The Ilmailuvoimat, Finland’s air force, is one of the oldest
official independent aviation forces in the world. During the revolution in
1917, the Finns saw a chance to break away from the Russian empire and become
an independent country. Their war of independence began in December 1917 under
General Gustaf Mannerheim. In February 1918, the first of two donated aircraft
arrived to assist Finland’s White Army. The first aircraft was a Nordiska
Aviatik-built Albatros two-seater. It arrived in Kokkola from Sweden on 25
February 1918. The second donated aircraft, a Thulin D, came from Count Eric
Von Rosen, a Swedish explorer. His donation, flown by Lieutenant Nils Kindberg,
arrived on 4 March 1918. Rosen had painted a blue swastika, his personal
good-luck symbol, on the fuselage of the plane. This blue swastika became the
Ilmailuvoimat’s official insignia, an unfortunate resemblance to Nazi Germany’s
black swastika. By 10 March 1918, the Ilmailuvoimat was officially formed and
given its own commander.
Shortly thereafter, the Ilmailuvoimat acquired a rather
motley collection of aircraft, but enough to complete two flying divisions.
These aircraft were Thulin Ds, Nodiska-built Albatros B. Is and C. IIIs,
several captured Russian Nieuport 10 and 23s, as well as Shchetinin M5, M9,
M15, and M16 hydroplanes-a total of 47 aircraft of 19 different types. During
World War I, the aircraft were used for reconnaissance and limited
bomb-dropping. Recruits went to Germany for training until June 1919, when a
French military mission arrived with 12 pilots under the command of Major Raoul
Etienne to initiate training at home.
The Finns spent 20 million Swiss francs to purchase 20
Breguet 14 B-2 reconnaissance planes and 12 Georges Levy hydroplanes, but they
soon recognized the need for an indigenous aircraft factory. In 1920, the same
year as the peace treaty with Russia, the Ilmailuvoimien Lentokonetehdas (Aviation
Force Aircraft Factory) was created and concentrated on Hansa Brandenburg W 33
monoplane floatplanes. Floatplanes and hydroplanes predominated during the
years between the wars, upon the advice of a British mission that arrived in
1924. Early in the 1920s, the Ilmailuvoimat was also tasked with aerial
photographic survey duties, a mission it carries out today.
Finland’s military commanders realised during the 1930`s
that the deteriorating situation in Europe was putting a lasting peace in
jeopardy and so it was necessary to draw up a series of arms purchasing plans
in precaution against war. Aircraft used by the Finnish Air Force during its
first few years of existence were of a wide variety and were unsuitable for
After many years a basic 5-year plan was drawn up in 1937 to
include 11 flying squadrons and 4 ground liaison squadrons totalling 52
aircraft. 1 sea liaison squadron with 13 aircraft, 3 long range squadrons
totalling 27 aircraft and 3 fighter squadrons with 81 aircraft. Insufficient
funds meant that even as late as the autumn of 1939 very few units had been
equipped with new aircraft. Worst of were the fighter squadrons where one unit was
fully equipped and the other two were only partially equipped.
After the fall of Poland the Soviet Union started to better
its positions in the Baltic direction. Russia had already occupied half of
Poland in accordance to a secret pact with Germany. Now the three Baltic States
of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania soon found themselves under Soviet control. By
mid-October Soviet troops and part of the Baltic Red Banner Fleet had moved to
the Southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Finland’s military position with
respect to the Soviet Union had taken severe setback.
On October 5th the Soviet Union proposed negotiations to the
Finnish Government on questions relating to the defence of Leningrad. It was
put to the Finns that the border be moved back a considerable distance towards
the west on the Karelian Isthmus, four outlying island in the Gulf of Finland
be surrendered and the Hanko Peninsula in Finland’s south western tip be leased
to the Soviets. All this in exchange for territorial concessions offered in Petchenga
and Eastern Karelia.
The negotiations held between the two countries proved
fruitless and were discontinued on November 28th. The Soviet Union annulled the
non-aggression pact signed between the two countries in 1932. Two days later on
the 30th November 1939 the Soviet Union invaded. The Winter War was about to
The Finnish Forces centred along the border with the Soviet
Union was made up of three Army Corps stationed between the Gulf of Finland and
Ilomantsi, while the area from Ilomantsi to the Arctic Ocean was covered only
by small separate detachments. The armed forces were commanded by Marshall
The Air Defence, commanded by Major General J F Lundqvist,
included the Air Force together with the Anti-aircraft and the Air SurvellanceTroops.
At the outbreak of the Winter War, the Air Defence was divided into two Flying
Lentorykmentti 2 (2nd Flying Regiment, LentoR.2)
36 Fokker D.XXIs in Lentolaivue 24 (24th Flying Squadron,
10 Bristol Bulldogs in LLv.26.
LLv.24 was based at Immola and LLv.26 was based at Raulampi.
8 Bristol Blenheim Mk.Is in LLv.44
8 Bristol Blenheim Mk.Is in LLv.46 both based at
The two fighter squadrons were to be used for mainly
intercept missions behind the front lines on the Karelian Isthmus.
