7/3/1918 Germany prepares to intervene in Finland’s civil war #1918Live

Finland is now gripped by civil war, with Reds and Whites fighting to determine the future direction of the country. The Reds look to Soviet Russia for support while some of the Whites seek aid from Germany. With the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, German attention should be shifting away from the East, but Ludendorff is keen to ensure the emergence of a pro-German regime in Finland, as this will allow him to threaten Petrograd in the event that the Russians renege on their commitments.

A German naval expedition has already landed on Finnish Åland Islands, joining a Swedish force ostensibly there to protect the Swedish-speaking islanders. Now the Germans sign an agreement with the White Finns, recognising their independence and promising military aid against the Reds. But the agreement binds Finland tightly to the Germans: has Finland achieved independence from one imperial master only for the Whites to squander that freedom by turning the country into a German satellite?

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Swedish, German and Russian troops in the Åland Islands (Wikipedia: Invasion of Åland)

27/1/1918 Civil war breaks out in Finland #1918Live

In Finland the Red and White Guards have been skirmishing and arming themselves in preparation for a civil war that seems all too inevitable. Now the Red Guards go one step further, taking over Helsinki and declaring a Finnish revolution. The socialist militia quickly establishes a dominance over the south of the country, with the industrial centre of Tampere a particular stronghold.

But their opponents, the Whites, are not giving up without a fight. Under Mannerheim, a former general in the Tsar’s army, the White Guard is arming itself with munitions seized from Russian troops still stationed in the country. Mannerheim is determined to lead the struggle to prevent the establishment of a socialist regime in Finland. Both sides are now mobilised. The civil war is on.

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Red Guards (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

15/1/1918 Finland’s rival camps prepare for civil war #1918Live

Newly independent Finland is sliding towards a civil war between socialists and conservatives. Both sides are arming themselves and skirmishing has already occurred as each side jockeys for position. Both are drawing on the experience of those who served in the Russian army before Finland’s independence. The Red Guards, a socialist militia, are headed by Ali Aaltonen, formerly a lieutenant in the Russian army who was discharged for socialist activities. Now Svinhufvud, head of the White controlled government, appoints General Carl Mannerheim to lead the Finnish state’s official army, the Civil Guards (increasingly known as the White Guards).

Both sides are seeking to arm themselves. The Reds are hoping to secure arms from their Bolshevik allies in Russia, while the Whites hope to take over the armouries of those Russian army units still based in the country; the Whites also hope for support from Germany. For now the fighting is still low level and relatively sporadic, mainly concentrated in the south of the country and in the town of Vyborg on the Russian border. The fear however is that this is merely a prelude to total war.

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Ali Aaltonen (Wikipedia)

Carl Mannerheim (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

6/12/1917 Finland declares independence again #1917Live

Finland’s parliament declared independence from Russia back in July, but Kerensky‘s Provisional Government was able to suppress the Finns’ dreams of freedom. But now the Finnish parliament is ready to try again.

Finland is internally divided between socialists and conservatives. The socialists were behind July’s declaration of Finnish sovereignty and were opposed then by the conservatives, who feared that without the restraining influence of Kerensky the radicals would lose the run of themselves. But now the wheel has turned: Finland’s conservatives are shocked by the Bolsheviksseizure of power in Petrograd and want to prevent the spread of Soviet power to their country.

After elections in the autumn the conservatives have a majority in the Finnish parliament. Today they pass a declaration of Finnish independence. Sovnarkom, the Soviet government in Petrograd, has already declared that the regions of the Russian Empire are free to choose independence if they want it, so the Finnish nationalists expect no trouble from that quarter. However the country’s radicals are determined not to let the conservatives have things their way. They see the Soviet government in Petrograd as an inspiration and are determined to bring something similar into being in Finland. And like Lenin‘s Bolsheviks, the socialists are prepared to effect their revolution through physical force if needs be. Finland is on the road to civil war.

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Finnish Senators drafting the declaration of independence (Robinson Library: Finland Declares Its Independence)

3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

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The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)

6/7/1917 Finland declares independence from Russia #1917Live

At the front, any hopes that the Kerensky Offensive will lead to a great victory are rapidly unravelling. Although the Russians are pushing back the Austro-Hungarians, the main effort against the Germans is coming badly unstuck and the stresses of battle are hastening the Russian army’s disintegration.

This reverse is not the only crisis facing the Provisional Government. Aside from the increasingly chaotic situation in the heart of the country, Russia is increasingly beset by separatist movements on the periphery. The Rada in Ukraine has already declared autonomy. Now the parliament of Finland goes one step further, today declaring independence for what had hitherto been a self-governing part of the Russian empire.

The Finnish declaration causes consternation in Petrograd. Both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet are opposed to Finland’s unilateral declaration of independence. The Soviets resolve to persuade the Finns to revoke their declaration but the Provisional Government adopts a more forceful position, preparing to use force if necessary to keep Finland in the empire.

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The Grand Duchy of Finland (Wikipedia)

29/3/1917 Russia offers Poland independence

The revolution in Russia has unleashed forces long bottled up by the Tsarist autocracy. The various non-Russian nationalities in the empire are now clamouring for a greater say in the government of their affairs together with more recognition for their language and cultural rights. But the Provisional Government is wary of offering too many concessions to the various minorities. They fear that this run the risk of encouraging centrifugal forces that will break up the country.

There is one exception to the Provisional Government’s cold shouldering of nationalism. Today they declare their support for Polish independence. But Polish independence is an easy promise to make. Most of Poland has been overrun by Germany and Austria-Hungary and is unlikely to ever be recovered by Russia. The Provisional Government hopes that by offering Poland its independence the Poles can be encouraged to fight against their Teutonic occupiers.

Poland remains an exception. The Provisional Government is determined to hold the line against demands by other nationalists. In particular there are to be no concessions to nationalist sentiment in Finland or Ukraine.

image source (Mental Floss WWI Centennial)