Tag: Canada

Why do we celebrate Colombus Day instead of Leif Erikson Day? – The Discovery of America

A statue of Leif Erikson, the Viking thought to have sailed to the Americas 500 years before Columbus, guards the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Vinland

Vinland, Vineland or Winland (Old Norse: Vínland) is the area of coastal North America explored by Norse Vikings, where Leif Erikson first landed in c. 1000, approximately five centuries prior to the voyages of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.

Draken Harald Hårfagre, replica Viking longship.

Vinland was the name given to North America as far as it was explored by the Vikings, presumably including both Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence as far as northeastern New Brunswick (where the eponymous grapevines are found).

In 1960, archaeological evidence of a Norse settlement in North America (outside Greenland) was found at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland. Before the discovery of archaeological evidence, Vinland was known only from Old Norse sagas and medieval historiography. The 1960 discovery conclusively proved the pre-Columbian Norse colonization of the Americas. L’Anse aux Meadows may correspond to the camp Straumfjörð mentioned in the Saga of Erik the Red.

Noestead Viking village, L’Anse aux Meadows (Viking settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada).

Name

Vinland or “Winland” was the name given to part of North America by the Icelandic Norseman Leif Eiríksson, about year 1000. The exact meaning of this Norse toponym has not been established. Three likely translations of the name have been advanced by linguists:

  • “land of vines” (or “land of wine”)
  • “land of meadows”
  • “windswept land”

The earliest record of the name Winland is found in Adam of Bremen’s Descriptio insularum Aquilonis (“Description of the Northern Islands”, ch. 39), written c. 1075. To write it he visited the King of Denmark, Sweyn II Estridsson who had knowledge of the northern lands. The name contains Old Norse vin which means meadow. Adam implies that the name should be mistranslated via Latin (a language not significantly related to Old Norse) vinum to “wine” (rendered as Old High German win):

Moreover, he has also reported one island discovered by many in that ocean, which is called Winland, for the reason that grapevines grow there by themselves, producing the best wine.

This etymology is retained in the 13th-century Grœnlendinga saga, which provides a circumstantial account of the discovery of Vinland and its being named from the vínber, i.e. “wineberry”, a term for grapes or currants (black or red), found there.

There is a long-standing Scandinavian tradition of fermenting berries into wine. The question whether the name refers to actual grapevines (as implied by Adam of Bremen) or just to berries was addressed in a 2010 excavation report on L’Anse aux Meadows. The discovery of butternuts at the site implies that the Norse explored Vinland further to the south, at least as far as St. Lawrence River and parts of New Brunswick, the northern limit for both butternut and wild grapes (Vitis riparia).

Another proposal for the name’s etymology, was brought up by Sven Söderberg in 1898 (first published in 1910). This suggestion involves interpreting the Old Norse name not as vín-land but as vin-land, with a short vowel. Old Norse vin (from Proto-Norse winju) has a meaning of “meadow, pasture”.

This interpretation of Vinland as “pasture-land” rather than “vine-land” was accepted by Valter Jansson in his classic 1951 dissertation on the vin-names of Scandinavia, by way of which it entered popular knowledge in the later 20th century. It was rejected by Einar Haugen (1977), who argued that the vin element had changed its meaning from “pasture” to “farm” long before the Old Norse period. Names in vin were given in the Proto-Norse period, and they are absent from places colonized in the Viking Age. Haugen’s basis for rejection has since been challenged.

There is a runestone which may have contained a record of the Old Norse name slightly predating Adam of Bremen’s Winland. The Hønen Runestone was discovered in Norderhov, Norway shortly before 1817, but it was subsequently lost. Its assessment depends on a sketch made by antiquarian L. D. Klüwer (1823), now also lost but in turn copied by Wilhelm Frimann Koren Christie (1838). The Younger Futhark inscription was dated to c. 1010–50. The stone had been erected in memory of a Norwegian, possibly a descendant of Sigurd Syr. Sophus Bugge (1902) read part of the inscription as

ᚢᛁᚿ᛫(ᛚ)ᛆ(ᛐ)ᛁᚭ᛫ᛁᛌᛆ
uin (l)a(t)ią isa
Vínlandi á ísa
“from Vinland over ice”

This is highly uncertain; the same sequence is read by Magnus Olsen (1951) as

ᚢᛁᚿ᛫ᚴᛆ(ᛚᛐ)ᚭ᛫ᛁᛌᛆ
uin ka(lt)ą isa
vindkalda á ísa
“over the wind-cold ice”

Rune Stones in America.

The sagas

The main sources of information about the Norse voyages to Vinland are two Icelandic sagas, the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders. These stories were preserved by oral tradition until they were written down some 250 years after the events they describe. The existence of two versions of the story shows some of the challenges of using traditional sources for history, because they share a large number of story elements but use them in different ways. A possible example is the reference to two different men named Bjarni who are blown off course. A brief summary of the plots of the two sagas, given at the end of this article, shows other examples.

The sagas report that a considerable number of Vikings were in parties that visited Vinland. Thorfinn Karlsefni’s crew consisted of 140 or 160 people according to Saga of Eric the Red, 60 according to the Greenland Saga. Still according to the latter, Leif Ericson led a company of 35, Thorvald Eiriksson a company of 30, and Helgi and Finnbogi had 30 crew members.

The beginning of The Saga of Erik the Red.

According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Þorfinnr “Karlsefni” Þórðarson and a company of 160 men, going south from Greenland traversed an open stretch of sea, found Helluland, another stretch of sea, Markland

This saga references the place-name Vinland in four ways. First, it is identified as the land found by Leif Ericson. Karlsefni and his men subsequently find “vín-ber” near the Wonderstrands. Later, the tale locates Vinland to the south of Markland, with the headland of Kjalarnes at its northern extreme. However, it also mentions that while at Straumfjord, some of the explorers wished to go in search for Vinland west of Kjalarnes.

According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Þorfinnr “Karlsefni” Þórðarson and a company of 160 men, going south from Greenland traversed an open stretch of sea, found Helluland, another stretch of sea, Markland, another stretch of sea, the headland of Kjalarnes, the Wonderstrands, Straumfjörð and at last a place called Hóp, a bountiful place where no snow fell during winter. However, after several years away from Greenland, they chose to turn back to their homes when they realised that they would otherwise face an indefinite conflict with the natives.

This saga references the place-name Vinland in four ways. First, it is identified as the land found by Leif Ericson. Karlsefni and his men subsequently find “vín-ber” near the Wonderstrands. Later, the tale locates Vinland to the south of Markland, with the headland of Kjalarnes at its northern extreme. However, it also mentions that while at Straumfjord, some of the explorers wished to go in search for Vinland west of Kjalarnes.

Saga of the Greenlanders

In Grænlendinga saga (“Saga of the Greenlanders”), Bjarni Herjólfsson accidentally discovers the new land when travelling from Norway to visit his father in the second year of Eric the Red’s Greenland colony (about 986 CE). When he does manage to reach Greenland, making land at Herjolfsness, site of his father’s farm, he remains there for the rest of his father’s life and does not return to Norway until about 1000 CE. There, he tells his overlord (the Earl, also named Eric) about the new land and is criticised for his long delay in reporting.

On his return to Greenland he tells the story and inspires Leif Ericsson to organise an expedition, which retraces in reverse the route Bjarni had followed, past a land of flat stones (Helluland) and a land of forests (Markland). After sailing another two days across open sea, the expedition finds a headland with an island just offshore; nearby is a pool accessible to ships at high tide in an area where the sea is shallow with sandbanks. Here the explorers land and establish a base which can plausibly be matched to L’Anse aux Meadows, except that the winter is described as mild, not freezing.

One day an old family servant, Tyrker, goes missing and is found mumbling to himself; he eventually explains that he has found grapes. In spring, Leif returns to Greenland with a shipload of timber towing a boatload of grapes. On the way home, he spots another ship aground on rocks, rescues the crew and later salvages the cargo. A second expedition, one ship of about 40 men, led by Leif’s brother Thorvald, sets out in the autumn after Leif’s return and stays over three winters at the new base (Leifsbúðir (-budir), meaning Leif’s temporary shelters), exploring the west coast of the new land in the first summer, and the east coast in the second, running aground and losing the ship’s keel on a headland they christen Keel Point (Kjalarnes).

Further south, at a point where Thorvald would like to establish a settlement, the Greenlanders encounter some of the local inhabitants (Skrælings) and kill them, following which they are attacked by a large force in hide boats, and Thorvald dies from an arrow-wound. After the exploration party returns to base, the Greenlanders decide to return home the following spring.

