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War indemnity schooners

Written by Jouni Arjava, senior engineer

One of the most surprising features in the Soviet Union’s list of products was the more-than-expected requirement of wooden vessels. During Swedish time and even after the Crimean War the reputation of Finnish ship carpentry was at its height.In coastal and outer archipelago areas, peasant carpenters and master shipbuilders were maintaining this tradition as late as the 1930s by constructing galleons and yachts, while around the lake districts the emphasis was on steam and other types of barge.

During indemnity talks the Finnish side had been under the impression that archipelago galleons and standard carriers should be built enabling peasant carpenters to alleviate the pressure placed on the ship wharfs. However, it soon became clear that the Soviet Union was demanding nearly 100 three-masted seagoing vessels, which could not possibly be produced during the mid-1940s; even the 1000-tonne composite barges agreed upon constituted a very different class of dimensions from those carriers suited for canal locks. Frames, substantially wider than the village carpenters were accustomed to, were being demanded; the inner island shorelines meanwhile were not considered. In the coastal areas only three individuals were known to be equal to the task of building the three-masted schooners: engineer Gösta Kyntzell in Porvoo, engineer Jarl Lindblom in Turku and Kaarlo Pulli from Koivisto in Pakinainen. New wharfs would have to be built for the construction of such vessels.

Professor Jaakko Rahola served as shipbuilding director for SOTEVA, the war indemnities coordinator, while engineer Erkki Jussila was appointed director for the construction of wooden vessels. Rahola ordered the pre-planning of schooners to be carried out by Gösta Kyntzell, a renowned boat and vessel constractor; Albin Gustafson – of the famous shipbuilding family Valax for semi-finished models and drawings – was also enlisted to sketch the schooners. Renowned builder Jarl Lindblom was appointed overall design director.

The war indemnity schooners would be built at four wharfs: LATE in Turku, Hollming in Rauma, Eklöf in Porvoo and Valkon Laiva Oy at Lovisaviken


When the specific quality stipulations for war indemnities had been finalised in December 1944, it was clear that the only chance of fulfilling the tasks ahead was to create a large-scale industrial plant. In January 1945 three shipbuilding companies – FÅA, AL and Oceanfart – jointly decided to establish a wooden-vessel wharf at Pansio, called Oy Laivateollisuus Ab (LATE) where 45 of the 90 schooners would be built. An anti-magnetic seagoing research vessel would later be added to the workload. Jarl Lindblom, who was appointed principal designer and technical director, proved a highly imaginative engineer. He immediately set about applying the most up-to-date techniques available at the time to meet the demanding tasks ahead. This was essential since suitably qualified ship carpenters were in short supply.
Jarl Lindblom was appointed to manage planning and drawing operations for all four wharfs. A building permit was granted for the wharf in February 1945. At the same time, planning the wharf and the production methods had to be effected for the specific vessels, bearing in mind the different production methods used by the four wharfs.

In his wharf-planning, Lindblom believed in the principle that ships should be built under cover. This principle would be widely accepted much later; he was a pioneer in this context. In the LATE shipbuilding-hall two lines built parallel to the shoreline could each house four schooners side-by-side. In this way eight schooners could be built at the same time.

Apart from this large hall, many technical and social buildings were required – not least, accommodation for the workers.

As in the rest of Europe, raw materials and machines were in short supply in Finland, due to reconstruction operations and an all-encompassing war indemnities industry. As a result, the wharf was not completed on time. The building of schooners did not begin until the summer of 1946, and even then in only semi-finished construction areas.

