The Fire Cross by Gunzars Zulias and Martin Reid

The swastika has become a universally known symbol of op-pression and tyranny through the Nazi Germany era, however the symbol has been used over thousands of years through many civilisations. One such use was by the Latvians from 1919 to 1940 in their air force. To the Latvians, it was known as… The Fire Cross.

 

In terms of air forces borne from the ashes of post Great War Europe, the Latvian air force is not one that has received a lot of attention. Gunars Zulis set out to provide enthusiasts and modellers an overview of the history and important fact and figures of the Latvian aviation efforts accompanied by his extensive photographic collection supported by information from others. Gunars site can be found at: http://www.latvianaviation.com. This article highlights three important aircraft types used by the Latvians.

 

Gunars Zulis &

Martin Reid.

Photographs from the

G.D. Zulis Collection

Profiles by Ronny Bar

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LVG CV.I

Source: Abandoned by retreating Germans. One aircraft was built by the Aviation Division’s workshop(1931).

Acquired: 1919, 1931.

Type: 2-seater recon, artillery spotter

Engine: 197-hp Benz IV

Dimensions:

Length: 7.87 m

Wing Span: 13.62 m

Height: 3.2 m

Max Speed: 165 km/hr

Range: 420 km

Maximum Ceiling: 6000 m

Known Serial Numbers: 19, 23, 24, 25. 27. 75

Notes:

The LVGs used by the Latvians are alternately called C.Vs and C.VIs, when the truth is that they were probably a mixture of both. For this reason, I am combining both types on this one page.

Bruvelis estimates that there were about five LVGs in total

#19

  • This aircraft is reported by Humberstone, but does not seem to appear elsewhere. It is reported as a LVG C.V with a 200-hp Benz D.IV, acquired in 1920. Note that the Halberstadt C.V was also serialed with #19 and, while some numbers were known to be recycled, it is possible that an error in identification or record-keeping is to blame.

#23

  • An LVG C.V, (engine # 17573)
  • 1926 – after major repair/overhaul the aircraft is flight tested (Jakobsons) and returned to active service.
  • continued in use until at least 1928
  • Humberstone (pg.11) shows this aircraft after a nose-stand on landing.

#24

  • Original serial number: 22996. An LVG C.VI
  • 227-hp Benz, engine #22996.
  • acquired from the Daugavpils region on April 20, 1920 and was accepted by aviator Abrams and Prenclavs, who was from the technical division.
  • July 25, 1920 – flown by Abrams, it participated in the first Aviation Festival at Spilve.
  • October 1, 1921 – crash, in bad weather.

#25

  • Original serial number 9014/18
  • July 1920 – J.Prieditis and A.Lazdins did a flyover in LVG #25 at the funeral of Augusts Sparins.
  • Believed to have been a C.VI

#27

LVG C.VI

  • June 15, 1924 – participated in the Air Festival at Spilve.
  • 1926 – after major repair/overhaul the aircraft is flight tested (Lodzins) and returned to active service.
  • May 7, 1926 – heavy crash at Spilve destroys aircraft, injures aviators.

#75

  • An LVG C.V with a 200-hp Benz
  • #75 was built in the Aviation Divisions’ own workshops, completed in 1931.

Sources:

  • Andersons, Edgars Latvijas Brunotie Speki Un To Prieksvesture
  • Bruvelis, Edvins Latvijas Aviacijas Vesture
  • Gray & Thetford German Aircraft of the First World War
  • Humberstone, R. (ed) Latvian Air Force 1918-1940
  • Jane, Fred T. Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1919
  • Windsock Datafile #17
  • Windsock Datafile #71
  • Additional information (dates of flights) taken from R.Gulbis’ log book

 

Sopwith Camel

Source: Gift from the British Navy

Acquired: January 11, 1920 (#s 8136, 8137, 8185, 8187), March 26, 1920 (6750, 7143, 8189)

Type: single-seater fighter

Engine: 150 hp

Dimensions:

Length: 5.64 m

Wing Span: 8.54 m

Height: 2.6 m

Max Speed: 180 km/hr

Range: 450 km

Maximum Ceiling: 6,000 m

Known Serial Numbers: 6 (8137), 7 (8136), 8 (8185), 9 (8187), 16 (7143), 17 (8189), 18 (6750)

Notes:

July 25, 1920 – Three Camels took part in the first Latvian Aviation Festival, held in Spilve, Riga.

Summer, 1927 – after two fatal crashes, the remaining Camels are taken out of service and written off.

In total, during their eight years with Latvian Aviation, the Camels had three fatal accidents.

