak position, and could not dictate to him.
As a military commander Mannerheim was generally very successful. Under his leadership the Finnish Defence Forces fought a generally successful war that in the end saved Finland from Soviet occupation. Mannerheim took great care not to waste the lives of his soldiers, and avoided unnecessary risks. Perhaps his greatest shortcoming was his unwillingness to delegate. While he had a number of very able subordinates, foremost among them Lieutenant General Aksel Airo, Mannerheim insisted that all the department heads in the Finnish General Headquarters report directly to him, leaving Chief of General Staff General of Infantry Erik Heinrichs little to do. Indeed, Mannerheim said that he did not want to be 'one man's prisoner'. Mannerheim overwhelmed himself with work, and as a result coordination between the different departments in the General Headquarters suffered. It has been suggested that one reason why the Soviet offensive in Karelian Isthmus in June 1944 took Finns by surprise was that Mannerheim was unable to see the forest for the trees. There was no other authority save Mannerheim who could collect all the intelligence and turn it into operational directives.
On the other hand, it can be argued that Mannerheim excelled in politics. Even though he was a soldier, and as such not supposed to take part in politics, Mannerheim could not help but be a highly political figure. A vital question during the war was when to make peace with the Soviet Union. Too early would mean that Nazi Germany would be in a position to retaliate. Too late risked a Soviet occupation of Finland. As soon as 1942, it became increasingly clear that Germany would not necessarily vanquish the Soviet Union. Mannerheim was kept, as it were, in reserve, in order to potentially take the leadership of the nation and lead it to peace. Mannerheim played this role very skilfully; he had a clear vision how Finland should conduct its war in the sensitive situation when the war's ultimate end was unclear. He knew how to treat the Germans to secure as much military support as possible without involving Finland in any binding treaties. For example, during the build-up for the Continuation War in 1941 Mannerheim was offered the command of all German forces on Finnish soil. While such an arrangement could have made prosecuting the war simpler, Mannerheim recognized that Hitler would not give the Finns a free hand in directing this part of the German offensive. As Mannerheim wanted at all costs to avoid a situation where he would have to take directives or orders from Berlin, he refused the offer.
In June 1944 Gustaf Mannerheim, to ensure German support at a time a major Soviet offensive was threatening Finland, thought it necessary for Finland to agree to the pact the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop demanded. But even then Mannerheim managed to distance himself from the pact and it fell to the Finnish President Risto Ryti to sign the pact that came to be known as the Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement. The Marshal's policy reached its logical conclusion when the agreement was revoked with the resignation of President Ryti in July 1944. Mannerheim succeeded him as president.
At the moment when Germany was deemed sufficiently weakened, and the USSR's summer offensive was fought to a standstill (see Battle of Tali-Ihantala) (thanks to the June agreement with the Germans), Finland's leaders saw a chance to reach a peace with the Soviet Union. It became clear that Marshal Mannerheim was the only person who had sufficient prestige, both internationally and domestically, that was required to extricate Finland from the war. He enjoyed the confidence of a large majority of the Finnish people, and was effectively the only statesman with the authority necessary to guide Finland in the transition from war to peace.
At first attempts were made to persuade Mannerheim to become prime minister, but he rejected this proposal on account of his age and lack of knowledge of the detailed techniques of government. The next suggestion was to elect him as the Head of State. Risto Ryti would resign from the office of president, and the parliament would elect Gustaf Mannerheim as Regent. The use of the title 'Regent' would have reflected the exceptional circumstances of his election. Mannerheim and Ryti both agreed to this proposal, and Ryti resigned as president on 29 July, giving as his reasons the state of his health and the necessity of combining civil and military authority in one person at that key moment. Mannerheim then decided that he wished to be elected as president to avoid any misconceptions about the nature of his office. Due to the difficult conditions general elections could not be held, and therefore the Parliament elected Mannerheim as President of the Republic of Finland on August 4, 1944. He took the oath of office later on the same day.
The dangerous state that Finland found itself in at that moment was reflected in Mannerheim's inauguration speech before the Finnish Parliament:
A month after he took office, the Continuation War was concluded on harsh terms, but ultimately far less harsh than those imposed on the other states bordering the Soviet Union. Finland retained its sovereignty, parliamentary democracy and market economy. The territorial losses were considerable, especially due to the numerous Karelian refugees that needed to be housed, and the war reparations were heavy. Finland also had to fight the Lapland War against the withdrawing German troops in the north, and at the same time demobilize its army. It was widely agreed that only Mannerheim could have guided Finland through these difficult times, when the Finnish people had to come to terms with the severe conditions of the armistice, their implementation by a Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission, and the task of post-war reconstruction.
Mannerheim's term as president was a difficult period for him. Although he was elected for a full six-year term, he was in his late seventies, and had accepted the office reluctantly after being urged to do so by various politicians. The situation was exacerbated by his frequent periods of ill-health, and the pressure of the demands of the Allied Control Commission, and the war responsibility trials. He was afraid throughout most of his presidency that the commission would request that he himself would be tried as one of the 'war guilty, but this never happened. One of the reasons to this was Stalin's respect for and admiration of the Marshal. Stalin told a Finnish delegation in Moscow in 1947 that the Finns have a great indebtedness to their old Marshal. Due to him Finland was not occupied. Despite Mannerheim's criticisms of some of the demands of the Control Commission, Mannerheim worked hard to carry out Finland's armistice obligations. He also emphasised the necessity of further work on reconstruction in Finland after the war.
Mannerheim was troubled by recurring health problems during 1945, and was absent on medical leave from his duties as president from November of that year until February 1946. He spent six weeks during that time in Portugal on a break to restore his health. After the announcement of the verdicts in the war crimes trials had been announced in January, Mannerheim decided to resign. He concluded that he had accomplished the duties he had been elected to carry out. The war had been ended, the armistice obligations were being carried out, and the war crimes' trial was finished.
Mannerheim resigned as a president on March 4 1946, giving as his reason his declining health and his view that the tasks he had been elected to carry out had been accomplished. Even the Finnish communists, his enemies in 1918, recognised his peacemaking efforts and his role in maintaining the unity of the country during a difficult period. He was succeeded by his conservative prime minister Juho Kusti Paasikivi.
After his resignation, Mannerheim bought Kirkniemi Manor in Lohja, intending to spend his retirement there. But in June 1946 he had a life-saving operation carried out on a perforated ulcer, and in October of that year he was diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer. In early 1947 it was recommended that he should travel to the Valmont Sanatorium in Montreux, Switzerland, to recuperate and write his memoirs. Valmont was to be Mannerheim's main place of residence for the remaining years of his life, although he regularly returned to stay in Finland, and also visited Sweden, France, and Italy.
Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim died on January 27, 1951 (which was already January 28 in Finland) in the Cantonal Hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was buried on February 4 1951 in the Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki in a state funeral with full military honours, and today retains respect as Finland's greatest statesman.
Mannerheim's birthday, the fourth of June, is celebrated as the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces. This decision was made by the Finnish government on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 1942, when he was also granted the title of Marshal of Finland. The flag day is celebrated with a national parade, and rewards and promotions for members of the defence forces. The life and times of Mannerheim are depicted in the Mannerheim Museum.
Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The obverse of the coin features a portrait of the Marshal.
Mannerheim was Commander-in-Chief of the White Guard from January to May 1918. He was also Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces from December 1918 to July 1919, and from 1939 to 1946. He was Chairman of the Defence Council from 1931 to 1939.