Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Mäntyluoto Expeditions of 1918

Mäntyluoto (formerly Tallholmen) is part of the Port of Pori (Björneborg) in the Gulf of Bothnia, the other parts being Tahkoluoto (Vetenskär) and Reposaari (Räfsö). The port was established in 1780, back when Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden. Today the Port of Pori is a bustling commercial bulk-port close to one of the best beaches in the Baltic and the thriving city of Pori, which every year hosts one of the major jazz festivals in Europe. Things were a tad different in 1918.


The collapse of Imperial Russia in 1917 led to the Grand Duchy of Finland declaring independence from Russia, but this declaration led to a brutal civil war between radical left paramilitary forces, so-called ”Red Guards” supported by the Soviet Union and conservative “White Guards” that were eventually supported by Germany. The civil war lasted between January 27, 1918, and May 15 that same year, with the White side emerging victorious.

However, a significant number of Swedish nationals were living in Finland when the civil war broke out, and with tales of horror reaching Sweden, it was decided to evacuate as many Swedes and, if there was space available, Scandinavians as possible. Three expeditions were mounted between late January and early March of 1918.

The Swedish government was quick to react when civil war broke out in Finland on January 27, and orders were given to the appointed commander, Commodore Ludvig Åkerhielm, on January 30. Commodore Åkerhielm was given command of the gunboat HMS Svensksund and the City of Stockholm ice breaker N:o II (launched 1915, 2,350 t). His Majesty’s Ship Svensksund was a gunboat launched on September 30, 1891 at Kockums Mekaniska Verkstad in Malmӧ. She had a long history of exploration behind her, having taken part in the ill-fated Andrée Arctic expedition of 1897 and many other scientific expeditions.  She was formally part of the Swedish Navy, but she had often been chartered to various research bodies, such as the Swedish Hydrographic-Biological Commission. HMS Svensksund had a beam of 7.87 meters, a length of 40.03 meters, and she displaced 274 tons. Her maximum speed was 12.5 knots, and she was armed with four 57mm guns. The crew of Svensksund consisted of 46 officers and sailors. The vessel saw regular use as a transport in the Baltic during the First World War, especially supplying the inhabitants of the Stockholm archipelago with food and other provisions during the course of the war.

 HMS Svensksund

 S/S Heimdal (Vykort genom Peter Asklander samling).

 Isbrytaren II (

 S/S Vineta (Vykort genom Peter Asklander samling).

 The chartered merchant steamers S/S Heimdal (launched 1915, 1,312 t) and S/S Vineta (launched 1913, 719 t) were also added to his force. Armed navy personnel were finally added to the crews of the merchant vessels, since the small force was to sail into a war zone.

The ships set sail for Mäntyluoto, a gathering point for Swedish evacuees, on February 1, 1918. At that point it was not known whether the port was being held by the Whites or the Reds, and as the vessels approached Mäntyluoto through thick ice on February 3, they were greeted by artillery fire from ashore. Four to six rounds exploded approximately 1,000 meters ahead of the first vessel, and this was followed by horn signals from the inlet to the harbor. Since there were no more shells fired, Commodore Åkerhielm assumed that these were warning shots to warn the convoy of mines in or around the harbor. The ships made full stop, and signalers on board tried to send a telegram to Marshal Mannerheim, the commander of the White forces, explaining the situation. After waiting for an hour around 30 armed individuals were seen approaching the convoy, and it turned out that these men were Red soldiers and Soviet sailors. They claimed that they had mistaken the ice breaker N:o II for the Finnish ice breaker Sampo that was being used as a transport for White forces. The Swedish vessels were thereafter allowed to proceed into the harbor, although HMS Svensksund remained off Mäntyluoto. The remaining Swedish vessels entered the harbor on the early morning of February 4, and 427 evacuees were embarked over the course of two days. The Swedish crews did also gather information about the course of the Finnish civil war, especially regarding the advances of the Reds and the atrocities committed by the Reds after taking the town of Borgå (today’s Porvoo). The convoy left Mäntyluoto on February 6 and returned safely to Stockholm on the morning of February 8, 1918. The disembarkation at Skeppsbrokajen was cordoned off by police, and the evacuees had to go through medical screening before they could be greeted by friends and relatives. But the crews of the vessels were given little time to rest, as a second expedition was already being planned.

The ice breaker N:o II started coaling on February 9, and the four ships left next day. This time the ships were carrying some 121 Russian returnees and couriers. The transit was uneventful, and the ships reached Mäntyluoto on February 12. They returned on February 14 with 641 evacuated passengers.

