The Civil Guards, as well as the opposing Red Guards, were formed to fill security deficits caused by Russian uprisings. At the beginning of 1918, the Civil Guards were still in the middle of getting armed and organized. Old officers and NCOs had initially served as instructors, but returning jägers had brought valuable training help in the autumn.

At the turn of the year, a course to shape Civil Guard leaders out of high school graduates was held in Vimpeli. Some 200 students were trained by jägers, and the Vimpeli Military School is considered the beginning of the Finnish Reserve Officer School.

An armed conflict between the local Civil and Red Guards took place in Vyborg on January 19th, forcing the Civil Guard to retreat from the town. In the following days, it clashed multiple times with the Reds along the road to Saint Petersburg. Similar conflicts occurred in other areas as well.

As the situation intensified, on January 25th the Senate appointed the Civil Guards as forces of the Government, henceforth also called the White Army of Finland. The Red Guards started a revolution in Helsinki the following day. Over the next 24 hours, the Civil Guards, led by General Mannerheim, began disarming Russian garrisons in Ostrobothnia. A civil war had begun.

On January 26th, a course to train NCOs for the Civil Guard Army commenced in Vöyri. The 1,400 students had only started their second day when they became involved in military operations. They were trained amidst battles until the end of the war in May.

At the beginning of the war, some 20,000 Civil Guard troops had voluntarily joined the ranks. Included in the forces were almost 200 jägers. A dividing front line ran through the country, forcing the southern Civil Guards to retreat. On the northern side of the line, the Civil Guards seized the industrial areas controlled by the Red Guard.

The Reds launched a general assault to the North in February, but the Civil Guard troops managed to hold their ground. Most of the jäger advance party that had arrived in Vaasa on February 18th was immediately sent to serve as leaders for the Civil Guards.  

Although the White Army bolstered its ranks with troops recruited in February, the numbers were not enough.  At the end of the month, compulsory military service was decreed by law. The main body of the jägers began training the conscripted forces.

Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim could not wait for the new troops to be ready. He initiated a Civil Guard operation to seize Tampere in March, surrounding the town but being unable to strike to the heart. At the start of April, a successful occupation of Tampere virtually decided the outcome of the war. The key players at the tail end of the war were German and Finnish conscripts.

To celebrate the end of the war, the White Army held a parade in Helsinki on May 16th. The 12,000 soldiers participating included 4,700 Civil Guard members.

During the spring, Reds were arrested, interrogated, and sentenced in court martials. Reconnaissance units gathered and evaluated their personal information, determining potential adversaries. The Civil Guards visited prison camps to identify local Reds for execution, carrying out the punishments until the task was transferred to judicial authorities in June.

The Civil Guards continued to catalogue persons marked as enemies over the summer. Statements on members of the Red Guard were needed in courts of criminal justice. They also remained as guards in towns and prison camps. After the war, drafting of national defence plans commenced under the lead of the Germans. The establishment of new Civil Guards was forbidden, and the Civil Guard districts were abolished. A voluntary armed organization seemed to have no place in the young country’s defence regime.


In May 1918, Chief of Rear Services Rudolf Walden assigned a committee to discuss the future of the Civil Guard. Volunteers were faster to act, and in June, a meeting to develop the operations of the Guard was held in Viitasaari among the Guards of Central Finland. A national assembly soon convened in Jyväskylä, where representatives of 155 Guards aimed to establish a nationwide organization founded in patriotic and moral forces.

On the 4th and 5th of July, the following declarations were made in Jyväskylä:

  • The Civil Guard would be an army reserve that offered military training.
  • A Civil Guard would be established in every municipality, dividing the country into Civil Guard districts.
  • Operations would be voluntary on principle, but new members could be conscripted into the Guard if necessary.

Walden’s committee, led by Major V. A. Kotilainen, drafted a statute based on the Jyväskylä assembly. The Senate issued a decree establishing the Civil Guard organization on August 8th, describing the Guards as promoters of defensive capability and protectors of lawful order. The statute was soon updated in February 1919, when Regent Mannerheim appointed Colonel Didrik von Essen as the commander-in-chief of the Guard.

The Civil Guard was not regularized by law until late 1927. According to the law, the organization was part of the nation’s military forces and existed for the purpose of defending the homeland and its public order.


Defence against gas warfare became a topic of interest in the 1920s after the First World War. Lectures on the subject were first held in 1923, and a school of gas defence was established in Vyborg in 1933. Anti-gas forces became part of the military. Today, they are involved in military engineering, and new recruits are trained in the Pori brigade.

Gas masks were imported for trial use from a variety of countries, but none of them quite seemed to suit the conditions in Finland. Experiments to develop a tailored mask began in 1928. The result was military gas mask M30, which was later replaced by the M61 as atomic weapons raised the standards for protection. Current military masks are worn for extended periods of time, so comfort has become a key design factor.

In addition to being poisonous, hazardous substances are often invisible. ABC defence aims to protect combatants from the effects of nuclear (atomic), biological, and chemical weapons. Detection before exposure is crucial. Methods of protection include installing security measures in fortifications, hiding behind moving objects such as cars, and wearing protective equipment.

Gas detection devices have undergone substantial development over the years. Their reliability has increased while the size has decreased. Automatic detectors pass an air sample through a sensor, utilising a microprocessor to analyse and display the data.

Automatic nerve gas detector M86 is a result of Finnish research. Development began in the early 80s, and newly established Environics Oy continued to work the finer details and modification needs in 1987. The final product was marketed and sold abroad as well, mostly in the Middle East. The device is designed for field use, but it can also be worn to monitor air intake indoors. The M86/A utilises lights and sounds to alert the user. Its distinctive feature is the combination of two different sensor cells to detect nerve gas and burning or overall toxic gases.

Further development on the M86 created the M90. The device was more sensitive than its predecessor and allowed new chemicals to be programmed in. The M90 was both quick to alert the user and swift to purify itself. Its detection functionality is based on ion mobility spectrometry. Other methods include flame photometry, optoacoustic imaging, enzyme chemistry, and semiconductor sensor mechanics.