A Vintage Submarine And Icebreaker In Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour

Tallinn
Tallinn has been an important port and Estonia’s connection with the world since before recorded history. Because of this, the city has not one, but two museums dedicated to the sea. The Maritime Museum is housed in Fat Margaret, an old cannon tower that once protected the harbor. It has the usual assortment of old photos and gear, along with a very cool exhibit on sunken ships.

The other museum is far more interactive. Housed in an old seaplane hanger dating to World War I, Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour Museum is filled with old ships and other maritime bric-a-brac.

Estonians seem to favor odd lighting in their museums. The Bastion Tunnels have a weird combination of red, yellow, and purple lights. At the Seaplane Harbor museum they seem to favor purple and blue. It gives the place a spooky under-the-sea feel.

Dominating the exhibit is the Lembit, a submarine built in 1936 by the English company Vickers and Armstrongs for the Estonian Navy. When Estonia fell to the Soviet Union in 1940 it was incorporated into the Red Banner Baltic Fleet of the Soviet Navy and saw action against the Axis powers. It managed to sink two ships and damage another.

Climb aboard and you’ll see an almost perfectly preserved submarine that was the cutting edge of technology of its time. You can visit the control room, periscope, radio room, torpedo tubes and cramped crewmen’s bunks all pretty much as they were. It didn’t feel too cramped to me until I read that it housed a crew of 32. Then I decided to enlist in the Army. Check out the gallery for some photos of this fascinating sub.

%Gallery-179305%As you walk around your eyes will be drawn upward by the two giant rotating propellers hanging from the ceiling. They’re so big you might miss the seaplane fitted with skis suspended nearby. A walkway takes you past other historic ships and an extensive collection of mines, presumably defused.

This is a fully interactive museum with touchscreen displays to teach you more about what you’re seeing. You can also man an antiaircraft gun and see how good you’d be defending Tallinn from an enemy air force. Then hop aboard a reproduction Sopwith Camel and try out a flight simulator. While I managed to save Tallinn from the bad guys, my flying skills showed that I should keep my driving on the ground.

Once you’re done with the indoor exhibits, head out back to visit the Suur Tõll, an icebreaker built in 1914 that saw service for several decades, clearing the Baltic Sea lanes during cold winters. Like with the Lembit, it’s well preserved and you can wander all over it. It seemed vast and luxurious compared with the submarine. The officer’s mess looked as big as a ballroom (it wasn’t), the quarters for the crew felt sumptuous (not!) and the engine room was like some Industrial Revolution factory. It takes a pretty tough person to be a sailor, and someone twice as tough to work in a submarine.

If you are at all interested in technology or the sea, don’t miss this place. Your kids will love it too. The museum has an excellent and reasonably priced little restaurant overlooking the hanger in case you get hungry.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Estonia’s Rich Art and Literature Scene!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Tallinn

Confederate submarine set upright for first time since 1864

Confederate submarineThe H.L. Hunley made history back in 1864 when it became the first submarine to successfully attack an enemy ship. Launched by the Confederacy as a way to break the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War, it sank the USS Housatonic on 17 February 1864 and itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter.

Crew members hand cranked the propeller to make the sub move forward and its one weapon was a bomb set at the end of a long pole. The idea was to ram a ship with the bomb, which would then explode and leave a hole below the waterline. That’s what happened when the H.L. Hunley attacked one of the warships blockading Charleston harbor, but the sub never returned from its mission.

The Hunley was later found and brought to the surface. Now after several years of restoration the Confederate submarine has been placed upright for the first time since its sinking. The sub had been found resting at a 45 degree angle in a layer of silt and was kept in the same position until now. Moving it to the upright position has given researchers a look at a side of the ship unseen since 1864.

The researchers have found some holes on that side but are unsure if they are natural erosion or the cause of the Hunley’s sinking. Analysis of the bones of the eight crew members showed they died of a lack of oxygen. Interestingly, they were all at their posts as if nothing was going wrong.

You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied. The Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

Confederate submarine

[Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons]