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Mörkö-Morane: Finnish Bogeyman


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During the Winter War, the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat) was severely outnumbered by the Soviet Air Forces opposing them. Despite this, they performed well, as much due to desperation as the relatively poor state of the VVS at the time. The severe losses the Finns experienced during the Winter War led them to seek aircraft from any available source. One country Finland sought to purchase munitions from was France, who agreed to provide Finland with several Morane-Saulnier 406 fighters.



MS 406 in Finnish markings


First flying in 1935, the MS 406 was a decently modern fighter, capable of speeds near 500 km/hr. While it was somewhat outdated compared to later models of the Bf-109, it did well in the Battle of France, obtaining a better than equal kill ratio against German planes.


Finland originally received 30 MS 406 aircraft from France in February 1940; more had been ordered, but further deliveries were prevented by the German invasion. Still, the original batch of MS 406s did well in the final months of the Winter War, with Finnish pilots scoring multiple kills against Soviet aircraft. Further MS 406s arrived in 1941 and 1942; first from Germany (sale of captured French aircraft), and later from Vichy France. By early 1943, the Finnish Air Force had 87 MS 406 in service.


Initially, the MS 406 did well in the Continuation War (though many Finnish pilots preferred the American B-239). However, as the war went on, more advanced Soviet fighters such as the La-5, P-39, and Yak-9 arrived, replacing earlier models like the I-16. While the MS 406 could hold its own against the earlier planes, it was now severely outclassed. The delivery of more modern aircraft such as the Bf-109G helped the situation somewhat, but the severe numerical disadvantage the Finns faced meant they could not afford to discard any equipment, no matter how old. As a result, it was decided to modify the MS 406 to turn it into a modern combat aircraft. Aarne Lakomaa (who would later work on the Saab 36 nuclear bomber) was in charge of the project.


First, the Finns looked for a new engine for their MS 406s. Originally, Finland tried to purchase the DB601 for fitting to the aircraft, but were rebuffed. It was instead decided to use captured stocks of the Klimov M-105P. As this was itself a development of the Hispano-Suiza 12Y used in the original MS 406, installing this engine was not too difficult. This increased the power of the aircraft from 860 horsepower to 1100, an increase of more than 25%. This did require some modification to the aircraft, notably, an new oil cooler was fitted (taken from the Bf-109G). The French propellor originally fitted to the MS 406 was replaced with one of Soviet design compatible to the M-105P.


One of the complaints about the MS 406 in Finnish service was that it was underarmed. The HS-404 cannon firing through the propellor hub was powerful but unreliable, jamming after a few rounds. The other armament was wing mounted 7.5mm machine guns, hardly sufficient against Soviet bombers. The HS-404 was replaced with either an MG151/20 or 12.7mm Berezin machine gun, to augment the wing mounted machine guns (various aircraft had either two or four 7.5mm machine guns in the wings)


After these and many other small modifications (mainly to improve the aircraft's suitability for cold weather), the first modified MS 406 flew on 25 January 1943. Results were generally positive; speed in level flight was increased to 525 km/h, while the ceiling was increased to 12000m. Rate of climb was also greatly improved, while the maneuverability remained good. The new aircraft was given the name "Mörkö-Morane" (mörkö being Finnish for "ghost" or "bogey" depending on translation).


As Finnish resources were stretched, conversion of MS 406s to Mörkö-Moranes proceeded slowly. By the end of the Continuation War, only three of the aircraft had made it to service. However, they did well, with one pilot, Lars Hattinen downing two P-39s and a Yak in the last two weeks of July 1944. Production of the Mörkö-Morane continued following the Continuation War, with some aircraft seeing action against the Germans during the Lapland War. Mörkö-Moranes would remain in Finnish service until the late 1940s.





Finnish Mörkö-Moranes, obviously pre-1946.




Wingspan: 10.62m

Length: 8.28m

Height: 2.80m

Wing Area: 16m2

Empty Weight: 2055 kg

Max Weight: 2850 kg

Engine: Klimov M-105P, 1100 hp

Max Speed: 525 km/h

Ceiling: 20,000 m











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