English Gradusta asiaa

Memorials of naval mine war as places of social involvement

Lukuaika: 8 min.

Artikkeli perustuu Jonas Rapakon pro gradu -työhön ”The Cultural Heritage of WWII Sea Mines in the Gulf of Finland”. Valmis työ on julkaistu Oulun yliopiston julkaisuarkistossa.

The article is based on Master’s thesis ”The Cultural Heritage of WWII Sea Mines in the Gulf of Finland” by Jonas Rapakko. Thesis is available online at University of Oulu repository.

Memorials are public monuments that commemorate personages or events of the past; most usually they are monuments of the official narratives of history, expressing a nationalist preoccupation with war as a building block in creating national identities. Their symbolic language of solemn sculptures and grey colour enforce an ambience of deference. Memorials, as commemorative places where garland offerings are brought and where ritual ceremonies are held in evoking a memory of the past in the present day, are also sites comparable to cemeteries in their focus on death and commemoration, and also in their physical form of grey stone structures usually set amidst green tranquility [1].

Memorials have a role of connecting the present community to a point in history; this role gives memorials a potential to work as places of social involvement, in enabling memorial projects to give a voice to groups of people forgotten by the narratives of the past, or as places where the past is used as a backdrop for discussing the politics of the day.

Minesweeper memorial ”boom” brought recognition to minesweeper veterans

The minesweeper memorial in Helsinki. Most minesweeper memorials incorporate a real, neutralized war-era sea mine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

During the Second World War, 60 000 sea mines were laid to the Gulf of Finland. Sea mines were a devastating weapon capable of sinking huge warships, like the Finnish flagship Ilmarinen that sunk after hitting a mine in 1941, and naval minefields could be used to block both the opponent’s military and commercial movement in the sea. In the peace treaty that ended the Continuation War in 1944, Finland was obliged to clear the waters of the Gulf of Finland from sea mines, and in the early 1950s, the task was complete – 10 000 sea mines had been destroyed, and maritime commerce was able to continue. The price was devastating: 28 Finnish minesweepers had died, and 35 wounded, in the dangerous work called the ”continuation war of Continuation War” by the minesweepers themselves [2].

Post-war demining in the Gulf of Finland is one of the lost stories of the Second World War. The role of minesweepers in clearing the waters of mines, so that maritime commerce could continue, had a tremendous, albeit unacknowledged, impact on the recovery of Finland from war. This is why minesweeper veterans organized in the 1990s, forming Minesweeper Guilds to seek public as well as official recognition. One of the ways in which minesweepers sought recognition was by initiating memorial projects; this led to a minesweeper memorial construction ”boom” in the turn of the millennium, as six of the country’s ten minesweeper memorials were constucted between 1996 and 2004 – a timespan of only nine years! Minesweeper veterans gained official veteran status in 2000, so the memorials can be seen as one of the media by which recognition was sought – and eventually gained.

Juminda memorial site connects ethnic groups despite Estonia’s ”war of the monuments”

The battle of Juminda is one of the forgotten events of the Second World War – even as it was, if the number of people killed and ships sunk during the battle are used as a measure, one of the biggest sea battles in world history. In August 1941, Finnish and German forces laid a series of minefields between the Finnish and Estonian coasts, in an attempt to prevent the evacuation of Soviet soldiers and civilians from Tallinn to the eastern Gulf of Finland; the Soviet convoy, however, desperately pushed through the minefields. The outcome of the battle was horrific: between 10 000 and 25 000 people, both soldiers and civilians, from the Soviet convoy perished, and 65 ships sunk [3].

A rare photograph of the battle of Juminda. The Soviet cruiser Kirov is protected by smoke, making it harder to hit by German fire.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Today, two memorials stand on the tip of Juminda Peninsula, commemorating the tragedy that took place more than 70 years ago. The memorial site has as a potential to unite Estonians and Russians, who are a significant minority in Estonia, as the memorial site has a shared value to both communities; in the post-Soviet ”war of the monuments” a Soviet-era war memorial having such a mutual importance is an exception, as most Soviet war memorials have been destroyed in Estonia since the country’s independence, even sparking violent riots between the two ethnic communities [4]. The differences of opinion along ethnic lines are connected to the different memories of the Soviet era by the two communities; Estonians experience the Soviet era as an era of forced occupation and suffering [5], whereas Russians memories of the Soviet era are more positive. These narratives of history also affect the interpretation of Juminda: to Estonians, the event symbolizes one part of a bigger story of suffering, with Estonian civilians and ships forced to accompany the convoy on its road to disaster; to Russians in Estonia, Juminda is a forgotten story of heroism and tragedy, a part of the narrative of the Great Patriotic War – as the Second World War is called by Russians – as an existential struggle against fascist invaders.

