Salpalinja Fortification

 

Dating from the Second World War, the Salpalinja fortification system intersects South Karelia. The heavily fortified section between the Gulf of Finland and Kivijärvi is located in Ylämaa in Lappeenranta and in Luumäki. From there on, the fortification heads east via Jängynjärvi to Lake Saimaa in the municipalities of Lemi, Lappeenranta and Taipalsaari. On the other side of Lake Saimaa, the line continues north via Ruokolahti. Places to visit when exploring the Salpalinja fortification include Hostikka in Ylämaa, Askola in Luumäki, Hurtanmaa and Voisalmi in Lappeenranta and Syyspohja in Ruokolahti.

 

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As the Winter War ended in March 1940, there was increasing concern about defending the new frontiers following the loss of the fortifications in the Karelian Isthmus. From the new border, connections to the capital city and inland Finland were defenceless. Marshall C.G.E. Mannerheim, the Supreme Commander of the Finnish Army, appointed Major General E. Hanell to take charge of building a defensive system. Under his leadership, an extensive fortification plan was approved for Finland’s eastern border. The main points of the plan included a continuous defensive line between the Gulf of Finland and Kivijärvi, lines of defence based on waterways in the region of Kivijärvi, Lake Saimaa, Lake Pielinen, field fortifications at key road connections between Lake Pielinen and Petsamo, fortification of the sea frontier in the immediate vicinity of Salpalinja, and a continuous defensive line designed to isolate the Hankoniemi Peninsula. This line was modelled on the Mannerheim Line fortifications in the Karelian Isthmus, built after Finland gained independence.

Salpalinja is a combination of base and field fortifications. When placing fortifications, full advantage was taken of the contours of the terrain and structures were camouflaged. Fortifications were also located to the front and rear of the actual Salpalinja. Base fortifications were made of concrete, steel, stone and other enduring materials that withstand the rigours of time. The field fortifications mainly comprise structures made of wood and soil using hand-held tools, such as trenches and protective connecting trenches dug using a spade, and wooden dugouts to accommodate soldiers. In all, more than 700 reinforced concrete dugouts, 25 caves, more than 3,000 wooden field fortifications, some 350 kilometres of trenches, 225 kilometres of stone obstacles against armoured vehicles, and 130 kilometres of dug obstacles were constructed on the defensive line. Most construction of the Salpalinja fortification line occurred during the Interim Peace between the Winter War and the Continuation War. As the war continued in the summer of 1941, fortification work concentrated on the frontline. At the beginning of the Soviet Union’s major offensive in summer 1944, construction and equipage of the Salpalinja fortification line resumed. The defensive line was completed by rendering the dugouts combat-ready and repairing obstacles against armoured vehicles. Work on Salpalinja ceased when the war ended in summer 1944. Salpalinja was and still is Finland’s largest worksite – during its peak period, 35,000 civilians were engaged in its construction, while 2,000 women members of the Lotta Svärd Organisation supplied the men with provisions. In addition to the actual construction workers, thousands of soldiers belonging to the fortification garrisons worked on the Salpalinja worksites.

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