Narrative History (Pre-WW2)

for the Lithuanian Air Force

The Lithuanian Army was first established in early 1918, but was initially poorly trained and ill-equipped. It was unable to resist the Bolshevik invasion of early 1919 with resulted in the loss of Vilnius to the Soviets. On 1 January 1919 an Aviation Unit was officially formed at Kaunas within the Engineers Company of the Lithuanian Army. The unit received it’s first aircraft on 5 February 1919 – a captured Soviet Sopwith.

On 12 February 1919 a flying school was established which was soon equipped with aircraft from Germany. A number of reconnaissance missions were also flown over Bolshevik lines. In early 1920 the Allied Military Control Commission overseeing German disarmament forced Germany to abandon its remaining military facilities in Lithuania, and so a number of additional aircraft were acquired.

In August 1920 the Aviation Unit was renamed Karo Aviacija (Military Aviation), and subsequently re-organised and expanded. It participated in the fighting with Poland over the ownership of Vilnius, including bombing and reconnaissance sorties. In the uneasy peace that followed the unsatisfactory outcome of the Polish conflict, further air bases were established, but the economic situation severely limited the procurement of new aircraft.

By 1936 the economic situation had improved, but the political situation was getting worse and several orders were placed for modern fighters and trainers to re-equip the air force. During 1938 the National Guard (Sauliai) para-military organisation formed an aviation component to provide refresher training for reserve officers.

Following incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR on 3 August 1940, the Lithuanian Army became the 29th Territorial Corps and its air component, the Karo Aviacija, became the Tautine Eskadrile (National Squadron). The Eskadrile aircraft were based at a country estate where they were parked out in the open. The unused aircraft were simply stored. On 22 June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and the next day the Tautine Eskadrile was ordered to fly to bases well inside Russian territory. Many Lithuanian personnel instead defected to the advancing German forces. During the period of German occupation 1941-44, several of the stored aircraft found their way to Germany, where at least some of them where flown. A number of Lithuanian pilots flew alongside the Luftwaffe on operations against the Red Army during this time.

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