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The Honourable Finnish Swastika

By Mr. Aarne Ellilä, World War II bomber pilot

Original Finnish language article translated into English on February 2007 by Ossi Juntunen

Anti-Semitism used to be widespread in Europe. As the Nazis took over in 1932 in Germany, the systematic persecution of Jews commenced, and after the outbreak of war, systematic genocide. The Holocaust and the occupation of European countries by the Wehrmacht resulted in making the tilted swastika ? the insignia of antisemitists since the end of the 1800s - the symbol of evil. The Nazi Swastika also tainted the Finnish Level Swastika, originating from the year 1918.

These two insignias share the shape but the symbolic content is completely different. They share no background. An uninformed person cannot tell them from apart: he does not know that the German symbol, tainted as evil is not the same as the Finnish, untainted and honourable swastika, and he abhors both. The Swastika is an ancient sign of luck originating from Asia, widespread in the world. Even today it is recognized as the insignia of the Falun Gong. The Swastika is included in the Finnish ornamentics for ages. By an extraordinary chance it was adopted to symbolic use at the same time but independently in Germany and in Finland.

In Finland the Swastika was introduced in the high art included in the frame of the painting ?Aino? by Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1889, now owned by the Bank of Finland. The Swastika was decorating the Fennia series dishes by Arabia ceramics factory in the age of Art Noveau. The Swastika was first used by the government in 1918, in the Cross of Liberty decoration designed by Gallen-Kallela, and as the national insignia of the Finnish Air Force. Swedish Count Eric von Rosen had donated the first FiAF aircraft, decorated by swastikas painted on the wings. Thus the Swastika was introduced by two sources by two men in two different manifestations. The other national symbols of the young Finnish state included the national coat of arms from the 1500's, the national anthem and the blue cross flag from the year 1918.

The German National Socialist Party, founded in 1919, adopted an ideologically correct red flag with a white roundel including a slanted swastika. The slanted swastika had been since the end of the 1800s the symbol of antisemitists in Germany and Austria. After Hitler took over in 1933 that flag became two years later the German national flag. The tilted Nazi Swastika vanished from view in 1945.

War of Independence breaks out

The Finnish Senate (Cabinet) nominated on the 28.1.1918 Gen.Lt C.G.E.Mannerheim (1867-1951) as the Commander- in-Chief of the legal government troops. The very same day the troops were ordered to disarm the Russian garrisons, foreign troops, in Ostrobothnia. The War of Independence had been started.

Cross and Medals of Liberty

The Cross of Liberty 4th class with swords

Memorial medal for the War of Independence

The G-in-C understood the significance of acknowledgment by decorations. He recalled painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 53 years in age, from the front and ordered him to design the decorations. At Mannerheim?s suggestion the senate temporarily decreed on the 4. March 1918 about the Cross of Liberty and Medal of Liberty decorations. The Senate was to award the decorations but the task was delegated to the G-in-C except for the highest decorations. The military or civil rank of the receiver decided the rank of the decoration.

The crosses had five ranks and the medals two. The design drawings were dated 3.3.1918. The Cross of Liberty is comprised of the St. George?s cross superimposed by a Swastika. The Grand Cross and the 1st class Cross include a star carried on breast, featuring a swastika with a rose superimposed. The decoration grades are differentiated by size and material.

One essential part of a decoration is the ribbon. The Grand Cross and 1st and 2nd class crosses were carried on yellow ribbons, 3rd and 4th class featured red ribbons. The colours were adopted from the "lion flag" preceding the present blue-white flag. A decoration awarded for military valour is hanging from a metal wreath of laurels comprising armoured arms holding swords, symbolizing East and West ? coat of arms of Carelia. The decoration is then awarded ?with swords?. Decorations for civil and medical valour the ribbon does not include the swords. 1st Class Medal of Liberty is carried on a blue and 2nd class Medal of Liberty on a red ribbon. The medal features the words "urheudesta, för tapperhet" (for courage, Finnish and Swedish), on the reverse: "Suomen kansalta 1918" (From the people of Finland in 1918).
The Crosses and Medals of Liberty were not awarded after 28 Jan 1919 by the decree of Regent Mannerheim (Gen. Mannerheim was nominated as the Regent until a presidential election could be arranged, tr. rem.). Two Grand Crosses had been awarded by the Senate, one with swords to Cavalry General (12.3.1918) C.G.E. Mannerheim and another for civil merits to Senator P.E. Svinhufvud. While Crossed of Liberty and Medals were no more awarded, the Finnish White Rose order was created.

Memorial medal for the War of Independence was created on the 10.9.1918, designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The front of the medal includes the Cross of Liberty, armoured arms with swords and ?1918?. The reverse includes the Lion of Finland. The ribbon is blue with two black stripes.

