Tucked away in an Estonian forest, only a short distance away from a NATO-controlled airstrip, lies an eerie sight. Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery, the final resting place of Soviet-Estonian fighter pilots killed in air accidents is a strange sight to behold.
The spooky part of this cemetery is the way these pilots have been memorialized. Sticking up from the ground are actual tail fins from Soviet aircraft. However, it remains unknown whether or not these fins are from the specific aircraft involved in the accidents that killed the fighter pilots buried underneath them.
Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery was built sometime after 1945, over the site of a former cemetery used for burying war casualties. From 1945 until the end of the Soviet occupation in 1991, heavy bombers were based at Ämari airbase, then known as the Suurküla aerodrome. The Suurküla aerodrome was once the home of several Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer medium bomber squadrons, from which many of the tail fins in the cemetery most likely originated.
It is unknown how many pilots have been laid to rest in this cemetery. There may be a few pilots who found their final resting place at the Ämari Air Force Cemetery, but chances are most of the remains of the pilots’ were sent back to their families for a proper burial.
If that is the case, the cemetery was established to honor the ultimate sacrifice these men made for their country.
Opinion remains divided regarding the tailfin markers in the cemetery. Some people are adamant that they came from the crashed aircraft that killed the pilots associated with them. More likely, however, is that these tail fins came from planes that were already out of commission.
Not only would this practice be impractical if the rest of the aircraft was still salvageable, but there is no recorded evidence to confirm that the tail fins in the cemetery are in fact from ill-fated fighter planes.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the Suurküla aerodrome fell out of use until May 1997, when the Ämari Air Base became home to an Air Force unit. When Estonia joined NATO in 2004, the Ämari Air Base was made NATO interoperable. It has since then received a major infrastructure overhaul, but the Ämari Air Force Cemetery has remained untouched.
Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery is no longer an active graveyard, but the grounds continue to be maintained. The cemetery takes a unique approach in memorializing pilots who gave their lives for their country to ensure they will never be forgotten.