The three Finnish wars 1939-1945
Many people do not realize in the beginning stages of WWII tiny Finland stood alone when on November 30 1939, Stalin, believing he could rapidly crush the Finns
opened hostilities with a bomber raid over Helsinki.
Stalin at the time had a Non-Aggression pact with the government in Nazi Germany. The Soviet armed forces had just enjoyed an easy conquest of eastern Poland
and take over of the Baltic states. German military leaders stood by and watched with great interest while the Soviet army with 600,000 troops attacked in the dead
of winter over a narrow front with 2500 aircraft in support. The Finns had no military or airforce of substance, less than 48 fighters, 34 reconnaisance and 34
bombers in the inventory. Nor did they posess an indigeneous aircraft industry. They had less than 30-60 days of military supplies. The Finns got by on foreign
imports of obsolete western aircraft including Moranes, Fiats, Fokkers, Curtis Hawks, Gladiators, and Harts. The Brewster Buffalo had its moment of glory over the
frozen battlefield in the Continuation War 1941-1944.
But by the winter wars end they had only increased their stocks to about 200 machines.They even used captured and repaired Soviet aircraft and engines against
their enemy. Their aircrews however were a highly trained elite and performed incredibly against long odds and the
worst of weather conditions. They were helped by the cumbersome and inefficient methods employed by the Soviet military command at the time that restricted
individuality and initiative on the parts of none the less brave Soviet aircrews and pilots.
The western powers Britian, France, and America were decidedly pro Finnish as this and other political satire cartoons of the day poked fun at Stalins claims of
Soon volunteers began to make their way to Finland. Finlands appeal to the League of Nations council gained them even less than the Ethiopeans before them.
Political lethargy, fear and delays in securing the agreement of the other Scandinavian nations to allow an Expeditionary Force to cross their boundries prevented any
significant assistance from arriving before a armistice was declared ceeding 16000 square miles of territory after a 105 day struggle.. It was no small feat that the
Finns with their meager resources did such damage to the Soviet military in the savage battles around Soumussalmi and Viipuri that Stalin agreed to this. The resultant
lessons learned were not wasted on the Germans who studied the operations of Soviet forces to their great advantage a year and a half later. In 1941 the Finns
attacked the Soviet Union as a co-belligerent of the Germans to regain their territory. They allowed German forces to operate from bases on Finnish soil to attack
Artic convoys. In the end Finland sued for peace in September of 1944 re-ceding the regained ground to the Soviets. Some German units left Finland unmolested.
Others fought several destructive battles in the Lapland area against the Finns before leaving Finnish territory.
Note: The WWII Hakaristi or Rosen Cross was the national insignia and has long been an ancient good luck symbol in Finland. It has been used by many
societies throught history from India to the American plains native cultures. It predates and has no association with the Nazi Swastika or with Nazism. It was used as
a national insignia only on aircraft (and tanks, but tanks had different "hakaristi"-design...data courtesy Matti Yrjola).
Flying was a dream
The following story is from letters exchanged with 1st Lieutenant Kauko Aho and the kind assistance of one of his former students Ilari Laine.
Kauko and his younger brother Unto in front of the family home.
The photo is the last day of school May 29 1941.
I was born on September 14th 1922 in the small parrish of Soini in central Finland. My father was a tailor who learned his trade in New York USA and my mother
was a housewife.
Flying, as it was in all countries was a dream of young boys in Finland. My highschool was in the vicinity of the aerial warfare school. My classmates and I could see
the stunt flying often and it was a quite natural choice that I and my friends chose the airforce to enter. This is where I met my spouse already in the highschool. Her
name at the time was Hilkka Elisabet Pihajamaki. Her father was the director of a co-operative store and her mother was the teacher in the primary school. She was
one grade below me. As a rule young people couldn't get out alone before the war. My
school was about 85 kilometers from my home but I got a good upbringing, I think. We could not go home, not even every month. The 'dates' for Finnish young
people were very innocent in those days. We did not have an automobile at home. It was very uncommon in Finland before the war. The war did not have an
influence on my career, I think. It took four years 1940-44 of my life after highschool.
