Porkkala 1944-56

As Finland broke away from the World War II in September 1944, Russia's foreign minister Molotov informed Finland's armitage negotiation delegation, that the military administration of Russia would demand the Porkkala region for establishing a naval base there. In his arguments he referred to military and geographical factors, which indicated that by closing the mouth of Gulf of Finland, an enemy would be unable to access the Gulf. The idea was not new. In fact, it was from the period of Russo-Japanese war, when the large part of the Russian Baltic sea navy was destroyed in the naval battle of Tsushima in 1905. According to a plan, a main defense place would be build to the narrowest spot between Porkkala and Tallinn. In this way enemy's advancement to the east side of that line by sea, would be prevented. The plan was verified on July 5, 1912, and it was named "Naval fortress of Peter the Great", after Tsar Peter the Great (1672 - 1725), the founder of the Russian navy.

The Russian military strategy still saw the reviving of the old plan as the best policy to protect Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Sticking to this scheme, they first, after the winter war, demanded and acquired the city of Hanko for their naval base. Actually, demands for Hanko were made even before the war but they were turned down by Finland. After the Continuation war they changed Hanko to a larger base at Kirkkonummi.

It should not be forgotten that World War II was still raging in Europe and the German navy was still quite effective. The only route for the Russian navy, and for it's powerful submarine force, was going along the mined Gulf of Finland. One mission of the naval base of Porkkala was to protect this route.

On September 19, 1944, the Finnish delegation signed a truce treaty with Soviet Union and Great Britain in Moscow. As night came, the facts were broadcasted in radio to the nation. The fact that Porkkala was going to be leased by the Soviet Union for 50 years, came as a shocking news to many. The leased area comprised in total c. 1,000 sq km (621.4 sq mi), about which land area was 380.7 sq km (236.6 sq mi).


Ten days was given for the evacuation of the area. The evacuation was able to be started on September 20, and it was to be finished on Thursday September 28. Practically there were only eight days available. Movables, furniture, potatoes, vegetables, corn, hay and firewood were all transported with the help of 20,000 people and hundreds of cars and horse carriages, and with numerous trains, with two large steamboats, and with hundreds of other boats to the shelter.

On Friday, 29th September at 11 am. (at 12 am. Russian time), a border barrier was lowered on Kivenlahti Bridge. 7272 people had left their homes and residences. Although the evacuation had succeeded almost perfectly and many had found at least a temporary home, the refugees were soon faced with new problems. Unawareness about compensations and their official arrangements lasted a long time. Therefore they decided to establish the Porkkala Alliance to promote the matters of the refugees.

However, the Porkkala Alliance was unable to influence very much to the law prescribed on 3rd of April in 1945, according to which the full compensations were to be paid only up to 500,000 Finnish marks. Between 500,000 and 1,000,000, the compensations were 50 percent of actual damage and damages greater than 1 million mark were paid only to 2 percent, the greatest payable compensation would be 3 million marks. In addition, the board which was established to estimate the damages generally cut the residents own estimates about to a half, that's why the amount of compensations remained barely one third of the amount of actual losses. However there were tax reliefs given to the refugees.

The Leasing of Porkkala had immediate effect on traffic in Finland. Train traffic between Helsinki and Turku had to be directed via Hyvinkää and Karjaa, which increased the travel time from three hours nearly to seven hours. However in 1947, the Soviet authorities allowed transit traffic, but the condition was, that the journey should happen with closed window shutters, under the guard of Soviet soldiers. The Soviet Union charged 50 gold dollars for one train for one transit.

Another traffical fact was related to navigation, because the naval base cut the important coast channel to the eastern harbours of Gulf of Finland. At first, the Finnish merchant ships had the right to travel along the inner channel in guarded convoys, but from the beginning of 1947 the coast traffic was directed to the outer channel, which could, especially with the smaller vessels and bad weather, be very dangerous. It happened often, that in the fog and storm the vessels were drifted to the area of Soviet Union, which was followed by many unpleasant and sometimes boring investigations.

