The volunteers of the Civil Guard played a significant role in achieving independence for the country and shaping its course. Without them, the Red Guards might have succeeded in their revolution.

Over the course of its history, the organization had a total of 150,000 members. The average yearly count was 90,000, and membership peaked in 1941 with almost 127,000 volunteers.

The Civil Guards cultivated the military skills and mental strength needed to survive the Second World War. In addition to training soldiers, the organization worked on refining battle tactics and equipment. Their cartridge production and weapon supply provided substantial help for the poorly equipped army of the Winter War.

The effects of dedicated training were clear on the battlefield. Members of the Guard handled weapons with confidence, shot targets with ease, and navigated with precision. Prolonged battles highlighted the physical and mental strength gained from constant practice. Reserve leaders had been trained in effective management and execution of tasks. The gap between Guard members and other soldiers narrowed during the long Continuation War, as participants gradually became accustomed to the battlefield.

Another indication of the organization’s impact on military and leadership skills is the background of many Mannerheim Cross of Liberty recipients. Over 60 per cent of those awarded the honour had been trained in the Civil Guards.


In the winter of 1934, the leaders of the Civil Guard were pondering the post-war future of the organization. Would it be feasible to bring back the core tasks of the Guards while also taking care of the remaining public duties? Perhaps additional resources could allow the full scope of their work to continue.

Commander-in-Chief Malmberg was also considering the effects of possible Civil Guard abolition. How could the organization’s assets and history of athletic military education be secured?

The Moscow Armistice after the Continuation War called for the army to be set in a peacetime state. Societies based on a fascist mindset were to be dissolved.

The Civil Guards held a special convention in Tuusula on September 29th, 1944. Their aim was to grant the Commander-in-Chief the rights to donate and sell the possessions of the Supreme Headquarters. A donation agreement with the Finnish Red Cross was signed one day later. In case of abolition, the assets would be used for the good of public health.

The Chief of Staff of the Supreme Headquarters, Major General Martola, proposed a militia system to Minister of Defence Walden on October 16th. The Civil Guard organization would be included in the scheme. The idea was then introduced to Mannerheim, who asked for a draft of the proposed structure. Martola and Chief of General Staff Oesch quickly produced a plan that was approved by the Marshal on October 18th.

Despite the initial discussions on a militia system, the plan was not submitted to the Ministry of Defence. Mannerheim thought it wiser to abolish the Guards before the Soviet Union demanded it. A proposal to repeal the law on Civil Guards would be introduced on October 30th, and the organization would be abolished as soon as Malmberg had finished speaking to its representatives. The Marshal encouraged the Guard to take the initiative and ask for its termination.

At 2 pm on October 30th, the Minister of Defence read a letter from Zdanov to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The contents demanded the Civil Guards to be abolished by November 7th. In the evening, the Civil Guard assembly could only accept the decision and discuss the steps to follow. The Parliament immediately agreed to repeal the law, and the ruling was signed by the President on November 3rd. 

The Civil Guard districts were converted back to military districts on November 4th. The districts of Vyborg, Käkisalmi, Sortavala, and Åland were terminated. A significant portion of the Guards’ assets was donated to associations, churches, towns, and municipalities as well as war orphans, widows, and disabled veterans. Regional branches of the Red Cross received the biggest contributions. Commander-in-Chief Malmberg broadcasted his last order on November 6th. The Civil Guard organization had become history.



The Guards needed facilities to base their operations in. Properties were initially rented or shared with other societies free of charge, but many Guards attained a building of their own as their activities took root.  

The Civil Guard houses were versatile in function. They included offices, storerooms, and sometimes the local chief’s quarters. The houses served as lodgings for training participants arriving from afar, and the reception hall could be used for events or rented to others. In the winter, indoor shooting ranges could also be assembled.

Most of the buildings were simply known as Civil Guard houses, lovingly nicknamed Shelter or Refuge. Some houses received a title of their own, such as Raumanlinna or Lallintalo.

