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- Dec 2, 2007
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From: “Enemy at the Gates: Panic Fighters of the Second World War”
Estonia (17 June 1940)
Estonia (17 June 1940)
After achieving independence on February 1918 and signing a peace treaty with the U.S.S.R. in 1920, Estonia created an Aviation Regiment equipped with some German and British aircraft surviving from the First World War.
In 1924 the Government managed to neutralize a communist coup that had been seconded by the Aviation Regiment. It was necessary to reform the Estonian Army and to create a new Air Force. In 1925, fifteen Gourdou-Lesseurre GL-32 monoplane fighters were acquired, followed a year later by nine Potez 25 A.2 light bombers, twelve Bristol Bulldog Mk.II biplane fighters in 1930 and eight Hawker Hart fighter-bombers in 1932.
The growing Soviet threat required the assignment of a 20 per cent of their annual state budgets to defence, a burden that the economy of the small Baltic State could not support indefinitely. By the middle of the 1930s, Estonia had four infantry divisions, two submarines, one torpedo boat, six gunboats, four minelayers and 50 combat aircrafts.
Early 1937 the government of Estonia sold seven Bristol Bulldog Mk.II and eight Potez 25 A.2 to Spain through a Czech import company, to circumvent the arms embargo imposed by the Non-Intervention Committee. The operation turned out to be very lucrative and Estonia decided to act as an intermediary in the sale of 26 Fokker G.I heavy fighters, two Fokker C.X light bombers, two Fokker D.XXI monoplane fighters and seven Letov S.231 biplane fighters to the Spanish communists.
On 8 July 1937, after Hendon Air Show, the Estonian Military Purchasing Committee placed an order for twelve Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I with the money obtained from the illegal arms trade. The price of a Spitfire of the time was equivalent to 40 per cent of the annual budget of Estonia. The Spitfires were to be delivered between July 1939 and June 1940, but the British cancelled the operation 12 days after the German attack to Poland.
The attempt to acquire some P.Z.L. P.24 fighters also failed because of the excessive demand from other countries. The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact signed in August 1940, the Mutual Assistance Pact imposed by the Soviets in September to the Baltic States and the beginning of the Second World War took the Estonian Air Force by surprise with a strength of four Gladiators and seven Harts.
The local aeronautical industry reached the capacity to manufacture the PON-1 biplane trainer in 1935 and the PTO-4 monoplane trainer in 1938. The first flight of the prototype Aviotehase PN-3, designed as a conversion trainer for the Spitfire, took place in January 1939. It could fly at 395 kph, powered by a Rolls-Royce Kestrel XI and was armed with two 7.62 mm machine guns. It would have served as the basis for the construction of an advanced fighter, but its development was interrupted by the soviet occupation on 16 June 1940.
Humberstone, R., Estonian Air Force 1918-1940, Blue Rider Publishing, 1999.
Gerdessen, F., “Estonian Air Power 1918-1945”, Air Enthusiast/Eighteen.
Lennurägi, E., “Estonian Air Force”, SAFO vol 15.Nº3, April 1991.
Lennurägi, E., “Estonian Air Force”, SAFO vol 16.Nº2, April 1992.