The war history of Hanko

The walls of Gustavsvärn are damaged, but it is still an interesting place to visit.

Hauensuoli (Gäddtarmen) has a gigantic guest book carved in stone.

The battle at Riilahti 1714 became a turning point in the history of Finland.

Hanko is an interesting destination, no matter if you approach by boat, car or any other vehicle.  The lovely scenery, the beaches and the picturesque views of Hanko is usually what will catch your attention, but many often forget the interesting history of this town. A history based on the exclusive location as an excellent harbor.

Hanko has always been a strategically important location. This has affected the whole history of the town and surroundings where many battles has passed by. The trails of wartime history of Hanko are hundreds of years old and you can still see visible marks from these wars today.

The three maps helps you to explore the war time history of Hanko. You just choose the most appropriate map depending how you arrive to Hanko. Inside Hanko town the easiest way to explore is by biking or walking from one sight to another.

Up to the 13th century, Vikings and Crusaders

1300 Century

An excellent haven

The Hanko Peninsula and its outer tip, Tulliniemi, form a protected haven, which sides with an old and a well-known sailing route. Vikings used this haven when sailing to the east, and Novgorodians accessed it when traveling to the west. Gotlandian peasants traveled the route as well, on their trading voyages to the east. Later, Birger Jarl and Torkel Knutsson acquainted with the sailing route, while spreading Christianity in Häme and Karelia during the so-called Second Crusade (1145-1149).

The recorded history of Hanko begins in the mid-13th century. The first written mention of the Hanko Peninsula is in the itinerarium of Valdemar II, Navigation ex Dania Fri mare Balticum Estoniam ed. This itinerarium – sort of an account of a journey – describes a sailing voyage that starts from Denmark and goes along the Swedish coast, over the sea of Åland, continuing along the Finnish coast via Porkkala to Tallinn and the Neva River. The travel account also mentions a  place called Hangethe, also referred to by its Finnish name Cumiupe. This is the first recorded mention of the Hanko Peninsula. In practice, what the authors probably mean is the Tulliniemi peninsula, which is notoriously difficult to circumnavigate. The itinerarium may have been written in Tallinn during the era of Bishop Torkel (approximately 1238-1260).


Soon, a Catholic chapel rose to the vicinity of Hanko’s first harbour. While the exact building period remains unknown, the site must have been relatively meaningful and important, considering that the harbor still bears the name Kappelisatama, “the harbour of the chapel”.

Hanseatic League

1600-1700 century

After Denmark lost Tallinn to the Germans, Tallinn became a Hansa city. At the same time, the Hansa was becoming a significant player in the Baltic sea traffic. The Hansa used sailing routes which had been known for centuries. The larger and heavier Hansa merchant ships, however, could no longer be pulled across isthmuses of land, as was customary with ships before. Instead, these ships had to sail along waterways.

This was a key reason why the haven of the Hanko Peninsula gradually moved from Kappelisatama to the peninsula’s southern tip. There, south of Skansholm, lay two islands Gambla Tullen and Kobben between which was the bay of Hauensuoli (Gäddtarmen) , an ideal haven for the cog ships of the Hansa. As centuries have passed, the beach cliffs of this bay have become the guestbook of the Hanko peninsula. To pass time, the sailors who were sheltering from the weather often hacked their names and coat of arms on the beach cliffs.

The Myth of Hanko

18-19th century

The turn of the century marked a new era in the Russo-Swedish relationship. Charles XII (Carl of Sweden) defeated the troops of Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great) in the battle of Narva (1700), and drew his military attention exclusively on the southern parts of the Baltic Sea.

At the same time, Peter the Great could freely develop his visions of a naval Russia, for which he “crafted a window” to Europe along the coasts of the Gulf of Finland. In July 1714, the galleys of the Tsar Peter the Great circumnavigated the Hanko peninsula with almost no difficulty at all, even while the Swedish open sea navy guarded the tip of the peninsula. Had the first armament of Tulliniemi still existed, this circulation would not have succeeded. The era of the Greater Wrath began, continuing until the Treaty of Nystad (Uusikaupunki) in 1721.

