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The Crimean War and the Skirmish of Halkokari

 

The Crimean War began in 1853 when Russian Czar Nikolai I declared war with Turkey. At that time almost half of Europe, including Finland was under Russian rule. Great Britain, France and Sardinia were concerned about the possible expansion of Russia and formed an alliance together with Turkey against Russia. Great Britain and France sent their respective navies to the north, to the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia to disrupt trade and shipbuilding in the area.

In the summer of 1854, four British navy ships patrolling the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia destroyed ships, dockyards and all the materials which were used for shipbuilding: timber, tar, pitch, ropes and fabrics for making sails.  Once news reached other towns, residents took precautions by hiding and sinking their vessels, throwing timbers into the sea. In Kokkola, merchant Anders Donner devised a plan to take defensive action and meet the enemy with arms. One hundred civilian volunteers and two Russian infantry companies armed with two cannons were assembled.

HMS Odin and HMS Vulture, two large steam paddle-frigates of the British navy arrived in Kokkola in the evening of 7th June 1854. Shallow water in the mouth of the harbour prevented them from docking. Nine paddleboats with 17 officers and 180 men aboard were sent to Kokkola harbour.

Under the auspices of a negotiation flag, the British came ashore with the intention of ransacking the town. The British made announcements that they would destroy all war contraband and demanded these be handed over voluntarily. When representatives of the city refused, the British prepared for attack. One of nine gunboats carrying Royal Navy marines set out at 11 pm in the light summer night to explore the surroundings. When the gunboat came close to the Halkokari dock, it was fired upon by Kokkola civilians who had been lying in wait behind boards constructed between the warehouses.  The defending forces were well protected by the buildings in the harbour and no casualties were recorded aside from one horse which had to be put down due to a broken leg. On the contrary, 17 British marines died and 39 were wounded.

After a 45 minute battle the British Navy retreated. During the retreat, one of the gunboats became grounded on a shipwreck and was captured with its crew was taken as prisoners. The captured gunboat with its battle damage still visible is on display in the ‘English Park’ in Kokkola.

The crew on the boat consisted of 28 men of which 9 were killed. They were buried at the Maria cemetery in Kokkola, where their graves can be seen still today. The fallen soldiers in the boats which managed to return to the frigates were buried at sea between Pietarsaari and Kokkola.

 

The British prisoners were given food, drink and the wounded received medical care. Prisoners were even invited to a ball which was held in honour of the victory over the attackers where they danced with local womenfolk. Able-bodied prisoners were sent home via St Petersburg, the capital of Russia at the time. Injured prisoners remained in hospital and recovered during the following summer and they were able to return home in the autumn.

 

Subsequently, the United Kingdom has requested the return of the gunboat since it was the only Royal Navy vessel openly in foreign possession in 1914. The town council has refused the requests and the British Treasury pays a small sum each year for the maintainance of the 9 graves of the fallen marines.

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Updated 20/03/2012 | Send feedback | Print