The museum’s permanent exhibition Hanko in Foreign Hands has been completely renewed. The modern museum facilities include a high-standard exhibition space providing a good overview of the events of 1939 –1941 when the city of Hanko was of strategic importance for Finland. The permanent exhibition consists of a careful selection of photographs, informative texts and maps. Our new showcases contain objects including kitchen utensils, tableware, weapons, medals and uniforms. There is also a film on the evacuation. The exhibition also presents life in idyllic Hanko before the Winter War of 1939 –1940. The Winter War and the emotional aspects of its evacuation in March 1940 are naturally included.
The exhibition also describes and demonstrates the Harparskog Line across Hankoniemi Cape, which was Finland’s first line of defence. It is a unique experience to be in the museum, knowing that the border of the Soviet lease area was only about a hundred metres away.
The Artillery Hall is a space for ten wartime artillery pieces, which were all used by the Finnish Defence Forces during the Second World War. This hall also offers a space for permanent and temporary exhibitions. Here you can find out more about the history of the Finnish Air Force, the Molotov cocktail and the history of the swastika.
The Hanko Front Museum is in a strategically important location. Important events in the history of Finland took place in the pine forest here. The whole area has an atmosphere of the past, and a feeling of history can be gained on a quiet walk around the site. There are communication and firing trenches just outside the museum building, and the Gyllene Freden dug-out and the Hillock of Death are only a stone’s throw away.
For our younger visitors there is the recently built obstacle course and next to it a new roof shelter with benches and tables for a moment’s rest.
The War Path, slightly over a kilometre long, begins behind the museum building. This marked route passes through the area defended by the Swedish Volunteer Battalion during the Continuation War and it continues to the former Soviet side of the front. Its main locations are marked with white arrows and signs. The path includes communication trenches, tent puts, a latrine, a firing position, a tunnel, a large slingshot for grenades and other features. An information booklet following the War Path can be borrowed from the canteen.
Good luck on the path!
Our finest new exhibit is the recently restored Irma bunker which still has the scent of tar. It is located at Harparskog approximately 5 kilometres from the Hanko Front Museum and can be visited on summer weekends and by appointment. Most of the items in Bunker 302, also known as Irma, are original objects. There are Finnish Army blue and grey blankets on the 16 beds. There is also wood-fired stove and on the shelves are items of tableware, equipment and effects as well as a functioning hand-worked air pump. The bunker also a 45 mm anti-tank gun and machine gun, which are in original condition. There is also a machine for producing non-toxic smoke screens. Irma has an authentic atmosphere and it gives a good idea of life at the front during the war.
The bunker has been insulated against water and moisture on the outside and its surrounding structure of blocks of granite offers visitors an impressive sight.
This bunker, which never experienced actual fighting at close quarters is on the land owned by the Fiskars near Mannerheimintie (Mannerheimvägen) road, but it is now owned by the Hanko Front Museum. The Irma Bunker is on the heavily fortified line of defence that passed through Harparskog as part of the Finnish system of defence against the Soviet naval base on Hankoniemi Cape.
Various tank obstacles of large stone blocks and boulders were installed at the front line. Part of an almost four-kilometre long series of stone obstacles can be seen next to the Irma bunker.
The Hanko Front Museum has a time-honoured history. Museum activities came under way in 1985 when the Karis Krigsveteraner war veterans’ association of Karjaa (Karis) built a dug-out museum at a former war-time section of the front at Lappohja at the original border of the Hankoniemi Cape area leased by the Soviet Union in 1940. The museum initiative was closely associated with the nation-wide recognition of Finland’s war veterans in the 1980s.
The leading figure of the project was war veteran Stig Häggström, the chairman of the association, who organised the construction of the Gyllene Freden memorial dug-out in 1981. The project involved the efforts of some ten war veterans from Hanko.
These achievements led to an appetite for more, and Stig Häggström soon began to plan a museum to accompany the dug-out. The intention was not to embellish the war. On the contrary, those who were involved wanted to create a museum that would describe the events of the Hanko front, the heavy fighting in the adjacent archipelago during the Finnish-Soviet Continuation War of 1941 –1944 and the hard life of the war years.
The site of the museum was well chosen. The area contains former communication and firing trenches, pits for tents and horses, concrete bunkers etc. The original museum, which was inaugurated in July 1987 soon became a popular attraction, with around 10,000–16,000 visitors a year. The museum’s activities expanded and several enthusiasts became involved.
The museum’s public singing events also became popular and fostered a feeling of community among war veterans.
After the death of Stig Häggström, the museum’s activities declined to some degree. Owing to the lack of resources, the veterans’ association sold the museum to the new West Uusimaa Society of Military History, a bilingual association operating in both Swedish and Finnish, which had been founded in 2015. The Society’s mission includes the preservation of information and memories with focus on the Hanko Front and the war years of 1939–1945.
Things now began to happen. Thanks to donations from businesses, associations, foundations and the local Leader Pomoväst organisation, the museum could be renewed and enlarged. During the summer of 2017 in the centenary year of Finnish independence, the museum could be reopened to the public in a new and improved version. Our goal was to be a tourist attraction in the region and to receive even more visitors than previously. The focus is on the younger generation.