Estonian War Museum
More background info:
The official name of the museum is “Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum” (or ‘Eesti Sõjamuuseum – kindral Laidoneri muuseum’ in Estonian). It’s named after Johan Laidoner, the commander of the national troops in that war against Russia
and later commander-in-chief of the Estonian military until 1940.
The museum was first established as early as before the end of the War of Independence, in 1919. Upon their arrival in 1940, the Soviets unsurprisingly closed it down and all the museum’s contents were taken from the original location on Vene Street in central Tallinn
and moved elsewhere, also to Russia, or destroyed.
The building that the museum is now housed in, Viimsi Manor (originally constructed in the 1830s), used to be the summer residence of Johan Laidoner, whom it was donated to in 1923 in recognition of his role in the creation of the Estonian nation. After the Soviet Union
, Laidoner was arrested in July 1940 and taken to Russia, where he died in prison thirteen years later. During the Nazi
German occupation of Estonia, the manor was used by the German Wehrmacht.
In the Soviet era, between 1945 and 1992, the building was home to a signals and intelligence unit of the Soviet Baltic Navy. After the Soviets’ departure following Estonia
’s regaining of independence in 1991, the manor was temporarily turned into the Viimsi Parish Museum, which began collecting items related to Laidoner and his family.
The Estonian War Museum was re-established in 2001 by decree of the Defence Ministry, which ordered the takeover of the premises of Viimsi Manor. The contents of the museum had to be built up from scratch, since none of the original artefacts were still available. But thanks to many donations of privately held (previously often illegally hidden) objects and documents, the museum now boasts a large collection.
Viimsi Manor is actually far too small for the display of all the items in the museum’s possession. Most larger objects are currently housed in a hangar-like building a few hundred yards away. A plan for potentially moving to new, larger premises is being considered, possibly to the Patarei Sea Fortress (cf. Patarei prison
What there is to see:
As you approach the manor house that the museum is housed in you pass two artillery cannons that flank the path, thus setting the military scene, as it were. Inside you purchase your ticket – and, when I visited, the woman at the desk explained the two parts of the museum. I declined the invitation to visit the upstairs rooms dedicated to General Laidoner (see above
), so I cannot comment on those parts.
I concentrated on the proper war museum part only. This starts off with a bit of pre-context, especially that of WW1
. At the end of this war German troops withdrew and the new Soviet
Red Army attempted to reinvade the Baltic lands that had once been part of the Tsarist Russian empire, beginning in late 1918. With that the Estonian War of Independence
began. This is what the first major section of the museum deals with. In addition to documents and explanatory texts (all in Estonian and English) there are life-size mock-ups, such as a light field gun manned by two dummies and a destroyed Red Army position and wounded soldier of the German-formed Landeswehr, which was also involved in the conflict.
The inter-war years
was an independent nation receive little coverage, but then we move on into WWII
, when Estonia was first briefly occupied by the USSR
, followed by the occupation by Nazi Germany
from 1940 to 1945. A large exhibit here is the display of three differently uniformed dummies, one of them a Nazi officer complete with an Iron Cross, having a cordial drinking session together. Text-and photo-panels provide information about this period. Another life-size exhibit depicts a scene from the Battle of Tannenberg, one of the bloodiest fought on Estonian soil, in the summer of 1944. It’s a trench reconstruction with two soldiers, one a wounded Estonian. In addition, glass display cases are filled with smaller artefacts such as soldiers boots, water flasks, handguns, helmets, medals and so forth.
The next section is about the Forest Brothers
, a partisan organization that fought a guerilla war of resistance against the renewed occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union after the end of WWII. This declined after 1949 following large numbers of Forest Brother partisans having either been killed or arrested and sent to gulags
in the USSR
. Yet another life-size display shows two figures, one a Forest Brother and the other a young female figure, having what looks like a picnic in the woods. A text panel tells their (tragic) story: he Jaan Oras, was betrayed and sent to a gulag in Magadan
where he died in 1948, while she, Leida, was also imprisoned and sent into exile, but eventually returned home. Another life-size exhibit was supposed to be a reconstruction of a Forest Brother bunker – but somehow I missed that.
