Finnish Civil War 1918



WHITE ARMY (Valkoinen Armeija):


Suojeluskunta (White Guard) Rifle Company (Whites), 1918:

(This is what was ordered, reality varied a lot, in practice company strengths could be anywhere between 75 and 216 men). Civil Guard units were volunteer units with very little military training.

Local HQ (5 - 10 men)

3 Rifle Platoons


Higher levels of organisation for Suojeluskunta (White Guard) units: (introduced only around Viipuri operation in April of 1918)

Suojeluskunta Regiment (about 2,000 men)


Total number of Suojeluskunta Regiments of Finnish White Army was 10 regiments.


Grenadier Battalion, February 1918 (Six Grenadier Battalions formed from recruited personnel, they got united to form two Grenadier Regiments. These battalions got 4 weeks of military training before being sent to battle).


Finnish Army Jaeger Battalion (Whites), March 1918

(Organisation of 20 battalions established during the war, these were the first official units of Finnish Army. Their officers and much of NCOs were jaegers (Finnish volunteers with German reserve officer level military training) while rank-and-file soldiers were conscripts who got 4 - 6 weeks of military training before being units got sent to war. Organisational plan made in February 1918 had much more manpower in each Jaeger unit: About 400 men in each company and 1,875 men in each battalion. There never were enough time or troops for that, so that organisation was never used. The ones shown here was developed and used instead.)

Battalion HQ

- Bicycle Unit

- Sapper Unit

- Medic Unit

Battalion Supply Units

3 Rifle Companies


Higher levels of jaeger formations in 1918:

Machinegun Company of Jaeger Regiment (Whites), 1918:

Company HQ

Supply Units

2 or 3 Machinegun Platoons (Originally these had only 2 Platoons but if needed weapons were able to be captured a 3rd Platoon was usually added)

(Total manpower for Machinegun Company which have 2 Machinegun Platoons: 49 men + 4 machineguns).


Dragoon Squadron of Uudenmaa Dragoon Regiment (Whites), 1918:

(Uudenmaa and Hämeenmaa Cavalry Regiments were exceptionally recruited units and also only large cavalry units of 1918 war. Whole Uudenmaa Dragoon Regiment had just 3 Dragoon Squadrons).

Squadron Commander & HQ

3 Dragoon Platoons

Supply Units


Squadron manpower strength: 136 men


Machinegun Squadron of Uudenmaa Dragoon Regiment

Squadron HQ

4 machineguns (Maxim)


White Artillery Battery, before 6th of April 1918:

(First ones sent to battle in March, before Tampere battle weapons were mostly old 87 mm guns and 122 mm howitzers, lots of artillery weapons were captured in Tampere. Exceptions: Jaeger Artillery Batteries 1 - 3 sent to battle in 12th - 13th of February 1918 had all 4 guns or howitzers. Also, self-organised artillery batteries of Suojeluskunta often had 1 - 4 guns or howitzers, depending how many had been captured).

White Artillery Battery, after 6th of April 1918:

(Artillery Battalion = 3 Artillery Batteries. Large amounts of artillery captured in Rautu and Tampere allowed this reorganisation).



RED GUARD (Punakaarti):


Red Guard Rifle Company, 1918:

(Organisation used by Finnish Red Guards was basically loaned from Battalions from Army of Finnish Grand Duchy, which existed pre year 1900. Red Guard organisation had also battalion - division levels, but in reality its companies fought as independent companies, not as battalions or regiments).

Company Commander


1st Platoon

2nd Platoon

3rd Platoon

4th Platoon


In reality the size of Red Guard company varied in between 70 - 150 men.


Red Guard Machinegun Company, 1918:

Company Commander


3 Machinegun Platoons


Higher level of formations for Finnish Red Guards: (existed on paper until regiment-level, but in reality Red Guards did not fight as battalions or regiments)

Red Guard Division


Red Guard Bomb thrower (91 mm mine thrower) Unit, 1918

(Notice: Whites had one similar unit, which was sent to Vilppula front in 28th of February and participated in capturing city of Tampere before it run out of ammunition).

4 x 91 mm mine thrower model GR 1916 (mine thrower was ancestor of grenade thrower used in World War 1.


Red Guard Artillery Battery, 1918:

4 x Guns or Howitzers






Finnish Civil War was fought mainly between Finnish Reds Guards and Finnish White Army, from these two White Army was the one that won the war. Finnish Whites were in side with legal government and were supported by Imperial Germany, which at that time was fighting World War 1 against Allies - including Russia. Finnish Reds (at start at least) were extreme revolutionary socialists supported by Russian Bolshevik government. First battle was bought in Viipuri in night between 19th and 20th of January 1918 and battles started escalating from there.

At 23rd of January the Reds started to secure railways for train full of weapons about to arrive to them from Petrograd (Saint Petersburg). 25th of January Finnish Senate (legal government) declared Suojeluskunta (White Guard) troops as its troops and gave their command to Mannerheim next day. That day Mannerheim decided to start disarming the Russian troops in Pohjanmaa / Botnia region with Suojeluskunta troops and those operations started in early hours of 28th of January. The Reds also issued their first orders about revolution in 26th of January. War was going on in all accounts by early hours of 28th of January.

