Encircling of Helsinki with fortified terrestial and coastal defenses 1914-17

fortification line

Map of fortifications (bigger image)

See a detailed description of Helsinki land and sea fortress by John Lagerstedt ja Markku Saari.

The defense of the city of Helsinki slowly acquired more intensity as part of the Russian defense plans for Sveaborg (the Baltic Fleet) and St. Petersburg even before the WWI. When the war broke out in summer 1914, construction of various field installations was immediately started. In 1915, a huge construction work for the fortifications was begun. It was continued until 1917, when political changes interrupted it.

Significant parts of the fortification line still exist even though building of houses and natural deterioration have taken their tolls.

On islands in front of Helsinki, like on the island of Itäinen Pihlajasaari, there are well preserved parts of the fortification line. In the plan for coastal defenses it was calculated that the total need for defenses at Sveaborg and adjacent islands sums up to 113 pieces of various canons, 19 strong searchlights, rocket launchers and other weaponry. On March 1, 1917, the land fortifications contained 463 canons of various types. The fortifications were manned, at their largest in August 1917, approximately with 15,000 men not including those stationed at the Helsinki garrison. In February, 1918, because of demobilization and absenteeism the strength reached only 15 percent of the book value in some units.


At Nupukivenkallio in Leppävaara,
close to Helsinki, the Reds tried in vain
to stop advancing German troops
at this fortified site on April 11, 1918.
(Bigger image)
The fortification line was never used for its original purpose. However, after Finland declared herself independent in 1917, the Reds (leaders of the Social Democratic party, represented in the Finnish Diet) declared their own rule in Helsinki and southern Finland on January 28, 1918. They sought assistance from the new Bolshevik government in St. Petersburg. They got both political and military support from there, and Bolshevik sympathizers in Russian troops in Finland joined or assisted the Red Guards. The peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk, on March 3, 1918, between Germany and Soviet Russia stipulated the withdrawal of Russian troops in Finland and denied any involvement in Finnish affairs. This also made it possible for a German naval detachment, acting on request of the Finnish government then having its seat at the city of Vaasa, to advance to Hanko, Helsinki and Loviisa. The Germans who on April 3rd landed at Hanko Harbour, some 130 km west from Helsinki marched quickly towards Helsinki. At the fortification line they received only minor resistance because of the poor military skills and lack of officers on the Red side. The Red rule ended in Helsinki on April 12, 1917.

Map and the main text source for passages 1 and 3 above: Lt. Col. U.V. Rauanheimo: "Suomenlinnan venäläisaika 1808-1918" (The Russian Era at Sveaborg) in the book "Suomenlinna 1748-1948", publ. by Coastal Artillery Officers' Association, Helsinki 1948.

Literature (in Finnish):
"Ensimmäisen maailmansodan aikaiset linnoitukset Helsingissä". Suojeluluettelo. Toim. Lasse Laaksonen. Museovirasto, Rakennushistorian osasto. Julkaisu N:o 9. 2/79. Helsinki 1980. ("Fortifications built during WWI at Helsinki", publ. National Board of Antiquities)

Sirkku Laine: "Ensimmäisen maailmansodan aikainen maalinnoitus Helsingissä." Helsingin kaupungin rakennusviraston julkaisuja 1996:3. Helsinki 1996. (kuvaa vain Helsingin kaupungin alueella olevia kohteita) ("Terrestial fortifications built during WWI at Helsinki", describing only those inside the municipal boundary of the city. Publ. City of Helsinki)

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