Tag: Russia

Sweden plans large joint military exercise with NATO

Swedish Sridsvagn 103 Amphibious Main Battle Tank.

The Swedish military has released a statement announcing plans to hold its largest joint military exercise in years with NATO members this September.

The exercise will be labeled Aurora 17 and will involve land, air, and sea elements of the Swedish military and participating NATO members.

It will count over 19,000 Swedish personnel and 40 government agencies, 1,435 troops from the U.S. and smaller contingents from France, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

A Finnish army Leopard 2A4 Tank Platoon.

“Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defense forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible,” the statement said.

There has been internal debate in Sweden and Finland concerning the possibility of joining NATO, and both have played higher profile roles in NATO summits. Russia’s increasing military assertiveness since its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine has raised concerns in neighboring countries and NATO.

Swedish army Stridsvagn 122, based on the German Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would see Sweden joining NATO as a serious encroachment and would demand a military response.

Aurora 17 will mark another in a string of increasingly large and elaborate military exercises taking place in the Baltics and eastern Europe.

Source: UPI.

 

FINNAIR FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO NATIONAL FLAG CARRIER

 

The changing face of FINNAIR: Revell Airbus A320 in 1:144 scale and Eduard’s Junkers Ju-52/m “Sampo”. Photo credit: Rich Reynolds.

On the 12th of September 1923, the charter establishing the ‘Aero Company OY’ (Aero Ltd.) was signed in Helsinki heralding the birth of what would become Finnair, the National carrier of Finland. On the 9th of October the same year, the company was entered into the trade register beginning operations on the 1st November following the first shareholders meeting.

Aero OY was founded by Gustaf Snellman, Fritiof Åhman and Bruno Otto Lucander. Consul Bruno Lucander became the company’s first managing director, bringing with him experience in long-distance air travel gained in his time as General Manager of the company ‘Finland Spedition-Central Ab-Suomen Välityskeskus O/Y’ from 1918. His company had handled the interests of the Estonian airline ‘Aeronaut’ in Finland, when Aeronaut had begun operating flights from Tallinn to Helsinki.

Aero OY Logo 1920

Lieutenant-Colonel Arne Somersalo, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) served as a technical advisor to the board of directors from 1923. The company received 500,000 Marks from the Government upon its founding; this was increased to 1 million Marks on the 12th December. Aero OY carried 269 passengers in its first year.

Aero OY Logo 1923

Late in 1923, the Estonian airline Aeronaut was acquired by the German company Junkers Flugzeugwerke A.G. and a Junkers F.13 went into service on the Helsinki route. The aircraft was a single-engine monoplane, equipped with a closed cabin and seats for four passengers. The crew consisted of a pilot and a mechanic.

Aeronaut had shown that the Junkers F.13 was up to the challenge of operating in the harsh conditions of Northern Europe which convinced Lucander that the aircraft should be the first choice for Aero.

In summer 1923 Lucander concluded an agreement with the Junkers Flugzeugwerke A.G. for the delivery to Aero of one aircraft plus technical help and personnel in exchange for a 50 per cent holding in the Finnish company.

On the 14th of March 1924, Aero took delivery of its first aircraft, a German-registered Junkers F.13 D-335. The Junkers Factory pilot Heinrich Putz flew the aircraft to Helsinki three days later. Its maiden commercial flight was on the 20 March 1924, when it carried 162 kilos of mail from Helsinki to Tallinn.

Aero OY Junkers F.13

Aero was based at Katajanokka, Helsinki where in 1923 the facilities consisted of a small terminal building and one seaplane ramp.
On June 2nd 1924, Aero began operations from Helsinki to Stockholm with the cooperation of the Swedish airline ABA. Operations were conducted with the Junkers fitted with floats because at that time Helsinki and Tallinn had no airfields.

Stockholm offered a rail link to Gothenburg, which offered flight connections to Copenhagen, Oslo and London. Both ABA and Aero operated between Helsinki and Stockholm during the summer. The Helsinki to Stockholm route was not as successful as the Helsinki to Tallinn route which was supported by the Nord-Europa Union of airlines which was supported by the Junkers factory with a connection to Königsberg, which in turn had a rail link to Berlin.

During the summer of 1924, Aero employed its first Finnish pilot, Gunnar Lihr, which brought the total number of employees to seven. The company was keen to interest the Finnish people in aviation giving 833 public demonstration flights in 1925.

Regular flights between Helsinki and Tallinn continued throughout 1925, in May 1926 the Junkers factory’s Nord-Europa Union and the Trans-Europa Union were merged into a single conglomeration of sixteen airlines. The Union of German airlines formed soon after this with the absorption of the German company Aero Lloyd into Deutsche Luft Hansa. Support for Aero OY from Junkers would decline after this merger as the Junkers factory focused its attention on the larger German carriers.

In 1926, Aero purchased a three engined, 9 passenger Junkers G 24 with help from the Government in the form of a state guaranteed loan. The aircraft was bought to Helsinki on the 4th June and put into service on the Stockholm route. The Junkers G 24 was equipped with skis which restricted its operations to the summer months.

In 1927, Aero became a member of IATA (The International Air Transport Association); The company was given the code, “AY”, which stands for Aero Yhtiö which means “company” in Finnish.

Later that year, the company’s Managing Director Bruno Otto Lucander, embarked on Aero’s first around-Finland flight. Several journalists were embarked on the flight taking the first flying tour of the country which went as far north as Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle.

The aim of the tour was to demonstrate to Aero’s board of directors that the commercial domestic routes of the company could be expanded to include the territories to the north.

At this stage Aero was enthusiastic about the possibility of building one or more permanent airports on land. They were however keenly aware that the 3 million population of Finland with its 187,888 lakes, were reluctant to build airstrips on land. As a result Aero remained with its current seaplane operations, opening Turku-Ruissalo air harbour in May 1927 enabling flight traffic to start between Turku and Stockholm.

During June 1928, an Aero Junkers F.13 piloted by Gunnar Lihr took part in the search for the explorer Umberto Nobile’s airship Italia, which had crashed on Spitzbergen after running into a storm on the way back from Nobile’s failed flight to the North Pole. Lihr succeeded in rescuing one of the expedition team, a feat which brought considerable publicity in the world’s press for both Lihr and Aero.

The fortunes of Aero looked set to change when in August 1929 Managing Director Bruno Otto Lucander died suddenly. Gunnar Ståhle, one of the original three directors from 1923, took over. The fortunes of the company looked in doubt as there was talk of a sell-out from Aero’s major stake-holder, Junkers. However, Finnish investors stepped in and saved the company. So at the beginning of the 1930’s Aero became an entirely Finnish operation.

The 1930s began in a spirit of Nordic cooperation. Aero and ABA launched the ‘Scandinavian Air Express’. This was done to market both Aero’s and ABA’s routes between Helsinki and Stockholm and Aero’s Helsinki-Tallinn route. Onward flight connections to major European destinations from Stockholm opened up the European market to Aero. Flights to Copenhagen became available as did an Aero operated route to Amsterdam from Stockholm.

The first major passenger carrying aircraft was purchased by Aero in 1932. This was a Junkers Ju 52/3m on floats. This was a three-engined, low-winged large aircraft seating 14 passengers.

Initially the aircraft was restricted to flying in the summer months only as it was on floats. It was quickly fitted with wheels which would enable the aircraft to fly the economically lucrative Helsinki-Stockholm route. The first Ju 52/3 went into service on 1 July 1932. In the period 1932-42, Aero took delivery of five Ju 52/3m aircraft.

Junkers 52/3m “Kaleva”
Eduard 1:144 Junkers Ju-52/m “Sampo”. Photo credit: Rich Reynolds.

On the 8th September 1935 the dream of the Aero Company’s board of directors would be realised with the opening of Finland’s first civil airport at Turku Artukainen. The opening of Stockholm’s first civil airport at Bromma on the 23rd of May 1936 increased the pressure on Helsinki to open its own international hub. Flights began from Malmi in December 1936, although the airport was not opened officially until May 1938.

Aero’s seaplane fleet would be consigned to history with a last seaplane flight from Helsinki Katajanokka to Stockholm Lindarängen on 15 December 1936. After this, the fleet was completely on wheels, and Aero operated at last from solid ground.

Eduard 1:144 Junkers Ju-52/m transport. Photo credit: Rich Reynolds.

 

Aero expanded its fleet in March 1937 with the purchase of two D.H. 89A Dragon Rapides. The aircraft, a seven passenger, 2 piston-engined bi-plane was purchased with a special purpose in mind; it would take on Finland’s first scheduled domestic service between Helsinki and Viipuri. This service started on the 1st of May 1937. Just two days afterwards the service between Helsinki and Tampere was started. In 1938 the Viipuri route was extended to Imatra and the Tampere route extended to Vaasa. A year later, the northern route was extended as far as Oulu and Kemi.

DH-89A Dragon Rapide

During the 1930s Aero OY consolidated its existing services extending only its Tallinn route via Riga and Kaunas to Berlin. There were however many plans for international services set to coincide with the 1940 Olympic games due to be held in Helsinki.

