The first elements of the 54th Motor Rifle Division began crossing the Finnish border at 0200 hours CEST. Air attacks targeting Finnish airbases, radar sites, and other military targets in Lapland preceded the ground invasion by roughly ten hours. In the late afternoon and evening of D+6 the Soviets made a concerted effort to degrade Finland’s airpower in the region. Radar sites were attacked. Rovaniemi airbase, the main Finnish airbase in Lapland was hit by a regiment of Su-24 Fencers. Major damage was inflicted to a number of radar sites and the airbase. The Finns had anticipated their air defenses would be targeted early in the fighting however, and planned accordingly. Many of the Draken interceptors based at Rovaniemi had been dispersed to roadway bases earlier on D+6. The Soviets discovered, to their unpleasant surprise, that the skies over Lapland were defended. A number of fierce air battles raged on into the early hours of D+7. The Finns inflicted considerable losses, but the Soviet advantage in fighter numbers was too great to completely overcome. Finnish losses in aircraft climbed steadily. By 0600 hours on D+7 the Soviets had achieved nominal air superiority over Lapland.
That morning Finnish President Mauno Koivisto addressed the nation. He informed his people of the heavy fighting taking place in the north and that every measure would be taken to keep the Finnish territory sovereign. Full scale mobilization was underway, and Koivisto called for the full commitment of the national will to the effort. After the speech he met with his military commanders. Reinforcements were beginning to move north towards the battle area. When Koivisto asked about whether it would be possible to replace the aircraft losses in Lapland without drawing away fighters and pilots from the south, the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Air Force Lieutenant General Pertti Jokinen answered affirmatively. “The Stockholm Arrangement,” he explained to his civilian superior, “is being implemented as we speak.”
Swedish-Finnish collaboration in the Cold War years is one of the best kept geopolitical secrets of the 20th Century. Sweden understood how important a militarily strong Finland was to its own interests and security concerns. Unfortunately for the Finns, the Soviet Union had placed stringent military restrictions on Finland at the end of World War II.
The Finnish Air Force could have no more than 60 combat aircraft in its inventory. The Swedes and Finns managed to do an end run around the limitation without Moscow becoming aware of it until after the fact. Sweden maintained fifty surplus Drakens in excellent condition on its soil. Helsinki and Stockholm came to an agreement in the early 80s concerning the fate of these aircraft. In the event of a new Soviet attack on Finland, these Drakens would be transferred to Finland, along with volunteer pilots from the Swedish Air Force. As Koivisto’s speech was underway, Sweden’s Ministry of Defense informed Helsinki that the first Drakens would be in the on the way by mid-afternoon.
At the same time, Sweden was making preparations for its own defensive needs closer to home. Those will be discussed further in the Baltic Approaches entries for D+7.
Koivisto’s speech, and reports of increased military activity in the south of Finland were not received well in Moscow. General Secretary Romanov had hoped that after a few hours of fighting the Finns would see the writing on the wall and allow Soviet forces free passage through Lapland. It became clear this was not to be. Instead, Helsinki would have to be dissuaded through the further use of military force in other areas of the country.
*Author’s Note: Like the Swedish preparations mentioned before, since the Soviet military action in southern Finland later on D+7 was conducted by the Baltic Military District, it will also be discussed further in the Baltic Approaches entries for D+7.*