Suur Tõll (icebreaker)

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Suur Toll.jpg
Suur Tõll at the Maritime Days in Tallinn on 27 May 2007.
Career (Russia)
Name: Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich (Царь Михаилъ Феодоровичъ)
Namesake: Michael of Russia
Port of registry: Tallinn, Estonia
Ordered: 1912
Builder: Vulcan Werft, Stettin, Germany
In service: 1914–1917
Fate: Captured by the Bolsheviks in 1917
Career (Soviet Russia) Flag of Russian SFSR (1918-1937).svg
Name: Volynets (Волынец)
Namesake: Volhynian military regiment
In service: 1917–1918
Fate: Captured by Finland in 1918
Career (Finland) Flag of Finland (state).svg
Name: Wäinämöinen
Namesake: Väinämöinen
Owner: Finnish Board of Navigation
Port of registry: Helsinki, Finland
Acquired: 29 March 1918
Commissioned: 3 June 1918
Decommissioned: 20 November 1922
In service: 1918–1922
Fate: Handed over to Estonia in 1922
Career (Estonia)
Name: Suur Tõll
Namesake: Toell the Great
Owner: Estonian Government[1]
Port of registry: Tallinn, Estonia
Acquired: 20 November 1922
In service: 1922–1940
Fate: Transferred to the Soviet Union in 1940
Career (Soviet Union)
Name: Volynets (Волынец)
Owner: Soviet Union
Acquired: June 1940
Decommissioned: 1985
In service: 1940–1985
Identification: IMO number: 8640351[2]
Fate: Sold to Estonia in 1987
Career (Estonia)
Name: Suur Tõll
Owner: Estonian Maritime Museum
Port of registry: Tallinn, Estonia
Acquired: 13 October 1987
Status: Museum ship in Tallinn, Estonia
General characteristics (as built)
Type: Icebreaker
Tonnage: 2,417 GRT[1]
Displacement: 3,619 tons
Length: 75.4 m (247 ft)
Beam: 19.2 m (63 ft)
Draft: 5.7 m (19 ft)
Boilers: Six coal-fired boilers with mechanical ventilation
Engines: Three triple-expansion steam engines, 2,300 ihp (1,700 kW) each
Propulsion: Three propellers; two in stern and one in bow
Crew: 62–65

Suur Tõll is an Estonian steam-powered icebreaker preserved in the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn. She was originally built for the Russian Empire in 1914 by AG Vulcan in Stettin, Germany, and named Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich. In 1917 she was taken over by the Bolsheviks and renamed Volynets. However, in 1918 she was captured by Finland and served as Wäinämöinen until 1922, when she was handed over to Estonia according to the Treaty of Tartu and renamed Suur Tõll. When Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, the icebreaker rejoined the Soviet fleet and was again named Volynets. She remained in service until 1985.

The Soviet Navy decided to sell the decommissioned icebreaker for scrap, and she was purchased by the Estonian Maritime Museum in 1987. The ship was given back her original Estonian name and was extensively renovated; Suur Tõll, the largest preserved pre-war icebreaker in the world, is currently moored at Lennusadam, the historical seaplane harbour in Tallinn.


Early career (1914–1918)[edit]

The Imperial Russian Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich.

In 1912 the Imperial Russian government organized a request for tender for the construction of a large steam-powered icebreaker designed specifically for the ice conditions of the Baltic Sea. The ship was awarded to a German shipyard Stettiner Maschinenbau AG Vulcan and she was ready by the end of 1913. In February 1914 the new icebreaker, named Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich (Царь Михаилъ Феодоровичъ) after Michael of Russia, arrived at the port of Saint Petersburg for the first time. Two armed icebreakers of similar design, Knyaz Pojarskiy and Kozma Minin were constructed in England in 1915.[3] She was later stationed in Tallinn, Estonia, and assisted ships sailing in the Gulf of Finland.[4]

During the October Revolution in 1917 the ship was taken over by the Bolsheviks, who renamed her Volynets to honor a Volhynian military regiment who had turned against their Tsarist officers and joined the revolutionaries. In winter 1918 Volynets was assisting the retreating Baltic Fleet — the Ice Cruise of the Baltic Fleet — together with Yermak, another large Russian icebreaker, during the latter stages of the Finnish Civil War.[3]

Wäinämöinen (1918–1922)[edit]

After the failed attempt to capture the small Finnish icebreaker Avance from the Russian revolutionaries in March 1918, Finnish captain Theodor Segersven and his men shifted their focus to the much larger Volynets. On 29 March 1918, 53 men dressed as workers boarded the icebreaker and Segersven presented a forged written order for the ship's political commissar claiming that he and his men were to be transported to Kuivasaari for construction work. When the icebreaker passed the lighthouse of Harmaja, the men broke into the ship's weapons storage and shortly afterwards the Russian crew of 116, half of them armed guards, had been taken into custody. In the evening Volynets, flying the Finnish flag under the command of Segersven, arrived in Tallinn, where she was welcomed by a group of high-ranking German officers, including Prince Henry of Prussia. On 28 April 1918 the captured icebreaker was renamed Wäinämöinen after the legendary Finnish hero. This caused some discontent with the crew who had held a naming contest while the icebreaker was moored in Tallinn and chosen the name Leijona after the Lion of Finland.[5]

The Finnish icebreaker Wäinämöinen after the Civil War.