Vikings and Skrælings

Thorstein, Leif’s brother, marries Gudrid, widow of the captain rescued by Leif, then leads a third expedition to bring home Thorvald’s body, but is driven off course and spends the whole summer wandering the Atlantic. Spending the winter as a guest at a farm on Greenland with Gudrid, Thorstein dies of sickness, reviving just long enough to make a prophecy about her future as a Christian.

The next winter, Gudrid marries a visiting Icelander named Thorfinn Karlsefni, who agrees to undertake a major expedition to Vinland, taking livestock. On arrival, they soon find a beached whale which sustains them until spring. In the summer, they are visited by some of the local inhabitants who are scared by the Greenlanders’ bull but happy to trade goods for milk and other products. In autumn, Gudrid gives birth to a son, Snorri. Shortly after this, one of the local people tries to take a weapon and is killed; the explorers are then attacked in force, but manage to survive with only minor casualties by retreating to a well-chosen defensive position a short distance from their base. One of the local people picks up an iron axe, tries it, and throws it away.

The explorers return to Greenland in summer with a cargo of grapes and hides. Shortly afterwards, a ship captained by two Icelanders arrives in Greenland, and Freydis, daughter of Eric the Red, persuades them to join her in an expedition to Vinland. They sail that autumn, but disagreements during the winter lead to the killing, at Freydis’ order, of all the Icelanders, including five women, as they lie sleeping. In spring the Greenlanders return home with a good cargo, but Leif finds the truth about the Icelanders. That is the last Vinland expedition recorded in the saga.

Saga of Erik the Red

Erik the Red

In the other version of the story, Eiríks saga rauða or the Saga of Erik the Red, Leif Ericsson accidentally discovers the new land when travelling from Norway back to Greenland after a visit to his overlord, King Olaf Tryggvason, who commissions him to spread Christianity in the colony.

Returning to Greenland with samples of grapes, wheat and timber, he rescues the survivors from a wrecked ship and gains a reputation for good luck; his religious mission is a swift success. The next spring, Thorstein, Leif’s brother, leads an expedition to the new land but is driven off course and spends the whole summer wandering the Atlantic.

On his return, he meets and marries Gudrid, one of the survivors from a ship which has made land at Herjolfsnes after a difficult voyage from Iceland. Spending the winter as a guest at a farm on Greenland with Gudrid, Thorstein dies of sickness, reviving just long enough to make a prophecy about her future as a far-travelling Christian.

The next winter, Gudrid marries a visiting Icelander named Thorfinn Karlsefni, who, with his business partner Snorri Thorbrandsson, agrees to undertake a major expedition to the new land, taking livestock. Also contributing ships for this expedition are another pair of visiting Icelanders, Bjarni Grimolfsson and Thorhall Gamlason, and Leif’s brother and sister Thorvald and Freydis, with her husband Thorvard. Sailing past landscapes of flat stones (Helluland) and forests (Markland) they round a cape where they see the keel of a boat (Kjalarnes), then continue past some extraordinary long beaches (Furthustrandir) before landing and sending out two runners to explore inland.

After three days, the pair return with samples of grapes and wheat. After sailing a little farther, the expedition lands at an inlet next to an area of strong currents (Straumfjörð), with an island just offshore (Straumsey) and makes camp. The winter months are harsh, and food is in short supply. One day an old family servant, Thorhall the Hunter (who has not become Christian), goes missing and is found mumbling to himself; shortly afterwards, a beached whale is found which Thorhall claims has been provided in answer to his praise of the pagan gods.

The explorers find that eating it makes them ill, so they pray to the Christian God, and shortly afterwards the weather improves.

When spring comes, Thorhall Gamlason, the Icelander, wants to sail north round Kjalarnes to seek Vinland, while Thorfinn Karlsefni prefers to sail southward down the east coast. Thorhall takes only nine men, and his vessel is swept out into the ocean by contrary winds; he and his crew never return.

Thorfinn and Snorri, with Freydis (plus possibly Bjarni), sail down the east coast with 40 men or more and establish a camp on the shore of a seaside lake, protected by barrier islands and connected to the open ocean by a river which is navigable by ships only at high tide. The settlement was known as Hop, and the land abounds with grapes and wheat.

The teller of this saga is uncertain whether the explorers remain here over the next winter (said to be very mild) or for only a few weeks of summer. One morning they see nine hide boats; the local people (Skraelings) examine the Norse ships and depart in peace. Later a much larger flotilla of boats arrives, and trade commences (Karlsefni forbids the sale of weapons).

One day, the local traders are frightened by the sudden arrival of the Greenlanders’ bull, and they stay away for three weeks. They then attack in force, but the explorers manage to survive with only minor casualties by retreating inland to a defensive position a short distance from their camp. Pregnancy slows Freydis down, so she picks up the sword of a fallen companion and brandishes it against her bare breast, scaring the attackers into withdrawal.

One of the local people picks up an iron axe, tries it, and throws it away. The explorers subsequently abandon the southern camp and sail back to Straumsfjord, killing five natives they encounter on the way, lying asleep in hide sacks.

Karlsefni, accompanied by Thorvald Eriksson and others, sails around Kjalarnes and then south, keeping land on their left side, hoping to find Thorhall. After sailing for a long time, while moored on the south side of a west-flowing river, they are shot at by a one-footed man, and Thorvald dies from an arrow-wound. The explorers return to Straumsfjord, but disagreements during the following winter lead to the abandonment of the venture. On the way home, the ship of Bjarni the Icelander is swept into the Sea of Worms (Madkasjo) by contrary winds. The marine worms destroy the hull, and only those who escape in the ship’s worm-proofed boat survive. This is the last Vinland expedition recorded in the saga.

Medieval geographers

The oldest commonly acknowledged surviving written record of Vinland appears in Descriptio insularum Aquilonis, by Adam of Bremen, a German (Saxon) geographer and historian, written in about 1075. To write it he visited the Danish king Svend Estridsen, who had knowledge of the northern lands and told him of the “islands” discovered by Norse sailors far out in the Atlantic, of which Vinland was the most remote. The exact phrasing of this, the first mention of Vinland in known written sources, is as follows:

He also told me that many in this part of the Ocean have discovered an island called Vinland because there are grapevines growing wild which produces the best of wines. From trustworthy Danes rather than from fantastic tales, I also have heard that there is an abundance of cereal which is self-sown. Beyond this island, he (King Sven of Denmark) says, are no more inhabitable islands in the Ocean. Everything farther out is covered by immense masses of ice and perennial fog. Martianus tells of this: “One day of sailing beyond Thule the sea is solid.” This the widely travelled King Harold of Norway found to be true. With his ships he recently investigated the extent of the northern Ocean but finally had to turn back when the extreme limit of the world disappeared in fog before his eyes. He barely escaped the gaping ravine of the abyss.

Adam became confused between Helluland and Halagland, the northernmost part of medieval Norway, where the “midnight sun” is visible. He also spelled Vinland in Latin the same as Wendland, the Slavic province closest to Denmark.

In the early 14th Century, a geography encyclopedia called Geographica Universalis was compiled at Malmesbury Abbey in England, which was in turn used as a source for one of the most widely circulated medieval English educational works, Polychronicon by Ranulf Higden, a few years later. Both these works, with Adam of Bremen as a possible source, were confused about the location of what they called Wintland—the Malmesbury monk had it on the ocean east of Norway, while Higden put it west of Denmark but failed to explain the distance.

Copies of Polychronicon commonly included a world map on which Wintland was marked in the Atlantic Ocean near Iceland, but again much closer to the Scandinavian mainland than in reality. The name was explained in both texts as referring to the savage inhabitants’ ability to tie the wind up in knotted cords, which they sold to sailors who could then undo a knot whenever they needed a good wind. Neither mentioned grapes, and the Malmesbury work specifically states that little grows there but grass and trees, which reflects the saga descriptions of the area round the main Norse expedition base.

Medieval Norse sailing routes and geography of the North Atlantic, based on the saga texts (after Árni Ibsen, Svart á hvítu, 1987).

More geographically correct were Icelandic texts from about the same time, which presented a clear picture of the northern countries as experienced by Norse explorers: north of Iceland a vast, barren plain (which we now know to be the Polar ice-cap) extended from Biarmeland (northern Russia) east of the White Sea, to Greenland, then further west and south were, in succession, Helluland, Markland and Vinland. The Icelanders had no knowledge of how far south Vinland extended, and they speculated that it might reach as far as Africa.

The “Historia Norwegiae” (History of Norway) compiled around 1200 does not refer directly to Vinland and tries to reconcile information from Greenland with mainland European sources; in this text Greenland’s territory extends so that it is “almost touching the African islands, where the waters of ocean flood in”.