The Cross or Medal of Liberty was awarded to more than 23 000 Finnish citizens. German soldiers who had been fighting in Finland were awarded about 3500 decorations. Volunteers from Sweden and other countries were awarded 1500 decorations.

Finnish national flag


Finnish Senate had confirmed on 5.1.1918 that the national flag would be yellow lion on red background. The colours were disliked due to changed circumstances. The Parliament discussed the matter, cancelled the previous decision. The new flag was the blue cross flag on the 29. May 1918. The President of the Republic, as the C-in-C of the military forces is the user of the three pointed war flag. The Cross of Liberty on the flag symbolizes the command.

During the war Mannerheim had his own commander-in-chief's flag designed by Gallen-Kallela. The flag had white background with the Finnish Lion on the other side, The Cross of Liberty on the other. The president of the republic had also a three-striped warflag. The Cross of Liberty was chosen as the insignia of command, presumably based on the idea of Mannerheim's flag on 1920. While Mannerheim acted as the president 4.8.1944-4.3.1946 his presidential flag had the marshall's staffs instead the Cross of Liberty.

Order of Cross of Liberty is set up

As the Winter War had broken out, Mannerheim suggested on 8.12.1939 that Crosses of Liberty and Medals of Liberty should be awarded again. The law followed the practice of 1918.

After the Winter War the Order of Cross of Liberty was set up on 16.12.1940. Mannerheim was nominated as the Grand Master for lifetime. The prestigious 1st and 2nd class Mannerheim Crosses were adopted (MR 1 and MR 2). MR 1 was awarded only to Marshal Mannerheim on 7.9.1941 and Infantry General Heinrichs on 31.12.1944. MR 2 was awarded to 191 soldiers, twice for four of them. The present decree was signed 18.8.1944 and it is still valid. The decorations in use are Cross of Liberty Class 1 to 4 (VR1 to 4) with oak leaves.

Ribbon colours were changed from the 1918 pattern. Decorations for military valour feature a red ribbon, for other distinction the ribbon is yellow.

The GHQ decided on the 24.2.1940 that the widow, mother or eldest daughter of a soldier killed in action shall be awarded the VR 4 on a black ribbon.

Also women were rewarded for their valuable work for the fatherland. After the Winter War the ?Lotta General? , the chairperson of the female volunteer force Lotta Svärd, Mrs. Fanni Luukkonen was decorated with the VR1 with swords.

During the Winter War 174 000 Finns were decorated with the Cross of Liberty or medal, and during the Continuation War 482 000.

As the President of the Republic Mannerheim awarded after the armistice with Soviet Union on 21.12.1944 the Cross of Liberty to the town of Mikkeli (The GHQ was based there 1939 to 1945, tr. rem.). This was not recorded in the record of decorations not until 4.6.1958, however. Also several traditional military units have the right to carry the Cross of Liberty and its ribbons in the tip of their regimental flagstaff. The same honour is shared by the War Veteran organizations, Society of the Invalids of the War of Independence, Society of War Invalids and military education institutions. In every Finnish church there is on the wall a copy of Mannerheim?s Dispatch to Finnish mothers dated 10.5.1942, including a Cross of Liberty.

Rewarding Germans

Co-belligerence with Germany necessitated mutual exchange of decorations. The number of German troops stationed in Lapland, on the Svir river or Gulf of Finland was about 200 000 - 300 000 men. By estimate Germany awarded to Finnish soldiers 10 000 - 20 000 decorations. Correspondingly the Germans received about 10 000 Finnish decorations.

Additional information: Vapaudenristin ritarikunta, Isänmaan puolesta (ISBN 951-0-22037-X)

Order of Cross of Liberty after the Continuation War

Mannerheim resigned from his position as the President and C-in-C in March 1946, but he stayed on as the Grand Master of the Order of Cross of Liberty. Mannerheim settled in Switzerland where he died on 28.1.1951. The duties of the Grand Master were transferred to President Paasikivi the next day. In the year 1956 Urho Kekkonen was elected the President of the Republic, and he became the next Grand Master.

Kekkonen awarded during the first years of his long tenure, 4.6.1959, a Grand Cross of Liberty to Infantry General Kaarlo Heiskanen.

In May 1960 it was informed that decorations of the Order of The Cross of Liberty would not be awarded during peace but in exceptional cases.

As Mauno Koivisto was elected in 1982 as the President of the Republic and the Grand Master of the Orders the 23 year period of not awarding Freedom decorations ended. The Grand Cross of Liberty was granted on 6.12.1983 to the retired Commander of the Defence Force, Gen. Lauri Sutela.

President Koivisto widened the scope of awarding The Cross of Liberty also to voluntary defence tasks. In 1994 president Martti Ahtisaari included UN soldiers and service in the UN in the list of candidates for the decoration. President Tarja Halonen has rewarded persons distinguishing themselves in security policy.

