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Finnish Leader Carl Gustav Mannerheim accepts 75th birthday wishes from Adolf Hitler in 1942. Two years later, Finnish troops would be fighting the Germans (National Archives).

A former Russian cavalry officer helped Finland win independence, then saved it from Stalin and Hitler

This post contains only a snippet of this article. Please purchase the Spring 2010 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Military History to read the entire article.

On a pedestal across from the Central Post Office in Helsinki stands an imposing equestrian statue of Marshal Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, one of Finland’s greatest heroes. Statues are usually raised to victors, however, and in that regard Mannerheim barely qualifies. He is best remembered in the West for having fought two losing wars against Russia, one of them as an ally of Nazi Germany. Raised in the gallant tradition of Russian cavalry, Mannerheim led Finland’s White Army to victory against the country’s Russian-reinforced Red Guard in its 1918 civil war, then pursued careers—largely abroad—as a diplomat. He knew relatively little of armored warfare or air power when World War II crashed down on Finland in 1939. Then 72, he was reluctant to delegate and slow to reach decisions. He was not easy to work with and subordinates accustomed to his courtesy learned also to deal with harsh criticism. No one ever called Mannerheim a man of the people; his style was that of a feudal baron.
For all his faults, Mannerheim was a true Finnish nationalist. Despite being forced into a partnership with Germany, he had no use for the dictators of his day, and masterminded one of the most humiliating defeats Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union ever suffered, in the Winter War of 1939–1940. He then went on to save Finland from occupation and destruction, defying or cooperating with the world’s great powers to achieve these ends.

To view the remainder of this article please purchase the Spring 2010 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

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