Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion
Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion (Finnish: Henkikaartin 3. Suomen Tarkk’ampujapataljoona, Swedish: Livgardets 3:e finska skarpskyttebataljon, Russian: Лейб-гвардии 3-й стрелковый Финский батальон, romanized: Leib-gvardii 3-j strelkovyi Finski bataljon), colloquially known as Guard of Finland (Finnish: Suomen kaarti, Swedish: Finska gardet) was a Finnish military unit during 1829-1905 based in Helsinki. Continuing the legacy of Finnish Training Battalion (1817), it was part of the Imperial Russian Army and the only Finnish unit of the Russian Imperial Guard. Furthermore, for large parts of its history, the battalion was the only operational Finnish military unit. Because of its status as both a national showpiece and as a part of the Imperial Guard, it had a visible role in Finland.
The Finnish Guards' Battalion participated in four campaigns outside Finland. Two of these included actual combat: first in 1831 during the Polish November Uprising and for the second time, in the Balkans front of the Russo-Turkish War. The most famous of the battles it participated in was the battle of Gorni Dubnik in 1877. The unit was also deployed in 1849 to assist in quelling of the Hungarian Uprising and later during the Crimean War to guard the western border of Russia. However, it did not engage in action during these deployments. At the times of peace, the battalion was responsible for guard duty in Helsinki and participated annually in the Russian military exercises in Krasnoye Selo.
The quarter Kaartinkaupunki has been named according to the battalion, as it was based in the Guards' Barracks (Finnish: Kaartin kasarmi) next to the Kasarmitori in Helsinki. The current Guard Jaeger Regiment has the Guard of Finland as part of its official lineage.
- 1 Early forms
- 2 The birth of Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion
- 3 The Polish Uprising 1831
- 4 During the times of peace
- 5 Hungarian Uprising 1849 and Crimean War 1854-56
- 6 Russo-Turkish War 1877 - 78
- 7 Merging with the compulsory military service
- 8 Disbandment of the Guards' Battalion
- 9 Sources
- 10 References
The military of Finland during the period of autonomy within Russia was established by an imperial order on 18 September 1812 by Alexander I of Russia, which became the anniversary of the battalion. Based on the imperial order, Finland had to form three rifle units, consisting each of two battalions of 600 men, totaling 3600 men. The vice president of the Senate of Finland, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt and many other officials in Finland had seen it as important, that in addition to the Russian troops based in Finland, there was also a domestic military force to respond to the future uncertainties. These groups were formed of willing recruits as well as of pressed vagabonds, and it was the intention to use these units only within the Finnish territory and in defense of the coastline of the Baltic Sea, not for any conflicts in more remote areas. The units were to be financed by crowd-sourcing, but the collected funds did not match the needs to the least. Finally it was decided, that the Russian state was to bear the capital cost of weapons and other military hardware, while the Senate of Finland bore the maintenance costs. Soldiers got a wage of 60 Russian rubles for the whole of 6 years in service and one'n half barrels of Rye annually.
Of these three regiments, the first to start operations was the 3rd, Viborg regiment, in 1812. Its first assignment was to undertake guard duty in Saint Petersburg between 31 March 1813 and 31 August 1814, while the majority of Russian Army was tied to Western and Central Europe in the battles against Napoleon. By the summer 1813, two other regiments had also been formed, the first consisting of the battalions in Turku and Hameenlinna and the second of battalions in Heinola and Kuopio. The military force of some thousand men, however, had only little significance to the Finnish defense. Especially, the forces completely lacked Artillery, Cavalry and technical branches. Furthermore, only the unit in Vyborg was in service continuously, others gathered according to former Allotment system annually for 4-week training and the officers in preceding 6-week meetings. Two of the regiments were downgraded to infantry regiments, while the third held its more demanding "rifle" designation.
