After WW II broke out across Europe in September 1939, the Soviets and Germans invaded Poland two weeks apart, then the Soviets invaded Finland on November 30, 1939, triggering the Winter War. On June 12, 1940, Stalin ordered the Soviet Baltic Fleet to implement the total military blockade of Estonia. On June 13, at 10:40 AM the Soviet forces started to move to their positions and were ready by June 14 at 10 PM. Several light navy units and submarines were positioned in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulfs of Riga and Finland, in order to isolate the Baltic states from sea. Three destroyers and their escorts were positioned to the west of Naissaar to support the invasion. Four battalions of the 1st marine brigade were positioned on the transport ships Sibir, Pjatiletka and Elton, for landings on the islands Naissaar and Aegna in the Gulf of Tallinn, at about 10 km from the mainland. The transport ship Dnester and destroyers Storozevoi and Silnoi, were positioned with troops for the invasion of the capital Tallinn. The 50th battalion was positioned on ships for invasion near Kunda. A total of 120 Soviet vessels participated in the naval blockade, including one cruiser, seven destroyers, seventeen submarines, along with 219 airplanes from the 8th air-brigade with 84 Illyushin DB and Tupolev SB bombers, and the 10th air-brigade with 62 various airplanes. Finnish Airline Aero operations to Tallinn had ceased for the duration of Winter War, but between the Winter War and the Continuation War (March 13, 1940 – June 25, 1941), Aero resumed the flights to Tallinn on April 2nd, 1940 and to Stockholm two days later. On June 14, 1940, the Soviets issued an ultimatum to Lithuania and on the same day after the armistice between the Soviet Union and Finland had been signed, two Soviet torpedo bombers shot down the Finnish Airline Aero’s Junkers Ju52/3m passenger aircraft Kaleva registered OH-ALL, flying from Tallinn to Helsinki.
The plane was carrying three diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn, Riga and Helsinki and over 120 kilograms of diplomatic mail by two French embassy couriers. Only 10 minutes after taking off from Tallinn Ulemiste Airport on its return leg to Helsinki-Malmi Airport, Kaleva Junkers airliner was chased at close range by two Soviet DB-3T torpedo bombers, which opened fire with their machine guns badly damaging Kaleva, that crashed into the sea a few kilometers northeast of Keri Lighthouse, killing all on board.
Ilmari Juutilainen – WWII Ace
The crash that followed the Soviet attack was witnessed by few Estonian fishermen. At the time of the incident, Finland was not at war with the Soviet Union. It is believed that the attack was probably part of the Soviet preparations for the full-scale invasion and subsequent occupation of Estonia which took place two days after the Kaleva incident on 16th the June 1940. The occupation was preceded for several days by a Soviet air and naval blockade, which included preventing diplomatic mail from being sent abroad from Estonia. The plane was piloted by Captain Bo von Willebrand and Tauno Launis who was also the wireless operator. Passengers list included German businessmen (Rudolf Collen and Friedrich-Wilhelm Offermann), two French diplomatic couriers (Frederic Marty and Paul Longuet) with over 250 pounds of diplomatic messages, a Swede (Max Hettinger), an Estonian (Gunvor Maria Luts) and Henry W. Antheil, Jr., a clerk at the U.S. Legation in Helsinki. Henry was the younger brother of known American composer George W. Antheil. The Soviets dispatched the submarine Shchuka(Pike)-301 that was spotted surfacing near the crash site shortly after the attack, reportedly to inspect the wreckage. The submarine crew confiscated passengers belongings picked up from the crash site by witnessing Estonian fishermen, then the crew removed all the diplomatic mail from the plane wreck. Ilmari Juutilainen the future top-scoring Finnish fighter ace of all time was dispatched on a Brewster Buffalo fighter plane to inspect the crash site. Once the Soviet crew had spotted the Finnish aircraft, the Soviet naval flag was lowered and hid. The Government of Finland did not send any complaint or questions to Soviets regarding the crash fearing a hostile Soviet response, so the true cause of the crash was hidden from the public. That was due to the Soviet pressure put upon Finland during the Interim Peace time between the Winter War and the Continuation War, lasting a little over a year, from 13 March 1940 to 24 June 1941. After the outbreak of the Continuation War, the incident was described in detail by the government. In response to the attack, another Aero’s Ju52/3m, “Sampo,” was repainted in neutral markings. The plane identification was Finland, in large letters on her fuselage and Finnish national flags on her wings to enable Soviet and later German aircraft, to recognize civilian aircraft (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ra3nUI43Ts).