The 91 war indemnity schooners included 17 training schooners – since they used square sails on the foremast: 15 built by LATE, including VEGA; two at Hollming – Junga & Shturman. Above, the main drawing of the Hollming training schooners.
Drawing: Hollming Oy

Engagement of workers

Technicians were clearly in short supply, especially as the shipbuilding industry was expanding. Highly competent managers for drawing operations and building managers were difficult to find. Birger Westin, the son of Lindblom’s uncle, Zake Westin, the renowned boat-builder, eventually accepted this challenge. He had just returned from the War with no time to undertake engineering studies. This shortage concerned, on the one hand, technicians and skilled shipbuilders – with particular experience in building wooden vessels. Lindblom’s principle of serial production would mean trying to manage the process without any actual ship carpenters. By adopting the “glue-wood” method, work operations could be organised in such a way as to enable workers to master their duties quickly.
When production of wooden vessels began for war indemnities, it looked as if, in Finland at least, one could be confident of locating access to production timber. However, it soon became clear that access to rough timber for hull and masts and natural trimmings for the 90 schooners would be rapidly exhausted. This prompted the call to develop the “glue-wood” method at LATE. That would first require the approval of the recipient, who was as yet unfamiliar with this method. It should be mentioned here that the use of “glue-wood” beams, common in building houses today, had its origin in “glue-wood” production at LATE. Even if sawn wood was readily available, the problem of its rapid curing still remained.

Since every available sub-contractor was overloaded, this inevitably led to delays in sub-contracting operations in terms of both vessel-building and wharf-equipment. Contracting compression-ignition engines from Sweden, for instance, became so difficult that in 1948 they began producing them under the licence of Statens Flygmaskinsfabrik, the national aeronautical plant.
LATE also provided drawings for the three other wharfs mentioned above, which required different drawing principles due to the differing production methods used. However, the other wharfs had begun production ahead of LATE; as their needs were more pressing, this delayed the production start-up at LATE. Despite these priorities, work at the other wharfs went ahead before drawings were received from LATE; work comprised individual drawings and photographs taken of the operations carried out, and then the obtaining of the recipient’s formal approval on the basis of the pictures taken. Photographs of a sailing schooner had to be sent all the way to Moscow as proof that a vessel had been completed, despite the lack of drawings.
LATE would build a total of 46 schooners: half the number of schooners originally ordered, plus a special anti-magnetic seagoing research vessel.

F.W. Hollming Oy

The Hollming wharf in Rauma would build the second largest number of schooners ordered – 34 vessels. This wharf was, in practical terms, completely different from that of LATE. Its background, connection with SOTEVA contractors and operation methods were in complete contrast to those of LATE.
SOTEVA originally thought that LATE would manage the whole operation. However, it soon became clear that time was running out. Even when Eklöf and Valkom were brought in, things were still running behind schedule.
When it became known in 1944 that the schooners would form part of the war indemnities, cousins August Mannonen and Kaarlo Pulli - builders of schooners “Saarentähti” and “Koivisto” - considered the possibility of helping out. However, since the plan had been to order the whole production series differently, that possibility fell through. Nevertheless, engineer Holger Schwindt at Grönbloms Maskinaffär realised the problems in starting up the business and urged Pulli to contact SOTEVA. The shipbuilders from Koivisto met an old acquaintance, an engineer called Åke Weber, who classified their schooners at Bureau Veritas and referred them to Rahola and Jussila.

Even in the 1940s it was difficult to find timber suitable for the schooner keel. Above, the keel for an indemnity schooner at the Hollming wharf with the two erected frames.
Photograph: Hollming Oy, photo archive