During the spring 1817, the Vyborg regiment was split in two and the other was moved to Vasa. Part of it was separated into a special command of 274 men, left to Hameenlinna under the command of staff captain Nils Gylling. This became the basis for Finnish Training Battalion. It started operations in the summer 1818, was formally assigned to Helsinki and labeled as The Battalion of Helsinki. The first commander was assigned lieutenant colonel Herman Wärnhjelm. As there were no facilities in Helsinki at the time, the battalion remained for training in Hameenlinna. The Kaartin kasarmi, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, was completed in 1822 and the Training Battalion moved in on 23 December 1824. The name of the battalion fixed to the Helsinki Training Battalion in 1819 and Finnish Training Battalion in 1824.
With the imperial order in the March 1827, the Finnish military force was re-arranged to form six rifle battalions. The name of the Helsinki Battalion became to be Finnish Training Rifle Battalion and its size was increased with 100 men to 500 troops. After two months, the recruitment in other units were forbidden and they were disbanded in 1830. After this, the Helsinki Battalion was the only remainder of the military force formed in 1812. Until the end of the 1870s, the battalion was recruited from volunteer Finns. Its enlisted personnel consisted of Finnish lower classes: farm-workers, labourers, journeymen, freeholders' sons and crofters' sons. The discipline was harsh and physical punishments were widely used.
The birth of Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion
In July 1829 the Finnish Training Battalion was suddenly ordered to join the imperial life-guards' exercise camp in Krasnoye Selo south-west of Saint Petersburg. After inspecting the battalion, Nicholas I of Russia announced it would be promoted to the rank of Young Guard. In the order of the day for the following day, the name of the battalion was given as "Finnish life-guards' rifle battalion" and it was attached to the 4th brigade, 2nd infantry division of the imperial life guards. Anders Edvard Ramsay continued as the battalion commander. Although the battalion was now a part of the imperial life-guard and under the jurisdiction of its inspector, it also did fall under the commander of all forces located in Finland, the Governor-General of Finland. The costs of the Finnish Rifle Battalion were still paid from the accounts of Senate of Finland. Along with the new name and rank, the battalion received new uniforms and a colour, which was inaugurated on 17 September 1829.
As the battalion gained a higher rank, its strength was also increased to 600 men. At the same time, it was specified, that only men taller than 5 feet and 6,5 inch (168 cm) could be recruited. The Helsinki Training Battalion had had only two permanent officers; a commander and his adjutant. Other officers were temporarily assigned from other forces. At its promotion to a guard unit, the battalion got 17 permanent officers. Furthermore, it was regulated, that the battalion had to accept all the qualified noblemen willing to enter the military career as non-commissioned officers, as long as they could pay their costs of living until they were promoted to commissioned officers and regular, paid commissioned officers' posts were vacant. As a result, the battalion became the career shortcut for the young noblemen willing to enter the military career. In 1829, the command language of the battalion was changed to Russian replacing the former Swedish language. The orders of the day orders and correspondence were conducted, however, in Swedish, until the end of the battalion and during the last years, a parallel diary was held in Finnish language.
In Russia, the Guard referred to the guard of the sovereign, the Russian Emperor. For this reason, the Finnish Rifle Battalion also participated in the guard duty in Saint Petersburg. In Russia, the guard-regiments held a clearly more esteemed social position than "line" infantry. The status as a Guards' unit was indeed important, as the units of the Guard did enjoy special privileges; the members of the Imperial family served as honorary commanders of guards' units and officers assigned from the Guard to the normal line-regiments received an automatic promotion to the next rank. In Finland the battalion, now more like a Guard, enjoyed special appreciation, because it represent the Finnish effort to the defense of Russian empire. The public respect enjoyed by the Guard of Finland indicated at the same time the appreciation towards to that input.
The Polish Uprising 1831
The first combat deployment of the battalion was the participation to the campaign to defeat Polish November Uprising in 1831. In Finland, the mobilization of the battalion was met in the press and within the battalion with positive attitude and with pride. Sending Finnish forces outside of the borders, or taking part to crush the Polish Uprising was no cause of scruples for Finns. The battalion left Finland on 12 January with the force of 746 men, marching by foot to Saint Petersburg and, in March, all the way to Poland. The battalion received its baptism of fire in the beginning of the April, together with other imperial forces and Finnish soldiers quickly got a reputation as good marksmen. The mission of the battalion was to evict Polish forces from the area between Bug and Narew rivers, at the same time when the main Russian Forces were fighting in the south. During May the battalion had to fight in retreat as a result of the effective Polish counter offensive, all the way to Białystok. After that, it joined the Russian Army in Ostrołęka, which marched long way from the west in order to cross over Vistula and to attack Warsaw from west. The Finnish military force did participate to the invasion of Warschau from 6 to 8 September 1831.
