Department of Mechanical Engineering

Studies under wartime


Helsinki University of Technology began preparing for the coming war in the summer of 1939, when a project to strengthen border security was launched, its main goal to fortify the Karelian Isthmus extensively. A large number of volunteers from the university were heavily involved with the construction. 

The university’s next semester began in the usual vmanner in September of 1939, however shortly after some students were called to attend additional exercises held by the army, which in practice and reality meant preliminary mobilisation. 

Education was carried out normally until 30 November, when the air force of the Soviet Union began bombing Helsinki. On the very first day of the war, the main building of the university as well as the chemistry laboratory were heavily hit by bombs and seriously damaged. Many students and members of staff were also critically injured or killed in the bombardment. By luck, many of the students had already left the campus after the very first bombers were spotted in the sky, just hours before the deadly main attack. 

Education and research were essentially non-existent during the entirety of the Winter War of 1939–1940. Many students and most young teachers were required to fight at the front. The university's main office, now situated in a basement underneath the main building, continued its work. The basements were also the site of machine laboratory professor Mikko Heikinheimo’s effort to organise and run an unofficial headquarters for students, which housed a small restaurant and provided some shelter for the workers at the campus.

After the armistice was signed, the university was still not able to resume normal teaching, due to the large influx of Karelians who had been displaced following the Soviet Union’s annexation of Karelia. Helsinki had to deal with these people somehow, and it was decided that the Karelians would be temporarily housed in the campus dormitories. Many from the staff and students were still in active military service after the war. When before the war the university had taken in about 220 applicants, in the fall of 1940 only 124 were able to start their studies at the campus. 

Shortly after the war had ended, the idea of moving the entire campus and its facilities to Lauttasaari, Viikki or Meilahti was brought up. The proposal never made it beyond the meeting rooms, however, as the political situation in Europe became more tenuous by the week. 

The beginning of the Continuation War in the summer of 1941 once again brought the entire school to a halt as work was suspended and many of the students had to leave for the front again. During the following few months, Rector Martti Levon decided to update the curriculum of the school. At the same time, the university’s materials testing facility and the state’s technical research facilities were centralised, marking the beginning of what is now known as the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. 

Because technical studies could not be suspended for too long, the government ordered Finnish universities to resume their research and teaching in the fall of 1942. Daily education at the campus began on 12 October, only most of the staff and students were absent due to the war. Yet, by the spring of 1941, the university had made preparations to increase its capacity to over 300 students, though in reality only 148 began their studies in the fall of 1942. Due to this situation, military headquarters decided to order 60 to students who had almost completed their studies for a two-month study leave in the fall of 1942. 

Soon, study circles started to operate among students in Äänislinna and Karhumäki. These circles were quite popular, and as they started to gain traction these activities made it possible that in the spring of 1943 for Helsinki Univerity of Technology students to take important examinations at the front, next to an active warzone. The Äänislinna academic club included a study circle of technology students, which offered special tutoring for frontline soldiers who were planning to apply for the school after their military service.

As expectations for the war’s conclusion started to grow in the spring of 1944, the university began making preparations for a transition to peacetime operation. However, a grand Soviet offensive in the summer of 1944 put a temporary halt to these plans and forced many students to remain at the frontline until the autumn of 1944, with some staying until May 1945. Autumn 1946 was the first semester to begin during peacetime after the war. The rush of students who had been fighting in the wars only settled after about four years, in 1949.

History of mechanical engineering in Finland

Department of Mechanical Engineering
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