I’ll write a very condensed version of Niinistö’s book, in the same order (not entirely chronological) and I’ll include the maps from the book (though I don’t know if it’s legal, I’ll mark them the same way Niinistö has) so you can figure better where the arctic adventures took place.
Finnish border questions at the beginning of the independence.
The border of the autonomy
Finnish border demand at the Berlin negotiations 1918
The area of the Isthmus demanded by the Russians
The East Karelian parishes occupied by Finland 1919-1920
The Petsamo area acquired by Finland in the Tarto treaty
Finnish border after Tarto treaty
The modern border of Finland.
The divisions of Karelia. Writing about White and Red Karelians in White Karelia gets a bit tricky. I imagine Belarusians have a similar problem discussing their history.
The Heimosodat (Kinship wars, kindred wars) were a series of Finnish armed expeditions into areas of the collapsing Russian Empire inhabited by Finnic ‘tribes’ (notably Karelians, Ingrians, Estonians) with the aim of removing them from Russian rule and either grant the areas independence or incorporate them into the newly independent Finland. The conflicts were a direct continuation of the Finnish civil war and were fought between Finnish white guard members and volunteers against red forces of many ethnicities, often Finnish, and the English intervention forces. During the civil war in general Mannerheim, the commander of the anti-communist White Guards, wrote his famous Order of the Day, in which he declared that he would not set his sword to the scabbard “until Lenin’s last soldier and hooligan is deported from Finland and White Karelia” ("… ennen kuin viimeinen Leninin soturi ja huligaani on karkoitettu niin hyvin Suomesta kuin Vienan Karjalastakin."). In some cases, as in the Estonian War of Independence, Finnish forces were under Estonian or White Russian command. Interestingly enough, the idea of a “Greater Finland” (with Eastern Karelia and Kola peninsula) was desired by both whites and reds, yet neither could achieve it for the reds failed in Finland and the whites failed in Karelia.
General map of the Heimosodat. Mattila 2001, original base map by Eero Kuussaari
There were six Heimosodat in total:
21.3.1918 - 2.10.1918 The Viena Expeditions
27.4.1918 - 5.7.1918 and 23.1.1920 - 4.4.1920 The Petsamo Expeditions
30.8.1918 - 1.4.1919 The Estonian War of Independence
1.3.1919 - 12.2.1921 The Battle for Ingria
21.4.1919 - 1.8.1919 The Aunus Expedition
11.8.1920 - 20.2.1922 The Forest Guerrillas of Viena
The Viena Expeditions 1918
While the Civil war was still raging in the south, many of the reds had fleed to Viena (White Karelia, a geographical and not a political term) and threatened to flank the White forces driving towards Viipuri. To secure the back two expeditions were launched, jäger first lieutenant K. M. Wallenius with 500 men into north Viena and colonel lieutenant C. W. Malm with 370 men into southern Viena.
Malm crossed the border on 21. March and was welcomed by locals in Vuokkiniemi and Uhtua, facing no resistance until the attempted capture of Kemi, which failed miserably. The expedition returned to Uhtua, where the idealistic Finns were disappointed in the Karelians unwillingness to join the fight. The Karelians had already fought in the first world war and were becoming suspicious of the Finns, due to rumours of their co-operation with the hated Germans and began calling them “ruotsheiksi” (schwedes).
Overview of White (Viena) Karelia, the area of operation of Malm and Kuisma. Vahtola 1988, drawn by Irene Ryyppö.
Meanwhile the government attempted to negotiate with the Germans on the question of Eastern Karelia: in the summer of 1918 Berlin had other things on its mind and the Finns didn’t dare to act due to the German attitude. Malm was on his own.
The English Intervention forces had organized the Karelian Regiment. The Karelian veterans were given English training, clothing and weapons, not to speak of the English food supplies with which the interventionists bought much of the population to their side.
Malm had become ill and had to leave back to Finland, being replaced by jäger captain Toivo Kuisma. Kuisma brought along more volunteers and Prussian discipline, under which the men became a more serious fighting force. Still, the Karelians knew the terrain better and could ambush small patrols, taking no prisoners (except for one Finn who was brought all the way to England, returning to Finland later). The locals supported the Karelian Regiment as they were “our boys” and revealed Finnish positions to the soldiers.
