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Carl Gustaf Mannerheim – Finland’s War Hero

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim is a Finnish war hero. His name is not often spoken, but he deserves to be remembered for the bravery and heroism he demonstrated during World War 2. On June 4th, 1867, he was born into a wealthy family in Helsinki, Finland, and died on February 27th, 1951, at age 83 in Lausanne, Switzerland. 

From an early age, Carl Gustaf’s father instilled in him the importance of discipline and respect for authority figures, which would eventually lead him to become one of Finland’s greatest military leaders. By the time Russia invaded his country during World War 2, Carl Gustaf had already achieved significant military successes as a commander-in-chief. 

Mannerheim was presented with the title of Marshal of Finland (1942.) In 1944, he became the sixth president of his country. 

A Remarkable Career 

Mannerheim spent less than 30 years in Russia, mainly in Saint Petersburg, serving in the Russian Imperial Army. 

During the period 1891 – 1893, Carl Gustaf became a lieutenant general in Finland’s Army, as well as an imperial army cavalry corps commander with close connections to the Emperor himself, who bestowed him with membership into his suite. 

General Mannerheim is considered to be one of the most successful military commanders in history. He fought for Russia on two battlefronts and was decorated with St George’s Cross, which he received just before the First World War began. His bravery led him to be an officer at a young age, famous for his military talent and ability.

General Mannerheim was not only an able military leader, but also a skilled horseman. In fact, his prowess in equestrian sports won him the attention of high-ranking government officials, who later chose him for the formidable task of undertaking a surveillance mission on horseback through Asia that lasted two years.

The Life of Carl Gustaf Mannerheim

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim – the son of Count Carl Robert Mannerheim and Héléne von Julin. His childhood home was broken up by his father’s unsuccessful business exploits and eventual move abroad. He lost his mother in 1881, upon which the seven children were placed with relatives. Gustaf’s uncle, Albert von Julin, was the guardian of Mannerheim. 

Gustaf underwent a traumatic childhood, and these experiences left their mark on his education. Mannerheim undertook his formal schooling in Helsinki Private Lyceum (1874-1879), then in Hamina (1881-1882), then the school of the Finnish Cadet Corps in Hamina in 1882, at the age of 15. However, he was later dismissed in 1886 for misconduct.

Finally, in January 1891, Mannerheim was assigned to serve in the Chevalier Guards in St. Petersburg. He was arranged to be married to Anastasie Arapova (1872-1936), who was the daughter of the Russian Major-General Nikolai Arapov. The marriage was primarily set up for economic reasons. Carl Gustaf and Anastasie had two daughters, Anastasie (1893-1977) and Sophie (1895-1963). However, their marriage ended in an unofficial separation in 1902, which led to a formal divorce in 1919.

Carl Gustaf was a Swedish descendant who began his military career in the cavalry. He first distinguished himself during the Russo-Japanese War and rose to lieutenant general by World War I, where he led Russian troops on multiple fronts. 

Finland’s War Hero

The 1917 Russian Revolution in October led Carl Gustaf to return to Finland, which had recently gained independence from Russia. 

When the Finnish parliament needed someone to restore order in Finland, they appointed Mannerheim. He disarmed 40,000 Russian troops allotted in Finland, and put down rebels after a three-month campaign. After all was said and done, peace had prevailed again. By May 1918, Finland had been restored.

“The task of the army is accomplished. Our country is free. From the Tundras of Lapland, from the remotest skerries of Aaland to Systerback, the Lion flag is flying. The people of Finland have flung away the chains of centuries and stand ready to take the place that properly belongs to them.” Mannerheim

Mannerheim stood in presidential elections in 1918, but lost only narrowly to K Ståhlberg. However, he signed Finland’s constitution into law later that year in July 1919, before staying out of politics until 1923, till he finally became president in 1944.

An International Hero 

With an impeccable military record, Mannerheim served in the Russian Imperial Army for decades and became a war hero to Finland. Carl Gustaf became a symbol of the Finnish struggle during the Winter War of 1939-1940 against Soviet Russia. He was hailed as an international hero, with many people recognizing his bravery throughout Western Europe as the man that led 105 days of resistance without surrendering even after being outnumbered by a superior enemy. 

In the hopes that he would be able to negotiate a separate peace with the Soviets, Carl was assigned as president. And so it happened: He signed an armistice in September, and this eventually led up to Finland’s having severe concessions than those made after their Winter War battles. 

In 1946, Gustaf Mannerheim resigned as President of Finland due to poor health. He moved to Switzerland and spent the last few years in relative quiet, before he passed away at Lausanne in 1951 when he was 83-years old. His body was returned back home to Finland, where it had been buried with full military honors.

The TIDLÖS team salutes the forgotten hero, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, Finland’s most famous military leader who selflessly helped his country earn independence against the soviet union.