The size of the houses ranged from under 300 m3 in some areas to the 50,000 m3 in Helsinki. In most cases, the buildings were tailored to the needs and resources of each district. The main goal was to provide acceptable conditions for daily operations, so almost every Guard had some kind of office to use.

SHOOTING RANGES Shooting ranges were the most essential facilities for the Civil Guards. Exercises were initially performed in natural clearings, which gradually gained new training obstacles and strongholds. By the time the Winter War was set in motion, practically every Guard had a proper shooting range at their disposal.



The Mikkeli Civil Guard district comprised some 30 Guards in 13 areas. In the first few years after its founding in 1917, the district saw constant changes in the seat of local chief and little recreational activity. The district emphasized morality and good manners, using fines and suspensions to manage poor behaviour. Various courses and competitions were held at the Otava Folk High School, where members also maintained their spiritual education. The Mikkeli district Guards were particularly successful in shooting competitions.

The Civil Guard House designed by Martti Välikangas was opened on December 6th, 1938. A few years later, the Mikkeli district was annexed to the newly established Great Saimaa Civil Guard District. After its abolition, the possessions of the Mikkeli Guard were donated to the town.


In response to concerns about Russian soldiers in the area, peacekeeping forces were formed. The first Civil Guards in Otava and Hietanen were referred to as fire brigades to hide their true purpose. Formal Guards were established at the start of the War of Independence, and some 40 men from Otava joined the Mikkeli forces in the battles of Mäntyharju. After the war, the combination of the Guards of Otava, Hietanen, and Mikkeli created the Mikkeli Parish Civil Guard, over 100 men strong.

The Guard inaugurated a flag prepared by the women of Otava on December 12th, 1918. A new one took its place when the Lotta Svärd donated a flag in 1934. The 1920s were a financially challenging time for the organization, as a political dichotomy prevented the local government from sponsoring Civil Guard activities until 1939. After another period of constant changes in leadership, conductor E. Ryynänen held the position of local chief from 1928 to 1944.


The first Civil Guard in Ristiina was founded during the general strike of 1917. Labourers were initially involved in the operations but they later moved to other activities. A renewed Guard was re-established in March 1918, featuring some 30 men and two Russian rifles. The members used their own clothing until a plea to the provost raised some money for Civil Guard uniforms.

The financial struggles of the early years led to frequent changes of chief in Ristiina as well. In the 1930s, operations became more efficient as new activities were launched. The seat of local chief was filled by highly esteemed Arvi Emil Karhu, who held the position until the Guards were abolished. The funds of the Ristiina Guard were donated to the local parish and farmer society as well as a foundation for war orphans in Lappeenranta.


The first thoughts of forming a Civil Guard in Anttola surfaced in 1917, but there was nobody to take the initiative. It was not until the war that an order to establish one arrived from Headquarters.

In the absence of rifles, exercises were initially performed using shotguns. On March 13th, 1918, a delivery of rounds and 18 rifles finally arrived. Russian prince Aleksander Demidoff promised the Guard free use of a harbour estate for its activities, but the offer was rescinded before the Guard had the chance to move in.

Members of the Anttola Guard also wore their own clothes until 1919. Money was scarce till the 1930s, and membership plunged as low as 19 men at times. The district eventually started gaining donations, and a community house was built in 1938.


The local chief of Haukivuori was Yrjö Väisänen from 1926 to 1940. Members of the Guard often visited the Chief, whose house was next to a shooting range they had built. Marksmanship was never practiced during church hours, so exercises that fell on Sundays were held during the afternoon.

Members gathered at a central house, which later served as a dance hall before its demolition. Funds for the Guard’s operations were raised at summertime events and competitions. 


The youngest members of the Guard formed so-called squirrel companies guided by local troops. Their activities were meant to strengthen character, instil a patriotic spirit, and raise willingness to participate in national defence. The boys were trained in sports and military skills such as shooting. Parental approval was required for participation, and those interested could apply for Civil Guard membership after turning 17.

