The Royal Swedish Air Force and its Qualification Badges
by Mikael Gidhagen
Introduction – Swedish Military Aviation
Swedish military aviation was born with the introduction to the Army of balloon observation during the late 1800s, and the first powered military aircraft were introduced around 1910. Sweden, originally operating a Navy and Army aviation corps, joined them to form the Royal Swedish Air Force (RSAF) in 1926. Between the end of WWII and the first half of the 1950s, the Royal Swedish Air Force had developed into an air force ranked among the world’s largest and best equipped.
WWII – War Volunteers and Neutrality Watch
As a result of Germany’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Sweden declared itself neutral – just as it did in 1914. The Swedish Prime Minister assured the Swedish people that “…our preparedness is good” – but regarding the Air Force, the air territory of Sweden, stretching 1572 km (975 miles) from north to south and 499 km (310 miles) from east to west, was to be defended by means of a total force of 40 medium bombers (mainly Junkers Ju86s), 30 light bombers (mainly Hawker Harts), 50 fighters (mainly Gloster Gladiators), 50 reconnaissance planes (mainly Fokker C.V.E.s) and 10 torpedo planes – making a total of 180 aircraft… However, despite the lack of equipment, the flying personnel were well-trained and of high quality by international standards; also the introduced system of geographically dispersed “war air bases” all over Sweden gave room for a highly flexible air force.
When Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union in November of 1939, Sweden declared itself “non-belligerent” instead of “neutral” in the Finno-Russian war, as feelings for the sister country were strong as a result of hundreds of years of common history. The national efforts to help the Finnish people, under the motto “Finland’s cause is our cause!”, were mostly of a civilian character, but many Swedish volunteers fought side by side with the Finns against the Russians, and infantry weapons were shipped over the Baltic Sea. Moreover, eight aircraft were initially donated to the Finnish Air Force, and support in the form of a flight wing was organised and made operational. RSAF air wings, “flottiljer”, of that time, fully operational as well as planned, were numbered “F 1” to “F 18”, and the voluntary wing sent to Finland was called the F 19 Wing. The wing was put under Finnish command, and consisted of twelve fighters (Gloster Gladiators), eight light bombers (Hawker Harts), three transport aircraft and 250 air force volunteers.
In January of 1940, the F 19 wing was fully operational (as “Flight Regiment 5” in the Finnish war organisation). Until the armistice of what was called “the Finnish winter war”, the Swedish Wing fought well against the Soviet Air Force, and the air crews’ experiences provided valuable input for the further development of the Royal Swedish Air Force.
Sweden imported some 200 fighters from Italy and the USA. The Swedish wood-and-metal fighter FFVS J 22 (constructed and built during the war, first flown in 1942), together with the dive-bomber SAAB 17 (first flown in 1940) and the medium bomber SAAB 18 (first flown in 1942) were all successful Swedish-built military aircraft of WWII. Thus, the Swedish neutrality watch was undergoing heavy progress during the war and the Swedish air defences were eventually a powerful force to defend Sweden from any possible hostilities. In terms of aeronautical technology, the Swedish aircraft industry was well-ahead regarding new inventions: the nose-geared, push-engine J21 fighter (first flown in 1943) necessitated the development of one of the first jet-driven ejection seats in operational use.
Even though Sweden never took actual part in the hostilities, the Swedish Air Force saw combat in terms of defending neutrality and guiding straying Allied and German aircraft to safe landing grounds. In this role, the RSAF proved especially useful in the southern parts of Sweden during the last years of the war, when Allied bombing routes were drawn increasingly closer to Swedish air territory. It is worth noting that no less than a total of 342 foreign military aircraft landed in Sweden during WWII, of which about 200 were American or British aircraft with varying degrees of battle-damage. To many Allied air crew in crippled Lancasters, B-17s and B-24s, Sweden provided a “haven of refuge” instead of ditching at sea or in German-occupied countries, although the air crews were detained in Sweden. There were special internment camps built and/or organised (Allied and German soldiers were kept in separate places), and although run by Swedish military personnel, the conditions were in many cases more like a spa than those of an imprisonment camp.