The decisive battle of the expedition was fought at Vuokkiniemi. Kuisma’s force in the village and enemy machine guns in the north. Map by Jukka I. Mattila
With great bitterness Kuisma decided to retreat, being joined by only a handful of the Karelian White Guard the Finns had organized there. The Imperial English divide and conquer -strategy had won the fight.
As Kuisma prepared his troops to leave from Vuokkiniemi back to Finland, the last supplies arrived: winter coats, cigarettes and two machine guns, brought by one young Urho Kekkonen who would later become the Finnish president for 26 years during the cold war. But before they could leave, the Karelian Regiment begun their offensive. The village had been surrounded and the underpowered Finns couldn’t flee to the border, so they begun organizing a defence. After heavy fighting the Finns were victorious, but lost 10% of their men (20 in total). Kuisma gave his friend lieutenant Sairio a viking burial in Aijonlahti, sinking a boat with his body in full uniform. The retreating men were chased by Karelians in continuous rain, but finally crossed the border to Finland on 2. October and the expedition was disbanded in Kuopio in late October.
Jäger first lieutenant Wallenius was not a romantic: “The work must be done with bayonets to have a lasting result.” Wallenius crossed the border at Paanajärvi (now Ozero Panayarvi, Russia) on 28th March and proceeded to north Viena. The expedition encountered red forces along their path, earning some successess at Tuntsa but failing to capture Ruva. The reds noted that the white recruits were demoralized and inexperienced, spreading stories among the locals of maltreatment by white officers. The Ostrobothnian recruits rebelled openly, with a smith from Taivalkoski, Paavo Ylisirniö, revealing his chest and telling his lieutenant to shoot him, for he came to defend Finland and not to conquer Russia.
Wallenius’s operations in White Karelia were stunted by stubborn resistance. Vahtola 1988, drawn by Irene Ryyppö
Kuisma visited the headquarters to receive assistance to East Karelia, but general Mannerheim was more concerned with the Viipuri offensive than protecting a few conquered villages in the backwoods of Karelia. Also problematic were German and English attitudes to Finland: Germany didn’t want to assist Finns in East Karelia as it could be viewed a breach of the Brest-Litovsk treaty with Russia and the English saw Finland as a German vassal state threatening the Murmansk railway and Petrograd.
Speaking of the English, they had formed the Murmansk Legion out of red Finns in the north in anticipation of a German-Finnish offensive. Wallenius encountered ever more problems as the supply lines dried up, with meat being a rarity and even then riddled with maggots. The expedition was pulled to the border 2nd of May and begun patrolling the border. When the German general von der Goltz visited Salla, he marked the poor clothing and food situation.
The reds had planned to attack northern Finland, but the whites had prevented this. The whites had intended to conquer Viena, but the reds repelled them. Most of the Karelians were neutral - as one inhabitant of Oulanga remarked in April: “Which one is right. We are neutral. We don’t know. You say this, they say that. Which is right, we don’t know. Let us be hosted by Russia, England or Finland, as long as we are left in peace.”
The Petsamo Expeditions 1918 and 1920
Though Wallenius had at first envisioned a northern campaign reaching all the way to the Arctic and encompassing the whole Kola peninsula, the government rejected his plans due to the English presence on the White sea and the Artic sea. Instead the senate at Vaasa allowed an unofficial group to be sent to Petsamo, dubbed “the Doctors expedition”, led by PhD Renvall. Consisting of scientists, artists and local sami, the expedition had hardly any military experience though they were armed. The hundred men crossed the border at Nautsi on 27th April. Locals treated them suspiciously and the English mobilized their forces from the cruiser Cochrane, anchored in Petsamo. The Finns were easily defeated and some fleed back to Finland, while Renvall with his men attempted to stay in the area. Threatened by the British-Karelian-Finnish-Russian forces, Renvall was also running out of food and faced dire supply problems, the senate and the army wouldn’t be of any help and on top of all this, the Norwegian border guard treated the Finns with hostility, taking in total 18 Finns as prisoners. Finally in late June Renvall decided to retreat and the expedition was disbanded 5th of July in Virtaniemi.
