Finns in the Great War
FINNS IN THE GREAT WAR
Due to the conscription strike in Finland during 1905 while the Finnish Guard was dismantled and the Russo-Japanese War was raging in Asia, the Finnish citizens were exempt from conscription in the Russian armed forces. The Czar levied a tax from the Grand Duchy, known as the “Soldier millions”, which compensated for this loss of manpower to his Imperial army.
At the beginning of the First World War in August of 1914, most Finns did not have to take part in the battle bearing arms. Instead, many ethnic Finns served on both sides of the war as volunteers and soldiers for hire. In the Czarist Army, many professional soldiers from Finland “earned their spurs” as officers and fighters. These included C.G.E. Mannerheim, Frans Helminen, Vilho Nenonen, and many others. Many Finnish men also joined the Russian army as volunteers and fought as enlisted men or NCOs.
Due to the oppressive Russification policies continuing during war time, the idea of independence gained more traction among the Finnish general public and intellectuals. The Jaeger movement was born from pre-war contempt and the war time oppression, and began to recruit young men for training in Germany, after Sweden politely declined to offer training. The Jaegers were hunted by the Russian police and military, and the attempters caught in Finland were sentenced to long prison sentences. Approximately 2000 young men managed to reach Germany through Sweden and received military training at the Lockstedter Lager. After the independence of Finland was declared on the December 6th 1917, the returning Jaegers had an important position in the newly established Finnish army as officers and NCOs.