To realise these plans, two Focke-Wulf FW 200B Condor Aircraft were ordered by Aero in 1938. The FW 200 was a German all-metal four-engine monoplane originally developed by Focke-Wulf as a long-range airliner which resulted from a proposal by Kurt Tank of Focke-Wulf to Dr. Rudolf Stuessel of Deutsche Lufthansa to develop a landplane to carry passengers across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA.

This fitted in with Aero’s plans to develop a transatlantic service in cooperation with other Nordic airlines. The war unfortunately curtailed Aero’s plans for the time being. They never received their Condors as all available aircraft were requisitioned by the Luftwaffe and the Olympic Games due to be held in 1940 in Helsinki never took place.

In 1939 war broke out across Europe. The Russians and Germans invaded Poland; Russia invaded Finland on November 30th 1939 and then Estonia in 1940. The Finns forced the Soviet Union to the negotiating table in March of 1940 ceding up to 10% of its territory in the armistice. The Estonians weren’t so lucky. They were occupied. All available transport aircraft in Finland were requisitioned by the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force).

Aero’s Dragon Rapides were requisitioned for use by the 4th Supplementary Flying Regiment. The Junkers 52 transports were put to work on the new Vaasa to Stockholm route as it was deemed too dangerous to operate these vulnerable aircraft out of Helsinki. However the Turku-Stockholm route was still flown on an irregular basis.

The Finnish Air Force would be Finland’s first operator of a commercial airliner with a retractable undercarriage, the Douglas DC-2. The DC-2 was an airliner and transport aircraft of U.S. manufacture. It accommodated three crew and 14 passengers. The first DC-2 baptized “Hanssin-Jukka” achieved almost legendary status as a bomber in the Winter War and later as a personnel transport.  Carl Gustaf von Rosen bought the aircraft from KLM and donated it to the Suomen Ilmavoimat. Two additional aircraft were purchased in 1949. The DC-2 was in use until 1955. The Air Force operated three DC-2s from 1940 to 1956.

Douglas DC-2 “Hanssin-Jukka”. Photo credit: Rih Reynolds.

Of the 3,900 passengers carried during the Winter War, 1,500 were children evacuated to Sweden. On one flight, an Aero 14-seat Junkers Ju 52/3m carried 42 passengers, of whom 26 were children.

Aero OY Logo 1940

Between the Winter War and the Continuation War (13th March 1940 to 25th June 1941), Aero resumed flights to Tallinn on the 2nd April 1940 and to Stockholm two days later. The service to Tallinn was severely disrupted when on June 14 while the world’s attention was focused on the fall of Paris to Nazi Germany a day earlier, one of Aero’s Ju 52 transports was shot down by the Soviet Air Force.

Two Soviet bombers downed one of Aero’s Junkers Ju 52/3m fleet “Kaleva” flying from Tallinn to Helsinki carrying three diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn, Riga and Helsinki and over 120 kilograms of diplomatic mail by two French embassy couriers. A US Foreign Service employee Henry W. Antheil Jr., the French couriers and other passengers were killed in the crash.

On June 17th Estonia fell to the Soviet Union. The occupation was complete by June 21st and Aero’s operations to Tallinn ceased for the duration of the war.

The company instead switched its attention to starting flights to Petsamo in Northern Finland. This service finally began on 2 June 1940. Known as the “Petsamo Express”, it flew passengers from Helsinki to Petsamo via Tampere, Vaasa, Kokkola, Oulu, Kemi, Rovaniemi and Sodankylä in eight and a half hours. In October 1940, Mariehamn was added to the domestic network. The peace between Finland and the Soviet Union would not last.

The Continuation War began on the 22nd of June 1941 and lasted until the 19th September 1944. Throughout this second war between Finland and Soviet Russia, Aero aircraft made a considerable number of transport flights both in Finland and abroad. Despite the war-time conditions, Aero flew to Berlin during 1943 and 1944. Fuel shortages were a problem, but flights to Rovaniemi and Stockholm continued.

During the Continuation War with the Soviet Union, Aero was forced to operate out of Pori on a temporary basis as both Helsinki and Turku airfields had been placed under military control. Aero found once again that its major assets had been requisitioned by the Imavoimat.

When peace finally came Malmi Airfield was placed under the control of the Allied Control Commission (ACC). Aero’s fleet was transferred to Hyvinkää where flights to Stockholm were resumed in January 1945, both direct and via Turku and Mariehamn.

These flights were stopped by order of the ACC. Aero were not able to re-start services until August 1945 and these services were restricted to domestic flights only.

After the war Gunnar Ståhle left his post as managing director of Aero. The board of directors accepted his resignation in December 1945.
Aero was approaching a new era. It was obvious that as long as it remained a private company it would not manage to make the major acquisitions necessary nor cover the rapidly rising operating costs. As a result, the Finnish State acquired a 70% majority holding in the company in 1946. The remaining 30% was held by private companies, the situation remains much the same today.

Gunnar Ståhle was succeeded as Managing Director of Aero first by C.J. Ehrnrooth and then by Uolevi Raade. On 14 June 1947, Lieutenant-General Leonard Grandell was appointed managing director.
Aero’s administration was reorganised. A 12-member Supervisory Board (later increased to 18 members) appointed a six-member Board of Directors, with the Chairman of the Board also serving as the company’s President & CEO.

Aero chose the Douglas DC-3 as its first post war passenger carrying aircraft. The DC-3 was manufactured in vast numbers during World War 2 and hundreds of these were available from US surplus stocks in Europe. Aero began operating the type in May 1947 and began using the name Finnish Airlines on all of its aircraft. The first stewardesses were recruited to fly on the DC-3’s; initially they only flew on the Helsinki-Kemi and Helsinki-Kuopio routes.

Aero DC-3 “Karjula”.

The introduction of the DC-3 foresaw the phasing out of Aero’s older assets and led to standardisation of the fleet: in 1947, the last Rapide was sold and the DC-2s were withdrawn from service. Two Ju-52/3m aircraft remained in service until 1949, when they were also retired.

In 1949, Aero became a member of the new IATA (International Air Transport Association), the airline code AY, was re-instated after being withdrawn during the war and is still in use by Finnair today. In 1951 Aero flew from Helsinki to nine domestic and four foreign destinations.

Helsinki finally got it’s Olympic Games in 1952. It was a notable year for Aero with passenger numbers topping 100,000 for the first time. Helsinki Airport was opened in June near Seutula. The official opening took place on 10 July, and by October all flights had been transferred from Malmi to the new airport.

Although Aero converted its original 21-seat DC-3s to carry 26 passengers, aircraft of this type had had their day. In September 1951, Aero ordered three twin-engine Convair 340s from the USA.

Convair 340 Finnish Airlines

The Convair had a modern fuselage, engines and systems. It also featured a pressurised cabin. The aircraft was put into service on 19 April 1953 on the Helsinki-Copenhagen-Dusseldorf route. Initially it carried 44 passengers; the number was later increased to 52. In the period 1953-1964, Aero purchased a total of eight Convair 340s. The Convairs meant that Aero was able to begin scheduled flights between Helsinki and Moscow becoming the first western airline to operate this service.

In spring 1953, Aero started to use the name Finnair in its marketing. This became the company’s official name on 25 June 1968.
Finnair, the flag carrier of Finland was born.

Model Images

The aircraft depicted are the Revell 1:144 Airbus A320 and the Eduard 1:144 Junkers Ju-52/m transport. Both kits were completed by the editor in July 2017.

References

  • Finnair Group, History, 03/11/2010. http://www.finnairgroup.com
  • Heikki Immeli & Kari Juntunen: “Piletti Pietariin” (Ticket to St. Petersburg).
  • The centenary jubilee publication of the annually in multiple volumes published “Public communications in Finland”. Finnish Tourist Association, 1991.
  • “World Airline Directory.” Flight International. 24–30 March 1993.
Aero OY/Finnair Logo 1951

Article by: Rich Reynolds, The Baltic Post.

Mauno Koivisto, Finland’s last Cold War president – obituary

Mauno Koivisto, who has died aged 93, was Finland’s last Cold War president, serving two six-year terms from 1982 to 1994 and cautiously steering the country out of isolation and into the European Union.

Popularly known as “Manu”, he was once described in the New York Times as a “self-made man who regularly wears darned socks and who conveys the impression of sturdy self-reliance, without the slightest vestige of pomp or show”. He was a great favourite with Finnish voters.

“Finlandisation” was the derogatory term used in the West to describe the country’s Cold War policy of remaining neutral but in reality being highly compliant with the Soviet Union. As a veteran of both the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets and the so-called Continuation War of 1941-44, Koivisto understood as well as any the need for Finland to establish a modus vivendi with her huge, volatile neighbour.

