Book Review: Mannerheim: The Finnish Years

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by J. E. O. Screen

London: Hurst / New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 290. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $30.00 paper. ISBN: 1849043620

Mannerheim in Command

This is a reissue of the second volume of the revised 2000 edition of the late British historian Screen’s life of Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1951). Screen opens with a brief review of Mannerheim's early life and military career in the Imperial Russian Army. By the end of the First World War, Mannerheim had risen to corps command, but at war’s end, with the collapse of the Tsarist regime, Finland assumed its independence and the general returned home, which is where Screen takes up his life in greater detail.

Screen gives us a comprehensive look at Mannerheim’s role in the Finnish Civil War of 1918 and his stint as “Regent” of the proposed Kingdom of Finland (1918-1919). With the establishment of a republic in 1919, Mannerheim, viewed as an arch conservative by the center-left Finnish regime, became a private citizen and over during the dozen years that followed engaged in business, traveled extensively and undertook humanitarian work, founding a child welfare organization. In 1931, Mannerheim was appointed Chairman of the Defence Council, and from this point Screen’s account becomes much more detailed.

As Chairman of the Defence Council, Mannerheim was responsible for military policy and preparations, a matter of increasing importance as the Nazis took power in Germany and the threat of war increased. When the Hitler-Stalin pact put Finland firmly in the latter’s sphere, Mannerheim urged concessions to the Soviets. The government’s failure to heed this advice led to the Soviet invasion in November 1939. Mannerheim served as commander-in-chief during the brief “Winter War”, in which the greatly outnumbered Finns performed superbly against the Russians, a performance that apparently greatly impressed Stalin. Screen then discusses Mannerheim’s role during the peace that followed, which resulted in the “Continuation War”, when the Finns with Germany against the Soviets, though limiting their operations to the occupation of territory historically Finnish. This war ended in 1944, as the Soviets threatened to overrun Finland, and the Finns undertook a short war against Germany. Screen concludes with an account of Mannerheim’s services as president of Finland (1944-1946), and his final years.

This is a very good work for anyone interested in Mannerheim, European politics between the world wars, or the Second World War.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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