The battalion spent the winter 1831-32 in Latvia, Biržai, before returning to Helsinki. They lost only ten men in combat, including one officer. However, as many as 399 men died due to illnesses and epidemics on the front. After the incident of November Uprising, on 18 December 1831, Russian Emperor Nicholas I granted the Saint George Flag for the battalion. In the flag, and a text had been appended "In honour of the defeating the Polish uprising in 1831". The same flag was in use to the end of the battalion.
During the times of peace
The battalion was from its inception in a visible position in the Grand Duchy of Finland as it was based in the center of the capital city Helsinki. With time, it became a national symbol, despite its small size, as it did highlight the special status Finland enjoyed within the Russian Empire. The battalion participated in state ceremonies and from the year 1863 on, one of its companies was always present in the opening ceremony of the parliament. During the 19th century, the numerous Russian and Finnish troops based in Helsinki and their frequent parades gave the capital of Finland quite militaristic tone, while various incidents caused by the soldiers were also part of the normal life of the city. The Finnish Guards' Rifle battalion had responsibility to care of general guard in Helsinki every Saturday. The battalion first had its shooting practice with the Russian Army on the Kamppi field (today Narinkkatori), before it got its dedicated shooting range from Punavuori near the current Tehtaanpuisto where the Russian Embassy is located as of today. With the development of more powerful rifles, bullets no longer stopped at the walls of the shooting range of Punavuori, but flew to the sea, causing a danger to marine traffic. Thus, in 1865, the battalion got a new gallery in Taivallahti and ten years later from Pasila.
The younger grandson of Nicholas I of Russia, who later became as Alexander III of Russia, was appointed the honorary commander as 3 months old baby, in 1845. It was a remarkable tribute for the battalion and its first company was named "The company of His Majesty". Also prince Alexander (later Alexander II of Russia) was listed in the rolls of the battalion in 1848, just as his older son Nicholas in 1850, prince Nicholas (later Nicholas II of Russia) at the time of his birth 1868 and his son Aleksey in 1904. Alexander III held the position of honorary commander until his death, after which Nicholas II took the position. The first commander of the battalion Anders Edvard Ramsay received the appointment of the second honorary commander in 1868, sharing this honour with the tsarevich. The battalion was considered to enjoy a special relationship of trust with Russian Emperor, and when the Emperor visited in Helsinki, he and the male members of his family usually wore the uniform of the battalion. After the Emperor passed out, the uniforms were handed over for the battalion, which stored and preserved them as valuable relics, placed on display in showcase, inside a dedicated church-hall in Guards' Barracks.
During the times of peace, the annual highlight of the battalion was the participation to war games in Krasnoye Selo. The Emperor oversaw the exercises in person. At most there were some 80000 men participating the 10-week spectacle. During the era of Nicholas I of Russia, the battalion stopped on its way to Krasnoye Selo in Peterhof for a couple of days to serve as guards and to entertain the Emperor with parades. According to tradition, Nicholas I and his family were always eagerly expecting the arrival of the Finns. After the war games, the emperor inspected the battalion once again and recognized each soldier with one ruble, one pound of meat and a sip of spirit. Later the meat was replaced with herring. The tradition to serve a herring and a drink to the men was abolished during the reign of Alexander III of Russia.
