International Assistance to Finnish Air Force during the
Winter War 1939-1940*
1940…approximately one thousand American pilots were sent
to Finland 214 cannons, 101 aircraft, 185 thousand projectiles,
17.700 air bombs, 10.000 anti-tank mines… The French government
sent not only 179 aircraft, 472 heavy cannons, 500 machine
guns, 795 thousand projectiles, 200 thousand grenades
and some thousand sets of various ammunition, but was
also the first European government to initiate massive
recruitment of volunteers for the war against USSR. In
addition to England, France and USA, also Sweden, Norway,
Italy and Germany provided assistance to Finland."1
Air Force was created on March 6, 1918, and is thus one
of the oldest air forces in the world.2 In the 1920s and
1930s a number of partly conflicting doctrines for the
Finnish Air Force were proposed. With the enormous Soviet
industrial and military might (quickly developing during
the five-year plans of the 1930s) next to Finland, the
task to organize Finland´s air defense was formidable.
Funds available were very limited, and Finns did generally
not seriously believe in military conflicts.
Up to mid-1930s
naval aircraft were considered optimal for Finnish topography
with long shorelines of the Baltic Sea and Finnish lakes.
In winter naval aircraft could operate on skis. Performance
differences between floatplanes and land-based aircraft
were not considered critical. However, the fast development
of military aviation, and its use in international conflicts,
showed clearly that performance of land-based aircraft
was far superior. Bombers were generally seen as instruments
of air power.
In 1931 General
Mannerheim was appointed chairman of the National Defense
Council. He was very "air-minded", and directed
drafting of an Air Force development plan aiming at 17
squadrons (of which 3 fighter squadrons, 5 ground support
squadrons, 3 maritime support squadrons and 6 long-range
squadrons, totaling 221 combat aircraft) in 1932. At this
time the Finnish Air Force consisted of seven only partially
equipped squadrons, in total 81 aircraft. Because of difficult
economic situation, not even reduced plans could be realized.
relatively more emphasis on fighter aviation was put than
in many other countries. Fighter tactics was also very
modern, with flexible fighter pair as basic tactical unit.
Both pair leader and wingman acted according to "see
first -shoot first" principle, which encouraged personal
initiative. All Finnish fighter pilots got extensive marksman
training in air gunnery.
engine licences acquired in late 1930s turned out to be
of utmost importance for the forthcoming development of
the Finnish Air Force and the Finnish aviation industry.
radial engine (840 hp; UK). A Mercury engine licence was
signed in 1935 by Tampella Ltd. in Tampere, and was to
be decisive for the subsequent choice of aircraft licences.
(BL, two-engine bomber, Mercury engine; UK). On October
6, 1936 18 Blenheim bombers were ordered. A production
licence was signed April 12, 1938, but no licence-produced
aircraft were delivered before the Winter War.
(FR, single engine monoplane fighter, Mercury engine;
Netherlands). On November 18, 1936 7 aircraft were ordered,
and a production licence for 14 aircraft was signed (later
expanded to unlimited production). The first Finnish produced
Fokker D.21 was ready on November 11, 1938. Two batches
of total 35 FR produced by State Aircraft Factory (VL)
in Tampere were delivered between November 1938 and July
1939. The Fokker fighters formed the only modern fighter
squadron in autumn 1939, and were the most important aircraft
throughout the Winter War. The Fokker was very robust
and very stable gun platform. Winter War score: 130 victory
claims, 13 FR lost (10 in air combat), 8 pilots killed
(FK, light dive bomber and reconnaissance biplane, Pegasus
engine; Netherlands). First order for four aircraft, and
production licence was signed on May 18, 1936. Two batches
of total 30 Fokker C.X were produced by VL in 1938. Winter
War score: 587 missions, 8 FK lost, 14 aviators killed
situation changed dramatically after signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop
pact on August 23, 1939. On October 5, 1939 Finland was
invited to Moscow for "concrete political negotiations",
which however were interrupted on November 13, 1939. Meanwhile
USSR had got air force and naval bases in the Baltic countries.
Finland started to mobilize its army already on October
6 as so-called "Extraordinary Exercises", fortunately
winning some time for preparations.
In autumn 1939
delegations were sent abroad to purchase armament (in
particular aircraft and artillery). However, most countries
refused to sell arms after September 1, 1939. Prices were
also much higher than expected - arms are very expensive
when really needed! Traditional Finnish-German trade relations
were seriously impaired by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact,
and Germany blocked all deliveries of goods from its enemy
In autumn 1939
only Italy was ready to sell combat aircraft. Sweden reacted
also positively to Finnish appeals (but had no aircraft
to sell), although the Swedish government avoided carefully
official commitment. Transit via Sweden was the only import
Fiat G.50 (FA,
single-engine monoplane fighter). 25 Italian Fiat fighters
were purchased on 23 October 1939, with another 10 Fiats
ordered 13 January 1940.
The first two
Fiats were dispatched 14 November 1939 by train from Italy
via Germany to Sweden, and assembled in Malmö. The two
fighters were flown to Finland in December 1939, and allocated
to the Test Flight of the VL-factory in Tampere. Two attacking
SB-bombers were shot down by the test pilots.
In early December
1939 Germany stopped transit of war material to Finland
because of Soviet protests. Six Fiats awaiting shipping
to Sweden in northern Germany were returned to Switzerland,
from where they were slowly transported to Sweden. The
remaining Fiats were delivered by ship from Italy to Sweden,
and flown to Finland by Finnish pilots, arriving from
February 11, 1940. Two Fiats were lost during transit
(one Hungarian volunteer ferry pilot disappeared over
the Baltic Sea). The last Fiat arrived on 19 June 1940.
The Fiats were used operationally from February 15, 1940.
