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Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery: Where Aircraft Tail Fins Adorn Soviet Pilots’ Tombstones

BY Tanveer Khan January 22, 2019
Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery

Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery, Estonia. (Modris Putns / Panoramio)

As one walks past the village in the forest, on the road leading up to the Amari Air Base in Estonia, one is very likely to notice an obscure graveyard. One quick look towards the cemetery gives a feeling that a few decorated shark-like fins are jutting out of the ground for no reason. But the secret that this strange-looking Soviet-era burial ground holds is no less than a mystery that common people cannot easily understand.

The basics before the main story

During World War II, the Soviet Union entered into a secret, non-aggression pact with Nazi-led Germany in August 1939. Also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it was signed in Moscow between the then Foreign Affairs Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop of the Soviet Union and Nazi-Germany respectively. Under this Pact, the Soviet Union began occupying the three Baltic States – namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – claiming these ethnic nations as their own territory, although still identifying them as constituent republics.

Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery: The Estonian graveyard of Soviet pilots

Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery upclose.

Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery up close. (Modris Putns / Panoramio)

Located in Amari town in the Harju County in Northern Estonia, this odd graveyard is the final resting place of the many pilots that died in the line of duty, during the Soviet occupation of Estonia (mentioned above). The Amari Pilots Cemetery was built as a means to pay tribute to the brave Soviet airmen that fought till their last breath and got killed serving their motherland. But that is simply not all. Unlike the regular concrete tombstones we find on graves, the ones on these burial sites are adorned with the tail fins of Russian-made fighter jets, complete with a red star in the centre. It is believed that these tailpieces are most likely the actual parts of the combat aircraft, which carried pilots when they came down crashing with it.

But this was not the ground where the Amari Pilots Graveyard first rested. The Soviet Military Cemetery first served as the burial grounds for casualties of war. It is believed that this air force graveyard was situated few kilometers adjacent to the cemetery in Amari Manor, a large seventeenth-century estate belonging to the noble von Tritthoff family. Probably after the year 1945, when WW-II ended, the graves were shifted to where they are now, a little closer to the Amari Air Base, which during the Soviet times was known as Suurkula Aerodrome. After the manor lay in ruins as Estonia gained freedom, the grounds were leveled off, including the one where the cemetery was, as housing societies took its place. The graves are said to have been removed and shifted closer to the air base, where one can see them today in all their glory.

Lingering doubts over the cemetery

Divided opinions still fly abound regarding these tail fin markers at the cemetery. While some argue that the remains of the pilots that died on duty were returned to their homeland and mere memorials were erected at the cemetery, others say that the graves are not empty and are the actual final resting sites of the aviators. Doubts have also been raised over the death of the Soviet pilots, which many experts believe were due to the accidents on the ground during training sessions and not while they were in action during the war. Also, there is no recorded evidence that could confirm whether the tail fins, which serve as the headstones for the graves, are actual parts of the ill-fated fighter planes.

Whatever the case, the Amari Air Force Cemetery remains a one-of-its-kind graveyard in the world. Surrounded by lush green trees and in a very well-maintained condition, this extraordinary burial site actually evokes a sense of respect for the Soviet martyrs that died fighting for their country in a foreign land.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “Highgate Cemetery: Cemetery Turned Nature Reserve“.

Fact Analysis:
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