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Robert Winston and the Finnish Brewsters, 1940 (part 2)

continued from part 1

Armistice on the 13th of March 1940

On the 7th of March 1940 there were nine Brewsters in Finland and Robert Winston suggested to Bremer that the Finns should start to use the operationally. Bremer replied that they would wait until they have twelve aircraft in Finland and then commence operations.

In the evening the representative of the Wright Engine Factory, Mr. Vernon Ash told that only one cylinder in the Brewster that made the belly landing had to be changed. The pilot had been running the engine at too high power settings.

A team of Norwegian maintainers arrived at Trollhättan and that boosted the assembly rate to three aircraft per day. On the 10th of March one Finnish pilot with 150 hrs (10 hrs in fighters) lands one Brewster with the gear down-lock not fully engaged resulting in the main gear collapsing during the landing run and the propeller bending.

The armistice that ended the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union was signed on the 13th of March 1940. At that time Finland still had only nine Brewsters in-country and they were not used in operational duties during the Winter War.

On the 14th of March the Finns were training again over Trollhättan with half a dozen Brewsters. In Mid-March half of the 44 Brewsters had been assembled and 16 of them were already in Finland and seven more waiting for the ferry flight.

At the same time there were six Lysander reconnaissance aircraft at Trollhättan on their way from England to Finland. There were only six Finnish pilots with Brewster qualification at Trollhättan so Bremer asked, if Robert Winston would ferry the seventh aircraft to Finland. Winston gladly accepted the offer immediately....

The Brewster formation took off at 11.00 hrs local time on the 21st of March from Trollhättan. The plan was that Jorma Karhunen would lead a group of five Brewsters to Västerås on the east coast of Sweden. They were to wait for Bremer and Pellinen at Västerås because the compass of the Pellinen's aircraft had to be checked. All aircraft had a full load of ammunition when they took off.

They flew east over southern Sweden and found two runways at Västerås and the wind direction marked with a "T". There was a slight crosswind and it was a bit difficult to keep the direction during landing run on the hard-packed snow. A group of Swedish maintainers was waiting to fill the fuel tanks. When the first group had turned their engines off the next two were landing. Bremer had some difficulties during landing but managed to keep the aircraft on the runway.

After the fuel-stop the aircraft took off towards Finland. The Swedes had warned the pilots about the fortified area north of Stockholm and mentioned that they had to go around it. The Swedish officers wished luck for the team. After takeoff Karhunen had some difficulties in retracting the gear, but finally managed to get it in.

The formation crossed the coast at 14.00 hrs and headed to the sea. They flew below the broken clouds and could see the frozen sea beneath them. The area was desolate. The cloud base was so low that they had to stay at 20 m (60 ft) over the ice. They entered the Åland islands, halfway between Sweden and Finland. The cloud base rose and they could climb to a more convenient altitude. Finally they were over Finland and headed to Tampere. They landed at Tampere, Bremer first. The second Brewster skidded on the runway and nosed over. The pilot, Pellinen was unharmed and the fighter slightly damaged.

Last Brewsters to Finland

Robert Winston returned to Sweden on the 26th of March 1940. Brewster assembly had proceeded well at Trollhättan - there were 12 new fighters waiting for the test flights. Winston started the test flights, but the weather was so poor that Bremer kept the Finnish pilots grounded.

Once the weather go better Bremer ordered Karhunen to lead the next batch of five Brewsters to Finland via Bromma airfield close to Stockholm. When the group lands at Bromma on the 4th of March two Brewsters are damaged during the landing run because of the difficulties handling the aircraft on the asphalt runway after operations from snow-covered runways. Bremer and Winston flew to Bromma with a mechanic and spare parts in the baggage compartment of Winston's Brewster. During landing Bremer's Brewster skidded off the runway and was damaged.

Bremer and Winston now had three damaged Brewsters at Bromma. The local representative of the Republic Aircraft Factory, Eddie Israel told that ten aircraft had been damaged there during the last three days; also four Glosters and three Republics [P-43s?] had been damaged during landing. The Swedish Air Force had bought some Republic aircraft and now the local rep wanted Robert Winston to try the handling qualities. Winston found the taxiing to be easier because of the steerable tail gear even though it was a bit more sensitive at higher speeds. Winston told his experiences to the half a dozen Swedish officers that had gathered to watch his taxi tests.

Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and in the same evening Bremer and Winston returned to Trollhättan on the overnight train.

All the 44 Brewsters had now been assembled. Winston flew acceptance test flights for four aircraft on the 16th of March.

Joppe Karhunen arrived the same day on the afternoon train with seven other Finnish pilots. This time they weren't inexperienced young pilots - they were the seven most experienced Finnish aces. In the group was also Lt. Jorma Sarvanto, who had shot down six Soviet bombers in less than five minutes. Now the Finns were obviously ready to shoot their way open back to Finland, if needed.

In the morning of the 17th Winston test-flew six more aircraft. Bremer ordered all aircraft to be armed and fully fueled for the ferry flight to Finland. Count Sparré wanted to keep the aircraft for the defence of the Saab Aircraft Factory. Bremer called the Finnish Embassy at Stockholm and they replied that Finland wouldn't return the Bofors AAA guns that Sweden had loaned to Finland, if the Brewsters were not allowed to take off from Trollhättan. Sparré made a selection - and let the Brewsters go. The Finns called the local Shell station and refueled the aircraft during lunch hour.

The Brewsters took off immediately after count Sparré's decision. The eight aces joined formation over the Trollhättan airfield, flew low over the AAA guns and Swedish aircraft and then headed to Finland. Eino Luukkanen was leading the first four-ship and Jorma Karhunen the second in BW-385.

The weather got worse after take-off and Karhunen lost contact with Luukkanen's group because they had climbed between the high Cb clouds. Both groups received some AAA fire south of Stockholm. Ilmari Juutilainen radioed that his aircraft had fuel problems so Karhunen ordered him to divert to Turku and to continue to Helsinki on the next day.

In the evening Bremer told Winston that Swedish AAA guns had shot at the Brewsters close to Stockholm and one Brewster had been damaged during landing at Helsinki.

There were now only the two damaged Brewsters at Trollhättan. On the 18th Bremer and Winston flew the last two Brewsters to Bromma in only two hours. Winston's deal ended on the 19th so the project to deliver the 44 Brewsters to the Finnish Air Force was done.

Article combined and translated from:

  • Suomen Siivet 4/1970: Mauno A. Salo "The Brewster story 1"
  • Suomen Siivet 1/1971: Mauno A. Salo "The Brewster story 2"
  • Finnish Air Force History 1: Brewster B-239, Kalevi Keskinen, 1970
  • Aces Wild, Robert A. Winston, 1941
  • Taistelulentäjän muistelmat, Joppe Karhunen, 1998

Reposted here with the kind permission of Jarmo Lindberg at the Fighter Tactics Academy, where additional photos and links are available. Copyright © 1997-2000 Fighter Tactics Academy. All rights reserved. Revised: December 20, 1999.