The Mannerheim Cross of Liberty (Finnish: Mannerheim-risti, Swedish: Mannerheimkorset) is the most esteemed Finnish military decoration. The medal, inspired by the Old-Scandinavian Fylfot, was introduced after the Winter War and named after Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. The decoration was awarded to soldiers for extraordinary bravery, for the achievement of extraordinarily important objectives by combat, or for especially well conducted operations.
The award was introduced into the Order of the Cross of Liberty and a bearer of the cross is called a Knight of the Mannerheim Cross. While the 1st class is the 5th and the 2nd class the 9th in the order of precedence of Finnish awards, the Mannerheim Cross 2nd class has become the most distinguished military award in Finland.
The Second Class of the award was instituted as the universal award for extraordinary bravery, for the achievement of extraordinarily important objectives by combat, or for especially well conducted operations. The Cross could be awarded to any soldier of the Finnish Defence Forces, regardless of rank. The lack of a rank requirement, the emphasis on individual bravery, and the prize of 50,000 marks to each recipient attracted considerable public attention to the award during the war. The first conscript to be awarded the cross was Vilho Rättö, for destroying four enemy tanks with an anti-tank gun taken from the enemy. In 1942, the prize sum was equivalent to a lieutenant's annual salary. As the Mannerheim Cross was awarded most often in the 2nd class, this is usually meant when referring to the Mannerheim Cross.
No special requirements differing from the Mannerheim Cross 2nd class were laid out for the Mannerheim Cross 1st class. It has been awarded only twice, to the Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim and General of Infantry Erik Heinrichs. Mannerheim thought it was somewhat odd for him to carry a decoration that was named after him, but decided to receive the Cross from President of the Republic Risto Ryti after all the previous awardees had requested him to accept it.
Mannerheim Cross Second Class has been awarded to 191 persons, all during World War II. Four persons have been awarded it twice. De jure, the decoration is still active and can be awarded to any Finnish soldier, although it is highly unlikely that this would be done during peacetime or even in a minor conflict. (Decree 550/1946 on the Order of the Cross of Liberty)
Since the presidency of Martti Ahtisaari, all surviving recipients of the Mannerheim Cross have been invited to the Independence Day Reception, hosted by the president. By tradition they are also the first guests to enter.
Tuomas Gerdt (b. May 28, 1922) was the only Knight of the Mannerheim Cross alive. He passed away on November 1, 2020.
Notable Knights of the Mannerheim Cross
- Aksel Airo, Lieutenant-General, Chief Quartermaster General (chief of operations at the GHQ) - (18 November 1944)
- Adolf Ehrnrooth, Colonel, infantry regiment commander - (4 December 1944)
- Erik Heinrichs, General of Infantry, army commander and Chief of General Staff - (31 December 1944)
- Vilho Petter Nenonen, General of Artillery, Inspector of Artillery - (8 January 1945)
- Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief - (7 October 1941)
- Ruben Lagus, Colonel, infantry brigade and division commander - (22 July 1941)
- Karl Lennart Oesch, Lieutenant-General, Commander of the Isthmus Forces - (26 June 1944)
- Paavo Talvela, Major-General, army corps commander - (3 August 1941)
- Lauri Törni, Lieutenant, infantry company commander - (9 July 1944)
- Rudolf Walden, General of Infantry, Minister of Defense - (2 December 1944)
- Hjalmar Siilasvuo, Lieutenant-General, army corps commander - (21 December 1944)
- Erkki Raappana, Colonel, division commander - (3 August 1941)
Both first and second class crosses:
- Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief - (both on 7 October 1941)
- Axel Erik Heinrichs, General of Infantry, army commander and Chief of General Staff - (2nd Class on 5 February 1942, 1st Class on 31 December 1944)
Two second class crosses:
- Aaro Olavi Pajari, Major-General, infantry division commander - (first on 14 September 1941, second on 16 October 1944)
- Martti Johannes Aho, Colonel, infantry regiment commander - (first on 1 March 1942, second on 16 October 1944)
- Eino Ilmari Juutilainen, Warrant Officer, fighter pilot - (first on 26 April 1942, second on 28 June 1944)
- Hans Henrik Wind, Captain, fighter pilot - (first on 31 July 1943, second on 28 June 1944)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Knights of the Mannerheim Cross.|
- Information about the decoration (Mannerheim.fi)
- More information and a list of all Knights of the Mannerheim Cross
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