July 17, 2024

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Divers find the remains of a Finnish plane from World War II that was shot down by the Soviets News

Divers find the remains of a Finnish plane from World War II that was shot down by the Soviets  News

A rescue team in Estonia said it had found well-preserved parts and wreckage from the Junkers Ju 52 plane that was shot down in 1940.

The World War II mystery of what happened to the Finnish airliner after it was shot down by Soviet bombers over the Baltic Sea appears to have finally been solved after more than 80 years.

The plane was carrying American and French diplomats in June 1940 when it was shot down a few days before Moscow annexed the Baltic states. All nine people on board were killed, including the two Finnish crew members and the seven passengers – an American diplomat, two French, two Germans, a Swede, and a dual Estonian-Finnish citizen.

An Estonia diving and rescue team said this week it had found well-preserved parts and wreckage from a Junkers Ju 52 plane operated by Finnish airline Aero, which is now Finnair. It was found off the small island of Kiri near Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, at a depth of 70 meters (230 feet).

“Basically, we started from scratch. We took a completely different approach to the search,” said Kaidu Bermis, spokesman for the Estonian diving and underwater surveying company Tuukritoode OU, explaining the group’s success in finding the remains of the plane.

The civilian plane, named Kaliva, en route from Tallinn to Helsinki, occurred on June 14, 1940 – just three months after Finland signed a peace treaty with Moscow following the 1939-1940 Winter War.

News of the plane’s fate was met with disbelief and anger by authorities in Helsinki who reported that it had been shot down by two Soviet DB-3 bombers 10 minutes after take-off from Olemist Airport in Tallinn.

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“It was a unique thing for an airliner to be shot down in peacetime on a normal scheduled flight,” said Finnish aviation historian Karl Fredrik Geust, who has investigated the Kaliva case since the 1980s.

Finland was officially silent for years about the details of the plane’s destruction, publicly saying that only a “mysterious crash” occurred over the Baltic Sea, because it did not want to provoke Moscow.

Although well documented through books, research and TV documentaries, the 84-year-old mystery has piqued the interest of Finns. The case is a key part of the Nordic country’s complex World War II history and highlights its troubled relations with Moscow.

But perhaps more importantly, the downing occurred at a critical time just days before Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union prepared to annex the three Baltic states, sealing the fate of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for the next half-century before it eventually reclaimed them. Independence in 1991.

The Caliva crew was photographed in the spring of 1940 [File: Finnish Aviation Museum via AP]

It was recovered by a Soviet submarine

The Soviet Union occupied Estonia on 17 June 1940, and the ill-fated Kaliva was the last flight out of Tallinn, even though the Soviets had already begun to impose a tight embargo on transport around the Estonian capital.

American diplomat Henry W. Antheil Jr., 27, was on board the plane when it went down. He was on an urgent government mission to evacuate sensitive diplomatic bags from the US missions in Tallinn and Riga, Latvia, as it became clear that Moscow was preparing to swallow up the small Baltic states.

Caliva was carrying 227 kilograms of diplomatic mail, including Antheil’s suitcases and items from two French diplomatic couriers – identified as Paul Longuet and Frédéric Marty.

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Estonian fishermen and the operator of the lighthouse in Kiri told Finnish media decades after the plane was shot down that a Soviet submarine had surfaced near the Kaliva crash site and recovered the floating wreckage, including bags of documents that fishermen had collected from the site.

This has given rise to conspiracy theories regarding the contents of the bags and Moscow’s decision to shoot down the plane. It remains unclear why the Soviet Union specifically decided to shoot down a Finnish civilian airliner in peacetime.

“We’ve heard a lot of speculation about the plane’s payload over the years,” Guest said. “What was the plane transporting?” Many suggest that Moscow wanted to prevent sensitive materials and documents from leaving Estonia.

But he said it was possible that it was just a “mistake” on the part of Soviet bomber pilots.

Various attempts to find Kaleeva have been recorded since Estonia regained its independence more than three decades ago. However, none of them succeeded.

“The wreckage is scattered and the sea floor is full of rock formations, valleys and hills. “It’s very easy to miss” small parts and debris from the plane, Bermis said. “Techniques have, of course, evolved a lot over time. As always, you can have good technology, but you won’t be so lucky.

A new video captured by Peremees’ underwater robots showed clear images of the Junkers’ three-engined landing gear, one of the engines and parts of the wings.

Jaco Schildt, Finnair’s chief operating officer, described Caliva’s downing as a “tragic and very sad event for the young airline”.

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“Finding the Caliva wreckage in some way brings closure to this matter, although it does not bring back the lives of our customers and crew who were lost,” Schildt said. “The interest in locating Kaliva in the Baltic Sea demonstrates the importance of this tragic event in the aviation history of our region.”