At the end of the war, the strength of the Swedish Air Force had changed drastically from its status of 1939: in 1945 it had over 800 aircraft ready to pursue a combat role, including 15 fighter divisions (200 aircraft, of which the most modern were the newly acquired P-51s); 3 long-range reconnaissance divisions (30 aircraft); 5 short-range reconnaissance divisions (50 aircraft), and 6 naval reconnaissance divisions (40 aircraft). Among the most frequently used combat aircraft in the Swedish Air Force during WW2 were the following: Fighters: Gloster Gladiator (J8), Seversky Republic EP-1 (J9), Fiat CR42 (J11), Reggiane 2000 Falco (J20), SAAB 21 (J21), FFVS J 22 (J22), NA P-51 Mustang (J26); Bombers: Junkers Ju86 K (B3), Hawker Hart (B4), Northrop 8 A-1 (B5), Caproni Ca313 (B16), SAAB 17 (B17), SAAB 18 (B18); Torpedo aircraft: Heinkel He115 A2 (T2), Junkers Ju86 K (T3), Caproni Ca313 (T16); Reconnaissance aircraft: Heinkel He114 (S12), Fokker C.V.E. (S6), Hawker Osprey (S9), Fieseler Fi156 Storch (S14).
Army and Navy Aviation
Even though the separate aviation units of the Army and the Navy were united in the Swedish Air Force in 1926, the combat roles of Army-related liaison and reconnaissance aviation as well as Naval reconnaissance and sea rescue continued to be executed by flight units closely affiliated with the Army and the Navy respectively. In 1939, a Royal Swedish Air Force wing, the F 3 wing, was assigned to perform army reconnaissance duties, using Fokker (S6), Fieseler Storch (S14), and later also Junkers Ju86 (B3), Handley Page Hampden (P5), Caproni Ca313 (S16) and SAAB 17 (S17). The RSAF F 2 wing served as a liaison unit with the Swedish Navy, operating in torpedo attack, reconnaissance and sea rescue roles, flying aircraft such as the Heinkel He114 (S12), Fokker C.V.E. (S6), Hawker Osprey (S9), Junkers W34 (Tp2), SAAB 17 (S17) and the (formerly German Luftwaffe) Dornier Do24 (Tp24).
Pilot Badge m/36 Gold
The badge was approved through a General Order of 1936. It should be worn on the Air Force uniform by all personnel who had been approved and certified after the Primary Flight Training, PFT (“Grundläggande flygutbildning”, GFU). This has been the case since 1937.
The first uniform of the Swedish Air Force was issued in 1930 (called the m/30), and Royal silversmith Erik Fleming was assigned to design an aviator badge. The pilot badge of the model m/36 was approved in 1936, and it consists of a pair of straight wings in frosted gold with a pair of crossed swords in polished gold in the middle, surmounted by the three Royal Crowns (with polished highlights). The first badge was however not issued until in April of 1937.
The motto of the qualification badge is In Battle on Wings for Sweden (“I Striden på Vingar för Sverige”). The badge was ordered from Sporrong & Co. in Stockholm, and it is numbered in consecutive serial numbers. The badge is slightly vaulted, it has a single centre-positioned screw and nut for attachment to the tunic, and all official badges are marked with the maker’s name (“C.C. Sporrong & Co., Stockholm” or just “Sporrong”).
Aviation related badges of earlier vintage were not allowed to be worn on the new Air Force uniform, and the new air crew badges, starting with the m/36 pilot badge, were to be worn on Air Force uniforms only. However, older pilots and observers of the Navy and Army continued wearing their older qualification badges, and, when serving with the Air Force, the Air Force Service badge m/26.
Each pilot was issued two badges, and had the opportunity of acquiring two additional badges, all numbered – but not necessarily in consecutive serial number order. In 1959, the last registered number was 6,464; that is, indicating the total number of issued wings (in gold) up until that year. In June 2002, the total number of issued and registered golden wings had reached 10,828. There is also a lightweight (6 g.) version of the m/36 badge, hollow-backed with two prongs for a clutch-back fastening system. This badge is unnumbered and unmarked, and it was approved in 1996, and it is subsequently called the m/96.
Pilot Badge m/36 Silver
The 1936 defence plan entailed a major expansion of the Air Force, and the outbreak of the war in 1939 accelerated this process. The increased need for pilots made it necessary to introduce a new category of pilots: conscript, or reserve, pilots (“category D”; commissioned pilot officers were of category A, NCO pilots were of category B, and reserve officers were of category C). Initially, conscripts who held a civilian pilot certificate were drafted for military flight training, at flight training units organised by F5. Later, the recruitment base was extended to encompass other conscripts as well. The Primary Flying Training was exactly the same for this category of pilots as for all of the other categories. After the specific aircraft training and the qualification for an operational role, the conscript pilots (“vpl ff”) were to serve as unit aviators, although not in any commanding position. Consequently, these pilots were entitled to wear the pilot badge m/36 after completion of the PFT. However, Air Command decided that the badge should be of a lesser grade – silver – partly reflecting the constrained operational role of these units, and partly – as well as also likely – stressing the character of “reserve units” of this category.