In 1938, there were almost 29,000 boys in the Civil Guard. They vastly outnumbered boy scouts, but the active scouting clubs in certain areas left no need for establishing boy companies. Scouts in Mikkeli offered minors diverse training in topics related to medicine and defence, taught by officers of the Guard.


In the first years of the Civil Guard organization, arms were varied in style and few in number. The scarcity of weapons and rounds meant small local forces were passing one or two guns between multiple men. Old Russian soldier rifles (Mosin-Nagant M91) were refurbished to create a Finnish version with a thicker barrel, which further modifications shaped into the M27.

Both the Guards and the Finnish Army were developing their own versions of the Russian rifle. The Army model suffered from structural problems that eventually led to the production being discontinued. The Civil Guard design, called the M28, was more reliable but still needed adjustments to the rear sight. Improvements resulted in the M28/30, which stayed in the catalogue of the defence forces until 1986.

The Army refused to use a rifle designed by the Guard. It started developing another new model, and disputes over an acceptable nationwide weapon led to a ban on the production of the M28. At the outbreak of the Winter War, the Army and the Guards finally agreed to cooperate on creating a rifle titled the M39.

In the summer of 1927, the Supreme Headquarters established three companies dedicated to producing and selling the equipment needed in the Guards. A local factory eliminated the need to ship rifle parts from overseas, a store in Helsinki sold them, and a new publisher kept related magazines in circulation. After the organization was abolished, the sales and production companies continued their operations under the Red Cross.


When the Civil Guard was founded in 1918, promoting fitness and sports was listed as one of its goals. Each district gained its own advisor when the Guard’s department of physical education was established in 1920. New instructors for various sports were constantly being trained as the popularity of athletics kept growing over the following two decades. Participation was not restricted to members of the Guard, and the organization eventually became the largest sports association in Finland.

In addition to being a source of enjoyment, engaging in sports was a way to strengthen military skills. Popular sports included skiing, gymnastics, track and field, and the Finnish baseball developed by Civil Guard member Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala. Baseball combined physical fitness with the throwing and lunging skills needed at war. It also developed the sharp eyes and steady hands of marksmen. In the mid-1930s, athletic programmes gained a stronger military focus, and baseball championships were no longer held on a national level.

Winter was the time for skiing and ski jumping. The immense popularity of skiing competitions saw up to 3,000 events organized per year. Learning to shoot and navigate on skis was undoubtedly a success factor in the Winter War.


As a way to prevent members from getting tired of repetitive exercises, the Guards held contests measuring military skills. The matches were meant to develop the physical and mental fitness of combatants through five sequential sports: steeplechase, grenade throwing, bayonet fighting, entrenchment, and battle shooting. These sports comprised the usual activities a fighter would have to go through when advancing towards close combat.

The obstacle course measured 150 meters at most.

Grenades were thrownfirst into marked circles 25 meters away, then as far as possible.

Bayonets were used to strike bags representing heads and bodies.

Trenches had to be dug in four minutes.

Rifles were finally used to shoot a group of disappearing targets.


A regional system for the mobilization of forces was introduced in May 1934. The Civil Guards were a key part of the structure, as members of the organization formed the core cadre of the troops.

The mobilization was carried out by provincial military districts. The Guards played a supporting role, relaying orders and gathering auxiliary forces while helping civil officials and guarding frontiers.

The regional system clarified the training goals of the Civil Guard. Instead of only focusing on rifle-based infantry, the content was modified to reflect the needs of the forces in each area. The necessary equipment was provided by the Ministry of Defence.

The wartime duties of the organization were ratified in September 1939. The Supreme Headquarters of the Civil Guard would become the headquarters of the Home Troops, taking charge of training supplemental forces for the field army. The Guards were to uphold public order, intercept paratroopers, and monitor the airspace. They would participate in organizing deliveries and evacuations, guarding prisoners of war, and repairing travel routes. The tasks of the military districts were also transferred to the Guards.