During the years 1837-1846, the battalion sent annually one officer to Caucasus, where the Russian Army was waging a semi-permanent counter-insurgency campaign. The size of the battalion was increased in 1840, after which the Guards' Barracks had to be expanded with an annex building on the side of Kasarmikatu. After the Crimean War, the Russian Army faced budget cuts and so at the beginning of 1860, the size of the battalion was decreased. The Finnish grenadier battalion formed in 1846 was also disbanded in 1860. After the allotment system, that had been reintroduced during the Crimean War, was ramped down in 1867 in response to the hunger catastrophe of 1866-67, the battalion was left as the only operational Finnish military unit. The organization of the Russian military was reformed in 1871 and all rifle battalions were formed into a single rifle brigade, which the Finnish Rifle Battalion was also attached to. At the same time, its name was changed to "The 3rd Finnish life guard rifle battalion".
Hungarian Uprising 1849 and Crimean War 1854-56
As Nicholas I sent 120,000 men to quell the Hungarian Uprising, the Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion was again deployed. It left Helsinki on 31 May sailing to Latvian Dünamünde (today Daugavgrīva). After spending June and July in Riga, it arrived in Brest on 8 August. It did not get closer to Hungary, before Hungarian forces were defeated and the campaign ended. The Finnish Battalion returned home on 17 October. Even if the forces did not face the battle, they faced dysentery during the trip.
The next deployment was caused by the Crimean War. This time there was a fear that threat could reach also Finland and Helsinki, but the battalion was commanded to head to Saint Petersburg on 18 March 1854. It stayed there until the spring and took part in guard duty at the palace, which was considered to be a dignified honorary mission. During September–October the battalion moved to Latvia and in March, to Rakišk from where it was moved in February 1855 to Wilkomir. The main war scene was in Crimea, but Russia held a large number of troops securing the western border, in case of an Austrian invasion. Again, the Finnish battalion did not face combat, but still, most of its soldiers died, due to a severe cholera epidemic. During the spring and summer 1855 the unit was moved around in White Russia, but the cholera epidemic did not cease.
After the defeat of Sevastopol in September 1855, the Russian Army anticipated that the coalition forced could move the troops freed from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea for an offensive against Saint Petersburg, so the Finnish battalion was called home. However, due to the epidemic, it was not allowed into Helsinki, but remained quartered for the following winter and spring in the Karelian Isthmus. During that time, the war ended as Alexander II agreed to peace. After taking part in the crowning of the new Emperor in Moscow, the Finnish battalion finally returned to Helsinki on 29 September 1856. Despite not facing a single battle, the battalion was counted to have lost 654 men, however the real figure might be even higher.
Russo-Turkish War 1877 - 78
The most famous war effort of the battalion was the participation to the Turkish War in Bulgaria 1877-78. It was deployed with numerous other units in autumn 1877, as the Russian offensive had been blocked due to failed attempts to take over the fortress of Plevna. Some of the battalion's men had already during the beginning of the war served in the life-guard of Alexander II. The Finnish battalion was mobilised on 3 August 1877, and its size was increased by 200 men. As the battalion left Helsinki on 6 September, it included 719 marksmen, 72 non-commissioned officers, 54 musicians, 21 officers and a few military civil servants. The participation of the battalion to the war effort was yet again seen as an cause of national pride. As it left Helsinki, a large farewell party was held in which the upper classes of the capital did take part. The battalion was sent by rail to Frătești in Romania, from where it marched on foot across the Danube in Zimnicea on 3 October, reaching Bulgaria.
The Guards' Rifle Brigade commanded by major general Alexander Ellis and, consequently, the Finnish Guard's Rifle battalion belonged throughout the war in the army commanded by Lieutenant General Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko. Gourko's operations were successful, but they often caused a large toll in casualties. In October, Gourko's task was to siege Plevna from the west by taking over the Turkish positions on the highway to Sofia. The first was the stronghold of Gorni Dubnik. The victorious Battle of Gorni Dubnik on 24 October was the first battle of the Finnish battalion for decades, and became its most renowned one. Finns belonged to the unit which conducted an offensive against the main redoubt of the fortress. In this battle, the battalion lost 22 men and 95 wounded, including 8 officers, 5 non-commissioned officers and five bandsmen. Two of the wounded died soon after the battle. In total some 3,300 Russians died in the operation.
