Continuation war aviation in review, what has been written and what left out |
Written by Olli Kivioja, chairman of Pilvenveikot club. This text was originally published as an appendix to the press release of the 25th anniversary of the Pilvenveikot Club in 2001.
An article on the anniversary here: Pilvenveikot 25 years.
Pilvenveikot, Chaps of the Clouds, is the club of Finnish war pilots. The condition for the membership is to have an old military pilot's license together with the Finnish Flight Badge, SLM, worn on the left breast pocket. These Flight Badges were given during 1918 - 1944 to 1234 pilots, to 62 navigators and to 328 persons on honoris causa basis. The gunner - radio operator Flight Badge founded in 1942 is awarded to 161 persons.
English translation: Lt(jg) Markku Herd, Finnish Navy.
Continuation war aviation in review, what has been written and what left out
The achievements of our Air Force during the Continuation War has been reviewed in press, memoirs, history books and other media. A lot of it is good, however I have spotted some considerable omissions and outright errors.
Fighter pilot victories and losses have been easy to record. As is widely known, our victory-loss ratio was world champion class in our favor. It is also known that if the Me-109's were giving escort, no bomber of ours got shot down during the decisive Isthmus battles in summer 1944. Photo reconnaissance flights and troop supply trains needed escort at times and the fighters performed well, but these successes aren't as showy or good, morale-lifting propaganda material as the victory records. Visual recon of high operative importance has been bypassed with little mention. When a recon patrol returned to base, each pilot reported what they had seen. It was proven that pilots had differences in their perception and memory. At times pilots were used as artillery spotters.
The target areas for recon and bomber pilots are almost always in enemy territory and often protected by strong AA. Bombing missions often involved recon as well. During the Continuation War, 65% of all Air Force missions were recon. (Pajari).
Of bomber pilot achievements is often mentioned that bridges, trains, troop and artillery concentrations were bombed. It was however difficult to get exact data on the targets and their effects on battles and the direction of war. What is known and reported his the amount of dropped bombs in tons. When speaking of the successful defence at Tali - Ihantala front and later at Äyräpää - Vuosalmi front, the decisive importance of bombers and especially the German flight group Kuhlmey are noted. The Kuhlmey group dropped slightly more bombs than the Finns. The Finnish bombers, the Kuhlmey dive bombers and the escorting fighters played crucial role in repelling the landfall at Viipurinlahti bay.
What is often neglected to express is that the Finns avoided bombing civilian targets, probably the only nation in the war to do so.
Of long distance ranger patrols. The delivery and supply flights and their losses are discussed extensively in Lassi Saressalo's book "Päämajan kaukopartiot jatkosodassa". WSOY 1987.
The patrols were a part of intelligence operations. To keep secrecy all the flights were made by single planes: the troops were carried over lines at dusk, supply flights were done early morning, sometimes even in daylight. To land at enemy territory required professional attitude and cool mind, getting to take off again was never certain. Without airborne supplying, deliveries and evacuations the recon couldn't have been done in the extent it was.
Photo recon flights are also part of overall intelligence gathering. The daily GHQ reports never mentioned photo recon, naturally to keep the activity undercover. Therefore the general public, or other Air Force units, weren't always aware of the photography done.
The Air Force began and ended the Continuation War by photo recon. Flight Regiment 4 received orders to photograph the Ladogan Carelia at Simpele-Korpiselkä direction, urgently, secretly and high. The job was assigned to Blenheim 129, armed with two cameras, piloted by Lieutenant Olavi Siirilä. The flight on June 22nd failed when the camera operating axle broke. Clouds prevented photography on 23rd. On 24th, the area was partially photographed and the job was finished on 25th.
