Flygflottilj 19, Finland’s Swedish Defenders

Swedish Flag

The Swedish volunteer unit, F19 (Swedish: Flygflottilj 19, Finnish: Lentorykmentti 19 or LentoR 19), operated in northern Finland from January 07th 1940 for the last 62 days of the Winter War. The unit made a considerable contribution to the Finnish War effort, defending Finnish Lapland with 12 Gloster Gladiator II fighters and 5 Hawker Hart B4 bombers.

Gloster Gladiator J8 'Yellow A'.
Gloster Gladiator J8 ‘Yellow A’.
Hawker Hart B4
Hawker Hart B4

The unit destroyed twelve Soviet aircraft (eight in the air, four on the ground), and lost six planes; two to enemy action and four to accidents. Three of its pilots were killed and two more were captured by Soviet forces.

In addition to the Gloster Gladiator J8 (J stands for Jaktplan, or fighter) and Hawker Hart B4’s, Flygflottilj19 operated a Junkers F.13 transport aircraft and a Raab-Kazenstein 26 (Sk.10) trainer as a liaison aircraft.

Junkers F.13
Junkers F.13
Raab-Kazenstein 26 (Sk.10)
Raab-Kazenstein 26 (Sk.10)

At the time of their deployment, the Gloster Gladiators represented 1/3 of Sweden’s total fighter strength, which represents a considerable commitment to the war effort.

The Winter War began on the 30th November 1939. The decision to assist Finland by the Swedish Government was commenced shortly after the Soviet invasion. The reasons were two-fold. Firstly the Swedes had a long history with the Finns and considered them an ally, secondly from a geo-political standpoint, there was a fear that the Soviet Union would not stop with the invasion of Finland and that the Swedish people considered themselves under threat.

In 1939 the Swedish military was a small defensive force. Sweden had declared herself to be a non-belligerent rather than a neutral country (Sweden re-affirmed her neutrality after the Winter War). Despite these limitations she contributed money, food, 135,000 rifles, large quantities of ammunition, 330 artillery pieces, approximately 8,700 volunteers and the Swedish Voluntary Air Force – Flygflottilj19.

The project to assist Finland began on the 13th of December 1939. Capt. Bjuggren (who would later become the Executive Officer for F19) travelled to Turku in Finland on a Junkers 52 transport aircraft loaded with small-arms ammunition for the Finnish troops. A Government car took Bjuggren from Turku to Helsinki for talks at the Finnish Air Force Headquarters. By the 15th of December 1939 it had been decided that Sweden would take part in the Winter War.

On the afternoon of the 15th of December Captain Bjuggren met with Marshall Mannerheim. Mannerheim suggested to Bjuggren that the Finnish Air Element should operate in the North of Finland where there were too few Finnish units to effectively combat the Soviet threat.

It was determined that the Swedish troops would be ready for operations on the 10th of January 1940. The flying units would support the Swedish-Norwegian volunteers on the ground in their operating area of Finnish Lapland.

Captain Bjuggren returned to Sweden on the 16th of December. By the 19th the new volunteer unit had been formed with Major Hugo Beckhammar as its Commanding Officer. Capt. Björn Bjuggren was the executive officer and the commander’s aide was Lt. Gregor Falk.

The organisation of the F19 regiment:

  • Headquarters: staff department, radio, account, transport and hospital departments
  • Fighter Squadron: Commander Capt. Söderberg, 11 pilots, 12 aircraft
  • Bomber Squadron: Commander Lt. Sterner (until Jan 12, 1940), three other pilots, five navigators, four aircraft
  • Transport squadron: two pilots, two aircraft, one liaison aircraft
  • Base company: 110 men.

The distribution of air assets and basing issues were discussed on the 25th of December by Lt. Swartz and ensign Rissler with Finnish General Wallenius. In early January 1940 ground personnel arrived at Kemi Airfield, which would be the primary operating base for the Squadron. The new unit was initially given the Finnish designation LentoR 5 (Flight Regiment 5). However, this was soon changed to Flygflottilj19 reflecting the units Swedish heritage.

The second base, codenamed ‘OSCAR’ was established 15 km (9 mi) northeast of Rovaniemi on a frozen lake surface.

At 13.25 hrs local time on the 09th January 1940, there was a phone call at Kemi that the aircraft had taken off from Barkaby even though the ceiling was at 50 m (170 ft) and the tops of the chimneys were in cloud.

At 14.15 hrs , 12 Gladiators and one Hart landed at Kemi Airfield. 15 min after the first group, two more Harts arrived. An hour later came a report that two Hawker Hart H4’s had landed at Tornio undamaged.

Gladiator J8 'Yellow F' - Lars E. Lundin.
Gladiator J8 ‘Yellow F’ – Lars E. Lundin.
Hawker Hart B4
Hawker Hart B4

The Finnish General Staff had ordered F19 to be responsible for the airspace north of Oulu (Uleåborg) – Hossa – Kärkjärvi. The unit was to co-ordinate reconnaissance with Gen. Wallenius.

The 12th of January 1940 was the first day of action for F19. The unit commander flew a solo reconnaissance mission in the Kemijärvi-Salla area to obtain a tactical appraisal of the region before committing his aircraft. Orders were issued to the unit to harass road traffic. At 9.00 hrs nine Gladiators took off from Kemi and flew to OSCAR base at Olkkajärvi in order to refuel for a support mission. Because of the extremely cold weather only four Gladiators started at OSCAR with four Harts at 12.50 hrs. The Swedish pilots wore face masks because of the cold breeze on their first war mission.

Gloster Gladiator J8 - Lars E. Lundin.
Gloster Gladiator J8 – Lars E. Lundin.