Lines of defence

An essential part in a naval strategy are the so-called lines of defence. These lines are sites that are defined as ideal for naval defence, such as mouths of bays and straits. The tip of the Hanko peninsula forms such a line of defence. If the enemy manages to circumnavigate the peninsula, the next line of defence from the Swedish perspective is on the straits of the Stockholm archipelago. As peace returned, it is without doubt that if the Hanko peninsula had been fortified, it would have prevented the galley fleet of Russia from reaching the west side of the peninsula.

The Hanko peninsula or Sveaborg

The events of the Hats’ War (1741-1743) reheated debates in the Swedish Riksdag of the Estates concerning the coastal defence of the Gulf of Finland. As an outcome of these discussions, colonel Augustin Ehrensvärd arrived to the waters of the Hanko peninsula together with a commission on his yacht Diana.

Ehrensvärd found that a fort on the peninsula was necessary, but the limited resources were still directed at fortifying Sveaborg (Suomenlinna) in front of Helsinki and Degerby on the eastern border. During the summer of 1754, Ehrensvärd’s “merry society” was back on the waters of the Hanko peninsula. This excursion monuments in a funny writing on the cliff of Hauensuoli, but the Hanko peninsula remained without a fortification. The resources went instead to Sveaborg and the building of island navy.

During Gustav Ill’s Russo-Swedish War of 1788-1790, the Russian navy dominated the tip of the Hanko peninsula and was able to land its troops unto the peninsula. The Russians demolished Hangonkylä and houses in Täktom as well as a customs station. These events culminated in the clash of Hankoniemi between Russians and Swedes in October 1788. Afterwards, Sweden initiated a command to field fortify Hanko. The first heavy cannons arrived to Hanko already in the same month. Major Georg Hans von Kierting, assigned to implement the work of fortifying Hanko, came to town in December 1788.

At the front of the port of Hanko, the islands of Eldskär, Lergrundet and Dömanskobben and the peninsula of Berghamnsholmen were field fortified. These fortified sites were renamed as Gustafsvärn, Gustaf Adolf Fäste, Mejerdelftsklippan and Kuningattarenvuori. Overall, the armaments had a garrison of 500 soldiers. In the northern dale of Kuningattarenvuori, a 200-250 residents’ “fort city” emerged, called the garrison of Kuningattarenvuori.

In May 1792, it was ordered that the Hanko Peninsula was fortified permanently, because the field fortification was not thought to last forever. The building works continued led by Major Kierting and his assistant, captain Carl Nycander. The building of the permanent fortification in Hanko by 1807 may be considered captain Carl Nycander’s life work.

Captain Nycander was also the commander of the fort of Hanko in the spring of 1808, when a Russian attack threatened Finland. The garrison in Hanko was ordered to move to Sveaborg in its entirety and demolish the Hanko fort. Nothing could be done — cannons were to be nailed shut and pushed to the sea. Otherwise, the demolition was not very efficient at all, and Russians could fix the damages relatively easily upon arriving in March 1808. On this occasion, the Russians built the field fort to Tulliniemi’s Skansholmen, situating cannons there. This armament has however vanished completely. In the hands of the Russians, the fort prevented efficiently the Swedish open-sea navy’s attempts to utilize the Hanko road stead and port in the summer of 1808.

The Russian Base


At the close of the Winter War (1939-1940), the Moscow Peace Treaty (13 March 1940) leased Hankoniemi as a naval base to the Soviet Union for 30 years. Finland ceded the Hanko region to the representatives of the Red Fleet on Good Friday, 22 March 1940.

The flags are flown at half-staff in Helsinki. One of the terms of peace of the Winter War was, that FInland would yield Hankoniemi for 30 years onwards.

During the spring, summer and fall of 1940, the Soviet Union moved a total of 30,000 of its troops to Hankoniemi. It justified the base by wishing to close the mouth of the Gulf of Finland with mines and artillery fire. These weapons operated together with the Soviet artillery on Osmussaari and Hiidenmaa’s Tahkunanniemi in the south part of the Gulf of Finland.

The Naval base in Hanko

The Soviet Union defined the aims of the Hanko naval base as follows:

— The closing of the Gulf of Finland with sea mines and long-range artillery together with the artillery on the Estonian islands in the south part of the gulf.
— The defence of the base against attacks from sea, land and air by utilizing the navy, air defence, air force and ground forces.