The Base of Porkkala

As a commander of the Porkkala base acted lieutenant general Sergei Ivanovits Kabanov. His education was coast artillery officer and he had earlier worked in the command of coast defense of Baltic Countries, as a commander of the Hanko naval base, commanded the internal defense of Leningrad and at the same time commanded the coast defense of the whole Leningrad. Lieutenant general Kabanov died in 1973 in Leningrad, where his medals of honor and his officer's dagger are on show in the navy museum, in the section of the defense of Hanko.

Although Porkkala was mainly a navy base, there were only few naval units stationed there. However a great part of the Soviet Unions Baltic navy was getting supplies from Porkkala. The main weapons system on the base was 305 mm twin turret of Mäkiluoto (cannon's range about 43 km), it could easily fire over the Gulf of Finland. The armament also included at least half dozen 130 mm semiautomatic cannons (range 32 km).

The coast was occupied by marine troops and a heavy armament of infantry in that way that the shores were covered with a complete weapons net. In the lighthouse of Kallbåden functioned a sea control committee, which had in it's use, at least in the 1950's, a radar able to sea surveillance as well as to air surveillance. There has also been heavy field artillery, an armour regiment and from three to four anti-aircraft battallions in the area. There are no exact information available about the fighters operating from the Friggesby airport.

It has been estimated, that the population of the Porkkala base was 20,000 at it's height, of which 7,000 - 8,000 were civilians. There was also a 500-seater comprehensive school number 455 and a hospital. Food stuff was mainly imported from Tallinn and Leningrad. In Degerby there was a huge bakery, which kept the base in life. They practised also smallscale farming, which can be seen for example from that when the soviet troops left, a combined harvester was taken from the area with them. Although the military character was typical to the area, we can not disregard the effect of civilian people. Probably life has flowed in normal way, as in any community, though a certain feeling of isolation has presumably been characteristic to it.

Soviet Union hands over Porkkala

Hardly anyone believed in the premature hand over of the leased area. History books say that political development and friendly relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union caused that J.K. Paasikivi, the president of Finland, was called to Moscow in September 6, 1955 "to discuss about those actions, which could further strengthen friendship and co-operation between the Soviet Union and Finland." On the 16th of September the negotiation delegations met at the first time. Already in the next day the international press headlined: "The Soviet Union hands over Porkkala!".

Porkkala didn't, however, play any major role in the Soviet military strategy. Actually, its maintanance became a financial burden. In the mid-1950's the Soviets started a heavy campaign against foreign military bases, targeting especially to NATO bases around the Soviet Union. As a token of their own peace-striving policy they gave up their bases outside the Warsaw Pact countries. First this was done in Lushun or Port Arthur, in China, and then in the same year in Porkkala. At the same time Soviets moved the emphasis from the Baltic Sea to the Arctic Ocean. Moreover Soviets built a new main base for the Baltic Sea navy, to Baltinsk near Kalingrad. The leased area of Porkkala was returned to Finland on January 26, 1956.

The controversy about ownership

The scenery had changed much, especially in Friggesby and Upinniemi. There were forests chopped down, the fields were unused, certain buildings had disappeared or moved, use of many buildings had changed and many new buildings had risen. They had turned over a big part of the tombstones or they were used as building materials. However, after the greatest shock there prevailed relief and joy in the minds of ex-residents about the leasing time being over.

However a controversy was born about the ownership. Because in 1944, the state had paid compensations for the people who left the Porkkala, it thought it would also have an ownership for the returned area. The Porkkala Alliance started to fight for that those who were forced to leave Porkkala could get back their former residences or what was left from them. On 20th of June, 1956 there came a law into effect which made possible the returning of properties to the real owners. Although the law did not answer everybodys wishes and exceptations, still it could be treated as satisfying.