Finish military leader and conservative statesmen who successfully defended Finland against greatly superior Soviet forces during World War II and served as the country´s president (1944-46).
Of Swedish ancestry Mannerheim entered the Russian Army in 1889 (Finland was part of the Russian Empire) and distinguished himself during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and World War I rising to the rank of lieutenant general and corps commander.
After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in November 1917 he returned to Finland which had declared its independence from Russia. A conservative aristocrat and monarchist he assumed command of the White (ant-Bolshevik) forces in January 1918 and with German assistance defeated the Finish Bolsheviks and expelled Soviet forces in a bloody four-month campaign.
His wish to aid other White commanders in their attempts to reconquer Russia and re-establish the Romanov dynasty was rejected by the Finish government. He assumed his country´s regency in December 1918 when Finland considered the possibility of becoming a monarchy but retired when a republic was declared in 1919.
Re-entering public life in 1931 he became chairman of the national defense council. During his eight-year tenure Finland constructed the so-called Mannerheim Line of fortifications across the Karelian Isthmus facing Leningrad to block any potential aggressive moves by the Soviet Union.
In the diplomatic crisis inmediately preceding the 1939-40 winter war with Russia in which Stalin demanded extensive territorial concessions from Finland he favoured a compromise solution.
When Soviet forces attacked in December 1939 he served once more as commander-in-chief and his brilliant leadership won considerable successes against vast numerical superiority resulting in a relatively favourable peace settlement in 1941.
Mannerheim´s victories greatly contributed from to the mistaken beliefs held by some Western nations and Hitler that Russia could be defeated easily.
Finland reopened the war against Russia in cooperation with Nazi Germany in June 1941 in the hope both of regaining the territories lost a few months previously and of incorporating additional lands at Soviet expense. Mannerheim remained as commander in chief, he achieved limited victories initially and thereafter sent out peace feelers but as Russian strength grew and Germany weakened he was finally forced to retreat.
Named marshal of Finland in 1942 he became president of the Republic on July 31, 1944 and signed an armistice with the Soviet Union in September. The armistice ultimately led to a peace treaty by which Finland was forced to make more extensive concessions thai it had after the 1939-40 winter war.
Mannerheim remained president until ill health forced his retirement in 1946.
The Memoirs of Marshal Mannerheim appeared in English in 1954.