The 1940sWorld War II and wartime circumstances

Armband. During World War II, the Mobile Police Detachment was given special duties. Regular soldiers were assigned to patrols led by the Mobile Police Detachment, and in these teams, they would pursue deserters and spies and uphold order on the railways.

The evacuation of civilians from combat zones and areas that were ceded to the Soviet Union was to a great extent accomplished using trains. Passengers also included soldiers on leave and so-called “suspicious persons”, and these groups occasionally caused trouble on the trains. The train patrols of the Mobile Police Detachment stepped in to prevent these disturbances, with harsh methods if necessary.

The name of the Mobile Police Detachment was changed to the National Traffic Police after the war.

Image: Police Museum / Emilia Anundi.

During the Continuation War, policemen were allowed to serve in the army without resigning from the police force. On the home front, many citizens resorted to illegal acts to obtain what they could not get legally. Criminal gangs broke into homes and businesses, counterfeit rationing cards were in circulation, the black market flourished, and currency crimes grew increasingly common. The police were also busy looking for deserters and “desants”, i.e. Soviet spies and saboteurs who had commonly been dropped from planes with parachutes.

The end of the war did not make policing any easier as many pre-war policemen had resigned or been killed in the war without having been replaced by new recruits. Rationing was still in place, and respect for the law was declining among the public. Public intoxication was the most common crime, and alcoholism was associated with many social problems. As Finland had lost the war, a Soviet-led Allied Control Commission was sent to Finland to make sure that the terms of the armistice were adhered to.

In the autumn of 1944, the Mobile Police Detachment was enlarged to include 3000 men, and the name of the unit was changed to the National Traffic Police. Its tasks included securing Soviet traffic to Porkkala, which had been leased to the Soviet Union as a military base. It was important for the Finnish authorities to be able to deal with all unrest in the country since it was feared that the Soviets might otherwise intervene. The amount of surveillance and searches increased. The parliamentary elections of 1945 resulted in communists gaining one-fourth of the seats. When the new government was formed, they gained three portfolios, including that of the Ministry of the Interior, which oversaw matters pertaining to the police. Officers considered to be rightists were fired and replaced with leftists. Fearing an imminent Soviet invasion, some army officers had secretly stored weapons that could be used for guerrilla warfare. When these plans were revealed in 1945, the State Police, Valpo, was reorganised, which meant that almost all of its officers were replaced with communists.

”Red Valpo” (Valpo II) began searching for suspected fascists. Valpo was granted more independence than previously, and the unit was quickly enlarged, soon consisting of more than 200 officers. The work of Valpo II was staggering, and its officers committed many errors. As Valpo II had little political support outside of leftist circles, it was in an isolated position within the Finnish administrative machinery, left without the full support of the judicial system. The Allied Control Commission left in the autumn of 1947, and in the parliamentary elections the following summer, the communists suffered great losses. In 1949, Valpo II was replaced with a new unit, the Security Intelligence Service (Supo).

The Security Intelligence Service did not have authority to arrest or take suspects into custody, and it would conduct no preliminary investigations of its own. Wiretapping and opening mail was not allowed for Supo officers. During the Cold War (c. 1947–1989), weapons included propaganda, economic and political pressure, and espionage. Finland was a western country both economically and culturally, but politically situated in the Soviet sphere of influence, giving the country a geopolitical position between the East and the West. Spies from both blocs came to Helsinki to gain information on the affairs of Finland as well as those of each other. Supo mainly focused on the activities of domestic communists and Soviet spies, but Western spies were also to be intercepted. The work of Supo was strictly confined to Finnish territory as intelligence-gathering abroad was not part of its mission.

In the late 1940s, workers began pursuing their interests through strikes. Communists and social democrats competed for power over the labour movement. Some strikes led to violent clashes involving workers on strike without permission from their labour unions (“wildcats”), strikebreakers (“scabs”), and the police. When dealing with rioters, the police frequently used great force, pulling out their batons, submachine guns and tear gas.

Citizens of Helsinki about to leave the capital during the aerial bombing of Helsinki in February, 1944. Wartime policing included investigating the extent of bomb damage, making sure that civilians turned out lights when this was necessary for reasons of security, and enforcing curfews.

Burglary in Tampere, 27.11.1948. The amount of crime, larceny, robbery, illicit trade and violence rose to unprecedented levels after World War II.

Drug abuse after World War II. Finns struggled with many kinds of social problems. There was a serious housing shortage, and many survivors found it difficult to adapt to their new lives. Alcohol was used both for celebrating and coping with wartime trauma. During the war, the pain of wounded soldiers had been treated with addictive morphine, and when this treatment was suddenly stopped, the new addicts used alcohol or street drugs to alleviate abstinence symptoms.

The Kemi strike of 1949. The Ministry of Social Affairs demanded a decrease in the piecework pay of 260 woodworkers at the Kemi factory. The workers went on strike and were followed by workers from other parts of the company, the log sorting area at Kemijoki and the harbour. The government, however, declared that the log sorting area would not be considered part of the strike, and Minister of the Interior Aarre Simonen ordered the police to guarantee that employees could go to work as usual. A local conflict had suddenly turned into a communist attempt to undermine the government. 60 policemen armed with not only batons and handguns, but tear gas and five submachine guns, arrived in Kemi to deal with the strikers.

On August 18th, a day known as “Bloody Thursday”, 3000 strikers following instructions from the communists attempted to prevent “scabs” from working. They were confronted by the police, who ordered the crowd to stop. Those walking in the front stopped, but the rest kept walking. Being unable to stop the crowd from advancing, the police began beating the strikers and firing warning shots into the air. In response, the strikers began throwing stones, and someone even fired a shotgun. A striker died when run over by a truck, another one was accidentally shot to death by someone whose bullets, according to the investigation, did not match any of the firearms used by the police. Seven strikers and three policemen were seriously injured while dozens of other, including some twenty policemen, were slightly injured. 127 strikers were accused of rebellion, and 63 of them were convicted. The next government granted amnesty to all of the convicts.

Early police radio. A national long-distance radio network was completed in 1945. The police initially used military radios, and the development of actual police radios began in 1949. The police radio could be used to ask for backup on a short notice or ask a unit to find a specific person for questioning. The radio was also an excellent complement to the telephone network, which did not yet cover all parts of Finland. There were a total of 50 transmission and reception centres scattered across the country.

The first car of the radio police, a 1937 Chevrolet. This picture was taken on the Kaivopuisto Waterfront in Helsinki in 1942, during World War II.

Car radios became part of the short-distance radio equipment of the police. The car radios consisted of a transmitter, a receiver and a transducer. All components were placed in the trunk of the car. The radio receiver in the front was manufactured by Helvar, and a vehicle operating license issued by the Rationing Authority was placed on the windscreen.

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