Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Finland’s Air Force

In the 1930s, two controversies hindered Finnish aircraft acquisition. The first was the issue of whether fighters or bombers should have priority (the need for fighters seeming paramount). The second was the country from which to purchase aircraft. The head of the Defense Council, Carl Mannerheim, favored Germany, and the air force commander, Colonel Jarl Lundquist (later a lieutenant general), favored Britain. Mannerheim stressed the danger of air attacks on Finnish cities when arguing for more funds for the air force, but he gave priority to air support for ground forces when war came.

In September 1939, the Finnish Air Force (FAF) had only 36 modern interceptors (Dutch Fokker D-XXIs) and 21 bombers (14 Bristol Blenheims and 7 Junkers K430s). Lundquist deployed his limited fighter assets forward to protect the army and defend as much Finnish air space as possible. Following the Soviet invasion of Finland in November 1939, Finnish bombers attacked airfields and supported ground forces. In late December 1939, the FAF was able to purchase additional Fokker fighters, but its best aircraft came in the form of Morane-Saulnier MS-406s purchased from France. The Finns purchased additional Blenheims, U.S. Brewster F2A Buffalos (the Finns enjoyed considerable success with this much-maligned aircraft), Italian Fiat G-50s, and additional MS 406s. Most arrived too late for the war.

During this Finnish-Soviet War of 1939–1940, also called the Winter War, the FAF supposedly accounted for approximately 200 Soviet aircraft, and more than 300 others were destroyed by antiaircraft fire or on the ground. Finnish losses during the war amounted to 53 aircraft.

Finnish Air Force in the Winter War
At the beginning of the war, Finland had a very small air force, with only 114 combat airplanes fit for duty. Therefore, Finnish air missions were very limited and fighter aircraft were mainly used to repel Soviet bombers. Old-fashioned and few in numbers, Finnish aircraft could not offer support to the Finnish ground troops. In spite of aircraft losses throughout the war, the Finnish Air Force grew by 50 percent by the end of the war. Most new aircraft shipments arrived during January 1940.

Finnish fighter pilots often dove into Soviet formations that outnumbered them ten or even twenty times. Finnish fighters shot down 240 confirmed Soviet aircraft, against the Finnish loss of 53. A Finnish forward air base often consisted of only a frozen lake, a windsock, a telephone set and some tents. Air-raid warnings were given by Finnish women organized by the Lotta Svärd. Finnish antiaircraft gunners shot down between 314 to 444 Soviet aircraft.

Finnish aircraft
At the start of hostilities, the Finnish Air Force had 146 aircraft of all types at its disposal. The primary fighter aircraft were 15 Bristol Bulldog IVs, which had entered service in 1935, and 41 of the more modern Fokker D.XXI. There were also 18 license-built Bristol Blenheim bombers. In 1939, an order had been placed in Italy for 25 Fiat G.50 fighters; two were being assembled in Sweden when the war broke out.

During the war, a number of aircraft were ordered from abroad:

    30 Gloster Gladiator II biplane fighters from the United Kingdom
    12 Bristol Blenheim IV bombers from the United Kingdom
    30 Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighters from France
    44 Brewster 239 fighters from the United States
    22 Gloster Gauntlet trainers from the United Kingdom
    10 Fiat G.50 fighters from Italy

In air combat, Finland used the "finger four" formation (four planes split into two pairs, one flying low and the other high, with each plane fighting independently of the others, yet supporting its wingman in combat), which was superior to the Soviet tactic of three fighters flying in a delta formation. This formation and the credo of Finnish pilots to always attack, no matter the odds, contributed to the failure of Soviet bombers to inflict substantial damage against Finnish positions and population centres.
In 1941, when Finland again went to war with the Soviet Union (the Finnish-Soviet War of 1941–1944, also called the Continuation War), Finland’s air force had increased substantially. It possessed 144 modern fighters (a mixture of U.S., British, French, Dutch, and Italian planes); 44 British and ex-Soviet bombers; and 63 mostly British and German reconnaissance planes. Once the Continuation War began, Finnish access to aircraft from other nations except Germany was cut off. The Finns did have their own aircraft industry, which produced limited numbers of aircraft including the VL Myrsky II fighter.

