Wednesday 28 October 2020

The Big Guns of Fort Ino / Fort Nikolaevsky - Russia (1906-1920)

A couple of years ago I was persuaded to take a road trip from St Petersburg to Helsinki looking at sights associated with the Winter War 1939/40 (not that I needed much persuasion!). It proved to be a fascinating journey and I was astonished to discover how much remains of the various conflicts which have been played out across the strategically important Karelian Isthmus. The Mannerheim Line is relatively well known to most Western based military history enthusiasts but the static defences built to protect St Petersburg, the old capital of Russia, are less well known.

Gun Emplacement - Fort Ino

One such site is Fort Ino (as it was known by the Finns) on the northern side of the Gulf of Finland, a key lynchpin of the shore and island based batteries covering the approaches to the important Russian naval base at Kronstadt. Now in Russia, during its brief operational life it was at various times in the hands of Finnish nationalists and the Finnish State - and in 1918 its fate was finally determined by German interests.

The location of the Fort (which is named after the nearby village of Ino) can be seen on the map illustrated here. Kronstadt, now linked to the mainland by the St Petersburg ring road which runs across the top of a giant barrage, can be seen bottom right. The city of St Petersburg (previously Leningrad) is just off the map to the east. To see the site on Google Maps click here.

The construction work on Fort Ino was started in 1909 and after the harbour and rail connections were completed in 1912, some 40 guns were installed including a truly massive 12 inch naval gun. At that time Finland was a nominally independent Grand Duchy - in actuality under the control of the Russian Czar. Fort Ino and Fort Krasnaya Gorka on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland were designed to protect the approaches to Kronstadt and St Petersburg beyond.

12 Inch Naval Gun - Schematic

Partially Wrecked Naval Gun - Nargen Island - 1918

As the Finnish Civil War drew to a close in March 1918, the fort was occupied by the Finnish Red Guards and was ceded to the Soviet Union shortly afterwards in exchange for the city of Petsamo. In May of that year the Finnish White Guards (on the winning side of the Finnish Civil War) laid siege to the fort and, faced with an impossible situation, the Soviet authorities withdrew support for the garrison - fearing that failure to do so would represent a breech of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The troops manning the fort destroyed the facilities and withdrew to Kronstadt on the  Russian warship Respublika (Republic).  The pictures above show the scale of the main gun emplacement. The Nargen Island picture shows 'self designated' Soviet Republic sailors and builders protesting against the evacuation of an Estonian battery in similar circumstances - i.e. Soviet fear of provoking the Germans post Brest-Litovsk.

Exploring the Tunnels at Fort Ino

The destroyed Fort did not see service again - indeed during the Winter War (1939-40) and the Continuation War (1941-44) neither the Finns or the Red Army found any use for the smashed fortifications. The site was a forbidden zone until the late 1990s but is now accessible with care. 

First View of Fort Ino

The following extract from a local source gives a sense of the scale of the remaining structures, most of which can be explored relatively easily.

The forts armaments consisted of more than forty guns of various calibres. The fort had two coastal batteries for four 152mm Kane guns, two batteries of eight 254mm guns and eight 279mm howitzers, which fired a distance of 15 to 18km.

Around the positions lay a whole underground town of galleries, shelters and magazines. The casing was a two metre thick layer of concrete designed to withstand a direct hit from a heavy shell. In addition there were battery and group command posts with a three tiered control centre and rangefinder pavilions. Near the main shafts, concrete shelters were built for 76mm assault field guns which could be rolled out to specially prepared positions.

The 12 inch battery turret was an imposing concrete structure with two gun towers each. Inside these colossal buildings were casemates, magazines, barracks, an underground railway for moving ordnance and an electric lift. The building had steam and water heating - the pipes of which are still in situ. In addition to the main turret the fort had a 12-inch battery with four open single-gun mountings.