Finland at War

Sveaborg Fortress

Located in present day Helsinki, Finland, Sveaborg Fortress (Suomenlinna in Finnish) was considered the ‘Gibraltar of the North’ by many military contemporaries of the period. Work began around 1748 when Swedish King Frederick I ordered a new fortress to be built in order to protect Sweden’s eastern possessions against Russian attack in the Gulf of Finland. A well educated nobleman and military officer by the name of Augustin Ehrensfvärd was charged with the gigantic task of building a large Vauban-style fortress somewhere along the Finnish coast. Ehrensfvärd chose to build it on a group of skerries near the small city of Helsingfors (Helsinki). The fort itself was built in stages on rocky islands, with many of the engineering and architectual designs of the fortress were and still are considered masterpieces. The fortress was to be used as a weapons cache for Sweden’s Finnish Army in the east, as well as a deterrent to any Russian advance by sea. It also served as a large Swedish naval base, where ships were to be repaired and built. Its operational history had mixed results. During the Swedish-Russian war of 1790, it served its purpose well, and withstood a number of sieges and advances by the Russians on both land and sea. In 1808, however, with Russia invading Sweden by surprise, the fortress was bombarded and besieged again by Russian forces on land. With no reinforcements in site, the fortress’ commander, Carl Cronstedt, surrendered the fortress along with 7,000 men, bringing the end of effective Swedish rule in Finland to a close. (Some say he was bribed and a traitor). During the 19th century, the fortress was used by Russian forces in the Crimean War and World War One as a naval base and fortress. When Finland achieved independence in 1918, warfare had dramatically changed, and Sveaborg’s military purpose had become an anachronism. Today it is now a cultural UNESCO site and a main tourist attraction for anyone visiting Helsinki. 

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