Fighting for Finland: Hans Wind

Finland’s involvement in the Second World War is a fascinating subject. It stood alone against the massive Soviet Union and was forced to seek help from Germany. Nevertheless, little Finland fought tenaciously throughout its battles. The same can be said about one of its best pilots.
Hans ‘Hasse’ Wind was born on 30 July 1919 in southern Finland. His father was a tanner, but from a very young age, Hans was much more interested in aviation. He even joined a club where he built and flew model aircraft. In 1938 he began flight training and became a reserve officer in the Finnish Air Force. His flying career came to a temporary halt due to a lack of available aircraft during the Winter War, when the Soviet Union first attacked Finland. Wind finished training as a Lieutenant in 1941 and was transferred to an active fighter squadron, equipped with Brewster Buffalos.
Hans Wind claimed his first kill later that year when he shot down a Soviet I-15. During the next few months, Wind shot down seven more enemy aircraft. He knew his aircraft’s capabilities and limitations quite well and was able to use that knowledge to his advantage in combat. For example, during one particular dogfight, Wind was pursued by a MiG-3. In order to shake off the MiG, Wind entered a steep dive through clouds and pulled out tightly at low level. As he had anticipated, the MiG followed him and was unable to pull out of the dive. Wind also participated in some unusual missions. In June 1942 he was tasked to escort a German Focke-Wulf Condor transport aircraft to Immola. He discovered afterwards that Adolf Hitler was onboard that aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Soviets were beginning to replace their obsolete fighters with more modern Lavochkins, Hurricanes, Spitfires and Yaks. That made aerial combat much more challenging, but Wind’s kills continued to increase. He became an expert at deflection shooting and set his Brewster’s gunfire to converge at a very close range.
There was an interesting encounter in 1943, during which Wind’s flight was outnumbered by Soviet fighters. Wind shot down two Spitfires, but his aircraft was damaged and had lost an aileron. As he nursed his plane back to its base, he realised that an enemy fighter was flying next to him. The Soviet pilot noticed the marks on the Brewster’s tail, which indicated the number of aerial victories. The pilot respectfully saluted Wind and broke formation, leaving him to return home.

Hans Wind was later promoted to Captain and awarded the Mannerheim Cross, the highest Finnish military decoration. Recipients of the medal were known as the ‘Knights of the Mannerheim Cross’. Wind had more than thirty aerial victories at the time. The Finnish Air Force finally received more modern fighters when Germany supplied Messerschmitt Bf-109s. Wind claimed 44 kills in his Brewster before converting to the Bf-109.
After D-Day, Soviet attacks increased in intensity. Finnish pilots had to fly several missions per day in order to meet hundreds of enemy fighters and bombers. In June 1944 Hans Wind scored thirty kills in twelve days. His aircraft still had Luftwaffe markings, as there was not any time to repaint the Bf-109. On one day during that period, Finnish Bf-109s were involved in 13 battles and shot down almost fifty Soviet fighters without the loss of any Finnish aircraft. Less than a week later, Wind shot down three aircraft whilst conducting a test flight in a Bf-109. Wind flew his final mission on 28 June 1944. As flight commander, he was required to send two aircraft to conduct a reconnaissance flight in a very dangerous area. Wind knew that it was considered a ‘suicidal mission’, so he decided to fly the mission himself, as he didn’t want to sacrifice the lives of his men. He was, of course, joined by his regular wingman. Wind ended up shooting down three Yak-9s and was able to return to his base, although he was badly wounded.

Hans Wind recovered and entered civilian life, studied, married and eventually retired. By the end of World War II, Finland had subjected itself to the Soviet Union. For decades, aces such as Hans Wind were seen as a political embarrassment in the light of a changed geopolitical environment.

Wind was an excellent combat tactician and wrote manuals on aerial combat. He believed in leading from the front and was awarded the Mannerheim Cross on two occasions. Hans ‘Hasse’ Wind shot down 75 enemy aircraft, yet all he wanted was for his country to be free.