In 1920 as the allied intervention force left northern Russia, it was time for a new attempt at Petsamo. This time headed by jäger major Wallenius, the Finns crossed the border on 28. January with 150 men. Wallenius advanced rapidly and disarmed the local red guards, taking control of the area. However, the men were too few to patrol the whole of Petsamo and the promised backup of 500 men were half a thousand kilometers away in Oulu. Wallenius was advised by foreign minister Holsti to retreat if facing overpowering enemy forces and avoid crossing over to Norway. On 22nd March two bolshevik ships arrived in the Petsamo fjord and Wallenius began his retreat in a blizzard. The march was physically hard and men got lost in the snowstorm, freezing to death, some got snowblinded. The bolsheviks, many former soldiers of the Murmansk Legion, caught up to the Finns on the 1st of April and forced them to fight at Salmijärvi, from where 29 Finns retreated into Norway, getting interned by the Norwegians. Wallenius and his men escaped along Paatsjoki to Finland, where the group was disbanded.
Bolshevik operations towards Salmijärvi in March 1920. In the north the Russian company, in the south the Fenno-Olonetsian company. Kuussaari 1939.
Though the armed attempts at conquering Petsamo failed, Finns got their arctic port in the Tarto treaty 1920, in exchange for the parishes of Repola and Porajärvi, which in 1918 had voted to join Finland and had been under Finnish administration for two years. This was seen by many as a “shame peace”, trading kindred peoples for an economically valuable port.
The Estonian War of Independence
Estonia declared its independence from Russia on 24th February 1918, but it was rather shortlived as the German Reichswehr occupied its capital, Tallinn, the very next day. The suppression of the national movement came to an end with the collapse of the German empire in November, but a new danger was approaching from the east: the bolsheviks invaded Estonia as the Germans retreated, beginning the red terror in Estonia and giving no time to organize defences.
The leader of the independent Estonia, Konstantin Päts, ordered mobilisation and sent out pleas of help to the world. The Red Army was only 30 kilometers away from Tallinn and defeat seemed inevitable, until the English sent twelve ships to Tallinn, bringing weapons and stopping attacks from the sea. The Scandinavian nations denied help, neutral as they were, but Finland decided to send aid. As the Finnish regent P. E. Svinhufvud told the government in session 25th November: “Friends must be helped.”
It was also in Finnish interests to repel a bolshevik state on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland and the defence of Estonia was seen as defence of Finland. The Finnish government sent the Estonians 5000 rifles and organized 2000 volunteers, divided into two groups: one led by swedish-born Martin Ekström (who was by now sergeant in the Swedish army, captain in the Persian gendarmery, lieutenant in the German army, major in the Finnish army and soon would become colonel in the Estonian army) and the other led by estonian-born Hans Kalm (whose surname literally means “death” in finnish and estonian, captain in the Czars army, colonel in the Finnish and Estonian armies).
The 1st Finnish Volunteer Force (1 Suomalainen Vapaajoukko) arrived in Tallinn (their transportation secured by the English, who had warred the Karelians against the Finns the earlier summer and autumn) on 30th December 1918 and was received with enthusiasm by the Estonians. The Estonian paper Waba Maa wrote the following day in finnish: “The brothers from Finland, if our enemies say: Finis Finlandiae and Finis Estoniae, then we shall say: Long live Finland! Long live Estonia! We will triumph!” The Finnish forces were maybe even hosted too passionately, as most of the men were drunk by the evening, causing Ekström to write in his diary: “Fy fan!”
The Volunteer Force took part in the cleansing of Northern Estonia, proceeding eastwards and spreading their attacking spirit into the Estonians. When facing red Finnish forces, it seemed both to the communists and the whites that the Finnish civil war was continuing on Estonian soil. The Red forces had been on constant retreat since the first week of 1919 and from captured files could be found that the Reds vastly overestimated the Finnish forces and included sightings of Finns in places they had never been in.