Continuation War 1941–44
The Finnish Air Force was better prepared for the Continuation War. It had been considerably strengthened and consisted of some 550 aircraft, though many were considered second-rate and thus "exportable" by their countries of origin. Finland purchased a large number of aircraft during the Winter War, but few of those reached service during the short conflict. Politics also played a factor, since Hitler did not wish to antagonize the Soviet Union by allowing aircraft exports through German-controlled territory during the conflict. New aircraft types were in place by the time hostilities with Soviet Union resumed in 1941. Small numbers of Hawker Hurricanes arrived from the United Kingdom, Morane-Saulnier M.S.406s from France, Fiat G.50s from Italy, a few dozen Curtiss Hawk 75s captured by the Germans in France and Norway then sold to Finland, when Germany began warming up its ties with Finland, and numerous Brewster B239s from the neutral USA strengthened the FiAF. The FiAF proved capable of holding its own in the upcoming battles with the Red Air Force. Older models, like the Fokker D.XXI and Gloster Gladiator, were replaced in front-line combat units with the new aircraft.

The FiAF's main mission was to achieve air superiority over Finland and prevent Soviet air power from reinforcing their front lines. The fighter squadrons were very successful in the Finnish offensive of 1941. A stripped-down, more maneuverable, and significantly lightened version of the American Brewster B239 "Buffalo" was the FiAF's main fighter until 1943. Results with this fighter were very good, even though the type was considered to be a failure in the US Navy and with British Far East forces. In the Finnish use, the Brewster had a victory rate of 32:1 – 459 kills to 15 losses. German Bf 109s replaced the Brewster as the primary front-line fighter of the FiAF in 1943, though the Buffalos continued in secondary roles until the end of the wars. Other types, especially the Italian Fiat G.50 and Curtiss Hawk 75 also proved capable in the hands of well-trained Finnish pilots. Various Russian designs also saw action when lightly damaged "kills" were repaired and made airworthy.

Dornier Do 17s (received as a gift from Hermann Göring in 1942) and Junkers Ju 88s improved the bombing capability of the Finnish Air Force. The bomber force was also strengthened with a number of captured Soviet bombers, which had been taken in large numbers by the Germans during Operation Barbarossa. The bomber units flew assorted missions with varying results, but a large part of their time was spent in training, waiting to use their aircraft until the time required it. Thus the bomber squadrons of Flying Regiment 4 were ready for the summer battles of 1944, which included for example the Battle of Tali-Ihantala.

While the FiAF was successful in its mission, the conditions were not easy. Spare parts for the FiAF planes were scarce — parts from the US (Buffalo & Hawk), Britain (Hurricanes), and Italy (G.50) were unavailable for much of the war. Repairs took often a long time, and the State Aircraft Factory was burdened with restoration/repair of Soviet war booty planes, foreign aircraft with many hours of flight time, and the development of indigenous Finnish fighter types. Also, one damaged bomber took up workshop space equalling three fighters.

Finland was required to expel or intern remaining German forces as part of its peace agreement with the Soviets in mid-1944. As a result, the final air battles were against retreating Luftwaffe units.

The Finnish Air Force did not bomb any civilian targets during either war. Curiously, overflying Soviet towns and bases was also forbidden, as to avoid any unneeded provocations and to spare equipment.

According to Kalevi Keskinen's and Kari Stenman's book "Aerial Victories 1–2", the Finnish Air Force shot down 1,621 Soviet aircraft while losing 210 own aircraft during the Continuation War 1941–44.

Finnish Air Force strategy stressed aggressiveness; isolated fighters usually attacked no matter the number of Soviet aircraft. The FAF employed a blue swastika marking (no relation to the Nazi version) for national identification. The Luftwaffe and FAF cooperated in this conflict, although neither could prevent Soviet air raids into Finnish territory nor completely screen the Finnish army from air attacks.

References Kirby, D. G. Finland in the Twentieth Century. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979. Tillotson, H. M. Finland at Peace and War, 1918–1993. Wilby, UK: Michael Russell, 1993. Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish War of 1939–40. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1991.

