• Baltic War
    • Battle of Helsinki
Helsinki Massacres

May 6, 1908


July 11, 1909


Helsinki, Russian Finland


Finnish laborers

Imperial Russian Army

  • Several labor and union leaders
  • Brigadier General Andrei Pavlov
  • 6,000 - 12,000 laborers & strikers
  • 800 infantry
    • plus 950 police
  • Ten guns
  • Four aircraft
  • 13 warships
Casualties and Losses
  • Between 400 and 2,000 killed
  • 500-1,200 wounded
  • 48 killed
  • 92 wounded
  • One warship sunk
  • One warship damaged

What are commonly known as the Helsinki Massacres were a series of events that took place from 1908 to 1909 in Russian-controlled Helsinki, Finland. Following the deaths of six laborers in the factories of Helsinki due to malfunctioning and dangerous machinery, thousands took to the streets demanding labor laws requiring properly functioning and safe-to-operate machinery, along with other social and political reform. The government's response was the sending-in of a battalion of infantry under the command of General Andrei Pavlov, who was also assisted by several Russian warships in port nearby. Pavlov was given the command of re-establishing order in the city and arresting the leaders of the protests. However, after a scuffle between Russian troops and protesting laborers in front of City Hall on May 6, a platoon of Russian infantry fired into a massed crowd, killing several dozen and wounding over a hundred. The following day, the strikers retaliated by attacking the soldiers with rocks, household appliances and makeshift weapons. Further skirmishes continued throughout the summer and casualties began to rise. Pavlov, rather than stand down, continued to pursue his goal of re-establishing order. He gave his troops permission to continue the mini-war, thereby letting the killings continue, eventually bringing the Russian and German Empires to war almost a year later..


The accidents

On April 26, two workers were maimed in an ammunition factory in the industrial sector of Helsinki. Later that day, workers approached the manager of the factory to seek compensation, as the cause of the wounding was malfunctioning and poorly maintained machinery. They were denied, and the next day, four more workers were wounded due to dangerous machinery. Most laborers in this factory were, by the end of April 27, planning to protest their boss' actions, as well as the lack of any official response or action from both the local Helsinki-based Finnish government, as well as the Russian government.

The protests begin

April 28 was when the protests began in earnest. Three local labor leaders - styling themselves as the "Seekers of Justice and Equality" - lead a protest of some 1,000 people against the actions of Russian capitalists and the government. Soon, this protest grew into general unrest against the whole political and social system of Russia, growing to over (an estimated) 6,000 strikers by mid-day on April 29. The protestors sought numerous reforms, among them the democratization of the Russian political system, the establishment of a series of labor laws promising compensation and pension for injured and retired workers, and an economic policy more friendly towards consumers and less centered on military buildup.

By this point in time the commander of the Garrison Army of Finland, Vladimir Kutuzov, had realized the serious threat these protests posed to Russian authority and law in Finland, and, at the rate that the protest was growing daily, there would be international news coverage of the event were it allowed to grow large enough. Thus, he deployed the Finnish Guards infantry battalion to Helsinki, under the command of Brigadier General Andrei Pavlov.

The Guards Battalion arrives

The arrival of the Guards Battalion in Helsinki on April 30 sparked surprise throughout the rapidly growing protestor-army. By now there were close to 8,000 labor strikers protesting the policies of the Czar and Pavlov viewed the situation in the city as rapidly growing out of control. He deployed his 1,100 men in positions of key importance to the city government, including the city hall, power stations, the city port, and transportation nodes. These areas were closed to the public from May 2 on, causing further unrest among the protestors who were being, as they put it, "denied basic rights of public access".

Tension continued to rise for the next several days as the one-thousand man infantry battalion established its presence as the chief policing force in the city. The local city police were essentially indefinitely put on hold as Pavlov secured his grip on the city, preparing to put down the protest and end the "insignificant rebellion" within the capital of Finland. The tension, however, would climax in a day of bloodshed that would begin a series of killings that would eventually begin a war.

The City Hall Massacre

On May 6, a crowd of well over 2,000 protestors - the largest yet to assemble in front of the city hall - were facing a platoon of 150 men of the Guards battalion, who were supplanted by a 75mm field gun loaded with high-explosive rounds. The day started as the last several had, with the several leaders of the protest yelling at the guards that faced them, calling for them to support their cause of liberalization and the protection of rights.

However, as the soldiers remained silent, the crowd grew rowdier than they previously had been. The infantry group captain grew weary and, as an inexperienced officer, prepared his troops to answer his call to fire. For the next several hours tensions continued to rise as the crowd drew closer to the steps of the government building, encroaching on the quarantine zone the soldiers had established. Soon, a protestor threw a rock at the infantry captain; he snapped and issued the order to open fire.

The infantry, deployed in two firing lines, and armed with bolt-action rifles, quickly delivered two volleys into the crowd, which immediately began to disperse. An initial death-count by the Russian soldiers states that approximately 231 protestors were killed or wounded in the first two volleys alone. Most of the protestors in front of the city hall immediately scattered and retreated down the streets of the city, but several dozen remained, hiding behind stopped cars and streetlights, harassing the soldiers and continuing to throw various items at them. The group captain called for the remainder of the protestors - as well as several passers-by that had witnessed the shooting - to return to their homes for the remainder of the day.

Pavlov declares martial law

News of the killings spread quickly throughout Helsinki, and by twilight the entire city - including General Pavlov - was aware of the event. Shortly before dawn on May 7, Pavlov traveled to the city hall from his barracks outside of the city and declared martial law; the city's police were temporarily absorbed into his battalion of infantry and he temporarily relieved the Mayor from power. This news spread every faster than the news of the killings. Later this day - with the reserve infantry from the army base outside the city brought in to reinforce the key points in the city - another group of rioters around 700 in size reappeared in the city hall area. In command of the 200 infantrymen and 188 police at this site was a Captain Kirishenko, who had also been given the 75mm field gun deployed at the City Hall the day before.

As the strikers approached, several fired small handguns, while others threw broomsticks, rocks and many other appliances. The cars and carriages left from the shooting from the day before - abandoned when gunfire was heard - provided ample cover for the protestors when the infantry and police began to return fire at their own will, rather than in volleys. Very few protestors fled; most remained and continued harassing and firing at the Army infantry and the police. At this point, Kirishenko ordered the field gun to be rolled forward and loaded with high explosive rounds.

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