Science & Tech

The fascinating mystery of Finland’s 'floating' pines

The fascinating mystery of Finland’s 'floating' pines

The surreal image was captured by a young Finnish photographer during World War II


It looks like something straight out of a René Magritte gallery, but a black and white photo showing lines of trees floating over a dirt track is no surrealist masterpiece.

Indeed, it’s not an optical illusion at all, but evidence of a carefully constructed war tactic.

The picture was taken in 1941 by a Finnish photographer called Osvald Hedenström, as his nation tried to shield itself from the might of neighbouring Stalinist Russia during World War II.

A year earlier, Finland had reluctantly agreed to fight alongside Nazi Germany in a bid to protect itself from Soviet invasion, and Hedenström was fighting under German command when he found himself beneath the mysterious levitating pines.

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“The Finns didn’t have funds to buy artificial camouflage such as nets in vast quantities,” military historian Colonel Petteri Jouko told Atals Obscura, “So they used trees, leaves, and foliage to confuse the enemy.”

Of course, camouflage is nothing new, and military fatigues are designed to mimic the colour and patterns of surrounding landscapes.

But why are the trees suspended in thin air? And how on earth did they get them up there?

According to Hedenström’s caption to the photo: “The Finns have camouflaged the road to Raate, about 10 km from Russia, with pines hanging in the air, because right on the border there is an observation tower erected by the Russians.”

The trees were strategically placed to ensure that they wouldn’t block the road from a plane flying overhead, but could obscure the view from the nearby enemy tower.

In fact, the pines were hung from wires which were connected to a series of poles (which, if you look carefully you can see), on the right-hand side of the road.

Because of the angle of Hedenström’s snap, the cables on the first row of trees are hidden, which gives the impression that they’re being held up by sheer magic.

You can see the trees are attached to a series of large poles to the right of the roadSA-KUVA/PHOTO: OSVALD HEDENSTRÖM

The image is now part of the Finnish Defence Force’s photographic Archive, which contains some 160,000 photos captured between 1939 and 1945, when Finland fought two separate wars against the Soviet Union.

It features other examples of clever concealment – thanks to Mother Nature – including a battleship which almost melts into surrounding forest land, and other examples of floating trees.

A cunningly disguised coastal defence shipSA-KUVA/PHOTO: ESKO SUOMELA

In the end, Finland’s mastery of camouflage was among the key defences which helped it inflict humiliating losses on the Red Army and, ultimately, preserve its freedom.

So, Vladimir Putin, take note: these guys know a thing or two about fighting off invasions.

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