The last war mission was flown April 4th, 1945. Bomber Squadron 43 was ordered to widebeam photography in 1:10000 scale, in northwestern Lapland at Ala-Kilpisjärvi - Leveävuopio - Peerajärvi - Siilusvaara - Rukahoaivi - Ailakkavaara area. The plane was a Dornier Do 17, DO-55, piloted by Captain Jorma Turpeinen with Captain Erik Strömberg as navigator. With clear weather and functioning camera, six rows of photographs were taken at 5,000 meters, over 55 minutes.
The Air Force was also given another reconnaissance mission on June 22th, 1941. Two German Heinkel 159 amphibious planes took a Finnish ranger patrol to East Carelia that day. It was agreed that Finnish Brewster fighters, led by Lt Per Erik Sovelius, would cover the Germans' return. The Finnish and German planes never met; the patrol had to be taken to a different lake than planned. The patrol, led by Lt Hämäläinen, was quickly discovered and failed its mission, but managed to return by foot.
Reports on the photo recon preceding the Russian breakthrough at Carelian Isthmus in May and June, 1944, and its significance are the most lacking. False information and even wrongful accusations are frequently given.
The intelligence officer at the GHQ,
U.A.Käkönen writes in his book "Miehityksen varalta" (Otava 1970): "The HQ and the 4th Army sorely needed data, but none was received. Sending unresearched photos was prohibited. The HQ got a picture two days after the assault began (June 9th, 1944)." "There are claims, perhaps to lessen the Air Force error, that unresearched photos were sent to the 4th Army HQ immediately. This didn't happen. The Army HQ received the photos inspected, as did the GHQ, only when the battles had advanced to the Kivennapa - Terijoki level.
In his research report, Aimo Juhola notes that the story in Lt Col U.A.Käkönen's book is purposely incorrect, as is a similar report by another intelligence representative Jukka L.Mäkelä in his book "Salaisen sodan saatossa" / Otava 1965).
The 4th part of "Jatkosodan historia" (Sotatieteen laitos 1993) certifies that "unresearched photos of a recon flight done in June 2nd, '44, were handed over to the artillery intelligence office of the 4th Army," and continues vaguely, "Though the GHQ was supposed to receive the same photos, there was no apparent reaction."
Aimo Juhola and Kullervo Virtanen, members of Pilvenveikot with photo recon experience, began to clear things out in 1992. Relevant documents were found in the war archives, among them photo material and accompanying letters with receiving stamps. According to them:
The regions of the three defence lines at the Isthmus were photographed in Summer 1943 for artillery targeting purposes.
At the initiative of the Air Force HQ, a conference was held between the GHQ, the field Army and the Air Force at the end of February 1944. A representative of the Air Force Photo Laboratory was present. Consequently the Army made requests of areas they wanted photographed, the intensity and quality of the photo series, researched or not. The 4th Army, which was responsible of the western Isthmus and at whose territory the breakthrough was done, wanted the photos at 1:12,000 scale, seven series required, photos unresearched, but investigated ones could be sent too. The Air Force Photo Center worked with this request.
Of the 41 kilometer long front area of the 4th Army, a 16 by 3-5 km portion of enemy territory was photographed on May 29th. On May 30th, a photo series was taken that covered the whole staging area, up to 18 km behind enemy lines. The whole 41 km front was photographed on June 2nd and 8th. The flights on May 29th and June 2nd revealed positions and numbers of heavy artillery. 200 new artillery sites were found on June 2nd. As agreed, one of these series taken on 2nd were delivered to the Army HQ without analyzation, two on 3rd, four on 6th, and on 12th series of 51 separate photos with stereo analyzation markings.
The operative intelligence of the 4th Army probably hasn't been able to use the material from these recon flights, or didn't receive it in time, since no reports or actions based on it was done by the Army or GHQ that would have affected the subsequent events.
The data from photo recon were almost entirely left unused was because material was at the artillery department of the 4th, but was never given to the operative intelligence department, due to lack of communication and personal attitudes between the departments.