The silver badges were numbered, put under orders, and registered according to the same rules as those applied to the gold badge. The numbers were preceded by an “R” for “Reserv”, and the number series used and issued were 1-699, although there exist produced but unissued wings in the 700- and 800-series.
The recruitment of enlisted pilots ceased in 1944, when a new category was introduced: cadre pilots, “category E”. These short-time employed aviators were later called field pilots (“fältflygare”), and they were awarded the pilot badge in gold after completed PFT. The silver wings were however still worn on uniform as late as in the 1960s. (As a side note, on three known occasions, the (silver) badge has been awarded to drafted conscripts with a civilian airline pilots license, as they served flying e.g. the C-47 (Tp79) at the Paratrooper Training School.)
Aerial Observer/Navigator badge m/40 Gold
Initially issued to aerial observers, the change in air force tactics in the 1950s also changed the regulations for the issuing of this badge to aerial navigators (who also had aerial observer training). The total number of badges issued had reached 1494 in the year of 1999.
Aerial Observer Badge m/40 Silver
The silver version of the aerial observer was issued to enlisted personnel, many of whom being drop-outs of the pilot flight training and trained as observers, bomb-aimers or navigators. First presented in 1943.
Radio Operator Badge m/40
These stylised straight wings in gilt metal with three raising sparks in the centre were issued to radio and radar operators trained for and serving onboard military aircraft. A large number of radio operators were later retrained as air navigators, upon which they had to switch their badge to the aerial observer/navigator badge m/40.
Air Gunner Badge m/40
The air gunner badge in gold (these badges were presented in gold, regardless of the recipient’s rank) was issued to air crew members who trained and passed air gunner training. 700 badges were ordered, but only about 250 air gunners were ever trained.
Meteorologist Badge m/46
Not a WWII-badge per definition, although of the same design. The gilt metal design features a straight pair of wings on top of two crossed swords, surmounted by an anemometer. The number ordered was 950, and the total number issued in 1999 had reached 824.
Other Air Force Badges
Service Badge m/26
Embroidered, in gold or silver bullion. Design: Nils Kindberg.
When the RSAF was formed in 1926, no homogeneous uniform had as of that time been stipulated (that was not done until in 1930). Officers and NCOs, transferred or assigned to the Air Force, continued for the time being to wear the uniforms of their old services, to which were added the insignia denoting completed pilot or observer training; at least until 1930, but also after this date.
To signal the new affiliation to the new armed service, the Service badge m/26 was issued in 1926, to be worn on the right-hand side of the tunic’s breast (above the breast pocket, if any). The badge was embroidered in silver or gold on dark blue cloth backing. The wearer could choose colour of the bullion, taking into account the decor of the service uniform. However, the silver version was abolished after some time.
Swedish Air Force Insignia m/30
The service insignia of the Swedish Air Force is to be worn on caps, shoulder boards, uniform sleeves etc.
Aerial Combat Badge m/43
The badge was awarded according to a point system, where points were given for achieved results in specific competitions in fighter pilot marksman shooting, air gunner marksman shooting and bomb aiming. However, these competitions were abolished before the end of WWII, and only about 100 silver badges and 25 gold badges were ever awarded. Design and manufacturing: Sporrong & Co.
List of References
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officerskår, Linköping: Flygvapenmuseum.
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Historia, Stockholm: Arméflygets historiekommitté.
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- Norrbohm, Gösta and Skogsberg, Bertil, 1975, Att flyga är att leva: Flygvapnet 1926-
1976, Höganäs: Bokförlaget Bra Böcker.
- Svensson, Håkan, 2003, Silvervingar & Guldvingar, http://home.swipnet.se/~w-
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Revy, Stockholm: Svensk Flyghistorisk Förening.
- Ungemark, Seve, 2003, The Birth of the Swedish Air Force- One Long Struggle to get
Swedish Aircraft, http://www.ungemark.se/elarm.html.
- Wangel, Carl-Axel (ed.), 1982, Sveriges Militära Beredskap 1939-1945, Stockholm: