ONE lesson taught by the second phase of the air operations in the present European war [i] is that superior strength on the land and in the air can produce a decision far more quickly than in the days before the air was conquered. This was the lesson taught by the German triumphs in Norway, Holland, Belgium and France. It was taught, too, more clumsily, by the Russians in Finland. Even if a belligerent makes almost every possible tactical error in land operations, predominance in the air will enable him to blind and overwhelm an opponent whose air arm is inadequate and whose army, even though well directed and, indeed, superior in fighting quality, is numerically inferior. Such, at least, was the lesson of the mid-winter campaign in Finland.
In the air, as on land, Russia had an immense superiority of strength. Finland had probably less than 100 first-line planes; her total strength in serviceable aircraft can hardly have exceeded 150. What Russia's first-line strength was is uncertain, but it was undoubtedly immense. The estimate of "Max Werner," [ii] 10,000 to 12,000 first-line aircraft, was certainly excessive; that of M. Laurent Eynac,[iii] 3000 aircraft, was probably too low. M. Pierre Cot placed the figure at 4500-5000 machines, and General Sikorski at 5000, with an equal number in reserve.[iv] The figure of 4200 to 4500 was suggested in 1938 in a French publication[v] and was probably not far wrong. In the fighting in the Karelian Isthmus on February 15, 1940, more than 500 machines were reported to have been in the air, and on a later day in February at least 1000 were flying in all the Finnish theatre.
The Russian machines were on the whole of poor quality. The I-16 single-seater fighter had a maximum speed of only 248 miles per hour and a comparatively poor armament. The standard bomber, the S.B., had a top speed of no more than 250 miles per hour and a range of only 620 miles. Another bomber, the Ts.Kb.26, had a range of 1300 miles, with a similar maximum speed. Both would
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