Later Norse voyages

Icelandic chronicles record another attempt to visit Vinland from Greenland, over a century after the saga voyages. In 1121, Icelandic bishop Eric Gnupsson, who had been based on Greenland since 1112, “went to seek Vinland”. Nothing more is reported of him, and three years later another bishop, Arnald, was sent to Greenland. No written records, other than inscribed stones, have survived in Greenland, so the next reference to a voyage also comes from Icelandic chronicles. In 1347, a ship arrived in Iceland, after being blown off course on its way home from Markland to Greenland with a load of timber. The implication is that the Greenlanders had continued to use Markland as a source of timber over several centuries.

Controversy over the location of Vinland

The definition of Vinland is somewhat elusive. According to a 1969 article by Douglas McManis in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers,

The study of the early Norse voyages to North America is a field of research characterized by controversy and conflicting, often irreconcilable, opinions and conclusions. These circumstances result from the fact that details of the voyages exist only in two Icelandic sagas which contradict each other on basic issues and internally are vague and contain nonhistorical passages.

This leads him to conclude that “there is not a Vinland, there are many Vinlands”. According to a 1970 reply by Matti Kaups in the same journal,[24]

Certainly there is a symbolic Vinland as described and located in the Groenlandinga saga; what seems to be a variant of this Vinland is narrated in Erik the Red’s Saga. There are, on the other hand, numerous more recent derivative Vinlands, each of which actually is but a suppositional spatial entity. (…) (e.g. Rafn’s Vinland, Steensby’s Vinland, Ingstad’s Vinland, and so forth).

In geographical terms, Vinland is sometimes used to refer generally to all areas in North America beyond Greenland that were explored by the Norse. In the sagas, however, Vinland is sometimes indicated to not include the territories of Helluland and Markland, which appear to also be located in North America beyond Greenland. Moreover, some sagas establish vague links between Vinland and an island or territory that some sources refer to as Hvítramannaland.

Another possibility is to not understand the name of Vinland as fixed to one defined location, but as merely referring to every location where vínber could be found, i.e. to understand it as a common noun, vinland, rather than as a toponym, Vinland. The Old Norse and Icelandic languages were, and are, fusional languages.

Sixteenth century Icelanders realised that the “New World” which European geographers were calling “America” was the land described in their Vinland Sagas. The Skálholt Map, drawn in 1570 or 1590 but surviving only through later copies, shows Promontorium Winlandiae (“promontory/cape/foreland of Vinland”) as a narrow cape with its northern tip at the same latitude as southern Ireland. (The scales of degrees in the map margins are inaccurate.) This effective identification of northern Newfoundland with the northern tip of Vinland was taken up by later Scandinavian scholars such as bishop Hans Resen.

Although it is generally agreed, based on the saga descriptions, that Helluland includes Baffin Island, and Markland represents at least the southern part of the modern Labrador, there has been considerable controversy over the location of the actual Norse landings and settlement. Comparison of the sagas, as summarised below, shows that they give similar descriptions and names to different places. One of the few reasonably consistent pieces of information is that exploration voyages from the main base sailed down both the east and west coasts of the land; this was one of the factors which helped archaeologists locate the site at L’Anse aux Meadows, at the tip of Newfoundland’s long northern peninsula.

Point Rosee viking map L’Anse aux Meadows.

Erik Wahlgren examines the question in his book ‘The Vikings and America’, and points out clearly that L’Anse aux Meadows cannot be the location of Vínland, as the location described in the sagas has both salmon in the rivers and the ‘vínber’ (meaning specifically ‘grape’, that according to Wahlgren the explorers were familiar with and would have thus recognised), growing freely. Charting the overlap of the limits of wild vine and wild salmon habitats, Wahlgren indicates a location near New York.

Other clues appear to place the main settlement farther south, such as the mention of a winter with no snow and the reports in both sagas of grapes being found. A very specific indication in the Greenlanders’ Saga of the latitude of the base has also been subject to misinterpretation. This passage states that in the shortest days of midwinter, the sun was still above the horizon at “dagmal” and “eykt”, two specific times in the Norse day. Carl Christian Rafn, in the first detailed study of the Norse exploration of the New World, “Antiquitates Americanae” (1837), interpreted these times as equivalent to 7:30am and 4.30pm, which would put the base a long way south of Newfoundland. According to the 1880 Sephton translation of the saga, Rafn and other Danish scholars placed Kjalarnes at Cape Cod, Straumfjörð at Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, and Straumsey at Martha’s Vineyard.

However, an Icelandic law text gives a very specific explanation of “eykt”, with reference to Norse navigation techniques. The eight major divisions of the compass were subdivided into three hours each, to make a total of 24, and “eykt” was the end of the second hour of the south-west division, which in modern terms would be 3:30pm. “Dagmal”, the “day-meal” which is specifically distinguished from the earlier “rismal” (breakfast), would thus be about 8:30am. The sun is indeed just above the horizon at these times on the shortest days of the year in northern Newfoundland – but not much farther north.

A 2012 article by Jónas Kristjánsson et al. in the scientific journal Acta Archeologica, which assumes that the headland of Kjalarnes referred to in the Saga of Erik the Red is at L’Anse aux Meadows, suggests that Straumfjörð refers to Sop’s Arm, Newfoundland, as no other fjord in Newfoundland was found to have an island at its mouth.

L’Anse aux Meadows

photo of Reconstructed viking long house Newfoundland Labrador.

Newfoundland marine insurance agent and historian William A. Munn (1864–1939), after studying literary sources in Europe, suggested in his 1914 book “Wineland Voyages: Location of Helluland, Markland & Vinland” that the Vinland explorers “went ashore at Lancey Meadows, as it is called today”.

In 1960 a Viking era settlement was discovered by Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad at that spot, L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, and excavated during the 1960s and 1970s. It is most likely this was the main settlement of the sagas, a “gateway” for the Norse Greenlanders to the rich lands farther south. Many wooden objects were found at L’Anse aux Meadows, and radiocarbon dating confirms the site’s occupation as being confined to a short period around 1000 CE.

In addition, a number of small pieces of jasper, known to have been used in the Norse world as fire-strikers, were found in and around the different buildings. When these were analyzed and compared with samples from jasper sources around the North Atlantic area, it was found that two buildings contained only Icelandic jasper pieces, while another contained some from Greenland; also a single piece from the east coast of Newfoundland was found. These finds appear to confirm the saga claim that some of the Vinland exploration ships came from Iceland and that they ventured down the east coast of the new land.

Based on such interpretations and archaeological evidence, it is now generally accepted that L’Anse aux Meadows was the base of the Norse explorers. The location has been named both a National Historic Site of Canada and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However the southernmost limit of the Norse exploration remains a subject of intense speculation. Samuel Eliot Morison (1971) suggested the southern part of Newfoundland; Erik Wahlgren (1986) Miramichi Bay in New Brunswick; and Icelandic climate specialist Pall Bergthorsson (1997) proposed New York City. The insistence in all the main historical sources that grapes were found in Vinland suggests that the explorers ventured at least to the south side of the St. Lawrence River, as Jacques Cartier did 500 years later, finding both wild vines and nut trees.

Three butternuts were a further important find at L’Anse aux Meadows: another species which grows only as far north as the St. Lawrence.

These travels explain as well how the vinviðir (wine wood) the Norse were cutting down in the sagas is actually referring to the vines of Vitis riparia, a species of wild grape that grows on trees. As the Norse were searching for lumber, a material that was needed in Greenland, they found trees covered with Vitis riparia south of L’Anse aux Meadows and called them vinviðir.

Other possible Norse finds

Artifacts attribute to the Norse Greenlanders have been found in Canada, particularly on Baffin Island and in northern Labrador. A late-11th-century Norwegian penny, with a hole for stringing on a necklace, has also been found in Maine. There is dispute about the authenticity of this small penny, and its discovery by an amateur archaeologist in 1957 has become controversial; questions have been raised whether it was planted as a hoax.

Other claimed Norse artifacts in the area south of the St. Lawrence include a number of stones inscribed with runic letters. The Kensington Runestone was found in Minnesota, but is generally considered a hoax. The authenticity of the Spirit Pond runestones, recovered in Phippsburg, Maine, is also questioned. Other examples are the Heavener Runestone, the Shawnee Runestone, and the Vérendrye Runestone. The age and origin of these stones is debated, and so far none has been firmly dated or associated with clear evidence of a medieval Norse presence. In general, script in the runic alphabet does not in itself guarantee a Viking age or medieval connection, as Dalecarlian runes have been suggested to have been used until the 20th century.

