Forts of Kronstadt
Over the centuries, the traditional fortifications – the sea forts around Kronstadt – have become monuments of cultural heritage. They are a vivid demonstration of the development of military engineering. They are remarkable because for 300 years not a single enemy could approach St.Petersburg (Leningrad) from the Gulf of Finland by water.
History of the forts of Kronstadt
Peter and Paul Fortress alone was not enough to protect the newly born St. Petersburg and the conquered lands in the delta of the Neva River from the Swedes. Enemy fleet in 1703, reigned supreme on the Baltic. It was necessary to urgently set up a cordon in the Neva Bay.
When the Swedes left at the end of navigation, Tsar Peter, together with his generals and local guide Semyon Ivanov, surveyed both fairways and the area of Kotlin island. The place turned out to be very favorable for the organization of active defense.
The project of the first fort “Kronshlot” was designed by Peter himself. The construction began immediately. By the summer of 1704 fortification on the water was ready to repel enemy attacks.
Over the next 200 years the number of forts of Kronstadt was brought to 17. 2 more forts were built in the twentieth century on the shores at the narrowing of the Gulf of Finland. Old buildings were repeatedly rebuilt for the changing structure of the cannon, the walls and ceilings were reinforced.
Most of the fortifications lost their military significance by the end of the XIX century, when the range of artillery fire allowed to defend both fairways from the land. They were needed again during the Great Patriotic War to protect the Baltic Fleet that moved to Kronstadt, besieged Leningrad and Oranienbaum bridgehead.
After the Victory almost all the forts were gradually abandoned again. A part of armament and armor was disposed in an organized way, the rest was carried away by “black diggers”. Nature also worked on the appearance of the forts: storms, winds, self-seeding landscaping. Although Kronshtadt forts have been considered a UNESCO cultural heritage site since 1990, most of them remain in a ruined state.
Since 2018, at the federal level, projects for the reconstruction and transformation of historical structures into full-fledged tourist sites are still only being considered.
- The day of the foundation of Kronstadt is considered May 7, 1704 – the date of consecration of “Kronshlot”.
- The problem of radical reconstruction of the forts appeared in 1824 in the literal sense. A massive flood washed away the wooden structures of almost all the fortifications and the city itself.
- In 1899 between the “Konstantin” and the “Milyutin” was held the world’s first communication session by wireless telegraph, when the signal was transmitted in the radio operator’s headphones.
- The forts serve as an excellent backdrop for filmmakers. On “Alexander I” they filmed “Gunpowder”, some episodes of “Favorsky” and “Sea Devils”. On “Shantz” – “Battalion”.
Interactive map of Kronstadt forts with names
You can visit some of the forts on your own: on a hike or with an organized tour. In any case it is better to check the map of Kronshtadt forts beforehand. The map is interactive: you can click on the fort and read its description with photo or select the name of fort from the list on the right, and the fort will be highlighted on the map.
Fort “Kronshlot” (Crown Castle)
The fort was laid in late autumn of 1703. The foundation was built of rows – log cabins with a “floor”, on which stones and soil were piled. The original size – 240 m 2 , the height above the sea level – 1.5 m. The height of the three-tier tower with artillery was 37 m.
The Kronshlot together with the battery on Kotlin was enough to protect the southern waterway from the Swedish armies and ships in 1704 and 1705. The expansion was carried out from 1716 to 1724. As a result the islet took broken shape and inside it was placed a small harbor.
After 125 years the wooden fortifications were replaced by stone ones. Since 1863 there were 3 cannon batteries on “Kronplot” and an underwater mine barrier was stretched to “Peter I” fort.
In the Great Patriotic War there was a battery of anti-aircraft guns protecting the harbor with “Small Hunter” class gunboats, and later there was organized a laboratory for demagnetization of warships, which still exists today.
Fort “Emperor Peter I” (“Citadel”)
On Peter’s order the artillery battery on Kotlin island was placed as early as 1705 in direct line of sight from the “Kronshlot” fort. Beside it in 1721 – 1724 was built a new Citadel fort on the same principle as the “Kronshlot” – on rows. Combat power was created by 106 cannons.
