Swedish Cold War Reconnaissance

SAAB B18B

After WW2 the Swedish Air Force quickly realised the threat posed by the rapidly expanding Russian empire and, despite the countries long-standing neutrality, they began to undertake reconnaissance activity along the Baltic. The early missions began in the autumn of 1945, continuing into 1946, and were flown by a SAAB B18B, a Swedish version of the Junkers Ju-86, operated by the F17 wing at Ronneby. These missions usually took off during the night so they could arrive in the target area at dawn. Once they reached the Baltic coast, the B18B would climb to 200-300 meters to take photos of any vessels they encountered and they frequently encountered Soviet fighter aircraft.

SAAB B17

In 1946, following reports about rockets flying through Swedish airspace, it was decided to mount a reconnaissance sortie towards the Penemunde peninsula where it was suspected that Soviet rocket research was based at the old German rocket research facility. A SAAB B17 single engined dive bomber was converted into a recce aircraft and on 7 Aug 46 made its first attempt to photograph the facility, but had to turn back when it was intercepted by a number of Soviet fighters. A number of further attempts were made by the B17, but every time the sortie had to be cancelled when numerous Soviet fighters intercepted the aircraft before it reached the target. Eventually it was realised that a higher performance aircraft would stand a better chance of successfully completing the mission and it was decided to use a Swedish P-51D instead. A number of American reconnaissance cameras were borrowed and installed in the P-51D by Swedish technicians. The sorties, known as Operation Falun, began on 10 Jul 48 and the results were shared with the Americans.

Swedish S31

However, before long it was decided that these reconnaissance sorties needed a dedicated reconnaissance aircraft to obtain the best results and for this the Swedish Air Force decided to use the Spitfire PR Mk XIX, known in Sweden as the S31 and in 1948 this was operated by the F11 wing at Nykoping. Between 1948-9 around 15 reconnaissance sorties were flown in an S31 along the Soviet Baltic coast, but avoiding major cities. On 25 Sep 49 an S31, with all national insignias covered by black paint, operating from Lulea in the north of Sweden made a single sortie to the Kola peninsula.

Swedish SIGINT DC-3

The Swedish Air Force had also soon recognised the need for gathering SIGINT from their neighbours, particularly the Soviet Union and on 13 Jun 46 a converted B3 (Junkers Ju 86) began flying out of Visby on the island of Gotland on a 3-4 hour sortie to gather data on Soviet radars and by Nov 46 this one aircraft had logged over 300 flight hours on this task. In 1951 a twin engined SAAB 18 was also used for some SIGINT roles but that same year the Swedish Air Force took delivery of a DC-3 aircraft (79001) that took over the SIGINT task from the B3 and completed its first sortie on 13 Jun 51. This aircraft made a total of 53 SIGINT flights before Soviet fighters shot it down on 13 Jun 52 just east of Gotland in the Baltic. Soviet fighters also shot down a Swedish PBY Catalina searching for the survivors of the DC-3 just east of Gotland. With the loss of the DC-3, the SIGINT task was undertaken by another DC-3 (79002) until that aircraft was replaced by a Tp82 Vickers Varsity and today DC-3 79002 is preserved in the Skokloster Motor Museum, 45km north of Stockholm.