The Finnish Air Force (FAF or FiAF) (Finnish: Ilmavoimat (“Air Forces”), Swedish: Flygvapnet) (“Air Arm”) is one of the branches of the Finnish Defence Forces. Its peacetime tasks are airspace surveillance, identification flights, and production of readiness formations for wartime conditions. The Finnish Air Force was founded on 6th March 1918.
The first steps in the history of Finnish aviation were taken with Russian aircraft. The Russian military had a number of early designs stationed in the country, which until the Russian Revolution of 1917 had been part of the Russian Empire. Soon after the declaration of independence the Finnish Civil War erupted, in which the Soviets/Russians sided with the Reds – the leftist rebels. Finland’s White Guard, the Whites, managed to seize a few aircraft from the Russians, but were forced to rely on foreign pilots and aircraft. Sweden refused to send men and material, but individual Swedish citizens came to the aid of the Whites. The editor of the Swedish daily magazine Aftonbladet, Waldemar Langlet, bought a N.A.B. Albatros aircraft from the Nordiska Aviatik A.B. factory with funds gathered by the Finlands vänner (“Friends of Finland”) organization. This aircraft, the first to arrive from Sweden, was flown via Haparanda on 25th February 1918 by Swedish pilots John-Allan Hygerth (who on March 10 became the first commander of the Finnish Air Force) and Per Svanbäck. The aircraft made a stop at Kokkola and had to make a forced landing in Jakobstad when its engine broke down. It was later given the Finnish Air Force designation F.2 (“F” coming from the Swedish word “Flygmaskin”, meaning “aircraft”).
Von Rosen had painted his personal good luck charm on the Thulin Typ D aircraft. This charm – a blue swastika, the ancient symbol of the sun and good luck – was adopted as the insignia of the Finnish Air Force. The white circular background was created when the Finns tried to paint over the advertisement from the Thulin air academy. The swastika was officially taken into use after an order by Commander-in-Chief C. G. E. Mannerheim on 18th March 1918. The FAF changed its aircraft insignia after 1944, due to an Allied Control Commission decree prohibiting Fascist organizations and it resembling the Third Reich’s swastika. (However, it still remains in all the colours of Air Force units, pending any replacement with the current service emblem.)
The F.1 aircraft was destroyed in an accident, killing its crew, not long after it had been handed over to the Finns. On 7th September 1920, two newly purchased Savoia flying boats crashed in the Swiss Alps en route to Finland, killing all on-board (three Finns and one Italian). This day has since been the memorial day for fallen pilots.
The Finnish Air Force assigns the matriculation numbers to its aircraft by assigning each type a two-letter code following by dash and an individual aircraft number. The two-letter code usually refers to the aircraft manufacturer or model, such as HN for F/A-18 Hornet, DK for Saab 35 Draken, VN for Valmet Vinka etc
Most of the airbases that the Russians had left in Finland had been taken over by Whites after the Russian pilots had returned to Russia.
The Reds were in possession of a few airbases and a few Russian aircraft, mainly amphibious aircraft. They had 12 aircraft in all. The Reds did not have any pilots themselves, so they hired some of the Russian pilots that had stayed behind. On 24th February 1918 five aircraft arrived to Viipuri, and were quickly transferred to Riihimäki.
The Reds created air units in Helsinki, Tampere, Kouvola, and Viipuri. There were no overall headquarters, but the individual units served under the commander of the individual front line. A flight school was created in Helsinki, but no students were trained there before the fall of Helsinki.
Two of the aircraft, one reconnaissance aircraft (Nieuport 10) and one fighter aircraft (Nieuport 17) that had arrived to Riihimäki were sent to Tampere, and three to Kouvola. Four Russian pilots and six mechanics also arrived to Tampere. The first war sortie was flown on March 1st, 1918 over Naistenlahti.
It seems like the Reds also operated two aircraft over the Eastern front. The Reds mainly performed reconnaissance, bombing sorties, spreading of propaganda leaflets, and artillery spotting. The Reds’ air activity wasn’t particularly successful. Their air operations suffered from bad leadership, worn-out aircraft, and the un-motivated Russian pilots. Some of the aircraft were captured by the Whites, while the rest were destroyed.
In January 1918 the Whites did not have a single aircraft, let alone pilots, so they asked the Swedes for help. Sweden was a neutral nation and thus could not send any official help. Sweden also forbade its pilots to aid Finland.
Despite this official stance, however, one Morane-Saulnier Parasol, and three N.A.B. Albatros arrived from Sweden by the end of February 1918. Two of the Albatross aircraft were gifts from private citizens supporting the White Finnish cause, while the third was bought. It was initially meant that the aircraft would be used to support the air operations of the Whites, but the aircraft ultimately proved unsuitable.
Along with aircraft shortages, the Whites also did not have any personnel, so all the pilots and mechanics also came from Sweden. One of the Finnish Jägers, Lieutenant Bertil Månsson, had been given pilot training in Imperial Germany, but he stayed behind in Germany, trying to secure further aircraft deals for Finland.
During the Civil War the White Finnish Air Force consisted :-
29 Swedes (16 pilots, two observers and 11 mechanics). Of the pilots, only 4 had been given military training, and one of them was operating as an observer.
2 Danes (one pilot, one observer)
7 Russians (six pilots, one observer)
28 Finns (four pilots of whom two were military trained, six observers, two engineers and 16 mechanics).
The air activity consisted mainly of reconnaissance sorties. The Germans brought several of their own aircraft, but they did not contribute much to the overall outcome of the war.
The first Air Force Base of independent Finland was founded on the shore near Kolho. The base could operate three aircraft. The first aircraft was brought by rail on March 7th, 1918, and on March 17th, 1918 took off from the base for the first time. In 1918, the Finns took over nine Russian Stetinin M-9 aircraft that had been left behind.
The first air operation of the Whites during the war was flown over Lyly. It was a reconnaissance gathering mission as the front line moved south. As the line neared Tampere, the AFB was moved first to Orivesi and then to Kaukajärvi near Tampere as well. The contribution of the White air force during the war was almost insignificant.
From March 10th, 1918, the Finnish Air Force was led by the Swedish Lt. John-Allan Hygerth. He was however replaced on April 18th, 1918, due to his unsuitability for the position and numerous accidents. His job was taken over by the German Captain Carl Seber, who commanded the air force from April 28th, 1918 until December 13th, 1918.
By the end of the Civil War, the Finnish Air Force had 40 aircraft, of which 20 had been captured from the Reds (the Reds did not operate this many aircraft, but some had been found abandoned on the Åland Islands). Five of the aircraft had been flown by the Allies from Russia, four had been gifts from Sweden and eight had been bought from Germany.
The Winter War began on 30th November 1939, when the Soviet Air Force bombed 21 Finnish cities and municipalities. The Soviet Union is estimated to have had about 5,000 aircraft in 1939, and of these, some 700 fighters and 800 medium bombers were brought to the Finnish front to support the Red Army’s operations. As with most aerial bombardment of the early stages of WW2, the damage against the Finnish industry and railways was quite limited.
At the beginning of the Winter War, the Finnish Air Force was equipped with only 17 Bristol Blenheim bombers and 46 fighters( 32 modern Fokker D.XXI and 14 obsolete Bristol Bulldog). There were also 58 liaison aircraft but 20 of these were only used for messengers. The most modern aircraft in the Finnish arsenal were the British-designed Bristol Blenheim bombers that had been built under license in Finland. The primary fighter aircraft was the Fokker D.XXI, a cheap but maneuverable design with fabric-covered fuselage and fixed landing gear. On paper, this force should have been no match for the attacking Soviet Red Air Force. However, the Finnish Air Force had already adopted the Finger-four formation in mid-30s, which was to be found to be much more effective formation than the Vic formation that many other countries were still using when World War II began.
In order to prevent their aircraft from being destroyed on the ground, the Finns spread out their aircraft to many different airfields and hid them in the nearby forests. The Finns constructed many decoys and built shrapnel protection walls for the aircraft. Soviet air raids on Finnish airfields usually caused little or no damage as a result, and often resulted in interception of the attackers by the Finns as the bombers flew homeward.