# 6

  • Originally Serial # N.8137 (engine #2835)
  • This,the first of the Camels, was received on Dec.17, 1919, almost a full month before the official acceptance date (Jan.11, 1920)
  • May 2, 1920 – ltn. Skrastins has a fatal accident with this aircraft. Shortly after takeoff, at an altitude of 50m, the engine failed and the pilot tried to turn back to the airfield. He stalled and, even though the engine restarted, it was too late to prevent a violent crash. The aircraft is completely destroyed and its serial number reassigned to a Rumpler C.1.

# 7

  • Originally Serial # N.8136 (engine #2969)
  • April 25, 1920 – crash landing
  • 1920, July 25 – J.Prieditis flew this aircraft in the Aviation Festival at Spilve, Riga.
  • 1921, Feb.8 – On the roster of the First Aviation division.
  • 1921, June 16 – on a flight to Petersfeld the aircraft suffered a control failure over the beach near Riga. Pilot J.Prieditis set it down on the shoreline, but the plane flipped over.

# 8

  • Original Serial number, as with #15, is given as N.8185.   Perhaps #8 and #15 are the same aircraft, renumbered.
  • 1924 – on the roster of the Fighter Squadron.

# 9

  • From HMS Vindictive, left Liepaja in Nov.1919, then sent to Riga.
  • Originally Serial # N.8187 (engine #255)
  • April 13-21, 1920 – participated in the third Latgale campaign.
  • April 15, 1920 – Transfer flight from Spilve (Riga) to Rezekne. (Jakubovs)
  • April 16, 1920 – 20 minute test flight
  • April 18, 1920 – two recon flights to Osveja (Jakubovs)
  • April 25, 1920 – recon flight to Osveja (Jakubovs)
  • April 27, 1920 – recon flight, strafing of a train and a cavalry column (Jakubovs)
  • May 2, 1920 – recon flight to Sebeza (Jakubovs)
  • May 8, 1920 – 20 minute test flight
  • May 12, 1920 – recon flight, forced landing at Pitalova, then returned to Rezekne (Jakubovs)
  • May 13, 1920 – Transfer flight from Rezekne to Spilve. (Jakubovs)
  • July 2, 1920 – V.Jakubovs executes a flyover in #9 at the funeral of aviator Augusts Sparins.
  • February 8, 1921 – On the roster of the First Aviation division.
  • July 7, 1921 – After takeoff, at an altitude of only 10 metres, the engine stopped. Pilot Jakubovs makes a forced landing beyond the aerodrome, but flips the aircraft over.
  • 1924 – on the roster of the Recon Squadron.
  • 1927, August 6 – pilot Eduards Lumbergs miscalcuates while flying low aerobatics, and fatally crashes when attempting to fly under a bridge at Daugavpils.

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# 12

  • Serial not know for this aircraft

# 15

  • Originally Serial # N.8185 (engine #37184)
  • 1921, Feb.8 – On the roster of the Aviation School.

# 16

  • Originally Serial # N. 7143

# 17

  • Originally Serial # N.8189
  • April 13-21, 1920 – participated in the third Latgale campaign.
  • May 13, 1920 – Transfer flight from Spilve (Riga) to Rezekne. (Zarins)
  • May 20, 1920 – recon flight to Osveja, Velikoje (Zarins)
  • May 24, 1920 – recon flight to Osveja, Kahanovici, Drisa (Zarins)
  • June 14, 1920 – 25 minute test flight
  • June 17, 1920 – recon and bombing flight to Ostrova, Opocka, Sebeza (Zarins)
  • June 22, 1920 – recon flight to Sebeza, Indrica, Opocka and Rozanova (Zarins)
  • July 7, 1920 – 30 minute test flight
  • July 13, 1920 – 30 minute test flight
  • July 14, 1920 – recon flight to Rusoni, Sebeza and Indrica (Zarins)
  • July 14, 1920 – Transfer flight from Rezekne to Spilve (Zarins)
  • 1921, Feb.8 – On the roster of the First Aviation division.
  • 1924 – On the roster of the Aviation School.
  • 1924, June 15 – flown (by Zarins) in the Aviation Festival at Spilve, Riga.

# 18

  • Originally Serial # N.6750
  • July 25, 1920 – flown (by V.Jakubovs) in the Aviation Festival at Spilve, Riga.
  • Feb 8, 1921 – On the roster of the First Aviation division.
  • July 7, 1921 – Upon takeoff, one of the u/c wheels fell away. Subsequent landing, minus one wheel, pilot Rimsa flipped the plane.
  • June 15, 1924 – participates in the Aviation Festival at Riga/Spilve.
  • 1924 – on the roster of the Fighter Squadron.

