- Medals of Finland

Page © 1997 Micheal Shackelford
Images courtesy of Hendrik Meersschaert.

Finland, as an independent nation, was born out of World War I. While not technically a combatant nation, Finland's history is intertwined with two of the major combatants -- Germany and Russia. It is because of this relationship that we include Finland's awards in this Medals of WWI project.

Historical Background

- The Cross of Liberty. This is the first Finnish decoration and was instituted on 4 March 1918 (later it became the Order of the Cross of Liberty, Finland's premier award). It had been a suggestion of General Mannerheim to institute this cross to reward bravery or meritorious service during the Finnish War of Liberation.
The Cross of Liberty held two divisions : a military (marked with swords on the suspension device) and a civil division and five classes. Furthermore, it could be awarded with brilliants, with oakleaf or, for medical personnel, with a red cross (in the central medallion, 3rd and 4th class only).
German General Rudiger von der Goltz, commander of the Baltic Division which aided Mannerheim's White army, was awarded the 1st Class, with diamonds.

The five classes were :
Grand Cross sash (yellow with red stripes next to edge) & white enamel cross
1st Class neck badge, white enamel, gold swastika, white rose (yellow & red ribbon)
2nd Class breast badge, white enamel, gold swastika, white rose (yellow & red ribbon)
3rd Class military : breast badge, blackened iron, silver gilt swastika and rose (red ribbon with two narrow white stripes
3rd Class civil : breast badge, blue enamel, silver gilt swastika and rose (same ribbon as above) Reverse: blue enamel & date
4th Class military : breast badge, blackened iron, silver swastika and rose. (same ribbon as above)
4th Class civil : breast badge, blue enamel, silver swastika and rose. (same ribbon as above)

Above the cross is an oval laurel wreath and, for the military division, two arms in armour, each holding a sword. An oak leaf cluster is worn above the wreath for the first three classes, on the ribbon for the last two classes, to indicate an award for gallantry in action.
On 16 December 1940 the Cross of Liberty was used as a basis for creating the Order of the Cross of Liberty, with both a military and civil division as before. In 1960 peace time awards were abolished by the Finnish president.

- Order of the White Rose. Instituted by Baron Mannerheim on January 28, 1918. The White Rose could be awarded in war or peace to Finnish citizens or foreigners, for service to the nation of Finland. It could also be awarded for bravery in the field of battle. The White Rose came in five classes:

The ribbon of the Order of the White Rose was a deep royal blue.

- The Commemorative Medal of the War of Liberation. Awarded to all who had participated in the war to secure Finland's independance. Instituted on 10 September 1918 by the Finnish Senate in Helsinki, this blackened iron medal was originally decreed to hang from a dark blue ribbon. In order to avoid confusion with the Order of the White Rose's ribbon, General Mannerheim decided on 3 July 1919 to have this medal's ribbon altered and black side stripes were adopted. On the same day a silver heraldic rose was instituted for wearing on the ribbon in case of an award for bravery. Equally instituted that day were 11 silver bars bearing the names of actions in which the recipient had participated :


The obverse shows the Finnish arms, a crowned rampant lion standing on a curved sword and holding a broken sword in its raised paw. The reverse shows the Cross of Liberty with in each of the upper angles an armoured arm holding a sword (as in the Cross's Military Division suspension). In the lower angles is the year "19 / 18".
Note: The medal shown is in a white metal rather than blackened iron. It is possible that this example was manufactured in Germany. Many members of the German Baltic Division participated in the liberation, and so would have been in line for the medal. If an actual Finnish issue medal (in blackened iron) was unavailable, a German-made copy may have sufficed.

- The Medal of Liberty. Associated with the Cross of Liberty and instituted at the same time, on 4 March 1918, by the Senate at Wasa. The medal was created in two classes, the 1st class in silver (blue ribbon with thin white side stripes, the 2nd class in bronze, (scarlet ribbon with broad yellow stripes) for award to noncoms and other ranks for bravery in the field.
The obverse shows the head of a crowned Finnish lion, raising a paw holding a sword. Around the edge are the words "URHEUDESTA FÖR TAPPERHET" (For Bravery, in Finnish and Swedish). The reverse has a laurel wreath surrounding the text "SUOMEN / KANSALTA / 1918" (From the people of Finland).

For medical and nursing services the medals could be awarded with a red cross near the base.

- Medal of the White Rose. Associated with the Order of the White Rose. The medal shows a representation of the cross of the Order on a round medallion, suspended from the royal blue ribbon of the Order. The medal came in three classes: 1st Class in gold, 2nd Class in silver, 3rd Class in Bronze.

- Blue Cross. Instituted in 1968, this award would fall well outside this collection, but for the fact that it was made available retroactively to Finns who participated in the civil Guards during the liberation period. It is awarded to all former members of the civil Guards and lotta Svärd organization, from 1918 to 1944. The bar "1917-1918" is awarded to people who were in Civil Guards or Lotta & Svärd during the Liberation war.

The medal is a bronze St. George style cross with blue enamel. In the center of the cross is a sword, point up, atop a white enameled stylized letter S, which stands for "Suojeluskunta" (Civil Guards). Behind the S show the points of a stylized spruce branch.
A second grade of the Blue Cross was awarded to people who were not former members of Civil Guards, but had been in some kind of voluntary work with veterans or research of Civil Guards after war. This version of the medal omits the sword and the S, revealing the spruce branch more clearly.

- Medal for Liberation of Helsinki. Awarded to troops who participated in the liberation of Finland's capital city from "Red" Finn troops who had captured it as part of the Finnish civil war.

Historical Background
Prior to their declaration of independence in December 1917, Finland had been a semi-autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian empire. Strong Russian attempts to 'russify' the Finns and Russian attempts to curtail their freedom bred a staunch nationalist, independence movement. The start of the Great War presented an opportunity. Hundreds, and later thousands, of young nationalist Finns sought military training in Germany. They formed the 27th Jäger battalion that fought alongside the German Army on the Eastern Front (Baltic).

Early in 1918, the "Red" Finns took over Helsinki and other key cities in the south with help from Russian Bolsheviks. General Mannerheim's "White" Finn Army fought back. Joining the Whites were the Jägers (called home to fight the Reds) and the German Baltic Division (some 13,000 men) who landed in Hangö in early April 1918. Germany's help with Finnish liberation resulted in close and friendly ties between the two nations for years to come. For a brief while in the summer of 1918, Finland considered becoming a monarchy and had selected a German prince (Friedrich Karl of Hesse) as their future king. Instead, the parliament opted to form a republic. Return to Introduction.

Notes: Finnish use of the swastika (a cross with arms bent at 90 degrees) predates use by the Nazi party by many many years, and has no connection with the Nationalist Socialist Party that formed in Germany after the war.
The Swastika has been in Scandinavian culture since the Iron-Age as a symbol of luck, it has also been symbol for Vikings. It may have also been a representation of some pagan God.
In modern days the swastika came to use by the Finnish military in 1918. Artist Axel Gallen who planned The Crosses of Liberty and Crosses of White Rose used it in his designs. The Finnish Air Force adopted Swastika as their insignia/symbol in same year. Return

- Special thanks to Hendrik Meersschaert for images of medals in his collection, to Pauli Kruhse of Finland, and Jani Tiainen of the Orders & Decorations Association of Finland, (ODAF) for their help with the historical information.