The third and final expedition to Mäntyluoto left Sweden on the afternoon of February 24, this time without HMS Svensksund. This trip was to prove a bit more dramatic that the previous one. The morning of the following day, February 25, saw S/S Vineta getting stuck in the thick ice. The vessel started taking in water, and passengers, crew as well as assorted provisions had to be transferred over to ice breaker N:o II. The S/S Vineta sank at 10:20 that same morning, and the remaining two ships continued towards Mäntyluoto, which was reached on February 28. Passengers from various Scandinavian countries were immediately embarked while provisions for Swedish refugees in Pori were unloaded and given to the Pori committee for food. Supplies provided by the Red Cross to be given to invalids living in Finland were also unloaded.

However, as the two vessels were preparing to leave for Sweden, the Red troops in Mäntyluoto demanded that a Finnish national on board one of the ships, an assessor by the name of Mr. Curtén, be handed over to the authorities. The Swedes refused to do this, and the Reds declared that the Swedish would not be allowed to leave the harbor. The Swedes were determined to return according to plan, and as the vessels were prepared for action in general and to repel boarders in particular, the Reds were notified of the planned time of departure. The two Swedish ships did leave as planned, and without any further intervention from the Reds. The ships returned to Stockholm on March 4 with some 406 passengers. In all, the three expeditions had evacuated 1,474 individuals, mainly Swedes, but also other Scandinavians and some non-Scandinavians that had been given permission to be evacuated by the Swedes through the Swedish Foreign Office.

As for the vessels involved, HMS Svensksund still had many years in her, and she remained in service until 1957. The City of Stockholm ice breaker N:o II was eventually renamed St. Erik, and she is today a museum vessel in the Stockholm Harbor, while the S/S Heimdal remained in service in the Baltic under several names until 1970. She was broken up in 1971.

Kungliga Sjӧfӧrsvarsdepartementet. Flottans neutralitetsvakt. Redogӧrelse fӧr Flottans verksamhet fӧr neutralitetens upprätthållande samt sjӧfartens och fiskets tryggande m. m. under världskriget 1914-18, innefattande jämväl redogӧrelse fӧr visa åtgärder av Kustartilleriet och lotsverket. Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt, 1919

Ny Expedition skall avgå Finland. Inga nya underrättelser från inbӧrdeskriget. Kalmar. N:r 23 Lӧrdagen den 9 Februari 1918

The American-Scandinavian Review. New York: Volume VI, Number 1, January-February 1918

United States Department of State. Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, 1918. Russia. Chapter XVI, pp. 722-732

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The MiG-17 FRESCO in the Vietnam War.

The MiG-17 as well as the Chinese version, the Shenyang J-5, was the most numerous fighter in the Vietnamese People's Air Force, with the first batch of 36 arriving as "gifts" from the USSR in February 1964 together with a few MiG-15UTI trainer aircraft to equip the 921st Air Regiment, which was the first unit to be formed by the NVAF. MiG-17s first saw action on April 3, 1965, when two groups of MiG-17s took off from Noi Dai Airbase under the command of Lieutenant Pham Ngoc Lan. The first group of two MiGs was to act as a bait for US aircraft while the second group of four MiGs was to engage enemy aircraft. The target was a US Navy strike package consisting of 80 aircraft that was tasked with the destruction of the Ham Rung bridge near Thanh Hoa.

The group of four MiGs attacked a group of F-8E Crusaders of VF-211 from USS Hancock, and Lieutenant Lan did damage a F-8E flown by Lieutenant Commander Spence Thomas, who had to perform an emergency landing ashore at Da Nang. Lieutenant Lan's wingman, Lieutenant Phan Van Tuc claimed a second F-8, although this was not corroborated by the the US Navy.

Three North Vietnamese aviators became aces while flying MiG-17s: Nguyen Van Bay with seven victories together with Luu Huy Chao and Le Hai who both scored six victories. MiG-17s accounted for 71shot down US aircraft, with most of the victories being supersonic-capable jets a generation ahead of the 1950s vintage MiG-17. Two MiG-17s were also the first aircraft to attack USN vessels since WW2, when the light cruiser USS Oklahoma City and the destroyer USS Higbee were bombed on April 19, 1972.

Turret blown away by FlaK over Duisburg.