Possible archeological findings in 2015 at Point Rosee, on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, could be the location of a bog iron-smelting site and therefore a possible Norse settlement. The site was discovered through satellite imagery and magnetometer readings, but no positive identification has been made thus far.

References

  • Jones, Gwyn (1986). The Norse Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland, and North America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285160-8.
  • Sverrir Jakobsson, “Vínland and Wishful Thinking: Medieval and Modern Fantasies,” Canadian Journal of History (2012) 47#3 pp. 493–514.

 

The Mighty Draken Harald Hårfagre Longship in a Storm in the Labrador Sea

Draken Harald Hårfagre (English: Dragon Harald Fairhair) is a large Viking longship built in the municipality of Haugesund, Norway.

Draken Harald Hårfagre brings the seafaring qualities of a warship from the old Norse sagas to life. It is a ship that combines ocean-crossing sailing capabilities with a warship’s use of oars.

Construction

Building began in March 2010. Construction was funded by Sigurd Aase, described as a “Norwegian oil and gas tycoon.”

An oceangoing Norwegian warship

The longship is a ’25-sesse’ (25 pairs of oars) – in other words, it is equipped with 50 oars. Each oar is powered by two men. Under sail it requires a crew of 30 people.

Draken Harald Hårfagre is 35 metres (115 ft) long with a beam of approximately 8 metres (26 ft) and a displacement of about 95 metric tons. The longship is constructed in oak and carries 260 square metres (2,800 sq ft) of sail.

Draken Harald Hårfagre is the largest Viking ship built in modern times. In the Viking age, an attack carried out from the ocean would be in the form of a “Strandhogg”, i.e. hit and run tactics, being highly mobile. By the High Middle Ages the ships changed shapes to become larger and heavier with platforms in the front and back. This was done for the sake of sea battles, that made it possible to board ships that lay alongside each other. In the 13th century, this tactic was well known and widely used in Scandinavia. The law of the land in those days (Norwegian: Gulatingsloven) included standards that required Norwegian provinces (fylker) to cooperate in supplying 116 such warships of 50 oars size (Norwegian: 25-sesser) (25 pairs of oars) for duty in the Norwegian fleet of warships.

Draken Harald Hårfagre under construction
 

Norwegian boatbuilding traditions

Copies of Viking ships are usually based on interpretations of archaeological material. But in the construction of Draken Harald Hårfagre an alternative method has been used. It was decided to begin with the living tradition of Norwegian boatbuilding, with roots that can be traced directly to the Viking Age. The foremost Norwegian traditional boat builders are involved in the project. Their knowledge of traditional boatbuilding is supplemented with the results of investigations carried out on archaeological material, source material in Norse literature, literature from the same period from foreign sources, iconographic material, etc. The goal of the project is to recreate in this manner an oceangoing warship of 50 oars taken right out of the Norse Sagas.

Launch and Maiden voyage

The launching of the longship took place in the summer 2012. Because no one today has real experience handling a Viking ship of this size, the initial period was one of exploring how to sail and row the ship, and for experimentation with the rigging along the coast of Norway.

In summer 2014, skippered by Swedish captain Björn Ahlander, the longship made its first real expedition, a 3-week passage under sail from Norway to Merseyside. There it was hosted by the Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club. It also visited various other locations around the coast of the British Isles including the Isle of Man, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

Draken Harald Hårfagre in May 2011, working with 17th strake.

Expedition America 2016

The ship left its home port of Haugesund, Norway on the 26th of April, 2016, bound for Newfoundland, the aim being to explore and retrace the first transatlantic crossing and the Viking discovery of the New World. The route included stops at the Shetland and Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, before landfall on Newfoundland was finally achieved on the 1st of June that year. Future stops are planned along the Atlantic Canadian and American coast.

The schedule of the voyage is:

  • April 24 – Haugesund, Norway
  • May 3 – Reykjavik, Iceland
  • May 16 – Quqortoq, Greenland
  • June 1 – St Antony, N.L.*
  • June 15 – Quebec City, Que.*
  • July 1–3 – Toronto, Ont.*
  • July 8 – Fairport Harbor, Ohio, U.S.*
  • July 14 – Bay City, Mich., U.S.*
  • July 22 – Beaver Island. Mich., U.S.
  • July 27 – Chicago, Ill., U.S.*
  • Aug. 5 – Green Bay, Wisc., U.S.*
  • Aug. 18 – Duluth, Minn., U.S.*
  • Sept. (TBD) – Oswego, NY Canals, N.Y., U.S.*
  • Sept. 1st – Ilion NY
  • Sept. 3rd- Little Falls NY
  • Sept. 15 – New York City, New York, U.S.*
  • Oct (TBD). – Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, U.S.*

(*Approximate dates)

In mid-July 2016 doubts were raised about the ship’s ability to visit US destinations in the Great Lakes. The U.S. Coast Guard deemed it a commercial vessel, requiring a pilot per a 1960 law. The total cost of piloting was estimated at $400,000. Sons of Norway raised over $60,000 in order to help pay the pilot fees. On 4 August 2016 Viking Kings issued a press release declaring that Green Bay would be the ship’s last stop in the Great Lakes, planning to make its next stop in New York in September.

Sources

  • Grossman, David (14 July 2016). “World’s Largest Viking Ship Might be Defeated by U.S. Coast Guard”. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2016-07-15. 
  • Heide, E. “Vikingskipa i den norrøne litteraturen” Institutt for lingvistiske, litterære, og estetiske studier, Norrøn filologi, 2012
  • A. W. Brøgger and H. Shetelig. “Vikingeskipene- Deres forgjengere og etterfølgere” Dreyers forlag 1950, p. 2137
  • Bent og Erik Andersen. “Råsejlet – Dragens Vinge”. Vikingsskipsmuseet Forlag, Roskilde 2007, p. 9-44
  • Jon B. Godal: “Measurements, figures and formulas for the interpretation of Western Norwegian boats and Viking ships”, Acta Boralia ,1990. Volume 7, Issue 2, pages 56-8
  • Gunnar Eldjarn og Jon B. Godal: “Nordlandsbåten og Åfjordsbåten”, bind 1-4. A Kiellands Forlag, Lesja 1988
  • Pattinson, Rob (2 July 2014). “In Pictures: World’s largest-ever Viking longship set sail for Merseyside today”. Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 2016-07-15.

NATO Maritime Commander and Frigate Group to visit Helsinki

Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1)

Allied Maritime Command Commander, Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, will make an official visit to Finland beginning on 24 August 2017.

The visit will be hosted by the Chief of Finnish Navy, Vice Admiral Veijo Taipalus.

In conjunction with the Commander’s visit, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) will arrive in Helsinki August 25 for a scheduled port visit as part of the group’s deployment in the Baltic Sea. The group will be hosted by Coastal Fleet.

Finland is one of NATO’s most active partners and a valued contributor to NATO-led operations and missions – it is one of five countries that has enhanced opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with NATO.

The leadership discussions and port visit are a practical outcome of Finnish partnership with NATO in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The Commander’s visit allows for discussions on Finland’s maritime cooperation with NATO and the port visit provides an opportunity for sailors from the group to work with their Finnish counterparts to exchange information and enhance interoperability.

During the port visit, the SNMG1 command team will meet with local civilian and military leadership in Helsinki. The port visit is also a great opportunity for the sailors to enjoy a break from operations.

SNMG1 is currently composed of the NATO group flagship, Norwegian frigate HNoMS Otto Sverdrup, Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown, Portuguese frigate NRP Francisco de Almeida and German tanker FGS Rhön.

Some of the ships will be open and welcome visitors aboard both Saturday 26 August and Sunday 27 August from 13.00 to 16.00. The ships will be at Hernesaari Quay, Helsinki Harbor, Henry Fordin katu 5.

Security measures during open ship

For security reasons, the following is not allowed to be brought on board:

. Large bags, backpacks etc.

. Weapons or dangerous objects

. Cameras, cell phones, tablets, computers etc

All visitors and their baggage may be subject to search before entry.

 

The importance of the Petsamo Nickel Mines to the Major Powers in World War II

History

Deposits of nickel were found in 1921, after Petsamo became a part of Finland, and in 1934 the deposits were estimated to contain over five million tonnes. Mining operations were started in 1935 by Canadian and French corporations.

Petsamo, situated on the northern coast of Finland (now Russia). Kirkenes can be seen along the coast to the east
Petsamo, situated on the northern coast of Finland (now Russia). Kirkenes can be seen along the coast to the west in Norway.

