Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

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Hanski
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Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 16 May 2010 21:04

I have just returned from an overnight stay at the Bengtskär lighthouse, which is the southernmost tip of inhabited Finnish territory. I will briefly share some photos that I took on site, reminding of the fierce battle that took place on this small granite island in the beginning of the Continuation War, from the early hours of 27 July 1941.

The battle is briefly described at the website http://www.bengtskar.fi/history.htm

Below, I am not trying to present an accurate and detailed description of the course of events, but just some main points with my recent photos to illustrate the theatre of the battle.

As you know, in accordance with the peace terms of the Winter War, the Soviet Union got a base from Hanko peninsula, which with control over Estonia allowed it to close the Gulf of Finland from any naval force threatening Leningrad. The Hanko base was occupied by about 30 000 men, and constituted a remarkable force on Finnish soil in 1941 until the troops were evacuated.

Bengtskär lighthouse offered an excellent observation post for the Finns as the Continuation War broke out -- artillery fire against Soviet land and naval forces could be effectively controlled from its tower. This is why the Soviets decided to take this small granite island with its buildings by surprise, to demolish the lighthouse with a depth charge.

In the early hours of a foggy night on 26 July 1941, the Soviet strike force of about 100 men managed to approach the Bengtskär Island from the south, and the guard mistakenly took them for Germans who had been occasionally present with their boats at the time. However, as the invaders had landed the small Finnish detachment was given alarm, and a fierce battle ensued.

Three of the defending Finns opened fire at the Russian boats with a Madsen 20 mm cannon, but after they had fired all their ammunition, they could not join the other defenders but two of them had to swim 200 m to the nearest next small island. The third one could not swim, and ended up killed by bayonet.

The remaining Finns retreated inside the lighthouse building, made of granite quarried from the island itself. They kept up defending the lighthouse and called help by radio, requesting own artillery on Örö island to fire on Bengtskär itself, as the commander rightly decided the building could withstand it but those outside were enemies that should be wiped out by whatever means available. The battle thus evolved with artillery joining, there was also air support from Fokker D.XXI fighters that strafed the island and kept away Soviet aircraft, while even the Coastal gunships Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen were preparing to join the battle in case the Soviet navy should join in.

The attackers managed to even intrude the ground floor of the lighthouse, although a satchel charge thrown from a window caused them loss of seven men, including their leader. From the upper floors, the outnumbered Finnish defenders could prevent further advance, until later on, a Finnish detachment landed and helped to turn the tide in favour of the defenders, until all of the Soviet landing force were either wounded and taken as prisoner or killed -- they fought to the last man.

War movies have been made of less dramatic battles than this bloody and fierce duel of the possession of this small patch of granite with a lighthouse on it.

My first photo shows the lighthouse from its southern aspect, where the Russians approached it from -- but it was after midnight in dense fog, not in daylight. Today, on May 16th, we celebrate the Memorial Day of the Fallen (= the anniversary of the end of our War of Liberation), which is why the flag is flying.
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Hanski
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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 16 May 2010 21:18

Now, this is my photo from this morning, from the top of the tower towards South, where the Soviet strike force had landed. Again, visibility on a foggy night cannot be compared with a bright, sunny morning, but as you can see, in principle all of the island could be covered from the upper windows of the lighthouse and its tower.

Indeed, snipers and defenders with submachine guns kept shooting from the windows, which caused heavy casualties to the attackers. Also, the Finnish leader of the defence, Lieutenant Fred Luther, later blamed himself for not ordering his men to darken their faces with soot before firing from the windows -- many of them became targets themselves as their faces could be spotted against the dark rooms.
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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 16 May 2010 21:26

Lieutenant Fred Luther called the Finnish artillery to fire on his island, as in all likelihood the casualties would be caused to the enemy rather than his men in their granite "fortress".

Even today, there are clear marks as radial fractures of the granite where artillery shells have exploded. Also, the lighthouse building bears many scars, like the one above its front door.
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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 16 May 2010 21:32

There is a small museum in the present day lighthouse, displaying this 305 mm artillery shell of the Örö fortress that fired on Bengtskär, as well as a Madsen 20 mm cannon similar to the one that was used by the defenders. Also, there is a soldier with Suomi submachine gun and a satchel charge to depict the defenders or the Finnish reinforcements called to repel the attacker.
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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 16 May 2010 21:45

So, this is my brief introduction to this dramatic battle for life or death on a small granite island in the Gulf of Finland. There are of course proper historical sources available, which are recommended and well worth studying; but having personally seen the main scene of events, I must say it is impressive when you think how those involved had literally no escape but their lot was to either win or to die.
Last edited by Hanski on 16 May 2010 22:03, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Juha Tompuri » 16 May 2010 22:01

