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Brewster 239 in Finnish service (part 2)

continued from part 1


Fighter Squadron 24 - the Lynx Squadron

The Brewsters were delivered to Squadron 22 at first, but they were taken away almost immediately and given to veteran Squadron 24, commanded by Major G. Magnusson. (This kind of sudden plane changes were usual in the Finnish Air Force. Sometimes good fighter pilots were transferred to the bomber squadrons and bomber pilots into fighters. Sometimes, as with Finnish Hurricanes and Curtiss-75's, right after the pilots had just got used to fly planes the planes were transferred to another squadron...)

During the Winter War Squadron 24 had been very succesful, having 89 kills with Fokker DXXI's against 8 planes lost in air combat. The Squadron 24 was extremely well trained pre-war unit and has been sometimes considered to be womb of Finnish fighter aviation. For the pilots, the new Brewsters were a pleasant surprise. Armament was far better than Fokker's 0.303 caliber "toy guns", speed was excellent and they had even an retractable undercarriage. Brewster was also proved to be easy plane to fly, new pilots who had logged only 100 flight hours were completely ready for Brewsters.

During the peacetime period of 14th of March 1940 - to 24th of June 1941 the LeLv. 24 (Lentolaivue, Squadron) trained hard and lost two planes in crashes. One plane was seriously damaged. Some modifications were made, most visible being the change of small, hard rear wheel into 12x4 inch wheelbarrow wheel which was more suitable for grass field operations. The original natural metal finish was covered with camouflage. Also, seat armour was added.

Squadron 24, 25.6. 1941 to 21.5. 1944

During the period of 25th of June 1941 - 21st of May 1944, when the Squadron 24 finally traded in it's Brewsters to Squadron 26 and started using Messerschmitt 109G-2's and G-6's, the Squadron shoot down 459 Soviet planes, while losing 15 planes in aerial combat, 4 planes in crashes, 2 in bombings. So the kill ratio was 30.6 to 1. Twelve pilots were killed and two were captured. Best kill ratio was achieved in 1941 when 135 Soviet planes were shot down against the loss of 2 planes and 2 pilots, so the kill ratio was 67.5 to one! Of course there's issue about verifying kills. But in fact, when the Karelian Isthmus was recaptured by the Finnish Army in 1941, the Ground Forces found 42 unaccounted Soviet planes clearly shoot down by the Finnish Air Force. (judging from bullets.) The best Brewster pilots (and the best in Finnish Air Force) were Captain Hans Wind with 39 kills and Staff Sergeant Ilmari Juutilainen with 34 kills. Later on both gained huge numbers of kills with Messerschmitts, but that's another story. (There's an excellent book in english about Ilmari Juutilainen, called "Double Fighter Knight" Information about it in bibliography)

The Start:

Operation Barbarossa started in 22nd of June 1941. Finnish Defence Forces had been covertly participating in it, such as flying recon flights and mining with submarines. Also, the German Forces were permitted to use Northern Finland as a base against Soviet Union. Finland wasn't yet in war, officially, but was very supportive, since the war promised an opportunity to regain territories which were lost in the Winter War, and possibly even some additional territories as war reparations, thus fulfilling dream of the nationalists, the Great Finland. (Suur-Suomi) Also, it was especially feared that if Finland didn't join Hitler's fight against Soviet Union, then the Finland would be attacked by Nazi Germany first, and then by "friendly" Soviet Union.

In 25th of June, when the actual fighting started with massive attack of 500 Soviet bombers against cities and military targets in Southern Finland, the Finnish Air Force had three front-line and two second line fighter squadrons.

Squadron 28 with 23 Morane Saulnier 406's (3rd best)

Squadron 26 with 16 Fiat G50's (2nd best) and a flight of 7 Hawker Hurricane I's (training. There were pilots for them but the planes were transferred into another squadron...(!)

