16/12/1918 German troops evacuate Finland; Friedrich Karl of Hesse renounces the Finnish throne #1918Live

Earlier this year, with the support of German troops, Finnish conservatives defeated socialist revolutionaries in a short and brutal civil war. Since then the country appeared to falling ever closer into the German orbit, with German troops remaining in the country and a treaty signed binding Finland to Germany. The Finnish government even went so far as to invite Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, the Kaiser‘s brother in law, to become their king.

Germany’s defeat has sundered its link with Finland. The armistice obliged it to evacuate its troops from all occupied territories and today the last German troops leave Finland. With the Kaiser now overthrown and in exile in the Netherlands, his brother in law has become less appealing as a ruler. Seeing the way the wind is blowing, Friedrich Karl renounces his throne, without ever setting foot in his Finnish kingdom. In Finland Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the victorious commander in the civil war, is appointed as regent while the country’s leaders ponder whether to formally establish a republic.

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Karl Friedrich of Hesse (Almanach de Saxe Gotha: Kingdom of Finland)

Carl Gustav Mannerheim (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

9/10/1918 A German king for Finland

In Finland the conservative Whites triumphed over the socialist Reds in the recent civil war. Victory allowed Finland to escape from Russia’s orbit but at a price: German aid and the presence of German troops in the country have turned it into something of a German protectorate. Now the Finnish government of Juho Kusti Paasikivi decides that the country should become a monarchy, offering the throne to Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, a German prince and brother-in-law to the Kaiser. The timing is odd: with Germany having requested an armistice, its power is clearly in the descendent, yet Paasikivi is trying to more closely align his country to Berlin.

It is proposed that when the king-elect arrives in Finland to be crowned he will be styled as Charles I, King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Åland, Grand Duke of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North.

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Friedrich Karl of Hesse (Wikipedia)

16/5/1918 Finland’s Whites celebrate victory as the civil war comes to an end #1918Live

After defeat at Tampere, Helsinki and Vyborg resistance by Finland’s Reds comes to an end. The Finnish Civil War is over. Today the Whites hold a victory parade in Helsinki, led by Mannerheim, their commander.

Many of the Red leaders fled to Russia. The rank and file were unable to escape. Some of these were summarily executed by the Whites but many more have been sent off to prison camps, together with some bystanders who were not actually involved in the fighting. Altogether there are now some 80,000 prisoners in the Whites’ camps. They face an uncertain future. The disruptions of war mean that Finland is facing a food shortage; ensuring that these subversives are adequately fed is not a priority for the victorious Whites.

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Carl Gustav Mannerheim leads the victory parade (Alternative Finland: The Jääkärit (Finnish Jaegers) and their place in the Finnish Army)

Red prisoners in Suomenlinna, Helsinki (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

29/4/1918 Vyborg: victory for Finland’s Whites tainted by mass murder #1918Live

The Finnish Civil War is now in its endgame. Many of the Red leaders have by now fled to Russia. After the losses of Tampere and Helsinki, the only remaining centre of Red power is Vyborg in the east of the country, but today it too falls to the Whites after several days of fighting. Some Red Guards manage to break through enemy lines and head off towards Russia but large numbers are captured by the Whites.

Vyborg sees a number of unsavoury episodes. The Reds executed some White prisoners before the town’s fall. Now the victors take their turn, summarily executing some of their captured Red Guards. The Whites also kill members of Vyborg’s Russian community, seeing them as Red sympathisers.

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Captured Red Guards after the battle (Wikipedia: Battle of Vyborg)

Victims and perpetrators of the massacre (Wikipedia: Vyborg Massacre)

13/4/1918 German troops storm Helsinki

The Red Guards in Finland are now on the back foot. Counter-revolutionary forces have stormed the mill town of Tampere. Now the Reds are under attack in Helsinki, the country’s capital, which has been under Red control since the start of the civil war. Mannerheim, commander of the Finnish Whites, wanted to leave Helsinki alone until his men are ready to attack it but Goltz, commander of the German expeditionary force, has different ideas. He wants the civil war in Finland brought to an end as quickly as possible, in order to intimidate Russia’s Soviet government. So his men attack the city while German warships bombard it from the sea.

The ill-trained Red Guards are no match for the regular troops of the Germans. Helsinki is soon secured, with the last Red holdouts in the working class district of Kallio surrendering today. Several thousand Reds (fighters and sympathisers) are arrested and transferred to a prison camp on the Suomenlinna islands.

With Vyborg in the east the only remaining major centre of Red resistance it looks distinctly like the Finnish civil war is drawing to a close.

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German troops in Helsinki (Wikipedia: Battle of Helsinki)

Red prisoners (Wikipedia: Battle of Helsinki)

6/4/1918 Finland’s Reds smashed at Tampere

Finland’s Whites initially failed in their first attempt to capture the Red stronghold of Tampere. Now after several days of shelling the Whites storm the town. In heavy fighting the Reds are forced back into ever smaller enclaves until today the last of them surrender. Some of the Reds are summarily executed by the Whites, with Russians fighting for the socialists particularly targeted for death. The Reds too killed some of their enemies while they controlled the town, but their efforts are dwarfed by those of the White victors.
With 30,000 fighters taking part, Tampere is the largest battle ever seen in Scandinavia. It may well be the decisive engagement of the Finnish civil war. The tide appears to have turned against the Reds, with White Guards and their German allies now preparing to evict the Reds from Helsinki.

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Tammela neighbourhood of Tampere after the battle (Wikipedia: Battle of Tampere)

Red prisoners in the central square (Wikipedia: Battle of Tampere)

map (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

28/3/1918 Finland’s Whites attack Red Tampere #1918Live

Finland has separated from Russia but is now in the midst of a civil war between the socialist Reds and conservative Whites. The Reds look to Soviet Russia for inspiration support while the Whites have negotiated with Germany for assistance.

The initiative has now passed from the Reds to the Whites. Under the command of Mannerheim, formerly a general in the Russian army, the Whites have moved against Tampere, a mill town known as the Manchester of the North. The prevalence of radical ideas among the industrial workers here makes Tampere a centre of Red sentiment. For the Whites, Victory in Tampere would break the back of their socialist enemies.

Having surrounded Tampere, the White Guard now attempt to storm the town. The Reds however put up more resistance than expected; although the Whites make gains, they are unable to reach the town centre and suffer heavy casualties in the process. So for now they abandon attempts to take the Tampere by storm, instead softening it up with artillery fire.

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Red Guards (Tampere sodan 1918 näyttämönä (The 1918 Battle of Tampere)) this Finnish language site has some stunning if grim photographs from Tampere in 1918

Civil War map (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

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)