Like the French
Moranes the Fiats were mistaken for Spitfires by Soviet
bomber crews. 13 air victories were claimed with Fiats,
one Fiat was shot down in combat and two pilots were killed
in action (of which one Italian volunteer).
On 30 November
1939 the Red Army crossed the over 1.000 km long land
border with Finland. The Soviet navy blocked the Finnish
ports and the Soviet Air Force bombed Finnish cities (including
Helsinki and Viipuri).
Winter War (lasting 105 days until 13 March 1940) some
100.000 aviation bombs were dropped on 690 cities and
villages. Some 1.000 persons were killed by bombs, 540
seriously wounded and 1.300 lightly wounded. 157 multi-store
buildings and 1.800 wooden houses were destroyed, and
another 700 stone buildings and 4.100 wooden houses were
on 3 December 1939 some Swedish officers proposed a Swedish
volunteer Corps to be sent to Finland. On 8 December 1940
the Swedish government donated eight (obsolete) aircraft
to Finland, which were immediately flown to Finland. These
aircraft had no combat value and were allocated to rear
On 14 December
1940 the Swedish government gave permission to organize
a volunteer aviation regiment, called F 19. Next day twelve
Hawker Hart light bombers and twelve Gloster Gladiator
fighters were released (only four Harts were in fact allocated).
The regiment was quickly organised, mainly from the Hart-equipped
light bomber wing in Östersund, and the Gladiator-equipped
fighter wing near Stockholm. Personnel strength was some
250 men (of which 12 fighter pilots and 9 light bomber
aviators). Operational area was Northern Finland, with
main base at Veitsiluoto, Kemi. The tasks included support
of Finnish ground forces and air defence of the main cities
(Oulu, Kemi and Rovaniemi) in northern Finland. Before
arrival of F 19 no fighters were available for air defence
of the entire northern half of Finland!
F 19 arrived
in Kemi 10 January 1940. Already two days later the Soviet
AF base at Märkäjärvi (east of Kemijärvi) was attacked.
Unfortunately three of the four Harts did not return (two
crashed in a mid-air collision, and one was shot down
by a Soviet I-15bis). Three aviators were able to reach
Finnish lines, two were taken prisoner and one was killed.
After its first mission (which despite the losses clearly
showed that the air superiority of the enemy was no longer
unchallenged). F 19 fought bravely and skilfully, particularly
against attacking bombers.
1940 it was clear that F 19 needed more and better aircraft.
Funds for new aircraft were donated by Finnish cities
and industries, and also by Swedish organizations and
individuals. Twelve Fiat CR 42 biplane fighters were ordered
from Italy by the Royal Swedish Air Board for F 19 in
the second half of February 1940. The Fiats were optimistically
expected to be available within one month. However, the
Fiat CR 42 fighters arrived in Sweden only after the end
of the Winter War.
fighters had arrived in Finland, and Finnish AF was no
longer interested in Italian biplanes. Corresponding funds
were released for purchase of Brewsters from USA, and
the Fiats were taken over by the Swedish AF.
with the purchase of Fiat fighters the Royal Swedish Air
Board wanted to purchase up to 40 Italian bombers for
F 19. On February 29 some 12 Savoia bombers were preliminary
promised for immediate delivery. The Swedish AF planned
also transfer of heavy B 3 (Ju 86) bombers to F 19 for
attacks to strategic targets in the Murmansk area. On
March 11 a bomber group was assembled in Västerås, and
corresponding preparations were made in Veitsiluoto. After
the peace treaty two days later the Swedish bomber group
was dissolved, and all plans to acquire Italian bombers
were scrapped. As all bombers considered for F 19 were
rather obsolete, it is highly unlikely that the well-defended
Murmansk airspace could have been penetrated without considerable
F 19 claimed
nine air victories on 464 missions. The regiment lost
five aircraft, two Gladiators (of which one in combat)
and three Harts. Three pilots were killed (of which two
in air combat), and two were taken prisoner (both returned
to Finland in May 1940). After the Winter War the personnel
and aircraft of F 19 returned to Sweden (except a Junkers
F.13 transport which was transferred to Finnish Air Force).
F 19 was a
unique effort among the international assistance in the
Winter War. The self-contained unit fought on its own,
incorporating own supply and maintenance, not needing
support from scarce Finnish resources. Both personnel
and equipment were adapted to arctic conditions. Full
attention of Finnish AF could thus be directed to the
main fronts in southern Finland.
Swedish aircraft factories and workshops were also assembling
Italian, British, French and American aircraft for Finland.
Without this effort the Finnish Air Force would apparently
not have received any imported aircraft during the short
campaign, and practically all aircraft deliveries to the
Swedish AF (also lacking modern aircraft!) were delayed
for several months.
the highest officers of the Swedish Air Force during the
1950s and 1960s were F 19 veterans, including four Generals
and AF Wing Commanders and the AF Chief Medical Officer.
F 19 combat experiences were also significant when drafting
the Swedish AF cold-war doctrine.
