HELL ON THE BALTIC SEA
Juminda maritime tragedy 1941
28.08.2021 – 15.01.2023
“Suddenly, there was a great roar, and the boiler room was full of coal dust. We rushed to the deck and saw a pillar of water falling. The enormous warship Jakov Sverdlov had been hit. Dashing back to the boiler room, we thought to ourselves – we still have some time left to live.”
Kalju Sepp, boilerman of the icebreaker Suur Tõll
Did you know that one of the greatest maritime tragedies in history took place in Estonian coastal waters?
On 27 August 1941 in Tallinn, the evacuation of the Red Army troops from the German invasion began – more than 30,000 people and more than 200 ships set sail for Leningrad. Alas, they sailed right into the trap set by the German and Finnish naval forces. Over the next two days, more than half a hundred ships were hit by a mine, a torpedo, or an aerial bomb, and an estimated 15,000 people died.
The naval mine battle of Juminda involved several times more casualties than Pearl Harbor or Dunkirk. Still, the tragic event is undeservedly little known. The Seaplane Harbours’ new exhibition ‘Hell on the Baltic Sea’ reveals the dramatic events of the catastrophe that took place 80 years ago. The exhibition reveals the grim background with stories of the people and ships caught up in the inferno.
“We were shot at from all angles. Cannons roared on the Estonian shore, long-range cannons hit from the Finnish coast, planes dropped bombs from the air … The mines, however, were the most dangerous. At first, the noise of the battle was deafening. Later, however, there was no time to even notice it. Controlling the ship’s machine required all my attention and knowledge.”
Hamlet Tiits, second engineer of the steamboat Maia
At the exhibition, visitors will become acquainted with the event’s historical background, witness the events of the eve of the evacuation and the heat of battle, and reflect on the aftermath of the tragedy that persists to this day.
Thrilling audio visual solutions take advantage of the exciting spatial possibilities of the Seaplane Harbour.
The exhibition focuses mainly on people’s stories and the naval mines that caused a lot of doom. Visitors can explore two ships that escaped from the evacuation – the submarine Lembit and the icebreaker Suur Tõll are part of the museum’s permanent exhibition.
Special solutions make the exhibition more accessible. Visually impaired visitors are assisted by a tactile guidance strip and tactile models. The layout of the exhibition is also suitable for wheelchair use. Additional features in Estonian include a free audio guide with descriptive translation and translations in sign language.
“And then dawned the horrifying 28 and 29 August 1941. Ships on the sea, fires, explosions, the desperate screams of the people. A sea full of bodies and pieces of ships. Near the village’s border, in Põlluotsa, German cannons were firing upon the sea vessels, setting the sky over the whole village ablaze.”
14-year-old girl from Juminda, Olga Laagen
“We might have lasted longer, but then it got cloudy, and suddenly, a single plane nosedived from the cloud. I stood near the ship’s telegraph. Seeing the bombs unleashed, I gave the order to go full speed ahead and made a turn to the right. However, I was a few seconds too late. The explosion was inaudible; I saw pink mist, bells were ringing in my ears, and then I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes, I was being carried to the chartroom by the sailors. The cast iron telegraph’s heavy base protected my chest and head, but my arms and legs were completely torn apart.”
Georg Kask, captain of the steamboat Lake Lucerne
Lets make it together!Read more
The Seaplane Harbour will be closed from January to May 2024 to prepare an updated and fully engaging exhibition. The partners of the Estonian Maritime Museum in renewing the permanent exhibition of the Seaplane Harbour are KOKO architects and MOTOR.
The Estonian-Italian collaborative exhibition ‘VENEZIA – Queen of the Seas’ opened at the Seaplane Harbour on 25 March 2023 and was scheduled to be open until the beginning of January 2024. In the course of interim negotiations, it was agreed that the exhibition at the Seaplane Harbour will remain open until 3 September.