No. 428 Squadron, also known as the Ghost Squadron due to its nocturnal operations, was a bomber squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The motto of the squadron was Usque ad finem ("To the very end"), and it was initially formed on November 7, 1942, at RAF Dalton in Yorkshire as part of No. 4 Group RAF. It was transferred to No. 6 Group RCAF on January 1, 1943, and it remained part of this group until April 25, 1945. The first operational mission was flown to Lorient on the night of January 26, 1943. In June of 1943 the squadron was re-equipped with Handley-Page Halifaxes and redeployed to RAF Middleton St. George. In June 1944 the squadron was re-equipped with Canadian-built Avro Lancaster Mk Xs, and these were used throughout the rest of the Second World War. The unit was disbanded in September 1945, but saw service again between 1954 and 1961 as an all-weather fighter squadron  flying the Avro CF-100 Canuck.

On the evening of 8/9 april, 1943, 302 aircraft (156 Lancasters, 97 Wellingtons, 73 Halifaxes, 56 Stirlings and ten Mosquitoes) took off to bomb the city of Duisburg in the Rhine Valley as the first of two Bomber Command missions targeting the city. The pilot of Vickers Wellington Mark X NA-Y, serial number HE239, was Sergeant Pilot Leonard Franklin Williamson from Regina, the capitol of Saskatchewan. He had enlisted in 1941, and on the night of April 8 and 9, 1943, he was to pilot NA-Y to Duisburg on his seventh mission. His crew consisted of the navigator, Flight Sergeant W. Watkins, the bomb aimer, Flight Serbeant H. Parker, wireless operator Sergeant J. Powley and finally rear gunner Sergeant Lorenzo Bertrand. The aircraft took off from RAF Dalton in Yorkshire without incident, but as the bombers approached Duisburg at 11:15 pm, the aircraft were subjected to heavy Flak fire. NA-Y was hit three minutes later, and the bomber began vibrating alarmingly while the rudder bar was forced upwards and forwards. However, the Wellington was already on its final run to the aiming point, and Williamson pressed on. The bomb load was released two minuted later, at 11:20 pm. Williamson had checked in with his crew members after the initial Flak hit, but there was no reply from the tail gunner, Sergeant Bertrand. The navigator, Sergeant Watkins, went back through the vibrating fuselage and made a horrific discovery: the entire rear turret and all of the fabric covering the fuselage aft of the beam gun position had been blown away. Meanwhile, Williamson noted that the hydraulics had also been hit, which manifest itself by the bomb doors remaining open and the landing gear being abruptly lowered. Further damage had been caused to the elevators and radio equipment on board. Williamson realized that he could not climb, but he was able to maintain his altitude, so a bail out order was cancelled. After what must have been a gruesome flight back to the United Kingdom, the crew landed at a fighter base in West Malling, Kent. The bombing of Duisburg had limited effect, since the town was covered with a thick layer of clouds, which ruined the Pathfinder markings. Therefore the bombing was scattered, with 40 houses destroyed, 72 damaged and 36 people killed. Another 15 towns in the Ruhr valley were also hit with bombs. Nineteen Bomber Command aircraft were lost, or 4.8 percent of the participating aircraft (seven Wellingtons, six Lancasters, three Halifaxes, and three Stirlings).

Williamson was initially recommended for a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM), but this was changed on April 28 by the AOC of 6 Group, Air Vice Marshal Brookes, to a recommendation for the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM), the other rank's equivalent of the Distiguished Service Order, which is of a higher valor. The recommendation was signed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris on May 2, 1943.

The body of the unfortunate rear gunner, Sergeant Bertrand, was found by the Germans, and it was buried in the Reichswald War Cemetery. The aircraft was repaired, but spent the rest of the war with two Operational Training Units (OTU), OTU No. 20 at Lossiemouth and OTU No. 22 at Wellesbourne Mountford before becoming a ground instructional airframe in March 1946.

Original caption: "Damage to Vickers Wellington Mark X, HE239 'NA-Y', of No. 428 Squadron RCAF based at Dalton, Yorkshire, resulting from a direct hit from anti-aircraft gun fire while approaching to bomb Duisburg, Germany on the night of 8/9 April 1943. Despite the loss of the rear turret and its gunner, as well as other extensive damage, the pilot, Sergeant L F Williamson, continued to bomb the target, following which it was found that the bomb doors could not be closed because of a complete loss of hydraulic power. Williamson nevertheless brought HE239 and the remainder of his crew back for a safe landing at West Malling, Kent, where this photograph was taken."