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.
CHIEFS OF STAFF IN THE CIVIL GUARD SUPREME HEADQUARTERS
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