As the war progressed, the Finns tried desperately to purchase aircraft wherever there were any to be found. This policy resulted in a very diverse aircraft inventory, which was to cause some major logistical problems until the inventory became more standardized. The Finnish Air Force was to consist of numerous American, British, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Soviet and Swedish designs. Other countries, like South Africa and Denmark, sent aircraft to assist in the Finnish war effort. Many of these purchases and gifts did not arrive until the end of the hostilities, but were to see action later during the Continuation and Lapland wars.
To make up for its weaknesses (few and obsolete fighters) the FiAF mainly focused on attacking enemy bombers from directions that were disadvantageous to the enemy. Soviet fighters were usually superior in firepower, speed and agility, and were to be avoided unless the enemy was in a disadvantageous position. An of this strategy was the surprise attack on the Immola air base in late February 1940 by some 40 Soviet fighters. The Finns were surprised during take off and lost seven planes, one Fokker D.XXI and six Gloster Gladiators.
As a result of these tactics, the Finnish Air Force managed to shoot down 218 Soviet aircraft during the Winter War while losing only 47 to enemy fire. The Finnish anti-aircraft also had 314 confirmed downed enemy planes. 30 Soviet planes were captured – these were “kills” that landed more or less intact within Finland and were quickly repaired
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. In addition to Fokker fighters and Bristol Blenheim bombers built under license, 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, and one liaison aircraft. Numerous Brewster B239s from the neutral USA strengthened the FiAF. A few dozen Curtiss Hawk 75s were captured by the Germans in France and Norway then sold to Finland when Germany began warming up its ties with Finland; Tupolev SB, Ilyushin DB-3 and Polikarpov I-153 were reconditioned for service.
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, had been replaced with new aircraft in front-line combat units.
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 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 of its own aircraft during the Continuation War.
The end of World War II, and the Paris peace talks of 1947 brought with it some limitations to the FiAF. Among these were that the Finnish Air Force were to have:
No more than 60 combat aircraft
No aircraft with internal bomb bays
No guided missiles or atomic weapons
No weaponry of German construction or using German parts
A maximum strength of 3,000 persons
No offensive weapons
These revisions followed Soviet demands closely. When Britain tried to add some of their own (fearing that the provisions were there only to augment the Soviet air-defences) they were opposed by the Soviets. The revisions were again revised in 1963 and Finland was allowed to buy guided missiles and a few bombers that were used as target-tugs. The FAF also used a loop-hole to strengthen its capabilities by purchasing large numbers of two-seater aircraft, which counted as trainer aircraft and were not included in the revisions. These aircraft could have secondary roles.
During the Cold War years, Finland tried to balance its purchases between east, west and domestic producers. This led to a diverse inventory of Soviet, British, Swedish, French and Finnish aircraft. After leading Finnish politicians held unofficial talks with their Swedish counterparts, Sweden began storing surplus Saab 35 Drakens, which were to be transferred to Finland in the event of a war with the Soviet Union. These were kept until the 1980s.
On 22nd September 1990, a week before the unification of Germany, Finland declared that the limiting treaties were no longer active and that all the provisions of the Paris Peace Treaties were nullified. The signatory states abstained from diplomatic notes regarding the declaration, which thus confirmed the nullification.
In the 1990s, with the Cold War over, the Finnish Air Force ended its policy of purchasing Soviet/Russian aircraft and replaced the Saab Draken and MiG-21s in its fighter wing with US F/A-18C/D Hornets.
Today, the FAF is organized into three Air Commands, each assigned to one of the three air defence areas into which Finland is divided. The main Wing bases are at Rovaniemi, Tampere and Kuopio-Rissala, each with a front-line squadron. Pilot training is undertaken at the Air Force Academy in Tikkakoski, with advanced conversion performed at squadron level.
Finnish Air Force aircraft models available to order from Flying Tigers.
Flying Tigers has some great models available to order. Please click on the photo of your choice to go straight to the model pages.
Air Commander Phantom arrival this week.
The Jolly Rogers Air Commander Phantom has arrived today and for those of you that have pre-ordered this model some have been dispatched today, withe the balance being dispatched next week. This model was SOLD OUT at pre-order stage and is no longer available to pre-order.
Flying Tigers Offers of the Week.
The following models are available at LOW PRICES , in very limited quantities for a short period of time or until they sell out. Grab yourself a bargain at these very low prices. Limited quantities available… first come first served !
That’s all for this week.
Thank you for reading this week’s Newsletter.