52 second-line Fokker DXXI's in Squadron 30 and Squadron 32

Squadron 24 with 37 Brewster 239's (The Best) commander Major Gustaf Erik Magnusson, based at Vesivehmaa field, near the city of Lahti in Southern Finland.

commander Major Gustaf Erik Magnusson
1st Flight (Lentue), Capt Eino Luukkanen (9 Brewsters)
2nd Flight, Capt Leo Ahola (8 Brewsters)
3nd Flight, Ltn Jorma Karhunen (8 Brewsters)
4th Flight, Ltn Per-Erik Sovelius (8 Brewsters)

(The nominal organization for the Fighter Squadron was: 24 planes, divided into 3 eight-plane Flights, divided into 2 four-plane Swarms (Parvi), divided into 2 two-plane Elements This was the basis of combat organization and it was modified when necessary. For example, it would had been unwise to divide Brewsters into two squadrons thus making logistics and training more difficult.)

Soviet Union had deployed following air forces close to Finland:
14th Army Air Force
7th Army Air Force
23rd Army Air Force
Leningrad Air Defense Force
Arctic Navy
Baltic Navy
with total of about 1000 combat aircraft. DB-3 and SB-2 were mainstay of the bomber force, while I-153 and I-16, together with some MiG-1's provided the fighter forces.

The combat use in has been well explained in the book "Suomen Ilmavoimien historia 1: Brewster Model 239" by K. Keskinen, K. Stenman and K. Niska, ISBN 951-9035-16-8 or ISBN 952-5026-02-7, which has also comprehensive English summary and individual plane histories in english. But here's some highlights, and some basic info.

The Offensive phase of Continuation War (1941):

The Finnish attack to regain lost territories began in 10th of July 1941. The offensive was succesful, and was stopped in November 1941 after the lost territories in Karelian Isthmus were regained, and in north of Lake Ladoga, when the Syvari river was reached. Then the Finnish Army dug in and mainly spent idle time until 9th of June 1944.

During the Attack Phase the Squadron 24 didn't usually operate as a squadron, but rather as flights. Main role was to keep air superiority and Brewsters were very succesful in this role. 135 aircraft, mostly I-153 and I-16 fighters were shot down. 2 planes were lost in air combat, both pilots were killed.

In the end of 1941 the Squadron was based in Eastern Karelia.

The Static War, 1942 to May 1944:

In the beginning of 1942 the Soviets tried hard to combat Brewsters. Nevertheless, the Brewsters had quite total air superiority over their combat area, which was Eastern Karelia, even the new Hurricanes were no match for experienced pilots.

There were several instances that when the Brewsters were sighted the Soviet planes retreated. In fact, for some time it seemed that all Soviet planes had completely disappeared, but the mystery was solved when two Soviet partisans with binoculars and a radio set were found near the main Brewster base. Thus the Soviets were so afraid of Brewsters that they didn't risk their planes at all when there was even a slight possibility of confronting Brewsters!

Instead of air superiority duties, strafing and escort missions were flown over Eastern Karelia. They were officially discouraged since many planes had been badly damaged by the Soviet AAA.

In 4th of June 1942 the 3rd Flight protected der Fuhrer's personal Focke-Wulf Condor during his visit to Marshal Mannerheim's 75th birthday. (Mannerheim didn't like him at all. After all, Mannerheim was a keen hunter and Marshal, Hitler was a vegetarian and only a corporal.)

In August 1942 the main part of squadron was transferred into Karelian Isthmus with orders to combat Soviets over the Gulf Of Finland. These operations were very succesful. In period of 13th-20th of August 39 Soviet planes were shot down against loss of single Brewster.

In 1943 the new Soviet fighter types began to appear, and combatting them was starting to get hard. Most of the battles were fought in spring and autumn. The biggest battle for Finnish Brewsters ever was in 21st of April 1943 over the Gulf Of Finland, when sixteen Brewsters combatted 35 Soviets. Four LaGG-3's, four LaG-5's and eleven Yak-1's were brought down against the loss of two Brewsters.

During the next winter even more modern fighter types, such as La-5's and Yak-9's appeared. Brewsters managed to shoot down only four of them. This was a clear sign of Brewsters age.

HavLlv 26, Fighter Squadron 26

Before Brewsters the Fighter Squadron 26 had flown Fiat G.50 planes which were by 1944 even more outdated than Brewsters and therefore the pilots were quite happy with Brewsters. The Brewsters arrived mainly during the May. 2 planes were transferred during the summer from major maintenance at the VL (State Aircraft Factory). In 25th of May the squadron was commanded by Major L. Larjo and had 18 Brewsters organized into two Flights.

First combat flights were flown in 27th of May 1944.

continued in part 3