He had had his knuckles rapped in 1968 when, as Finland’s prime minister under the long presidency of Urho Kekkonen, his government had condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, earning a thinly veiled piece of sabre-rattling in the Soviet newspaper Izvestia calling for the establishment of Soviet military bases in Finland against a supposed West German threat. The situation only calmed down after a meeting between Kekkonen and the Soviet statesman Alexei Kosygin, followed by a “vacation” trip to Moscow by Koivisto two weeks later.

Under Kekkonen, who had served as Finland’s president from 1956 to 1981, there had been considerable media censorship and limitations on freedom of expression, to the extent that many questioned whether the country could be regarded as a democracy.

Books deemed critical of the Soviets had been banned, along with numerous films including The Manchurian Candidate. Soviet defectors were sent back as a matter of policy; Soviet atrocities were not reported and Finnish nationalist groups were heavily restricted.

A lanky man with a long, craggy face, in his early years as President Koivisto continued the policy of “active neutrality”, including the practice of returning Soviet defectors to the Soviet Union. But at the same time he introduced modest measures of democratisation, refraining from using some of the more authoritarian powers assumed by his predecessor and encouraging parliamentary institutions.

Above all, he charted a new course in foreign policy by cultivating good relations with both East and West, a task made easier by the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin in 1985. The two men became close and Koivisto, who was fluent in Russian, helped to broker improved relations between the USSR and the US; in 1990 he hosted a summit meeting between President George HW Bush and the Soviet leader.

President Mauno Koivisto with Queen Elizabeth II

The early 1980s were a period of free-market prosperity in Finland, buoyed up by relatively cheap supplies of Soviet energy and the market in eastern Europe for Finnish consumer and industrial goods that would have been difficult to sell in the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, created huge structural and political problems. In the early 1990s Finnish unemployment soared to about 14 per cent, the economy plunged into recession and the delicate political balancing act with Moscow began to look shaky as the three neighbouring Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, sought to establish their independence and looked to Finland for support. Suddenly caution seemed to be a luxury Finland could ill afford.

Koivisto worked hard to persuade the West of the urgent need of the Soviet Union (and subsequently of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States), for external economic support. While he avoided any public support of the Baltic independence movement, its representatives were allowed to work from inside Finland.

Meanwhile, gambling on his continuing good relations with Russia’s leaders, he began the process of leading Finland out of international isolation. When in 1990, after German reunification, he unilaterally renounced the military clauses of the 1947 Paris Treaty, which placed restrictions on Finnish defence forces, there was no official protest from Moscow.

The following year, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, he renounced the 1948 Finnish-Soviet pact, which pledged Finnish military assistance if Russia were attacked from the north and which had hindered Finland’s integration with European security structures. Emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1992 Koivisto initiated the process of Finnish accession to the European Union, the final terms of which were agreed on the day he left office. Finland joined the EU in 1995.

The son of a ship’s carpenter, Mauno Henrik Koivisto was born on November 25 1923, in the southern port city of Turku. At the beginning of the Winter War in 1939 he volunteered aged 16 for a field firefighting unit.

During the Continuation War, he served in a reconnaissance detachment operating behind enemy lines. He was awarded the Order of the Cross of Liberty (2nd class) and was promoted to the rank of corporal.

Presidentti Mauno Koivisto 90 vuotta – kuvagalleria vuosien.

After the war, Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party and graduated from the University of Turku with a degree in Philosophy and a PhD in Sociology. After graduation he became a banker, rising to become managing director of the Helsinki Workers’ Savings Bank from 1959 to 1967.

By this time he had emerged as a key figure among the Social Democrats and he went on to serve as chairman of the board of the Bank of Finland, a position he retained until 1982 and in which he was widely credited as the architect of the country’s prosperity.

He also served twice as prime minister, from 1968 to 1970 and 1979 to 1982, and despite friction over Czechoslovakia, he succeeded in moving cautiously beyond the limited Finno-Soviet sphere, overseeing Finland’s membership of the OECD in 1969 and participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

He also announced that Finland would play host to the 35-nation European Conference on Security and Cooperation that would lead to the Helsinki accords of 1975. However, he backed off from a proposed Nordic Economic Union with other Scandinavian countries for fear of jeopardising Finland’s neutral status.

In his spare time Koivisto liked playing volleyball, whittling and relaxing in a log cabin outside Helsinki that he had largely built himself.

In 1952 he married Tellervo Kankaanranta, who survives him with their daughter.

Mauno Koivisto, born November 25 1923, died May 12 2017  

Original article: The Daily Telegraph.  

 

 

 

Sweden, Finland, and NATO

The German Marshall Fund of the United States, By Christopher S. Chivvis, 30 June 2017

Burden-sharing and NATO’s role in counterterrorism have been at the forefront of discussions about the Alliance in recent months, but as NATO’s relations with Russia continue to trend downward, the issue of Sweden and Finland’s potential membership in the Alliance is likely to gain renewed salience. There are good reasons why both countries may eventually join the Alliance, but under current circumstances the best way forward is still for both countries to continue to draw closer to NATO. Linking their potential accession to the Alliance to Russia’s behavior offers NATO some leverage over Moscow. Additionally, NATO membership is not something that can be achieved overnight and the Alliance needs to be sure that if the pair joins the Alliance, the military requirements for their defense are fully understood and met beforehand.

The Baltic Sea region has received renewed attention in U.S. policy circles due to the deterioration in relations with Russia and broader concerns about the vulnerability of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to Russian aggression. The proximity of these countries to Russian forces in the Western Military District, combined with Russian deployments of advanced weapons systems to Kaliningrad oblast would make it difficult for the United States and NATO to defeat a committed Russian attack on the Baltic Allies without a sustained counteroffensive that could take months or even years.[1]

Kaliningrad Naval Base. Due to its location, Kaliningrad is an important geopolitical region for Russia.

Luckily, changes in U.S. and NATO posture in the region, especially the deployments coming as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence (EFP) and U.S. rotational forces,  are significantly strengthening regional collective defense by creating tripwires and raising the risks to Russia of any potential adventurism.[2] As the situation evolves, however, there are additional measures that the United States may wish to contemplate when it comes to the region, including further training and exercises, measures to improve situational awareness in the North Sea and along the Greenland, Iceland, and U.K. (GIUK) gap, the development of new weapons systems in areas where U.S. and NATO forces are currently outmatched by Russia, new foreign military sales that would strengthen deterrence, and further changes in posture.

In this context, the issue of potential Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance looms large. Sweden and Finland are already very important NATO partners; both countries are already enhanced opportunity partners (EOP), participate in the NATO response force (NRF), and exercise with the Alliance on a regular basis. From a U.S. perspective, they have  much to offer as strategic partners and military allies in general; as free-market democracies, both countries share the core political values on which NATO has been founded for 70 years. They also have advanced industrial economies with high-tech expertise and capabilities that have military significance in areas such as airpower, cyber, and civilian space. They are well-integrated members of the European Union, an important fact in an era when the EU and NATO need to draw closer together to strengthen cooperation against terrorism and other threats. Furthermore, other Nordic countries — specifically Norway, Denmark, and Iceland — are already NATO members. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from the perspective of the U.S. military, Sweden might serve an important role for basing aircraft in the event of a military crisis in the Baltic Sea region when the United States would need basing outside Russia’s Anti-AccessArea Denial (A2AD) bubble that extends from Kaliningrad and Western Russia over the Eastern Baltic Sea. Sea lanes of communication via the Danish straits might also be important for certain types of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea.

In light of these facts, some commentators have pushed hard for Sweden and Finland to join NATO. It is a consensus view among most experts that membership of one country implies membership of the other, or more specifically, that it would be difficult for Sweden to join the alliance if Finland were not to do the same.[3] The most compelling argument for pursuing NATO membership for the pair now is that waiting to do so could create a situation in which joining NATO creates a major crisis with Russia further down the line. (As one expert put it, join NATO “now while you don’t need to, because the circumstances that will make it necessary will also make it harder.”[4]

From a U.S. perspective, however, there are at least four other issues to consider before pushing hard for Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance:

First, membership in NATO is not something that can be achieved overnight. Finland and Sweden would have to undergo a potentially lengthy process of accession, during which the incentives for Russia to attack them would intensify. It would be preferable to ensure that they were well defended against any such attack prior to bringing them into the Alliance.

Second, and relatedly, from a strictly military perspective, bringing Finland into NATO is very different proposition militarily than bringing in a country such as Montenegro, which has no borders with Russia. The challenges involved in defending Finland’s 1,340 km eastern border should not be taken lightly. A credible defense of the Finnish border would likely require significant changes in posture beyond those already contemplated by the Alliance to strengthen deterrence in the Baltic states. Even if such changes were forthcoming, they would take time to implement, further exacerbating the risks from the time lag between proposed accession and Article 5 membership.

Third, adding any additional member comes at the cost of increasing complexity in an organization that is already struggling to achieve consensus on several important issues.  Although this may be a lesser order problem and should not in itself prevent new members from joining the Alliance, it is nevertheless a reality that ought to be weighed in the balance. Russia clearly benefits from lack of unity within NATO and anything that could further decrease unity should be given close examination.

Fourth, when it comes to deterring Russia from further aggression in the region, there may also be some benefit to leaving Swedish and Finnish NATO accession on the table, especially if it can be made clear to Moscow that further aggression will ultimately push the pair into the Alliance. In other words, linking Sweden and Finland’s disposition toward membership in the Alliance to the Kremlin’s future policies may offer the opportunity for some leverage over the Kremlin.

In light of this, the best policy for the time being is to continue to strengthen the political and especially military ties between these countries and NATO. There are several ways to do this: enhanced training and exercises; intensified staff exchanges; deeper cooperation on hybrid war and competition short of conflict, building on the Finnish Center for Excellence; encouraging continued deepening of sub-regional defense cooperation, for example through NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation); pressing them for greater contributions to training, policing, and civilian reconstruction in countries where NATO has needs such as Libya and Iraq; involving them deeply in future NATO pooling and sharing programs, for example on tankers; considering missile defense cooperation; examining mechanisms for rapid membership in the event of a crisis.[5]

It is important to recognize that even if Sweden and Finland are outside of NATO, the United States and other NATO members might still come to their assistance in the event they were attacked. The pressure to do so would be less, of course, than if they were Article 5 members of the Alliance, but for strategic reasons pressure would exist none the less. By demonstrating their importance to the United States and their European partners, Sweden and Finland can further increase this dynamic, increasing the chances that NATO Allies would come to their aid in the event of a Baltic crisis. In this case, neither country would go so far as to have Article 5 membership in NATO, but the guarantee could become implicit in the reality of the deepening cooperation. This, in turn, would enhance deterrence.

Circumstances can of course change and eventually both countries may well become members of the Alliance. The current situation, however, in which they are gradually deepening ties in response to the threat they feel from the trajectory on which President Putin has put Russian foreign policy, is optimal. History has shown that it is crucial to bear both political and military factors in mind in considering accession to the Alliance. In the case of this pair, military ties should run ahead of formal political ties. This will avoid a situation in which NATO’s political commitments create military vulnerabilities.


[1] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.

[2] For details see U.S. Army Europe, “U.S. Army Europe to Increase Presence Across Eastern Europe,” November 4, 2016.

[3] For example see Anna Weislander, “Can They Get Any Closer? The Case for Deepening the Partnerships between Sweden and Finland,” The Atlantic Council, October 12, 2016.

[4] Edward Lucas, “Why NATO Needs Sweden and Finland,” Europe’s Edge May 3, 2016.

[5] For more details, see Christopher S. Chivvis, et al., NATO’s Eastern Flank: Emerging Opportunities for Engagement, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2017.

 

Ships in Focus: Hämeenmaa-class minelayer

FNS Uusimaa

The Hämeenmaa-class minelayers (Finnish: Hämeenmaa-luokan miinalaiva) is a two vessel strong class of minelayers, used by the Finnish Navy.

The ships have a steel hull and alloy superstructure. The class has an ice operating classification of ICE-1A and can operate year-round. The design included some first attempts on stealth technology in the Finnish Navy.

During a crisis the main task for the Hämeenmaa-class ships is minelaying, but the vessels can also act as escort, transport and depot ships.

The contract for the Hämeenmaa class was originally awarded to Wärtsilä Marine, but following its bankruptcy the contract was transferred to Hollming. Turmoil in the Finnish shipbuilding industry didn’t stop there. In early 1992 Hollming and Rauma Yards merged their shipbuilding industry to form a new company called Finnyards.

Modernization

Both ships were modernized 2006–08. The purpose of the modernization was to firstly upgrade the ships’ equipment to fit modern standards, and secondly, to enable the ships to participate in international operations, mainly European Security and Defence Policy operations. They are fitted with weapons systems transferred from the discontinued Tuuli-class hovercraft including the Umkhonto missile system. Also a new fire control system Saab 9LV325E FCS, modern monitoring equipment including TRS3D-16ES surveillance radar and Kongsberg ST2400 Variable Depth Sonar and SS2030 Hull mounted sonar, were installed.

In October 2013, Hämeenmaa changed its homeport from Pansio to Upinniemi to replace the decommissioned Pohjanmaa.

Umkhonto missile system

Modernization of the two Hämeenmaa-class ships serves of course the interests of Finnish Navy, but also the ones of EU’s Helsinki Headline Goal: these two ships will most likely be the most important ships for EU, having relatively wide selection of roles that they can assume, from light espionage- and minelayer ship to escort- and anti-submarine warfare ship, these two vehicles are practically perfect for monitoring Russia’s Baltic fleet.

Weaponry
Original After modernization
2 × Bofors 40 mm dual-purpose guns 1 × Bofors 57 mm dual-purpose gun
2 × twin 23 mm anti-aircraft guns 2 x 12,7mm machine guns
1 × six-missile ItO 91 surface-to-air missile launcher 1 × eight-cell ItO 04 surface-to-air missile launcher
2 × anti-submarine rocket launchers 2 × anti-submarine rocket launchers
2 × depth charge rails 2 × depth charge rails
100-150 sea mines (four mine laying rails) 100-150 sea mines (four mine laying rails)

Hämeenmaa was delivered from the dock back to the Navy on 13 April 2007 and Uusimaa, which had been under modernization since November 2006 at the Aker Yards dock in Rauma, was delivered on 26 October 2007. Hämeenmaa and Uusimaa conducted sea trials on their new systems until the end of 2008, when operational readiness was achieved. In October 2013 Hämeenmaa took over the role of flagship of the Finnish Navy with the retirement of Pohjamaa in 2015.

Hämeenmaa-class minelayer, FNS Uusimaa, on exercise with a Hamina-class missile boat

Vessels

FNS Hämeenmaa Pennant number: 02.

Builder: Finnyards.Ordered: 29 December 1989.Laid down: 2 April 1991.Launched: 11 November 1991.

Commissioned: 15 April 1992.Home base: Upinniemi. Current status: In active service.

FNS Uusimaa Pennant number: 05.

Builder: Finnyards.Ordered: 13 February 1991.Laid down: 12 November 1991.Launched: June 1992.

Commissioned: 2 December 1992.Home base: Pansio. Current status: In active service.

FNS Hämeenmaa, pennant number 02, a Hämeenmaa class minelayer at Suomenlinna, Helsinki
Class overview
Name: Hämeenmaa
Operators:  Finnish Navy
Preceded by: Finnish minelayer Pohjanmaa
Succeeded by:
Completed: 2
General characteristics
Type: Minelayer
Displacement: 1,450 tons
Length: 77.8 m (255 ft)
Beam: 11.5 m (38 ft)
Draught: 3 m (9.8 ft)
Propulsion: 2 × Wärtsilä Vasa 16V22 diesel; 5,200 kW with 2 CW propellers
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Complement: 60
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • Furuno S/X (nav radars)
  • Saab 9LV325E FCS (Fire Control System)
  • Simrad hull-mounted sonar
  • EADS TRS3D-16ES (Surveillance Radar)
  • Sagem EOMS (Electro Optical Multisensor System)
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
  • Decoy: 2 × MASS (Multi Ammunition Softkill Systems)
  • ESM: Thales DR3000 SIEWS (Shipborne Integrated Electronic Warfare System)
Armament:
  • 1 × Bofors 57 mm/70 Mk1
  • 8-cell Denel Umkhonto-IR VLS SAM system
  • 2 × 12.7 mm machine gun
  • 2 × H&K GMG grenade machinegun
  • 2 × RBU-1200 depth charge rocket launcher
  • 2 × rails for depth charges
  • 4 × rails for 100-150 mines
Notes:
  • Ships in class include:
  • FNS Hämeenmaa (02)
  • FNS Uusimaa (05)

 

 

Russia to conduct an observation flight in Finland

Antonov An-30 fotokartograficheskiy (Aerial Survey Aircraft)

Puolustusvoimat – Finnish Defence Forces, 27 June 2017

Russia will be conducting an Open Skies observation flight in Finland 26 – 28 June 2017. The mission will be flown using Russia’s certificated Open Skies observation aircraft, the Antonov An-30. The mission conforms to the Open Skies Treaty.

The Antonov An-30 will carry 17 crew and observers, including three Finnish Defence Force Personnel. The Finnish mission leader for the observation flight is Lieutenant Commander Kari Ahrnberg of the Defence Command Finland.

Open Skies is a treaty that aims to promote transparency and security in Europe. The treaty allows the signatories to conduct observation flights and take aerial photographs over the territories of its member states when these have been planned and announced beforehand. Finland signed the agreement in February 2003.

 

GOTLAND: Sweden’s Fortified Baltic Island

Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, is located in the Baltic sea between Sweden and Latvia, and represents the most strategically important defensive stronghold in the entire Baltic region. The Swedish government decided in March 2015 to begin reestablishing a permanent military presence on Gotland, starting with an initial 150 troop garrison, consisting primarily of elements from the Swedish Army. It has been reported that the bulk of this initial garrison will make up a new motorised rifle battalion, alternatively referred to in other reports as a “modular-structured rapid response Army battalion”. A later report claimed that plans were at an advanced stage for a support helicopter squadron and an Air Force “fast response Gripen jet squadron” to also be based on the island to support the new garrison and further reinforce the defences. Prior to the disbandment of the original garrison, there had been a continuous Swedish military presence on Gotland in one form or another, for nearly 200 years.

Map showing the strategic location of Gotland.
Map showing the strategic location of Gotland.

The original Gotland garrison, also known as the Visby Garrison, could trace its roots back to at least 1811. That was the year the Gotland National Conscription was formed to strengthen the islands defences after the Russians had briefly occupied the island two years before. Although, the “new” garrison was just the latest in a long line of Swedish military forces protecting the island, and consequently the rest of Sweden, continuously since the 1640s. The exception being the 23 days when Russia occupied the island during the Finnish War (1808–1809), after Gotland had been left undefended due to errors in overall Swedish strategy early in the war.

In 1887, a new country wide conscription system replaced a number of previous regional recruitment and reserve systems, including the Gotlands nationalbeväring (the Gotland National Recruitment) The existing regiment defending Gotland under that system was reorganized into two new regiments, the Gotland Infantry Regiment and the Gotland Artillery Regiment. Those two units would go on to provide the bulk of the garrison forces both directly and indirectly, throughout the various crisis that threatened to overtake Sweden (including two World Wars and the Cold War), for most of the next two centuries right up to the final dissolution of the garrison in 2005.

From 1811 to 1873, the commander of military forces on Gotland (at that time, effectively a military district in its own right) also served as the governor of the island and during the existence of the Gotland National Conscription (1811–1892) the commander was by default the senior officer of that regiment. Under the military reorganisation of 1892, the then commander and his successors (up until 1937) automatically became the senior officer of the Gotlands infanteriregemente that succeeded the Gotlands nationalbeväring. He remained in charge of army troops on the island, even though Gotland was no longer the center of a military district under the new 5 area (district) system which lasted up to shortly before World War II.

During World War II, Gotland was part of both the VII Military area [area=army district] (from 1942) and the Gotland Naval District, both of which the senior military officer on the island acted as head of. Army and air force units assigned to Gotland came under the former, while naval, marine, and coast artillery units based on/out of Gotland came under the jurisdiction of the latter. With a change in the Naval Districts (see naval section below) in 1957, the commanding officer lost his maritime responsibilities, but regained them in the 1966 military reorganisation that created the Gotland Military Command (the Gotlands militärkommando), or MKG, and which changed the VII. Military area into the new expanded Eastern Military District or Milo Ö (also known as Milo Z) which was now headquartered out of Södermanland.

gotland-bunker
World War II era Kulsprutebunker (Machine gun bunker) located near Brucebo, Gotland County.

This command structure continued relatively unchanged until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, when Milo Ö was stood down in 1991. The MKG remained operational into 2000, albeit increasingly downgraded in importance despite concerns,with a corresponding steady reduction in the units and capabilities under the MKG. In the now discredited Swedish Defence reform of that year, the MKG was replaced with the, in theory, autonomous Gotlands Military District (the Gotlands militärdistrikt) or MDG, which despite its name, only had control over the island itself (that control was also severely constrained by the existence of the, later infamous, post-Cold War Swedish Fortifications Agency). In practise this meant the MDG was responsible for overseeing the Army garrison units remaining on the island, along with coordinating with any reserve and civil defense elements still in place. There were, and as of 2015  still are, no maritime or coastal defense units remaining on the island, with the exception of a couple of naval units that did not come under the new MDG and which in any case were withdrawn in 2004. The MDG was stood down in December 2004, with the remaining garrison forces being abolished in 2005.

Alongside the Swedish Army, the Swedish Navy have played a major role in the garrisoning of the island over the last two centuries; not only helping to defend the island but also using it as a well placed base to defend Sweden and its interests in the Baltic Sea. Prior to (from 1931) and during World War II, Gotland was the headquarters of the Gotland Naval District. In 1957, during the Cold War, Gotland became part of the (now defunct) Sound Naval District, headquartered at the Muskö naval base. The Sound Naval District itself came under the new joint Eastern Military District in 1966, with operational control of naval units (including coastal defense forces) in the area of the former Gotland Naval District being returned to the commanding officer of the new MKG centered on Gotland.

In the early part of the Cold War (late 1940s to late 1950s), elements of one of the three major task forces that then made up the navy’s front line strength, including cruisers and destroyers, were based out of Gotland’s various anchorages and harbours. This was in addition to locally based elements of the Coastal Artillery’s significant support fleet, which included coastal minelayers, inshore minesweepers, and patrol craft. However, in 1958, a doctrinal switch from heavier surface combatants to smaller ASW combatants (increasingly corvette sized and smaller) and Fast Attack Craft began with most of the former being retired without replacement. The operations of these new combatants were still coordinated with submarines though, which, along with the fact that some major combatants weren’t immediately retired (e.g. the two Halland-class destroyers), ironically helped to disguise the problems with relying so heavily on light combatants in the short term. In the late 1960s, this shift towards lighter types accelerated, though more for political and economic reasons than military.

For Gotland, this meant that the naval units based out of the island by the 1970s were mostly light combatants such as FACs with relatively short range, though there were still a few larger corvettes mixed in. Submarines were generally not based out of Gotland at this point, being housed in purpose built bases such as Muskö, though they still made port visits.

By the early 1980s, flaws with the “FAC based doctrine” had become impossible to ignore, with incidents such as the so-called Whiskey on the rocks confrontation proving that the Swedish Navy had become outgunned in the Anti-surface warfare arena, and that even in areas where it should have had a local advantage in such as Anti-Submarine Warfare it was materially outmatched by potential aggressors, with intruding submarines able to breach Swedish waters almost at will.

In the short term, the navy and government attempted to address these issues with various emergency measures and programs, such as the hasty revamping of the Ytattack-81 (the Surface combatant-81) project into what would become the Stockholm corvette program. Another hastily introduced program was the construction of four new heavy coastal missile batteries based around the Rb-15 missile, one of which was placed on Gotland. Delivery and installation of the systems was to take place from 1987 to 1992. Existing installations such as coastal gun batteries and mine stations were continuously upgraded. In the longer term, among the new programs that were started in the late 1980s were two to provide replacements for various FAC and corvette classes; the Ytstridsfartyg Mindre (the Surface Combatant Small) and the Ytstridsfartyg Större (the Surface Combatant Large) programs. In the post-Cold War cutbacks of the early 1990s, those two programs were merged into a single program, the YS2000 (the Surface Combatant 2000) program, that later became the Visby-class stealth corvette. Originally, it was planned to have a class of 10 in two variants; the ASuW/Anti-Air ‘Series II’ and a lower cost ASW dedicated ‘Series I’. Finally, only four Series Is and a single Series II were built in the 2000s (with a second Series II being cancelled), and even those were not fully manned or equipped as part of further economy measures to support other non-defence areas. As a result of this reduction in class size being decided on in the late 1990s, plans for some of the Visby-class corvettes to be based out of Gotland were scrapped. This was against a background of severe cutbacks for the navy at that time, which would continue into the 2010s. Those cutbacks apparently also led to the cancellation, just prior to the disbanding of all coastal defence units on Gotland, of plans to install elements of the KAFUS coastal/underwater surveillance network in and around the island.

In an echo of events from over 60 years earlier, the navy would lose its Marinflyget in 1998, with its helicopter units being absorbed by the air force’s new ‘joint’ Helikopterflottiljen (Helicopter Wing) (the Army also losing its helicopters to this new wing). The air force then promptly retired the former navy ASW helicopters without any immediate replacement.

Boeing-Vertol 107/Kawasaki KV-107 - HKP 4A/B ASW Helicopter.
Boeing-Vertol 107/Kawasaki KV-107 – HKP 4A/B ASW Helicopter.

The resulting lack of ASW helicopters, along with the operationally incomplete state of the Visby-class corvettes, were issues that would become apparent just under a decade and a half later, during the ‘October 2014 Submarine incident’ when the military made a prolonged search without any public results, for alleged underwater activity.

Swedish Air Force elements have operated from the island since the late 1920s. The Swedish Air Force was created by the amalgamation of the air arms of both the army and the navy in 1926. The formation of the new air force would leave the navy without an air branch until it was reestablished in the late 1950s with the navy’s first helicopters. Swedish Naval aviation had already established a major presence on the island in the late 1910s, so the air force was able to take over or share some facilities with the navy, as well as building ones of its own, such as the Bunge and Roma airfields in the late 1930s. By the outbreak of World War II, the Flygvapnet was well established on Gotland. The air force’s general wartime strategy in regards to Gotland was primarily based around bombers, in particular 20 B-17s based at Bunge airfield and seaplane torpedo bombers out of Fårösund. The intention was to use them against enemy ships in the support of the navy and coastal defence units (including both gun batteries and minefields), that were the islands first line of defence against an invasion. The air force also had fighters and reconnaissance aircraft based on the island to further support the island’s defence, the latter also including seaplanes.

Even into the Jet Age, and the Cold War, the Swedish Air Force insisted on remaining being able to operate from semi-prepared airstrips and dispersed emergency airfields, which influenced its equipment development and procurement choices greatly along with the development of tactics and strategies. This allowed the air force major flexibility in its role of defending Gotland and the rest of Sweden against intruders. In some respects, this flexibility made the air force more capable than most NATO member air-forces who, especially before the advent of such aircraft as the Harrier and the A-10, were arguably over reliant on permanent airbases and long concrete runways, unlike their Soviet foes, who put in at least as much effort as Sweden into being able to disperse and operate their tactical aircraft from semi-prepared airstrips and other temporary or semi-permanent locations, including those based around specially strengthened stretches of road.

For Gotland, this meant the air force was not only able to operate out of Visby Airport (especially after its BAS-60 upgrade in 1968) and its existing airfields such as Bunge and Roma, but also from semi-prepared sites such as the Visby 1 and Visby 2 highway strips, which were officially classified as dispersed emergency (wartime) airfields as per Sweden’s general overall Cold War doctrine.

Apart from the threat of direct Soviet aggression against Gotland and the rest of Sweden, another potential wartime problem was to increasingly weigh on the minds of both the island’s defenders and Sweden’s politicians: cruise missile transits. In the event of an all out war, the airspace of neutral Sweden was seen by both NATO and Warsaw Pact planners as a possible handy shortcut for the flight paths of cruise missiles that both sides were developing, and in the case of the United States had already deployed, during the 1980s. The airspace in and around Gotland was one of the areas of Sweden seen as especially vulnerable to transit by cruise missiles en-route to their targets. A particular worry in Sweden in the early 1980s was that the US would program some of their new nuclear armed cruise missiles to fly through Swedish airspace on their way to targets in the Soviet Union. This was seen as a violation of the country’s neutrality, so Sweden officially stated that it would be obliged to shoot down any such missiles that were fired over Swedish territory in wartime. In light of this policy a number of major anti-cruise missile exercises were held by Sweden during the 1980s, at least one of which was held in and around the island. As the decade went on, fears grew that the Soviet Union would be at least just as likely to violate Sweden’s neutrality in this manner; such fears regarding the two superpowers were only partially eased by the advent of the (defunct as of 2014) INF Treaty.

Late 1980s plans to reinforce the air cover over Gotland, including one for the reactivation and deployment to the island of an additional J-35 Draken squadron to take place in the early 1990s, were to be overtaken by world events such as the Revolutions of 1989 and the Soviet dissolution.

After the end of the Cold War, the air force’s presence on Gotland had rapidly diminished to practically nothing by 1992, with the final withdrawal of deployed elements of the F13 Wing including a Saab 37 Viggen fighter detachment from Visby Airport. This was a direct result of the initial cutbacks by Swedish politicians seeking the peace dividend in order to, among other things, to fund increasingly costly social programs in an economic downturn (in part caused by the fall of the Soviet Union). Due to this, the Bunge airfield was closed in 1991. The Roma airfield had been deactivated in 1988. In the intervening years, the air force has been absent from Gotland, with only the occasional transport or support aircraft (such as ASC 890 Airborne early warning and control) making visits to Visby Airport as part of an exercise or similar.

In the 2010s, the relatively dilapidated state of the county’s defences had to be addressed by the Swedish government, with a newly resurgent Russia stepping up probes of Sweden’s defences alongside those of her neighbours with both air and sea incursions. The most noted of these to date occurred in March 2013, when two Russian Tupolev Tu-22M nuclear capable bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27, were able to enter Swedish controlled airspace unimpeded and simulate strikes against targets in and around Stockholm with the Swedish Air Force unable to effectively respond at any time during the incident. During their operation, the Russian aircraft skirted around Gotland. In the aftermath of this highly controversial failure to avert the intruders, the air force for the first time in many years deployed a detachment of four Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighters to Visby Airport. This short lived deployment was followed by another smaller one the following year, consisting of two Gripens. However, because of their strictly limited nature, these deployments were seen by observers as unsuccessful PR exercises rather than a coherent response. By the close of 2014, Swedish public confidence in the government’s ability to defend the country had dropped to 20% or lower, depending on the poll. This was a continuation of a general trend that could be traced back to even before the Stockholm incident, but which had rapidly worsened in its aftermath.

JAS-39 Gripen at Visby Airport.
JAS-39 Gripen at Visby Airport.

In late March 2015, it was reported that plans were at an advanced stage for a support helicopter squadron and a “fast response Gripen jet squadron” to be based on Gotland in order to support the new garrison and further reinforce the island’s defences.

In April 2015, a decision was made to reestablish troops permanently on Gotland within three years. The recruitment started in September 2015. The Battlegroup Gotland is to consist of 300 personnel, half of which are soldiers and half a permanent staff. As of 2016, the main issue of where to house the battle group was still unresolved. The barracks in Visby formerly owned and used by Gotland Regiment were evacuated and sold to a private company in 2006. Since 2006, the property is used by the Gotland County Administration and several private companies.

The re-militarization of Gotland once again reopened the debate about a possible threat to Sweden from Russia and Sweden’s accession to NATO.

The Battlegroup Gotland (18th Battlegroup) will fall under administrative control of the Skaraborg Regiment, which will also train the troops destined for Gotland. The battlegroup will be based at the Tofta firing range near Visby and will field 301 men.

18th Battlegroup (18. Stridsgruppen):

  • 180th Staff Company “Havdhem”
  • 181st Armored Infantry Company “Roma” with 12x Strf 9040B infantry fighting vehicles, 1x Bgbv 90 armored recovery vehicle and 1x Bandvagn 309 tracked ambulance vehicle
  • 183rd Tank Company “Lärbro” with 11x Stridsvagn 122 main battle tanks, 1x Epbv 90 forward observation vehicle, 1x Bgbv 120 armored recovery vehicle, 1x Strf 9040B infantry fighting vehicle and 1x Bandvagn 309 tracked ambulance vehicle
  • 185th Logistic Company “Garde”

In the meantime, before the 18th Battlegroup is ready for deployment on Gotland (originally scheduled to begin in 2018), it was hoped that a combination of an increase in training rotations by mainland based regular army units to the Tofta range, combined with some rather public exercises around the island by the Särskilda operationsgruppen since late 2015, would be enough to discourage any Russian adventurism.

Stridsvagn 122/Leopard 2 MBT
Stridsvagn 122/Leopard 2 MBT

However by Autumn 2016, the regional situation was considered to have deteriorated even further. So much so that following representations from the current Supreme Commander Micael Bydén, the Swedish Government reluctantly agreed that Gotland’s defences would have to be reestablished on a much shorter timescale than previously mooted (despite ongoing major divisions within the current ruling parties with regards as to the strategy & resources required to defend Sweden). To this end, the Supreme Commander announced on the 14th of September 2016 that not only would the deployment of the 18th Battlegroup to Gotland would be moved up to the first half of 2017, but also a rifle battalion from the Skaraborg Regiment which was then in the middle of a training rotation at Tofta, would now be held in place on Gotland as a interim garrison. A few Giraffe 40s normally on the strength of the Luftvärnsregementet (Lv 6) are to be attached to the battalion to provide some early warning capability. Despite this though, neither air defence vehicles such as the Luftvärnskanonvagn (lvkv) 9040, nor MANPADS have been attached to the garrison battalion to take advantage of this local radar coverage.

The plan is to within a few months relieve the battalion with another battalion or a equivalent formation, which will then remain in place until the 18th Battlegroup is ready to take up it’s posting.

Reference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finnish Ski Troops – Finland’s Elite Light Infantry

Sissi Unit Emblem.
Sissi Unit Emblem.

Finnish Ski Troops or “Sissi” are light infantry which conducted reconnaissance, sabotage and guerrilla warfare operations behind enemy lines. The word sissi, first attested in the modern meaning “patrolman, partisan, spy” in 1787, comes to Finnish from Slavic and refers either to a forest bandit or his yew bow.

The Finnish Army Sissi units are trained to conduct long range reconnaissance patrols, gather intelligence from concealed observation posts, raid enemy installations (especially supply depots), conduct road side ambushes and pursue and destroy enemy special forces units.

A Finnish Ski patrol with reindeer.
A Finnish Ski patrol with reindeer.

In Finland, long-range patrols (kaukopartio) were especially notable during World War II. For example, Erillinen Pataljoona 4 (4th Detached Battalion), a command of four different long-range patrol detachments; Detachment Paatsalo, Detachment Kuismanen, Detachment Vehniäinen and Detachment Marttina operated throughout the Continuation War phase of the war. These units penetrated Soviet lines and conducted recon and destroy missions. During the trench warfare period of the Continuation War, long-range patrols were often conducted by special Finnish sissi troops. Former President of Finland, Mauno Koivisto, served in Lauri Törni‘s specially designed Jäger Company (called ‘Detachment Törni’) in the Finnish 1st Infantry Division. Lauri Törni became a US citizen and entered the US Army Special Forces. He gave important knowledge in long-range patrolling and was declared MIA during the Vietnam War in 1965, until his remains were found and were buried in Arlington on 26 June 2003.