Shortly after the capture Wäinämöinen was used to transport 3,000 German soldiers — Detachment Brandenstein — to Loviisa together with Tarmo, another Finnish icebreaker. The Germans supplied her with coal and provisions and she spent most of the spring assisting German ships between Helsinki and Tallinn. On 3 June 1918 Wäinämöinen was officially handed over to the Finnish Board of Navigation and became the largest and most powerful icebreaker in the Finnish state-owned fleet. Captain Segersven was replaced by Polish-Estonian Stanislaus Juhnewicz, the ship's original captain who had joined forces with the Finns during the capture after having been promised a government post by Gustaf Wrede, the director of the Board of Navigation.[5]

Although Wäinämöinen was an invaluable addition to the Finnish icebreaker fleet, she was not used as extensively as the smaller state-owned icebreakers due to her high fuel consumption and the shortage of coal shortly after the war. In addition to icebreaker duties she was used to transport volunteers across the Gulf of Finland to participate in the Estonian War of Independence.[6] In September 1919 she was drydocked in Suomenlinna, but while the repair work was completed in late October, she could not leave the shipyard until 24 November due to her deep draft and the particularly low sea level.[7] During the particularly harsh winter of 1922 she assisted 170 ships to and from the Finnish ports. Her last task under the Finnish flag was to open the South Harbour in Helsinki on 16 April 1922.[8]

During her years under the Finnish flag Wäinämöinen demonstrated the advantages of a large icebreaker and that such vessel was definitely needed in Finland. As a result the Finnish Board of Navigation decided to order a large icebreaker based on her basic design and the experiences gained during her operation. The new icebreaker, Jääkarhu, was delivered in 1926.[9]

Suur Tõll (1922–1940)[edit]

Suur Tõll assisting FÅA's Wellamo between Helsinki and Stettin in 1928.

When Finland signed the Treaty of Tartu on 14 October 1920, it had agreed to return the Russian icebreakers seized by the Finnish White Guard during the Civil War. However, instead of the Soviet Union Wäinämöinen was handed over to Estonia on 20 November 1922 and renamed Suur Tõll after Toell the Great, a great giant from the Estonian mythology.[8] During the era of Estonian independence in the 1920s and 1930s she assisted ships mainly outside Tallinn in the southern Gulf of Finland, but sometimes sailed as far south as the coast of Lithuania. In the late 1930s her bridge was heightened by one deck to improve visibility over the bow.[3]

Volynets (1940–1987)[edit]

When the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in June 1940, Suur Tõll was transferred to the Soviet fleet and given back her old name, Volynets. On 27–29 August 1941 she participated in the evacuation of Tallinn, joining the convoy led by Soviet cruiser Kirov while carrying 980 passengers and hundreds of tons of military supplies. Although the convoy suffered heavy losses — over half of the 67 civilian ships were destroyed and around 6,000 lives were lost — Volynets, steaming in front of Kirov, managed to evade the bombs dropped at it and arrived in Leningrad unharmed. She remained in the city until the end of the war.[3]

After the war Volynets was not returned to Estonia. As part of the Finnish war reparations to the Soviet Union she was refitted at Rauma-Repola shipyard in Rauma, Finland, in 1951–1952, during which time her boilers were converted for oil. Volynets remained in service until 1985, after which she was transferred to Lomonosov, where her boilers were used to supply steam for other ships. She was slated for demolition in late 1987.[3]

Return to Estonia (1987–)[edit]

Suur Tõll under restoration in May 1996.

When the Estonian Maritime Museum found out that Volynets was going to be scrapped, it decided to purchase the ship and preserve it. After a long negotiation the Soviets agreed to trade the ship for 300 tons of scrap iron.[10] On 13 October 1987 she was towed to Tallinn and given back her original Estonian name, Suur Tõll. In 1992, she became the first ship to be added to the newly founded Estonian Ship Register.[3] In 1994, Suur Tõll made her first trip abroad since returning to Estonia when she participated in the Kotka Maritime Festival in Kotka, Finland.[11] Later, she was also briefly moored in Helsinki.[12]

The restoration of Suur Tõll has been an enormous task which has included cleaning garbage accumulated in the ship over the years and finding the missing fittings, including the helm that had been swapped to a steering wheel of a truck during the night before the departure and the large bronze bell of the icebreaker, which was found in a military museum in Leningrad. However, not everything had been stolen — for example the original German piano was still in the saloon because it was too big to be transported away. Despite the limited funding and materials, Suur Tõll has been largely restored over the years. Even her boilers and steam engines are in operational condition although she can not move under her own power yet.[3] However, already in 1997 it was found out that the rivets under the waterline were leaking water and over the years the hull of the icebreaker has deteriorated even further, flooding the tanks with a mixture of water and black oil. In 2011, the Estonian Maritime Administration requested the Estonian Maritime Museum to draw up a restoration plan to save the icebreaker.[13][14] For this reason, Suur Tõll will be closed for visitors from 8 September 2013 onwards. The extensive renovations are expected to be ready and the museum icebreaker again open to visitors by the time of the centennial celebrations in 2014.[15]

Suur Tõll is the largest preserved pre-war steam-powered icebreaker in the world,[4] being bigger than the Finnish Tarmo and the Swedish Sankt Erik. Although the Russian icebreaker Krasin, built in 1917, is considerably larger than Suur Tõll, she was extensively modernized in the 1950s and retains hardly any resemblance to the other icebreakers of the time.[3]

Technical details[edit]

Engine room

Suur Tõll is 75.4 metres (247 ft) long and has a beam of 19.2 metres (63 ft), and at a draft of 5.7 metres (19 ft) her displacement is 3,619 tons. Her hull, strengthened by a cast iron stem and a large number of longitudinal and transverse bulkheads, is surrounded by an ice belt with a width of 2 metres (6.6 ft) and thickness of one inch (25 mm). To assist icebreaking in difficult conditions she is also equipped with heeling tanks and pumps capable of transferring 570 tons of water from one side to another in ten minutes, listing the ship by 10 degrees. Furthermore, her trim could be adjusted by a forepeak tank with a capacity of 600 tons of water. All tanks were connected to an electrical control and indication system.[3]

Powered by three 2,300 ihp triple-expansion steam engines, two driving four-bladed propellers in the stern and one powering a third propeller in the bow, Suur Tõll was one of the most powerful icebreakers in the Gulf of Finland. All moving parts had been dimensioned 35% stronger than in other ships of similar power. She had six coal-fired boilers equipped with mechanical ventilation, burning 3.5 tons of coal per hour in normal operation and four tons during ramming. Her fuel stores could hold 700 tons of coal, almost as much as the cargo capacity of a small cargo ship of the time.[3]

When Suur Tõll was delivered in 1914, she was one of the most modern icebreakers in the world. Extensively electrified, she had electrical lighting and her anchor windlass, winches and two coal cranes were all powered by electricity to avoid having easily freezing steam pipes on the deck. Furthermore, she had an electrical salvage pump that could be transported to a grounded ship in a boat or on a sledge over ice without bringing the icebreaker too close to the shallow waters. When delivered, her radio station had a range of 400 kilometres (220 nautical miles), but it was later increased to 1,100 kilometres (590 nautical miles).[3]


  1. ^ a b Lloyd's Register of Ships, 1940. Retrieved on 2011-12-31.
  2. ^ Suur Toll
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Laurell 1992, pp. 356–360.
  4. ^ a b Steamer-icebreaker Suur Tõll. Estonian Maritime Museum. Retrieved on 2011-12-31.
  5. ^ a b Laurell 1992, pp. 113–118.
  6. ^ Laurell 1992, p. 123.
  7. ^ Laurell 1992, pp. 124–126.
  8. ^ a b Laurell 1992, pp. 130–131.
  9. ^ Kaukiainen 1992, p. 108-110.
  10. ^ Laurell 1992, p. 360.
  11. ^ ss Suur Töll laiturissa Kotkassa. Suomen Merimuseo. Retrieved on 2013-08-21.
  12. ^ 90-aastane jäämurdja ristleb endiselt Tallinna sadamate vahel. Postimees, 7 January 2004. Retrieved on 2013-08-21.
  13. ^ Veeteede amet kohustab muuseumi jäämurdja remondiplaani koostama. Õhtuleht, 10 October 2011. Retrieved on 2013-08-21.
  14. ^ TV3: meremuuseum ja veeteede amet kaklevad jäämurdja üle. TV3, 29 September 2011. Retrieved on 2013-08-21.
  15. ^ Aurik-jäämurdja Suur Tõll on viimast kuud külastajatele avatud., 8 August 2013. Retrieved on 2013-08-21.


  • Kaukiainen, Yrjö (1992). Navigare Necesse – Merenkulkulaitos 1917–1992. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. ISBN 951-47-6776-4. 
  • Laurell, Seppo (1992). Höyrymurtajien aika. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. ISBN 951-47-6775-6. 

See also[edit]