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Crimea in Finland

Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Finland, Matthew Kirk, describes the impact of the Crimean War on that country and how it is being commemorated.

A couple of years ago, before we came to live in Finland, a friend said ‘of course you’ll be there for all the Crimean War anniversaries’. A little surprised, I gently pointed out that Finland was well over a thousand miles north of the Crimea. ‘I know’ he said, witheringly, ‘but it was in what is now Finland that the Crimean War was won’.

In fact, in the nineteenth century, it was not called the Crimean War. It was called the Russian War. It was fought on two main fronts – the one we all remember in the Crimea, and the one we don’t in the Baltic. And yet, the campaign in the Baltic was notable both for the way it was fought and for its impact on the war with Russia.

The British fleet in the Baltic was visible on several occasions from the great naval fortress of Kronstadt, guarding the sea approach to St Petersburg – it is said that the Tsar could see the sails from the Peterhof Palace. Too close for comfort. After the actions of the British and French fleets in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855, the threat of an attack on Kronstadt in 1856, emulating the eventual fall of Sebastopol in 1855, was very real. It must have loomed large in the Tsar’s mind as he went into the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Paris in March 1856.

There were two great actions in the Baltic: the destruction of the fortress at Bomarsund in the Åland Islands in 1854 and the bombardment of Suomenlinna off Helsinki in 1855. Other actions in 1854 were largely north up the Gulf of Bothnia. In 1855, most of the fleet’s actions took place along the Gulf of Finland, towards Kronstadt and St Petersburg.

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