Vintage Saturday: Finnish Militia

Finnish red guard militia members posing for the camera some time during the civil war.
Finnish red guard militia members posing for the camera some time during the civil war (click to enlarge).

The woman at the front right has a Winchester 1895, almost certainly of Russian contract origin in 7.62x54R. The others appear to have Type 30 Arisaka rifles, which would have been sold to Russia by Japan during WWI and then acquired by the Finns.


  1. Red guards aligned with the Soviet Union vs the White guards allied with the German Empire. Whom do you favor?

    • Red guards were mostly from cities and towns, Whites mostly rural. Red guards mostly Social Democrats, and there was no Soviet Union, at least not yet. The Bolsheviki, certainly. The scale of German intervention into Finland was order of magnitude greater than what the Bolsheviks could provide to their erstwhile ideological allies in Finland, Berlin, Munich, Bremen, or anywhere else for that matter until the Polish-Soviet War in 1920.

      Do recall that the victorious whites killed lots of folks after consolidating their victory, and that they voted to have a Hohenzollern monarch assume a Finnish throne. Only the Kaiser’s abdication to the Netherlands, which rejected calls for his extradition for any sort of trial, scotched the idea. Postwar the two major groupings had to resort to parliamentary opposition instead of at the point of a bayonet or muzzle of a gun.

      Finland is a small nation that spent much of its history as a province of the great powers’ empires vying for control of the Baltic: Sweden, Russia, Germany, the USSR, etc.

      • I think its rather amicable that after the war we were able to still endure eachother so much that the Social Democrats were actually the largest party after the war in a few elections despite loosing the war. Ofcourse the right wing parties formed alliances to increase their standing.

        Also you should forget about the red terror that started the whole back and fort wave of violence and attrocities towards civilians and POW’s. The reds often murdered and looted people from their home steads because of simple envy and greed.

      • Finland was an integral part of the Swedish Kingdom prior to 1809. When the Swedish King expanded his dominion to the east in the 12th century, there was no Finnish nation. First idea of Finnish sovereignty were thrown around in the second half of the 18th century, but they became really popular only a century later, partially because the Russian Czar had already granted an autonomy in 1809. This later lead to an interpretation in Finland that the Czar was a constitutional ruler of Finland and Finland had a personal union with Russia. Most modern scholars agree that this was never his intention, but it lead to the birth of Finnish nationalism and later, after Czar Nicholas II’s russification attempts, to the independence movement.

        • One of my ancestors was killed by Cossacks during the 1808-1809 war. Say, is the “weasel” in your moniker that which appears on Vaasa län/Österbottens coat of arms? If so, if you ever take a DNA test, we just might be very distant cousins… That whole russification scheme is when my ancestors–g-grandparents–immigrated to the U.S.

          • No, I didn’t think of that weasel… Ostrobothnia (correct name for “Österbotten” in English; the Finnish name is “Pohjanmaa”) has a lot of Swedish-speaking people and Carlson could have been Carlsson or Karlsson originally. Then again, there are plenty of families in Finland with the Germanic “-son” suffix in their family name, who never spoke Swedish as their primary language. Ostrobothnia was a major source area for Finnish people immigrating to the US. Reasons were mostly economic; the old source of prosperity in Ostrobothnia was tar making, which declined with the proliferation of iron and later steel ship hulls.

            Most Finns are fairly closely related to each other genetically, but my ancestors came from Pirkanmaa (Birkaland in Swedish) as far as I know, which is the area around the modern city of Tampere (the second largest urban area in Finland after Helsinki).

          • Oh yes, it was Carlsson and the farm name. I guess Ostrobothnia went from tar to tomatoes, yes?

            Some resided in USA while working, but returned to Ostrobothnia later in life. Again, economic considerations. Of course, during the civil war, Vaasa was wholly controlled by the Whites, with headquarters in Vasa, unless I’m mistaken.

          • Vaasa was the capital of the White (i.e. legal) government, because Helsinki was controlled by the Reds. Some members of the (White) Senate did not manage to escape to Vaasa but had to hide in Helsinki. The Reds had very little popular support in the Vaasa area.

    • They are both in civilian clothes as well have a “dark” as in “red” band. Not an armband, but on their hats, so this is early 1916. The bloke on the right with the cossack hat, thats a red band going across. The girls have a red band across their beanies.

      If it were “whites” they would have a white armband and/or a fir twig on their hats.

      The armbands came in later during the war, and its a joke to have a replica pistol in a “fire case” with a 2-sided armband (red/white) and the text “In Case of Revolution, Break Glass & Choose Wiining Side”

  2. Interesting historic fact:
    Carl Gustaf Mannerheim despite being born in Finland, during service in Russian Army forgot Finnish language and has to relearn it.

        • It is. Finnish is an agglutinative language. Word meaning is indicated wholly in word conjugation. I could cram more precise information into this sentence when it’s written in Finnish and still have it translated the exact same.

          On. Suomenkielihän on agglutinatiivinen kieli. Sanojen merkitys on täysin sanojen sijamuodoista kiinni. Voin helposti laittaa tarkempaa tietoa tähän lauseeseen, kun se on suomeksi kirjoitettu, vaikka sen käännös englanniksi olisi ihan sama.

    • Actually, as stated, he didnt really speak any finnish until his later years, and someone once stated that his finnish was worse than Churchills french. I wouldnt know though, being half-finnish, from a swedish-speaking territory, I barely speak a word of finnish myself. Swedish-speaking finns being.. not to fluent, in finnish, is not to uncommon in some places to this day, and during the early century it was even more common.

      • C.G.E. Mannerheim spoke Swedish (his first language), Russian, German and French fluently and in addition some Polish, English, Portuguese, Mandarin and Finnish. His Finnish was originally very weak. He tried to learn it better after the Finnish independence and improved a lot, but never reached true fluency. Not surprisingly, because in 1918 he was already 51 years old.

  3. “The others appear to have Type 30 Arisaka rifles, which would have been sold to Ruaai by Japan during WWI and then acquired by the Finns.”
    Russia also produced ammunition for it in Petrograd (now Petersburg) and also ordered it from England
    because so many were acquired 6.5mm Japanese become briefly default Soviet rifle cartridge, but they reverted to 7.62x54R because it has better armour-piercing capability, more effective HE and incendiary bullets (better in air-to-air combat)

  4. The thing that always gets me with these old photos is the faces: I could have served with any of these guys. The clothes are funny, the weapons different, but the faces are always the same batch of kids.

  5. Respectfully, that 95 looks a bit short compared to other Russian purchase 95’s I’ve seen ,perhaps they also bought a few carbines but I have never seen a reference to this.Now I know for a fact that American guns were marketed widely in Europe, so it could have been a private purchase.My own grandmother used a borrowed Sharps Brochardt to shoot geese in Western Ireland in the late 40’s-50’s.

  6. The pipes make me see what the Finnish nature is during war: I’ll just hang out a while, puffing away, and patiently wait for the enemy to come along and die. No rush. Go ahead. Take your time.

    All the hot meal deliveries and battlefield saunas must have made for a relaxed defense force. I heard the Russian forces often targeted the field kitchens for capture.

    • Ready hot meals in battle zone – very important point you are making! Btw, I believe it was Germans who introduced microwave ovens during operation Barbarossa.
      Sorry for small digress.

      • Had to double check that and it doesn’t appear to be true. Microwave oven was invented in the US after the war. And also the logistics of running electricity for cooking in warzone would be too complicated compared to firewood.

    • I assure you that they were eighter bought from Japan by Russia early in the war or sold to Russia by Britain late in the war. Nothing was given directly to the Finns (us…).

  7. It seems that the photo is in studio with a painted backdrop.
    Notice that the ground is hard: where the chair legs and feet touch the ground you can see this.
    The background seems to be painted, and there is no sign or dirt or water or snow on the shoes.
    All that being said, it could be a field photo on a piece of hard surface, with the background appearing as it does because of focal depth, etc.

    • No, it is a “studio photo” of the time, you had them done. Its a miracle the glass negatives survived.

  8. Can you recognize cartridge pouches
    Standing/1st from left: white(?) cartridge pouch
    Standing/center: probably German (because is triple, when Russian are double)
    Standing/1st from right: ?
    Sitting/1st from left: it is cartridge pouch or something else?
    Sitting/1st from right: none

  9. First glance observation: the fellow in second row middle is too young for smoking pipe 🙂

    Anyway, wasn’t it that they had, part of Mosins also use for second hand Carcanos? Caliber would be same as early Arisaka, would it not?

    • Italy supplied Russia in WWI with Vetterlis.
      France sent Gras, Kropatscheks, Lebels. And MGs and artillery and aircraft.
      Britain sent Arisakas they’d acquired for the Royal Navy and lots of ammo.And MGs.
      Japan sent Arisakas. Even Mexican ones.
      USA sent Winchester M1895s and M1891s.And MGs.

      During the 1939-1940 Winter War or Russo-Finnish War, if you prefer, when the secret annexes of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact “gave” the USSR eastern Poland and the Baltic States, the residents of said states having not been consulted, Italy sent 7.35mm Carcanos to Finland, where they were used as rear echelon weapons to free up older Russian arms that used the same ammunition as the army, and for that matter, the Soviets.

      The 6.5x50SR Japanese and 6.5x52mm Carcano cartridges are not interchangeable.

      • Thanks for clarification Dave.
        I had it little mixed up; especially from time prospective. Caliber review is also worthwhile.

      • The Carcanos started to arrive only after the Winter War had already ended in April 1940. Most were really used by rear echelon troops but some were in summer 1941 at the start of Continuation War issued to front line troops as well. Quite a few of those ended up in ditches and bushes after their former owner had captured a Mosin from the Soviets. The M38 Carcano had a very poor reputation among the Finnish soldiers, not due to general reliability issues, but the Italian 7.35mm ammunition was of highly variable quality, and the most soldiers hated the sight, which was fixed to 200 meters. Finnish soldiers had been taught to use the tangent sights of the Mosins and they also found the 200 meter zero to be too far even for a battle sight for the relatively modest ballistics of the 7.35x51mm Carcano cartridge. Some animosity towards the Carcano may have also stemmed simply from unfamiliarity with the Mannlicher style en bloc clip.

        • This is where my suggestion was coming from; I had some hazy memories from previous reading. Thanks for clarification!

  10. Finland used barrels from Sig in Switzerland also, so you can find a Mexican Arisaka wth Swiss barrels, and Finnish acceptance stamps.

  11. I always love it when Arisakas appear it places like Finland & the Baltic states. I own a Finn marked Type 30 and a Finn trial Type 38 in 7.92mm.

    • I thought so as well. They are all just young men in their late teens or very early 20s with round faces and poor facial hair growth. Nutrition was worse those days, particularly among the working class and small farmers, so many men in their late teens appeared like 15-16-year-olds today. Although the person sitting on the right with the pipe (which is a clue of his gender; this was 1918, folks!) does seem to have vaguely something like female breasts, it’s really just the shape of his cloths against his upper torso. As a working class person he probably had fairly good chest muscles despite the boyish looks.

  12. Arisakas found their way into Arabia as well. The guys T.E. Lawrence was working with received shipments of Arisakas from HM’s Government via Egypt.

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