Very good flight training
As a rule we got the first experiment of flying with the Czech made Letov S.218, Smolik training aircraft and did our first solo with that. After six
hours training 65 landings with an instructor I was allowed to make alone my first five landings. After 30 hours and a short training I could fly a German made
Focke-Wulf FW-44 J Stieglitz, Swedish Jaktfalk, and a Finnnish made Viima (Current of Air). I was able after 15 hours of training to fly the Finnish made one wing
aeroplane Pyry (whirling snowstorm). Especially the Stieglitz and Viima were very good for stunt flying. The Pyry was good too for this purpose but was made
mainly for training before flying fighters and was at the beginning a bit tricky. One could compare it with the Hawk and Hornet today (Finlands latest front line fighter
I flew circa 21% with the Pyry of the total amount of my flying time before getting my pilots insignia, which was about 230 hours. During this training period we flew
these, many other old fighters and training airplanes: Finnish made 60 Hp. Tuisku (snowstorm), Swedish made Jakfalk 1, British made Bulldog MkIV, Gloster
Gamecock II, Gloster Gauntlet MkII, and the Fokker DXXI.
After 230 hours of training with altogether 12 different one engine aircraft types the conversion to the Blenheim was very easy. We could manage the Blenheim after
2.5 hours of introduction with an experienced BL flyer. I recollect the Blenheim was easy to manage.
The funniest thing that happened during my primary training or more exactly on my last flight in the Pyry was the following: I was leading the four aircraft Pyry patrol
against another two aircraft Pyry patrol. After a very hard fight we landed. The Pyry did easily the fault motion (stall) if anyone tried landing on 3 points with too slow
a speed. I did the landing first, and maybe a little careless and the Pyry did the fault motion. The right wing touched the surface of the airfield and broke about 1
meter from the tip. The next day was the Midsummer festival and I was afraid that I must stay in the barracks during the big festival day. But the funny thing was that
one of the mechanics had repaired the wing better than it was before the accident and nobody said anything about the whole event. Anyway I was very glad. This
was the last fly before the fighter and twin engined training and the only crash in my flying career not counting the my parachuting out of my Blenheim and the loss of
my two fellows later in the war.
"I think we got a very good and long education and training at first for fighters, about 2 years 3 months."
My career with the FAF was as follows: Elementary training and reserve officers classes from June 4 1941 to August 31 1943. During this period Kauko recieved his greatest disapointment.
"I was disappointed and angry during our fighter training after last shooting at the flying target. I was a rather good at it and it was very important for a fighter pilot.
We had altogether 10 shooting training flights with a flying target.
Four flights with a Gloster Gauntlet.
Six flights with the Fokker D.XXI.
Left photo: Last example of its kind and a beautifully restored Finnish Gloster Gauntlet. Photo By Matti Yrjölä 1995.
My results according to my log books were : Gauntlet marks, 8, 7, 10 and 10. In the Fokker the hits were 30, 45, 75, 60, 69 and 78%. After the training missions
two of my fellow trainees came up and proposed that if I could share my result in three parts we could all get our certificates and be accepted sooner. To indicate
my fellowship and get accepted sooner I agreed to their proposal to share my results of my last two training missions 69 and 78%. I got my certificate and noticed
that it was dated three days before my last gunnery missions! The point was that we all wanted to go to fighter squadrons. I though that as I was a good shooter with
78% I would have a good possibility to be a fighter pilot. I was really angry as I realized in helping the others I would get a 25% score." [note: It had not mattered as
the decision had been made before his best gunnery training missions.]
Kauko: At this time the Finnish airforces waited for 40 new Blenhiem bombers and the best
flyers were selected to take twin engine training. A few of us went on to fighter squadrons to fly fighters like the Fokker XXI, Curtis Hawk 75A, Morane Saulnier
Ms. 406, Polikarpov I-153 "Tshaikka" and so on. We got modern Messerschmitt ME-109 fighter about 10 months later.
To the Blenheim bombers
We got 7 months of training on two motor bombers. This began on September 1 1943 through March 7th 1944. One reason for the 7 months long training was that
we waited for the 55 new Blenheim from the aircraft factory. I was 21 years old when I went to the Bomber Squadron 42 in Vartsila, about 25 miles north from big
lake Laatokka which is now on the Russian side of the frontier. The extra time waiting for the Blenhiems was used by Kauko and his fellow 30 trainees flying in bad
conditions, in darkness, and winter weather. By the time they got to their units they we pretty adept at foul weather flying and masters of their aircraft. Professor Aho:
"Nothing bad or severe happened during my training and frankly speaking I tried to avoid seeing serious things so as not to be afraid. I have one younger brother
Unto who was a wireless officer in the war. "
Finnish Pilots Badge. It was eliminated by the Allied (Russian) control authorities as the swastika was to closely associated with Nazism. Professor Aho: "The badges or marks of rank were the same in the airforce and the army in Finland, but we had the so called fly badge as a "pilots insignia". The same fly badge is not in use anymore as after 1945 it was eliminated due to the swastika. [Note: The wings at the top of the page may orignally had a swastika on it as well] Kauko: "The swastika was on the very first aircraft to be delivered to the Finnish army on March 6th 1918 when it came from Sweden.