On one occasion Ekström told lieutenant Varmavuori jokingly that if he could reach Rakvere the next morning before 7, he would be promoted. During the night the enemy retreated from the city and Varmavuori took control of the city with only 27 men, sending Ekström the laconic message: “We arrived in Rakvere today at 6 o’clock. Varmavuori, cavalry captain.”
The Volunteer Force landed at Udria on the 17th of January and headed the offense on Narva the next day. Though heavily outnumbered, the estonian-finnish offense was a success and the Finns began clearing the houses and executed 27 Finnish communists in front of the city hall. (Here Niinistö states that “it seems that it was close that war comissar Trotsky and estonian communist leader Aanvelt didn’t meet the same fate”, but doesn’t elaborate. I suppose they had just left the city prior to the invasion.)
The capture of Narva was compared to the warrior king Charles XII’s conquest of the same city in the year 1700. In both cases highly motivated attackers beat the numerically superior defenders, proving the power of ruthless aggression. On the opposing side, the disorderly and panic-infused retreat of the Red Army was criticized in the Krasnaja Gazeta article titled “The Shame of Narva”: “A futile offense and 200 white guards banished the many thousand numbered Red Army from Narva. — Sloth, laziness, lack of discipline - these are the reasons for the shameful defeat at Narva. — The shame of Narva must be washed away with the blood of our enemies. Narva must belong to us!”
Estonian commander Laidoner intended to push the eastern border further from Narva, some 25km to Jamburg, but Finnish general Wetzer refused Finnish forces being used outside Estonian borders. After Narva the 1st Finnish Volunteer Force didn’t take part in any bigger operations and was repatriated by the end of March. The pay was less than promised and arrived irregularly, which had lowered the moral towards the end.
Overview of the activities of Finnish volunteers in Estonia. Niinistö-Mattila 1999
Some of the officers of the Pohjan Pojat, colonel Kalm sitting in the middle in the front. The polar bear flag is prominent.
Colonel Hans Kalm was allowed by the government to recruit a thousand volunteers: he recruited 2 300. He named his force the Pohjan Pojat, Sons of the North, after the finnish war cry used in the 30-years war (Hakkaa päälle, pohjan poika! “Hack them down, son of the north!”) and the force would gain fame or notoriety, depending on your side, for their reckless fighting spirit and behaviour. He also invented the symbol of the regiment, a polar bears head on the flag of Finland. The Pohjan Pojat arrived in Tallinn on 12th January and were received by prime minister Päts, estonian colonel Laidoner, finnish general Wetzer and, perplexing to the Finns, white Russian forces.
Kalm requested that the Pojat be sent south, as the fighting in the north had eased after Narva. The Estonians had captured Tarto and Kalm was tasked with invading the city of Valk. On the road to Valk was the mansion of Paju (Luhde Großhof) which was defended by 500 elite Latvian Red Army riflemen, the Lenins Janissaries. Kalm allowed the Estonian battalion to attack the mansion at first lieutenant Kuperjanovs request, but their attempt failed with heavy casualties and Kuperjanov himself being killed in action.
Now it was time for the Pohjan Pojat: they attacked the manor from both sides and after fighting had lasted the day, the Finns finally reached the mansion itself. There the battle was decided with bayonets, riflebutts and fists. The Pojat emerged victorious and as no prisoners were to be taken, they executed 50 men, including two chinese mercenaries. Among the executed were 12 civilians, staff of the mansion, who had been hiding in the cellar. When the staff were revealed to be innocent, the Finns were ashamed and the atmosphere after the successful invasion was gloomy.
The Pohjan Pojat marched to Valk the following day, as the bolsheviks had pulled out of the city the previous night. The locals gathered to greet them and the Finns discovered that the city had been a subject to a harsh Red Terror, as they found mass graves full of tortured bodies of citizens, including women and old men.
After Valk the regiment was ordered to stay in reserve, but Kalm asked for a task “more suited to the regiments spirit”. Wetzer ordered Kalm to take control of the area of Koikylä (Koikküla) while the Estonians invaded the town of Marienburg, in northern Latvia. After carrying out this task, Kalm demanded to be allowed to take part in the offense on Marienburg and conflicted with Wetzer and other superiors. Without permission, supplies or knowledge of the enemy forces waiting for them, Kalm gave the order to proceed 80 kilometers to a potentially hostile nation without the possibility to protect their flanks. The first company refused to cross the Estonian border, but the rest of Pohjan Pojat followed Kalm and departed on 19. February on his risky endeavor.