Thanks Hanski,

I visited the island last summer - a very impressing place.
Much smaller than I had thought.
Here couple of related links:
http://www.bengtskar.fi/history.htm
http://www.saunalahti.fi/ility/Bengtskar/Bengtskar.html
http://www.hangonrintama.fi/ENGLISH/BengtskarENG.html

Regards, Juha

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by igorr » 17 May 2010 07:39

From soviet side it looks like this:
"In 00.30 26.7.41 SKA MO-312, 311 and 328 exit to sabotage on Bengtskar light, and around 1.00 MO-312 landed 30 troops without opposition. Only after landidng fire was opened, cutters replied to cover landed troops. 3.30 - from NW emerged 2 gunboats, watchboat and several cutters. Battle opened soon. In 4.40 SKA was attacked by finnish fighters and retreat to east, under cover own batteries. Soviet aviation arrived to place only on 7.00, and togheter with a/c MO-cutters (to which added MO-239) try to close to island, but failed. MO-238 was sunk. Only in 10.10 MO-cutters with aid 3 shore batteries succeded to press finnish ships to West and close to shore, but troops wasn't found. Then cutters retreat again and 305-mm baterie fired on Light building, scoring one hit. Aircrafts dropped 10 big bombs."
It's contradiction - soviet stated, that only 30 man was landed, finns - that was 100 and even 120. I think, true is killed+POW+some little more, i.e. near 50 man.
Soviet claims: up to 50 finns killed, 1 enemy watchboat sunk, one gunboat heavy damaged, 2 finnish aircraft shot down. Stated losses - 30 man + MO-238 (not PK).

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Mangrove » 17 May 2010 08:04

igorr wrote:In 4.40 SKA was attacked by finnish fighters and retreat to east, under cover own batteries.
Three Fokkers strafed the area at 4.10 a.m.
igorr wrote: Soviet claims: up to 50 finns killed, 1 enemy watchboat sunk, one gunboat heavy damaged, 2 finnish aircraft shot down.
No losses to FiAF.

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Mikko H. » 17 May 2010 08:23

Thanks for the description and photos. A minor detail:
Today, on May 16th, we celebrate the Memorial Day of the Fallen (= the anniversary of the end of our War of Liberation), which is why the flag is flying.
Before the Winter War the 16th of May was celebrated as the anniversary of the end of the Civil War, aka. War of Liberty. The victorious White Army held its victory parade in Helsinki on 16 May 1918. But after the Winter War this day of celebration was abolished, as it was considered to be of bad taste to celebrate a civil war after the nation had been united in the face of the recent Soviet invasion. Instead the third Sunday of May was designated the Memorial Day of the Fallen. This year the day just happened to fall on the 16th of May. BTW, for the same reason the use of a white arm band in the Defense Forces dress uniform was discontinued after the Winter War -- the army wasn't a white army anymore.

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 17 May 2010 10:10

Thank you, Mikko, for your correction. In my rush to post the photos quite late I had clearly confused two entirely separate things as indeed this year the Memorial Day on Sunday just happened to coincide with May 16th.

Initially, the 16th May was also celebrated as the Flag Day of the Defence Forces. For the same reason - the Finnish Army no more being the White Army - the Flag Day was later moved to the birthday of Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim on 4th June.

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Hanski » 17 May 2010 10:34

Some more battle scars on the southern facade of the lighthouse building.
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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Juha Tompuri » 18 May 2010 22:09

igorr wrote:It's contradiction - soviet stated, that only 30 man was landed, finns - that was 100 and even 120. I think, true is killed+POW+some little more, i.e. near 50 man.
AFAIK Finnish sources have mentioned that the total landing party strenght was around 100 men - three MO-boats each carrying around 30 marines.
As two MO-boats succeeded in the troop landing operation - it perhaps was something around 60 Soviet marines that were landed at the Island.
According to Finish sources the Finnish counted Soviet casualities were 36(35?) KIA and 12 POW at the Island and 16 POW from MO-328

Regards, Juha

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by igorr » 19 May 2010 05:54

As i write before, only one MO (312) is mentioned as landed troops. And there was 30 man. It still possibly, that account is not full. KBF-Chronic for 1941 is infamous for its brevity, and i haven't other source.

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Lotvonen » 09 May 2011 11:00

The 70th anniversary of the battle approaching , Salon Seudun Sanomat run a 3/4 page about Bengtskär, and there also is a display in the Forum Marinum center in Turku.
The story in SSS tells that the battle of Bengtskär was an important victory for the Finnish army, symbolically, for training and boosting troop morale.

What I wonder is why the Finnish military needed morale boosting in July 1941 as the war seemed to be going on very favourably ?

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Re: Battle of Bengtskär 26.7.1941

Post by Mangrove » 09 May 2011 15:56

Lotvonen wrote:.
What I wonder is why the Finnish military needed morale boosting in July 1941 as the war seemed to be going on very favourably ?
The effect was perhaps a more local one as Finns had earlier lost several key islands to Soviet leapfrogging at Hanko region.

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