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Mannerheim esikuntineen seuraa Tampereen operaatiota Vehmaisissa

The Finnish War of Independence and the Civil War from January till May 1918, was part of the First World War, and, at the same time, linked with the struggle for world revolution of the Bolsheviks.

The Parliament, exercising supreme power in Finland, ratified the declaration of independence and sovereignity in December. The government of Finland, i.e. the Senate, backed by Parliament began to take steps to disarm and expel the troops of the former motherland, Russia, from the country in order to secure independence and freedom of action. The Russian government, on their side, declared war against the "antirevolutionary" troops of the Finnish government. This is how the War of Independence broke out on the 28th of January, 1918.

The representatives of the workers’ movement, who had remained a minority in Parliament and were frustrated by their inconsiderable parliamentary influence, organized a revolution on the 27th of January, 1918, following the example of the Russian revolution in October. They managed, supported by Russian troops, to occupy the southern part of the country. This ignited the Civil War. The power of the Senate was concentrated in Vaasa and that of the People’s Delegation, established by the revolutionaries, in Helsinki. Owing to the war, the parliament was inoperative.

Throughout the autumn of 1917, the political crisis had been spurred by the formation of armed civil organizations. The independence men and those supporting the traditional order founded Civil Guards or white guards (called "butcher guards" by their opponents), and the different movements among the workers "order guards" or Red Guards. The government took pains to strengthen national order in place of these organizations, and in January 1918, the parliament granted the government the right to establish firm order, which led to the accusation by the workers of limiting their civil rights.

The Senate hastily formed order troops on the basis of Civil Guards. Lieutenant-General (later General of Cavalry) Gustaf Mannerheim was appointed the leader of these troops. The expertise of Russian officers was widely made use of in the staff of the revolutionary army (Colonel Mihail Svetshnikov, among others), but the leading posts of the Red Guards were filled, whenever possible, with worker activists of Finnish nationality. In April, the highest leadership of the Red Guards was taken over by Kullervo Manner.

Tammela taistelun jälkeenAt the beginning of the war a front was formed between white and red Finland, running approximately from west to east, north of Pori, Tampere, Heinola and Lappeenranta, south-east to the Karelian Isthmus and to a point on the shore of Lake Ladoga near the Finnish-Russian border. By mid-March, the whites were able to organize and crash-train an army, which could be transferred and concentrated. It was an advantage to the white army that they had experienced staff at their disposal. Some were trained in the Jäger Battallion in Germany, others were officers in the army of autonomous Finland or Swedish volunteers. This enabled the whites to defeat the red forces in the area of Tampere in March and April and around the city of Viipuri in late April. The auxiliary troops, sent by Germany to reinforce the whites, also contributed to the rapid ending of the war.

From the very beginning, the Soviet Government took the side of the revolutionary government in Finland, and was ready to offer military aid to the reds, provided the war would end rapidly. There was an imminent danger that the protraction of the war would risk German intervention. German pressure in February and March 1918, compelled the Soviet Government to give up public aid to the Finnish reds. The relations between Russia and red Finland were settled in the so-called Red Convention on the first of March. This convention proved that the reds strove to maintain national independence and even to create national greatness, but Lenin forced the Finnish reds to accept the name, the Socialistic Republic of Finland. At that point, the interest of the whites began to be directed to eastern Karelia.

The German troops arrived in Åland in early March and the offensive of the German Baltic division extended to the mainland in early April, and eventually resulted in taking Helsinki on the 15th of April. Despite this auxiliary expedition, Finland remained formally neutral in regard to the parties of the First World War, but was forced to submit her finances to German supervision.

The Russian troops, continuously stationed on Finnish soil, fought alongside the white Finns, but the Germans were eager to see them leave and worked to this effect through pressure and negotiations. The exit of the Russian Baltic Navy from Helsinki harbour through icy waters to Kronstadt in March and April took place in accordance with the agreement. In April and May 1918 the whites were besieging the Ino Fort, ceded to Russia by the red People’s Delegation, and finally in the middle of May the Russians left the ruined fort in the hands of the whites.

Since Mannerheim, as the Commander-in-Chief, did not take a sufficiently firm attitude towards the revengeful actions of his troops against the revolutionaries – so-called white terrorism – his name was linked both with the executions of the reds and the catastrophic malnutrition in the prison camps. He was named "butcher general" by the reds. For socialists, his background denoted reactionism and the commandership of the whites bloody memories. Historians regard the bureaucratic investigation method, insisted by the Senate, as the reason for white terrorism.

At the close of the war operations in May 1918, the Soviet Government agreed to negotiate peace with the Finnish government through German mediation. It was not until spring 1920 that the negotiations were

reopened, and the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed in October 1920.

For Mannerheim, the war of 1918 was expressly a war of liberation. From his European point of view, the rebellion started by the People’s Delegation was only one instance in the wave of revolutions and anarchy, which spread from Russia and which threatened the independence of Finland. He wanted to preserve the neutrality of the independent country, and regarded German military assistance as a weakening factor, which should be kept within certain limits. He pressed forward with the occupation of Tampere to show that the Finns were able to handle the situation by their own exertions before the arrival of German aid.

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Commander-in-Chief 1918 | Headquarters 1918 | Vaasa Senate | Hannes Ignatius  | Martin Wetzer | Harald Hjalmarson | Ernst Linder | Gösta Theslöf | Jägers | St Petersburg Question | Relations with Germany | Cross of Liberty | Eastern Karelia | Uusimaa Dragoon Regiment | Fir Twig | Finnish Flag | Swedish Brigade | Civil Guards | Jäger Conflict | Heikki Kekoni | Red Prisoners | Wilhelm Thesleff  | Aarne Sihvo | Rudolf Walden  | Air Force - Air Weapon | Red and White Terrorism | Great Parade 16 May, 1918 | Åland Question | Monarchy | Mannerheim's Resignation