In wartime, the unknown number of reservists assigned to Sissi battalions would deploy and operate as small groups up to company size. They are meant to stay behind and covertly operate against enemy forces in their area of responsibility even if regular friendly troops have been forced to retreat. Sissi battalions are part of Finnish Army local troops, unlike the jäger and armored brigades meant for operational use. Sissi units are considered as the elites of the Army conscripts, and many of the units, such as the Paratroopers or Border Jaegers, are formed of volunteers.

A Finnish Patrol skiing two-abreast to hide their numbers.
A Finnish Patrol skiing two-abreast to hide their numbers.

History

Before the hostilities of Winter War, the Finnish Army formed 25 Independent Battalions (Erillinen Pataljoona) from local reservists along the border area. After the outbreak out of hostilities, a further five Sissi Battalions (Sissipataljoona) were formed from “auxiliary personnel”. These battalions especially those of the latter type, were below their nominal strength in both men and weaponry. These units proved to be effective in using “motti” tactics of surrounding the enemy before attacking in their native area with light infantry weapons and skis.

In the Continuation War the ad hoc Sissi Battalions were discontinued, but Independent Battalions were raised, 4th Independent Battalion was directly under the command of Supreme Headquarters doing LRRP and raiding missions deep inside Soviet area. In the Battle of Ilomantsi, soldiers of the 4th harassed supply lines of the Soviet artillery preventing effective fire support. In the Ladoga Karelia front the length of the front, absence roads and lack of troops prevented continuous front lines during the trench warfare period. Both armies used a chain of fortified field bases separated by the wilderness, monitoring and controlling the gaps with patrols. Both Finns and Soviets launched raids and recon patrols into enemy territory. Battles were short clashes of lightly armed infantry groups from squadron to battalion in size, with little chance of support or reinforcements.

After the Second World War, Sissi units were de-commissioned and officially Sissi training was discontinued, although many units gave Sissi training for their reconnaissance units. In the beginning of the 1960s, Paratrooper School was established at Utti, infantry and border guard established Sissi training companies thereafter.

Weaponry

The main weapon of the Sissi were their Ski’s. These enabled them to be extremely mobile, to react quickly to potential threats and move quickly when inserted on a long-range patrol by a Heinkel He-59 or Heinkel He-115B aircraft. Finnish Ski troops were notable for fighting with their skis on, whereas their Soviet counterparts removed their skis before combat, thus rendering their mobile advantage ineffectual.

Heinkel He 59 Finnish Air Force.
Heinkel He 59 Finnish Air Force.

Suomi KP/-31

Suomi KP-31.
Suomi KP-31.

The Suomi KP/-31 (Suomi-konepistooli or “Submachine-gun Finland”) was a submachine gun (SMG) of Finnish design used during World War II. It was a descendant of the M-22 prototype and the KP/-26 production model, which was revealed to the public in 1925. The Suomi-konepistooli KP/-31 is often abbreviated to Suomi KP.

The Suomi KP/-31 is regarded by many as one of the most successful submachine guns of World War II, also the soon developed 71-round drum magazine was later copied and adopted by the Soviets for their PPD-40 and PPSh-41 submachine guns. The accuracy of the Suomi was superior to that of the mass-produced PPSh-41, thanks in part to a noticeably longer barrel, with the same rate of fire and the equally large magazine capacity. The major disadvantage of the Suomi KP/-31 was its high production cost.

The Suomi KP/-31 also incorporated a few new design features, including an arrangement whereby the spring was mounted inside the bolt in order to make the gun shorter. Its 50-round quad-column “Casket” box magazine was more reliable than the early 40-round “bullets loaded nose down” drum magazine, and similar applications were used on the Argentinian C-4 submachine gun and present-day 60-round 5.45x39mm AK-74 compatible magazines.

The M-22 and KP/-26 were made by Konepistooli Oy, founded by Master Armorer Aimo Lahti, Captain V. Korpela, Lieutenant Y. Koskinen and Lieutenant L. Boyer-Spoof. The Suomi KP/-31 was designed by Koskinen and Lahti.

The Suomi KP/-31 went into serial production in 1931 by Tikkakoski Oy and most of these weapons were bought by the Finnish Defence Forces. The Finnish Defence Forces were equipped with about 4000 Suomi KP/-31 submachine guns when the Winter War started. During the course of the war, the design was altered with the addition of a muzzle brake, which increased the submachine gun’s overall length by 55 mm. The revised version was designated KP/-31 SJR (suujarru, or “muzzle brake”). Aimo Lahti was displeased with this revision, believing that it decreased muzzle velocity and reduced the weapon’s reliability, and even sought in vain to have the muzzle brake’s designer court-martialed. Ultimately, roughly half of the KP/-31s in Finnish service were of the SJR version. Initially the KP/-31 was issued as a substitute for a light machine gun, and proved inadequate in this role. Instead, soldiers learned by trial and error how to use submachine guns to the best effect. By the time of the Continuation War, Finnish doctrine had been altered to include both a KP/-31 and a light machine gun (usually a captured Degtyaryov DP) in every infantry squad, and by 1943 this had been expanded to two KP/-31s per squad. KP/-31 production continued with the intention of adding a third submachine gun to each squad, but this plan was shelved in 1944 when the Continuation War ended.

Lahti-Saloranta M-26 Light Machine Gun

Lahti-Saloranta M26 Light Machine Gun.
Lahti-Saloranta M26 Light Machine Gun.

The Lahti-Saloranta M/26 (alternatively LS/26) is a light machine gun which was designed by Aimo Lahti and Arvo Saloranta in 1926. The weapon was able to fire in both full automatic and semi-automatic modes. Both 20-round box and 75-round drum magazines were produced, but the Finnish army seems to have only used the smaller 20-round magazine.

In the Winter War, there were two squads in each platoon that provided covering fire for two ten-man rifle squads. In each squad, there was one M/26 gunner, one assistant and the rest of the men carrying rifles.

Lahti-Saloranta M-26 LMG gunner.
Lahti-Saloranta M-26 LMG gunner.

The M/26 won a Finnish Army competition in 1925 where it was selected as the army’s main light machine gun. Production started in 1927 at the Valtion kivääritehdas (VKT), State Rifle Factory, and lasted until 1942. More than 5,000 weapons were produced during that time. China also placed an order for 30,000 M/26s chambered for 7.92x57mm Mauser in 1937, but only 1,200 of these weapons were actually delivered due to Japanese diplomatic pressure. In the summer of 1944, 3,400 M/26s were in use at the front.

The Mosin-Nagant M28/30 sniper rifle

The Mosin-Nagant M28-30 sniper rifle.
The Mosin-Nagant M28-30 sniper rifle.

M/28-30: An upgraded version of the M/28. The most noticeable modification is the new rear sight design. Same sight was used in following M39 rifle only exception being “1.5” marking for closest range to clarify it for users. According to micrometer measurements and comparison to modern Lapua D46/47 bullet radar trajectory data, markings are matched to Finnish Lapua D46/D46 bullet surprisingly accurately through whole adjustment range between 150 m and 2000 m.

The trigger was also improved by adding coil spring to minimize very long pre-travel. Following M39 does not have this improvement. The magazine was also modified to prevent jamming. Magazines were stamped with “HV” (Häiriö Vapaa = Jam Free) letters in right side of rifle. Later M39 uses identical design, but without “HV” -stamp. M/28-30 also have metal sleeve in fore-end of handguard, to reduce barrel harmonics change and to make barrel-stock contact more constant between shots and/or during environmental changes such as moisture and temperature. Later M39 does not have this upgrade.

In addition to its military usage, approximately 440 M/28-30 rifles were manufactured by SAKO for use in the 1937 World Shooting Championships in Helsinki.

M/28-30 model, serial number 60974, was also used by Simo Häyhä, the well-known Finnish sniper. The M28/30 was used as a Civil Guards competition rifle before World War II, as was the case with Simo Häyhä’s personal rifle too. Therefore these rifles were built very well, with the highest grade barrels available and carefully matched headspace. Häyhä’s rifle was still at PKarPr (Northern Karelia Brigade) museum in 2002, then moved to an unknown place by the Finnish Army.

Simo Häyhä the highest scoring sniper in history.
Simo Häyhä the highest scoring sniper in history.

Famous sissi troops

  • Lauri Törni a.k.a. Larry Thorne, a commander of “Detachment Törni”, the reconnaissance company of the 12th Infantry Regiment during the Continuation War, had a bounty on his head by the Soviets, joined Waffen-SS in 1940 and was sent back home before the Continuation war. After the Finno-Soviet ceasefire he returned to Waffen-SS because he did not believe that Soviets would actually follow the ceasefire agreement. After the war Törni joined US Army and volunteered for the US Army Special forces.
  • Mauno Koivisto, member of “Detachment Törni” during Continuation War, later the President of Finland.
  • Mikko Pöllä, most decorated member of the 4th Detached Battalion.