Order White Rose of Finland

After the end of War of Independence the new republic had to adapt herself to peace and independence. There was a new need to reward citizens with decorations, and the decorations were also needed in international affairs, foreign politics. As Regent, Mannerheim set up on the first anniversary of the War of Independence 28.1.1919 the Order White Rose of Finland.

Res.Lt. Akseli Gallen-Kallela was the first aide-de-camp of Mannerheim at the moment. He was given the task of designing the decorations for the new Order. The crosses have the shape of St. George?s cross. The colour of the ribbon is blue as in the national flag. The most prestigious cross, to be awarded to the heads of state, the Grand Cross, was designed to be carried on a chain resting on shoulders. The chain features prominent swastikas and heraldic roses. The chain with its swastikas was to have after the Continuation War an unexpected significance.

National Insignia of the Finnish Air Force

The first Finnish military aircraft, donated from Sweden, crossed the border at Haaparanta on 25.2.1918 piloted by Lt. Allan Hygerth. The observer was Lt. Per Svanbeck. Having landed at Pietarsaari they tried to continue to Vaasa, but the engine seized. The airmen continued their journey by train and found themselves in Vaasa, as the second donated aircraft landed there on 6.3.1918. It was donated by Count Eric von Rosen. He was in the plane as passenger. The pilot was Lt. Nils Kindberg. This aircraft had blue swastikas painted on the wings. The donator, when studying ethnology, had adopted the swastika as his personal lucky charm. He and Kindberg reported on 13.3.1918 in the GHQ in Seinäjoki. As a result of this meeting of a count and a baron, the Count?s aircraft received no. 1. Hygert?s plane was no. 2.

The Swastika was made the national insignia of our Air Force by the order of the day of Gen. Mannerheim. It was suggested by the first commander of the air force, Capt. Hygerth on 18.3.1918. The landing day of von Rosen?s aircraft was nominated as the anniversary day of the Finnish Air Force in 1923.

Aviator badge

The GHQ requested from Germany competent men to organize, train and maintain the aviation force. One of them was Capt. Carl Seber, whom the C-in-C nominated on 28.4.1918 as the Commander of the Finnish Aviation Force. Soon Seber presented to the War Minister his idea for a military aviator badge. Some days later he presented a design by Gallen-Kallela for the insignia. The central theme of the badge is the swastika. The idea was processed rapidly and the Finnish Aviator badge was approved on 28.6.1918 by Regent P.E.Svinhufvud.

Designing the Aviator Badge was well suited to Gallen-Kallela. Already before being transferred in the GHQ he had made sketches for decorations. The main theme consisted of a heraldic rose. The designer increased the diameter of the rose, replaced the five petals with six heraldic bird wings flying clockwise and place the swastika introduced by von Rosen in the center.

After the War of Independence security policy led into an idea of monarchy. The Aviator badge was topped with a crown. The incomplete Parliament (missing its elected Social Democrat MPs, tr.rem) elected in autumn of 1918 a German prince, Friedrich Karl, as the King of Finland. The German imperium collapsed in November 1918, consequently the idea of King of Finland was abandoned. Lather this episode became to be called ?the adventure royal?. The crown in the Aviator badge remained, however, despite the fact that the country became a Republic. Finnish military aviators were consequently actually royals.

The Finnish Aviator badge designed by Gallen-Kallela has dominated ever after. All symbols of military aviation, including flags, are just variations of the master?s theme.

Finnish Aviator Badge recipients

Primarily the Aviator badge was to be awarded to Finnish military airmen: pilots and observers. To be awarded with it you had to have passed the Finnish Observer and Pilot exam, later only the Pilot exam. 12 badges were awarded during the first year. Finnish Aviator Badges basing on this decree were awarded during the years 1918 - 1944 to 1234 pilots and 62 observers.

In the Winter War the volunteer Swedish squadron F19 was based in Northern Finland. Also other volunteers were serving in the ranks of the Finnish Air Force. Consequently 37 foreign volunteers were awarded during and after the war the Finnish Aviator Badge hc (honoris causa).

Aviator Badge rules excluded the observers from being awarded with it. Soon after the Winter War it was found that a number of observers had flown as many missions as the pilots. They numbered 40, and they were awarded the Finnish Aviator badge honoris causa.

Mannerheim never received the Finnish Aviator badge hc. Could it be that Gen. Lundqvist, the commander of the FiAF, did not remember this, or did he stick to the criteria or was it a matter of protocol?