The Hanko region was entered by particularly many building troops – totaling around 10,000 – whose output is still visible in the numerous fortifications that populated Hankoniemi.  Heavy minage supplemented the defence. The Finnish Defence Forces still has to clear this minage yearly on land and the Hanko archipelago.

Lieutenant General Kabanov was the head of the base in Hanko and later in Porkkala.
— The focal point of the fortifying was the tip of the Hankoniemi and the archipelago that surrounds it.
— The stations fortified the most are located in Russarö.
— Also the peninsulas and islands that emerge from the Hanko city center are heavily fortified.

The heavy battery cannon positions in Tulliniemi have preserved well and constitute an appropriate monument of the Hanko Soviet base, in particular as plans abound to transform Uddskatan into a recreation area.

The anti-aircraft battery in Skansholmen ( N, E)

The air-defence of the fort of Hanko was strong. Hanko posed altogether four separate antiaircraft divisions (corresponds with a battalion), each of which had three four-cannon batteries. The equipment of the batteries was 76 millimeter Russian air defence cannons, whose Finnish military symbol is 76 ltK/31.

The beaches in Tulliniemi were equipped on both sides with strong beach defence areas, including minage and hurdles as well as fire stations that lined the beach line with regular and light machine guns. To defend Tulliniemi, the Russians built in the middle of the peninsula, on what now is a car field, a 45 meters time by 12 meters barrack building, the so-called “Russian Barrack”.

End of Russian era

Evacuation of Russian troops from Hanko in 1941.
When Russians had left the Hanko peninsula base in December 1941, Finland and Germany decided to move the holiday transportation of the northern German troops to Hanko in the spring of 1942. To facilitate, a separate passenger traffic train line was built to Tulliniemi as well a village for the vacationers comprising more than 100 barracks. The harbour magazines on the region served the same purpose. In this passage village, more than 5,000 Germans at best waited for their holiday transportation to Germany.

Germans left Hanko in September 1944. They took some of the barracks to the Porkkala base, while some remained in Tulliniemi. After the Germans, these barracks hosted a camp to the prisoners of war bound back to the Soviet Union. Subsequently, the barracks accommodated the Finnish prisoners of war returning to Finland during their quarantine and after that, they hosted the Finns who had been interned and were returning from the haze of war. The barrack village also served Finnish sea-mine sweepers and for a while, the Tulliniemi barracks even posited an all-female prison.

The Hanko Coastal Artillery Battalion used the barracks for long as storages, but after the battalion was terminated, the barracks have been empty. The remaining barracks are in the brink of collapse.

In the beginning of the 1970s, Skansholmen was permanently fortified and armed with a four cannon 100 TK tower cannon battery. The stations, which are quarried in cliffs, were posited with tank cannon towers. In the beginning of the 1980s, this battery still had firing exercises to the sea region in front of Hanko. The cannons left Skansholmen in the end 2000s, but their stations are intact and remind us about the militant history of the Tulliniemi peninsula.

Kansallisarkisto, sota-arkisto, T22003/1-3, Venäläiset puolustusasemat Hangon vuokra-alueella
Silvast, Pekka, Hankoniemi 1940-1941, Tammisaari 1985.
Silvast, Pekka, HanRPsto 1921-1998, Jyväskylä 1998
Silvast, Pekka, Tulliniemi-Tulludden, Suomen Vapaasatama Oy 1960-2000, Ekenäs 2000
Halén, Henry, Hangon neuvostotukikohta 1940-1941, Helsinki 2009
Mattila, Tapani, Meri maamme turvana, Jyväskylä 1983

Author: Pekka Silvast
Master of Social Sciences -War Historian

The first armaments of Hanko peninsula

18th century

Sweden seized the entire Baltic territory and the northern Baltic Sea as well as the Gulf of Finland in the Treaty of Stolbova (1617) and the Truce of Altmark (1629). Afterwards, it placed its naval attention on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. The key military harbour of the navy moved from Stockholm to Karlskrona in 1680.

The defence of Finland and its coasts, though, was left extremely weak. The decision back lashed in 1659-57, when the Tsar of Russia Aleksey Mikhailovic began operating on Lake Ladoga with his barques and made surprise attacks on Karelia. 

