Finland was united with Sweden from the early Middle Ages and by the 12th century was largely an autonomous state until 1809 when it became a self-governing Grand Duchy of Russia. At first the Romanov Dynasty respected Finland's autonomy but Alexander III pursued a policy of Russification of national minorities. This included imposing the Russian language and Russian schools on the German, Polish and Finnish peoples living in the Russian Empire.
After the 1905 Revolution in Russia Nicholas II gave permission for the Finns to elect a parliament chosen by universal suffrage of both sexes. A further period of repression after 1910 stimulated growth in Finnish nationalism and taking advantage of the breakdown of authority during the February Revolution, Finland's national assembly proclaimed its independence 29th July 1917.
The Provisional Government responded by devolving the national assembly. New elections resulted in a pro-German, right-wing assembly, and on 6th December it once again declared its independence from Russia. The new Bolshevik government accepted the move but gave its support to the Red Guards that staged a coup in Helsinki on 28th January 1918. Led by General Carl Mannerheim, Finnish forces defeated left-wing forces at the Battle of Viborg on 29th April 1918.
Russia lost all control over Finland after the new Bolshevik Government signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. In July 1919 Finland adopted a democratic and republican constitution. Over the next few years Finland was involved in border disputes with Russia. A dispute with Sweden over the Alandia Islands, was peacefully resolved by the League of Nations.
General Carl Mannerheim retired from the army but in 1931 was recalled as head of the defence council. Afraid of being invaded by the Red Army, he organised the construction of the Mannerheim Line across the Karelian Isthmus.
Lapua, a fascist group, attempted an armed uprising in Finland on 29th March 1932. Although the rebellion was put down after a couple of days, the government agreed to pass anti-communist laws.
In the late 1930s Joseph Stalin became concerned about the Soviet Union being invaded from the West. Stalin argued that Leningrad was only thirty-two kilometres from the Finnish border and its 3.5 million population, were vulnerable to artillery fire from Nazi Germany.
After attempts to negotiate the stationing of Soviet troops in Finland failed, Joseph Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade on 30th November 1939. Adolf Hitler, who also had designs on Finland, had under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, was forced to standby and watch the Soviet Union build up its Baltic defences.
Although the advance of Soviet troops was halted at the Mannheim Line the Finns lost more that 20 per cent of their 200,000 soldiers in three months. In March 1940 the Finnish government signed a peace treaty in Moscow that surrendered 16,000 square miles of territory to the Soviet Union.
In an attempt to recover the lands lost in 1940 Finland agreed to join the German Army in its attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. This resulted in Britain declaring war on Finland later that year.
When Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to invade the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941, Mannerheim led the Finnish Army that retook the Karelian Isthmus. The following year Carl Mannerheim, now aged 75, became a marshal of Finland.
The Red Army launched a counter-offensive and penetrated the Mannerheim Line taking Viipuri on 20th June 1944. Finnish defences were gradually overwhelmed and on 4th September 1944, Mannerheim, now president of Finland, was forced to sign a peace treaty with Joseph Stalin.