Reserve of War: Journey to Tyuters Island

The expedition to Bolshoy Tyuters is a journey through time, not space. Since September 18, 1944, when the Germans gave up their positions and fled, the island remained untouched – completely covered with gunpowder, spent cartridges and cocked mines

September 1, 1943, a German patrol discovered a gap in the wire fence. There was also a rubber boat nearby. It was clear that at night a Soviet reconnaissance group had infiltrated Bolshoy Tyuters Island, where Wehrmacht artillery had settled. The entire garrison was put on alert. 800 people combed a modest 8 sq. km of the island in search of several saboteurs. Soon their hiding place was found: beds, a supply of food and medicine, cartridges, parts from the radio station.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

The Germans never managed to catch our soldiers. I had to hastily change defensive positions and build new fortifications. However, according to the logbook of the Soviet submarine M-96, from which the landing force landed on Tyuters, the fighters also did not return aboard. Their fate remained a mystery.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

Today Bolshoi Tyuters is crowded and noisy. Sappers, geologists, volunteers and journalists work here, they busily gas up trucks and pickups, a helicopter takes off and lands. But in the evening, when the work subsides and twilight falls on the island, it seems as if the Soviet intelligence officers are still hiding somewhere nearby, in the forest thickets or behind the nearest stone. Just about from behind the hill, rattling their weapons, a German search party will appear. Time on Bolshoi Tyuters seemed to have stopped. The island looks like the war on it ended just yesterday.

Brown dunes

Bolshoi Tyuters is a small uninhabited island, only 2.5 km across. On the western side, sharp rocks bristled in Karelian style. To the east are sand dunes. The landscape here resembles the Curonian Spit, chosen by photographers. The crest of the dune offers a picturesque view, especially at dawn. But here scraps of barbed wire come across. You begin to notice the pillars along which the barrier was stretched. Looking down, you understand: the sand is literally mixed with “straws” of artillery gunpowder and hundreds of shells.

The reserve of war: a trip to Tyuters Island

On the same dune, until 2015, there was a kind of hallmark of Bolshoy Tyuters -an 88-mm anti-aircraft gun FlaK aimed at the sky. It was covered with a two-meter layer of sand, one trunk stuck out. As a result, the gun was dug up, transported by tractor to the bay, and from there it was sent to the mainland by boat.

If not for this anti-aircraft gun and its 15 twin sisters, the war could have ended much faster. The fairway of the Gulf of Finland runs exactly in the middle between Gogland, the largest island of the archipelago, and Bolshoi Tyuters. In March 1942, after almost three months of the heroic defense of Gogland, a detachment of Red Army soldiers, having not received reinforcements from the mainland in time, was forced to retreat. Gogland was occupied by the Finns, Big Tyuters by the Germans. Attempts to return the islands were unsuccessful, and the sea exit from the besieged Leningrad was closed. Coastal artillery did not allow surface ships to leave the bay, and stretched nets and minefields did not allow submarines to pass.

In 1944, when Finland signed a peace treaty with the USSR, Bolshoi Tyuters was hastily abandoned by the Germans. Leaving, they mined the island and blew up almost everything that could be of any value.

– What can I say! Everything that the fascists managed to get to was spoiled,” the volunteers sigh, showing a shot through bucket, “and you have not yet seen the boilers of field kitchens. We will take them out with the garbage. The Germans threw grenades inside. Nothing left.


Big Tyuters was not always uninhabited. The first archaeological finds on the island date back to the 6th century. Since the 16th century, the island has been inhabited by the peoples of the Finno-Ugric group. The path “from the Varangians to the Greeks” passed by the outer islands of the Gulf of Finland. The waters near Bolshoy Tyuters had a bad reputation: piracy flourished here, ships died. Shortly before the start of World War II, a Finnish village with a population of more than 400 inhabitants was located on the island.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

“Gifts” underfoot

Weapons, ammunition, ammunition parts, household items and  personal belongings of soldiers – all this usually becomes the prey of “black diggers” . The islands of the Gulf of Finland are practically inaccessible for amateur search engines.

We went to Bolshoy Tyuters by helicopter. Of course, there is no landing pad on the island, but for the military Mi-8 this is not a problem: it sits on cleared patch right next to army tents. A little further – the camp of the Russian Geographical Society. The tents of the Russian Geographical Society are bright, touristy, not as big as those of the military. There is nothing like a road here either. Soldiers and volunteers are transported to work points by army trucks. Volkswagen Amarok pickups play the role of luxury high-speed transport.

A pontoon berth for a landing craft is equipped on the sloping sandy shore. Not far from it rises a mountain of rusty cylinders. In Germany, each artillery shell was stored and transported in a separate metal tube (the Red Army soldiers transported ammunition in wooden boxes).

There are several hundred of these tubes here, and in total there are tens of thousands of them on the island. In the same pile of curls of barbed wire, fragments of equipment beyond repair.

The reserve of war: a trip to Tyuters Island

Volunteers collected all this during the day of their stay on the island. They have to stay here for a whole month. And this is just one of the stages of the Gogland complex expedition, which has been going on for the fifth year already (in 2016. — Note by

— With the exception of the enclave Kaliningrad, the outer islands of the Gulf of Finland are the westernmost point of our country. You can say, on the threshold,  – says Major General Valery Kudinsky. – This is our house, and we want to keep it clean. And look at nature. Rusty pieces of iron in this landscape are superfluous.

Clearing the island is not at all mechanical gathering. Here you have to work with your head more than with your hands, and you can make a mistake only once.

