- Aksel Airo
Aksel Fredrik Airo (1898–1985) was a Finnish
lieutenant generaland main strategic planner during the Winter Warand the Continuation War. He was the virtual second-in-command of the Finnish army under Field Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim.
As a young man he became a supporter of Finnish independence. His father changed the original, Swedish,
family nameJohansson to Airo (lit. "oar").
Civil War in Finland(1918), Airo served in the artilleryon the White side, taking part in battles near Viipuri. At the end of the war he was a lieutenant. Afterwards he was trained as an officer in Lappeenrantaartillery school and was sponsored to the French military academy, École militaire in St.-Cyr in 1920. In 1921 he was accepted into École Supérieure de Guerre, the French officer training academy, from which he graduated as a captain in 1923, at the age of 27. Mannerheim invited him to join Finland's Defense Council as a secretary.
Airo rose swiftly in rank, mainly because newly-independent Finland needed suitable officers for the fledgling army. He had, however, some professional challenges because he was neither a Germany-trained Jaeger officer, nor one of the officers trained in the
Tsar's army during Russian rule. Still, by 1930 he had become a colonel.
In the beginning of the
Winter War, Mannerheim appointed Airo as Quartermaster-General, and he was promoted to major general, and two years later to lieutenant general. On November 18, 1944, Marshal Mannerheim made him a Knight of the Mannerheim Crossin Order of the Cross of Liberty.
Airo was in the
Mikkeliheadquarters during the war and rarely went to the field. He was responsible for operational planning and the presentation of operations, or, as he allegedly said, "The Marshal leads the war, but I lead the battles". They had many differences in opinion but still managed to work well together.
Continuation War, the now Communist-dominated Valpo (the Finnish State Police) arrested him for his alleged involvement in the so-called Weapons Cache Case. He was imprisoned from 1945 to 1948 without being sentenced, until president Juho Kusti Paasikivireleased him. He said little about the affair afterwards and earned the moniker"the silent general". The President relieved him of his duties with special permission to wear a military uniform.
In his later life Airo was a member of the parliament for the Kansallinen Kokoomus party and a presidential elector. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never wrote
memoirsabout his war experiences. In 1982 President Mauno Koivistoawarded Airo with the membership of the Finnish Order of the White Rose. He died in 1985 at his home farm.
* [http://www.mikkeli.fi/fi/museot/english/02_the_headquarters_museum/03_airo/?C:D=177929 Mikkeli Headquarters museum about Airo]
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