A captured panzer car, with the addition of the polar bear in front of the car. Pohjan Pojat rode with style.
The Pojat arrived at Marienburg on the 20th and attacked on the 21st, facing heavy resistance, but emerging victorious. The Estonian forces arrived only a day later on panzer trains and relieved the Finns of control, and Pohjan Pojat returned to Valk by train on the 26th February. The marching in constant rain, both water and snow, and the fighting had took its toll on the men and when the Estonians retreated from Marienburg only a week later with miniscule casualties, the morale of the Finns was low. Much drinking took place and much of the anecdotes about Pohjan Pojat relate in one way or the other to alcohol. The relations with the locals were hostile, with the 16-year old Finn Juutilainen being abducted from the street and later beaten and executed.
Kalm on the other hand began planning the liberation of Ingria - and the conquest of Petrograd. The Red Army began an offensive in March in south-east Estonia and the Pohjan Pojat were sent to Petseri. It was trench warfare, constant fatigue with little to no results. The Pojat returned to Valk 29th of March, where Kalm offered them a continuation of their volunteer contract for the liberation of Ingria. Only a few hundred signed, the rest left north for Finland.
In Tallinn, the locals pretended not to see the now notorious Finns. This didn’t help the situation and during the evening the soldiers all got drunk, with many incidents following: two estonians were shot at, a finnish soldier chased a swedish officer with a knife and when commander Hannula was shooting around his hotel room the police attempted to arrest him, only for him to threaten to mobilise his battalion against the Estonians…
No one came to see the Finns off in the harbour. Kalm stayed with his few hundred men, but disbanded the Pohjan Pojat 29th May after he failed to realize his plans with Ingria. Some men returned to Finland, while others joined the Estonian army, some joined the Ingrian Volunteer Forces, some left to the Polish army, some to von der Goltz’s Baltic “Iron Division”, but most joined the upcoming expedition to Aunus (Olonets) Karelia.
So ended the Finnish volunteers Heimosota to Estonia, the only successful of the conflicts that took place. During January 1919 about one third of the Estonian army consisted of Finns, not to mention the aid in weapons and money. The aid came at the right time and had a great moral impact on the Estonians, some say that Finland prevented Estonia from collapsing under the Red Army.
The Aunus Expedition 1919
After the failures in White (Viena) Karelia, the hopes of Finnish activists were directed to Olonets (Aunus) Karelia, from where a steady stream of Karelian refugees was arriving into Finland with pleas of helping Karelians under Red rule. Russia was by now in a state of chaos: Estonia had successfully defeated the Red Army, in the south general Denikin and in the east general Kolchak were on the offense, supported by the Great Britain and France who at the same time planned moving the allied intervention forces southwards from Murmansk and Arkhangel. It seemed that Finland should take part in the fight against bolshevism, which would lead to the destruction of Soviet Russia and the incorporation of East Karelia into Finland.
The driving force behind the expedition to Aunus was the notable trio of jäger majors Gunnar von Hertzen and Paavo Talvela and the one-handed jäger captain Ragnar Nordström, who found that the young republic could not defend itself with the current borders. The “Border of Three Isthmuses” was favored, with the border pushed to the isthmuses of Karelia, Aunus and Viena. The government wasn’t too excited as weren’t the headquarters, with Mannerheims focus being on Petrograd, but a rebellion in a town in Olonets in late March persuaded the government to give permission and weapons for the expedition.
The Headquarters appointed jäger lieutenant colonel Ero Gadolin to lead the expedition, much to von Hertzens dismay, who quickly recruited 4500 men, most of whom were 16-20 years old with no war experience.
The beginning of the operations in Olonets Karelia. Vahtola 1997
The expedition was divided into three parts: a small group led by sergeant major Marttina to cut the Murmansk railroad on Syväri and the two main forces going north towards Petrozavodsk led by Talvela and south towards Lotinanpelto led by von Hertzen.
