There were three consecutive heavy Soviet air raids on Helsinki, on the 6th, 16th, and 26th of February. Their intentions were to make the Finns ask for peace. The Finnish army, despite of its substantially lesser military force, had been considerably successful in defending the country.
On Sunday, Febr. 6, the city street lights went off at 18:17 and sirens began their wailings at 18:51. The local people were used to minor alarms and everybody waited for a quick 'all clear' sign to come. Many people didn't even bother to go down to the shelters. The raid, however, went on the whole night. About 350 planes took part in the two-wave raid. Approx. 3,500 bombs were dropped. Ten percent of those hit the city area. A hundred civilians were killed and 300 wounded.
Air raids were twice repeated with 10 days' intervals. The total number of bombing flights, incl. the first raid, was 2,000. About 20,000 bombs were dropped with 5 percent hitting the city area. Only 50 civilians more were killed after the initial strike. About a hundred buildings were totally destroyed.
Antiaircraft defense plans
The quite low number of casualties and destroyed buildings can in a great extent be accounted for the well-planned air-defense and the newly acquired radar installations. The commander for the Helsinki air defense was Lt. Col. Pekka Jokipaltio (1901-1977). The operative commander was Capt. Aake Pesonen (1914-1987).
The improvement of Helsinki air defence begun already in 1941. It was intensified in 1942, at the time when the Soviet strategic air forces (ADD, Авиация дальнего действия), directly under Stalin's command and led by Air Marshall Aleksandr Golovanov (1904-1975), had begun their bombing missions on Finnish cities. The defensive tactics aimed at preventing the advancing bombers to drop their loads on the city area. For this purpose Capt. Pentti Paatero planned a set of defensive rings around Helsinki. They all had the geographical center of the downtown city as the center point. At each evenly numbered distance in kilometers, up to 14 km from the center point, each ring was divided into 1-1.5 km wide arcs. The barriers (columns) thus formed were given descriptive numbers. Each column was then subdivided into slices of 200 m up to a height of 7,5 km. For each one of these slices all relevant gunnery data was precalculated. A lot of mathematicians (Leo Sario, Pentti Laasonen, Kari Karhunen, Olli Lokki and others) and artillery experts were gathered to make these calculations. Later the German radars (then called Funkmessgerät), of which the Finns learned in 1942 and finally got in 1943, were playing a pivotal role in this.
In a combat situation, all batteries were simultaneously listening to the Air Defence HQ's telephone commands. When the target barrier (number, height) was given, each battery picked up their values from the books and, as the result of their concentrated barrage fires, a fire wall could be created in front of the bombers closing that barrier in the sky.
The sound locators listening the sky on Hogland Island gave the early warnings. The two far-range radars (known by a lady's name "Raija", very similar to the corresponding Germ. cover name Freya) disclosed the positions of approaching planes from a distance of 100 km and in combat situations more accurate positions were measured with four fire ranging radars ("Irja", Germ. Dora), which were transmitted to the command center. During the first and most disastrous air raid, the German liaison officer Capt. Kurt Rheindorff directly called Reichs Marshall Herman Göring and requested fighter support. The request was accepted and in four days, before the second strike, a contingent of 12 Messerschmitt night fighters and their crews arrived at Malmi airport. This substantially helped the city defence.
The effect of growing experience, improving barrier fire and the effect of night fighters can be seen in maps showing a bomber or formation radar measured flight paths. Turning away meant also dropping the bombs outside the city. First raid (6 Febr.), third raid (26 Febr.) (Source: The 60th Anniversary Exhibition at the Helsinki Aviation Museum)
In Lauttasaari, two antiaircraft guns (pictures) were erected on the island at the sites of "Puisto" and "Lautta" heavy gun batteries as local commemorations of those times. The "Puisto" battery in the south also had one of the four "Irja" radars in Helsinki. The situation chart of the air defence battery in the SE tip of Lauttasaari. The radar position marked as "Irja".
Anti-aircraft cannons on the pages of Helsinki City art museum.
Andres Valdre's detailed information about these and other air raids on Helsinki.
A detailed study of February air raids (in Finnish). In Lauttasaari, the commander of the "Puisto" air defence battery in the southern tip of the island, was Lt. Jalassola, whose obituary (in Finnish) was published in the magazine Ilmatorjuntaupseeri in 2003.
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