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The Finnish Air Defense

in the Winter War



The Finnish Air Defense was consisted of the Air Force, the Antiaircraft Forces and the Air Surveillance troops. The commander of the Air Defense (and Air Force) was Major General J.Lundqvist, assisted by the Commander of the Antiaircraft Forces, Col. F.Helminen and the Air Defense HQ (ilmapuolustuksen esikunta, IPE).



The Finnish Air Force (FAF)

The most important Finnish fighter in the Winter War, the Fokker D.XXI
Source: "Talvisodan Historia 1",p.186


The history of Finnish Air Force began when the "Whites" received an aircraft, Thulin Parasol (Morane Saulnier), from Sweden in February 1918. The plane was a donation, and was flown to Finland by a Swedish Count, Erik von Rosen.

So was the Finnish Air Forces born (at first it was the Finnish Aviation Force, and in the 1920s, the name was changed into Finnish Air Forces).


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The war starts


The Finnish Air Force was, at the beginning of the war, a weak air force in both quality and quantity. The planes were generally outdated (the only "modern" fighter was the Fokker D.21 and the only modern bomber, the Bristol Blenheim) and compared to the size of the country, not to mention the number of enemy planes, the strength of the Finnish Air Force was too small.

As FAF couldn't afford a war of attrition, the Finnish fighters were mainly reserved to defend the home front and the bombers to pinpoint attacks in generally small formations. Besides occasional support missions in the frontlines, the Army received mainly intelligence data from the FAF (on 1 February 1940 a recon plane brought back pictures where over 100 Soviet artillery batteries could be found, juicy targets if the FAF had had more bombers or the Army more artillery shells). Only in the battles in the Bay of Viipuri were the fighters and bombers used in bigger numbers and regardless of losses.


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General data of the planes used in combat during Winter War

Plane name Type * Abb.* Year* Top speed
Armament Bomb load
Fokker D.XXI F FR 1936 418 10100 4 x 7.62 mm mg  
Bristol Bulldog (MK IV) F BU 1927 362 10180 2 x 7.7 mm mg 4 x 25
Gloster Gladiator F GL 1934 395 10200 4 x 7.7 mm mg  
Fiat G.50 "Freccia" F FA 1937 480 10700 2 x 12,7 mm mg  
Morane Saulnier 406 F MS 1935 450 8500 3 x 7.5 mm mg max 50
Bristol Blenheim I,III,IV B BL 1934 435 9200 2 or 3 x 7.7 mm mg max 1000
Fokker C V E R,U FO 1924 265 7600 2 x mg max 260
Fokker C X DB,U,R FK 1934 356 8000 2 x 7.7 + 1 x 7.62 mg max 400
Blackburn Ripon II F U,R RI 1926 180 ** ? twin mg + 2 x mg max 400
Junkers K-43, W-34 U JU 1926 240 ** 5800** 1 - 2 x mg max 500
* = Type; F = fighter, B = bomber, DB= dive bombing, R = reconnaissance, U= utility
Abb. = abbreviations used by Finns
Year= the year of first flight
** = plane with wheels, with floats the performance was less



One Douglas DC-2 plane (airliner converted to a bomber), Finnish designation DO, was donated from Sweden, but since it made only one bombing run, I chose not to include it in here.

For more detailed Aircraft-info visit the following web site:


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Types and numbers of different warplanes that Finland received during Winter War

Plane name and Finnish abbreviation Country sold / donated # of planes Notes
Fiat G.50 (FA) Italy sold 33 originally 35, but 2 destroyed in transit
Gloster Gladiator (GL) England 10 donated 30  
Morane Saulnier 406 (MS) France donated 30  
Brewster 239 (BW) USA sold 8 total number 44, didn't see action = (dsa)
Hawker Hurricane (HC) England sold 8 total number 11, 1 destroyed in transit, dsa
Bristol Blenheim (BL) England sold 22 1 destroyed & 1 damaged in transit
Douglas DC-2 (DO) Sweden donated 1 made 1 bombing run
Koolhoven F.K.52 (KO) Sweden donated 2 Utility plane
The 3 Fokker C.V.D. (performance almost identical with the Fokker C.V.E.) planes donated from Sweden were also used in combat, but since it was originally a training plane, I didn't include it into the above table.



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The tables below, show the strengths of different front-line units during the war. Note, that the drop in strength of a plane type, doesn't automatically mean plane-losses, since planes were attached to other units, or withdrawn from front-line service.

The number (in parentheses) shows the number of planes under repair.



Unit Plane Dec 1st Jan 15th Feb 1st Feb 15th March 1st March 15th
4 6
36 29 28 26 24 25
10 8 8
9 18 3
3 11 23
8 25 23
TOTAL 46 37 (2) 45 (1) 55 (5) 67 (22) 87 (19)
Table source: "Talvisodan Historia 4", p.97


Until further notice, the image will be unavailable for viewing.

Picture and background information courtesy of Jouni Rönkkö 
"Finnish Air Force  -almost in service-  1935-1945"

This FR-76, was the first Fokker D.21 in the FAF. When the war started, this was the only plane, which had the 
20 mm cannons installed in the wings (as a test). With this plane, Lt. Tatu Huhanantti downed a Soviet SB-2 bomber
 on December 20th 1939. The plane flew in the LLv.24.


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Unit Plane Dec 1st Jan 15th Feb 1st Feb 15th March 1st March 15th
12 8
8 6 8 9 5 5
1 1
9 5 11 8 7 6
TOTAL 17 11 (3) 19 (3) 18 (8) 25 (3) 20 (9)

Table source: "Talvisodan Historia 4", p.97


Until further notice, the image will be unavailable for viewing.

Picture and background information courtesy of Jouni Rönkkö 
"Finnish Air Force  -almost in service-  1935-1945"

This Bristol Blenheim flew in the LLv 44. It was one of the three bombers with permanent skis attached.
On February 25th 1940, the plane had on accident while landing, and spent the rest of the war under repair.


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Reconnaissance and utility planes
Dec 1st Jan 15th Feb 1st Feb 15th March 1st March 15th
12 13 9 7 5 6
13 9 9 8 4 3
3 8 6
4 4 5 5 3 4
7 5 7 7 - -
2 6 7
(except the 3rd flight)
9 5 4 5 4 4
2 1 1 1 1
2 3
3. / LLv.16
5 4 4 4 1 -
5 5
6 5 4 4 1 -
  1 2 2
1 1
1. / T-LLv.39
2 2 2 2 3 3
TOTAL 58 49 (8) 45 (6) 49 (6) 48 (8) 48 (7)

Table source: "Talvisodan Historia 4", p.97


Until further notice, the image will be unavailable for viewing.

Picture and background information courtesy of Jouni Rönkkö 
"Finnish Air Force  -almost in service-  1935-1945"

This Fokker C.X.  started the Winter War in the LLv.10, but was transferred to LLv.12 on January 5th 1940.
The plane was eventually destroyed after the Winter War, during the Interim Peace,  in an accident,
when the plane ran out of gas during flight


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The Swedish Volunteer Unit
Dec 1st Jan 15th Feb 1st Feb 15th March 1st March 15th
11 11 9
1 1 2
TOTAL 12 (3) 12 (3) 11 (3)

Table source: "Talvisodan Historia 4", p.97


Until further notice, the image will be unavailable for viewing.

Picture and background information courtesy of Jouni Rönkkö 
"Finnish Air Force  -almost in service-  1935-1945"

This Gloster Gladiator was one of the planes of the Swedish voluntary unit F 19, which operated in Lapland.


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During the Winter War, no planes came out from the Finnish aircraft factories, since repairing virtually ate up the whole capacity. Finland captured 25 Soviet planes.

The maintenance and repairing of planes was very difficult due to lack of spare parts and the large number of different plane types.
    The State Aircraft Factory (Valtion lentokonetehdas) repaired both engines and planes. Engines and other parts were salvaged from downed planes and cannibalized from damaged ones. The engine-department of the Tampella produced 4 engines during the war. From the factory of "Brothers Karhumäki" (Veljekset Karhumäki) repaired training planes with an average speed of 1 / month.
    Of the problems in maintenance of planes acquired from abroad the British Blenheim - bombers are a good example; the engines were of different type, than in those planes bought before the war, the radios were set on a different frequency than the Finnish ones, the Finnish bombs didn't fit in the British bomb racks, and on top of all, the engines used 100-octane gas, that the Finns didn't have!

