Latvian Air Force Gladiators
In 1937 Latvian delegates arrived in Britain in order to purchase aircraft for the Latvian Aviation Regiment. The State Lottery had raised a total of 120,000 for the venture. The prime purpose of the lottery was to supplement the meagre funds that were allocated to the Aviation Regiment. During the thirties many nations were not considered very 'credit worthy', Latvia being one of them. So when military equipment was purchased the money was requested up front. From 1934 to 1939 nearly 5.5 million Lats was raised by the lottery. The delegates looked at aircraft from both Hawkers and Glosters, in the end 26 Gladiator MkI's were purchased, at a cost of 120,000 Lats each. Two De Haviland Dragon Rapides and 17 spare Mercury engines were also purchased. The Gladiators were armed with four Vickers MkV 7.7mm machine guns. They were delivered by sea to Latvia in late 1937. At about the same time the Latvian Government considered buying either Spitfire MkI`s or Bf109`s, these would have cost around 500,000 Lats each. In the event these cost far too much for the Latvians.
The Gladiators were given serials' 114-126 and 163-175. One source states that the Gladiators were divided between two newly formed Fighter Squadrons, the 123rd and the 124th. No conclusive evidence has so far come to light to support this claim. During 1938/39 the conditions of the local airfields were extremely dusty and as a result several Gladiators were lost in take-off and landing accidents. Gladiator #121 was lost early on and #171, piloted by Zanis Tamsons, crashed at Blidene on 19 July 1938. In 1939 Gladiator #175, piloted by Teodors Abrams, was destroyed in a landing accident at Daugavpils. In late 1938 Kristaps Springis took off in a Gladiator on a routine training flight, when he apparently suffered engine failure and came down into Russian territory. He was arrested and his aircraft interned. Springis was later released and returned to Latvia.
Latvian Order of Battle 1939
Aviation Regiment
1st Air Group
1st Fighter Division (9/12 a/c) at Riga, 13 Gladiators
2nd Fighter Division (9/12 a/c) at Riga, 6 Gladiators and 3 Bulldogs
3rd Fighter Division (9/12 a/c) at Riga, 6 Gladiators and 3 Bulldogs
4th Fighter Division (being formed- not operational) at Ramavu
2nd Air Group
4th Recon Division (9/12 a/c) at Riga
5th Recon Division (9/12 a/c) at Krustpils
6th Recon Division (9/12 a/c) at Gulbene
Naval Air Group
7th Seaplane Division at Liepaja
8th Seaplane Division at Liepaja
Flight School at Riga
Support and repair facility at Riga
The following aircraft were ordered but not received by the time of the Russian occupation.
VEF SV-5                            6
VEF I-17                              6
VEF I-15b                            1
VEF I-16                               1
Dornier Do22L                   22
Hawker Hurricane              30
Westland Lysander           12
The Dorniers were built but never delivered, and a few were passed on to the Finnish Air Force, serials DR-196 and DR-198.
There was another air component in Latvia. This was the Air National Guard, Aizsargu Aviacija. It consisted of around about 30 aircraft, including KOD-1; license built Estonian PON, KOD-1 and VEF I-12. In early June they were flown up to Valmiera in northern Latvia for summer manoeuvres.
In June 1940, the Russians staged several raids on Latvian border guard units. The Latvian Armed Forces were alerted and the Aviation Regiment dispersed to several landing strips around Riga. Five Gladiators were at Krustpils under repair.
On the 15th Lithuania was invaded, thus isolating Latvia and Estonia from the outside world. Two days later the Soviets swept across the Latvian border and quickly occupied Splive airfield, and immediately elements of the Red Air Force landed there.
The aircraft of the Latvian Aviation Regiment were taken over by the Red Air Force and used in the training role. Subsequently they were repainted in Russian markings. The Russians also found at various bases remnants from the Polish Air Force, which had escaped during the combined German/Russian invasion of 1939. These were stored in an old electrical manufacturing complex called "Provodnik" near Riga.
In the autumn of 1940 a squadron was formed by the Soviets and attached to the 24th Territorial Rifle Corps of the Soviet Army. This Corps was formed from Latvian Army personnel, and so there air support was to be provided by Latvian airmen who had not been arrested. They were equipped with ten SV-5`s and were based at Gulbene.
Three Russian Gladiators took part in an air display on the 20 August 1940 over Riga and Spilve to celebrate Soviet Air Force Day. The three pilots involved were Ernests Rudzitis, Talivaldis Misians and Arvids Bambers, all Latvians. This is confirmed in an article in the official Soviet Air Force magazine 'Air Force Equipment' dated October 1940.
When the Germans invaded in June 1941 the squadron at Gulbene was moved back to the Soviet Union. Two pilots defected in their SV-5`s during the retreat, landing in territory recently evacuated by the Soviets. Among the aircraft captured by the Germans were numerous Gladiators and an example of an Irbitis I-17 fighter. This was given the codes AW+10 and was used for evaluation purposes.
In September 1943, Flugzeugfurherschule A/B Libau-Gross was established in Liepaja. This school trained Latvian and Estonian pilots. In May 1944 the Estonian part of the school was relocated to Parnu.
Nachtschlachtstaffel I was formed in March 1944, in June a second Staffel was formed. The two then combined to form NSGr.12. In July 1944 a third Staffel was formed but later disbanded due to lack of aircraft. Aircraft used by this harassment unit were Arado Ar66`s, Bucker Bu131`s and Gotha 45`s. This unit was later disbanded in October 1944. A Latvian pilot Janis Tamsons defected to Sweden in an Henschel Hs126 in the autumn of 1944.
Aircraft used by NSGr.12
6A+NL             Henschel Hs126
6A+TN              Arado Ar66c
6A+RU             Arado Ar66c
Several Latvian pilots flew with JG54 but were later withdrawn and posted to JG1. At least five pilots took part in operation 'Bodenplatte', most of them losing their lives. Some Latvian pilots who escaped to Western Europe served in the RAF with the Polish Squadrons.
Gladiator serials
SERIAL COMMENTS
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121 Lost in landing accident, 1938.
122
123
124
125
126
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171 Lost in landing accident, Blidne. Pilot Zanis Tamsos okay, 19/7/38.
172
173
174
175 Lost in landing accident at Gaugavpils, pilot Teodors Abramsa okay, 1939.
Camouflage and Markings
Latvian Gladiators were camouflaged in a similar style as the Belgian aircraft. Upper surfaces were olive green; lower surfaces were in Aluminium. The olive green came down the fuselage as far as the top of the gun troughs. National markings consisted of a crimson red 'Ungustkrust', fire cross or swastika, balanced on leg within a white circle, positioned above and below the wings and on the fuselage sides just aft of the cockpit. The upper wing fire cross on the Gladiators did not have the white circle. The cross went to the tip of the port wing and on the starboard side it was placed near the centre section. This may have been repeated on the lower wing, similar to the Bulldogs. This was done to confuse enemy pilots as to the size and distance to the Latvian aircraft. Aircraft numbers were black with a silver or white outline and were aft of the fuselage swastika. Some aircraft carried a shield emblem on the tailfin. It consisted of a Light Blue shield with a Yellow outline and a yellow semicircle at the top. Within the shield were three white aircraft silhouettes, in a 'vic' formation, with white writing at the bottom.
REFERENCES:

Avions issue 69, December 1998

Monografie Lotnicze Gloster Gladiator No24- B Belcarz and R Peczkowski, AJ Press.

Small Air Force Observer Vol14 No4 (56)


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Yuri M Svoyski

Arvo L Vercamer for detailed information on Latvian Luftwaffe units, order of battle and colour plates.
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