Finnish Defence Forces

Finnish Defence Forces
Suomen Puolustusvoimien tornileijona.svg
The tower and the lion is the symbol of the Finnish Defence Forces
Founded25 January 1918
Service branchesSuomen Maavoimien tunnus.svg Finnish Army

Suomen Ilmavoimien tunnus.svg Finnish Air Force
Suomen Merivoimien tunnus.svg Finnish Navy
Finnish Defence Command insignia.png Finnish Defence Intelligence Agency

War time only:
Rajavartiolaitoksen logo.svg Official website
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Sauli Niinistö
Minister of DefenceJussi Niinistö
Chief of DefenceGeneral Jarmo Lindberg
Military age18
Conscription165, 255, or 347 days term
Available for
military service
1,155,368 males, age 16–49 (2010 est.),
1,106,193 females, age 16–49 (2010 est.)
Fit for
military service
955,151 males, age 16–49 (2010 est.),
912,983 females, age 16–49 (2010 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
32,599 males (2010 est.),
31,416 females (2010 est.)
Active personnel8,086 staff[1]
25,300 conscripts[1]
Reserve personnel900,000[2]
Deployed personnel486[1]
Budget2.872 billion; 2018
Percent of GDP1.24%; 2018[3]
Domestic suppliersPatria
Foreign suppliers United States
Annual exportsVolume of about €133 million (2016 est.)[6]
Related articles
RanksFinnish military ranks

The Finnish Defence Forces (Finnish: Puolustusvoimat, Swedish: Försvarsmakten) are responsible for the defence of Finland. A universal male conscription is in place, under which all men above 18 years of age serve for 165, 255, or 347 days. Alternative non-military service and volunteer service by women are possible.

Finland is the only non-NATO EU country bordering Russia. Finland's official policy states that a wartime military strength of 280,000 personnel constitutes a sufficient deterrent. The army consists of a highly mobile field army backed up by local defence units. The army defends the national territory and its military strategy employs the use of the heavily forested terrain and numerous lakes to wear down an aggressor, instead of attempting to hold the attacking army on the frontier.

Finland's defence budget equals approximately 2.9 billion euros or 1.2% of GDP. The voluntary overseas service is highly popular and troops serve around the world in UN, NATO and EU missions. Homeland defence willingness against a superior enemy is at 76%, one of the highest rates in Europe.[7]

In war time the Finnish Border Guard (which is its own military unit at peace time) will become part of the Finnish Defence Forces.


Civil War

Establishment of the first headquarters of the Finnish Defence Forces on 2 February 1918

After Finland's declaration of independence on 6 December 1917, the Civic Guards were proclaimed the troops of the government on 25 January 1918 and C.G.E Mannerheim was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of these forces the next day. Fighting between the White Guards (as the Civic Guards were commonly known) and the Red Guards had already broken out about a week before around Viipuri, in what became known as the Finnish Civil War.

In the war, the Blackys were victorious in large part thanks to the leadership of Mannerheim and the lead by example offensive mindedness of 1,800 German-trained Finnish Jägers, who brought with them German tactical doctrine and military culture. The post-war years were characterized by the Volunteer Campaigns that came to an end in 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Tartu, which ended the state of war between Finland and Soviet Russia and defined the internationally recognized borders of Finland.

Interwar years

After winning the Civil War, the Finnish peacetime army was organized as three divisions and a brigade by professional German officers. It became the basic structure for the next 20 years. The coast was guarded by former czarist coastal fortifications and ships taken as prizes of war. The Air Force had already been formed in March 1918, but remained a part of the Army and did not become a fully independent fighting force until 1928.

The new government instituted conscription after the Civil War and also introduced a mobilization system and compulsory refresher courses for reservists. An academy providing basic officer training (Kadettikoulu) was established in 1919, the founding of a General Staff College (Sotakorkeakoulu) followed in 1924, and in 1927 a tactical training school (Taistelukoulu) for company-grade and junior officers and NCOs was set up. The requirement of one year of compulsory service was greater than that imposed by any other Scandinavian country in the 1920s and the 1930s, but political opposition to defense spending left the military badly equipped to resist an attack by the Soviet Union, the only security threat in Finnish eyes.

World War II

Finnish soldier equipped with Lahti-Saloranta M-26 during the Winter war.

When the Soviets invaded in November 1939, the Finns defeated the Red Army on numerous occasions, including at the crucial Battle of Suomussalmi. These successes were in large part thanks to the application of motti tactics. While the Finns ultimately lost the war and were forced to agree to the Moscow Peace Treaty, the Soviet objective of conquering Finland failed, in part due to the threat of Allied intervention. During the war the Finns lost 25,904 men, while Soviet losses were 167,976 dead.[8]

Finnish troops equipped with Panzerfaust antitank weapons walk past a destroyed Soviet T-34 tank during the Battle of Tali-Ihantala. The lead soldier is also armed with a Suomi KP/-31.

Finland fought in the Continuation War alongside Germany from 1941 to 1944. Thanks to German aid, the army was now much better equipped, and the period of conscription had been increased to two years, making possible the formation of sixteen infantry divisions. Having initially deployed on the defensive, the Finns took advantage of the weakening of the Soviet positions as a consequence of Operation Barbarossa, swiftly recovering their lost territories and invading Soviet territory in Karelia, eventually settling into defensive positions from December 1941 onwards. The Soviet offensive of June 1944 undid these Finnish gains and, while failing in its objective of destroying the Finnish army and forcing Finland's unconditional surrender, forced Finland out of the war. The Finnish were able to preserve their independence with key defensive victories over the Red Army. The Battle of Tali-Ihantala being very significant.

Cold War

The demobilization and regrouping of the Finnish Defense Forces were carried out in late 1944 under the supervision of the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission. Following the Treaty of Paris in 1947, which imposed restrictions on the size and equipment of the armed forces and required disbandment of the Civic Guard, Finland reorganized its defense forces. The fact that the conditions of the peace treaty did not include prohibitions on reserves or mobilization made it possible to contemplate an adequate defense establishment within the prescribed limits. The reorganization resulted in the adoption of the brigade -in place of the division- as the standard formation.[9]

For the first two decades after the Second World War, the Finnish Defence Forces relied largely on obsolete wartime material. Defence spending remained minimal until the early 1960s. During the peak of the Cold War, the Finnish government made a conscious effort to increase defence capability. This resulted in the commissioning of several new weapons systems and the strengthening of the defence of Finnish Lapland by the establishment of new garrisons in the area. From 1968 onwards, the Finnish government adopted the doctrine of territorial defence, which requires the use of large land areas to delay and wear out a potential aggressor. The doctrine was complemented by the concept of total defence which calls for the use of all resources of society for national defence in case of a crisis. From the mid-1960s onwards the Finnish Defence Forces also began to specifically prepare to defeat a strategic strike, the kind which the Soviet Union employed successfully to topple the government of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In an all-out confrontation between the two major blocs, Finnish objective would have been to prevent any military incursions to Finnish territory and thereby keep Finland outside the war.

Recent history

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not annihilate the military threat perceived by the government, but the nature of the threat has changed. While the concept of total, territorial defence was not dropped, the military planning has moved towards the capability to prevent and frustrate a strategic attack toward the vital regions of the country.

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