Stone defenses were built by 1834. The walls were built on a piled base of concrete and granite. The garrison consisted of 400 people and 97 guns. At the same time the fort was renamed after the first Emperor of Russia, and in 1870 it was connected with Kotlin by a dam. After the October Revolution and to this day fort turned into an arsenal.
Fort “Emperor Alexander I” (“Plague”)
Fort of casemate type on concrete base with powerful rounded walls in three stories was built for 9 years – from 1836 to 1845. It was named after his older brother and predecessor of Nicholas I.
Only the sight of it and the neighboring “Paul I” discouraged the British squadron from storming the Kronstadt fortifications. The fort’s successful form successfully resisted the elements. In 1898 it was here that the anti-plague laboratory was organized for the creation of a serum against the deadly disease. Hence the new popular name.
Now “Alexander I” is better than all the other naval forts around Kronstadt, preserving its original form.
Fort “Emperor Paul I” (“Risbank”)
New fortification, additionally protecting the main fairway and the Big Kronstadt road, was needed in 1800, at the time of tense relations with England. On the bank to the south-west of “Kronshlot” on the broken line was built a small fort.
The length of the broken line was 408 m. The defense consisted of two bastions and 66 cannons. It was called “Reefsbank” (Reef on the bank), later the letter “F” disappeared because of the difficulty of pronunciation. In 1807-1808 the fort was reconstructed. On it were placed 69 guns on turntables.
After the flood of 1824 “Risbank” was rebuilt as one of the first, 10 years later the artillery was doubled. Since 1844 the fort, which was named “Emperor Paul I”, began to be rebuilt in stone. It became the largest among the already existing and being built in parallel. Its 170 cannons in bastions and casemates sufficiently scared the British fleet during the Crimean War.
Since 1896 the fort became an ammunition depot, mostly sea mines. In 1919 the explosion on the Pavel I was the signal to the beginning of the Kronstadt uprising. At the same time the main structures remained intact.
In 1923, drunken sailors of the cruiser “Aurora”, celebrating success in the exercises, blew up one of the mines. As a result, all the stored ammunition detonated. The explosion was so strong that fragments of ammunition and debris of fortifications covered Kronstadt and Oranienbaum, and the blast wave in both cities blew out the windows. Since then the ruins of “Pavel I” were left.
Description of Kronshtadt forts on Kotlin island
Some of the fortifications were reasonably placed on a large natural island.
Stationary artillery fortification on the western tip of Kotlin was built in Peter the Great times to counter landing troops. The battery was named after Alexander.
Several underground galleries and low concrete walls with arrow-shaped configuration were built. When the fort lost its military purpose, it was turned into a testing ground, first for cement as a new building material and later for recoilless guns. After 1945 it housed a large-caliber coastal battery, then there was a period of dereliction.
Today the fort’s underground galleries and thematic exhibitions are open to visitors, and a walk through the picturesque grounds will also provide a lot of excitement.
A few kilometers away from “Reef” fort on the same Kotlin spit, in 1706, was the main defensive construction on the island. A century later outdated redoubt was rebuilt, and 50 years later instead of one installed three batteries, controlling the approach of enemy ships from any direction. During World War II the “Shantse” was the base of the Commander of the Coastal Defense.
The “Prince Menshikov” battery
Artillery casemate-type fortification of four tiers, defending the southern fairway, and harbors (Merchant and Middle) was erected on the site of the old wooden one in 1843-1850. The name of the battery was given by the head of the Marine Ministry, a descendant of Peter’s associate.
During the years of the siege of Leningrad on the site of the old battery stood two 100 mm guns. Now there is only one tier of the fort.
In 1808 near the south-western shore of Kotlin there was built a two-tiered battery, which was called Southern Double. In 1834 it was refined and renamed by order of Nicholas I in honor of his youngest son, Konstantin.