When Jussila tentatively inquired about the vessel type they had previously built, Mannonen produced from his pocket a photograph of Koivisto. It was then that Jussila showed interest, yet tried, by invoking the rule of law, to force them to accept work at Valkon Laiva. However, these freelance operators had no interest in becoming paid employees.
Before long, Kaarlo Pulli made clear his proposal to his old friend, Captain Filip Hollming: “We’ll bring in Captain Hugo Pontynen and build the vessels.” F.W. Hollming was a very knowledgeable businessman; in Koivisto he had run a dispatch and stevedoring company and owned several mills. Pulli and Mannonen, for their part, were from a shipbuilding family, both having built vessels since the age of 21, collectively and individually. Pontynen had been harbour captain in Koivisto; not only that, he had also served as sea trial inspector, hull inspector, classification surveyor and compass adjuster.
The Soviet Union would not accept private individuals as contract parties. By increasing the number of owners to four and modifying the area of activity, the legally recognised F.W Hollming Oy became a certified company wharf. F.W. Hollming became the managing director and Kaarlo Pulli his technical manager. He also planned the first riggings which suited LATE at that time. Mannonen had wide experience in wood procurement for shipbuilding all over southern Finland while Pontynen was highly qualified in matters relating to equipment, monitoring and testing.
These four decisive men sought to hold talks with Rahola and Jussila at SOTEVA. The latter warmly accepted the quartet’s offer in theory, yet to sell the idea in practice would be far from easy. Rauma would be very doubtful; would it be wise to let unknown outsiders establish a wharf in a traditional seaport town? Rahola and Jussila anticipated the difficulty by encouraging Rauma locals to establish the wharf themselves. Their response was unequivocal: “Let the Koivisto men do it!”

Rauma town council granted them a lease for 1.5 hectares of land. The week before the SOTEVA order, work was already underway to clear the wharf area. Many other formalities would be sorted out later. Word of this new place of work spread quickly to Koivisto shipbuilders who gladly seized the chance to begin a new life doing a job they mastered. Skilled workers from around Rauma joined the team. As early as June, the keel was laid in the first two schooners.
In Koivisto vessels had been built along the open coastline without any changes to wharf organisation. This would prove to be the wharf’s strength. While the owner in Koivisto had built one vessel at a time using a certain number of workers, now every available working adult was being recruited in one single location to build a whole series of vessels; the wooden wheels were turning at the old pace. Initially, there were no drawings, not that they needed them. The advantage of building vessels without drawings has become part of certain well-known anecdotes. Kaarlo Pulli, the technical director at the wharf, had already studied books on shipbuilding; even before accepting the challenge, the war indemnity body familiarised itself with the stipulated regulations on wooden vessels. Pulli had a fine handwriting style. However, when someone, who had completed a detailed drawing for SOTEVA, showed his draft to a supervisor named Kukko, the latter exclaimed: “Have you already drawn what we have yet to build?”
Between the parallel berths - the length of three vessels – a slipway was constructed for wagons. A maximum of six hulls were erected at one time at the wharf.
The first launch took place in June 1946 in the presence of staff and satisfied representatives from SOTEVA and the Soviet Union. This wharf witnessed the departure of the first of all war indemnity vessels. The handing over to SOTEVA in September 1946 signified the completion of the first new product in the indemnity delivery..
Rough timber wood was required - straight and crooked. August Mannonen knew where he needed to look. Baron Cedercreutz’s forests in Kjulo was the first port of call. Mannonen had in his pocket one of the expropriation permits acquired from SOTEVA so he could, when needed, buy the stamped stocks. Acquiring timber was one thing, but there was another problem. The Soviet Union’s Register decreed that the wood used for the vessels had to be in a dry state for two years. The Register’s inspector asked Pulli brusquely why the wood used was fresh, to which the latter replied obnoxiously: “Two years ago we thought we would win the war! Did you have dry wood back then?”
As in the case of LATE, mentioned above, everything was in such short supply, making it difficult to obtain work machines and the like in time. At Hollming though, the start-up was not so much due to the demanding conditions, but rather a lack of basic tools.
They were forced to turn to the black market; and as they could not get axes they had to order one thousand before the factory at Billnäs went along with the production of axes.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jarl Lindblom and others described the wharf at Hollming as “old”; as mentioned above, F.W. Hollming Oy in Koivisto was a dispatch and stevedoring business, and Filip Hollming a saw owner.
Although Pulli and Mannonen had built individual vessels for their own use, there was no actual wharf in Koivisto. This must have been a great disappointment to Lindblom that work at his planned wharf, for which he had high hopes, should suffer serious delays due mainly to insurmountable obstacles.
Before LATE had handed over their first schooner, the other three wharfs had already built 15. The pressures imposed by SOTEVA, whose own position was precarious, must have been extreme. One can fully understand Lindblom’s choice of word to be lacking in tact given the pressure he was under to defend himself. Nevertheless, many impartial writers regarded the Hollming wharf as new.


