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Aces of Aviation

Fokker D XXI of Eino Luukkanen

Fokker D XXI of Eino Luukkanen

Fokker D XXI of the HLeLv 24 squadron of the Finnish Air Force, piloted by Lieutenant Eino Luukkanen in December 1939.

Wingspan: 11.00 meters.

Length: 8.21 meters.

Height: 2.95 meters.

Engine[s]: Bristol Mercury VIII of 760 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 460 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 11000 meters.

Range: 850 kilometers.

Armament: Four Vickers 0.303-inch machine guns; eight 12.5-kilogram bombs.

Lieutenant Eino Luukkanen personified the dexterity and gallantry of the Finnish Air Force, which faced overwhelming forces during the Winter War of 1939-40 against the Soviet Union. As a consequence of the Finnish refusal of surrendering the bases in the Karelian Isthmus, the Russians attacked Finland with forces which were by far superior than those that the small Nordic country could deploy. The Finnish fought with great courage attracting the admiration of the whole world, albeit very little material help, and repelled the invaders by land and sea.

The 30th November 1939, the Russians attacked Finland by land and sea, bombing Helsinki and other cities. That same day, the Finnish Air Force had only two combat squadrons: the HLeLv 24, equipped with Fokker D XXI of Dutch origin, and the HLeLv 26, equipped with the obsolete Bristol Bulldog. The following day, during the continuous Russian attacks, Luukkanen intercepted and destroyed an Ilyushin DB-3 bomber, recording so the first victory of a Finnish pilot during the war. He scored two more victories before the end of the Winter War, the 13th March 1940, not being obscured his record in this campaign by the legendary Jorma Sarvanto from the same unit, who destroyed fourteen Russian aircraft, including six Ilyushin DB-3 during a single sortie the 6th January 1940, which was in that time a worlwide record.

Luukkanen remained captaining the HLeLv 24 during 1941 and when the Russian bombers attacked again, immediately after the German invasion of Russia, Finland automatically joined the Axis. In that time, however, Finland had received more modern aircraft from the western countries and, when the Brewster Buffalo arrived, the Fokker D XXI was relegated to reconnaissance missions.

About three months later, the Germans began to deliver the Messerschmitt Bf 109 G, being the HLeLv 34 the first Finnish unit that received these formidable aircraft. From the 29th March 1943 Luukkanen took the command of the HLeLv 34, where the best Finnish pilots served. Among these were Leutomestari Eino Ilmari Juutilainen, who excelled as the highest Finnish ace, with 94 victories, including two from the Winter War.

Subsequently the HLeLv 24, 28 and 30 were equipped as well with the Messerschmitt Bf 109 G, and the most experienced pilots were distributed to take command positions in those units; however, Luukkanen remained in the HLeLv 24. During the Russian offensive in the front of Leningrad, opened in June 1944, the count of his victories quickly increased, adding twenty more in less than two months. Luukkanen's war career finished with a record of 56 victories, which put him in the third place on the list of the Finnish Air Force, behind Juutilainen and Hans Wind.