The group found enemy road traffic west of Märkjärvi. The Hawker Harts attacked using bombs and the Gladiators strafed the cars with effective results. From Märkjärvi the formation headed to a Soviet air base. Soviet fighters scrambled from the ice base and AAA started to fire. Lt. Sterner and Ensign Jung hit the barracks and the HQ building with their fire. Ensign Mörner hit a fighter taking off from the ice. Another fighter was destroyed on the ground. Ensign Iacobi shot down an I-15 off the tail of his Element-Leader.

Polikarpov I-15bis 1939
Polikarpov I-15bis 1939

Unfortunately, two Hawker Hart B4’s were lost in the action due to a mid-air collision. Only two of the four crewmen survived the incident.

Aircraft Dispersals

According to the new plan the aircraft were dispersed in small groups to bases OSCAR (Rovaniemi), ULRIK (Oulu/Uleåborg and Kemi). An additional base SVEA was established close to Posio for reconnaissance missions. NORA base close to Hirvasjärvi was upgraded to handle single Hart missions.

These airfields are highlighted in red in the map below.

F19 Airfields situated in the Northern sector of Finland.
F19 Airfields situated in the Northern sector of Finland.

The unit (weather permitting) conducted daily patrols, covering the Northern sector of Finland, freeing the Finnish Air Force to deal with the Soviet assault in the Karelian sector.

On the 17th of January, the squadron commander was leading four Gladiators on a recce mission in the Salla area. They spotted four enemy fighters at 4000 – 5000 m (13.500 – 17.000 ft). The fighters weren’t willing to fight this time and disengaged. No hits were spotted, but two days later the Finns informed that two damaged fighters had crash landed which increased the unit’s tally by a further two scores.

Four Gladiators took off for an escort mission on the 23rd to the Märkjärvi-Salmijärvi area, where Soviet fighters were harassing Finnish troops. A dogfight developed between the four Swedish Gladiators and four Soviet I-15 fighters. No hits were scored. After re-forming, ensign Sjökvist’s plane exploded suddenly and fell to the enemy side of the lines. The incident was left unsolved. It is possible that his aircraft was hit by the I-16 that joined the fight later. The dogfight had once again proved the effectiveness of the Soviet armour plates behind their pilots. The Swedes didn’t have armour piercing ammunition. An armour plate was delivered from southern Finland for test shooting. It showed that shooting from behind would be useless. Also attacks from the side with slow fighters and small calibre machine guns were ineffective. Tactics had to be changed.

Polikarpov I-16 Type 10
Polikarpov I-16 Type 10

There was a large-scale bombing attack against Oulu on the 1st of February 1940. 40 bombers arrived in five waves from different directions. The first wave succeeded in dropping their bombs before the Swedish fighters were scrambled, F19 was able to intercept and attack the second wave. Ensign Salvén forced one SB bomber to land outside the town and another one was seen flying low to the east trailing smoke. It was never found. There were no less than 200 bullet holes in the Tupolev SB that Salvén forced to land.

Tupolev SB 2M-100A
Tupolev SB 2M-100A

In mid-February the unit received one replacement Hawker Hart which enabled the unit to resume night bombing missions with two Hart B4’s.

Hawker Hart B4 Flygvapenmuseum Archive
Hawker Hart B4 Flygvapenmuseum Archive

On the 20th of February 80 km (55 mi.) north of Oulu at Vaala, Ensign Salwén attacked a Tupolev SB bomber. The tailgunner was reported killed by the navigator who had parachuted from the stricken aircraft. The SB bomber was never found.

A further two SB bombers were destroyed by Ensign Tehler flying from Vaala on the 21st of February. He attacked a formation of seven aircraft sustaining a ruptured fuel tank. A round was also found embedded in his compass after the aircraft had landed.

On the 10th of March, Ensign Carlsson spotted a Soviet TB-3 bomber formation east of Arvoniemi at 2000 m (7.000 ft) altitude. He attacked from above and shot one bomber as long as his bullets lasted. The bomber landed on ice, where the aircraft mid-section was observed to be on fire.

Tupolev TB-3
Tupolev TB-3

Three days after Ensign Carlsson’s TB-3 ‘Kill’ the Winter War ended. The Swedish troops gathered for a field ceremony at Märkjärvi on the 17th and on the 25th Marshall Mannerheim visited them and personally thanked the Swedish soldiers for what they had done for Finland. Four days later six Gladiators took off from Kemi (Veitsiluoto) for Kauhava and one Hart and WACO to Sweden. The Gladiators flew from Kauhava to Sweden (Barkaby) the next day. The remaining Hawker Hart and one more Gladiator flew to Sweden from Kemi the same day. The troops travelled to Sweden by rail on the 30th of March and by April 9th 1940 all of the remaining staff had left.

During the 62 days there were flight operations on 60 days and on average eight aircraft were airborne per day. 600 hours were flown, which equates to 10 hrs per day.

Victories: Ensign Iacobi one I-15, Salwén one I-15 and SB-2, Frykholm and Steninger together one SB-2, Tehler two SB-2s, Karlsson one TB-3 and Martin one I-15. Four enemy aircraft were destroyed on ground.

Losses: six aircraft, three Harts and three Gladiators. One of each type was shot down. Personnel losses: Ensign John Magnus Sjökvist, Lt. Sten Åke Hildinger, Lt. Anders Robert Zachau. Taken prisoner: Lt. Sterner and Ensign Jung (returned to Sweden after 5 months).

On the 13th of February the Swedish pilots received Finnish military pilot’s wings.

In the Swedish Air Force museum at Malmslätt there is one Hawker Hart and one Gloster Gladiator in the F19 Winter War colours.

 

 

REFERENCES

 

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