Finnish Civil War

The Finnish Civil War[lower-alpha 1] was a civil war in Finland in 1918 fought for the leadership and control of the country between White Finland and the Finnish Socialist Workers' Republic (Red Finland) during the country's transition from a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire to an independent state. The clashes took place in the context of the national, political, and social turmoil caused by World War I (Eastern Front) in Europe. The war was fought between the Reds, led by a section of the Social Democratic Party, and the Whites, conducted by the conservative-based Senate and the German Imperial Army. The paramilitary Red Guards, were composed of industrial and agrarian workers. They controlled the cities and industrial centers of southern Finland. The paramilitary White Guards, consisted of land owners and those in the middle and upper-classes. They controlled rural central and northern Finland, and were led by General C. G. E. Mannerheim.

Finnish Civil War
Part of World War I, Russian Civil War and Revolutions of 1917–1923

Tampere's civilian buildings destroyed in the Civil War during the Battle of Tampere
Date27 January – 15 May 1918
(3 months, 2 weeks and 4 days)
Location
Result
  • Victory of the Finnish Whites
  • German hegemony until November 1918
  • Division in Finnish society
Belligerents
Finnish Whites
 German Empire[1]
Foreign volunteers:
Finnish Reds
Russian SFSR
Commanders and leaders
C. G. E. Mannerheim
Hannes Ignatius
Ernst Linder
Ernst Löfström
Martin Wetzer
Karl Wilkman
Hjalmar Frisell
Harald Hjalmarson
Hans Kalm
S. Prus-Boguslawski
Rüdiger von der Goltz
Hans von Tschirsky und von Bögendorff
Konrad Wolf
Otto von Brandenstein
Hugo Meurer
Kullervo Manner
Ali Aaltonen
Eero Haapalainen
Eino Rahja
Adolf Taimi
Evert Eloranta
August Wesley
Hugo Salmela
Heikki Kaljunen
Fredrik Johansson
Matti Autio
Verner Lehtimäki
Konstantin Yeremejev
Mikhail Svechnikov
Georgij Bulatsel
Strength
White Guards 80,000–90,000
Jägers 1,450
Imperial German Army 14,000
Swedish Brigade 1,000[2]
Estonian volunteers[3]
Polish Legion 1,737[4]
Red Guards 80,000–90,000 (2,600 women)
Former Russian Imperial Army 7,000–10,000[2]
Casualties and losses
Whites
3,500 killed in action
1,650 executed
46 missing
4 prisoner deaths
Swedes
55 killed in action
Germans
450–500 killed in action[5]
Total
5,700–5,800 casualties (100–200 neutral/"White" civilians)
Reds
5,700 killed in action
10,000 executed
1,150 missing
12,500 prisoners deceased, 700 acute deaths after release
Russians
800–900 killed in action
1,600 executed[5]
Total
32,500 casualties (100–200 neutral/"Red" civilians)

In the years before the conflict, Finland had experienced rapid population growth, industrialisation, pre-urbanisation and the rise of a comprehensive labour movement. The country's political and governmental systems were in an unstable phase of democratisation and modernisation. The socio-economic condition and education of the population had gradually improved, and national thinking and cultural life had increased. World War I led to the collapse of the Russian Empire, causing a power vacuum in Finland, and the subsequent struggle for dominance led to militarisation and an escalating crisis between the left-leaning labour movement and the conservatives. The Reds carried out an unsuccessful general offensive in February 1918, supplied with weapons by Soviet Russia. A counteroffensive by the Whites began in March, reinforced by the German Empire's military detachments in April. The decisive engagements were the Battles of Tampere and Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri; Swedish: Viborg), won by the Whites, and the Battles of Helsinki and Lahti, won by German troops, leading to overall victory for the Whites and the German forces. Political violence became a part of this warfare. Around 12,500 Red prisoners died of malnutrition and disease in camps. About 39,000 people, of whom 36,000 were Finns, perished in the conflict.

In the immediate aftermath, the Finns passed from Russian governance to the German sphere of influence with a plan to establish a German-led Finnish monarchy. The scheme ended with Germany's defeat in World War I, and Finland instead emerged as an independent, democratic republic. The Civil War divided the nation for decades. Finnish society was reunited through social compromises based on a long-term culture of moderate politics and religion and the post-war economic recovery.

The Finnish Civil War of 1918 was the second civil conflict within Finland's borders, as the Cudgel War of 1596/1597 (where poor peasants rose up against the troops, nobles and cavalry who taxed them) has similar features to the Civil War of 1918.[6][7]