Flying Squadron 26 History

The Beginning

In the 18th of December 1933 the Finnish parliament accepted the establishment a new fighter squadron which was allowed to receive its personnel and equipment since 1.1.1934 - the Flying Squadron 26 (the first acronym - "LL26", since 10.8.1934 - "LLv26") was born.

The Squadron was based firstly to Suur-Merijoki airfield near the city of Vyborg and the Squadron was subordinated to the Flight Station 5 (an aviation base command unit). At the September 1934 a detachment led by squadron commander major E.Nuotio went to the Britain for test flight and receive new Bristol Bulldog biplane fighters for the Squadron. A month later the LLv26 get their first aircrafts when the Flying Squadron 24 (LLv24) was ordered to hand over two Gloster Gamecock biplane fighters to the LLv26 - flight training at Suur-Merijoki airbase was started.

In the end of the year 1934 the most of the new Bulldog fighters were received from the aircraft factory (the last one was received in the 28th January on the next year). Planes were ferried to Finland and flewn to the Suur-Merijoki airbase. To the end of the May 1935 all planes (17) were ready for fighter pilot training. (At the same year Germany established the Luftwaffe again and Italy attacked Ethiopia and in the next year Spanish civil war started).

On the 1st of January 1938 the Finnish Air Forces units were rearranged and the LLv26 was subordinated to the Lentorykmentti 2 (LeR 2 - Flight Regiment 2). The Squadron was ordered to leave the Suur-Merijoki and move to the Utti airbase (near the city of Kouvola) during the February to operate with the Flying Squadron 24 (LLv24) which was waiting for their new Fokker DXXI monoplane fighters. The LLv26 got its first Fokkers in the July 1939 and the Squadron started intensive flying and shooting training with the new aircrafts.

In the September 1939 the 2nd and the 3rd Flights were full equipped with Fokkers and the 1st flight had the "old" Bulldog fighters. (At the same time Germany attacked Poland, Soviet aircrafts were often seen over Finnish territory and Britain, with France, declared war against Germany). In the 6th of October the Finnish Army started mobilization of the dedicated protective ground forces - the thread of attack was obsolete. A few days later the full mobilization order was given for the entire army and the LLv26 was ordered to move a flight of Bulldogs to Raulampi airbase ready for action and also to subordinate its two Fokker flights to LLv24, which was based to Immola airbase. The LLv26 was practicing intensively and preparing itself for the incoming war.

The Winter War

On the 26th of November 1939 the Soviet artillery shoot their own frontier guard troops near the village of Mainila and blamed the Finnish Army for the shooting. Four days later the Soviet artillery opened full fire against the Finnish ground troops at the Karelian Ishtmus and the Soviet Air Force made several bombing raids to the Finnish inland cities - the Winter War had begun.

The Squadron was based at Heinjoki airbase and operated from there with ten Bulldog fighters. The Squadron´s two Fokker DXXI equipped flights were subordinated to the LLv24 (Flying Squadron 24) and operated from Immola.

On the 1st of December 1939 SSgt T.Uuttu from the LLv26 made Finnish Air Force history by shooting down a Soviet I-16 fighter by his old Bulldog - it was the first air victory for the Squadron and for the Finnish Air Force.

On the 19th of January 1940 the Squadron began to receive new fighters and the remaining old and slow Bulldogs were handed over to the Täydennyslentorykmentti 2 (Supplementary Flight Regiment 2) for training purposes. At the first the Squadron was allotted aging Gloster Gladiator Mk.II biplane fighters for two first flights and at the end of the February the third flight which didn´t have any planes was established again and get brand new Fiat G.50 monoplane fighters. Missions were carried out with the Gladiators from various bases until the end of the February 1940, when the remaining few planes were handed over to Lentorykmentti 1 (Flight Regiment 1) and the Squadrons all flights was then full equipped with the Fiat fighters. To the end of the Winter War the Squadron operated with Fiats, first from Utti and later from Haukkajärvi airbases. When the inter-war peace began on the 13th of March 1940, the Squadron established its peacetime airbase to Joroinen.

The Continuation War

On the 25th of June 1941 the Squadron entered the Continuation War with 26 Fiat G.50 fighters in three flights, based at Joroinen airbase and subordinated to Lentorykmentti 2 (LeR 2 - Flight Regiment 2). On the 6th of July the Squadron´s HQ moved to the city of Joensuu and its three flights operated from separated airbases around Karelian Ishtmus until the 2nd of July by which date the whole Squadron had moved to Lunkula airbase (at the coast of the Lake Ladoga).

On the 13th of September 1941 the Squadron moved to Immola airbase and was subordinated to Lentorykmentti 3 (LeR 3 - Flight Regiment 3). The Squadron operated from Immola until the 5th of July 1942, when it moved to Kilpasilta airbase. On the 14th of February 1944 the Squadron was renamed to Hävittäjälentolaivue 26 (HLeLv26 - Fighter Flying Squadron 26).

On the 9th of May 1944 the Squadron moved to Heinjoki airbase and was re-equipped with already worn Brewster B-239 fighters. On the 25th of May the Squadron was reorganized into two flights. Its old and outnumbered Fiat fighters were handed over to Hävittäjälentolaivue 30 (HLeLv30 - Fighter Flying Squadron 30) and to to Täydennyslentolaivue 35 (TLeLv35 - Supplementary Flying Squadron 35) for training purposes.

When the great Soviet offensive began in June 1944, the Squadron moved at first to Immola on the 14th of June and two days later to Käkisalmi and subsequently to Mensuvaara on the 7th of July. On the 26th of July the Squadron had its base at Värtsilä. On the 4th of August 1944 it was subordinated back to Lentorykmentti 2 (LeR 2 - Flight Regiment 2) which gathered all fighter units under same command to the end of the Continuation War at September 1944.

The Lapland War

After the end of the Continuation War, the Squadron moved to Onttola on the 8th of September 1944 and subsequently to Vaala on the 2nd of October. The HLeLv26 participated in the War of Lapland using one of its own Brewster flights and one subordinated Myrsky flight. On the 18th of October the Squadron was operating from the Kemi airbase and on the 3rd of December 1944 the HLeLv26 was subordinated to Lentorykmentti 4 (LeR 4 - Flight Regiment 4) and was renamed as Hävittäjälentolaivue 21 (HLeLv21 - Fighter Flying Squadron 21) on the next day.

Summary of the Wars

Hävittäjälentolaivue 26 achieved total of 177 air victories during the course of the Winter War and the Continuation War (6 victories with Bulldogs, 25 with Fokkers, 30 with Gladiators, 99 with Fiats and 17 with Brewsters).

The Squadron lost 42 combat aircrafts, 26 of them in war operations (1 Bulldog, 1 Fokker, 11 Gladiators, 4 Fiats and 9 Brewsters). Twelve pilots were killed in action and nine in accidents.

During the Laplands War the squadron got two air victories (German Ju-88 and Ju-87 bombers) and lost six Brewsters which 4 in combat (shot down by the German AAA) and two in accidents. Two more pilots were killed in action.

Hävittäjälentolaivue 26 made history of the Finnish Air Force by being the first squadron of the air force to get an air victory (SSgt T.Uuttu shot down a Soviet I-16 in 1.12.1939 by Bulldog) and also being the last squadron to get air victory since the wartime (Lt Teromaa shot down a German Ju-87 near Kemi).

When the Lapland War was basically over the flying units that participated air operations at Lapland were assigned to relocate to their "new" main bases at southern parts of the Finland. Fighter Flying Squadrons 14, 26 and 28 (actually the whole Flight Regiment 2) found themselves at Rissala near Kuopio.

On the 4th of December 1944 the Fighter Flying Squadron 14 (HLeLv14) was withdrawn. 26 and 28 Fighter Flying Squadrons were renamed - Fighter Flying Squadron 26 became to Fighter Flying Squadron 21 and Fighter Flying Squadron 28 became to Fighter Flying Squadron 23. The Flight Regiment 2 (LeR 2) operated as a peace time unit until the whole regiments withdrawn on the 30th of November 1952 and it´s personnel and aircrafts were assigned to the remaining flight regiments (LeR 1, LeR 3 and LeR 4) which were renamed on the next day as Air Wings.

Later on the 50s the Air Wings were renamed again to Häme Air Wing (Hämeen Lennosto - HämLsto), Satakunta Air Wing (Satakunnan Lennosto - SatLsto) and Karelia Air Wing (Karjalan Lennosto - KarLsto). The 21st Fighter Flying Squadron was refounded again at 1958 as a part of Häme Air Wing which main base located at Tikkakoski.

Epilogue

The glorius story of the LLv26 started at Suur-Merijoki (Karelian Isthmus) on the 10th of October 1934, the unit participated all the three Wars, gained almost 180 air victories by several types of aircrafts. Mostly the squadron had to use the "left over" aircraft at that time - Bulldogs, Gladiators, Hurricanes, Brewsters - the only "real" aircraft - Fiat G.50 lived its renessance only 2 years from 1940 to 1942. The story of the 26th Fighter Flying Squadron ended actually on the 4th of December 1944 when it was renamed, but its "spirit" lived until 1952 when the last wartime pilots were assigned to different squadrons and the whole unit was withdrawn.