The Juminda memorial. A red stone commemorates the victims of the battle that took place on the waters right behind the monument. The structure is surrounded by sea mines, reminding of the deadly weapon that caused most of the casualties. Photo: Modris Putns, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0.

The memorial site has recently been used in commemorative ceremonies by both Estonian and Russian politicians (from the Russian Federation), with the battle of Juminda used as a reference in commenting the politics of today. The speeches held at the site by the Russian ambassador Alexander Petrov and the Estonian politician Marko Mihkelson present two very different political messages; while Petrov seemingly nears something of a reconciliation in considering the mutual meaning of the site to Estonians and Russians, his interpretation of the events is clearly Russian in its emphasis of a tragic battle against a fascist invader; while Mihkelson reminds of the horrors of war that shouldn’t be experienced again, in order to promote Estonia’s NATO membership [6]. The political use of the site thus evidences the memorial site as a medium of politics driving arguments from the horrors of the past, and crystallizes the Estonian-Russian conflict of remembering the past, as well as the political strains in relations between Estonia and the Russian Federation.

Memorials as places of social involvement

As evidenced by the previous two examples, memorials can be used as places of advancing public recognition of a group of people, or as places of political debate hidden in commemorative speeches that use the past as a reference in commenting the political reality of today. Initiating memorial construction projects can, thus, be used a political tool in shaping public and official consciousness; memorials as commemorative and ceremonial sites have also the power to work as an arena of opposing political ideas. Food for thought here is that memorials are not merely silent, sad structures in commemoration of the tragedies of the past; they are potentially active agents in shaping the contemporary political reality we live in.


COVER PHOTO: Finnish minesweepers neutralizing a sea mine. Usually surfaced sea mines were shot from the minesweeper vessels; sometimes they had to be neutralized manually from a rowboat.
Photo: SA-kuva-arkisto CC BY 4.0 (cropped)

[1] Currently a considerable litarature exists on memorial studies. A good introduction is Kidd & Murdoch 2004; see also Mayo 1988 and Foote & Azaryahu 2007 for the social and political meaning of memorials.
[2] For minesweeper recollection literature, see: Erwes & Joutsenniemi 2004; Pakola 2012; Salmelin 1995.
[3] Little has been published about the battle in English or in Finnish; a work specifically focusing on the battle is Õun 2006 (in Estonian; figure information and a summary are provided in English).
[4] For studies of the ”war of the monuments” and the Bronze Soldier controversy, see, for example: Brüggemann & Kasekamp 2008; Smith 2008.
[5] For literature on the Estonian cultural memory of the Soviet era, see Kõresaar 2011.
[6] Sputnik 28.8.2018: В память о жертвах Таллиннского перехода: трагедия глазами очевидцев (in Russian); Riikikogu (press release, National Defence Committee) 28.8.2016: Marko Mikhelson laid a wreath in memory of the victims of Juminda naval battle.

Further reading

Brüggemann, K. & Kasekamp, A. 2008. The Politics of History and the ”War of Monuments” in Estonia. Nationalities Papers 36(3): 425-448.

Erwes, E. & Joutsenniemi, O. (eds.) 2004. Me raivasimme Suomenlahden – nuorukaiset miinanraivaajina Ahvenanmereltä Viipurinlahdelle. Helsingin Miinanraivaajakilta.

Foote, K. & Azaryahu, M. 2007. Toward a geography of memory: geographical dimensions of public memory and commemoration. Journal of Political and Military Sociology 35(1):125-144.

Mayo, J. 1988. War Memorials as Political Memory. Geographical Review: 62-75.

Kidd, W. & Murdoch, B. (eds.) 2004. Memory and Memorials: The Commemorative Century. Ashgate.

Kõresaar, E. (ed.) 2011. Soldiers of Memory: World War II and Its Aftermath in Estonian Post-Soviet Life Stories. Rodopi.
Õun, M. 2006. Juminda miinilahing 1941 – maailmasündmus meie koduvetes. Sentinel.

Pakola, J. (ed.) 2012. Varusmiehet miinasodassa – merimiinojen raivaus 1945-1950. Miinanraivaajakillan tuki- ja perinneyhdistys.

Salmelin, P. 1995. Henkensä kaupalla. Miinanraivaajana Suomenlahdella 1945. WSOY.

Smith, D. 2008. Woe from stones: commemoration, identity politics and Estonia’s ’War of Monuments’. Journal of Baltic Studies 39(4):419-430.

