Monday, 2 June 2014

SGO history 1944: Lapland War and destroyed Observatory

I was browsing photos of the Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive, a project of the Finnish Defence Forces, and found a set of photos of the Observatory taken by an army photographer 30 October 1944. The photo title given at the sa-kuva.fi site states: “Saksalaiset ovat perääntyessään tuhonneet maailman vanhimman observatorion Sodankylässä täydellisesti.”, i.e “During the withdrawal, the German troops have completely destroyed world’s oldest observatory in Sodankylä”. This was no surprise, as the German troops used the scorched Earth policy during the withdrawal, for example they practically burned all the buildings in Rovaniemi. Hence, Observatory was no exception in this unfortunate war.


It is interesting to read the Observatory annual report of 1944. This document was written by the Observatory Director E. Sucksdorff. According to the report, all the population of Lapland was evacuated during September 1944. The Observatory staff emptied their desks on the 15 September. They took all the recorded data with them, unprinted manuscripts, unfinished studies as well as most important observation and recording devices. The staff and all the material were relocated to Helsinki. However, it was impossible to take everything at short notice and much of the equipment was left behind. Observatory staff wrote notes in Finnish and German, which explained the special purpose of the site and asked that the facility would be left intact. The notes were placed in visible locations, such as on doors etc.


Unfortunately the notes did not help at all and, in practice, the entire Observatory was destroyed. Only an old, and rotten, pilot ball tower (pilotpallotorni in Finnish - for weather balloon experiments, I suppose) and some meteorological observation devices survived. Only ruins were found when Finnish Defence Forces arrived at the Observatory. Among the army personnel, was a photographer, who took some photos of the destruction. Today these photos are publicly available at sa-kuva.fi. This is a pretty unique site to explore the WWII happenings in Finland -- and well worth to visit. Hence, today we feature some photos of the burned Observatory site during the Lapland war year 1944.


The tower and meteorological observation devices were the
only untouched instruments at the site. Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

Source: SA-kuva

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