The bomb-situation was adequate throughout the war. The Finns dropped some 6 400 bombs, 208 tons, most of which were 12,5 kg and 50 kg bombs. New bombs were sent with some of the plane-shipments from abroad, and the Finnish Tolfvan-company produced 80 tons / month.

The aviation fuel-situation was also adequate throughout the war, except for the 100-octane gas needed in the Blenheim bombers. At the start of the war, the air force had in it's stocks 3,9 million liters of fuel. During the war, a total 3 500 tons of aviation fuel was transported to Finland via Stockholm-Turku, along with lubricants. When the war ended, a further 3 000 tons were on it's way. The Finns lost, in Soviet air attacks, some 70 tons of fuel.


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The FAF flew an estimated total of 5 900 combat missions (6 300 combat flight hours) during the Winter War, from which 3 900 were interception missions, 800 bombing runs, 70 recon (aerial photograph) and 1100 other.
    The Swedish volunteer unit flew an additional 600 flight hours (all flights included) .
The FAF consumed approximately 2 100 tons of aviation fuel (the biggest consumption was in February nearly 830 000 liters) , 850 000 rounds and 208 tons of bombs.

In whole, FAF claimed 190 confirmed kills, 143 bombers, 37 fighters and 10 reconnaissance planes, and nearly 100 probable.

The Finnish plane losses were 62 destroyed (including 11 FR, 17 GL, 7 FK, 5 RI and 12 BL) and 35 planes damaged.
    From the losses, 47 were downed by the Soviet forces. The Soviet fighters shot down 35 planes, the Soviet AA-fire 8 planes and 4 for unknown reasons (the figures include the losses suffered by the Swedish voluntary unit and the planes lost while in transit to Finland) .
    In the flight units, 77 men (41 officers, 33 NCO's, 1 private) were either killed in action (KIA) or missing in action (MIA) .


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A 40mm Bofors AA-gun in firing position during the mobilization

Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 1", p.135


Not until 1925 was the antiaircraft established as a military branch in Finland. During the 1930's, it received only a small appropriation, and therefore it was very limited in equipment.

As with every other military branches, Finland tried to buy as much AA-weaponry as possible when the threat of war was increasing. Sweden was again the biggest contributor, but Finland had also ordered 134, 20 mm AA-guns from Germany (made in summer 1939 "the Veltjens-deal") . 50 guns were eventually transported, but when a Swedish newspaper wrote about it, Germany stopped all it's shipments to Finland and disallowed all shipments to Finland to pass through (delaying shipments from Italy) , the rest, 84 guns, came long after the war .

A searchlight near Helsinki
Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 4", p.263

The antiaircraft forces were poor in other equipment too. It had 8 acoustic bearing devices (manned by 4 men, it determined the bearings to enemy plane formations by auditory perception) , 8 search lights and 20 tracking lights. This equipment was concentrated in the Helsinki and Viipuri areas. The Finns had also a severe shortage in fire control and other optical equipment (range finders etc.) .


The number of AA-weapons rose during the war, despite the losses suffered (almost 50 AA-mg's and around 20 AA-guns, including both 40 mm and 20 mm guns) . From the 50 ordered 40 mm guns, from the State Gun Factory (Valtion Tykkitehdas) , the first one came out after the war. So the increase in numbers was only possible by acquisitions from abroad.
    The following number of guns came to Finland during the war:
- 20 mm AA-gun: 76
- 40 mm AA-gun: 72
- 40 mm AA-gun: 13 (Vickers guns, to the Navy)
- 75 - 76 mm AA-guns: 45


General data of the most common AA-weapons

Weapon Weight
in action
Muzzle velocity
m / sec
Effective range meters Practical ROF rounds / min
7,62 mm AA-mg m/31 (VKT) 69 810 600 1000
20 mm AA-gun M/38 (BSW) 770 800 1200 120
40 mm AA-gun m/38 (Bofors) 2150 850 3000 80
76 mm AA-gun m/29 (Bofors) 3450 750 6000 15

For more detailed information about Finnish AA-weapons, check the Jaeger Platoon website !

