The first world war fortress in Helsinki

Fire control tower. The island of Katajaluoto (1984)             Machine gun position XXI:3 (1998)

Helsinki, the capital city of Finland, was fortified during the first world war 1914 - 1918. Town was protected against the naval attacks by the coastal artillery batteries which located on the archipelago of the Helsinki district. On mainland areas town was surrounded with three consecutive fortress lines. At that time Finland was part of Russian Empire and fortifications in Helsinki were a part of defending system of Sankt Petersburg, the capital city of Russia.

Look also: Where is Finland and Helsinki?

The Russian name of the fortress was Krepost Sveaborg (Fortress of Sveaborg), Finns called it Viapori. The fortress covered areas at present day Helsinki and partly cities of Espoo and Vantaa. Today the name Sveaborg or Suomenlinna means only six small islands outside the Helsinki harbor. These islands were gradually fortified since the 16th century, mostly in the 18th century.

The Building site of Krepost Sveaborg during the first world war was one of the biggest sites ever in Finland. Building of the fortifications were supervised by Russian engineer officers. Most of the workers were Finnish wage workers, but there were not enough local workers for the building sites, after the war industry started. More employees were coerced to work from the countryside of Finland. Prisoners were also used as lumberjacks etc. It is impossible to say exact number of total fortification workers in Helsinki area, but one calculation is 15,000 workers.

The fortification work got slower after the revolution in Russia in March 1917. Finland gave declaration of independence 6.12.1917. However, working in a mainland front still continued until beginning of the year 1918. The Civil War broke out in Finland. Russia made separate peace with the Central power 3.3.1918.  Fortifications in Helsinki were controlled by the Red guard. German troops supported the White army and landed in Hanko in April 1918. When German troops attacked to Helsinki, the Red guard manned the western land front of the fortress. There were some fights, but soon German troops, with some of the White Army solders, occupied the town. Most of the Russian forces had left the town earlier.

After the Civil War, the sea front batteries with all other accessories like search lights etc. were transferred to Finnish coastal artillery. The fortified islands kept their strategically importance almost to the present. The mainland front of the fortress lost it's implication. The armaments etc. were transferred to the Finnish army. Some parts of it were sold away as a scrap. Many parts of the fortress have been destroyed under the new suburban areas and roads. Despite that, everywhere in the Helsinki district it can be found occasional trenches, shelters and fire positions.


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