In the Old Port of Kotka, next to the Maritime Centre Vellamo, lies the steaming icebreaker Tarmo. Built in Great Britain 1907, Tarmo represented the latest in icebreaker development. She was built according to American style and she even had electricity. She has two engines as well as two propellers – at bow and stern.
Tarmo’s main duty was to clear the waterway for vessels during the icy Finnish winters and help vessels to get through the icy waters. During the hard ice winters in the 1940s and 1950s, Tarmo covered up to even 10.000 nautical miles per winter and assisted as many as 450 vessels.
Throughout her years, Tarmo has been a part of many remarkable moments in Finnish history. In March 1918 during the civil war, Tarmo carried the chairman of the senate, the regent and later future president P.E. Svinhufvud from Helsinki to Tallinn. In 1919, she travelled to Sweden with the regent, general Mannerheim, another future Finnish president, onboard for a state visit.
The most dramatic and tragic moment in her history took place in Kotka 1940. In the winter war Tarmo served as part of the Finnish navy. In January 1940 Tarmo was returning from a military operation. In the port of Kotka, the crew was just starting a meal when a Russian bomber hit. The bomb hit Tarmo’s bow and the resulting explosion between the decks caused a massive fire. 39 men were killed and 13 were injured. During the night in the cover of darkness, Tarmo was moved to Helsinki for reparations.
Until 1970 Tarmo continued breaking the ice and assisting winter navigation. In the early 1990s Tarmo was restored and opened as a museum. During the winter season 2016-2017, Tarmo went through a massive restoration in the Viapori dockyard and she was again opened for public in Kotka in July. You can visit the magnificient Tarmo until the beginning of September. For more information, check out the website of Maritime Centre Vellamo.
And to answer the question in the heading, here is how you break the ice.
If, like me, you thought that the icebreaker literally breaks the ice by pushing through it, you would be wrong. Tarmo’s sharp bow rises on top of the ice and the weight of the ship crushes the ice. The bow propeller rotates, creating a vacuum under the ice that makes the ice more easily breakable. At the same time, the propeller clears the waterway of the crushed ice. Tarmo can break ice as thick as 80 cm.
Tarmo in figures:
Length 67,1 metres
Breadth 14,3 metres
Displacement 2.300 tons
Capacity of engines 3.850 IHP
Crew 41 to 46
Sources of information –
The Maritime Museum of Finland, Tarmo brochure and website
Special thanks to researcher Vilma Lempiäinen for an amazing guided tour of Tarmo!
The writer is currently working at the Kotka-Hamina Regional Development Company as head of communications.