In December 1944 August Eklöf from Porvoo received an inquiry from SOTEVA about the possibility of building war indemnity schooners at the company wharf in Tolkis. The company was, from the outset, not interested since it would be more sensible to channel their resources to meet the growing demand for sawn timber. Besides, the wharf at Tolkis was small and would not cope with a serial production of large schooners.
In the end, it was considered in the national interest more practical to build a new wharf at Hammars five kilometres away. Two four-masted schooners had been built there 25 years earlier, but nothing remained of the previous wharf. As a result, it did not seem inappropriate to call Hammars an “old wharf”, even though various key people were taken on from the Tolkis wharf. One example was engineer Kyntzell who had made the first sketchings of the schooners for SOTEVA and was now appointed wharf director, despite the Tolkis wharf operating to some extent as a sub-contractor for Hammars.
The building of yachts and galleons at the time continued to be active in Porvoo and Sipoo. Eklöf hoped to engage local master shipbuilders and those who had built galleons for the purpose of constructing war indemnity schooners. However, most of them tended to operate as self-employed shipbuilders who constructed galleons for themselves for the subsequent transportation of sand and wood. During the five-year period of indemnity schooner building at Hammars, 35 private galleons were built in Porvoo and Sippo.
It was shipbuilder Karl Mickelsson from Emsalo who expertly set in motion work operations. Another key expert in getting things underway was slip master Evert Johansson from Tolkis. Migrants from Carelia were taken on at Hammars. The pace of work at Hammars was equal to that at Hollming. For the first two years they lived with broad axes. The laying of the first keel took place one month before that at Hollming and the first launch five days after that at Rauma. A gold medal was awarded for handing over the first schooner “to cross the starting line”. The first schooner from Hammars was handed over as early as 30th August 1946, but it was sent straight back due to a mechanical bearing failure which meant that the final departure did not successfully take place until the end of September, a couple of days after the transfer from Hollming. Seven schooners would be built at Hammars.


The fourth wharf to build indemnity schooners was Valkon Laiva Oy at Valkom, Pernaja. The founders were Repola-Viipuri Oy and Lahti Oy, the latter owning a wide yard area with a narrow-gauge railway by the Valkom harbour. The emphasis had been on building 1000-tonne composite barges; however, to speed up the process of schooner construction, the Valkom wharf was commissioned to build four sailing vessels.
Engineer Erkki Kinnunen became managing director of the company while the post of technical director went initially to engineer Teppo Riki and later to engineer Lassi Vesamaa. The Lahti Oy set-up was responsible for the procurement of wood products.
The start-up of work and formal decisions also took place here in a rather unusual order. In April 1945 construction of the wharf began, in July SOTEVA ordered four schooners and three barges while the wharf company itself was established only on 20th August 1945, when the keel was laid in the first schooner.
It was a question of starting from scratch since there were no work machines, workshops or places of accomodation for the workers.
Even here, help was provided by islanders from Carelian archipilago. Although they began work by hand, the pace was brisk. By December they had laid keels in all four schooners - the first being handed over to SOTEVA the following year (1946), the last in January 1948. Meanwhile all four 1000-tonne barges were also completed.

The Vessels

The indemnity schooners were three-masted sailing vessels made of wood with an auciliary engine, 17 of which were training vessels rigged like schooners. The freight schooners had either fork and top sail or Bermuda sail. The auxiliary engines were three-cylinder, two-stroke compression-ignition engines or semi-diesel engines. The engines weighed all of 11 tonnes producing 225 horsepowers.

73 freight schooners were built: 29 with fork rigs, 44 with Bermuda sails. Above, a fork-rigged freight schooner delivered from Hollming in 1951, provisionally named H-44, on a test sailing.
Photograph: Hollming Oy, photo archive

When a delay occurred in the delivery of engines, production of machines began under the licence used at the VALMET plant at Linnavuori.