Lotta Svärd organization is set up

Finnish women began their work for their soldiers anonymously when the Civil Guards were set up (in 1917, tr. rem.) Mannerheim mentioned the Lotta Svärds when giving his thanks to the Women?s Representatives during the celebration of the end of War of Independence on 16.5.1918. The first to adopt this name was the Riihimäki local chapter in November 1918. Soon it was found that the activities of local organizations must be nationally unified by creating an organization with a single set of rules. Representatives of local Lotta Svärds met in Helsinki in the Officer Mess on 22. - 23.3.1921 to accept the rules. The National Lotta Svärd ?organization had been set up. Membership could be applied for women over 17 years in age.

Young girls wanted to join; in 1931 ten-year olds were accepted, since 1934 eight-year olds.

The political Left did not approve of the Civil Guard nor the Lottas. The ordeal of the Winter War changed the attitudes for a while. On the 15. February 1940 took place so called ?February betrothal? (employers recognized trade unions as legitimate negotiation partners, tr.rem.) Union of Woman Worker told their members that each organization shall accept the members of the other one and those social democratic women who were interested in defence task could become lottas. The number of members increased. In 1926 there were 581 local organizations with a total of 40 000 members, the figures for end 1943 were 144 000 active members, 28 000 sympathizers and 49 000 lotta girls. At the date of disbanding there were 242 000 members.

The activities and training provided by the organization responded to the circumstances. It was divided into sections: Equipment and collecting section, proviant supply section, medical section, office and communications section. Searchlight lottas were assisting the air defence during the war. Lotta girls, being underage, had their own section.

The name of the organization was written originally thus: Lotta-Svärd. This is the spelling in the Lotta badge. The badge used in death notices is consequently slightly faulty due to the missing dash.

Lotta badge

Vasström's Lotta badge, the insignia of the organization

Gallen-Kallela's suggestion

Badge of the Lotta girls, 1933

Any large organization must have a common symbol, badge and flag. The designing task was handed over to Gallen-Kallela. It was received but the central directorate did not like it, however. Another design was requested from artist Eric Vasström. His design was basing on a Swastika. He cut the swastika arms and placed heraldic roses in the freed corners. Vasström?s design was approved by the C-in-C of the Civil Guards, Col.Lt. Lauri Malmberg. The badge was worn on the lapel of the Lotta dress with a safety needle. Its dimensions are 27 x 27 mm. Smaller ones were awarded after 10 and 20 years of duty. The Merit Cross was worn in a glue-grey striped ribbon, and the Merit Medal in a blue-white striped ribbon.

Lotta girls had their own badge since 1933, it is a silver washed heraldic rose with blue center.

Lotta ensign

Riihimäki local organization donated in 1922 to the central directorate a white ensign with the Lotta badge in center. Three years later it was adopted as the organization ensign. The badge and the ensign were to be the common symbol for thousands and thousands Finnish woman working for the good of the fatherland. Their work continued for about 23 years.

Lotta-Svärd North Häme district ensign being dedicated in Tampere in the year 1926.

Lotta organization is disbanded

After the armistice it was not a surprise that the Cabinet disbanded the Lotta organization. This happened on 23.11.1944 with the motivation that the organization had been co-operating with the Civil Guard – disbanded on 6.11.1944 according to the stipulations of the Armistice. The badge and the flag became history. The badge is seen, however, in death notices reminding us about the hard years of honour and about the Lottas who served their fatherland.

Before disbanding a considerable share of the organization property was successfully transferred to other organizations corresponding to the spirit of the old organization. One of them was the Finnish Women’s Relief Foundation set up for the purpose.

At the initiative of Mr.Jorma Jarvi and under the Memorial Foundation for the Invalids of the War of Independence a national Lotta memorial medal committee confirmed in 1993 the rules of the memorial medal for Lottas and Lotta girls. The medal is awarded by the Memorial Foundation for the Invalids of the War of Independence. The round medal comprises a copy of the blue swastika of the Lotta badge with a silver rose in center. It is worn on a blue-white striped ribbon along with any other decorations and memorial medals of the 1939-1945 wars.

Finnish Women’s Relief Foundation Renamed to Lotta Svärd Foundation

The political atmosphere changed in the course of the time; war veterans and Lottas regained their appreciation. In 2004, 60 after the Lotta-Svärd organization had been disbanded, it was time for a renaming. The board of the Finnish Women’s Relief Foundation led by chairwoman Mrs. Irmeli Lemberg decided to adopt the name Lotta Svärd Foundation. The name change application was approved in the National Board of Patents and Registrations of Finland on 29.6.2004.

The task of the foundation is to rehabilitate and assist old Lottas and maintain the Lotta traditions, for example by supporting the Syväranta Lotta Museum in Tuusula.