After the battle of Gorni Dubnik, the battalion commander Georg Edvard Ramsay was transferred to command the Semyonovsky Regiment, and he was replaced with colonel Victor Napoleon Procopé. Procopé could not take command until January 1878, and lieutenant colonel Julius Sundman commanded the battalion in the meantime. In November, Gurko's army proceeded towards Sofia. After the capture of Plevna in December, Gourko decided to take his troops across the Balkan Mountains in the middle of the winter as a detour to avoid the highly manned Arabakonak pass. Due to insufficient resources, crossing the mountains became difficult. The battalion was at the time attached to a unit commanded by general major Dmitry Filosofov, but after crossing the mountain, it was moved back to the Ellis's Guards' Brigade. The battalion took part in the non-violent takeover of Sofia on 5 January and in the invasion of Philippopolis between 15-17 January. This came to be its last battle. The battle of Philippopolis was, in fact, larger than that of Gorni Dubnik, but the Guard of Finland only suffered four wounded. Thus, it never became a similar legendary hallmark in the battalion's history as the battle of Gorni Dubnik.
On its way towards Adrianople, the battalion had to witness the tragedy of Harmanli massacre, but the battalion was not directly involved. At the end of the war, the Finnish Battalion marched all the way to San Stefano, just at the gates of Constantinople, where it was also located as the Treaty of San Stefano came into effect. Here, the battalion faced a Typhoid fever epidemic, which did continue until their return to home. The battalion returned to Helsinki on 9 May 1878 and the reception was festive. The Finnish battalion lost during the Turkish War 24 men in battles, later 6 wounded died. In epidemics, a total of 158 men, of which 12 officers, died.
A memorial for the war was erected on the grounds of Guards' Barracks, where the names of the dead were marked. It was enshrined on the annual of Gorni Dubnik battle on 24 October 1881. There are 27 names in the memorial, including some who died later in epidemics. As the Russo-Turkish War was also the war of Bulgarian independence, the Russian troops of that war have enjoyed special appreciation in Bulgaria. In the Bulgarian textbooks, it has traditionally been recognized, that the war effort included Russian, Romanian and also Finnish soldiers. In this way, the memory of the battalion has been preserved in Bulgaria. At the battlefield of Gorni Dubnik, there is today the Park Lavrov, where among the war memorials, there is also a memorial of Finnish soldiers and a common grave. Finnish Defence Forces and political establishment still participate in the Bulgarian memorial celebrations of the battle. In Finland, the memorial of the Russo-Turkish war was used in 1956 by president Urho Kekkonen as a location for inspecting the first Finnish peacekeeping troops contingent deployed to Suez and a common Finnish-Bulgarian memorial ceremony is held at the memorial twice a year.
Merging with the compulsory military service
The Act of the Diet of Finland instituting conscription was enacted in 1878 and the first cohort of conscripts entered service in 1881. The former commander of Finnish Guard, general Georg Edvard Ramsay was appointed the commander of the military of the Grand Duchy in 1880, and half of the commanders of the newly founded conscript battalions were officers of the Finnish Guard. All the officers in the NCO training battalion were former members of the Guard. The Finnish Guards' Rifle battalion, the Guard, also became a part of the conscription army, and the former voluntary recruitment ended. At the early stage, the Guard was planned to be staffed by only men from the southern Uusimaa Province, but later, it was decided that the Guards' Battalion could receive conscripts from all over the country in order to maintain the level of the unit. It was feared, that otherwise, not enough volunteers would apply, since the annual exercises in Krasnoye Selo made service more demanding than in other units. The Guard was also the only portion of the conscription army which could be sent for missions outside of the country.
From the end of the 19th century onwards, the Finnish military was under the aim to be merged with Russian Army. In 1882 the uniforms were reformed to be more in line with the Russian style. The Governor General Nikolai Bobrikov noted, that the organizational differences and the Finnish officers' lack of competence in Russian language were issues to be fixed.
Disbandment of the Guards' Battalion
The Finnish "conscription army" was abolished by a new conscription law enacted by Nicholas II of Russia in July 1901. According to the new legislation, Finns now had to serve in regular Russian units. This decision reflected a general political bias by the Russian Imperial government against regional autonomy, including the creation of separate military units.
