The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

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tramonte
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The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by tramonte » 13 Oct 2015 10:37

There have been some wild talks in Finnish forums about legend of Detachment Kuhlmey (mostly ground attack aircraft unit operating in Karelian Isthmus from 17th of June to 20th of July 1944). Especially claims of Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey destroying some 200 enemy armour have been strongly criticized based on reality how poor WW2 ground attack aircraft were destroying enemy armour.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detachment_Kuhlmey
It destroyed over 150 Soviet aircraft, about 200 tanks, dozens of bridges and transport vessels. 23 of the pilots died and 24 were wounded in battle. The unit lost 41 of its aircraft to all reasons
Exaggerations of WW2 pilots is indeed well known fact. Still comparing the real results of Ju 87/FW 190 etc poor results in Kursk (based on Soviet studies of their own lost armour) and Normandy huge exaggerations of RAF/USAF ground attack aircraft pilots those claims of Kuhlmey unit took as face value really surprise me personally.

Hannu Valtonen in his Pohjoinen Ilmasota (1996) took rather dim view on claim accuracy on Eastern Front. In June 1944 over Karelia Istmus, he wrote (pp. 363 - 364) that the claim accuracy was 1:3 in the best case (if all those missing a/c of the 13th Air Army were shot down by fighters) and 1:4 if none of those the 13th Air Army reported missing were lost to fighters. Valtonen gives a couple of reservations to this calculations. He had no info on PVO losses, if any, and because he had no info on VVS KBF (Baltic Fleet's Naval AF) losses he estimated that it's losses were in the same ratio to number of a/c in use than those of 13th Air Army. Also some of the 13th Air Army losses may have occured over Baltic states.
"Military history is nothing but a tissue of fictions and legends, only a form of literary invention; reality counts for very little in such affair."

- Gaston de Pawlowski, Dans les rides du front

durb
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Re: The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by durb » 26 Nov 2015 23:35

Most Finnish war historians agree that Detachment Kuhlmey had a real impact in the combat situation on the Karelian Isthmus in late June - early July. It more than doubled the air strike capability of Finnish Air Forces and even Soviets at the time acknowledged that the increased Finnish-German aereal activity had a impact on combat situation and it partly helped to halt the Soviet offensive by late June/early July 1944 at the Karelian Isthmus. This made a big difference from the Finnish perspective as it improved the prospects of gaining acceptable conditions of separate peace instead of unconditional surrender.

However things change if we look the things from the larger perspective of Germans and Allied. From the Soviet/Allied perspective the limited goal to force Finland out of war and make it to pay some compensation to Soviets and cut off its relations with Germany was satisfactory enough (even for the Soviets). Once Finnish front was stablilized and some Soviet gains guaranteed, the Soviet troops could be transferred from the Finnish front to the south to help the main invasion toward Germany and Berlin. This was something that the Detachment Kuhlmey could not change.

I did recently read the history of JG 54 (Jagdgeschwader 54) written by John Weal. It gives rather dim picture of the efforts of Kuhlmey- quote from Mr. Weal:
"But it was all to no avail. The Soviets succeededd in occupying almost the entire Karelian Isthumus, including the ancient city of Viipuri at its northern end, and the Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey was disbanded during the latter half of July."

Although in the "big picture" this was true from the German perspective (Germany lost Finland as an ally or co-belligerent despite the efforts of Kuhlmey unit), I would disagree in some extent if we take in account the Finnish view: Kuhlmey unit played a significant role in halting the Soviet attack during the last days of June and first weeks of July and helped Finnish forces to stablise the situation and thus avoiding the grim unconditional surrender (or harsher terms of peace than those which were finally signed between Finland and Soviet Union).

By late July 1944 Kuhlmey unit had played its role and was not more needed at the Finnish front because the crisis at the Karelian Isthumus was over from the Finnish point of view. Kuhlmey Detachment was not disbanded by late July 1944 because its efforts would have been considered completely fruitless as Mr. Weal seems to state - by late July/early August 1944 there was no more need for its existence and Germans needed their planes elsewhere where the situation was much more critical.

In the limited battlefield of Karelian Isthmus Kuhlmey Detachment played a important and even successful role but from the bigger German perpective its efforts did nothing more than buy couple of months more for the existence of already uneasy Finnish-German alliance and thus its impact on the "big picture" was rather limited. And this is where Mr. Weal is right although he ignores the local warfare situation at the Karelian Isthmus by late June 1944/July 1944 when Soviet attack was effectively halted and the fact that Kuhlmey´s contribution to front situation at the Karelian Isthmus began to have a real impact after the loss of Viipuri.