The following section is about the Soviet years
and the Cold War
. The largest exhibit here is a Willys Jeep, originally given to the USSR
by the USA
as part of the WWII lend-lease and later used in various forms e.g. at kolkhoz farms. These vehicles gave rise to the Estonian word “villis” for all kinds of jeeps including Soviet-built GAZ varieties.
Also covered are the nuclear threat of the Cold War, the various long-range Soviet bombers, some of which would have been stationed in the Baltics (see Riga aviation museum
), civil defence, and also ways in which young Estonian men tried to dodge mandatory military service in the Soviet Army.
Another aspect here are the various proxy wars
, such as the Korean War
and the Vietnam War
, into which Estonians also got dragged.
A side section focuses on militarization of daily life including that of children, and numerous war toys are on display.
Some individual stories of Estonians who fled and later began a military career in the USA
are highlighted and some of their belongings are on display.
Finally, the years after independence
and Estonia’s entering NATO
are also covered, plus peacekeeping missions by the UN
in which Estonians were (or still are) involved as well, complete with a blue-helmeted dummy on display.
This concludes the indoor exhibition, but outside are a few more open-air exhibits, in particular a Navy gun and a T-34 Soviet tank.
And then there is the separate exhibition of large military hardware in a hangar
up the road (see locations
). This has two parts, one is filled with all manner of artillery pieces of various calibres (up to 150mm), the other houses a collection of military vehicles mainly from WWII and the Cold War, including a couple of tanks and various armoured personnel carriers. Personally I don’t get that much of a kick out of looking at such military vehicles and guns, so I didn’t spend long there. In fact so short was my stay that the guy at the entrance voiced his great surprise at seeing me leave so soon after I had entered.
All in all
, while some of the historical narratives are quite interesting and some of the displays almost endearing in their old-school style, this is more a place for proper military history buffs. I found the military minutiae a bit boring and the objects on display not especially engaging. I much preferred the Maarjamäe Contemporary History Museum
which is far less focused on the military side of Estonia. But as I said, people with a deeper interest in all things military may well enjoy this Estonian War Museum a lot more than I did.
off the street Aiandi tee in the suburb of Viimsi outside Estonia
’s capital Tallinn
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: quite far out of Tallinn, but relatively easy by bus; not too expensive.
: You can reach Viimsi by public transport from Tallinn
(if you don’t have your own means of transport), ideally by bus line 174 e.g. from Mere puiestee between the Old Town and Rotermanni. Get off at Viimsi mõis and walk further up the road, then turn left and follow the signs. Alternatively take bus line 1A from the Viru bus station, get off at Viimsi vallamaja and then walk back the way you came on Nelgi tee and turn right, then left (that’s a ca. 600m walk).
The hangar with the collection of military vehicles and heavy artillery is in a different location ca. 450 metres away; from the museum walk back and turn left on to Aiandi tee ascending the hillside, then turn right into Vehema tee. The entrance in the second building on the left is easy to spot.
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; the vehicle/artillery collection is open only seasonally (May to October) and only Friday to Sunday also from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; outside these times it’s accessible only by pre-booked guided tour.
Admission: 5 EUR (concession 3 EUR for people with disabilities, pensioners, teachers and students from 13 years old; children up to 12 free)
Time required: this really depends on how much interest you have in military history and hardware. I spent only about half an hour in the main museum and just a few minutes in the vehicles hangar (as tanks and artillery leave me relatively cold); but real military history buffs who may want to read everything there is and marvel at length at the military hardware in the hangar could well spend up to a couple of hours here.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Nothing in the vicinity, except perhaps Laidoneri Park directly to the west of the museum.
- EWM 01 - main museum building
- EWM 02 - inside
- EWM 03 - recreations in 2D and 3D
- EWM 04 - wounded soldier dummy
- EWM 05 - surrender or death
- EWM 06 - ouch
- EWM 07 - drinking with Nazis
- EWM 08 - partisans in the forest
- EWM 09 - typical exhibits
- EWM 10 - Jeep
- EWM 11 - rifle embedded in a tree trunk
- EWM 12 - rations
- EWM 13 - war games
- EWM 14 - into modern times
- EWM 15 - nuclear threat
- EWM 16 - contemporary UN missions
- EWM 17 - tank outside
- EWM 18 - big gun
- EWM 19 - separate hangar with military vehicles
- EWM 20 - ... and assorted artillery
- EWM 21 - more hardware
- EWM 22 - inside an armoured personnel carrier