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The dramatic history of Bengtskär Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in the Nordic countries

4 min read

By the Gulf of Finland, 25 kilometers southwest from Hanko, rises the tallest lighthouse in the nordic countries with its 52 meters tall above the sea level.
It is located at the farest islet of the archipelago in the far east side of the baltic sea.
The island is part of the islands of Turku and it is the most southern populated place in Finland. The nearest island village of Rosala is located 18 kilometers north from Bengtskär.

Historically, countless shipwrecks faced the sea in Finland’s western archipelago during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
On New Year’s Day in 1905, a newly constructed steamship, the SS Helsingfors, became the latest vessel to succumb to its shallow waters.
As result, in 1906, construction on a lighthouse to aid travel along the trade route began in haste, and in a mere nine months, it was erected, composed of granite and bricks. The plans were made by architect Florentin Granholm, who represented the National Romantic style of Finnish architecture. There were up to 124 people working on the construction at a time. 488,000 bricks were brought in from Hanko, but the granite for the foundation and walls was quarried from the island. For the lighthouse keepers and their families, housing, storage, and working areas were built.

It was lit for the first time on December 19, 1906.
Workers and their families who remained in the area maintained the lighthouse and worked in shifts handling the light and foghorns.
The wives tended to the living quarters and taught the children in a small school. The children stayed at Bengtskär their entire childhoods and were very happy here, as were their families.

In March of 1940, because of the terms of the peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Hanko was transferred to the Soviet Union as a naval base. All of its residents were evacuated, and 30,000 Russians moved in.
They fortified Hanko in order to control the entrance of the Gulf of Finland and prevent enemy ships from threatening Leningrad and, while the Russians fortified Hanko, the Finns built a frontline around Hanko.
When the war began in June of 1941, 15,000 Finnish solders were stationed near Hanko.
The tower of Bengtskär was a good place for the Finns to keep watch and to direct fire at the enemy. The island’s location not only served well for guiding ships through the labyrinth of islands, but it also was a safeguard from attacks by way of the Gulf of Finland.
It’s importance led to Russia launching an invasion of the island.
After midnight on July 26 five ships from Hanko set out for Bengtskär and, under cover of darkness, the Russians were able to land about 60 men. They were heavily armed, well trained elite soldiers, whose motto for the attack was: “Victory or Death”, and there were 38 Finns in the lighthouse when they attacked.
The Finns grabbed their guns and began to defend themselves, led by a young lieutenant named Fred Luther. The radio officer quickly contacted headquarters to ask for help, and the coastal artillery, the navy, and the air force were alerted. Coastal artillery began to shoot within 20 minutes and, in a few hours, the navy ships were in place and later Fokker planes joined the battle.
When the fighting was most intense in the morning, there were 1,500 men on land, sea and air involved in the battle. The Finns managed to land 83 reinforcements on the island, and when the battle was over, not a single Russian soldier was left standing.
A total of 32 Finns and an estimated 60 Russians died in the battle and, despite the losses, the lighthouse’s defenders were victorious.
The next day, Soviet forces bombed the lighthouse.
When it was all said done, and the Soviet Union pulled out from the Hanko region and Finland regained control of its lands and water. There were no more attacks against Bengtskär, and in the fall of 1941 the Russians left the base in Hanko. It had become too difficult for them to maintain the base in the middle of enemy territory.

After the war, the lighthouse was mostly left to deteriorate. In 1968, the lantern was made automatic and the building was left deserted and empty.
Restoration efforts did not begin until 1992 and It took three years to renovate the building.
In 1995, the island opened as a museum to the lighthouse and its wartime history and the old apartments in which the lighthouse keepers and their families lived have been converted into exhibitions, meeting and hotel rooms, and one room became a chapel.
Deep window seals running up along the spiraling, steel staircase contain small exhibits and artifacts paying homage to the island’s dramatic past.
Moreover, a military bunker and other war relics can still be explored on the island.

In connection with the centennial of the lighthouse in 2006, the tower was renovated so that it will stand for another hundred years. And even pesident honoured the anniversary with her presence.

Look at its website here: https://www.bengtskar.fi

Images from web – Google Reearch