3 December 1939 the Finnish Minister in London G.A.Gripenberg
was instructed to purchase 30 aircraft immediately: "Only
three days after the outbreak of the war, on Sunday, December
3, I received an order to purchase 30 aircraft immediately
- Spitfires, Hurricanes or Gladiators…. After I had received
permission to buy 20 Gladiators immediately and 10 later,
I was instructed to acquire 25 to 30 Gauntlet planes,
but they had already been sold to South Africa. When this
order was approved, I was requested to ask for 24 Blenheim
bombers. And so it went, day after day."3
countries expected the Finnish defence to collapse rather
quickly, and the interest to dispatch weapons, in particular
aircraft to Finland was rather small. As Finland resisted
the invaders surprisingly vigorously, with several Soviet
divisions bogged down in the Finnish forests Allied opinions
after the expulsion of USSR from the League of Nations
on December 14, 1939, when member countries were instructed
to give Finland all possible assistance, the Allied plans
to assist Finland became more concrete. On 19 December
1939 England and France started to plan military invention
(GL, biplane fighter). Already December 5, 1940 the British
government promised 20 Gladiators to Finland. One week
later (December 12) Gripenberg signed a contract with
Gloster Aircraft Co.4 20 Gloster Gladiators were to be
delivered immediately, price 80.000 £. Somewhat later
ten more Gladiators were donated. All Gladiators were
taken from RAF maintenance units. Despite repeated Finnish
appeals, only after one month the Gladiators were dispatched
by ship to Bergen, and by train to Linköping where they
were assembled by British and Swedish technicians. Finnish
pilots flew the Gladiators to Finland, arriving between
January 18 and February 18, 1940.
use of Gladiators in south-east Finland came to an end
already on February 29, 1940 when Ruokolahti ice base
was surprisingly attacked by Soviet fighters causing big
losses. The remaining serviceable Gladiators were allocated
to reconnaissance squadrons.
score in the Winter War counted about 700 missions and
37 victory claims. 14 Gladiators were lost (of which 11
in combat), and seven pilots were killed.
(HC, single engine monoplane fighter). On January 9, 1940
the official request for "at least 30, if possibly
60 Spitfires or Hurricanes" was repeated. The English
attitude to delivery of Spitfires was strongly negative,
but negotiations concerning Hurricane fighters (with more
moderate performance) continued. Although Hurricane deliveries
were opposed by RAF, on 24 January 1940 the British Minister
of Air Sir Kingsley Wood informed that Finland can buy
"twelve, not sixty Hurricanes".
The 12 Hurricanes
were released on February 2, 1940 (the contract was signed
February 17, 1940 by Minister Gripenberg with Gloster
Aircraft Co.). The Hurricanes were not new, but taken
from RAF stocks, and expensive (unit price 9.785 £, compared
to ex-works price 6.000-7.000 £!). From 25 February 1940
the Hurricanes were flown to Finland via Norway and Sweden
by rather inexperienced Finnish pilots. One fighter was
damaged in Scotland and left behind, and another crashed
in Norway during the ferry flight. Ten Hurricanes arrived
in Finland between March 8 and 10, too late to participate
in the Winter War.
(BL). On Christmas Eve 1939 the British Air Ministry agreed
to sell 12 Blenheim Mk.IV ("long-nose") to Finland,
total price 264.000 £. On January 17, 1940 the aircraft
were handed over to Finnish crews which had arrived in
England in early January 1940. As the bomb racks had not
been modified for Finnish bombs, 1.500 British 120 pound
bombs were also acquired. Because of unfavourable rack
arrangement the aircraft could carry only five bombs,
or half of the normal bomb load!
were ferried by Finnish pilots via Norway and Sweden to
Finland. Ten Blenheims arrived on January 21, 1940. One
bomber disappeared over the North Sea, and the last one
was delayed by an accident in Sweden and arrived May 31,
1940 the Air Ministry released another batch of twelve
Blenheims, this time short-nose Mk.I ("short-nose").
Although this batch was taken from the inventory of RAF
No. 2 Group, the deal was made with Bristol Aeroplane
Co. (total price 240.000 £). This batch was flown to Finland
via Norway and Sweden by English crews, which arrived
26 February in Juva.
score (all Blenheim batches included) in the Winter War
was 423 missions, 12 Blenheims lost (of which seven in
air combat), 21 aviators killed and one taken prisoner.
Five Soviet fighters were claimed by Blenheim MG-gunners.
(GA, biplane fighter trainer). 29 (of 30 promised!) Gauntlet
fighter trainers were donated by South Africa and released
in late December 1939. The Gauntlets were taken from RAF
stocks. 24 trainers arrived in crates by ship to Gothenburg.
Nine aircraft were assembled in Linköping and flown to
Finland between 10 March and 12 April 1940. Another 15
Gauntlets arrived by ship to Finland in May 1940.
(LY, high-wing reconnaissance aircraft). According to
Gripenberg delivery of 70 Lysanders was approved on January
19, 1940, after an order for 17 Lysanders was already
signed on 8 January. Nine Lysanders were dispatched by
ship to Gothenburg 24 February 1940. After assembly in
Gothenburg they were flown to Finland between 21 March
and 3 May 1940.
A second batch
of eight Lysanders was to be flown by British pilots to
Finland via Norway, but only two aircraft arrived in Finland
on March 5 (one crashed in Norway). Thus only eleven Lysanders
arrived in Finland. According to Gripenberg 30 Lysanders
were sent on March 5, but none of this batch arrived.
(RO, single engine dive bomber). On 28 December 1939 50
single engine and 15 twin-engine dive bombers were requested
from England. On 25 January 1940 33 Roc, or 20 Skua and
13 Roc aircraft were promised. In March 1940 several Roc
aircraft (with Finnish AF codes already painted!) were
to be flown by British pilots from Scotland to Sweden,
and on 8 March Finnish pilots were ready to depart to
Sweden to ferry the Rocs to Finland. After the peace treaty
13 March 1940 all plans to deliver aircraft from England
were cancelled, and no Rocs arrived in Finland.
After Anglo-French plans to assist Finland were formulated
on December 19, Gen. Sikorski (Prime Minister of the Polish
exile-government) assumed that participation of Polish
soldiers on the Finnish side could influence the Finns
to recognize Polish exile-government.
of Polish aid was also convenient to the French. After
a meeting between Gen. Denain (Chief of the French Military
Mission at the Polish Government) and Gen. Zajac (Chief
of Aviation Command, in March 1940 Commander Polish AF)
on 22 January 1940 it was decided to send a volunteer
Polish AF squadron (commanded by Maj. Kepinski) to Finland.
