The Finnish Air Force acquired a formidable reputation during the Second World War. In fact, the country in effect fought three wars during the period of 1939-45. These were the “Winter War” of 1939-40 and the “Continuation War” of 1941-44 against the Soviet Union and then the “Lapland War” in 1944-45 against the Germans.
What particularly stands out in these conflicts is that the small Finnish Air Force achieved a remarkable amount of success while flying many fighter types that were considered obsolete. Aircraft like the Brewster Buffalo,
…the Fokker D.XXI and even the positively ancient Gloster Gamecock all were used with surprising success.
But this reliance on foreign aircraft was always recognised as a problem. What the Finns really wanted was a home-grown fighter that fit their requirements.
And that’s where the VL Mrysky comes in.
Like just about every European nation in the late-1930s, Finland got the feeling that something bad was on the horizon. And, like most European nations, they thought that it might be a good idea to take some measures to improve their security.
In 1937 the Finns set aside funds and created plans to acquire new aircraft to build up the strength of their Air Force, a branch that up until then had only small numbers of increasingly old planes. As a result, the Finns bought a small number of Fokker D.XXI’s and then a licence to build them, as well as a licence to manufacture the Bristol Blenheim bomber.
This was a solid start for the Valtion lentokonetehdas (VL – State Aircraft Company) but despite the adoption of these new aircraft, the Finnish High Command wanted better, especially in fighter aircraft, and instructed VL to see about beginning production of up-to-date designs.
The problem VL found was that, now in 1938, countries weren’t willing to sell them the necessary jigs and machine tools to build their latest aircraft – any country that could have were frantically building up their own production facilities.
So, in April 1939 and after careful study of their options, the Finnish Air Force instructed VL to build their own fighter for Finland’s needs, which was to minimize reliance on foreign components and be built with as much indigenously sourced material as possible.
A month later VL provided five proposals to the Finnish Ministry of Defence and, after reviewing them, in June an order for 33 fighters equipped with the British Bristol Taurus radial engine was issued.
Things started to go wrong fairly rapidly. In September Britain declared war on Germany, after the latter’s invasion of Poland. This meant that Taurus’ were no longer going to be available and VL needed to come up with a different engine fit for their fighter.
They settled on the American Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, because this was broadly in the same range as the Taurus and the United States, still neutral, would hopefully be able to provide the required powerplants.
And then things went from bad to worse. On 30th November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, beginning the “Winter War”.
The Finns had to concentrate exclusively on building what aircraft they could, plus there were deliveries of aircraft from sympathetic nations that helped alleviate the Finnish Air Force’s immediate problems. Even after the Winter War ended in March 1940, VL still had plenty of work in repairing the existing aircraft in inventory, including captured Soviet types.
So, development of the Myrsky was put on hold for a year. It wasn’t until late December that development was able to resume, with a prototype being ordered.
And again, events got in the way.
In late June 1941 Finland, now allied with Germany, invaded the Soviet Union in the Continuation War, an attempt to recapture the territories it lost in 1939-40. It had been originally hoped to have the Myrsky prototype flying by then, but the war meant that first flight wasn’t achieved until 23rd December 1941.
This showed that the aircraft was overweight and suffered from yaw issues. But the need for a new fighter was critical and while modifications were made to this first aircraft, designated as the MY-1, three other pre-production aircraft were authorised in May 1942 to test out different configurations.
These original four experimental aircraft would be designated as the Myrsky I series, and in August 1942 a production order was given for 47 Myrsky IIs that would be the version issued to the Finnish Air Force.
The aircraft itself utilised a large amount of wood throughout its construction – understandable given Finland’s vast tracts of forest and limited access to aircraft grade metal alloys. Construction was mixed, composed of a steel-tube framework with a fabric and plywood skin on the rear fuselage, while the front panels were of duralumin.
The wings were built with laminated wooden box spars, used plywood ribs and were skinned in a Birchwood veneer.
The engine was always an issue for the Myrsky, as pointed out, and the USA would no longer supply Twin Wasps, what with Finland’s alliance to Germany. However, Twin Wasps were available for production of the aircraft, though sources are mixed on their origin.