Construction of a road from Sodankylä through Ivalo to Liinakhamari started in 1916 and was completed in 1931. This made Petsamo a popular tourist attraction, as it was the only port by the Barents Sea that could be reached by automobile.

In the Winter War of 1939–1940, the Soviet Union occupied Petsamo. In the following peace agreement only the Finnish part of the Rybachy Peninsula, with the area of 321 square kilometers (124 sq mi), was ceded to the Soviet Union, although the Soviets had occupied all of Petsamo during the Winter War.

Coastal Batteries at Petsamo
Coastal Batteries at Petsamo

In 1941, during World War II, Petsamo was used by Nazi Germany as a staging area for the attack towards Murmansk. In 1944, the Red Army occupied Petsamo again, and Finland had to cede it to the Soviet Union as part of the Moscow Armistice signed on September 19, 1944; the total ceded area was 8,965 square kilometers (3,461 sq mi). On July 21, 1945, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union decreed to establish Pechengsky District with the administrative centre in nickel on the ceded territory and to include this district as a part of Murmansk Oblast.

The beginnings of Finnish co-operation with Germany

After Nazi Germany’s assault on Scandinavia on April 9, 1940, Operation Weserübung, Finland was physically isolated from her traditional trade markets in the west. Sea routes to and from Finland were now controlled by the Kriegsmarine. The outlet of the Baltic sea was blockaded, and in the far north Finland’s route to the world was an Arctic dirt road from Rovaniemi to the ice-free harbour of Petsamo, from where the ships had to pass a long stretch of German-occupied Norwegian coast by the Arctic Ocean. Finland, like Sweden, was spared occupation but encircled by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. With direct support by Marshal Mannerheim a volunteer unit was formed and sent to Norway to help the fight against the Nazi army. The ambulance unit participated in the war until the Germans conquered the area in which it was serving. The volunteers returned to Finland.

Petsamo Harbour
Petsamo Harbour

Especially damaging was the loss of fertilizer imports, that, together with the loss of arable land ceded in the Moscow Peace, the loss of cattle during the hasty evacuation after the Winter War, and the unfavorable weather in the summer of 1940, resulted in a drastic fall of food production to less than two thirds of what was Finland’s estimated need. Some of the deficit could be purchased from Sweden and some from the Soviet Union, although delayed deliveries were then a means to exert pressure on Finland. In this situation, Finland had no alternative but to turn to Germany for help.

Finland seeks German rapprochement

Germany has traditionally been a counterweight to Russia in Baltic region, and despite the fact that Hitler’s Third Reich had acquiesced with the invader, Finland perceived some value in also seeking warmer relations in that direction. After the German occupation of Norway, and particularly after the Allied evacuation from northern Norway, the relative importance of a German rapprochement increased.

From May 1940, Finland pursued a campaign to re-establish the good relations with Germany that had soured in the last year of the 1930s. Finland rested her hope in the fragility of the Nazi–Soviet bond, and in the many personal friendships between Finnish and German athletes, scientists, industrialists, and military officers. A part of that policy was accrediting the energetic former Prime Minister Toivo Mikael Kivimäki as ambassador in Berlin in June 1940. The Finnish mass media not only refrained from criticism of Nazi Germany, but also took active part in this campaign. Dissent was censored. Seen from Berlin, this looked like a refreshing contrast to the annoyingly anti-Nazi press in Sweden.

Toivo Mikael Kivimäki
Toivo Mikael Kivimäki

After the fall of France, in late June, the Finnish ambassador in Stockholm heard from the diplomatic sources that Britain could soon be forced to negotiate peace with Germany. The experience from World War I emphasized the importance of close and friendly relations with the victors, and accordingly the courting of Nazi Germany was stepped up still further.

The first crack in the German coldness towards Finland was registered in late July, when Ludwig Weissauer, a secret representative of the German Foreign Minister, visited Finland and queried Mannerheim and Ryti about Finland’s willingness to defend the country against the Soviet Union. Mannerheim estimated the Finnish army could last a few weeks without more arms. Weissauer left without any promises.

Continued Soviet pressure

The implementation of the Moscow Peace Treaty created problems due to the Soviet Vae Victis-mentality. Border arrangements in the Enso industrial area, which even Soviet members of the border commission considered to be on the Finnish side of the border, the forced return of evacuated machinery, locomotives, and rail cars; and inflexibility on questions which could have eased hardships created by the new border, such as fishing rights and the usage of Saimaa Canal merely served to heighten distrust about the objectives of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet attitude was personified in the new ambassador to Helsinki, Ivan Zotov. He behaved undiplomatically and had a stiff-necked drive to advance Soviet interests, real or imagined, in Finland. During the summer and autumn he recommended several times in his reports to the Soviet Foreign Office that Finland ought to be finished off and wholly annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 14, Soviet bombers shot down the Finnish Junkers 52 passenger plane Kaleva. All nine passengers and crew perished.

On June 23, the Soviet Union proposed that Finland should revoke Petsamo mining rights from the British–Canadian company and transfer them to the Soviet Union, or to a joint venture owned by the Russians and the Finns. On June 27, Moscow demanded either demilitarization or a joint fortification effort in Åland. After Sweden had signed the troop transfer agreement with Germany on July 8, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov demanded similar rights for a Soviet troop transit to Hanko on July 9. The transfer rights were given on September 6, and demilitarization of Åland was agreed on October 11, but negotiations on Petsamo continued to drag on, with Finnish negotiators stalling as much as possible.

The Åland Islands
The Åland Islands

The Communist Party was so discredited in the Winter War that it never managed to recuperate between the wars. Instead, on May 22, the Peace and Friendship Society of Finland and Soviet Union was created, and it actively propagated Soviet viewpoints. Ambassador Zotov had very close contacts with the Society by holding weekly meetings with the Society leadership in the Soviet embassy and having Soviet diplomats participating in Society board meetings. The Society started by criticizing the government and military, and gained around 35,000 members at its height. Emboldened by its success, it started organizing almost daily violent demonstrations during the first half of August which were supported politically by Zotov and a press campaign in Leningrad. The government reacted forcefully and arrested leading members of the society which ended the demonstrations in spite of Zotov’s and Molotov’s protests. The Society was finally outlawed in December 1940.

The Soviet Union demanded that Väinö Tanner be discharged from the cabinet because of his anti-Soviet stance and he had to resign August 15. Ambassador Zotov further demanded the resignation of both the Minister of Social Affairs Karl-August Fagerholm because he had called the Society a Fifth column in a public speech, and the Minister of Interior Affairs Ernst von Born, who was responsible for police and led the crackdown of the Society, but they retained their places in the cabinet after Ryti delivered a radio speech in which he stated the willingness of his government to improve relations between Finland and the Soviet Union.

Väinö Tanner
Väinö Tanner

President Kallio suffered a stroke on August 28, after which he was unable to work, but when he presented his resignation November 27, the Soviet Union reacted by announcing that if Mannerheim, Tanner, Kivimäki, Svinhufvud or someone of their ilk were chosen president, it would be considered a breach of the Moscow peace treaty.

President Kyösti Kallio
President Kyösti Kallio

All of this reminded the public heavily of how the Baltic Republics had been occupied and annexed only a few months earlier. It was no wonder that the average Finn feared that the Winter War had produced only a short delay of the same fate.

British disregard

Compared to the early spring, during the summer of 1940, Finland was not high on the agenda of British foreign policy. To gain support from the Soviet Union, Britain had appointed Sir Stafford Cripps, from the left wing of the Labour Party, ambassador to Moscow. He had openly supported the Terijoki Government during the Winter War and he wondered to Ambassador Paasikivi ‘didn’t the Finns really want to follow Baltic Republics and join the Soviet Union?’ He also dismissively called President Kallio “Kulak” and Nordic social democracy “reactionary“. The British Foreign Office had to apologize for his language to Ambassador Gripenberg.

Sir Stafford Cripps
Sir Stafford Cripps

Britain opposed Finnish-Swedish cooperation and provided support for the Soviet Union to scuttle the initiative, until it became apparent in late March 1941 that it had driven Finland in the direction of the Germans, but by then it was already too late. Finnish foreign trade was another critical issue as it was dependent on the British Navy and the Ministry of Economic Warfare was extremely strict when issuing those so that even Finnish trade (and relations) with the Soviet Union suffered from it.

During the nickel negotiations the Foreign Office pressured the license owning British-Canadian Company to “temporarily” release the license and offered diplomatic support to Soviet attempts to gain control of the mine with the precondition that no ore would be shipped to Germany.

