Estonia's White Falcons: Additions and Corrections

Chandelle reader/correspondent Toomas Tyrk offers corrections and additions to our account of the early years of Estonia's air service in "The White Falcons: the White Air Forces 1918-1920" (Volume 2, Number 3 [October 1997]).

The first Estonian aviation unit was created on 21 November 1918. It hadn't any equipment at first. Germans were still in Tallinn and held control of Lasnamäe airfield and the seaplane station in the harbor. The Estonians tried to negotiate for some aircraft before the Germans left. The Germans at Lasnamäe refused to deal, but, at seaplane station, the Germans promised to sell four captured Russian seaplanes. They didn't, however. Instead, the Finns bought the airplanes just one day before the Germans left Tallinn.

When Germans left, the Estonians found just 4 wrecks in the harbor at Tallinn. There were two derelict [Friedrichshafen] FF 41As and two wrecked Russian seaplanes. There were also twelve more wrecked Russian seaplanes in Haapsalu, including ten M-11s, one M-5, and one unrecognizable airframe. But these were in even worse condition than the ones in Tallinn.

On January 19, 1919 Estonians captured a [Russian] Farman HF 30 near Narva. On January 31 they got their second plane, a [Sopwith] Strutter. It had had engine failure and made a forced landing near Vastseliina in southern Estonia, some distance from Tartu. The pilot and observer got back to Soviet side. The Soviewt pilot was also an Estonian, one Rudolf Piir. He was one of the most famous Soviet pilots during the Civil War. The local smith dismantled the airplane. it needed major renovation in Tallinn.

The Estonians were quite angry with Finns over their deal with Germans. One of Estonian pilots visited Finland in January 1919 and demanded the return of at least some of the disputed seaplanes. He got just one, an M-16 that had problems with its engine.

On April 27 SS Swanholm arrived in Estonia with four British planes, lots of aviation fuel, two pilots, and two aircraftsmen onboard. The pilots were C. Emery and C. Gerhard. Unfortunately, I don't know the names of the aircraftsmen. A couple of days later, Emery got a Scout {a Sopwith Ship's Camel 2F1) from HMS Vindictive. It must have happened between April 27 and 30, because, on April 30, Estonia started numbering their airplanes.

Number 1 was the wreck of the FF 41A under restoration in the harbour of Tallinn, though it was never actually restored, at least under this number. Number 2 was the Farman HF 30. Number 3 was the captured Sopwith Strutter. Number 4 was an M-16 flying boat. Number 5 was Emery's Camel. Numbers 6 and 7 were BE.2as, one of which had British number C6983. Numbers 8 and 9 were [Norman-Thompson} NT.2B [flying boats].

Estonia lost its first airplane on the same day [that numbering commenced]. Gerhard was eager to demonstrate his flying abilities to the Estonians and the British sailors in the harbour. He made the first flight the restored M-16. He was warned about difficult handling of the plane, but pressed ahead nonetheless. He failed to recover from a dive and crashed in the Gulf of Tallinn. His body was found a couple of days later.

Estonia's next three planes were again war prizes. On June 8 a German DFW C V landed near the Pskov. The Estonians detected the flight and arrested the pilot and courier before the Soviets could arrive. The next day a DFW C V and a Halberstadt C V attempted the same flight. They were forced down by Estonian antiaircraft fire. Both planes were damaged, one slightly, damaged, the other seriously. Since Estonia and Germany were not then at war, the pilots were returned, after a few days, to Germany while the couriers went on to Russia.

Estonian pilots flew in their First actions on 15 February 1919. WW1 veteran Karl Haas made two flights with the captured Farman. But then the Estonians ran out of fuel and ammunition. In the April, the Estonians got some fuel from the British. On June 13, Karl Haas started reconnaissance flights again. He flew the HF.30 until July 4, on four flights over the Narva front. On this date, the HF.30 was given to Iudenich's White army. A Russian pilot wrecked the plane on takeoff.

By June 28, Haas was already on the Southern Front, where he flew reconnaisance flights with one of the DFW C.Vs. He made sixteen flights with this plane. He was joined on operqtions by a pilot named Damm. Damm used an RE.8.

It's very interesting that Chandelle mentions a DH.9 downed by friendly fire. I couldn't find any mention of this in Estonian books. But a DH.9 is said to have been sent to the Southern Front and did not participate in actions.

When the ceasefire started, there were 40 planes in the inventory of Estonian Aviation Company. Of these, twelve were ready for use, eleven were new (still crated or being erected)6, and seventeen were being repaired or rebuilt. Estonia bought 28 of the airplanes from England and got one (the Camel) from the Royal Navy. In January and February 1920, the Estonians took over additional airplanes from Iudenich's army. Most of them were in such poor condition, however, that they were not included in the inventory. They were instead used for spares. By the summer of 1920, there were 67 airplanes of 15 different marks listed with Estonian Aviation Company. There were of airplane on the use.

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© 1998 by Toomas Tyrk.