Norway’s Air Power 1940

Hawk 75A-6

Build-up for WWII
Before 1944 the Air Force were divided into the Norwegian Army Air Service (Hærens Flyvevaaben) and the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service (Marinens Flyvevaaben). In the late 30s, as war seemed imminent, more modern aircraft was bought from abroad, including twelve Gloster Gladiator fighters from the UK, and six Heinkel He 115s from Germany. Considerable orders for aircraft were placed with U.S. companies during the months prior to the invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940. Royal Norwegian Army Air Service operated four Ca.310s.

The most important of the US orders were two orders for comparatively modern Curtiss P-36 Hawk monoplane fighters. The first was for 24 Hawk 75A-6 (with 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3-G Twin Wasp engines), 19 of which were delivered before the invasion. Of these 19, though, none were operational when the attack came. A number were still in their shipping crates in Oslo harbour, while others stood at the Kjeller aircraft factory, flight ready, but none combat ready. Some of the Kjeller aircraft had not been fitted with machine guns, and those that had been fitted still lacked gun sights.

The five 75A-6s that were still in the US were sent to the Little Norway training base of the exiled Royal Norwegian Air Force near Toronto. All 19 Norwegian P-36s that were captured by the German invaders were later sold by the German authorities to the Finnish Air Force, which was to use them to good effect during the Continuation War.

The other order for P-36s was for 36 Hawk 75A-8 (with 1200 hp Wright R-1820-95 Cyclone 9 engines), none of which were delivered in time for the invasion. The 30 completed machines were, like the 75A-6s, diverted to Little Norway. There they were used for training Norwegian pilots until the USAAF took over the aircraft and used them under the designation P36G

Also ordered prior to the invasion were 24 Northrop N-3PB float planes built in on Norwegian specifications for a patrol bomber. The order was made on 12 March 1940 in an effort to replace the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service's obsolete MF.11 biplane patrol aircraft. None of the type were delivered by 9 April and when they became operational with the 330 (Norwegian) Squadron in May 1941 they were stationed at Reykjavík, Iceland performing anti-submarine and convoy escort duties.

Escape and exile
The unequal situation led to the rapid defeat of the Norwegian air forces, even though seven Gladiators from Jagevingen (the fighter wing) defended Fornebu airport against the attacking German forces with some success - claiming two Me 110 heavy fighters, two He 111 bombers and one Junkers Ju 52 transport. Jagevingen lost two Gladiators to ground strafing while they were rearming on Fornebu and one in the air, shot down by Future Experte Helmut Lent, injuring the sergeant pilot. After the withdrawal of allied forces, the Norwegian Government gave up fighting in Norway and evacuated to the United Kingdom on 10 June 1940.

Only aircraft of the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service had the range to fly all the way from their last remaining bases in Northern Norway to the UK. Included amongst the Norwegian aircraft that reached the British Isles were four German made Heinkel He 115 seaplane bombers, six of which were bought before the war and two more were captured from the Germans during the Norwegian Campaign. One He 115 also escaped to Finland before the surrender of mainland Norway, as did three M.F. 11s; landing on Lake Salmijärvi in Petsamo. A captured Arado Ar 196 originating from the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was also flown to Britain for testing.

For the Norwegian Army Air Service aircraft the only option for escape was Finland, where the planes would be interned but at least not fall into the hands of the Germans. In all two Fokker C.V.s and one de Havilland Tiger Moth made it across the border and onto Finnish airfields just before the capitulation of mainland Norway. All navy and army aircraft that fled to Finland were pressed into service with the Finnish Air Force.

The Army and Navy air services established themselves in Britain under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Norwegian air and ground crews operated as part of the British Royal Air Force, in both wholly Norwegian squadrons and also in other squadrons and units such as RAF Ferry Command and RAF Bomber Command. In particular, Norwegian personnel operated two squadrons of Supermarine Spitfires: RAF 132 (Norwegian) Wing consisted of No. 331 (Norwegian) Squadron and RAF No. 332 (Norwegian) Squadron. Both planes and running costs were financed by the exiled Norwegian government.

In the autumn of 1940, a Norwegian training center known as "Little Norway" was established in RCAF Station Borden outside of Toronto, Canada.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) was established by a royal decree on 1 November 1944, thereby merging the Army and Navy air forces. No. 331 (Norwegian) Squadron defended London from 1941 and was the highest scoring fighter squadron in South England during the war.