Improved relations with Nazi Germany

Unbeknownst to Finland, Adolf Hitler had started to plan his forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) now that France had collapsed. He had not been interested in Finland before the Winter War, but now he saw the value of Finland as an operating base, and perhaps also the military value of the Finnish army. In the first weeks of August, German fears of a likely immediate Russian attack on Finland caused Hitler to free the arms embargo. The arms deliveries stopped under the Winter War were resumed.

The next visitor from Germany came on August 18, when a representative of Hermann Göring, arms dealer Joseph Veltjens, arrived. He negotiated with Ryti and Mannerheim about German troop transfer rights between Finnmark in Northern Norway and ports of Gulf of Bothnia in exchange for arms and other material. At first these arms shipments were transferred via Sweden, but later they came directly to Finland. For the Third Reich, this was a breach of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as well as being for Finland a material breach of the Moscow Peace Treaty—that in fact had been chiefly targeted against cooperation between Germany and Finland. It has been disputed in retrospect whether the ailing President Kallio was informed. Possibly Kallio’s health collapsed before he could be confidentially briefed.

Josef Veltjens
Josef Veltjens

From the campaign to ease the Third Reich’s coldness towards Finland, it seemed a natural development to also promote closer relations and cooperation, especially since the much-disliked Moscow Peace Treaty had, in clear language, tried to persuade the Finns not to do exactly that. Propaganda in the censored press contributed to Finland’s international re-orientation—although with very measured means.

Soviet negotiators had insisted that the troop transfer agreement (to Hanko) should not be published for parliamentary discussion or voting. This precedent made it easy for the Finnish government to keep a troop transfer agreement with the Germans secret until the first German troops arrived at the port of Vaasa on September 21. The arrival of German troops produced much relief to the insecurity of average Finns, and was largely approved. Most contrary voices opposed more the way the agreement was negotiated than the transfer itself, although the Finnish people knew only the barest details of the agreements with the Third Reich. The presence of German troops was seen as a deterrent for further Soviet threats and a counterbalance to the Soviet troop transfer right. The German troop transfer agreement was augmented November 21 allowing the transfer of wounded, and soldiers on leave, via Turku. Germans arrived and established quarters, depots, and bases along the rail lines from Vaasa and Oulu to Ylitornio and Rovaniemi, and from there along the roads via Karesuvanto and Kilpisjärvi or Ivalo and Petsamo to Skibotn and Kirkenes in northern Norway. Also roadworks for improving winter road (between Karesuvanto and Skibotn) and totally new road (from Ivalo to Karasjok) were discussed, and later financed, by Germans.

Ryti, Mannerheim, Minister of Defence Walden and chief of staff Heinrichs decided October 23 that information concerning Finnish defence plans of Lappland could be given to the Wehrmacht to gain goodwill, even with the risk that they could be forwarded to the Soviet Union.

When Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov visited Berlin on November 12, he demanded that Germany stop supporting Finland, and the right to handle Finland in a similar way to Baltic States, but Hitler demanded that there should be no new military activities in Northern Europe before summer. Through unofficial channels, Finnish representatives were informed that “Finnish leaders can sleep peacefully; Hitler has opened his umbrella over Finland.”

Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov

Attempted defence union with Sweden

On August 19, a new initiative was launched for co-operation between Sweden and Finland. It called for a union of the two states in exchange for a Finnish declaration of satisfaction with the current borders. The plans were primarily championed by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Christian Günther, and Conservative party leader Gösta Bagge, Education Minister in Stockholm. They had to counter increasing anti-Swedish opinions in Finland; and in Sweden, Liberal and Socialist suspicions against what was seen as right-wing dominance in Finland. One of the chief objectives of the plan was to ensure greatest possible liberty for Sweden and Finland in a presumed post-war Europe totally dominated by Nazi Germany. In Sweden, political opponents criticized the necessary adaptations to the Nazis; in Finland, the resistance centred on the loss of sovereignty and influence—and the acceptance of the loss of Finnish Karelia. However, the general feeling of Finland’s dire and deteriorating position quieted many critics.

The official request for a union was made by Christian Günther on October 18, and Finland’s approval was received on October 25, but by November 5, the Soviet ambassador in Stockholm, Alexandra Kollontai, warned Sweden about the treaty. The Swedish government retreated from the issue but discussions for a more acceptable treaty continued until December when, on December 6, the Soviet Union and, on December 19, Germany announced their strong opposition to any kind of union between Sweden and Finland.

Road to war

During the autumn of 1940, Finnish generals visited Germany and occupied Europe several times to purchase additional guns and munitions. Mannerheim even wrote a personal letter January 7, 1941 to Göring where he tried to persuade him to release Finnish purchased artillery pieces Germany had captured in Norwegian harbours during Weserübung. During one of these visits, Maj. Gen. Paavo Talvela met with Chief of Staff of OKH, Col. Gen Franz Halder and Göring January 15–18, 1941, and was asked about Finnish plans to defend itself in case of new Soviet invasion. The Germans also inquired about the possibility of someone from Finland coming and giving a presentation about the experiences of the Winter War.

After the resignation of president Kallio, Risto Ryti was elected by parliament as the new president of Finland December 19. Johan Wilhelm Rangell formed a new government January 4, and this time the far-right IKL party was included in the cabinet as an act of goodwill toward Nazi Germany.

President Risto Ryti, 1940
President Risto Ryti, 1940

Petsamo Crisis

Finland had negotiated with the Germans since spring 1940 about the production of Kolosjoki nickel mines in Petsamo. On July 1940 Finland made a contract with the German company I.G. Farbenindustrie: 60% of the nickel produced was to be shipped to Germany. The negotiations alarmed the Soviet, which in June claimed for a 75% ownership to the mine and to a nearby power plant together with the right to handle security in the area.

According to German reports, the ore body of Kolosjoki mines had a value of over 1 Billion Reichsmark, and it could fulfil the demand of nickel in the Third Reich for 20 years. Later on, in the end of 1940, the Germans raised their estimate of the Kolosjoki nickel reserves four times larger.

Petsamo Nickel Mines

The Finnish nickel deposits were found in the Petsamo area near the Barents Sea. Until the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947, this was the northernmost part of Finland. In 1934 it was estimated that the deposits contained over five million tons of nickel. In 1935, Canadian and French corporations began mining operations there.

The nickel deposits were a lesser known reason for Allied and German interest in the area during World War II, as potentially of great importance for production of arms and munitions. Both the planned Franco-British support of Finland in the Winter War, and German occupation of Denmark and Norway (Operation Weserübung) were partly motivated by control of the nickel mines.

Nickel is a vital component in the production of Steel Alloy. Alloy steel is steel to which additional alloying elements have been intentionally added to modify the characteristics of steel. Common alloying elements include: manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, boron, titanium, vanadium, and niobium. Additional elements may be present in steel: manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, silicon, and traces of oxygen, nitrogen, and aluminium.

Nickel was a vital component in the production of the Panther Tank
Nickel was a vital component in the production of the Panther Tank (Panzer V)

Other materials are often added to the iron/carbon mixture to produce steel with desired properties. Nickel and manganese in steel add to its tensile strength and make the austenite form of the iron-carbon solution more stable, chromium increases hardness and melting temperature and vanadium also increases hardness while making it less prone to metal fatigue.

Tiger I (Panzer VI)Production Line. The addition of nickel to steel alloy improved the tensile strength of armour
Tiger I (Panzer VI) Production Line. The addition of nickel to steel alloy improved the tensile strength of armour

During the period between the Winter War and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, there were disputes between Finland and the Soviet Union over mining rights in Petsamo. Finland refused to allow the Soviet Union to mine nickel in Petsamo. This was one of the causes of hostility between the Soviet Union and Finland, which led to the Continuation War. As part of the German invasion, troops from Norway occupied the Petsamo region in 1941, securing the nickel supply.

The Continuation War ended in September 1944, with Finland’s capitulation. Finland ceded Petsamo to the Soviet Union. All subsequent nickel production there has since been under Soviet or Russian authority.

Negotiations with the Soviet had dragged on for six months when the Soviet Foreign Ministry announced January 14 that the negotiations had to be concluded quickly. On the same day, the Soviet Union interrupted grain deliveries to Finland. Soviet ambassador Zotov was recalled home January 18 and Soviet radio broadcasts started attacking Finland. January 21 Soviet Foreign Ministry issued an ultimatum demanding that nickel negotiations be concluded in two days.

When Finnish military intelligence spotted troop movements on the Soviet side of the border, Mannerheim proposed January 23 a partial mobilization, but Ryti and Rangell didn’t accept. Ambassador Kivimäki reported January 24, that Germany was conscripting new age classes, and it was unlikely that they were needed against Britain.