For the moment The Guards' Rifle Battalion and the Finnish Cavalry Regiment (based in Lappeenranta0, continued in existence. However the Finnish Cavalry was disbanded the same year, when its officers resigned as a group, in protest against the way Nikolay Bobrikov had treated its commanding colonel Oskar Teodor Schauman. After this, the Rifle Battalion (of the Guard) survived as the only separate Finnish military unit in existence.
Between 1901 and 1902, eight officers from the Rifle battalion resigned in protest against the conscription law which they considered illegal. Their positions were filled with other officers, and the battalion remained as before. Subsequently the "draft strikes movement" organised large-scale opposition against Finnish conscripts being obliged to undertake their military service in Russian units. As the last Finnish military unit the Rifle batalion became a target of ever stronger Russian criticism. After the murder of General-Governor Bobrikov, the Russian line towards Finland became more relaxed, and the future of the Guard of Finland was left open. Finnish public opinion expressed a hope that the battalion might become a volunteer (non-conscript) unit, but the leadership of the Russian army refused the idea. In 1905, Russia decided that the Finnish contribution to the defence of the Russian Empire should become monetary (i.e. take the form of a tax). After this, separate Finnish military units were seen as redundant. The Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion was accordingly disbanded on 21 November 1905.
As the revolutionary feelings of 1905 were spreading in Russia, the General Governor Ivan Obolensky was afraid that Finns might start a separatist rebellion. On 9 April 1905, the Finnish Guard's Rifle Battalion left Helsinki for Krasnoye Selo exercises for the last time, under feelings of crisis. Ten days later, the disbandment of the Finnish military district was announced. With this change, the Finnish Guard should have, according to the authorities, been transferred under the Rifle Brigade of the Guard. However, Emperor Nicholas II disbanded the battalion on 7 August. Obolensky would have wanted the unit to be disbanded during the Krasnoye Selo exercises, but the commander of the battalion, Nikolai Mexmontan, was able to convince his superiors to allow the unit to be disbanded in a more respectful manner. The battalion held its last parade in Krasnoye Selo on 9 August, and returned to Finland on 28 August to begin disbanding. Most of the rank and file were discharged between 31 August and 2 September. After this, the battalion included the regular NCOs, bandsmen and a rump contingent of 37 conscripts. The old and new colours, as well as the uniforms of three late emperors, preserved in the church room of the Guards' Barracks, were sent back to St. Petersburg on 6 September. The final disestablishment of the unit took so much time that the last officers and men were discharged only on 14 March 1906. On that date, colonel Mexmontan gave his last order of the day, noting that the Finnish Guard no longer existed.
After the disestablishment of the Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion, Finland was, for the first time since 1812, without domestic military. This situation continued until the Finnish independence.
In 1910, all Guards' Rifle Battalions were raised to regimental strength. At that time, a Russian unit established in 1799 as a garrison battalion of the Guard, which had later operated as a reserve infantry regiment, was given the name of His Majesty's Life Guard's 3rd Rifle Regiment, thus taking the position held formerly by the Finnish Guard's Rifle Battalion. These two units had, however, different lineages and they should not be mixed. The 3rd Guards' Rifle Regiment was disbanded in 1918.
After the Finnish independence, a regiment with the name of Finnish White Guard (Finnish: Suomen Valkoinen Kaarti) was established. This regiment was quartered at the old barracks of the Guard of Finland, and considered itself as part of its lineage. The regiment was disbanded after the Winter War in December 1940. After that, the guarding and ceremonial duties in Helsinki were handled by Helsinki Garrison Battalion (Finnish: Helsingin varuskuntapataljoona), which was part of the field army. After the Second World War, the unit was renamed a number of times, until in 1957, it received the name Kaartin pataljoona (Guards' Battalion). At the same time, the unit received the lineage and traditions of the Guard of Finland, including the insignia, anniversary and march of the Guard. In 1996, the Guards' Battalion became a part of Guard Jaeger Regiment, but it retained its old name. Currently, the Guards' Battalion considers itself a successor unit of the Finnish Guards' Rifle Battalion, and it counts its history from year 1812.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Suomen kaarti.|
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