Before the Crimean War the battery was expanded, and later it was turned into a full-fledged fort with protection from the Baltic ice and the enemy’s guns. During the siege of Leningrad its guns covered Oranienbaum.
After the war the territory was given under the motor depot. Later, a dam protecting the northern capital from floods, passed in the vicinity of the fort. Now the area is being developed as a recreational park with dance festivals and a yacht club. Nearby is the Beacon Museum.
South numbered forts.
All three batteries were built in 1855-1856 to the designs of the chief engineer-fortificator of Russia – Eduard Totleben, who had already proven himself in Sevastopol and Kerch. Fortifications covered the water area of the Neva Bay and the big Kronstadt raid.
Southern Battery № 2 was named “Dzichkanets” after the engineer who led the work, and the South Battery № 3 since 1867 was called the turret one, because it was equipped with rotating naval guns with armored turrets. In 1879 by order of Emperor Alexander II it was listed as Fort Milyutin, in honor of the Minister of War.
The Northern Sea Forts of Kronstadt
The defense of the shallow and winding Northern fairway was achieved after the Crimean War. All forts No. 1 to No. 7 were originally built (as well as the southern forts) according to Totleben’s designs. They are sequentially located from Kotlin Island to Cape Fox Nose on the mainland.
From 1867 smooth-bore guns were gradually replaced by rifled ones. The engineer Konstantin Zverev was in charge of reconstruction. Later fort № 4 was named after him.
Before the Second World War the forts served as warehouses, and during the blockade antiaircraft and large-caliber guns covered the Baltic Fleet base from the side of Finland. Forts #3 and #7 during the construction of the protective dam of St. Petersburg fell into the construction zone and finally lost their shape.
The Totleben and Obruchev forts.
The building of the forts in the Gulf of Finland on the line from the Kotlin spit to the Dubki Park in Sestroretsk had been going on since 1896 up to the beginning of the First World War. Large constructions became completely autonomous and could for a long time fight independently.
After the October Revolution, one was renamed to Pervomaysky, and the other to Krasnoarmeisky. During Finnish and the Great Patriotic War both forts were providing fire support to the troops, fighting on the coast of the Karelian Isthmus.
Forts on the mainland on the shores of the Gulf of Finland are the latest military installations around Kronstadt.
Fort Krasnaya Gorka
This fortification in the narrowest point of the Gulf of Finland covered St. Petersburg from the enemy’s big ships on the far approaches to the capital. It was built in 1909-1915. The front battery directly on the cape was called “Gray Horse”.
The firepower of the fort was used during the Civil, the Finnish and the Great Patriotic Wars. During the latter the Oranienbaum bridgehead was held for more than two and a half years thanks to the artillery of “Red Mountain”.
The fortification opposite the “Krasnaya Gorka” was also built before the First World War on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Finland near the village of Ino. Combat action, in which defenders of the fort were involved, began in the spring of 1918 in the border conflict with Finland. The defense was conducted for three weeks in complete isolation. Then the garrison managed to evacuate. All the objects were blown up or burned.
The territory came back under the control of the USSR in 1940. After the Great Patriotic War there was organized a secret testing ground. Now a project of fort’s revival as a tourist site is being considered.
The Secrets of Vladivostok’s Dungeons What the forts of one of the most famous Russian fortresses hide
The Vladivostok Fortress is one of the largest not only in Russia, but in the world. Today most of the fortifications have lost their military value and are not used in any way. But there are more and more legends (and maybe not quite legends) about what their dungeons hide. “Lenta.ru” tells about one of the most interesting fortresses of the country.
If you come to Vladivostok, you simply must visit the Vladivostok Fortress complex. Without it, the image of the city won’t be complete. An outpost city, the most important port of Russia in the Far East, a full-fledged European urban center in an almost complete environment of Asia. Vladivostok probably wouldn’t be like this to this day if in the late 19th century, the decision to build grandiose defensive constructions hadn’t been made.
