Dan Ford's books
For print editions of Dan's books, go here      For the e-books, go here

Brewster 239 in Finnish service (part 3)

continued from part 2

Stopping the invincible sledgehammer of Red Army

In the 9th of June 1944 the Soviet Union started massive attack against Finland, mainly in the Karelian isthmus with "We will give deadly punch to the Finnish henchmen of Hitler - we shall drive the Finnish invaders out of the land of Soviets, we'll avenge all the evil things they have done and save the renowned city of Lenin" being their official battlecry. After grim, bloody battles the attack was stopped in mid-July, thus being only of the nine major Soviet offensives in 1944 which failed. And of course Brewsters took part stopping it, by acting as interceptors against Soviet raids. They were however only in supplementary roles, main fighters for summer battles in 1944 were Messerschmitts.

The fighting was hard for old Brewsters, the new Soviet planes were faster, better armed and faster climbers, and some of the Soviet pilots weren't as incompetent as before. Nevertheless 17 kills were achieved, against loss of 4 planes shoot down and 3 destroyed in bombings. Two pilots were killed.

In 4th of September the cease-fire between SU and Finland was signed and the Continuation War was over.

Brewsters against Germany

But the war wasn't over for Brewsters. According to cease-fire agreement signed between SU and Finland all German troops had to leave Finland by 15th of September. In Southern Finland they left nicely, except for trying to assault island of Suursaari and in process suffering some 2500 casualties. But in Northern Finland it was another story. The whole 200 000 men German 20th Mountain Army was in Lapland, and even if it wanted to, it couldn't just retreat from such large area in eleven days.

Thus the war between Finland and Germany, known as the Lapland War, started in 1st of October 1944 and ended in 25th of April when the last German troops retreated into Norway. The Brewsters were considered to be best available fighters for this war since they had long endurance, and therefore the 13 remaining Brewsters participated in fighting. In 3rd of October 1944 the Brewsters covered Finnish landings in Tornio and achieved the final aerial victories of Brewsters, two Ju-87D's and one Ju-88. Main role of Brewsters during this war was reconnaissance, and no aerial opposition was met. Because of highly accurate radar-guided German FLAK heavy casualties were suffered. 4 Brewsters were shoot down by FLAK and 2 pilots were killed. Two planes were lost in accidents. In January 1945 the squadron was disbanded and all seven surviving Brewsters were sent for refurbishment in VL.

There was slight possibilty that refurbished Brewsters would be used against Germans again during the spring, but the last German troops retreated out of Finland in 27th of April 1945, thus ending the last war independent Finland has had to fought.

So ended the four years and seven months of continuous Brewster combat operations in FAF colours. 476 Soviet and 3 German planes were shot down, 19 Brewsters were shot down in air-to-air combat, the final kill ratio thus being 1-to-25.2.

After the war

The seven remaining planes completed refurbishment in slow pace by the end of 1945 and were used for liaison duties by Air Force Staff flight. (Esikuntalentue) Two planes were abandoned because of slight accidents in 1946. (There were so much surplus planes that repair wasn't considered useful.)

Five remaining Brewsters operated until fall 1948. Last flights of Brewsters in Finnish Air Force were flown by BW-377 and BW-382 were in 14th of September 1948. Shamefully, all five remaining planes were scrapped.

There is an urban legend that only a week after the scrappings an American film company contacted FAF, wanting to buy Brewsters with big money for making films about Midway and Singapore... (Main source for this part: "Suomen Ilmavoimien historia I: Brewster...")

TACTICS

The Soviet air combat tactics were usually very predictable. The basic flight element and formation consisted of three planes flying tight-vee. Soviet flight discipline was very good, daredevils were not very usual. Some Soviet were very good pilots. But majority weren't. Air-to-air gunnery wasn't very good, it wasn't unusual that Soviet planes started shooting at the Brewsters from distance of 1000 meters or even more! Soviet rifle-calibre mg's also lacked the power to kill Brewsters.

One of the most usual tactics was so-called "Spanish Ring", (developed during the Spanish Civil War) in which the planes flew tight circle, and so if the enemy tried to turn behind one plane, there was always plane behind him. The Ring was intended to stay above the enemy. When there was an opportunity to attack, only one of the three planes attacked, rest two staying as high cover.

The Soviet air combat tactics were usually very predictable. One of the most usual tactics with slow planes was so-called "Spanish Ring", in which the planes flew tight circle, and so if the enemy tried to turn behind one plane, there was always plane behind him. It was countered by the Finns by so called Pendulum tactic which was vertical; dive in from high, climb up and do the same thing again. Later on, more experienced and faster Soviet planes started using similar tactics and of course they were countered by starting a dogfight.

According to many Finnish pilots and Soviet POW's, the Soviet mission pre-planning was usually very comprehensive and clever, but the Soviet flight commanders, while some of them were very good pilots, weren't very clever tacticians, thus the advantage gained by good planning was usually lost.

Soviet close escort fighters were always eager to action, and fulfilled their role well, but Soviet high cover fighters didn't usually have will for a long fight.