Baron Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Baron Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

Finnish Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Heinrichs visited Berlin January 30 – February 3, officially giving a lecture about Finnish experiences in the Winter War, but also including discussions with Halder. During the discussions Halder “speculated” about a possible German assault on the Soviet Union and Heinrichs informed him about Finnish mobilization limits and defence plans with and without German or Swedish participation.

Col. Buschenhagen had reported from northern Norway February 1 that the Soviet Union had collected 500 fishing ships in Murmansk, capable of transporting a division. Hitler ordered troops in Norway to occupy Petsamo (Operation Renntier) immediately if the Soviet Union started attacking Finland.

Mannerheim submitted his letter of resignation February 10 claiming that the continuing appeasement made it impossible to defend the country against an invader. He took his resignation back the next day after discussions with Ryti and after stricter instructions were sent to negotiators: 49% of mining rights to the Soviet Union, the power plant to a separate Finnish company, reservation of the highest management positions for Finns and no further Soviet agitation against Finland. Soviet Union rejected those terms on February 18, thus ending nickel negotiations.

Diplomatic activities

After Heinrichs’ visit and the end of the nickel negotiations, diplomatic activities were halted for a few months. The most significant activities of that time was the visit of Colonel Buschenhagen to Helsinki and Northern Finland February 18 – March 3 when he familiarized himself with the terrain and climate of Lappland. He also had discussions with Mannerheim, Heinrichs, Major General Airo and chief-of-operational-office Colonel Tapola. Both sides were careful to point out the speculative nature of these discussions, although later they became the basis of formal agreements.

Major-General Aksel Airo
Major-General Aksel Airo

Already in December 1940, leaders of Germany’s Waffen-SS had demanded that Finland should show its orientation towards Germany “with deeds”, by which it was clear that it meant enlistment of Finnish troops to the SS. The official contact was made on March 1, and in the following negotiations the Finns tried in vain to transform the troops from SS to Wehrmacht, in commemoration of the World War I-era Finnish Jäger Battalion. Ryti and Mannerheim considered the battalion necessary to reinforce German support of Finland; thence the nickname “Panttipataljoona” (“Pawn battalion”) and the negotiations were concluded on April 28 with the Finnish conditions that Government, Civil Guards or Armed Forces would not enlist and that all military personnel wishing to participate must first take their leave of the Finnish army. (These conditions were designed to limit Finnish commitment to Nazi Germany.) The enlistment was carried out in May, and in June the troops were transferred to Germany where a Finnish SS battalion was founded June 18. Foreign minister Witting informed Sweden, where similar activities were also conducted, already on March 23 about possible enlistment. The British ambassador to Helsinki, Gordon Vereker, notified the Finnish Foreign Ministry May 16 on the issue, demanding an end to the enlistment.

Relations between Sweden and Germany strained in March, and on March 15 Sweden mobilized 80,000 more men and moved military units to the southern coast and western border making it even more likely that Sweden couldn’t support Finland if war broke out. This also affected Swedish-Finnish co-operation as the Finnish interest for intelligence exchange diminished considerably during April.

Race issues were sources of particular concern: the Finns were not viewed favorably by the Nazi race theorists. By active participation on Germany’s side, Finnish leaders hoped for a more independent position in post-war Europe, through the removal of the Soviet threat and the incorporation of the related Finnish peoples of neighboring Soviet areas, especially Karelia. This view gained increasing popularity in the Finnish leadership, and also in the press, during the spring of 1941.

From February to April, Germany prepared Barbarossa in secret, and apart from the above contacts, no operational or political discussions were concluded during this time. Instead they published disinformation, such as claims that the German troop buildup in the East was merely a ruse ahead of a planned invasion of Britain (such a plan had been considered under the codename Operation Sea Lion) or safe training locations from British bombers, to hide their real intentions. When Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece beginning on April 6, suspicion of German intentions increased in Finland, though uncertainty still prevailed as to whether Hitler really intended to attack the Soviet Union before the Battle of Britain was concluded.

However, the Finns had, in the past, learned bitterly how a small country can be used as small change in the deals of great powers, and in such a case Finland could have been used as a token of reconciliation between Hitler and Stalin, something which the Finns had every reason to fear, which is why relations with Berlin were considered of the utmost priority for the future of Finland, especially so if the war between Germany and Soviet Union failed to materialize.

Once again the German Foreign Ministry sent Ludwig Weissauer to Finland May 5, this time to clarify that war between Germany and the Soviet Union would not be launched before spring 1942. Ryti and Witting believed that, at least officially, and forwarded the message to Swedish Foreign Minister Günther, who was visiting Finland May 6–9. Witting also sent the information to Finnish-ambassador-to-London Gripenberg. When the war broke out only a couple of weeks later, it was understandable that both Swedish and British governments felt that the Finns had lied to them.

Part of that disinformation campaign was a request to ambassador Kivimäki that Finland should offer proposals for a new border that the Germans could pressure the Soviets to accept in negotiations. On May 30, 1941 General Airo produced five alternative border drafts for delivery to the Germans, who should then propose the best they felt they could bargain from the Soviet Union. In reality, the Germans had no such intentions, but the exercise served to fuel the support among leading Finns for taking part in Operation Barbarossa.

Operations like Barbarossa don’t begin without some advance notice, and worsening of Soviet-German relations, which began with the meeting in Berlin November 12, was visible around the end of March 1941. Stalin tried to improve relations toward the Third Reich by taking the leadership of the Soviet government May 6, backed off from unimportant issues, and fulfilled all trade deals even as German deliveries were late. Part of this policy was also improving relations with Finland. A new ambassador, Pavel Orlov, was named to Helsinki April 23 and a gift of a trainload of wheat was presented to J. K. Paasikivi when he retired from Moscow. The Soviet Union also renounced opposition to a Swedish-Finnish defence alliance, but Swedish disinterest and German opposition to that kind of alliance rendered the proposal moot. Soviet radio propaganda against Finland also ceased. Orlov acted very conciliatory and soothed many feelings which had been raised by his predecessor, but as he failed to solve any critical issues (like the disagreement over Petsamo nickel) or to restart grain imports from Soviet Union, his line was seen only as a new façade on old policy.

British-ambassador-Vereker saw Finland moving towards Germany, and due to his reports, the British Foreign Office had requested easing Finnish trade regulations in Petsamo March 30. On April 28 Vereker reported that the British government should pressure the Soviet Union to return Hanko or Vyborg to Finland as he saw it as the only possible way to secure Finnish neutrality in the case of German-Soviet war.

The Petsamo crisis had disillusioned Finnish politicians, especially Ryti and Mannerheim, creating the impression that peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union was impossible, and that Finland would survive in peace only if the Soviet Union was defeated, as Ryti presented it to US ambassador Arthur Schoenfeld on April 28. The effect of this general feeling was that voices advocating closer ties with Germany grew stronger and the voices advocating armed neutrality within Finland’s new borders (some among the Social Democrats, and some of the more left-leaning in the Swedish People’s Party) softened. Contacts with Sweden’s Conservative Foreign Minister Günther showed an enthusiasm unusual for the Swedes for the anticipated “Crusade against Bolshevism“.

After the successful occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece by the spring of 1941, the German army’s standing was at its zenith, and its victory in the war seemed more than likely. The envoy of the German Foreign Ministry, Karl Schnurre, visited Finland May 20–24, and invited one or more staff officers to negotiations in Salzburg.

Cooperation with Germany

A group of staff officers led by General Heinrichs left Finland on May 24 and participated in discussions with OKW in Salzburg on May 25 where the Germans informed them about the northern part of Operation Barbarossa. The Germans also presented their interest in using Finnish territory to attack from Petsamo to Murmansk and from Salla to Kandalaksha. Heinrichs presented Finnish interest in Eastern Karelia, but Germany recommended a passive stance. The negotiations continued the next day in Berlin with OKH, and contrary to the negotiations of the previous day, Germany wanted Finland to form a strong attack formation ready to strike on the eastern or western side of Lake Ladoga. The Finns promised to examine the proposal, but notified the Germans that they were only able to arrange supply to the OlonetsPetrozavodsk-line. The issue of mobilization was also discussed. It was decided that the Germans would send signal officers to enable confidential messaging to Mannerheim’s headquarters in Mikkeli. Naval issues were discussed, mainly for securing sea lines over the Baltic Sea, but also possible usage of the Finnish navy in the upcoming war. During these negotiations the Finns presented a number of material requests ranging from grain and fuel to airplanes and radio equipment.