Most of the 75 Blenheim bombers Finland Air Force (FAF) were model MK II's and only 22 were the model MK IV. 40 + 15 of these Blenheims were assembled
in Finland and we got them for the front service late in the autum of 1943. "The Blenheim was very easy to fly, but
in time too slow and it could take only a small load. The radio facilities, even inner talk commuunications were uncertain. Only the last 15 pieces of Mark IV had any
kind of electronic orientation possibility. Armament was only one machine gun. Some of the bomber squadron had special symbols, but as far as I can remember we
did not have any in Lev 42 squadron. Some 'private' sign was allowed to be painted on the stabilizer during the winter war but not later."
Origins of Finlands Blenheim Air Fleet
Some research on the origins of Finlands Blenheim Air Fleet courtesy of Jason Long
NOTE: Bristol Blenheim 18 Mk I's were delivered in mid-38 from UK. 12 Mk IV's were delivered on 17 Jan 40. 12 Mk I's were delivered 26 Feb 40. Finnish
production of 15 Mk II (not a typo) was delayed by Winter War and deliveries didn't commence until 15 Jun 41 and were finished in 7 months. This supports Mr.
Aho's point on waiting for 7 months on aircraft from the factory.
LeLv 44 and LeLv 46 were the initial operators of the Blenheim Is. LeLv 46 gave its Blenheim I's to LeLv 44 when it got the new Blen IVs. LeLv 42 was formed to
fly the British-supplied Blen Is from January 40. Seven were shot down and 4 lost in accidents during the Winter War.
In June '41 LeLv 42 had 9 Blenheims, LeLv 44 had 8, and LeLv 46 had only 3. The latter was de-activated shortly after the Continuation War began. Only 7
Blenheims were operational at year's end despite deliveries of 15 new Blenheims. 20 Feb 43 LeLv 44 converted to the Ju 88A-4. LeLv 48 re-equipped with new
Blenheims on 15 November 43. When the Soviet offensive began only 29 Blenheims were available. 33 Blenheims were lost on operations during its career.
The fateful flight of BL-158
"I saw Russian fighters many times. The only ones I saw that day was when they shot down my aircraft in fire. Our target was a bridge on the Finnish frontier where
we had to destroy because the Russian troops had succeeded to cross a narrow lake there the previous night. There was the whole Finnish bomber regiment but no
fighter cover. My fateful flight took place early on the morning on August 1 1944. Takeoff was at 3.05 oclock from the small airfield at Naarajarvi in a great hurry.
The flight to the target took about an hour.
Photo for his passport. He was scheduled to go to night fighter school on August 8 1944 but the training never materialised.
I had to bale out of my Blenheim BL-158 at 4:30. An Aircobra in the first attack shot the horizontal tail-plane and the steering cable was cut through. It was difficult to pilot the height of the plane with out the horizontal stabilizer when flying
at very low. After the attack a Soviet La-5 attacked another five times setting the left fuel tank on fire
and knocking out the right engine. I could not see the Russian at al from my position.
The rear gunner/radio operator was wounded fatally and could not tell me the enemys postition. The observer was afraid to jump from the plane, it may have been because we were already so low. He finally understood that is was the only
possibility to be saved, but before the jump he drew the cable out of the parachute, it opened and grabbed the tailplane. When i saw the plane was empty I baled out
after the observer drew out the relief cable (ripcord) and the parachute opened. I fell uninjured on the top of a high pine, quite close to the coast of a lake. The height
when I left the plane was under 100 yards. I lost my observer and rear gunner/radio operator. We lost 3 bombers, 2 Blenheims and one Donier DO-17. The
duration of the whole event was only five minutes. The name of the lake where I and my aircraft fell was is Tohmajarvi and is still today on the Finnish side of the
[Note: Less than one month later Finland negotiated a separate peace based on the 1940 armistace agreement with Russia and the war came to an end. As part of
the agreement German forces were to leave Finland and a brief localized flareup of hostilities concluded in October with the withdrawl of German troops into
The Blenheim is very close to my heart as I flew 35 missions with the it in squadron 42 against the Soviets and later the Germans troops in Lapland. I flew many
aircraft due to maintenance including BL-158 (lost), 155, 160, 161, 162, 167 and 178.
