Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Hangö

The southernmost territory of Finland, located on the Gulf of Finland and comprising 400 islands and islets of some 70 square miles. Hangö (Hanko) is about 80 miles west of the city of Helsinki. The town was founded in 1874 when Finland was part of the Russian Empire. Hangö was utilized as a military base. German forces landed there in 1918. The Soviet Union desired Hangö as a strategic base to protect access to its second-largest city of Leningrad (Petrograd). During the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations of August 1939, Soviet Defense Commissar Marshal Kliment Voroshilov requested that Hangö be leased to the Soviet Union, a position reiterated during the Soviet-Finnish negotiations in the autumn of 1939.

According to the Moscow Peace Treaty that ended the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union (November 1940–March 1941), Finland was forced to lease Hangö as a naval base to the Soviet Union for thirty years. Together with a base at Paldiski in Estonia, Hangö closed off the Gulf of Finland. The Finns yielded Hangö at midnight on 22 May 1940. About 8,000 inhabitants lost their homes.

When war resumed between Finland and the Soviet Union in the Continuation War beginning in July 1941, Hangö saw many small battles. No major operations occurred as the Soviets withdrew on 2 December 1941. The town was left heavily mined, which resulted in considerable damage. On 8 December 1941 Hangö was reincorporated into Finland. Under the terms of the Finnish-Soviet Armistice of 19 September 1944 and the subsequent Peace Treaty of 10 February 1947, the Soviets gave up their claims to Hangö in favor of the Porkkala peninsula, situated closer to Helsinki. Following World War II, Hangö lost much of its military importance. Today only the neighboring island of Russarö is fortified and employed for surveillance and defense of the Gulf of Finland.

Silviu Miloiu


Further Reading
Vehvilainen, Olli. Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia. London: Palgrave, 2002.
 

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