S u m m a r y
SUOMEN ILMAVOIMAT FINNISH AIR FORCE 1944
by Kalevi Keskinen and Kari Stenman
||Hard Cover; 210 mm x 297 mm (approx. 8.5 x 12 inches); 208 pages plus inside of covers
||49 Euros from Kari Stenman Publishing
||Finnish and English texts and excellent photographs.
||English can be awkward at times.
||A most fascinating volume.
Reviewed by Steven "Modeldad" Eisenman
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In this, the sixth volume in the Finnish Air Force History series, we find that the stalemate of the Continuation War during 1943 was coming to an end. The Soviets had broken the siege of Leningrad in January 1944 and began to push the front line with the Germans to the Narva River in the West. The Soviet Union would now look to recover the land that the Finns recovered during the Continuation War and try, once and for all, to end the war with Finland.
In March the Soviet Union began bombing Helsinki and in June launched an attack, in overwhelming numbers, against the Finns. On the Karelian Front, the combined Soviet 13th Air Army and the Baltic Fleet Air Force was able to amass nearly 1,300 aircraft along a 20 km. front. The Finns had available a mere 50 or so assorted aircraft. Flying units were ordered to act without regard to losses.
But by mid-July, the combined Finnish armed forces, with some German support, were able to blunt the Soviet advance; another stalemate set in around Lake Ladoga.
With the Germans suffering further defeats, and the continued pressure of the Soviet forces, Finland sought a peace with the Soviet Union. On September 4, 1944, a ceasefire was signed between Finland and the Soviet Union with an armistice treaty being concluded two weeks later. The Finns were required to make great concessions and disarm or expel all remaining German troops.
In an understated, yet engaging, manner, Keskinen and Stenman provide a near day by day account of actions of the Finnish Air Force during 1944. The account shifts between a narrative of the events and the pilots’ first person accounts of the events and combat. Although the English can be a little awkward at times, the writing flows smoothly.
What I find astonishing about the first person accounts is how low-keyed they are. Facing at times 20 to 1 odds when engaging the VVS (Soviet Air Force), the encounter is often portrayed as a normal day at the office. A successful outcome is something that must be, and will be, accomplished.
But in reading the accounts, one must do a little homework first. This includes knowing the two-letter system for identifying aircraft. For example, personal accounts are usually concluded with the simple statement: “My plane MT-405” or “My plane MS-654”. In the first instance the pilot was flying a Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6, serial number 405; in the second, a Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406, serial number 654. But, even within the narrative or personal accounts the two letter code is used: “Six JKs bombed…”, meaning six Junkers 88s. Finally, the Bf 109 was usually called the “Mersu”.
Interspersed within the writing there is a nearly daily order of battle showing which Finnish aircraft took part, and with which VVS aircraft they tangled. Also, with the opening of the archives of the VVS to scholars, the monograph includes reports of the VVS regarding encounters with Finnish aircraft.
The encounters between Finnish and VVS aircraft seem quite odd indeed. Curtiss Hawk 75s (CU) engaging Curtiss P-40 Warhawks of the VVS. Outdated Morane’s taking on Laggs . In the final days of the Continuation War, a couple VVS P-39 Airacobras jumped a few Finnish Polikarpov I-153 Chaikas on reconnaissance. The outcome, one Airacobra down and all the Chaikas returned safely.
The account of the last year of the Continuation war concludes with an overview of the kill to loss ratio of the Finnish air regiments. The numbers are so disproportionate. Either the Finnish pilots were near perfection, or the Soviets pilots were near incompetents.
The monograph concludes with a description of the War in Lapland in which the Finns, under the terms of the Armistice, were to drive out or disarm the Germans. For all intents and purposes this amounted to a harassment campaign, a limited one at that. The war lasted 183 days, and of those 183 days, the weather was only good enough for flying on 43 days.
Of course, being a monograph about Finnish aviation from Kari Stenman publishing, the book is filled with incredible and well-printed photographs, which, for the most part, I have not seen before.
The pictures provide not only modeling inspiration, but also an incredible amount of detail to those who look closely. For instance, propeller blade tips on the Ju 88s. The Germans did not put a yellow tip on the blades, but the Finns did. Sometime an aircraft will have all blades tipped in yellow and sometimes only the propeller blades of one engine will be tipped in yellow. Then there are the pictures of the unpainted, wooden props on a Blenheim, with the Finnish Hakaristi (swastika) emblem at mid-blade. There is also the picture of the Brewster Buffalo that the Finns modified for photo-reconnaissance.
This volume is simply an excellent account of the final year of the Continuation War in the air and the end of hostilities between the Finns and both the Soviet Union and then Germany. The pictures, and their captions, add much to the narrative and accounts of combat of the Finnish Aviators. A most fascinating read mainly because of the inequality in aviation resources of the combatants.
A selection of pictures contained in this book may be seen on the Kari Stenman Publishing web site at: http://www.kolumbus.fi/kari.stenman/silVI_.html
Thanks to Kari Stenman for the sample
All Keri Stenman Publishing books are available direct from the publishers, who now accept credit cards (Visa, MC).
Review Copyright © 2008 by Steven "Modeldad" Eisenman
Page Created 13 December, 2008
13 December, 2008
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