Anti Aircraft and Swastika

The Anti-aircraft Artillery as a branch of arms was set up in Suomenlinna under the coastal artillery in 1925. The insignia was that of the coastal artillery, crossed cannon barrels. After transfer to Viipuri under field artillery the unit grew into a battalion and the insignia was added an exploding bomb symbol on the crossing of the cannon barrels. The AA Regiment became a part of the air defence in 1934 and in the insignia was added a swastika below the cannon barrels and the bomb. AA artillery became a part of the Air Force on 1.1.1939. The insignia was in use until end March 1945 when the Swastika was eliminated from use in the FiAF.

Swastika becomes a problem

The armistice between Finland and Soviet Union was effected on the 4-5.Sept. 1944. The war was ended by an interim peace treaty signed in Moscow on 19.9.1944. According to its stipulations The Allied Control Commission in Helsinki was to follow the execution of the treaty conditions until the final peace treaty would be effected. FiAF and AA was controlled by Gen.Maj. A.P. Andrejev assisted by more than ten other officers. His counterparties were the FiAF commander Gen.Lt. J.F. Lundqvist and Col. K.W. Janarmo.

The Allied Control Commission members were perplexed by the fact that the FiAF kept flying "under the swastika", the swastika, that had made itself impossible as a Nazi symbol. Gen. Andrejev presented the matter like this, completely unofficially and personally to Gen. Lundqvist and Col. Janarmo during their meeting in Hotel Torni (the ACC HQ, tr.rem.), on 21.2.1945. Vae victis, explaining the history of the symbol, that it had arrived painted on the wings of the aircraft donate by von Rosen, and that it had become the national insignia by order of Gen. Mannerheim as early as March 1918, did not have any effect.

New national emblem and aviator badge

Consequently at the proposition of the commander of the FiAF the commander of the Finnish Defence Force submitted to the President of the Republic on 8.3.1945 to be decreed that the national emblem of the FiAF would be starting 1.4.1945 a blue-white roundel, corresponding the military cockade. Simultaneously with the removal of the previous national emblem, all other FiAF symbols including the swastika motif were deleted. The decree was a military matter, concerning only the FiAF. The fact was that Mannerheim, ordering in 1918 the swastika as the FiAF national emblem, would now have to remove it. However, Mannerheim was incapacitated by illness, so prime minister Paasikivi did the dirty work as stand-in for the president. Fighting against Germany was going on in ravaged Lapland, war refugees had not yet been settled, war reparations were coming due, the guilty ones for the war were to be prosecuted, the domestic political situation was tense and The Allied Control Commission was making their presence felt. One of the national symbols vanished without much ado, but only from the FiAF use. The political realities prevailed.

The Finnish aviator badge and the almost similar aviation radioman badge were taken out of use. Maj. Olavi Seeve designed new ones for pilots, observers and radio operators. The President of the Republic approved them on 30.7.1945. The badges are modified from Gallen-Kallela’s design: the crown and the horizontal wings remain, the swastika is replaced by a hawk, on the radio operator badge by a lightning. The military aviators of the republic are still today royals.

The crown in the aviator badge is the only reminder of the adventure royal of 1918 as the rump parliament elected a German, the prince of Hessen, Friedrich Karl, as the king of Finland.

At the initiative of one single member of the Allied Control Commission the swastika of FiAF and AA units disappeared. But it remained on tanks, the Cross of Liberty and also in the chain of the Grand Cross of the White Rose. It survives as a state symbol.

Swastika and tanks

Finnish tanks received the national insignia – blue and white stripes round the turret - not until during the Winter War. A new insignia, black-white swastika with short arms, was adopted on 21.6.1941 after the outbreak of the continuation war. It was decreed to be 325 x 325 mm in size and shadowed with white.

The Allied Control Commission followed the removal of the FiAF swastika. The tank swastika did not appear to bother Andrejev. It was replaced by the roundel not until1.8.1945. Did Gen. Andrejev finally just grudge the record of the Finnish Swastika, the success of Finnish airmen and AA gunners in the skies of the war? After all, to his surprise he had found Helsinki quite well preserved although Soviet airmen had been amply decorated for her destruction?

Change in political environment

Stalin died on 5. March 1953. Spring 1955 Soviet Union informed to be willing to make a pact with the occupied Austria. It was a harbinger of a new phase in international politics. President Paasikivi was invited to Moscow where he arrived on 15.9.1955. The visit was historical. It was announced that the occupied Porkkala enclave would be returned to Finland. The president of Soviet Union Klement Voroshilov, the commander of the Soviet troops in the Winter War, was awarded the Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland including a swastika chain. In August next year Voroshilov made an official visit to Finland and in accordance with protocol wore the Grand Cross with its chain. It was a proof of acceptance. It implied that our swastika was acceptable in foreign politics. It was a signal, official attitudes changed, also concerning the swastika. Many matters concerning the war and the peace treaty could now be discussed and decided. Finnish troops marched in Porkkala on 25.1.1956.