Sputnik 28.8.2018: В память о жертвах Таллиннского перехода: трагедия глазами очевидцев. https://ee.sputniknews.ru/events/20180828/12372513/tallinn-perehod-jumenda-2018-vojna.html (accessed 24.9.2019)

Riikikogu (press release, National Defence Committee) 28.8.2016: Marko Mihkelson laid a wreath in memory of the victims of Juminda naval battle.
(accessed 24.9.2019)

Jonas Rapakko

Jonas Rapakko is an archaeology student in the University of Oulu. His upcoming master’s thesis The Cultural Heritage of WWII Sea Mines in the Gulf of Finland analyses the memorials and museum exhibitions of sea mines and mine-related history in Finland and Estonia. The study draws from a variety of perspectives, including the studies of cultural memory and difficult heritage.

Mikko Meronen

Tuomas Värjö

Mikko Meronen ja Tuomas Värjö työskentelevät Merivoimien historiaan erikoistuneina tutkijoina, Forum Marinumissa Turussa. Forum Marinum on merenkulun valtakunnallinen erikoismuseo ja Merivoimien museo.


Jonas Rapakon artikkeli ja graduhanke tuo mielenkiintoisen uuden näkökulman meripuolustuksen historiaan liittyvään keskusteluun. Miinasodankäynnin ja miinanraivauksen muistomerkkien tutkiminen uudesta näkökulmasta on hyvä ja ajankohtainen aihe. On tärkeä ymmärtää missä kontekstissa muistomerkkejä on pystytetty, miten niitä on käytetty ja miten niitä käytetään edelleen muistamiseen.

Ajankohtaiseksi aiheen tekee se, että miinanraivauksen alkamisesta tulee kuluneeksi 75-vuotta. Miinanraivaajaveteraanit ovat ikääntyneet ja heidän määränsä on vähentynyt viime vuosien aikana, ja tämän takia on mielenkiintoista nähdä, miten asiaa muistetaan ensi vuoden aikana ja miten muistaminen muuttuu ajan kuluessa.
Mielestämme meririntama on liian vähälle huomiolle jäänyt osa toisen maailmansodan suuresta tarinasta Suomessa, ja miinanraivaus ja merivoimien rooli kansainvälisen kaupan käynnistämisessä sodan jälkeen samoin usein unohdettu osa sodasta toipumista ja jälleenrakennusta. Voidaankin kysyä, tarvittaisiinko meillä enemmän huomiota sodanjälkeiselle miinanraivaukselle, sekä ensimmäisen että toisen maailmansodan jälkeen, myös jälleenrakennuksen ja Suomen ulkomaankaupan käynnistämisen teemat huomioon ottaen? Jonas Rapakon tutkimusaihe on hyvä aiheeseen liittyvä avaus laajemman sotahistorian kentällä.

Jonas Rapakko on ottanut mukaan myös kansainvälisen ja keskustelua herättävän näkökulman tarkastelemalla Jumindan miinankatastrofin muistomerkkiä Virossa. Yhdestä toisen maailmansodan suurimmasta meritaistelusta, Jumindan miinakatastrofista, jossa Neuvostoliiton laivasto menetti yli 60 alusta ja jossa ilmeisesti yli 10 000 ihmistä menehtyi, tulee ensi vuonna täyteen 80-vuotta. Muistomerkillä on ristiriitainen merkitys eri osapuolille. On mielenkiintoista seurata, miten asiaa käsitellään ja muistetaan Suomessa, Virossa ja Venäjällä. Jonaksen tutkimus tuo hyvää taustaa ja näkökulmia tämän aiheen ymmärtämiseen.

Toisen maailmansodan tapahtumat ja niiden merkitykset ovat erilaisia eri kansallisissa narratiiveissa: Jumindan katastrofi ja sen käsittely on tärkeä kurkistusikkuna myös sodan merkityksiin Suomenlahden eri puolilla nykyisen julkisessa ja joskus politisoituvassa historiakeskustelussa kun myös sodan muista tapahtumista tulee täyteen pyöreitä vuosia.

Aihe on myös Forum Marinumin kannalta läheinen, sillä Forum Marinumin läheisyydessä on yksi miinanraivaajien muistomerkki, joka hiljattain siirrettiin sen alkuperäiseltä paikaltaan Aurajoen rannalle lähelle Forum Marinumin aluetta. Lisäksi Forum Marinumin näyttelytoiminnassa käsitellään miinasotaa ja miinanraivausta. Olemme juuri toteuttamassa uutta vedenalaiseen sodankäyntiin keskittyvää näyttelykokonaisuutta. Jonaksen tutkimus tuo mahdollisuuden myös tarkastella omaa toimintaamme ja sitä, miten itse käsittelemme aihetta.

Takaisin ylös ↑