Older sources state that they were models licensed produced by Sweden and supplied to the Finns, and that the Swedes did express some interest in producing the aircraft themselves. Other sources state that the Finns were able to acquire the engines from stocks that the Germans had captured during their conquests.
This would seem logical as Germany did supply Finland with Curtiss Hawk fighters they had captured from France and Norway, and these both used the Twin Wasp.
Regardless, the Myrsky used the R-1830-SC3-G model, which the Finns were reportedly able to tweak to get about 1,150hp from.
Armament was four VKT 12.7mm machine guns, an unlicenced copy of the FN Browning heavy machine gun. These were all located in the nose and synchronized to fire through the propellor arc. As the design progressed hardpoints under the wings for two 100-kg bombs or drop tanks were also added.
In terms of performance, the Myrsky II had a top speed of 329mph (530km/h), a ceiling of 31,200 feet (9,500m) and a range on internal fuel of around 310 miles (500 kms). All of this would have made it a pretty respectable fighter…in 1940/1. Even in 1942, it was reasonable.
Unfortunately, the Myrsky didn’t get into service in 1942. Or even 1943.
Because the Myrsky suffered from several severe issues.
Testing with the original four Myrsky I series aircraft showed that they had a rather alarming tendency to rip their wings off in a dive, or else for the skin to peel off suddenly in flight. The latter problem was attributable to the fact that Finland couldn’t get hold of quality glues, and the substitute used really wasn’t up to it. These issues led to the loss of two of the original aircraft, and a third went down after it ran out of fuel on test.
So it wasn’t until December 1943 that manufacture of the Series II began, and all 47 production aircraft were built between December 1943 and December 1944. By then several Finnish fighter squadrons were already reequipped with the far more formidable Bf 109G courtesy of their German allies.
So, the most suitable option seemed to be to replace some of the hodgepodge of old fighters that the Finns were keeping in service simple because they had no choice. MY-4 was therefore sent on No.26 Fighter Squadron in February 1944 to see if the Myrsky would be suitable as a replacement for their old Fiat G.50’s, an aircraft well past it’s sell by date but which, in typical Finnish fashion, was still being used effectively.
The pilots were apparently unimpressed with the aircraft, an impression no doubt enhanced when on March 17th the wing snapped off, killing the pilot.
The issue of the bad glue followed the production aircraft and the unfavourable reports from the fighter pilots, combined with the nasty trend of the aircraft to come apart under pressure, was a serious problem. But Finland couldn’t afford to not use every resource at its disposal, and so it decided to issue the Mrysky to the reconnaissance squadrons.
Because though the aircraft might be slower than most contemporary fighters then in service, it was still the second fastest aircraft in service with the Finnish Air Force.
The first squadron converted in July 1944, and others soon followed. On 22nd August 1944, they saw their first combat, managing to damage a Yak-9 and an La-5. This was followed up on 3rd September when six Myrsky’s bombed the headquarters of the Soviet 7th Army Corps.
This was the last actions the type would take against Soviet forces because the next day a ceasefire went into effect and the Finns, as part of the agreement, had to kick their former German allies out of their country.
This led to the Lapland War, and Myrsky’s were sent to conduct reconnaissance missions over German positions in the far north of Finland. This they did, though the Artic conditions, combined with the damp that went along with operating aircraft in this climate caused no end of problems for the Myrsky, mainly due to their heavy use of wood in their construction and the poor-quality glue. As a result, they required disproportionate amounts of maintenance to keep them operational.
With the end of the war the Myrsky’s remained in service for a brief time, finally being retired in 1948. A total of 51 were built, but of those ten were lost in accidents, resulting in the deaths of four pilots.
Despite its rather lacklustre record, the Myrsky was still a remarkable achievement.
With comparatively little experience and with barely any access to powerful engines or quality materials, things that pretty much any other aircraft manufacturer would insist were absolute requirements, the VL still managed to produce an aircraft that could at least fulfil some use.
And if a few other elements had gone the right way, especially in terms of timing and if the manufacturer had been able to source decent glue, then it is entirely possible that the Myrsky would have been a far more formidable and well-known aircraft.
A ray of sunshine in its story is that one Myrsky is currently being restored for display at the Finnish Air Force Museum.
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