When refresher training began in October, the voluntary organization assumed its new position as a public official. The exercises and the Winter War proved the Guards were capable of taking on the regional tasks of the military districts as well as performing the role of the Home Troops.

The mobilization plans divided the country into 16 military areas and 34 Civil Guard districts. The Guards were to make preparations for setting up wartime defence forces in case the need arose. During the Interim Peace between the Winter War and the Continuation War, the Guards focused on mobilization tasks and refresher training. When the conflict began in June 1941, they successfully carried out the prescribed duties.


The right-wing movement of the early 1930s culminated in Mäntsälä in 1932. A social democratic assembly at the Ohkola people’s house was interrupted on February 27th when over 400 men surrounded the building while firing shots into the air and ground.

This came as no surprise to District Chief Paavo Susitaival and Commander-in-Chief Lauri Malmberg, who had visited President Svinhufvud to discuss precautions. They had asked for a social democratic politician’s appearance to be banned, and the date of the event had been changed.

The attackers advanced to the local Civil Guard house, refusing to hand over any perpetrators. Lapua Movement secretary Artturi Vuorimaa emerged as the leader of the crowd and prepared a manifesto addressed to the President. The declaration emphasized opposition to red Marxism instead of hostility towards the state, calling for swift action to prevent a looming civil war.

On February 28th, the Lapua Movement headquarters decided to send men to Mäntsälä. As the order was relayed through the Civil Guards, the party was deployed in full uniform.

The Government soon realized the severity of the situation. Contingents were assigned to guard essential locations in the capital, and an arrest order was issued on the leadership of the Lapua Movement. In return, the movement announced a national mobilization. Civil Guard troops were called in by district, and those in Mäntsälä formed defensive clusters. Confrontations with the Army were to be strictly avoided.

Consensus on appropriate measures was difficult to reach. Military Commander Aarne Sihvo wanted to defeat the rebels. Civil Guard Commander-in-Chief Malmberg was reluctant to stand against the Guards and was in favour of the Government resigning. President Svinhufvud wanted to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

At the turn of March, the Government unsuccessfully attempted to detain the leadership of the movement in Hämeenlinna. Later in the day, Minister of Defence Jalo Lahdensuo read a presidential declaration over the radio, commanding the Guards to return to their home districts.

The dire situation urged the President to form a governmental crisis staff. The discordant group consisted of Malmberg, Sihvo, Lahdensuo, Deputy Governor of the capital region Hugo Österman, and Chief of General Staff Lennart Oesch. Dreading a clash between the Guards and the Army, Malmberg and his chief of staff Väinö Palojärvi wanted to resign. Svinhufvud refused their requests.

The President decided to personally make a speech. He implored the Guards to consider the future of the organization, saying there would be no repercussions for those who had not instigated rebellious activities and chose to swiftly return home.

Svinhufvud’s speech reached 200,000 citizens. The rebels had attempted to occupy the Lahti radio station, but messenger Aulis J. Alanen had eaten the notice on the way after deeming the order absurd.

On March 3rd, rebels seized central locations in Jyväskylä and dethroned the district chief. Their unsuccessful attempt at dismissing a provincial assembly endorsing the Government produced the only civilian casualty of the rebellion when frightened farmer Matti Jääskeläinen died of a heart attack.

On Friday the 4th, a delegation of the Mäntsälä forces visited the President to demand a change of government. The Army began to surround Mäntsälä, and Svinhufvud appointed Lieutenant Colonel Elja Rihtniemi from the Supreme Headquarters as the official negotiator.

Lapua leader Kustaa Latvala shot himself at Seinäjoki. His last words highlighted the lack of planning in the movement.