Against the Germans
The war against the Germans was hard due to bad weather, long distances and accurate anti-aircraft fire. The german anti-aircraft fire could shoot precise also in
cloud by aid of radar.
It was not so very pleasant to fight against people who had helped us only some months ago. But war was war this time. Another of my observers had to jump by
parachute in the war of Lappi, This time he was not with me. He had to stay a prisoner in Germany for almost a year. He did not have very much to complain about.
The variation of active front service is very high but my pilot course class was in front service for about a year and the casualty rate was altogether 13 out of 83 or
about 15.6%. 27 pilots of us were in three bomber squadrons and the casualty rate was 6 out of 27 or 22%. Of 26 fighter pilots in my course in 2 squadrons the
losses were 3 out of 26 or 11.5%. I do not have any photos of my crew or aircraft and it was a superstition not to have these taken. We also had a curious manner
(practice) that the pilots did not participate in the breifings." [note: The navigators and other crew members were responsible for this.]
During the war Professor Aho was awarded the Order of the Cross of Liberty 4th Class with Swords on 25/8/44 and the award again on 29/12/44 with oakleaf cluster.
Two pilots out of the 87 in professors Aho's training class were awarded this second decoration. The professor only says that he is not really sure why he got the
second award as he feels he was only doing his duty. On 6/12/1984 he was awarded the Cross of the First grade of the White Rose ..
Commemorative Medal of the Continuation War 1941-45
Photos thanks to Hendrik Meersschaert.
"Order of the Cross of Liberty 4th Class with Swords" (Vapaudenristi miekoilla), 25.8.1944.
"Order of the Cross of Liberty 4th Class with Swords and Oakleaf Cluster" (Vapaudenristi miekoilla ja tammenlehvillä), 29.12.1944.
Cross of the First grade of the White Rose (Valkoisen ruusun mitali, ensimmäinen luokka), 6.12.1984.
Commemorative Medal of the Continuation War 1941-45(Jatkosodan muistomitali).
The lottas and Aho's wife-to-be, Hilkka
Almost all of the aerial control and weather control personel, teleprinter operators, trained nurses and provisioning personel were women as well as in the Airforces
and in the whole Finnish Army.
Hilkka Elisabet Pihajamaki (Aho) was a member of the Lotta Svard and worked in the cadets club house (canteen) at the military flying school. She later taught
matematics in helsinki and Tampere. In the spring of 1944 we became engaged.
(Note:) The womens auxiliary was known as the Lotta Svard (Sword)organization. Lotta was a folk hero from the Napoleonic wars. The Finnish version of a Molly
Pitcher they were often exposed to direct fire. Approximately 100,000 women and girls served and did much to relieve Finlands chronic manpower shortage. They
had a creed as follows. Be not ostentatious in either habit or dress: humility is a priceless virtue. Their uniform was designed to insure chastity reflecting these Puritan
values. Heavy black stockings, long shapeless grey dresses and floppy garrison hats. The uniforms of the American W.A.A.C Womens Army Air Corps looked
daringly provocative in comparison.
After the war
After the war I studied and obtained my acedemic degrees in technology at the Helsinki University of Technology, also at the Lappeenranta University of technology.
Kauko and Hilkka happy that the war is over and their wedding day.
I later obtained the degree of Doctor of technology. After 21 years in industrial and research work I was one year as professor in Engineering in Lappeenranta
University of technology and after that the chair of professors in Engineering Design At Tampere University of Technology.
I retired in 1987 at 65. I was made an Honorary 'Old Timer' for the Guild of Students of Mechanical Engineering at Tampere University of Technology in 1992. I
have a PC at home but do not desire outside connections, though I can use the university facilities I do that very seldom. I still work a lot today at my specialties:
design methods, mechanical vibrations and tribology (friction, wear and lubrication). I also act as a referee for a couple of International Journals: the Journal of
Engineering Tribology (Proceedings of the institution of Mechanical Engineers Part J) and the Journal of Engineering Design.