Country was divided in two, with frontline running in line Ahlainen - Vilppula - Mäntyharju - Antrea - Rautu. Areas north of this line soon fell under White Army control and areas south of the line fell until control of the Red Guards. Early in the war both sides still had units deep in enemy territory, but soon both sides started mopping up enemy units that were behind their lines. These unlucky units typically had two choices - they could try to get to their own lines (some White units also crossed Finnish Gulf to German controlled Estonia) or be destroyed. Frontline was composed from small bases of opposite sides on here and there with even tens of kilometres between the bases, specially railway lines had vital importance in this war but also roads were used, so bases were mostly build along roads and railways. And as both sides lacked military tents existing buildings had to be used for accommodation (Finnish winter being what it is), this lead villages also having strong importance. As a result basically the war was mainly fought along roads and railroads from one village to another.

From early on White Army had about 80 % of country, but only 50 % population in the area it controlled. Hence transports and transport routes became a major factor for this war. The 20 % of country that Red Guards controlled had more dense road and railway network and grand majority of industry. When the war started White Army suffered from shortage of weapons (due to cut in communications White Army had not received its latest shipment, German weapons transport cargo of S/S Equity in December of 1917). Being short on weapons White Army first started taking defensive stand. Strategic weak point of White Army was behind Vilppula front. Haapamäki railway crossing less than 40 kilometers behind Vilppula front was a key point of railway lines in their control. Losing Haapamäki would have left White Army without railway connection between western and eastern parts of its troops. Further along the same railway were seaports of Pohjanmaa region through which weapons and ammunition used to equip White Army were arriving. In addition behind it were both Mannerheim's HQ in town of Seinäjoki and Finnish Senate in city of Vaasa. Hence success in Vilppula front would have offered Red Guards their best chances of military victory. For the Reds their strategic weak point was Karelian Isthmus, through which they had the only railway line linking them to their Bolshevik supporters in Petrograd.

Red Guards were first to launch offensive. For some reason the Reds apparently did not first realise the importance of Haapamäki and spent much of their resources in securing their rear area by hunting out poorly equipped Suojeluskunta units from their rear areas. Even then their first attacks (designed by Russian Colonel Mihail Svetsnikov, who was likely among the first among Red leadership to grasp the importance of Haapamäki) were small attacks all over the front - which naturally failed. By early March the Reds had realised the situation and now their whole attack was concentrated towards Haapamäki - but getting breakthrough in Vilppula failed again. Not that Red attacks were masterpieces of military tactics even at that time - basically their infantry repeatedly attempted frontal assault in snow, only to end up being mowed down by well-placed White Army machineguns and rifle fire. Attempts of using artillery and armored trains for fire support all failed. Due to their inability to transfer troops from one part of front or create reserves of any real size, Red Guards were chronically unable to create proper troop concentration required for organising powerful offensive.

The Whites started their first offensive in 15th of March. City of Tampere was main target of their attack. At that time Tampere was the largest inland city in Finland and during the war it had became a major supply base for the Red Guards. First White troops advanced toward Tampere and surrounded it by 25th of March. Next phase of their attack was to conquer Tampere - battle started in 3rd of April and ended with remaining Reds surrendering (some units managed to escape) three days later. 3rd of April German troops (of Ostsee Division) landed to Hanko and 7th of April also in Loviisa. German troops attacked from Hanko to Helsinki, this made Red Guard leadership (Military Committee) to escape from Helsinki first to Viipuri and later from there to Petrograd. Red Guards no longer succeeded creating any real defence lines, even if they still had some 70,000 armed men and women in their ranks. Large amounts of Reds started their escape towards Russian border. When German troops from Loviisa also advanced towards north cutting the route of retreat to Russia from the situation of Reds got really desperate. 19th of April White Army launches its second main offensive attacking from northern parts of Karelian Isthmus - sweeping southwards and cutting the railway connection in between southern Finland and Petrograd. White Army captures city of Viipuri 29th of April. Several bitter battles were still fought, but Red Guard units had no change of winning and ultimately they surrendered one by one. Fighting ended officially in 4th of May, but some isolated Red units were encountered still during the next few weeks. Battle losses of both sides were reasonably small, the Whites lost about 3,100 dead and 9,000 wounded while the Reds lost some 3,400 dead. During war both sides executed their prisoners of war in many occations. After the war large amounts of the Reds died in prison camps mostly to hunger and pesticide, but also to executions.



Reasons behind the Reds starting a rebellion were numerous but social democratic party seriously losing elections, inspiration from Russian revolution, poor conditions of that part of farming population that cultivated rented land, food shortage and high unempoyment get to just about any list.