It was paradoxal that Paasikivi placed the Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland with its chain of swastikas on the shoulders of the president of the Soviet Union: it was Paasikivi who ten years earlier as the deputy president of the republic had signed the order to abandon the FiAF swastika to promote relationships in the Eastern direction.

The Air Force receives its ensign

One year after Voroshilov’s visit president Kekkonen approved in November 1957 the designs of the five FiAF ensigns. They were made by heraldician Olof Eriksson basing on the sketch by Olavi Seeve. The solemn dedication took place next year in the Senate Square, Helsinki during the parade of the Defence Force anniversary. The ensign comprises on blue background a black level swastika surrounded in a ring by six white bird wings flying counterclockwise. The motif is copied from the Finnish Aviator Badge with the crown removed. The Heraldic Committee had reviewed the ensigns and called the crown a rose leaf crown, suggesting it should be removed as unheraldic. The advice was followed. The FiAF ensigns carry on the tradition of 1918 adapted to the republican rule...

Memorial crosses and medals

FiAF received their memorial cross for unofficial awarding in 1956, soon after Voroshilov’s visit. The decoration consists of a St. George’s cross superimposed by a gilded swastika. The status of the memorial cross became official next year as the Memorial Cross Commission, led by Infantry Gen. E.Heinrichs, proposed the rules for the memorial crosses and medals of the Finnish wars 1939-1945. President Kekkonen approved on 3.12.1957. The rules stipulate that the memorial crosses are worn alongside decorations. The president also decided that the Brotherhood of the Invalids of the War of Independence would have the responsibility of awarding and controlling them.

The confirmed memorial crosses include the GHQ Cross which resembles a swastika superimposed with a gilded lion. The veterans of the Commando Battalion 4, which was under the direct command of the GHQ, carry that cross with a swastika on the ribbon – reminding that the FiAF transported and supplied the patrols of the battalion operating in the enemy rear. There are a number of crosses and medals featuring either the Cross of Liberty, as the badge of War Invalids, or the FiAF swastika. Also the steel ring decorated with FiAF swastika remains in record. It was given in replacement to those who wanted to donate a gold ring to support acquisition of aircraft for the FiAF.

Memorial medals for the Winter War and Continuation War
The change in political atmosphere was not only seen in the cases concerning the swastika described above. For the veterans of the War of Independence there had been on 10.9.1918 created a memorial medal designed by Gallen-Kallela, featuring on the face the Cross of Liberty and on the reverse the Finnish Lion and “1918”. The Winter War veterans had been dedicated on 2.8.1940 an official memorial medal designed by Aarno Karimo. But also the veterans of the Continuation War wanted a medal. The years after the conclusion of the peace treaty were not considered suitable for the project. It was not until 1954 that it was attempted but the government rejected the application. In autumn 1956, after Porkkala had been returned, the parliament approved funds for the purpose as motioned by the minister for defence Emil Skog. Sculptor Lauri Leppänen was charged with the design task. The medal was being awarded already in November 1957.

Swastika in Grand Cross chain rejected

On 20. May 1963 the board of the order of the White Rose of Finland discussed the wish of the President of the republic that the swastika in the chain of the Grand Cross be replaced with another symbol. Heraldician Gustaf von Numers was charged with the task of creating an alternative. After several steps the Grand Master finally approved the spruce bough cross. In the Independence day of the same year president Kekkonen wore the new chain for the first time, and it was noted.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote on 10.12.1963 in the editorial about the new chain saying that Gallen-Kallela’s creation had been tampered with and The Cross of Liberty should have been amended accordingly. The editorial said it would be very interesting indeed to learn what was the reason for this piece of national self-flagellation. In the folk art the swastika is ancient and as well known as the spruce bough, the symbol of the Civil Guards and conquest of Tampere. Did the neck chain change for better?

Original and new Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland with chain.

The reason for swastika removal

The decoration granted to Voroshilov was the third Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland granted to a foreign head of state after the second world war. French president, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, was the eleventh to receive the Grand Cross with its swastika chain, as president Kekkonen handed it over to him in Paris during a state visit end October 1962. Kekkonen told in a private letter 15 years later that de Gaulle appeared to be distressed by the chain and had attempted to cover it up under his other decorations. This gave the impetus to remove the swastika from the chain of the Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland. The proof from the state visit consists of a photo taken by Mr. Kalle Kultala. In it Gen. de Gaulle is wearing the Grand Cross with its chain during a dinner in honour of president Kekkonen in the Elyseé palace, but the chain was under the jacket of the French general, so that only a couple of the chain swastikas together with the cross were visible.

The wish of the President of the republic to replace the swastika was expressed more than six months after his visit in Paris and a fortnight after visiting Tito. Why did Kekkonen hesitate to express his wish for more than half a year? He was uncertain!