After negotiations with Rihtniemi through the 4th and 5th of March, the leaders of the Lapua Movement decided to put an end to the rebellion. The final entry in the Mäntsälä rebel diary read as follows: ”5.3.32. END” Minister of the Interior Arvo Manner suspended the movement on March 24th, and the ban was judicially ratified in May. The leaders of the rebellion were sentenced to probation.


In relation to the enforcement of compulsory military service, the Civil Guards provided conscription officials with statements on the character of draftees.  The goal was to prevent communists from getting military training.

Having lost the war in 1918, the far left continued their operations underground. Communists gained the upper hand in the Finnish Trade Union Federation, pressuring Civil Guard members at worksites and eventually leading to violence in the 20s. The Government enacted laws to suppress worksite terror and protect safe working conditions in 1930.  

The country’s economy suffered from frequent political strikes. In 1920, employers established an organization to intercept them. The Civil Guards were not formally involved in blocking strikes, but the Commander-in-Chief advised members to aid in ensuring the continuity of labour.

In November 1929, an altercation with communist youths in Lapua served as the beginning of loud anti-communism. A delegation was soon sent to Helsinki with demands of banning communist activities, and the Lapua Movement was born. When 13,000 countrymen marched to the capital in 1930, the Civil Guard was in charge of the practicalities along with the women of the Lotta Svärd.

Conforming to the demands of the Lapua Movement, so-called communist laws were passed in the autumn of 1930. The laws placed restrictions on printing and rallying.

The movement strengthened the numbers of the Civil Guard, and political activity crept into the organization alongside the newcomers. Members of the Guard participated in the Lapua Movement’s illegal activities, including some 250 attempted deportations in the summer of 1930. Individuals were condemned for their involvement in violent affairs, but the Guard was not blamed for the actions of its members. General Kurt Wallenius served as the main secretary and later the chairman of the Lapua Movement. He was determined to tie the Civil Guards to the cause. A shift to the far-right led to hostility towards social democrats as well, and the situation finally came to a head in Mäntsälä.


The first commander-in-chief of the Civil Guard was Georg Didrik von Essen in the years 1919–1921.

Born into a noble family, von Essen (1864–1936) attended the Hamina Cadet School during 1877–86. He served as an executive officer in a sharpshooter battalion and later as a squadron commander in the Finnish Dragoon Regiment until 1901, after which he was moved to the cavalry reserve. Von Essen was the commander of the Helsinki Civil Guard during the general strike of 1905 and the Sveaborg rebellion in 1906. He participated in the Civil War as the commander of the first regiment in Helsinki and was listed as a lieutenant colonel in the Army books in 1918. Von Essen briefly served as the commander of the Helsinki jäger brigade before resigning and focusing on business.

After being promoted to a colonel, von Essen was appointed the first commander-in-chief of the Civil Guard in February 1919. In 1921, he refused to follow an executive order to dismiss the commander of the Helsinki Civil Guard district, Paul von Gerich, whose comments criticizing the Government’s foreign policy had caused a major dispute. This led to President K. J. Ståhlberg removing von Essen from his position on June 20th. Von Essen was later promoted to the status of major general in 1935.

The second person to be appointed commander-in-chief was a chief of staff in the Army, Major General Karl Emil Berg.

Berg (1869–1921) graduated the Cadet School in 1892. He served as an officer in the Russian Army during 1894–1906, completing his course in the Nicholas General Staff Academy in 1899. Berg retired from his position of battalion commander and served as the chief of police in Helsinki from 1906 to 1911, switching to the field of business for the years 1911–14. During the First World War in 1914–17, Colonel Berg was part of the Russian Army headquarters.

In the years after Finland declared independence, Berg held a variety of leadership positions in the Army and in military schools. He was also the minister of war in Vennola’s government in 1919–1920.

Berg’s role of commander-in-chief during the great Civil Guard dispute in 1921 did not last long. Under heavy pressure from his colleagues, he shot himself only two days after being appointed.