Finnish:

The basic Finnish formation was similar to USAAF's Four Fingers and Luftwaffe's Schwarm. As with the USAAF and Luftwaffe, it was developed independently. It was taken into use quite early, in 1935. Sometimes, when larger formations were available, it was used with 8 planes, so four-plane Swarms were practically used in place of Elements. Emphasis was placed for the best tactician, regardless of rank, being the leader. It was standard procedure that the least experienced new pilots were assigned to be wingmen of the most experienced pilots.

As with the Luftwaffe, there wasn't anykind of "Tour of Duty" system. But despite lack of it, there wasn't shortage of new, well trained pilots since the prewar training system had made many reserve pilots and functioned well throughout the war. Main problem was the shortage of modern fighter airplanes. This lead many times into almost suicidal emergency landings in attempts to save precious airframes.

Soviet "Spanish Ring" was countered by the Finns by so called Pendulum tactic which was vertical; dive in from high, climb up and do the same thing again. In numerous prewar exercises it had been proved that this tactic would provide highest kill ratios. The Fokker D.XXI's used during the Winter War couldn't be used this way, since their climb, speed and diving qualities weren't good enough, but the Brewsters were the right planes for it. (This was one of the chief reasons for Brewster's popularity.)

Later on, more experienced and faster Soviet planes started using similar tactics against Brewsters and of course they were countered by starting a conventional dogfight. This tactic wasn't so succesful, and kill ratios, while always favouring Finns, started getting worse and heavy casualties were sometimes suffered.

Flight discipline was pressed, but in large dogfights it was hard to keep anykind of tactical formations.

In the pre-war FAF, air-to-air gunnery was considered essential and was trained very hard, main emphasis being shooting from dive. It was in high standard throughout the war. Finnish pilots weren't just trained to hit airplanes, they were taught to hit specific parts of airplanes.

Aid from the Finnish Air Force Ground Control, from Radio Intelligence in particular was very good from early 1943 onwards. Soviet pilots didn't use anykind of code language and were usually very talkative, so the Ground Control was often able to give very useful information to Brewster Pilots, such as "There's a Soviet formation of four LaGG-3's over you". It wasn't unusual that the Ground Control could tell who was piloting a particular plane. Also, kill verification was easier since the Intelligence could use actual Soviet Reports which were often radioed. (They were coded, of course, but since Radio Intelligence managed to break all Soviet it didn't matter.)

Finally, there was the strong fighter pilot spirit. Morale stayed skyhigh throughout the war, from the golden days of 1941 to climactic, harsh battles of summer 1944. The principle of attacking, regardless of numbers, to gain advantage was honoured.

Brewster tactics against individual plane models:

I-16, I-153: Especially suited for Pendulum tactic, use your speed advantagee, try to make the fight quite long, since both of them had very low endurance compared to a Brewster.

Hurricane Mk II: Straight from the Hans Wind, the top-scoring Brewster ace, while keeping a lecture to new fighter pilots: "Hurricane is the easiest enemy plane to shoot down. Under 3000 metres (9000ft) it's no match for us. It's slow and very clumsy and stiff. When you meet a Hurricane, immediately start a dogfight, then it can only depend on our good will. Aim to the front part of it, then it usually flares up" (This was taken from the "Lent{j{n n{k|kulma II")

SB-2, DB-3: Easy...You have both the speed and agility + a powerful armament. Usual tactic was to attack from the rear, kill or injure the rear gunner and then lit up the engines.

LaGG-3, MiG-1, MiG-3 and other fast Soviet fighters: Dogfight them in low altitude.

Pe-2, Douglas A-20 Boston: Dive in from high. They're faster than you, you can't catch them in a level flight.

Il-2: ("The Agricultural Aeroplane") There's a weak spot in the upper side of the wing's root. It usually ignites if you hit it. Another was to shoot at the cocpit from above.

Normally it was a policy to use only four planes on a patrol flight, but by the end of the 1943 larger formations of 8 to 16 planes, normally schwarms in multiple altitudes, had to be used.

Specials

Brewster's three or four heavy MG's were found to be very useful for destroying locomotives, since they had enough power to rupture their boilers.

In some special withdrawal instances Thach Weave was used against Soviet planes. (Yet another tactical invention invented in many places at the same time)

One especially annoying Soviet tactic was used against Brewster base in Tiiksjarvi. It was to use single R-5's, small, slow single-engine biplanes for night action. Their effect was mainly psychological, but since they prevented sleeping and caused constant alertness it might be considered succesful. This tactic was countered by bringing specially trained Luftwaffe FLAK battery to the base. It stopped the night intruders completely.

Some Soviet fighters were fitted with rocket launching rails and sometimes these were used for air-to-air combat, but this tactic didn't gain anykind of success.

Sometimes the Soviet planes were used as a bait to lure Finnish fighters to fly over heavy AAA concentrations. However, no Brewsters were brought down by the Soviet AAA.

Ramming wasn't used against FAF by the Soviets, at not least intentionally.

And for further information . . .

[FILE] Technical notes