Heinrichs’ group returned on May 28 and reported their discussions to Mannerheim, Walden and Ryti. And on May 30 Ryti, Witting, Walden, Kivimäki, Mannerheim, Heinrichs, Talvela and Aaro Pakaslahti from Foreign Ministry had a meeting where they accepted the results of those negotiations with a list of some prerequisites: a guarantee of Finnish independence, the pre-Winter War borders (or better), continuing grain deliveries, and that Finnish troops would not cross the border before a Soviet incursion.

The next round of negotiations occurred in Helsinki on June 3–6 regarding some practical details. During these negotiations it was decided that Germany would be responsible for the area north of Oulu. This area was easily given to them because it was sparsely inhabited and non-critical to the defence of the more important southern provinces. The Finns also agreed to give two divisions to the Germans in northern Finland (30 000 men) and to the usage of airfields in Helsinki and Kemijärvi (Because of the number of German aircraft, airfields at Kemi and Rovaniemi were added later). Finland also warned Germany that an attempt to establish a Quisling government would cut co-operation and that they considered it very important that Finland not be the aggressor and that no invasion should be launched from Finnish soil.

The negotiations for naval operations continued on June 6 in Kiel. It was agreed that the Kriegsmarine would close the Gulf of Finland with mines as soon as the war began.

The arrival of German troops participating in Operation Barbarossa began on June 7 in Petsamo, where SS Division Nord started southwards, and on June 8 in the ports of the Gulf of Bothnia where the German 169th Infantry Division was transported by rail to Rovaniemi, where both of these turned eastward on June 18. Britain cancelled all naval traffic to Petsamo June 14 in protest of these moves. Starting from June 14, a number of German minelayers and supporting MTBs arrived in Finland, some on an official naval visit, others hiding in the southern archipelago.

S-Boot German MTB
S-Boot German MTB

Finnish parliament was informed for the first time on June 9, when first mobilization orders were issued for troops needed to safeguard the following mobilization phases, like anti-air and border guard units. The Committee on Foreign Affairs complained that parliament was bypassed when deciding on these issues, and protesting that Parliament should be trusted with sensitive information, but no other actions were taken. Swedish ambassador Karl-Ivan Westman wrote that the Soviet-minded “Sextuples”, the far-left Social Democrats, were the reason that parliament couldn’t be trusted in foreign policy questions. When Soviet news agency TASS reported on June 13 that no negotiations were ongoing between Germany and the Soviet Union, Ryti and Mannerheim decided to delay mobilization as no guarantees had been received from Germany. General Waldemar Erfurt, who had been nominated as liaison officer to Finland on June 11, reported to OKW June 14 that Finland wouldn’t finalize mobilization unless the prerequisites were granted. Although the Finns continued on the same day (June 14) with the second phase of mobilization, this time the mobilizing forces were located in northern Finland and later operated under German command. Field Marshal Keitel sent a message on June 15 stating that the Finnish prerequisites were accepted, and the general mobilization restarted on June 17, two days later than scheduled. On June 16, two Finnish divisions were transferred to the German army in Lapland.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

An airfield in Utti was evacuated by Finnish planes on June 18 and the Germans were allowed to use it for refuelling from June 19. German reconnaissance planes were stationed at Tikkakoski, near Jyväskylä, on June 20.

On June 20 Finland’s government ordered 45,000 people at the Soviet border to be evacuated. On June 21 Finland’s chief of the General Staff, Erik Heinrichs, was finally informed by his German counterpart that the attack was to begin.

To the opening of hostilities

Operation Barbarossa had already commenced in the northern Baltic by the late hours of June 21, when German minelayers, which had been hiding in the Finnish archipelago, laid two large minefields across the Gulf of Finland, one at the mouth of the Gulf and a second in the middle of the Gulf.

These minefields ultimately proved sufficient to confine the Soviets’ Baltic Fleet to the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland until the end of the Continuation War. Three Finnish submarines participated in the mining operation by laying 9 small fields between Suursaari Island and the Estonian coast with first mines being laid at 0738 on 22 June 1941 by Finnish submarine Vetehinen.

Vetehinen-Class Submarine
Vetehinen-Class Submarine

Later the same night, German bombers, flying from East Prussian airfields, flew along the Gulf of Finland to Leningrad and mined the harbour and the river Neva. Finnish air defence noticed that one group of these bombers, most likely the ones responsible for mining the river Neva, flew over southern Finland. On the return trip, these bombers refueled in Utti airfield before returning to East Prussia.

Finland feared that the Soviet Union would occupy Åland as soon as possible and use it to close naval routes from Finland to Sweden and Germany (together with Hanko base), so Operation Kilpapurjehdus (Sail Race) was launched in the early hours of June 22 to deliver Finnish troops to Åland. Soviet bombers launched attacks against Finnish ships during the operation at 0605 on 22 June 1941 before the Finnish ships had delivered the troops to Åland but no damage was inflicted in the air attack.

Individual Soviet artillery batteries started to shoot at Finnish positions from Hanko early in the morning, so the Finnish commander sought permission to return fire, but before the permission was granted, Soviet artillery had stopped shooting.

On the morning of June 22, the German Gebirgskorps Norwegen started Operation Renntier and began its move from Northern Norway to Petsamo. The German ambassador initiated urgent negotiations with Sweden for transfer of the German 163rd Infantry Division from Norway to Finland using Swedish rail. Sweden agreed to this on June 24.

On the morning of June 22, both the Soviet Union and Finland declared that each would be neutral in respect of the other in the war that was now underway. This precipitated unease in the Nazi leadership, which tried to provoke a response from the Soviet Union by using both the Finnish archipelago as a base, and Finnish airfields for refuelling. Hitler‘s public statement worked in the same direction; Hitler declared that Germany would attack the Bolshevists “(…) in the North in alliance [“im Bunde”] with the Finnish freedom heroes”. This was in flat contradiction of the statement made to parliament by British Foreign Secretary Eden on June 24 affirming Finnish neutrality.

Finland did not allow direct German attacks from its soil to the Soviet Union, so German forces in Petsamo and Salla had to hold their fire. Air attacks were also prohibited, and very bad weather in northern Finland helped to keep the Germans from flying. Only one attack from Southern Finland against the White Sea Canal was approved, but even that had to be cancelled due to bad weather. There were occasional individual and group level small arms shooting between Soviet and Finnish border guards, but otherwise the front was quiet.

To keep a close eye on their opponents, both parties—and also the Germans—performed active air reconnaissance over the border, but no air fights ensued.

After three days, early on the morning of June 25, the Soviet Union made its move and unleashed a major air offensive against 18 cities with 460 planes, mainly striking airfields but seriously damaging civilian targets as well. The worst damage was done in Turku, where the airfield became inoperable for a week, but among civilian targets, the medieval Turku Castle was also destroyed. (After the war, the castle was repaired, but the work took until 1961.) Heavy damage to civilian targets was also sustained in Kotka and Heinola. However, civilian casualties of this attack were relatively limited.

The Soviet Union justified the attack as being directed against German targets in Finland, but even the British embassy had to admit that the heaviest hits had been taken by southern Finland, and airfields where there were no Germans. Only two targets had German forces present at the time of attack: Rovaniemi and Petsamo. Once again Foreign Minister Eden had to admit to parliament on June 26 that the Soviet Union had initiated the war.

A meeting of parliament was scheduled for June 25 1941 when Prime Minister Rangell had been due to present a notice about Finland’s neutrality in the Soviet-German war, but the Soviet bombings led him to instead observe that Finland was once again at war with the Soviet Union. The Continuation War had begun.

One year later, in May of 1942, Jagdgeschwader 5 (JG 5) ‘Eismeer’ was assigned to Petsamo Airfield to protect the nickel mines from Soviet attack, initially; they were equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7 ‘Jabo’ (fighter-bomber). The unit remained in Petsamo until February 1944 until being forced to retreat to Kirkenes in Norway by Finnish Forces in the Lapland War. In addition to Petsamo, Luftwaffe units flew missions from Helsinki-Malmi, Turku, Utti, Immola, Kemijärvi, Kemi and Rovaniemi  airfields, from 1941 to 1944.

Petsamo Airfield 1944 courtesy of wolf-hound, Axis History Forum
Petsamo Airfield 1944 courtesy of wolf-hound, Axis History Forum

Coming Soon: Eduard’s 1/32 Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7 build review; flown by Hptm. Günther Scholz, Gruppenkommander of III./JG 5, Petsamo, August 1942.

Bf 109E-7 Hptm. Günther Scholz, Petsamo August 1942
Bf 109E-7 Hptm. Günther Scholz, Petsamo August 1942

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