Professor Aho is involved with the Finnish Pilots Association called "Pilvenveikko" and acted as its president until 2001.
At a dinner and still involved in cross country (90 km / 56 miles) skiing with daughter Leena out front in 1994.
Professor Aho on Pilvenveikko
It takes its name from the story by the Finnish national poet J.L. Runeberg of a vagrant boy who with great courage fought the Russians in the war of 1808. The
Russians annexed Finland but the boy did not surrender and drove many of the Russian soldiers from his village. Pilvi = Cloud and Veikko = brother, Pilvenveikko
means brother of the clouds. This word Pilvenveikko has a very high national significance to the Finns.
Professor Aho and Hilkka obviously love the outdoors as do most of the citizens of Finland.
On the Fells of Lapland - Wandering the fells and on the bank of Lake Paijanne, ice is stranded behind them.
My wife and I have two girls Leena and Marja Elisabeth. They do not need to enter military service. The older is a nurse and the younger a medical doctor.
The FAF and "Tin Henry"
The FAF bomber force was a tactical airforce serving as ground support against gun emplacements and troop concentrations. It did make several attacks on
Soviet bases in Estonia to boost civilian morale and to show the Soviets that it could be done. The Blenheim known as the TIN HENRY's (Pelti Heikki)to their crews. According
to Professor Aho, Finnish pilots had only a 1300 to 2200 US lb load capability depending on the bomb racks being used and true operational 240 mph speed at sea
level increasing to 270 mph at 4000 meters. Couple that with light armament, armor and a nasyt habit of bursting into flame it is no surprise that missions were flown
primarily at dawn and dusk. Supplies of aircraft trickled into Finland but never enought to tip the scales.
It was in a Bristol Blenheim marked with the Finnish Rosen Cross (Straight Swastika) that Wally Lashbrookwas first "blooded" by antiaircraft fire. Not by the
enemys but by his own. He was ferrying the aircraft straight fromt he factory in Bristol to Liverpool for shipment to the Finnish airforce. The aircraft had been painted
with the Finnish national insignia on the wings and rudder. This symbol was mistaken by the gunners at Cheltenham for Nazi symbols and there were several near
misses. The gunners thought they were firing at a German JU88.
Swedish volunter pilots flying Hawker Harts brought down Soviet bombers in the one sided Winter War of 1939/40. Sweedish made Jaktfalk fighter trainer.
Aircraft were often assembled at Swedish airfields and tested before being transferred to the Finns. The best Finnish fighters of that period often chased Soviet bombers that only were marginally slower then their
aircraft. Finnish anti-aircraft is estimated to have shot down almost 800 russian aircraft while the fighter force claimed 240 confirmed kills for 26 losses. Some of the
greatest aces of the war came out of Finland. Their bomber pilots flew sorties in aircraft abandoned by both Britian and Germany as obsolete to great effect.
FAF order of battle
ORDER OF BATTLE AT THE TIME OF MR. AHO'S SERVICE
Note: Professor Aho indicates that LeLv 44 had 8 Bristol Blenheims but after February 20th 1944 converted to JU88 A4's.
LeLv 10 4 Fokker C.Vd/e
LeLv 12 3 Gloster Gladiators, 2 flights of D. XXI, 8 Fokker C.X.
LeLv 14 4 Gloster Gladiators, 7 Hawk H75A-4, some Fokker C.Vd/e.
LeLv 16 Flight of Fokker C.Xs, flight of Westland Lysanders, some Fokker C.Vd/e
LeLv 24 42 Brewster B-239s.
LeLv 26 c. 31 Fiat G.50s.
LeLv 28 29 Morane-Saulnier MS 406
LeLv 30 flight of Hawker Hurricane Is, flight of Fokker D. XXI.
LeLv 32 36 Fokker D. XXI
LeLv 42 9 Bristol Blenheims.
LeLv 44 8 Bristol Blenheims.
LeLv 46 3 Bristol Blenheims, 4 Ilyushin DB-3Ms
LeLv 6 2 F.K. 52, 4 Tupolev SB-2, and 5 Polikarpov I-153 3 Hover MF-11, some Blackburn Ripon IIs
Last modified: 2002-05-24 22:07