Aimo Juhola, who has done the investigation that the above information is based on, concludes: "The photograph material that was in possession of the artillery department of the 4th Army HQ, were unreachable by the operative intelligence before June 8th-9th, 1944."
Also: "Cooperation between the artillery and operative intelligence departments was clearly limited, compared for example the work in the 6th Army (Aunus)."
Pilvenveikko Aimo Juhola finishes his report in a request: "If someone has certifiable evidence that the GHQ Intelligence 1, its chief Major U.A.Käkönen, or someone in the 4th Army HQ, has requested or received the air photo series taken on June 2nd from the Air Force Photography Center before June 11th, 1944, would publish the information for example by reporting to him."
The investigation by Virtanen and Juhola was hampered by the fact that all photographic material of the annexed terrain was sent to the Soviet Union by demand of the Allied Watch Committee, total of 43 railway cars. Still air photography films and pictures were found in the 1990's from a private source, among them material from the aforementioned recon flights, except from the flight on May 30th, 1944. Good air photo material exists in archives from the Tali-Ihantala-Vuosalmi battlegrounds.
In retrospect, if the photos taken on June 2th, that the artillery department of the 4th received, had been available to the operative intelligence, there would have been time to make proper conclusions and take appropriate action. Observing the possibility of a breakthrough would have resulted in pulling back of storages, support etc. Now they were captured or destroyed. Also the retreat could certainly have been more controlled with less severe losses.
When describing the battles at Ihantala, it is mentioned that early morning on July 4th, 1944, enemy attack formations were destroyed by artillery and aerial bombardment. Radio recon had cleared the beginning time of the attack, 4:00 am, but nobody tells or asks how the artillery and bombers knew the target location.
The answer is photo recon: combat area photography done by our Air Force, and the quick and efficient photo analyzation done by the Air Force Photograph Center at Joensuu. In the circumstances the artillery department did not have the capability for quick and qualified photo analysis.
The significance of photo analysts is often forgotten. Photography and analysis belong together.
The Ihantala combat area from Juustila to Karisalmi was photographed on July 2nd, 1944. Next day a Blenheim recon plane photographed the enemy lines again at 7,500 meters, 4:30 - 4:50 pm. The photos confirmed artillery and armor concentrations, among them more than ten rocket launcher sites. The commanders in charge received the photos a couple of hours before the attack commenced, and that was enough. Planes from Aerial Regiment 4 and Battlegroup Kuhlmey bombarded the enemy artillery, armor and troop concentrations from 2:00 - 3:00 am. 33 tons of bombs was dropped by the Aerial Regiment 4. Group Kuhlmey planes flew 23 sorties at night and the following day 24 Stuka nd 15 Jabo sorties. A few minutes before the enemy moment of attack, every gun in range fired a coordinated strike at confirmed targets, so that the rounds hit simultaneously, either destroying or disabling the forces so the attack never commenced. The Ihantala battles were resolved here, the enemy brought no more attack forces there.
The artillery colonel Vahatupa told later in an interview: "In early July the recon and especially aerial photography had pinpointed more than ten enemy recket sites at Ihantala. They had to be disabled before they would begin their coordinated fire, which always had a great effect on troop morale."
The Air Force and aerial photography had decisive effect in the Ihantala battles and the resolution of the war. In retrospect, if the photography had been unsuccessful or the communication had been as bad as at Valkeasaari, the enemy would have had a chance for breakthrough towards Lappeenranta and our defensive fight would have been fatally troubled.
The over 2000 years old warfare teachings of Sun Tzu are still valid: a warlord who doesn't know his enemy has lost half the battle before it even commences. Same happens if he doesn't know his own forces and their abilities.
Olli Kivioja 2001
Originally published as an appendix to the press release of the 25th anniversary of the Pilvenveikot Club in 2001.
English translation: Lt(jg) Markku Herd, Finnish Navy.
Photos and transcription by Jukka O. Kauppinen.
Copyright Olli Kivioja 2001.