“Quite often, “gifts” of those times come out of the ground,” one of the sappers complains, “mostly shells. Sometimes mines. You'd better not go behind this ribbon yet.

One morning we were informed about a new find, put in pickup trucks and brought to the place. The search engines found a surviving armory with mines. We kept a respectful distance while the sappers did their job. A few minutes later we were invited to come closer. Since the mines were in storage, they did not have a fuse. Armed explosive devices are destroyed on the spot, and outsiders are not allowed in.

As it turned out, S-mines, also known as “frogs”, were stored in the warehouse. Before exploding, such a mine jumps out of the ground to a height of about a meter, after which 350 metal balls destroy all life within a radius of tens of meters. Somehow, without agreeing, we all decided not to leave the fully explored paths.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

War reserve: a trip to Tyuters Island


Field work

The complex expedition “Gogland” began work in the fall of 2012. The expedition's area of ​​action is 14 outer islands of the Gulf of Finland. The largest of them is Gogland with an area of ​​21 sq. km, located 180 km west of St. Petersburg. The second largest island is Bolshoi Tyuters, and the main work will be carried out on it this season. It is also planned to explore the Sescar and Sommers islands.

The team has more than a hundred members. Among them are servicemen of the 90th separate special search battalion and experts Russian Geographical Society: archaeologists, historians, geologists, ecologists. Separately, it is worth mentioning the volunteers, each of whom passed the difficult competition of the Russian Geographical Society. It is they who will have to carry out the work on search, identification and restoration of military weapons, identifying the soldiers buried here, and cleaning the island from garbage.

Dissolved Names

Arriving at another site cleared of mines, we saw the remains of three German soldiers. They were raised to the surface to be reburied in a more accessible place, at a military cemetery near the village of Sologubovka, Leningrad Region. As part of a joint program with the People's Union of Germany for the care of war graves, about 55 thousand Wehrmacht soldiers have already found their last refuge there.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

Judging by the surviving fragments of the uniform, we were faced with soldiers of the Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe and ground forces. Sailors have an anchor on their buttons, pilots have the abbreviation LW, and infantry have plain buttons. The discovery of a well-preserved personal token of a serviceman is considered a great success: for 70 years, many of them have sunk too deep into the soil.

Hastily leaving Bolshoi Tyuters, the Germans blew up most of the guns. However, a significant part of the weapons was preserved in excellent condition. During previous expeditions, the restorers took out 88mm FlaK anti-aircraft guns, 20mm Swiss Oerlikons, as well as the rarest Bofors small-caliber anti-aircraft gun made in Switzerland.

Most of the equipment was taken from the island last year, but something else remains. The rusty skeleton of a large-caliber cannon has grown into the very edge of the picturesque cliff. Massive and unshakable, but devoid of a trunk, it resembles a huge padlock without a key. The castle from besieged Leningrad.

Echoes of war

On paper, the war ends with the signing of a surrender agreement. In fact, everything is much more complicated. We need to bury the dead, collect the debris throughout the vast country, remove the burden from nature. You need to answer questions.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

For example, Artem Khutorskoy, leader of the Gogland expedition, told us about a Red Army aircraft that, according to archival sources, was shot down over the island. They've been trying to find him for years. In 2015, duralumin fragments of the fuselage skin were found. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine from them what kind of aircraft it was and how it ended up over Bolshoi Tyuters.

Artem told this story to us before leaving. A couple of weeks later, news agencies reported that the wreckage of a Soviet Pe-2 bomber was found on Bolshoy Tyuters Island and the names of the crew members were established. Commander Mikhail Kazakov, gunner-radio operator Arseniy Tyshchuk and navigator Mikhail Tkachenko flew to the island on the night of September 8-9, 1943. Eight days after the landing of a secret reconnaissance group from the M-96 submarine.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

The big find will give historians new data to work with the archive. Perhaps they will help shed light on the fate of Soviet intelligence officers. Then this question will be answered.



The most massive dive bomber produced in the USSR< /strong>. According to Soviet tradition, it was named after the designer Vladimir Petlyakov, but in the army he received the playful nickname “Pawn”. In Finland, it was called “Pekka-Emelya”, and according to NATO classification, the aircraft is called “deer” — Buck.

War reserve: a trip to Tyuters island


88 mm anti-aircraft gun, also known as “eight-eight”. Due to the high muzzle velocity of the projectile, it was used not only to fight aircraft, but also as an anti-tank and anti-ship weapon. Considered the most famous weapon of the Second World War.

War Reserve: a trip to Tyuters Island


20- mm anti-aircraft gun with a rate of fire of 450 rounds per minute (for comparison: FlaK – up to 20 shots per minute). It was designed by the German engineer Reinhold Becker, but was made in Switzerland: in Germany, the production of many types of weapons was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles.

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island

War Reserve: Journey to Tyuters Island


Bouncing anti-personnel mine was developed on the basis of Schrapnell-Mine from World War I, hence the name — S-mine. If the old model jumped out of the ground on command from the remote control, then the new one worked automatically. The Americans called her “Bouncing Betty”, and the Russians called her “Frog”.

Photo: Alamy/Legion-media, Grigory Polyakovsky (x4), RIA Novosti, Legion-media (x2), MKFI, Evgeny Odinokov/RIA Novosti

Editorial thanks Volkswagen for organizing the trip. Amarok is an iron car that is tough for Big Tyuters.

The material was published in the magazine Vokrug Sveta No. 8, August 2016

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