LentoR.l was the main reconnaissance regiment and consisted
of LLv.12 with 13 Fokker C.Xs based at Suur-Merijoki and LLv.14 with 4 Fokker
C.Xs and 7 Fokker C.Vs based at Laikko.
LLv.12 was to be used to support the 2nd Army Corps on the
western side of the Karilean Isthmus while LLv.14 supported the 3rd Army on the
eastern side. LLv.10, which had received dive-bomber training, was placed at
LentoR.ls disposal and was equipped with 12 Fokker C.Vs.
The 4th Army Corps was entrusted to defend the area between
Lake Ladoga and Ilomantsi with a total of 2 infantry divisions. Five separate
battalions were placed along the border in front of these as front line
LLv.16 from LentoR.1 was subordinated to the 4th Army Corps.
Two of the squadron’s flights were based at Varssila and were equipped with a
total of 8 Blackburn Ripons. Another flight with 4 Junkers K-43s was
subordinated to Ladoga Sea Defence based at Lahdenpohja, from where it moved to
northern Finland in late December.
The area from Ilomantsi and the Arctic Ocean was defended by
a few separate detachments only. These consisted of two battalions east of
Lieksa, one battalion in the Kuhmo-Suomussalmi-Kuusamo-Salle area and a
strengthened company at Petsamo. There were no Air Force units in these areas.
LLv.36 was subordinated to the Navy and operated in the Gulf
of Finland from its base at Kallvik, east of Helsinki equipped with 6 Ripons.
Additionally the Navy had 2 Junkers K-435 based at Marichamn inland.
At the outbreak of the Winter War the Finnish Air Force
possessed some 301 aircraft of all types, of these about 114 were war worthy
aircraft. Against them the Soviet Union could call upon well over 3,500
aircraft most of which were far superior to anything the Finns operated. The
principal aircraft types used by the Soviet Air Force in the Winter War were,
Polikarpov 1-15, 1-153 and 1-16 fighters, Tupolev SB, TB-3 and Ilyushin DB-3
bombers, Polikarpov R-5 and U-2 reconnaissance, with Beriev MBR-2 for maritime
At the outbreak of the war on 30th November 1939, the Soviet
ground forces launched an offensive along the whole of the eastern border
between the two countries. The Soviets attacked in three main areas, the first
was in the south on the Karelian Isthmus but their advance was soon stopped by
Finland’s Isthmus Army. The second line of attack was in Eastern Karelia, N of
Lake Ladoga. The Soviet troops had driven as far as Kollaa and Tolvajarvi but
were forced back to Aittojoki, where the front line was to remain unchanged for
the rest of the war. The third push was intended to cut the country in half at
its narrowest point. The offensive by the Soviet 9th Army in the Kuhmo, Suomussalmi
and Salla areas soon ground to a halt after fierce defensive battles by the
Why did the Finnish Air Force use the swastika as the
national marking between 1918 and 1945?
Why is the swastika still part of badges of Air Force units?
The swastika has been used since ancient times both as an
ornament and a motif. It is known to appear, among other applications, in the
sewing works of the Finno-Ugric peoples until the modern days. The swastika is
very often construed as a symbol of good luck.
The first publicly displayed swastika motif in Finland is
probably the swastika ornament around Akseli Gallen-Kallela s Aino triptych
from 1891. This painting is currently hung in the stateroom of the Bank of
Finland in Helsinki. The armed forces of Finland adopted the swastika during
the Civil War in 1918. Swedish Count Eric von Rosen donated the White Army a
Thulin type D airplane in Vaasa on March 6, 1918. On the wings he had painted
blue swastikas, his personal motif of good luck, in Umee on March 2, before the
airplane took off for the crossing of Gulf of Bothnia. After landing in Vaasa
the airplane was incorporated as Aircraft Number 1 in the parc d avions of
Finland, later to be renamed the Aviation Force. It was therefore decided to
adopt the blue swastika on a white circular background as the national marking,
and this was retained until 1945 when it was superseded by the current roundel
due to a directive issued by the Allied Control Commission. The directive,
however, did not require that the symbol be replaced in other Air Force symbols
and flags where it remains in use.
Students of interwar (1920-30s) period air units probably
know that Latvia also used a similar version of the svastika as a marking on
aircraft of the Latvian air-service from ca. 1918-1934. The Letts referred to
the swastika as both the Thunder Cross and Fire Cross (Perkonkrusts, and
Urgunskrusts), the former also the name of an indigenous Latvian fascist
movement before the Second World War. During the tumultuous period of the Russian
Civil War, and the Finnish and Latvian Wars of Independence, many Finns, joined
by Swedes, Letts, Estonians, and German Freikorps volunteers, fought the Red
Bolsheviks all across the Baltikum, some with flags and unit crests emblazoned
with the *lucky* swastika as a symbol of independence rather than the racist
genocidal aryanism it later assumed under the Nazis.