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Re: The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by Art » 28 Nov 2015 09:33

tramonte wrote:It destroyed over 150 Soviet aircraft, about 200 tanks
The real number of tanks destroyed can be easily counted with fingers on both hands. The important effect was mostly against troops on battlefield and against bridges and troops concentrations at Tali crossings. It must be mentioned that limited space in inter-lake passages in the Tali region presented very lucrative targets for attack aircraft.

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Re: The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by valtonen » 31 Jan 2016 08:52

Kuhlmey, who died 1993, is still hailed as the hero, who stopped the Soviet advance to the present Finnish-Russian border. The finnish forces were totally exhausted (evn though assisted by volunteers from Estonia and Sweden), so the final defensive factor were the planes of Detachment Kuhlmey). Otherwise the soviet forces could have easily reached Helsinki and occupied the southern half of Finland.

Kuhlmey, who by the way made a fine air forece career in West Germany retiring as general, visited Finland many times after the war and was treated even better than royalty. Several books have been written on him and several monuments erected.

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Re: The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by Karelia » 01 Feb 2016 05:47

Although I too value the efforts of the Detachment Kuhlmey very highly and as crucial, there were also several other elements, without which the soviets could have broken through, namely the new anti-tank weapons, the Stugs, the Finnish bombers and especially the Finnish artillery aiming system. The Kuhlmey detachment was one of the crucial elements, not THE one.

However the otherwise valuable and important part of the Estonian volunteers was not one of them, neither the efforts of the very small number of the Swedish volunteers (in 1944).

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Re: The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by Karelia » 02 Feb 2016 08:00

My post above needs some clarification...

The input of the Estonian volunteers in summer 1944 was naturally as extremely important as that of the other troops, but not more so.

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Re: The success of Detachment Kuhlmey in Finland (1944) - myth or reality

Post by tramonte » 27 Oct 2020 13:34

Karelia wrote:
01 Feb 2016 05:47
However the otherwise valuable and important part of the Estonian volunteers was not one of them, neither the efforts of the very small number of the Swedish volunteers (in 1944).
Estonian volunteers compared to Finnish army of 14 infantry divisions, 1 armoured division, 6 infantry brigades, 1 cavalry brigade, 6 border jaeger battalions + coast defence forces? The role was of course marginal. The "thanks to Estonians" is more a moral thing, not based on military facts.

When it comes to Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey there is looming reality that most of Finns have been fooled by normal rather humane military exaggeration. Let's not forget the fact that not a single German soldier or German aircraft operated in Karelian Front and still Finnish forces managed to block Soviet offensive in U-line (Battle of Nietjärvi). Same little bit later in Ilomantsi. So if Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey was "crucial" or "vital" then how in heck Finns managed as well in U-line/Ilomantsi as in Tali-Ihantala or Vuosalmi (or as i'm thinking ever better)? When VVS successfully bombed their air base in Immola (2 July 1944 evening) the humiliation been taken pants down, loosing 10 aircraft and at least 15 damaged didn't change the battle result at all. Nor did the order to decrease aviation fuel consumption little bit later. Maybe role of Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey was important but not as vital as so often claimed. After all it was relatively tiny force with (at least western standards) rather obsolete Stuka aircraft.

The narrative of Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey in Finland is veiled with myths and legends because the careful deep study has not been done so far (Valtonen had hardly no Soviet data backing claims of Kuhlmey unit). Dr. Markku Jokisipilä wrote interesting article in Tieteessä tapahtuu (2005). He mentioned that the narrative of German "crucial military aid" actually was what Soviet Union and Finnish Communist Party wanted to be cemented to history books. Kuhlmey fanboys in Finland have walked to minefield.

If someday some deep going military historian study found that Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey results were let's say: ~35-40 shot down Soviet aircraft, 8 destroyed enemy tanks, 50 destroyed enemy vehicles, few small vessels and 10 pontoon bridges (which Soviet forces again and again rebuilt) are we still saying its role was crucial or important? Perhaps the role of normal logistical problems of advanced Red Army played bigger role than Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey? What is rather well known fact is that Red Army artillery rounds fired in Tali-Ihantala were far below those numbers of rounds fired in 10 June and even 14 June. We also know that flying missions of VVS decreased even before Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey arrived to Immola.
"Military history is nothing but a tissue of fictions and legends, only a form of literary invention; reality counts for very little in such affair."

- Gaston de Pawlowski, Dans les rides du front

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