On June 13, 1952, Soviet MiG-15s shot down a Swedish DC-3 returning from a SIGINT flight, and three days later the Soviets shot down a Swedish Catalina that was searching for survivors from the downed DC-3. The Soviets denied shooting down the DC-3, the Swedes claimed that the flight had been a navigational training flight, and Swedish media took an anti-Soviet stance. However, the Swedish Air Force (SwAF) did have a fairly long tradition of flying very close to or downright violating other countries’ airspace, and in 1944 this led to the shooting down of three Swedish Caproni reconnaissance aircraft.
The SwAF was in sad shape when the Second World War broke out in 1939, and there was an intense search for new aircraft to purchase. For obvious reasons most nations in Europe as well as the United States had little interest in exporting aircraft, and the SwAF hafd to make do with what was available. This included the Italian Caproni Ca.313 reconnaissance bomber (Ricognizione Piccolo Bombardamento), and Sweden ordered 84 of these aircraft for use as bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and transports. Their Swedish designations were B 16, S 16 and Tp 16, respectively.
Caproni Ca.313 in Swedish service (flyghistoria.org).
The Capronis spent five unhappy years in the SwAF between 1940 and 1945. In all 41 aviators were killed while flying this aircraft and 21 Capronis were destroyed in accidents, earning it the nickname “The Flying Coffin.” The Caproni was so remarkably accident-prone that SwAF General Nils Söderberg suspected that the aircraft had been sabotaged, since they were originally intended for export to France. The calamities were actually caused by several factors, including bad manufacturing from low-quality materials, diluted fuel due to wartime restrictions, exposure to seasonal variations that the aircraft wasn’t designed for, excessive use of the airframes themselves and general misuse, including attempts to use the Caproni as a dive bomber.
In all 40 Capronis were used as reconnaissance aircraft, and they were equipped with long-range fuel tanks as well as three cameras: a high altitude camera, an obliquely-mounted overview camera and a hand-held camera. They were arguably the first long-range reconnaissance aircraft in SwAF service, and they were based at two wings, F3 at Malmslätt and F11 at Nykӧping. The Capronis flew reconnaissance mission around most of Sweden, ranging from the Arctic to the Baltic Sea and Skagerrak, and at least one mission was flown to the immediate vicinity of the German rocket research facility at Peenemünde. On August 28, 1943, there was Swedish concern of a possible German invasion, and a Caproni from F11 flew from Everӧd in southern Sweden to carry out reconnaissance of several German harbors. Besides obvious domestic use, it may be reasonable to assume that photographs taken during such missions would be excellent to barter with the western Allies’ intelligence organizations, a precursor to the exchanges of intelligence that would lead to the demise of the DC-3 in 1952.
Aerial photograph of the German rocket site at Peenemünde taken by a Caproni crew from F11
The reconnaissance missions were intensified during the Fall of 1943, and the Germans were in all likelihood aware of the SwAF efforts. As the Swedish attitude became increasingly pro-Allied, patience with the Swedish flights may have been lost. On May 14, 1944, a Caproni from F11 was shot down by two Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs off the coast of Lithuania. One crew member was killed, and the three others were rescued by a German steamer. The next day, May 15, saw the disappearance of yet another Caproni close to the location where the first one was lost. A few days later, the German authorities admitted to shooting down a Caproni on May 14. They claimed that the Swedish aircraft was mistaken for a Soviet aircraft when attacked from above, and that the Swedish markings were only seen as the aircraft crashed. The Germans did use the opportunity to scold the Swedes for flying close to the Baltic coast during times of war, even if they remained over international water. There was no admitting to shooting down a plane on May 15, but refugees from the Baltic states later told the Swedish authorities that they had seen German aircraft shoot down a Swedish aircraft. The crew was never recovered. Swedish protests on May 27 did lead to the repatriation of the three surviving crew members from the Caproni that was shot down on May 14. Yet another Caproni, this time a bomber from F7 Såtenäs, disappeared in the Skagerrak area on May 23. Parts from the Caproni were found by Danish fishermen in 1951, and the parts did show both bullet holes and burns.
Although the camouflage of the Capronis differed quite a bit from the Soviet green or gray aircraft of that era, Swedish aircraft did not carry national markings on top of their wings until June of 1944. The SwAF did change their tactics, and individual missions were not flown. The frequency of the reconnaissance missions was also decreased, at least until the end of the Second World War.
Giorgio Apostolo. Caproni Ca,311/314. Torino: La Bancarella Aeronautica, 2007