Two presidents, Kekkonen and De Gaulle, at the Elyse palace.
After the year 1978 Kekkonen’s archives have been declassified. Information from them has been conveyed by Mr. Juhani Suomi. The details of information do not appear to fit together if we start with the assumption presented by Kekkonen: the behaviour of de Gaulle. But maybe Kekkonen misinterpreted? Maybe the behaviour of his host was an expression of courtesy? There is only one Grand Cross of the Legion d’Honneur chain in existence, and it is worn by the president of France. Kekkonen could not have it. That is why de Gaulle did not want to be overdecorated in comparison with his guest by carrying the chain his shoulders; he half-hid it under his jacket. If we take this view, the details fall in place. It appears that the removal of the swastika was a result of misunderstood friendly gesture of de Gaulle and our feeling of inferiority basing on co-belligerence with Germans.

Was the swastika chain really such a compromising matter that it had to be removed ? In advance of every state visit also the decorations to be granted are discussed. After the second world war the swastika chain may have been under discussion but the story of the historical background always settled the eventual matter. A total of 13 heads of state were granted and accepted the Grand Cross before the Independence day of 1963. Judging the matter and taking these facts into account, in hindsight it appears that there was no factual reason to replace the symbol. .

After the swastika had been replaced by the spruce bough the old Grand Crosses were to be replaced with new ones. At Finnish initiative four were replaced. The fifth one was awarded to Emperor Hirohito during the war in 1942; it was replaced in 1986 during president Koivisto’s state visit.
- In practice it was telling the recipient that he had not understood that he had committed an error when receiving the Grand Cross of the Rose of Finland.

Swastika chain returns to Paris

It is a common stipulation in the conditions for a high decoration that it be returned after the death of the recipient. That is what happened to de Gaulle’s Grand Cross after his death in 1971. The Finnish ambassador in France, Mr. R.R. Seppälä suggested that it would be a honour for our country if this decoration could be deposed among the general’s other honours should a museum be created for him. It implied that the decoration should have stayed in Paris. The Order declined to allow this, consequently the decoration was returned to Finland.

The matter was forgotten until the retired chief of the General Staff, ancient attaché militaire in the embassy of Finland in Paris, Gen.Lt. Ermei Kanninen, suggested in 1985 that the Grand Cross should find itself in the Museum of Liberation in Paris to join de Gaulle’s other decorations. He presented his case to our ambassador in Paris, Mr. Ossi Sunell. He send a proposal to the board of the Order. Mauno Koivisto was the Grand Master and Mr. Klaus Waris the chancellor. The board decided against the proposition.

In the course of the time new people took over. After Minister Rekola became the chancellor of the Orders, Mr.Sunell repeated his proposal in 1989. It was successful. Next year the Grand cross with its swastika chain returned to Paris. It can be seen among the General’s other decorations in the Liberation Museum in Paris. The slow process of the matter was the fault of the Finns, not French. The speech of reception showed that the French knew exactly what the matter was.

Swastika in Europe and USA

During Stalin’s reign in Soviet union there occurred crimes against humanity in large scale. The estimated number of victims varies between 15-30 million. But their fate and that of many other minorities lacking a spokesperson were forgotten as the victors of the second world war began to write the history and their verdict of the war. The first step was the Nurnberg trials in autumn 1945. The main prosecutor was Mr. Robert Jackson from the U.S. The central issue was the persecution of Jews. The Nazi swastika had been the emblem of the enemy, and now their leaders were tried, found guilty and sentenced for genocide of six million Jews under a swastika.

Anti-Semitism is of ancient origin. The Christian church joined the haters already during the early phases of papacy. The Nazis were by no means the first haters. Anti-Semitism was a common European phenomenon. In Finland, too, Jews gained full civil rights only after the War for Independence. What was unprecedented was the wide scale of the systematic genocide of Jews as the Nzzis, under their flag featuring a black tilted swastika were occupying nearly every country in Europe, subjecting many a self-conscious nation under their power. The national pride of occupied countries had been compromised. The fate of Jews was not the topmost idea in their minds. The common opinion in the U.S. was different. There was a heterogeneous but very influential Jewish ethnic group. They were concerned with the fate of their brothers in faith. These are the reasons why the swastika became hated, banned, shunned by many even today. The Germans were traumatized. There the display of the swastika is forbidden by law.

The matter did not concern us Finns in the same manner. We had been co-belligerents with Germans for nearly three and a half years and we had received many kinds of aid from them. In accordance with the conditions of the armistice we turned our arms against the Germans, and Lapland was devastated – but our national pride was not compromised. We kept considering the sickle and the hammer as a menace.

Swastika and Kekkonen

President Kekkonen’s attitude to the swastika appears to have been vacillating. He approved the design of the FiAF 1957 ensigns, which implied that the order of 1945 was cancelled. Yet five years later he suggested that the swastika be removed from the chain of the Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland and of course his was carried out. A bow in the Western direction maybe? Another four years and again the swastika was acceptable. He approved of swastika patterned badges for the FiAF HQ and Air War School.