Due to these attacks, the Count of Raseborg, Gustaf Adolf Leijonhufvud commanded the Finnish peasantry to craft  fortifications, at their own expense, in various locations: on Vargö island in front of Helsinki, at Porkkalan-niemi, in the Barösund archipelago and on the tip of the Hanko Peninsula. As a result, a field armament emerged in Tulliniemi’s Bruneskär (Skansholmen). The armament received a garrison of 55 soldiers, and it was commanded by Lars Hansson.

In conclusion, the memory that stays from the fortification is the name Skansholmen (Skanslandet) which still stands in the map of Tulliniemi. That the spot was excellent for defence was showed later, by the military armaments erected on the same cliffs.

The battle that changed the history of Finland

The Battle of Gangut 1714

The Battle of Gangut (Russian: Гангутское сражение, Finnish: Riilahden taistelu, Swedish: Slaget vid Rilax or Sjöslaget vid Hangö udd) took place on 27 July during the Great Northern War (1700–21), in the waters of Riilahti Bay, north of the Hanko Peninsula, near the site of the modern-day city of Hanko, Finland, between the Swedish Navy and Imperial Russian Navy.

It was the first important victory of the Russian fleet in its history. Less than 1000 Swedish soldiers were fighting and 361 of them were killed. The Russians where about 4000 and 469 were killed or wounded.

The Russian Tsar, Peter I, had begun his offensive in Finland in the spring of 1713. The Russian armies quickly advanced all the way to Turku on the southwestern coast of Finland. With Russian victory in the battle of Storkyro on 19 February 1714, Peter I left southern Finland fully in Russian control. The Russian governor in Finland, Prince Mikhail Galitzine, with his headquarters in Turku, was unable to receive support by sea, which back then was far more important than land-based support, as Swedish battle fleet under Admiral Gustav Wattrang had started blockading the coastal sea route past Hanko Peninsula already on 24 April. While it also blockaded the Russian supply route the blockade also prevented the Russian coastal fleet from reaching Sweden and raiding the Swedish coast. First Russian transports left from Helsinki in early May, but had to stop east of Hanko to Tammisaari, where the supplies needed to be hauled overland. Russian attempts to provide ships to west of Hanko ended when newly formed Swedish coastal squadron led by Captain Anton Wrangel intercepted the Russian supply ships south of Turku on 10 May, and in one sided engagement sunk most of them while the rest were scattered. Admiral Apraksin’s fleet was sent from its base at Kronstadt by the Tsar to open these service lines.

When the 80 ship strong Russian galley fleet arrived near the peninsula on 29 June 1714 they were met by a strong Swedish naval fleet consisting of 16 ships of the line and 7 smaller ships under the command of Admiral Wattrang. Apraksin decided to withdraw his ships farther away to the eastern side of the peninsula and call for reinforcements while he waited for the further 20 galleys to arrive from Helsinki where they had been over the winter. The majority of the troops in Turku were moved according to his request to the peninsula. A plea for help was also sent to the Tsar, who was with the rest of the Baltic Fleet in Reval (Tallinn). Admiral Apraksin specifically let the Tsar know that he should come personally to lead the attack. Russian battle fleet of 10 ships of the line and 6 frigates was originally intended to participate to the breakthrough attempt at Hanko but upon inspecting the fleet Tsar found it ill prepared for battle and abandoned the use of the battle fleet. Further he ordered that fleet should not engage unless it would have clear superiority in artillery. Peter I reached the Russian coastal fleet on 20 July.