Sources:

  • Bruvelis, Edvins Latvijas Aviacijas Vesture
  • Hall, Malcolm Sopwith Aviation Company
  • Humberstone, Richard (ed) Latvian Air Force 1918-1940
  • Irbitis, Karlis Of Struggle and Flight
  • Sturtivant & Page The Camel File
  • Windsock Datafile # 6 (Sopwith 2F1 Camel)

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Nieuport 24 bis

Source: Flown over by pilot defecting from the bolshevik forces

Acquired: 1919

Type: single-seat fighter

Engine: 130hp Le Rhone 9Jb

Dimensions:

Length: 5.87 metres

Wing Span: 8.21 metres

Height: 2.40 metres

Max Speed: 176 km/hr

Range: 200 km

Maximum Ceiling: 5300 metres

Known Serial Numbers: 1

Notes:

  • Pre-Latvian serial number: 4300
  • Repaired and test flown at Spilve from August 5-7, 1919
  • August 17, 1919 – assigned to the 1st Squadron Note that, while the aircraft was marked with Latvia’s colours, the stripes were not presented in the same proportion as seen on the national flag.
  • August 19, 1919 – 1st Squadron transfers to Krustpils to participate in battles against the bolsheviks in Latgale. The transfer is done by rail because of a severe shortage of fuel suitable for aviation.
  • August 25, 1919 – J.Prieditis flies the Nieuport on a 30-minute checkout flight
  • August 27, 1919 – J.Prieditis flies his first sortie for the latvians, on a route from Krustpils to Livani to Cargrade and back to Krustpils. He dropped seven bombs on a one-hour flight at an altitude of 900 metres. He received three bullet holes in his aircraft.
  • Sept. 12, 1919 – J.Prieditis makes a brief (20 minute) flight.
  • Oct. 9, 1919 – J.Prieditis flies the Nieuport on a recon from Krustpils to Jumpravmuiza and then to the Krustabaznicas aerodrome at Jugla.
  • Oct.10, 1919 – J.Prieditis takes the Nieuport on a recon to Kekava and then flies to Spilve, Riga.

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  • Oct.11, 1919 – just minutes before the capture of Riga, Prieditis flies the Nieuport to Sigulda.
  • Oct.11, 1919 – J.Prieditis takes the Nieuport on a recon route: Sigulda-Jaunjelgava-Taurkalne-Sigulda.
  • Oct.12, 1919 – Reconnaissance missions continue, this time to report on the rear areas of Bermont-Avalov’s forces near Bulduri. At the end of the recon, Prieditis re-based to a more forward location (Krustabaznicas aerodrome).
  • Oct.15, 1919 – performed recon of Bermont’s forces specifically for the British naval forces in Riga. The naval guns used this information to drive Bermont back from Riga.
  • Oct.17, 1919 – more recon such as on the 15th.
  • Nov.4 – Nov.10, 1919 – The Nieuport is briefly taken out of service for maintenance and repairs.
  • Nov.12 – Nov.16, 1919 – The Nieuport is flown in double shifts to provide recon for intensive battles from Tornkalns to Jelgava.
  • Mov.29, 1919 – with the Bermont battles essentially over, the Nieuport returns to Spilve. In total, the Nieuport had flown 23 combat missions between Oct.8 and Nov.20, 1919.
  • July 25, 1920 – N.Puskelis, flying the Nieuport, performs at the first Aviation Festival at Spilve. His flying demonstration was especially effective because, when he was still a flier for the bolsheviks, he was given responsibility for advanced pilot training at the Moscow flight school, a program which involved a great deal of aerobatics.
  • August 7, 1921 – J.Prieditis, flying the Nieuport, performs at the second Aviation Festival at Spilve. The aircraft, which was nearing the end of its useful life, was repaired for this occasion. It remained on the active roster until at least 1923, but it is uncertain how much flight time it actually received.

Sources:

  • Bruce, J.M. Nieuport Aircraft Of World War One
  • Bruvelis, Edvins Latvijas Aviacijas Vesture
  • Cooksley, Peter Nieuport Fighters in Action
  • Humberstone, R. (ed)Latvian Air Force 1918-1940
  • Irbitis, Karlis Of Struggle and Flight
  • Sanger, Ray Nieuport Aircraft Of World War One
  • Sparnota Latvija

 

Postscript:

It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Gunars passed away on March 22, 2010. He will be mourned and missed by the many whose lives he touched with his spirit and talents.

LATVIANS.COM is supporting the continued web presence of Gunars’ work in tribute to his memory. We invite all who assisted Gunars in his research and passion to contact us (petersjv@aol.com) to continue to support and build on this valuable and truly unique archive.

LATVIANS.COM is supporting the  the continued web presence of Gunars work in tribute to his memory. We invite all who assisted Gunars in his research and passion to contact us (petersjv@aol.com) to continue to support and build on this valuable and truely unique archive.

Thank you to Gunars wife Barbara and good friend Peters for their kind assistance in the preparation of this article and approval for the use of Gunars work.

 

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