World War I battery works

 

Memories of World War I battery works in South Karelia

 

 

By the time of the Crimean War (1853–1856), the Russians realised the danger posed to the Russian Empire by the Baltic Sea. Troops could be moved along the Baltic Sea from Western Europe into the immediate vicinity of the heart of the Empire, St. Petersburg. This threat became concrete during the First World War (1914–1917). The Gulf of Finland was closed by mining it, while strong fortresses, including Vyborg and Helsinki, were built here to secure the realm.

To fend off the danger from the Gulf of Bothnia, fortification zones had to be built across Suomenniemi. Russia spent enormous sums of money on creating this defence system, and as part of the project, two lines of defence were excavated in South Karelia: one from Ylämaa to Suomenniemi, and one from Nuijamaa to Ruokolahti. However, the project was never completed, because the March Revolution of 1917 stopped the fortification work. Similar to the Salpalinja fortification, built thirty years later, the relics of this fortification work are visible in the South Karelian terrain as unfinished dugouts.

If possible, fortifications were built on rocky hills and by blasting. Many of these rocks can still be seen today, in the form of craggy labyrinths. The pits are large: in most cases the terrain ahead is not visible from the bottom. The Russians intended to line the pits with wooden structures, but no signs of those are visible. The trenches for the battery work differ from the pits of the Salpa-asema site, in that a cubic platform was placed at certain intervals in the trench, apparently for the purpose of preventing fire from being targeted along the trench. Dugouts and covered dugouts and artillery roads, particularly those in Lemi, were connected to each complex.

This giant contract provided plenty of employment for local and migrant labour. Life in the work camps is said to have been lively.

The fortifications were supplemented with barbed-wire entanglements and the terrain in front was cleared by cutting down trees. After the end of the World War, once Finland had gained independence, landowners, led by P.E. Svinhufvud (one of Finland’s former presidents), began to claim compensation for the damage suffered. The compensation process was complex for a number of reasons, not least due to the fact that it was not at all clear which country was liable to pay, Finland or Russia. In the end, the landowners received compensation under the 1927 Act, from Finnish state funds.

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