Our swastika today

The Finnish swastika became a national symbolin March 1918. It has had an unblemished and dignified status from the very beginning. The swastika of German and Austrian antisemitists became the Nazi symbol in 1919. Its origins were inconspicuous, its significance grew in political storms, it gained its national status not until 1935 to vanish ten years later in defeat.

The dust has settled. Yet there are among us still a number of andrejevs, who are either ignorant of the historical facts or ignore them. They keep living in the political past and see something to abhor in our swastika. But our swastika survives in our Liberty Cross, FiAF ensigns and shoulder badges. It is also daily seen in the Lotta badge in death notices. The swastika that became one of our national symbols at the dawn our independence is appreciated. It is missing only in FiAF aircraft and the chain of the Grand Cross. By restauration we could re-introduce also there the unblemished symbol, undefeated in war, but vanquished in peace. The swastika of the year 1918 would then have regained its original status as one of our national symbols.

Coat of arms of Von Rosen

President Kekkonen dedicated the first five FiAF unit ensigns in 1958

President of the Republic Urho Kekkonen confirmed the design of the FiAF unit ensigns on 8.11.1957. The ensigns were dedicated and handed over on 4.6.1958.

The ensigns were created by a competition among the FiAF personnel. The principle of design was to create a template ensign with customized symbols for each unit. The final designer is artist Olof Eriksson basing his work on the proposition of Col. Olavi Seeve.

The background colour of the ensign is naturally sky blue, the environment of aircraft. The central symbol refer to the oldest traditions of our relatively young branch of arms: the swastika, that was the emblem of the first Finnish military aircraft, later the emblem of all Finnish military aircraft until 1945, and the wing motive surrounding the swastika, adopted from the aviator’s badge designed by Gallen-Kallela and being in use until 1945.
Lähde: FiAF

President Kekkonen dedicates the flags of the Air Force at Senaatintori on 4.6.1958. The commander of the Finnish Defence Forces, general Leinonen, on right.

Häme Air Command

Carelia Air Command

Satakunta Air Command

Air Force Communications Battalion

Air Force Academy

Later ensigns and other symbols

After the dedication of ensigns in 1958 the names of the units have been changed alongside with their ensigns.
New ensigns share the composition, only the symbols in the left top corner have been replaced.

President Halonen receiving on 4.10.2005 a new FiAF ensign, the Air War College ensign after the bishop’s blessing.

Lapland Air Command ensign

Transport Squadron

Reconnaissance Squadron

The swastika designed by Gallen-Kallela swastika still adorns the Finnish presidential flag.

FiAF HQ badge.


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Kansallis- ja sota-arkistoa käytetty
Keskustelut useiden avainasemassa olleiden henkilöiden kanssa

Written in Tapiola, Jan 2003
Updated April 2006
Translated into English on February 2007 by Ossi Juntunen

Written by Mr.Ellilä, bomber aviator of the Continuation War.

Aarne Ellilä was born in Mänttä 11.6 1923 as a son to an engineer. The family moved to Lievestuore in 1928, where the son started his school. They moved to Helsinki in 1934 where he continued in high school no.V, matriculating in 1942.
He volunteered for military, serving as a private in field artillery from July 1941, 2nd Lieutenant 1942 having graduated from Officer Course no.55, fire control officer at Svir front, transfer to FiAF as bomber observer in 1943, flew 24 missions in Bomber Squadron 42, military rank: Senior Lieutenant.
After the war Mr. Ellilä began to study chemistry in University of Helsinki. He graduated in 1949 and completed his doctoral dissertation in 1953. He then continued in the Chemistry faculty as researcher from 1949 to 1955. Then he was employed by Oy Filter Ab, designing water treatment systems e.g. for Oulu Oy 1959, Kemijärvi, Typpi Oy, Sunila Oy, Enso-Gutzeit Oy Kaukopää, and for export, too. He retired as the managing director in 1986.
Mr. Ellilä started his model plane hobby in 1935, and at the same time he picked up figure skating; in it he gained three national junior championships. After the war he continued his hobby as an international referee. He was one of the founders of the Finnish Figure Skating Association and its first vice chairman.
His interest in aviation was sparked by flying model planes since 1935. Mr.Ellilä was among the best of the Nordic countries in the Wakefield class in 1939. He won a competition in Cranfield, England 1949 and again next year in Jämijärvi, Finland. In 1952 this competition series gained the status of world championship. After the war Mr. Aarne Ellilä has been the chairman or vice-chairman of the associations of veterans of Field Artillery Regiment 8, Squadron 42 and Officer Course 55.

Viimeksi muokattu: 2007-02-18 12:19