Differences between wharf vessels

What in reality was the advantage of creating schooners in the same way at each wharf? Everything stemmed from Jarl Lindblom, who headed planning at LATE and distributed drawings to the other wharfs.
As already mentioned, work began so quickly at the other wharfs that the drawing office at LATE could not meet their demands for drawings. Besides, the work methods at the three other wharfs differed noticeably from those at LATE.
What is particularly interesting is the question of how all the schooner lines – even the very first one – could be so similar. At Eklöf, for instance, the building process diverged from the drawings in terms of the bow and stern, as suggested by local experts.
Pulli recalls in an interview that since it was impossible to find timber wood to meet the demands for fibre tightness and drying time, he offered instead some rougher material which the recipient could accept as building timber. This would, however, affect the ship’s external measurements. Since the loading area could not be any smaller, the thicker timber would take up more exterior room. The width was increased by 35cm which would also affect the length of the thicker frames. However, since it was never measured, it would hardly be noticed on the drawings.
In Kaarlo Pulli’s estate a copy of the LATE line drawing was discovered, on which someone had begun drawing in pencil deviating lines. The distances between the frames were the same, but the distances between the waterlines were different. This may suggest that the hull measurements had been transferred from an already existing drawing using the same principal dimensions. The lines differ marginally at the bow but considerably at the stern. According to previous work allocations, Mannonen produced a half-model and hull design which Pulli would later incorporate into his drawings. Did Pulli benefit in that regard by making comparisons between his own lines and those of LATE? In some way he had adopted the Saarentähti and Koivisto lines, and therefore by making some slight alterations to the principal dimensions, he could shape the indemnity schooners. The Hammars wharf provided access, when required, to pre-planning material by Kyntzell.


What was the cost of these schooners? It is difficult to give an accurate answer. The 90 wooden sailing vessels demanded by the Soviet Union on the December 1944 inventory list were valued at 15,000 US Dollars each. Finnish brokers calculated this figure on the basis of island galleons and the 1944 value of the Dollar which seemed an acceptable rate. However, not long after the agreement was signed, the Soviet Union demanded the corresponding monetary value for 1938.
In February 2000 we were finally given access to vessel specifications. It was no longer a question of Sipoo galleons, rather three-masted seagoing sailing vessels. The average price paid by SOTEVA to the wharfs for the schooners at the 1946 rates amounted to around 29 million Finnish Marks, for freight schooners about 27m FM and for training vessels about 36m FM. The value of the Dollar for war indemnities in terms of schooners equated to 2000 FM.

The Golden Schooner

The Soviet Union suggested rather late that one more schooner should be built in lieu of various other items, which would clearly not meet the deadline. This schooner would be used for research activities. It would be completely anti-magnetic with a fully equipped laboratory. At the time there were only two other such comparable schooners in the world. After lengthy discussions, it fell to LATE to assume this challenging task. Every possible type of metal had to be tested in place of steel. Ballast was pure lead. Rolling of the metals was complicated since magnetic metal from the cylinders stuck to the product. Welding and stapling the joints also posed problems. This vessel would cost Finland around 243 million Finnish Marks according to 1952 monetary values, equating to 2½ times the price of a standard schooner. Hence the nickname: “Golden Schooner”.
This last indemnity schooner was delivered on 18th September 1952, one day before the expiry date for war indemnities. The vessel was officially named “Zarja” (Dawn). As mentioned in the official speech: “She would symbolise a brighter future for the Finnish people who now had time to think for themselves.”
Building almost a hundred wooden schooners in the middle of the 20th century was an exceptional feat. On the one hand, all areas of shipbuilding expertise were once again applied in this magnificent effort; on the other hand, a modern technique for treating wood was adopted and developed in half the ships constructed, which would later be used in the building of houses. Every possible resource was needed to manage the tasks within an extremely tight schedule. Credit goes unreservedly to everyone who contributed to the successful completion of this titanic task.


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Vega Foundation


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