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AA-weapons situation on November 30th

Weapon #'s on
November 30th
in stock
7,62 mm AA-mg m/31 70 1 828 235 The navy had also 26 and FAF 20 AA-mg's
7,62 mm mg (used in AA-role) 71
20 mm AA-gun M/38 (BSW & Oerlikon) 34 103 145 The Navy had 1 and FAF 7 guns
40 mm AA-gun m/38 (Bofors) 53 121 000 The Navy had also 16 guns
76 mm AA-gun m/29 (Bofors & Vickers) 38 7 141 The Navy had also 25

Only the AA-mg's had ammunition in generous numbers, except the number of tracers, of which the Finns had a total of 100 000 rounds (an adequate ratio of normal rounds and tracers was 1 / 10) .

The Finnish antiaircraft forces were generally deployed to protect the major cities (Helsinki, Viipuri, Turku, Tampere and Jyväskylä) and smaller cities along the railroad network and especially the ones, which were railroad junctions. In the early days of Winter War, the front-line troops had virtually no AA-defense. During late December and January, the troops eventually received some AA-guns to protect the rear areas.
    The P-SR (North Finland Group) received it's first AA-weapons in December 12th, when the 4th AA-mg company was transported to Kajaani and Hyrynsalmi. Only after the Swedish volunteer unit arrived, did the cities in northern Finland (Rovaniemi, Kemi and Kemijärvi) receive better protection, than the 7,62 mm AA-mg's provided.

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AA-weapons situation on March 13th

Weapon #'s in March 13th Ammo consumption Confirmed kills
Ammunition in March 13th *
7,62 mm AA-mg 121 494 000 51 1 808 500
20 mm AA-gun 90 54 000 104 147 000
40 mm AA-gun 100 76 000 128 174 400
76 mm AA-gun 81 5 200 31 63 600

* = including also the Navy and Air Force stocks
** = November-December 66 kills, January 56 kills, February 131 kills and March 61 kills



The effectiveness of antiaircraft can't be judged solely by the numbers of downed enemy airplanes. The effects that are gained by forcing the enemy to bomb from high altitude, turn away completely or disrupt the aim of the bomber, are all clear, and can even have a decisive impact on the outcome of a defensive battle.

A downed Soviet bomber
Picture source: "Talvisodan Historia 4", p.324


The Finnish antiaircraft forces claimed a total of 314 confirmed kills, and an estimate of 300 damaged. The navy claimed 5 confirmed kills and 17 probable.



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Air Surveillance


Finland was divided into 52 Air surveillance areas. Every area had numerous air surveillance posts (ilmavalvonta-asema) , and an Area Air Defense Center (ilmapuolustusaluekeskus, IPAK) . The total number of air surveillance posts was around 650, and the members of the women's Lotta Svärd -organization, contributed a lot in manning these stations (often with high risk ) thus freeing men to the fronts.

A camouflaged Air Surveillance post
Picture source: 
"Talvisodan Historia 4", p.188

Early in the war (and later also) , the changes in the front-lines led to the closure of the Uusikirkko, Loimola and Suomussalmi air surveillance areas, but the equipment was moved to tighten the air surveillance net by establishing new ones, and by strengthening existing ones.
  In the Aaland Islands (Ahvenanmaa in Finnish) , an air surveillance area was established in December. Lt. J.Jarkka was appointed as the commanding officer, and under his command, a relatively functional surveillance net was created, which based almost solely on volunteers. The task was made difficult by the anti-militaristic attitudes of the Aalanders, who looked upon national defense with disapproval (as Aaland was, in late 1921, declared a demilitarized area, the natives were freed from the duty of armed service, a special right, that still exists) . But except some navy's AA-weapons, the Aaland Islands lacked any AA-defenses.

For questions about picture copyrights, see 'Sources' page

Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Sami H. E. Korhonen

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