After the brief terms of these two commanders, the next person appointed to the position was Jäger Lieutenant Colonel Lauri Malmberg on September 17th, 1921.

Kaarlo Lauri Torvald Malmberg (1888–1948) studied in the Helsinki University of Technology during 1908–1914, graduating with a master’s degree in engineering. He was part of the Jäger Movement from 1914 and was among the first volunteers to join the Pfadfinder scouting course. Malmberg later applied successfully for a move to the howitzer division of the artillery department.

Malmberg arrived in Finland with the main body of the jägers on February 25th, 1918. He was sent to train artillery in Jakobstad, serving as an artillery commander afterwards during the Civil War. On May 8th, 1918, Malmberg was assigned to Headquarters. After the war, he served as a director in the Artillery School and as the commander of a field artillery regiment before being appointed commander-in-chief.

Artillery Officer Malmberg was an excellent match for the position. As a jäger he had prestige among activists, and his triumphs in the battles of Tampere and Vyborg were held in high regard. Malmberg was also the chairman of both the Jäger Union and the Finnish Officers’ Union, while his academic background brought him credibility among the intelligentsia. Finnish-speaking Civil Guard districts also considered his main language an advantage.

Malmberg had good relations with laymen and the volunteers of the Civil Guard. In his eyes, the main purpose of the Guard was to defend the country against external threats, not to keep the working class in line. This mindset contributed to shaping the spirit of the Winter War. Malmberg’s success in the challenging task of maintaining relations with volunteers and politicians alike allowed him to remain commander-in-chief until the Civil Guard organization was abolished in the fall of 1944.

As the 1930s dawned, far-right trends such as the Lapua Movement saw Civil Guard membership grow. The movement was a source of frustration for Malmberg, who did not want the Guard to be associated with its illegal activities. He refused to join Svinhufvud’s government in 1930, ignoring requests until Hugo Österman was chosen for the position.

Malmberg wanted to refrain from participating in politics or intertwining them into the Guard. Uniforms of the Guard were not to appear in activities related to the Lapua Movement, but this did not stop members from participating in events such as the Mäntsälä rebellion as civilians. Malmberg’s task of balancing relations with radicalistic and moderate thinkers was a difficult one.

During the Continuation War, Malmberg was sent on leave due to his heavy drinking habits. He nevertheless retained the Guard’s trust for his entire term as commander.

In May 1993, Civil Guard District Chief Aaro Pajari led a group of officers to remove flags erected for the Social Democrats’ party conference in Tampere. The town had forbidden celebratory flag flying on the 15th anniversary of the Tampere conquest. Malmberg considered a reprimand to be enough of a punishment. The Government called for Pajari to be dismissed, and Prime Minister T. M. Kivimäki wanted Malmberg to resign. President Svinhufvud settled for sending Malmberg on a year-long leave of absence, officially described as a study tour to the British military.

For the entirety of the Winter War and the Continuation War, Malmberg served as the commander of the Home Troops under the Civil Guard Supreme Headquarters. The organization was based on the Civil Guard districts, with establishments such as educational institutions also being part of the Home Troops.

With the abolishment of the Civil Guard organization, the Commander-in-Chief also had to leave his position. Lieutenant General Malmberg had plans to work as an insurance agent while writing memoirs, but he passed away due to a severe illness in 1948.


The highest governing body of the Civil Guard organization was the Civil Guard Supreme Headquarters. The chief of staff in charge of headquarters also served as an aide and substitute for the commander-in-chief when necessary. When the Supreme Headquarters was established in 1919, this position stayed vacant for a year before being filled.

The following people served as chief of staff in the Supreme Headquarters:

  • German Colonel Eduard Ausfeld, June to September 1920
  • Jäger Major Per Wilhelm Zilliacus, 1920–27
  • Jäger Lieutenant Colonel Väinö Henrik Palojärvi, 1927–33
  • Jäger Colonel Armas Eino Martola, 1933–44