Term and use

In Finnish, “sissi” means guerrilla, but the term is somewhat misleading when referring to Finnish Defence Force Sissi troops. Sissi forces are not irregular guerrilla or militia forces; they are part of the regular FDF troops trained for operations behind enemy lines. Like most of the Finnish Defence Forces, Sissi battalions are composed of reservists. Their closest foreign equivalents are the Swedish Armed Forces Jägare troops.

Sissi as a description is a person of extraordinary stamina (or Sisu) – e.g. “Sissi weather” (Sissin sää) refers to the worst possible weather conditions, for sissi soldiers prefer these for their operations, since bad weather tends to distract enemy soldiers (any normal soldier tends to think about getting to shelter as soon as possible when bad weather strikes) and hide any noise caused by sissis.

In the Finnish Defence Forces, sissi is used as an umbrella term for all unconventional military applications, such as any improvised and/or temporary repair to any equipment is often called “sissiviritys”, literally “sissi fix” or “sissi patch”, in addition any improvised booby-trap, such as a firearm rigged to fire at doorway of a building once someone opens the door, may be called “sissijäynä”, literally “sissi prank”.

Battle of Ilomantsi

Finnish Ski Troops were heavily involved in the Battle of Ilomantsi, which was the last major engagement of the Continuation War, and after nine victories in just a few weeks forced the Soviet Stavka to retract its demands for Finland’s unconditional surrender, due to fears that the Finnish armed forces remained a capable fighting force.

Finnish Sissi LMG crew at Ilomantsi.
Finnish Sissi LMG crew at Ilomantsi.

The Battle of Ilomantsi was a part of the Continuation War (1941–1944). It was fought from July 26 to August 13, 1944, between Finland and the Soviet Union in area roughly 40 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep, near the Finnish-Soviet border, close to a small Finnish town of Ilomantsi, in North Karelia. The battle ended with a Finnish victory, as the last major Soviet attack against Finland was stopped here. Of 7000 Finnish soldiers 400 were killed or missing, 1,300 were wounded. The 16,000 (later rising to 20,000) Soviet Forces suffered 13,050 casualties.

Order of battle

Finnish

Finnish forces in the area before the battle consisted of only the 21st Brigade under Colonel Ekman but they were reinforced with Cavalry Brigade and three other battalions—3rd Border Jaeger Battalion and 2 battalion strong detachment P (Os. P). All Finnish forces were subordinated to a temporary formation named Group R (Group Raappana) after its commanding officer Major General Erkki Raappana and was tasked with defeating the advancing Soviet units and recapturing crossroads at Kuolismaa village. During the initial Soviet push the sole unit defending and delaying it was the Finnish 21st Brigade (roughly 7,000 men). As the front in the Karelian Isthmus had been stabilized the Cavalry Brigade was rushed to the Ilomantsi to reinforce the 21st Brigade bringing the Finnish strength at July 31 when the counterattack began roughly to 13,000.

Soviet

General Meretskov’s Karelian Front’s forces advancing towards Ilomantsi consisted of two divisions of Soviet 32nd Army under Lieutenant General Filip D. Garelenko – 176th (Colonel Zolotarjov) and 289th (Major General Tsernuha) divisions. Later as the battle progressed and the advancing divisions were encircled, Soviet forces in the area were reinforced with 3rd, 69th and 70th Naval Infantry Brigades and other formations.

According to Soviet archives, at the beginning of the Karelian Front’s offensive at June 21, 1944 Soviet 176th and 289th Rifle Divisions of the 32nd Army had combined strength of roughly 16,000 men. By the time (June 31) the Finnish counterattack in Ilomantsi started the combined strength of the 176th and 289th division had dropped to 11,000 men. After the soviet 3rd Naval Infantry (ru. Morskaya Pekhota) Brigade and 69th and 70th Naval Rifle (ru. Morskaya Strelkovy) Brigades were brought to support the encircled 176th and 289th Divisions the combined Soviet infantry strength in Ilomantsi was slightly higher than 20,000 men.

The Battle

Parts of Karelia, as they are traditionally divided.
Parts of Karelia, as they are traditionally divided.

At first, the Soviet offensive seemed to be successful as on July 21, 1944, the Red Army units were able to reach the Finnish-Soviet border of 1940, the only time during the entire Soviet offensive of 1944, and—in fact—ever since 1941. Finnish reinforcements arrived on July 28 and on July 31 Raappana started the counterattack. Already on August 1 Finns cut the sole road leading to Soviet 176th division and by August 3 both Soviet divisions were encircled as the Finnish forces utilized envelopment tactics (Encirclement tactics were known as “motti” in Finnish) that drew upon the ancient methods of warfare and those already used by them in the Winter War (1939–1940).

Finnish Ski Troops in action at Ilomantsi.
Finnish Ski Troops in action at Ilomantsi.

Soviets deployed three brigades with armor support to open the road connections to the encircled divisions but Finnish efforts prevented it. Renewed attacks distracted the Finns enough to allow the encircled Soviet forces escape through the dense forests by abandoning their heavy equipment. Given the element of surprise and due to superior numbers of the Soviets the Finnish troops guarding the encircled divisions had little hope of containing organized breakouts especially in forests and so many of the encircled Soviets managed to escape to their own side with last escaping at August 10.

Destroyed Soviet T-26 Tank
Destroyed Soviet T-26 Tank

Source: SA-Kuva

Outcome

Two attacking Red Army divisions were decimated in this last major engagement on the Finnish front, before the armistice was concluded in early September, 1944. Command of the Finnish forces at the Battle of Ilomantsi was carried out by the famed Finnish General—and a Knight of the Mannerheim CrossErkki Raappana.

Military historians note that the two Red Army divisions were completely routed after a week and a half of fighting, leaving behind over 3,200 Red Army soldiers dead, thousands wounded and missing, and over 100 pieces of heavy artillery, approximately 100 mortars and the rest of the Soviet ordnance for the Finns to capture.

Osasto Partinen (Detachment Partinen) in forest of Ilomantsi.
Osasto Partinen (Detachment Partinen) in forest of Ilomantsi.

General Raappana’s men—the so-called Group Raappana (“Ryhmä Raappana” in Finnish)—had fired within ten days over 36,000 artillery shells, aimed at the Soviet forces in Ilomantsi. The Soviet artillery participating in Ilomantsi were able to fire only 10,000 shells during the same period. The main reason for the lower Soviet artillery successes were the Finnish disturbance tactics. For instance, a Finnish guerrilla detachment led by the Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, Lieutenant Heikki Nykänen, destroyed a Soviet convoy of 30 trucks carrying artillery rounds to the battle scene.

Ski Trooper with weapon at the ready on Skis.
Ski Trooper with weapon at the ready on Skis.

Impact

The Finns had achieved victory, and the remnants of the two Red Army divisions had barely escaped destruction, by breaking out from the encirclements. After the battle, Stavka (Soviet Armed Forces Headquarters) brought its offensive to a halt and gave up the demand of Finland’s unconditional surrender.

The Finnish President Mauno Koivisto spoke at a seminar held in August, 1994, in the North Karelian city of Joensuu, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Finnish victory in the crucial Battle of Ilomantsi. The future President of Finland witnessed this battle as a soldier in a reconnaissance company commanded by Finnish war hero and Knight of the Mannerheim Cross recipient, Captain Lauri Törni (who later served in USA as a Green Beret under the name Larry Thorne):

In the summer of 1944, when the Red Army launched an all-out offensive, aimed at eliminating Finland, the Finns were “extremely hard-pressed”, President Koivisto itenerated, but they “did not capitulate”.

“We succeeded in stopping the enemy cold at key points,” the President said, “and in the final battle at Ilomantsi even in pushing him back.”

In a speech on September 4, 1994, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending the Finnish-Soviet hostilities, the Prime Minister of Finland Esko Aho declared:

“I do not see a defeat in the summer’s battles, but the victory of a small nation over a major power, whose forces were stopped far short of the objectives of the Soviet leadership. Finland was not beaten militarily …”

“Finland preserved her autonomy and her democratic social system …”

“Finland … won the peace.”

The Utrio area played a central role in General Erkki Raappana’s—the leader of the 1944 Ilomantsi operation—plan of defence. Fast-moving battalions from the Cavalry Brigade, experienced in forest warfare, were driven through this area between lakes, as a wedge between the attacking Soviet 289th and 176th Divisions. The opening battles fell on the Finnish Light Infantry Battalion 6. When it turned against the encirclements at Leminaho and the Lutikkavaara hill, the Uudenmaa Cavalry Regiment attacked through Utrio and the River Ruukinpohja, with flanking from the Light Infantry Battalion 1.

Wolf

References