In early 1940
no less than 7.000 Polish air force personnel had arrived
in France (including some 650 skilled pilots). The appeal
for volunteers to the "Finnish squadron" (to
include 30 pilots and 30 technicians) met big enthusiasm,
with some 150 applications received. On 12 February 1940
the Polish military attaché in Stockholm was instructed
to agree the details of the use of Polish Air Force units
A total 80
Caudron C.714 monoplane fighters were promised (apparently
intended both for the Polish volunteer squadron, and also
directly to the Finnish Air Force).
training of the Polish squadron in Lyon news of the peace
agreement 13 March 1940 was received, and all plans to
assist Finland were cancelled. Six Caudron fighters were
already in transit for Finland, another ten in the port
of Le Havre, and three more in transit from Paris to Le
Only six Caudron
fighters arrived in Finland in crates at the end of May
1940, and turned out to be entirely unsuitable (weak armament,
long take-off and landing run) for Finnish conditions.
Already in September 1940 all Caudrons were grounded.
It is thus very questionable whether the Polish volunteer
Caudron-squadron really would have been of any use.
MS.406 (MS, SINGLE-ENGINE MONOPLANE FIGHTER). 50 MORANES
WERE DONATED BY FRANCE IN LATE DECEMBER 1939, BUT ONLY
30 ARRIVED IN FINLAND. THE MORANE FIGHTERS WERE DISPATCHED
IN CRATES TO MALMÖ, SWEDEN. AFTER ASSEMBLY BY FRENCH AND
SWEDISH TECHNICIANS IN MALMÖ, THE MORANES WERE FERRIED
TO FINLAND BY FINNISH PILOTS 4-29 FEBRUARY 1940. A NEW
FIGHTER SQUADRON WAS SET UP AT SÄKYLÄ IN SOUTH-WESTERN
FINLAND TO RECEIVE THE MORANES. THE PORTS AND CITIES IN
THIS REGION (ESPECIALLY TURKU, BUT ALSO PORI, UUSIKAUPUNKI,
MARIEHAMN ETC.) HAD REPEATEDLY BEEN BOMBED BY SOVIET BOMBERS
FROM BASES IN ESTONIA, AND WERE IN URGENT NEED OF INTERCEPTOR
of Moranes was apparently entirely unexpected for the
Soviet bombers, which suffered rather heavy losses to
the opposing "Spitfires". The French fighter
was never correctly identified during the Winter War.
Its outline, vaguely similar to Spitfire - combined with
possible Soviet intelligence information of Gripenberg´s
attempts to buy Spitfires, may explain the misidentification.
On 7 March
1940 several Moranes were transferred to south-east Finland
for ground-attack against the Red Army units at Bay of
fighters claimed 14 air victories on 288 missions in the
Winter War. One Morane was shot down by anti-aircraft
artillery at Bay of Viipuri, the pilot was wounded.
Potez 633 (two-engine
dive bomber). On 12 March 1940 the volunteer Groupe aérien
de volontaires francais en Finlande (GAVFF) was formed
in France. This unit was to consist of 12 Potez 633 bombers,
three Bloch fighters and one Dewoitine 338 transport aircraft.
Later also separate fighter units (equipped with Morane
406 and Koolhoven FK.58 fighters) were to be formed.
day before 10 Potez 633 and the Dewoitine 338 transport
had taken off to Tangmere, England bound for Finland via
Stavanger, Norway and Västerås, Sweden. After the peace
agreement the aircraft returned from England to France,
and all further operations were cancelled.
(fighter). 46 Dutch-made Koolhoven FK.58 fighters of French
AF were also earmarked for Finland as possible expansion
B.239 (BW). IN OCTOBER 1939 THE FINNISH MILITARY ATTACHÉ
IN USA COL. P.ZILLIACUS MADE ENQUIRIES ABOUT AMERICAN
FIGHTER DELIVERIES. WHEN THE WINTER WAR BROKE OUT THE
RATHER UNKNOWN BREWSTER-FACTORY REMAINED THE ONLY FEASIBLE
ALTERNATIVE. AS THE AMERICAN LEGISLATION PROHIBITED ALL
SALES OF MILITARY MATERIAL OWNED BY US GOVERNMENT, POSSIBLE
AIRCRAFT DEALS HAD TO BE MADE WITH PRIVATE PARTNERS.
Prime Minister R.Ryti and the Finnish Minister in Washington
Hj.Procopé proposed to President Roosevelt that 100 fighters
under construction for USAAF would be sold to Finland
before actual delivery (when the aircraft were still formal
property of the factories!), referring to a precedent
in 1927 when aircraft engines were sold to USSR by Curtiss
Co. (These engines were originally ordered by the US government,
and replaced by more modern Curtiss-engines.)
formula, on December 16, 1939 Finland bought 44 Brewster
F2A-1 fighters (under production for US Navy, which later
receive the newer F2A-2), for a total price 3.4 million
$. The Brewsters were delivered in crates by ship to Bergen
in Norway (the first batch was shipped from New York 13
January 1940), further by train to Sweden, and assembled
in Trollhättan by American, Swedish, Norwegian, English
and Finnish technicians. The Brewsters were flown from
Trollhättan to Finland by Finnish pilots between 1 March
(when eight Brewsters arrived) and 1 May 1940.
arrived too late to participate in the Winter War, but
were to become the best combat aircraft of the Finnish
AF during the first two years of the Continuation War
the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact Germany provided
practically no assistance to Finland, which caused much
bitter feelings in Finland as Germany was considered a
traditional partner. In early December 1939 transit of
Fiat G.50 fighters purchased from Italy was stopped by
Germany, and fighters already awaiting shipping to Finland
DOUGLAS DC-2 (DC, TWO-ENGINE TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT, MODIFIED
One DC-2 passenger
aircraft was bought by Swedish airline pilot Count C.G.
von Rosen from his former employer (Dutch airline company
KLM) and donated to Finland. After modification to carry
bombs the aircraft was allocated to Finnish AF on 19 February
1940. One night bombing mission was performed by von Rosen
(KO, single engine two-seater biplane reconnaissance aircraft).
