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Burning of auxiliary cruiser

Burning of an auxiliary cruiser at Hanko.

The Finnish Civil War (January 27 – May 15, 1918) concerned leadership and control of Finland during its transition from a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire to an independent state. The conflict formed a part of the national, political, and social turmoil caused by the Great War (Eastern Front) in Europe. The war was fought between the Reds, led by the Social Democratic Party and the Whites, led by the non-socialist, conservative-led Senate. The paramilitary Red Guards, composed of industrial and agrarian workers, controlled the towns and industrial centers of southern Finland. The paramilitary White Guards, composed of peasants and middle- and upper-class factions, controlled rural central and northern Finland.

The Finnish society had experienced - by 1917, under the Russian regime - rapid population growth, industrialization, pre-urbanization and rise of a comprehensive labor movement. The country's political and governmental systems were in an unstable phase of democratization and modernization, while the people's socioeconomic condition and national-cultural status gradually improved. The Great War led to collapse of the Russian Empire and power struggle, militarization and escalating crisis between the left-leaning Finnish labor movement and the Finnish conservatives. Finland's declaration of independence on December 6, 1917 failed to halt disintegration of the society.

The Reds carried out an unsuccessful general offensive in February 1918, supplied with weapons by Soviet Russia. A counteroffensive by the Whites began in March, reinforced by an Imperial German Army squad in April. The decisive military actions of the war were the Battles of Tampere and Viipuri, won by the Whites, and the Battles of Helsinki and Lahti, won by German troops, leading to overall victory by the Whites and the German forces. Both the Reds and Whites engaged in political terror. A large number of Reds perished due to malnutrition and disease in prison camps. Altogether around 39,000 people died in the war, including 36,000 Finns—out of a population of 3,000,000.

In the aftermath, the Finns passed from Russian rule to the German Empire's sphere of power. The conservative Finnish Senate attempted to establish a Finnish monarchy, but the plan was aborted by the defeat of Germany in the Great War. Finland emerged as an independent, democratic republic. The war divided the nation for many years and remains the most emotionally charged event in Finnish history. The society was reunited through social compromises based on a long-term culture of moderate politics and religion, the outcome of the Great War and the postwar economic recovery.

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