The earliest sign of Red Guards can be found from "Protection Guards of Workers" organised for general strike of year 1905, which was also reason behind organising first "Security Guards" that later become Suojeluskunta. First violent clash between these two happened already in July of 1906 in Hakaniemi Square in Helsinki. 2nd era of Russification starting from year 1905 calmed things between the two sides until 1917 as it offered them a common enemy - Imperial Russia with its Czar and Ohrana (secret police) and military.

Minor political violence started already in July of 1917, but during general strike in November it really changed the atmosphere with ever increasing death toll. It planted the seeds of violence (34 people died to political violence and political murders during this general strike) and also again raised hate between Red Guards and Suojeluskunta. Finland become independent in 6th of December 1917, but Russian Army was still present (at January of 1918 some 42,500 soldiers of Russian units were still in Finland) and new Bolshevik leadership had no hurry to call them off. Instead the Bolsheviks started to support Finnish Red Guard by supplying it with weaponry, offering specialists and advisors that would offer it military training and offer advice - and even attempted (with little success) to gather Russian troops to fight on its side.

First battles of war were in night of 19th - 20th of January, with first orders for rebellion were issued starting from 26th of January. Red Guard had mainly urban working class and non-land owning farming population and its organisations were mainly local. It had its HQ in Helsinki and also local HQs in Tampere and Viipuri, but these typically had somewhat limited power over local organisations and units. During war Red Guard stopped public works and offered good wages to get more volunteers to join its ranks, later on the Reds also attempted calling in of male-population with universal conscription (with very limited success). Typically Red Guard lacked real organisation in its units higher then company-level and each company had been gathered from men of the same working place, village or local branch of union. Power base of Red Guard was in industrialised towns and among non land owning population in countryside of Southern Finland.



The original idea behind creation of White Army was freeing Finland from Russian rule by disarming Russian troops and using violence to do this if necessary. As war progressed it became more and more clear that Finnish Red Guards was the main enemy instead of Russian military, but this just lead into Red Guard being seen as traitors who had sided up with Russian oppressors and were now voluntarily fighting against their own countrymen. White Army enjoyed some major advantages, among them 2,000 Finnish volunteers that had travelled to Germany in 1915 - 1916, received German military training and had been battle-hardened as "Prussian Jaeger Battalion 27" in battles of eastern front. After their return to Finland these volunteers would provide Finnish White Army the officers and NCOs that it badly needed. White Army was also receiving large shipments of weaponry bought from Germany (mostly Russian weapons that German Army had captured earlier) during the war. These two factors allowed White Army to create a superior fighting force more successful than the Red Guards.

White Army can be divided to three kinds of troops:

Leadership of Suojeluskunta organisations had some roots in other earlier Finnish organisations that had wanted to end Russian rule in Finland. Some of them like Kagaani and Voimaliitto had been planning use of violence for this purpose already earlier, and in 1918 many of their leading figures appeared to Military Council, which organised starting of White Army. Typically Suojeluskunta organisations were local and this combined with suspicion concerning trust-worthiness of those officers that had earlier served in Russian Army. Local Suojeluskunta organisations often had their roots in "security guards" established for general strike of 1905, but it was the "svoboda" of Russian military after Russian revolution, which really got most of the large amount of them established. Basically "svoboda" was Russian military getting out off control: They were armed soldiers executing their own officers, acting violently, being intoxicated, looting everything they wanted etc. As Kerenski government had disestablished police earlier there was no police to take care about public safety. When war started local Suojeluskunta units were (more or less) organised under one nation-wide leadership. Hired (hiring them started in 14th of February) recruited units basically had the situation as Suojeluskunta units, but they were established during the war.

Finnish Senate (Government) made in 18th of February 1918 a declaration, which used 1878 law of recruitment allowing calling in male population to military service. The law was used to create 6 Jaeger Regiments, 11 artillery batteries, Carelian Cavalry Regiment (which never got near being a real regiment, it never had more then 420 men) and some other smaller units. These units became also the first actual units of Finnish Army. Jaegers returning from Germany in 25th of February 1918 were used as officers and NCOs for these new units.



  • Training of rank and file troops:
  • Fighting Moral: Both White Army Suojeluskunta troops and soldiers of Red Guard were often terrified of possibility of getting surrounded. Neither side typically had very good maps and as connections to other troops were practically non-existent in terms of today (telegraph or phone connection was seldom available, typically messengers were the only method of keeping contact to own troops). And once both sides got accustomed to executing their POWs, any troops that got surrounded were basically dead, which increased fear even further. Jaeger Battalions of White Army were typically somewhat better organised and more often had better connection and leadership so they were bit better. On the other hand desperation sometimes heightened the fighting moral of troops considerably. Both sides had considerable problems in getting many of their units (recruited units and Jaeger Battalions being exceptions) to participate into battles fought far from their homes. For example Red Guards often had their machineguns shooting for moral reasons even if there were no good targets with-in range. Reason for this was quite basic - own machineguns not shooting all the time during battle proved to be sometimes enough reason for Red troops to start retreat on their own.
  • Leadership:

  • Last updated 31st of December 2017
    Webmaster: JTV
    Copyrights (pictures, text and graphics): Jaeger Platoon Website.