Two Dutch Koolhoven FK.52 aircraft were also bought by
C.G. von Rosen and donated to Finland. The aircraft were
used for maritime reconnaissance from 4 March 1940.
A number of
civil aircraft were also donated by non-governmental organizations
and private persons in England and Sweden. These aircraft
included Fokker F.VIII, DH 86 and Junkers F.13 outdated
passenger aircraft (mainly intended for ambulance use),
and some light aircraft (Beech 17, Waco, Raab-Katzenstein
RK-26) and were of no military value.
aircraft. 24 Soviet aircraft force-landed in Finland were
also repaired and taken into use by Finnish Air Force.
However only three ex-Soviet aircraft were allocated to
AF squadrons before March 13, 1940: one DB-3 bomber which
had landed at Hauho on 29 January 1940 was taken into
use one month later, and two I-15bis fighters were allocated
to a training squadron. Finnish AF had altogether 103
ex-Soviet aircraft in its inventory 1939-1944.
AND MAINTENANCE. BEFORE WORLD WAR II FINNISH INDUSTRY
LACKED PRACTICALLY ENTIRELY ALL HIGH-TECH CAPABILITIES.
THE NEW AIRCRAFT AND ENGINE LICENCES IMPROVED THUS SIGNIFICANTLY
THE TECHNICAL LEVEL OF THE INDUSTRY. SIGNIFICANTLY BRISTOL
CO. HAD BEEN IN BIG DOUBTS WHETHER THE LICENSED ENGINES
AND AIRCRAFT COULD BE PRODUCED IN FINLAND. HOWEVER, IN
AUTUMN 1939 PRODUCTION OF MODERN FOKKER FIGHTERS, BLENHEIM
BOMBERS AND MERCURY ENGINES WAS IN FULL SWING.
personnel proved capable of extensive maintenance and
repair of battle-damaged aircraft, and foreign specialists
assisted in handling of new aircraft. Non-compatibility
of new aircraft provided however tremendous practical
problems. Finland received 16 different aircraft types,
with 12 different engines and 11 different radios during
the short Winter War. Also superficially similar equipment
turned out to be non-compatible: eg. although both Brewster
and Fiat fighters were equipped with 12.7 mm calibre machine
guns - the ammunition was however not interchangeable!
Also very few of the new aircraft were adapted to operation
in sub-zero arctic conditions, why extensive modifications
The VL Chief
Designer, Dipl.Ing. Edward Wegelius got apparently the
impulse to devote his future career to industrial standardization
as result of the struggles with non-standard equipment
during the Winter War. Wegelius became ultimately Chairman
of the International Standardization Organisation (ISO)
in the 1960s!
When new aircraft started to arrive in Finland in January-February
1940 lack of skilled pilots was an acute problem. Ferrying
of aircraft from England and/or Sweden was often made
by pilots lacking appropriate qualifications. Miraculously
only very few aircraft were lost on ferry flights. New
and unknown aircraft were flown in combat immediately
upon arrival - after only one or two acquaintance flights,
without normal conversion training. A small Test Flight
of skilled test pilots was attached to VL, and took part
in the air defence of Tampere with any airworthy fighter
In order to
set up new squadrons the existing squadrons were "thinned
out". It is very questionable how long scarce pilot
resources would have lasted in the longer daylight periods
in spring. The technicians faced also enormous difficulties
with the big number of aircraft types, every fighter squadron
operating different aircraft. Repeated squadron relocation
to temporary bases on frozen lakes did not make the life
to the well-organised Swedish F 19, a big number of spontaneous
volunteers turned up at Finnish missions in various countries
and applied for service in the Finnish Air Force. The
volunteers were in general unaccustomed to conditions
in Finland, and did naturally not know the Finnish language.
They lacked in most cases also appropriate flight training,
and required excessive attention by Finnish supervisors
and instructors. Only very few volunteers could be accepted
in combat squadrons.
The rest were
sent to various training units, having primarily "public
relations" value only. Most volunteers with sufficient
basic training were allocated to LLv 22, which received
Hurricanes and Brewsters in March 1940. The short-lived
squadron (which has been called "foreign legion"
of Finnish AF) was formed near Lahti during the very last
days of the Winter War, and counted four non-Finnish pilot
officers and ten non-commissioned officers, representing
ten different nations in its ranks. The technical personnel
of LLv 22 were similarly "international".
pilots got unfortunately lost during their first (in some
cases only!) acquaintance flights over snow-covered Finnish
forests and frozen lakes. Take-off and landing accidents
on snowy and slippery runways were also very common.
however also a few positive exceptions:
served as fighter pilots with Fokker- and Gladiator-fighters,
and claimed a total of seven Soviet aircraft shot down.
Four Danes were killed in action.
One Italian fighter pilot was killed in action with a
Two Hungarian fighter pilots flew Fiat G.50-fighters.
One Hungarian disappeared over the Baltic Sea on a ferry
flight from Sweden.
In addition to the Swedish F 19 some other Swedish pilots
served also in squadrons of the Finnish AF, and made a
few operational missions.
In connection with delivery of various new aircraft, factory
test pilots and mechanics were also sent to Sweden to
supervise assembly, and to test-fly aircraft. Most of
these skilled specialists went later to Finland to instruct
their Finnish colleagues. They were naturally not "volunteers"
in the literal sense of the word, and absolutely not comparable
to the above mentioned group.