The expedition split at Salmi and the border was crossed by Marttina on the 18th and Talvela and von Hertzen on the 20th April. The southern forces advanced steadily through the villages of Vitele, Tuulos and Alavoinen towards the city of Aunus. Meanwhile a strike force comprised of southern Ostrobothnians, led by jäger sergeant major Isotalo, skied along the frozen lake Ladoga for 120 kilometers in 14 hours and struck the village of Pisi - behind Aunus. The now surrounded city was taken by von Hertzen without a fight on 23rd.
Marttina’s force failed to disrupt the railway between Petrozavodsk and Petrograd, which caused von Hertzen to stop his advance towards Lotinapelto. The conflict between von Hertzen and Gadolin culminated in Gadolin resigning and being replaced by jäger colonel Aarne Sihvo.
Since the railway was still functioning, the bolsheviks began mobilizing and organizing counterattacks, which led to the loss of Aunus on 4th May. The Finns retreated with heavy losses but the front stabilized at Alavoinen, where von Hertzens men could rest.
Talvelas northern force had begun their offense from Orusjärvi towards the strategically important village of Prääzä on 21st April. The attack steadily followed retreating Red forces and Prääzä was taken on the 29th. The reception by the locals was warm, with hundreds of olonetsians joining his forces. Talvela set up defensive positions some 40 kilometers from Petroskoi and attempted to contact the English forces operating north of lake Onega, as this time they had the same enemy: bolsheviks. Co-operation with the Finns didn’t interest the English, for their plans with the White Russians were to reinstate the “old, holy and indivisible Russia” and thus didn’t include a Greater Finland - or an independent Finland at all.
von Hertzen took Aunus back on the 7th May, but due to desertions caused by demoralization and dissatisfaction with von Hertzens methods of waging war he had to pull back from the city once again. Under constant harassment by the bolsheviks, the southern front was about to collapse completely, until reinforcements arrived and the front stopped at Tuulos.
Supply lines in Olonets ran with the help of the locals
In the Headquarters the Olonets expedition was seen as a supporting preoperation for the conquest of Petrograd. Sihvo was instructed that Petroskoi must be taken as soon as possible, before the English or the White Russians could take it. Thus all help should go to Talvela and von Hertzen should stay put at Tuulos.
This didn’t suit von Hertzen, who believed that Lotinapelto should be taken at any price, and led his regiment to a new attack against orders and an enemy twice as strong. The attack was successful in the beginning, but turned into a catastrophy on 27th June as the bolsheviks conducted an amphibious assault led by finnish Red officer Reino Rahja (one of the notorious Rahja brothers) at Vitele. von Hertzen didn’t have sufficient coastal cannons and the bolshevik ships could fire on the Finns without resistance. After the shelling the Reds landed en masse and the Finns retreated to Rajakontu and partly to Finland. Army forces were mobilized to the border but the government wouldn’t let them help the expedition in fear of a full scale war with Soviet Russia and the possible English reaction. Thus von Hertzen pulled all his forces back to Finland where his group was disbanded on 5th July.
The fronts before the landing at Vitele marked with spikes, after the landing with balls. Vahtola 1997
Talvela, who had reached the gates of Petroskoi, was suddenly under the threat of being flanked from the south and had to pull back to the lakes of Säämäjärvi and Munjärvi. As the summer progressed the depressed and weary Talvela was the only commander of the expedition whose resignation was denied and he was left with the cleanup, even after Sihvo had left in late July.
Officially the expedition was dissolved on 15th January 1920 and the very last men who had held out in Rajakontu were ordered to return to Finland on 11th November 1920.
Ski troops “there somewhere” in Olonets Karelia
The Olonets expedition was the biggest and the most well known of the Heimosodat. It was a private enterprise, begun by the jäger and activist circles interested in the Eastern Karelian question, and it was conducted by volunteer forces with the governments funding and responsibility. The failure was due to insufficient forces, who were insufficiently trained and insufficiently equipped. The next time von Hertzen and Nordström would visit Olonets would be in 1941-1944.
Volunteers in Olonets, presumably before the demoralization