Up until 8 May 1945, 335 persons had lost their lives while taking part in the efforts of the RNoAF.

Finnish-Soviet War (25 June 1941- 4 September 1944) (Continuation War)

Finnish troops passing by the remains of a destroyed Soviet T-34 at the battle of Tali-Ihantala.

Finnish, German, and Soviet troops at the start of the Continuation War in June/July 1941. The Germans began their assault on 29 June from Petsamo area, and the Finns attacked on 1 July from Suomussalmi and Kuusamo area.

Renewal of warfare between Finland and the Soviet Union, also called the Continuation War. The fighting occurred mainly northwest and northeast of the Soviet city of Leningrad. 

Finland's rejection of Soviet demands for territory and bases to protect access to Leningrad-including the cession of Viipuri (Vyborg), Finland's second-largest city, and the surrounding Karelian Isthmus-led to the first Finnish- Soviet War, known as the Winter War. The war began in November 1939, and although the Finns fought well, the odds against them were hopeless. In March 1940, Finland was obliged to sue for peace, in which it had to cede even more territory that the Soviets had originally demanded. 

Fearing additional Soviet demands and resenting Soviet interference in its policies, Finland aligned itself with Germany. In fall 1940, chief of the Finnish General Staff Lieutenant General Erik Heinrichs held talks in Berlin with German leaders, who requested Finnish assistance during Operation BARBAROSSA, the planned German invasion of the Soviet Union (chiefly of Leningrad and Murmansk). The Finnish government welcomed this as an opportunity to recover territory lost to the Soviet Union in the Winter War. As planning progressed, the Germans and Finns agreed that German forces would secure the nickel-rich Petsamo region and attack Murmansk in the far north, while the Finns would be responsible for operations in the southeast toward Leningrad and Soviet Karelia, centered around Petrozavodsk. General Carl Mannerheim (he was raised to field marshal in 1942) commanded the Finnish forces, as he had in the Winter War of 1939-1940. Mannerheim had 16 divisions: 11 along the frontiers, 1 opposite the Russian base at Hanko, and 4 in reserve.

On 22 June 1941, the Germans launched their massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Finland had already secretly mobilized its forces and declared war on 25 June, but as a cobelligerent of Germany rather than as an ally. The German drive in the far north from Petsamo eastward fell short of both Murmansk and the large Soviet naval base at Polyarny. German forces also had little luck driving east from the northern city of Rovaniemi, failing to cut the Soviet rail line running from Murmansk south along the White Sea coast. In the south, however, the Finns made much better progress. Preoccupied with the massive German onslaught, Red Army forces north of Leningrad were outnumbered. 

General Mannerheim divided his forces into two armies: one drove down the Karelian Isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, and the other marched southeast between Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega toward the Svir River to take Petrozavodsk, capital of Karelia. On 29 June, the Finnish Karelian Army (II, IV, VI, and VII Corps) attacked to the west and east of Lake Ladoga, crossing the Russo-Finnish border of 1940, recapturing Finnish Karelia, and driving on toward Leningrad. Aided by German contingents, Army Group Mannerheim attacked Soviet Karelia. Farther north, combined Finnish and German forces recaptured lost Finnish territory around Salla while the German mountain troops, coming from Norway, reached as far as the Litsa River on their drive toward Murmansk. 

The Finns had originally planned to unite their troops with German Army Group North around Leningrad. On 1 September, the Finns reached the old Russo-Finnish border. Despite heavy fighting, the Soviets were able to withdraw, but by late August the Finns had recovered all territory lost to the Soviet Union in the Winter War. The Finnish attacks stalled north of Lake Ladoga in September.
Although the Finns were not eager to take non-Finnish land, they did advance somewhat beyond the pre- November 1939 borders for defensive purposes. Much to Germany's displeasure, however, they refused to cooperate with German troops against the city of Leningrad. Finnish and German commanders disliked each other, and the German air force failed to provide as much air cover as had been promised. German troops did not perform well in the northern part of the front. In the dense forests and swamps that marked the terrain in the north, tanks, heavy artillery, and aircraft were often ineffective. Finnish casualties were not light, and Finland had a small population and insufficient resources for a long war. Given these points, the Finns only undertook those operations that suited them, and that did not include Leningrad. The Finns were nonetheless disappointed that the German army was unable to secure a rapid defeat of the Soviet Union. 