Most volunteers departed from Finland in spring-summer
1940. Some British citizens stayed in Finland even up
to summer 1941, when they were interned (and departed
later). A summary of all foreign volunteers in the Finnish
Air Force in the Winter War is presented in appendix 4.
abroad. During the Winter War training of pilots for the
Finnish AF was naturally speeded up. Basic (non-military)
flight training was also arranged by the national civil
aviation clubs of Sweden and Norway.
pilot-students of the Finnish Air Force College were sent
to Sweden in January 1940. Somewhat later another group
was sent to Norway. The Swedish course was arranged in
Eskilstuna 11.02.-09.04.1940. After the shocking news
of the peace agreement 13 March the enthusiasm of both
students and instructors decreased dramatically. The course
was discontinued after the German invasion of Denmark
and Norway 9 April, and the Finns returned home.
The other group
of Finnish pilot-students arrived in Steinsfjorden in
Norway only a few days before the peace agreement 13 March
1940. The Norwegian course was also discontinued after
April 9. Some Finns considered joining the Norwegian armed
forces to fight the Germans, but after second thoughts
all Finns returned home.
In summer 1940
some Norwegian AF officers (including the legendary Ole
Reistad) wanted even to set up a reciprocal Norwegian
flight course in Finland. Reistad would ultimately set
up his "Little Norway" in Canada, where Norwegian
aviators were trained to fight Luftwaffe in RAF squadrons.
in March 1940. On 1 February 1940 the Finnish bomber regiment
LeR 4 was ordered to perform Blenheim photo-recce missions
to Soviet AF bases in Estonia. This order was repeated
10 February, when the Finnish Foreign Ministry also proposed
bombing of the Soviet naval base at Liepaja in Latvia!
On 24 February
1940 detailed information about Finnish AF bases in south-west
and northern Finland, and also detailed information of
the Leningrad area was delivered to Anglo-French representatives
in anticipation of Allied intervention.
In early March
1940 Allied intervention plans became very detailed. Gripenberg
was in continuous contacts with British Foreign Secretary
Lord Halifax in London, and asked for "one hundred
bombers to be sent immediately to Finland". On March
6 Gripenberg was finally informed that 36 Blenheims (three
squadrons) would be sent to Finland. The number of aircraft
was limited by the estimated Finnish capability to receive
assistance, Finland was judged able to receive only 12-20
aircraft immediately, the rest would be shipped afterwards.
On 9 March
1940 Lord Halifax told Gripenberg that if Finland were
to break up the peace negotiations with the Soviet Union,
England would deliver 50 bombers to Finland. These bombers
were to be flown to Finland by RAF pilots immediately
after an official Finnish appeal for military assistance.
Eight aircraft would take off in four days, and the rest
(42 aircraft) in eight days. The British transfer crews
would return to England, but later volunteer bomber crews
would be sent to Finland. Halifax stressed that Finland
had only three days to make its appeal, thereafter the
bomber group would be dissolved as it was urgently needed
appeal was never presented, and the peace treaty signed
in Moscow 13 March 1940 changed the course of history.
No British or French bombers were ever sent to Finland.
It is very
unlikely that the promised Allied bomber force would have
arrived in time to have a decisive impact on the outcome
on the Winter War, as the Finnish Army was virtually on
the brink of collapse when peace was signed. In parallel
with Finnish intervention plans, the Allied forces also
planned to bomb Soviet oil wells in Baku. The Soviet willingness
to make peace with Finland was apparently influenced by
knowledge of the Allied plans, including the intervention
in Finland and the bombing of Baku.
The peace treaty
was signed in Moscow at night 12/13 March 1940. All Allied
intervention plans were immediately cancelled. The aircraft
already in Sweden were ultimately delivered to Finland,
but aircraft awaiting delivery in France and England did
never arrive. A summary of all aircraft promised and actually
delivered is presented in appendix 4. Only less than half
of the over 400 aircraft promised to Finland arrived,
and most arrived far too late to participate in combat.
Except for the Swedish F 19 squadron the numerous (although
far from the "thousand American pilots" mentioned
by the History of the Great Patriotic War!) volunteers
were of no real use to the Air Force, and were in fact
only a nuisance!
Allied intervention plans led to heated debates in both
France and Britain. Already on 12 March the French Prime
Minister Edouard Daladier declared in the Chamber of Deputies:
"175 aircraft had been delivered to Finland".
Former Prime Minister, leftist Léon Blum replied that
only "30 Morane fighters and a dozen Potez 63 bombers
had actually left France for Finland", and in addition
"a few Caudron and Koolhoven aircraft had received
export licences". Next day Daladier tried once more
to defend his case: "the Potez bombers have certainly
reached the Finnish front in time" (in fact not a
single Potez bomber arrived in Finland!). The French public
opinion blamed both the Finnish government for not having
presented the appeal for assistance, and also the Swedish
government for its negative attitude to transit of Allied
troops. On March 20 the Daladier cabinet lost a vote of
confidence and resigned.
the intervention plans were debated in Parliament on 19
March. Prime Minister Chamberlain presented his plans
to assist Finland, and was heavily by criticised by the
opposition (in particular by Conservative Harold Macmillan,
future Prime Minister).
summarized Chamberlain´s arguments in his memoirs as follows5:
"From the outbreak of war until March 1, I requested
a total of 214 planes of all kinds. Chamberlain stated
in his speech /19 March/ that the British government promised
us 152 planes and sent 101. This figure is almost right.