One of the British travelers who visited the city in 1877 commented on it this way: “I thought Vladivostok was Russian Gibraltar. But to my great pleasure I saw with my own eyes that Vladivostok is a place that can be taken and destroyed by the fleet. At that time, Russia’s most important port was completely devoid of any serious long-term defensive constructions. In 1878, the construction of the first fortifications of the future Vladivostok fortress began. The war with Turkey pushed Russian Military Department to this task.
There was a probability that Britain, ‘Lord of the Seas’, would come to the Turks’ side and try to attack Russian Far East (for example, the British and French made such an attempt during the Crimean War, when they landed troops near Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky). The first defensive structures were positions of artillery batteries. They were built near the city itself and on Russky Island, covering Vladivostok from the Sea of Japan. In the last years of XIX century and in early XX century began to build forts.
In 1903 the Pospelov Fort on Russky Island was one of the first to be finished. Since then it has not been rebuilt. It is not comparable in scale to the later forts, but still makes a strong impression. An important detail – it is easy to get there on your own, and it is impossible to get lost there. It is located near the exit from the bridge that connects the island with the city on the top of the 150-meter high hill.
You can appreciate the whole Vladivostok Fortress’s complex from here – you can see the hills with other defensive constructions. The fort itself consists of several barracks, powder cellar, bombproof shelters for anti-attack roll-out guns and casing, from which it was supposed to give gunfire to the attacking enemy. These are all massive concrete structures.
In one of the barracks there is even a casket for an icon. Of the underground fortifications, only the patena, an underground corridor with light windows, connecting the inner courtyard of the fort with the coffer. The whole complex is surrounded with deep and wide moat.
According to local lore specialists from Vladivostok, the fortress played its role in Japan’s failure to dare to attack the USSR in 1941
Photo: Vladimir Sayapin / TASS
Fortress saved from war
Although the Fortress of Vladivostok was built to defend the city against a perceived attack by the British navy and – which also posed a serious threat – the Chinese land army, it was the Japanese who first tested its strength. During the Russo-Japanese War, in March 1904, a Japanese squadron approached the city. However, all it dared to do was to bombard the city from a safe distance (so that the batteries located on Russky Island and near Vladivostok could not reach the ships with their fire).
By then, the defensive line of the city consisted of four forts, three temporary fortifications, five redoubts and 12 batteries. The shelling did not even cause panic in the city. On the contrary, the townspeople hurried to climb the tops of the nearby hills to see how the Japanese were firing and maneuvering. Such confidence in the townspeople and, on the contrary, uncertainty in the Japanese military was instilled by the Vladivostok fortress. Its fortifications met the most modern requirements of the time. Without causing any significant damage to the city and forts, the Japanese squadron left.
No more attempts to attack Vladivostok were made. Historians believe that it was because of the fortress that the Japanese did not dare to launch a large-scale military operation against the city.
After the war the construction of fortifications continued. In 1918 the city was already protected by 11 forts. Particular attention was paid to underground structures. Their total length reached 10 kilometers. Half of them were the tunnels that connected some defensive constructions with others.
Were equipped with dozens of counter-mine galleries (it is thanks to the underground mine galleries, the Japanese were able to destroy some of the fortifications of the fortress of Port Arthur during the war of 1904-1905). For waterproofing and soundproofing, the underground structures were covered with layers of asphalt concrete. Massive above-ground concrete structures blended into the landscape as if they were extensions of the hills. The construction was interrupted only by the Civil War and intervention in the Far East in 1918.
By the agreement between the Soviet power and Japan in 1923, Vladivostok Fortress wasn’t used as military object any more. Until 1937, the fortifications were abandoned. But when Japan occupied Manchuria and the prospect of an armed conflict arose, the Soviet Union took up the exploitation of the Vladivostok fortress again. According to the Vladivostok local lore, the fortress played its role in Japan’s failure to dare to attack the USSR in 1941. After all, in order to storm Vladivostok, it would have had to pull considerable forces and resources. Most forts of the fortress were used for the needs of the Soviet army up to 1990s. Today only three forts are in operation.