After capturing Petrozavodsk and Medweschjegorsk on the western and northern shore of Lake Onega, in December the Finns established a defensive position somewhat inside Soviet territory and about 20 miles from Leningrad. Had the Finns advanced farther, Leningrad would probably have fallen to the Germans, with uncertain consequences for the fighting on the Eastern Front. The Finnish Front remained largely static from early 1942. Despite some Soviet counterattacks toward Petsamo, the battle lines changed very little in the months to follow.

At this point, in August 1942, Moscow offered the Finns extensive territorial concessions in return for a separate peace, but the Finns, confident of an ultimate German victory, refused. In September 1941, London and Washington made it clear to Helsinki that any Finnish effort to advance beyond its prewar frontiers would mean war. Indeed, Britain declared war on Finland in December 1941.
As the war continued into 1942 and then 1943, the Finns lost enthusiasm for the struggle, especially when German military fortunes changed. In January 1944, a Soviet offensive south of Leningrad broke the blockade of that city. With the tide fast turning against Germany, the Finns asked the Soviets for peace terms, but the response was so harsh that Finland rejected it. Not only would Finland have to surrender all its territorial gains, but it would have to pay a large indemnity. 

Soviet leader Josef Stalin then decided to drive Finland from the war. The Soviets assembled some 45 divisions with about half a million men, more than 800 tanks, and some 2,000 aircraft. Using these assets, in June 1944 the Soviets began an advance into Finland on both flanks of Lake Ladoga on the relatively narrow Karelian and Leningrad Fronts. While the Finns were well entrenched along three defensive lines, they could not withstand the Soviet onslaught. Viipuri fell on 20 June after less stubborn resistance than during the Winter War. Heavy fighting also occurred in eastern Karelia. Although they failed to achieve a breakthrough, Soviet forces caused the Finns to retreat and took the Murmansk Railway. 

After the fall of Viipuri, the Finnish government requested German assistance. The Germans furnished dive-bombers, artillery, and then some troops, but it demanded in return that Finland ally itself firmly with Germany and promise not to conclude a separate peace. President Risto Ryti, who had been forced to provide a letter to that effect to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (which bound him, but not his country, to such a policy), resigned on 1 August in favor of Marshal Mannerheim. 

On 25 August, Helsinki asked for terms. Moscow agreed to a cease-fire to take effect on 4 September, but Soviet forces actually fought on for another day after that. One of the ceasefire terms was that the Finns should break diplomatic relations with Berlin and order all German troops from Finnish soil by 15 September. German leader Adolf Hitler refused the Finnish request for an orderly departure of his forces and ordered German troops in northern Finland to resist expulsion and, if forced to retreat, to lay waste to the countryside. The German troops followed this order to the letter. Because there were 200,000 Germans in Finland, the damage to Lapland, where they were located, was considerable. During October, the Russian Fourteenth Army threw back German forces at Liza, supported by a large amphibious landing near Petsamo, and by the end of the month the Germans had withdrawn completely into Norway. 

The war ended for Finland on 15 October 1944. The Continuation War cost Finland some 200,000 casualties (55,000 dead)-a catastrophic figure for a nation of fewer than 4 million people. Finland also had to absorb 200,000 refugees. Finland agreed to withdraw its forces back to the 1940 frontiers, placed its military on a peacetime footing within two and one-half months, granted a 50-year lease of the Porkkala District, allowed the Soviets access to ports and airfields in southern Finland, and provided the Soviet Union use of the Finnish merchant navy while the war continued in Europe. Finland also paid reparations of US$300 million in gold over a six-year period. Stalin did refrain from absorbing the entire country, but in the coming decades Western-oriented democratic Finland was obliged to follow policies that would not alienate the Soviet Union.

References Lundin, C. Leonard. Finland in the Second World War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957. Vehviläinen, Olli. Finland in the Second World War. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Wuorinen, J. H. Finland and World War II, 1939-1944. New York: Ronald Press, 1948.