As a matter of fact, the British sent 102 planes, but
one /Hurricane fighter/ was badly damaged when it was
wheeled out of its hangar at an air base in Scotland,
and another crashed on its way to Norway.6
report that the British government promised 152 planes
does not agree with the figures I myself received from
British authorities, because I noted and reported to my
foreign ministry that we had been promised 187 planes
(30 Gladiators, 30 Gauntlets, 12 Blenheims, 70 Lysanders,
33 Rocs and 12 Hurricanes). I do not know how Chamberlain
arrived at the figure of 152, and since his speech was
supposed to be a defense of the government, it seems likely
that someone in some department forgot to include 35 planes
that were promised.7
The Prime Minister
also insisted that "everything was done" to
send the planes with "a minimum of delay." It
appears, however, that only twenty-eight planes departed
promptly enough to arrive in Finland before peace was
concluded. Furthermore, it is not certain that they all
landed in Finland, because some of them were disabled
in Norway or Sweden and had to be repaired before they
To what extent
the expression "with a minimum of delay" can
be justified might best be checked against the following
5, 1939 I was informed that the British government had
agreed to let us have 20 Gladiators, and 10 more were
approved a few days later. I signed the purchase agreement
on December 12 and deposited eighty thousand pounds. Not
all of the planes had been sent by January 21, and the
spare parts were not sent until March 5.8
/fighter trainers/ were released to us about Christmas,
1939. By February 13 only 2 of these had left and 2 had
been prepared for shipment. On March 5, 9 others were
shipped along with 25 cases of spare parts.9
19, 1940, we got approval for 70 Lysanders, of which 2
had been prepared for shipment by February 13. Thirty
left on March 5.10
We were promised
33 Roc planes on February 4. Of these 10 were shipped
on March 6.11
24 we were granted 12 so-called long-nosed Blenheims,
which were meanwhile exchanged for short-nosed ones on
January 14. They were flown to Stavanger on February 24.12
I signed a
contract for 12 Hurricanes on January 24, 1940. Of these,
6 were flown to Sweden on February 25 and 6 on February
and British newspapers published figures - especially
just before the end of the war -about allied military
assistance that were pure imagination. It is impossible
now to determine the sources of this misinformation, but
its publication was regrettable because it gave the general
public an altogether too optimistic, hence erroneous,
picture of what the Western powers had done to us. It
was also not generally known that the military help was
granted only against payment.
But when one
thinks of how the British people's burning desire to help
us actually worked out in practice, one must not forget
that the Western powers were themselves inadequately armed,
something those on the outside did not know at that time.
The Western powers had to assume that the smoldering embers
of war in France could at any time become a raging fire.
This does not mean, however, that the criticism directed
against Chamberlain's government in the British Parliament,
which was summed up in the expression "too little
and too late," was necessarily exaggerated. "
Force organization, training and tactical methods were
reviewed after the war, with due attention paid to combat
experiences. New squadrons, equipped with aircraft delivered
in spring 1940, were combat-ready in summer-autumn 1940.
Production and maintenance capacity was also expanded,
and the Finnish Air Force was on the peak of its relative
strength in summer 1941.
Finnish Air Force learned the hard way not to believe
in promises of foreign assistance. Own technical competence
and independence of foreign sources were fully appreciated..
As a rule no foreign volunteers were accepted in the Finnish
Air Force in the Continuation War (with exception of two
to create normal relations with its former enemy, Finnish
authorities witnessed continuous political pressure from
Moscow in spring 1940 (refusal to accept closer Finnish-Swedish
cooperation, new border-line problems, repatriation of
war prisoners, war reparations, Petsamo nickel mine concession,
transit traffic to Hanko naval base etc.). Most problems
were hidden from the public and known only to rather few
event of June 14, 1940 would however have dramatic impact
on Finnish official and public opinion towards USSR. This
day a passenger aircraft (Junkers Ju 52 Kaleva, registration
code OH-ALL) of Finnish flag-carrier Aero Oy was shot
down by Soviet aircraft over the Gulf of Finland. The
civil airliner, bound for Helsinki on scheduled flight
1631, was attacked by two bombers of the Air Force of
the Baltic Fleet (VVS KBF) a few moments after take-off
from Tallinn airport. All nine persons on board (two Finnish
crew-members and seven passengers) were killed. The passengers
included five diplomats (two Germans, two French and one
American), one Swedish businessman and one Estonian woman.
event, comparable only to the shooting down of the Korean
jumbo-jet in the Far East on September 1, 1983, has never
been officially admitted, nor have any regrets been presented
by Soviet authorities.
was evidently connected to the Soviet occupation of the
Baltic countries in mid-June 1940. Was USSR ready to prevent
the diplomatic information to get out of its "sphere
of influence" by any means, or was the downing of
a civil airliner a mistake of the blockade forces? What
was in the first case the unwanted information? Some diplomatic
mail bags were picked up by Soviet naval ships and brought
to Kronstadt, but their contents have never been disclosed.
army had received significant intelligence information
(eg. radio intercepts which greatly facilitated the destruction
of several Soviet divisions) from both the Estonian and
the Latvian Armies during the Winter war. Were the diplomats
possibly carrying sensitive intelloigence information
- was this the reason to shoot down the civil airliner?
not one of the native (mutually opposing!) countries of
the killed diplomats did officially protest, nor are known
to have made any contacts whatsoever to Soviet authorities.
Only carefully worded requests for investigations were
presented to Finnish authorities. Germany paid out pensions
to the relatives of her killed citizens in silence.
Soon the Kaleva
incident was forgotten outside Finland - the major world
event of this day, June 14, 1940 was the German entrance
into Paris! Although the exact reason of the Kaleva-tragedy
was hidden from the Finnish public, everyone was nervously
able to read the official communiqués between the lines
("airliner Kaleva crashed due to external explosion
not related to any identified technical problems, killing
all on board…").
once more left alone - for the second time in less than
Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voiny Sovietskogo Soyuza (History
of the Great Patriotic War). T. I. M., 1960. S. 264.
2 All sources:
Sota-arkisto; Ulkoministeriön arkisto; Blue-White Book
of Finland. Vol.2 Hels., 1941; Tajny podvodnoj vojny.
Vyp. 7. Lvov, 2001; Arnesen O. Gröne vingar over Norge.
Widerö´s Flyselskap A/S 50 år. Haugesund, 1984; Belcarz
B. GC 1/145 in France 1940. Sandomierz, 2002; Berg, Å.
Att flyga Fiat G.50 // Flyughistoriskt Månadsblad. 1983.
N 4; Berg Å. Resa genom Europa 1940 (Robert Winstons rapport)
// Svensk Flyghistorisk Tidskrift. 1998. N 4; Berg Å.
Rapport från Finland // Svensk Flyghistorisk Tidskrift.
1999.N 1: Berg Å. Finska krigsflygarveteraner tackar Sverige
// Svensk Flyghistorisk Tidskrift. N 3. 2000; Bjuggren,
Björn: Svenska flygare i österled. Stockholm. 1942; Buffotot
P. Le projet de bombardement des pétroles sovétiques du
Caucase en 1940 // Revue Historique des Armées. N. 4.
1979; Buffotot P. L´aide aérienne à la Finlande (novembre
1939-mars 1940), // Revue Historique des Armées. N 4.
1980; Clauson K. K. Et liv i luften. Köbenhavn. 1940;
Cynk J. B. The Polish Air Force at War. V.1 1939-1943,
Atglen, 1998; Falk G. F 19 - en krönika. Uddevalla, 1989;
Forslund M. J 11 - Fiat CR 42. Lund, 2001; Geust C-F.,
Tirkeltaub, S., Petrov, G. Red Stars. Vol.5. Baltic Fleet
Air force in Winter War. Hämeenlinna, 2004; Geust C-F.
Sovjet sköt ned Kaleva // Hufvudstadsbladet. 1988 6.8;
Geust C-F. Lentokoulu Norjassa talvisodan aikana // Ilmailumuseoyhdistyksen
tiedote. 1990. N 1; Geust C-F. A Small Nation and Air
Power: Finland, Air Power. Doctrine and Technology. Linköping,
1996; Geust C-F.; Tajny "prodolzhitel´noj vojny"
// Aviatsiya i Kosmonavtika. 1997. N 11-12; Geust C-F.
F 19 enligt ryska källor. Linköping. 1997.Gripenberg G.A.
Finland and the Great Powers. Lincoln, 1965; Keskinen
K., Stenman K. Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia. Vol. 1 (Brewster),
Vol.3 (Fokker D.21), Vol. 4 (Morane-Saulnier MS.406),
Vol. 7 (Soviet Fighters), Vol. 8 (Fiat G.50), Vol.9 (Soviet
Bombers), Vol. 10 (Blenheim), Vol. 12 (British Fighters),
Vol. 13 (Dive Bombers), Vol. 17 (LeR 2). Hels., 1985-2004.
Khokhlov P.I. Nad tremjami moryami. Leningrad, 1988; Laaksonen
L. Todellisuus ja harhat. Kannaksen taistelut ja suomalaisten
joukkojen tila talvisodan lopussa 1940. Hels., 1999; Lehtonen
K. R. Trollhättan 55 vuotta myöhemmin // Feeniks. 1995.
N 4; Lehtonen K. R. Yhtä ja toista Carl Cugnascasta //
Feeniks. 1998. N 1; Lehtonen K. R. Kuinka monta Brewsteriä
// Feeniks. 1998. N 1; Lehtonen K. R. Brewstereiden muistotaulu
Trollhättaniin // Feeniks. 2000.N 2; Nevakivi J. The Appeal
that was Never Made - The Allies, Scandinavia and the
Finnish Winter War 1939-1940. London, 1976; Nordström,
C.-G. Brev från en som var med // Flyghistoriskt Månadsblad.
1982.N 7-8; Omholt-Jensen E. Ole Reistad. "The Spirit
of Little Norway". Oslo, 1986; Pajari R. Talvisota
ilmassa. Porvoo, 1971; Raunio J. Lentäjän näkökulma. Vol.2,
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asti // Suomen Ilmailuhistoriallinen Lehti. 1996. N 1;
Skarphol, P.Ö. Finner i transitt // NFF-Kontakt. 1981.
N 2; Söderberg N. Flygplansleveranser till finska Vinterkriget
// Flyghistoriskt Månadsblad. 1981. N 7-8; Temmes, K.J.
Ruotsin ryhmä/SotaOhjaajaKurssi 2 Eskilstunassa 11.2.-9.4.1940
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Köbenhavn, 1941; Winston R. A. Aces Wild. 1941.
Gripenberg was a skilled and experienced diplomat - to
become Finland´s first permanent representative to the
United Nations in 1955 - he had absolutely no competence
to buy aircraft…
4 The British
avoided to sign Finnish contracts by Government Agencies
"in order not to provoke the Soviet Union"
comments by this author in brackets
6 A Blenheim
flown by a Finnish pilot disappeared between Scotland
and Norway, while one Lysander and one Hurricane crashed
in Norway. 98 British aircraft arrived in Finland.
7 199 planes
were in fact promised, Gripenberg has forgotten the second
batch of 12 Blenheims, and in addition a promise of another
30 Gladiators is mentioned elsewhere in his book.
8 All 30 Gladiators
arrived in Finland.
9 24 Gauntlets
arrived in Finland.
10 Only 11
Lysanders arrived in Finland.
11 No Rocs
arrived in Finland.
is mistaken, his notes are apparently mixed up: both 12
long-nose and 12 short-nose Blenheims were ferried to
Finland, of which 23 arrived. One Blenheim disappeared
between Scotland and Norway.
13 10 Hurricanes
arrived in Finland. This research has been supported by
the Swedish Cultural Foundation (Svenska Kulturfonden)