The first attempt in breaking through the Swedish lines was made by attempting to pull the galleys over the peninsula. The friction was reduced using ox skins between the ground and the ships. The first galley was successfully pulled over with much trouble, but the second was damaged, and the attempt was subsequently abandoned. However, Admiral Wattrang had been informed of the Russians’ attempt, and he sent a small naval detachment consisting of 11 ships led by Schoutbynacht (equivalent of a Rear Admiral) Nils Ehrenskiöld to intercept the Russians. Swedish efforts forced Russians to abandon their plans few days later.
The second attempt by the Russians took advantage of the calm weather on the morning of 26 July. The small galleys were easily maneuvered, whereas it was exceedingly difficult to try to turn the heavy Swedish battleships in such a weather. Apraksin initially sent 20 small galleys which succeeded in running the blockade and then as Swedes started towing their sailing ships further out to sea with rowing boats he sent 15 further galleys to the same route though the second group had to go much further around since Swedes had moved away from the immediate vicinity of the coast. With Wattrang’s fleet moved outwards in an attempt to block the Russian breakthrough, the Russians started their blockade run on early hours of 27 July along the now clear sea route just alongside the cape. Despite of frantic Swedish efforts to stop the Russians only few of the Swedish ships reached firing range and even then their artillery fire had very little effect. Only one galley was lost when it ran aground. Now only Ehrenskjöld’s small coastal squadron stood between Russian coastal fleet, the maze like archipelago of Aland, and south western Finland.

Swedish battle fleet which had been blockading Hanko Peninsula was quickly moved to west of land to protect Sweden against the raids by Russian galleys. This also opened the coastal seaway for the Russian transports. Russian galley fleet under Admiral Apraksin started from Rilax on 1 August to sail towards Turku from where he continued already on 5 August towards Aland. By 8 August Apraksin reached the east coast of Aland triggering Swedish withdrawal from the islands. On 13 August whole of Aland was under Russian control. As the Swedish battle fleet prevented Apraksin from reaching Sweden the galleys were diverted to support the Russian army fighting along the coast of Gulf of Bothnia with small squadron plundering and razing the Swedish town of Umeå on 18 September. Presence of the Russian galley fleet on Bay of Bothnia forced the remnants of the Swedish army in Finland to hastily withdraw to Torne River to avoid getting encircled.


The Russian Fort


Finland became an integrated part of Russia in 1809. The fort of Hanko continued as a Russian garrison, occasionally called the city of Hanko peninsula– “Gangutskij Gorod”. Life continued in Hanko, sometimes more lively– sometimes slower. Elder soldiers were in particular situated in Hanko, many of who married local girls. Many of the fort’s artisans that had served the Swedes also moved to the service of the Russians.

During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the fort of Hanko again showed its battle capability, when English ships made artillery rushes towards it. Nonetheless, the Russians doubted the possibility to defend Hanko and demolished the Hanko fort themselves on the end of August 1854. The demolition of the fort’s equipment — using the fort’s own cannon powder– was an exceptional event for the entire region; especially as it had been announced that people could retrieve everything from the forts that came loose. The beaches of Hankoniemi were filled with an audience that followed the exploding of the fort.

The following year, English ships could use the Hanko road stead as they will, but the former fort city still posited Russian troops led by general Moller. The English got to experience this during the summer of 1855 when they sent boats to the former fort’s harbour to destroy an optic telegraph station. The boats were expected by a Russian Cossack unit, which destroyed the English boats almost entirely. This event, which the English named the massacre of Hanko, got
plenty of attention in the English press. To retaliate, the English used their ship artillery to bomb the fort equipment and buildings of the Hanko mainland. The entire “fort city” burned down to the ground. It is these ruins on top of which the port and city of Hanko were then built in the early 1870s.

In the Crimean War during the summer of 1855, the English allowed to chop down the forest of Tulliniemi in its narrowest spot. The aim was to monitor from the ships on the roadstead that the Russians cannot advance along Tulliniemi and bring cannons to Skansholmen to threaten the ships. This chopped area received the name the English Line, and seafarers employed it also later on when arriving to the port of Hanko.

Drivers Map

Arriving to Hanko by car can be an adventure! Start by having a stop in Skogby. And continue to Harparskog to watch the bunkers and defens lines. From the Mannerheim’s stone you turn back to the Front museum or to the air field in Täktom. The air field, the russian grave yard and the ortodox church is most convenient to visit either when you arrive to Hanko or when you leave. They are all along the same road. Bon voyage!

Navigator’s Map

Even when arriving by boat you can see lot of remainings from several wars in Hanko region. You are not alowed to go ashore on every island but still there is a lot to discover. Hauensuoli (Pike Gut) is maybe the most remarcable place with a huge guestbook carved in the cliffs. For more information:

Hanko city area

To these sights you can either walk or go by bicycle. A picnic is not a bad idea!

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