After the fall of USSR when Russian State Naval Archives became accessible, the report on the incident of the Shch-301 sub commander G. Golderg, revealed the fact that it was a Finnish airplane on its way from Tallinn to Helsinki on June 14, 1940, at 15.05 PM. According to the report, the airplane was intercepted by two Soviet Tupolev SB high-speed bombers and at 15.06 PM, the Finnish airplane caught fire and fell into the sea, 5.8 miles from the submarine. At 15.09 PM the submarine took course to the crash site and made it to the location by 15.47 PM were it was met by 3 Estonian fishing boats close to the debris of the airplane. The Estonian fishermen were searched by lieutenants Aladzhanov, Krainov and Shevtshenko. All valuables found from the fishermen and in the sea were brought on board of the submarine. The items included about 100 kg diplomatic mail and foreign currencies. At 15.58 a Finnish fighter plane was noticed with the course towards the submarine. The airplane made 3 circles above the site and then returned to Helsinki. Another report of Captain A. Matvejev’s states that while on board of the Shch-301 submarine, he noticed an airplane crash on June 14, 1940, at 15.06 on 5.8 miles distance from the submarine. At the crash site, 3 Estonian fishing boats and the remains of the airplane were found. At 15.58 PM a Finnish fighter plane made 3 circles above the crash site. By 16.10 PM all items found from the sea and from the hands of the fishermen were brought on board the submarine. The items included about 100 kg of diplomatic mail, valuables and currencies including: 2 golden medals, 2000 Finnish marks, 10.000 Romanian leus, 13.500 French francs, 100 Yugoslav dinars, 90 Italian liras, 75 US dollars, 521 Soviet rubles and 10 Estonian kroons. All items were put on board of patrol boat “Sneg” and sent to Kronstadt.
Finnish DB 3M-FAF LeLv36 VP101
Henry W. Antheil was serving as a diplomatic courier when his plane exploded en route to Helsinki. He was carrying several diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn and Riga on that day when the Soviet blockade of Estonia went into effect. Soviets had already been based in Estonia since October 18, 1939, as a result of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Some Estonian researchers believe that Henry’s diplomatic pouches included top secret information detailing the Soviet Unionâ€™s future plans for the Baltic region that the Estonian General Staff had turned over to an unidentified U.S. Government official earlier the same day. So that many historians believe that the Cold War began not in 1945 but four years earlier when the passenger Finnish plane carrying an American diplomat with top secret documents was shot down by two Soviet bombers. By that time the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland had ended several months before the incident, in March 1940. Henry Jr. was one of the two sons of Henry William Antheil, a shoe store owner and an immigrant from Germany. He spent much of his life time in the shadow of his famous older brother, George a noted musical composer, then living in Hollywood, California, who had studied piano under Constantin von Sternberg and Ernest Block in Paris in the 1920s. In 1934 George introduced Henry to the political elite of Washington, DC. Among his new acquaintances was William C. Bullitt the USA ambassador to the Soviet Union well known as an outspoken anti-communist. With several months still remaining until his graduation from Rutgers University, Henry decided to give up his studies and go with Bullitt as an embassy staffer. George recalled in a mail that Henry lived a lonely and dangerous life, traveling from country to country, followed by many foreign agents from border to border, without knowing which moment could be his last one. One of such missions took Henry to Finland where he met and fell in love with a local beauty, Greta Lindberg. During the Winter War, the couple could witness the struggle between the powerful Red Army and the determination of the Fins, who even outnumbered by the Soviets by 4 to 1, managed to defend their country. Henry’s diplomatic career was a kind of ambiguous, but his superiors praised him for his strong character that enabled him to go to places which other “brilliant young men” hoped to avoid. Nonetheless Henry had a serious vice that had ruined many promising careers in the State Department: he loved to gossip, so that he could hardly be trusted with diplomatic secrets. Any bit of information he managed to get, he usually shared with his foreign fiance or his brother, who was working as a war correspondent for few American newspapers. By that time five special agents had been assigned to FBI field offices around the country to conduct routine investigations, when suddenly and inexplicably they received instructions to immediately report to FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. There they were met by Edward Tamm, FBI Director and J. Edgar Hoover head of investigation, who ordered them to wrap up their affairs and prepare to leave immediately for Europe. Their job was to serve as diplomatic couriers for the Department carrying pouches containing all manner of sensitive documents between European capitals caught up in war. Their mission was prompted by two crises known as Tyler Kent and Henry Antheil Cases. These events were triggered by a combination of espionage and a serious breach of security in the U.S. government’s world-wide communications network. It happened ten days after the German attack on Holland and Belgium when Tyler Gatewood Kent, a young American code clerk working in the U.S. embassy in London, was arrested by British authorities on espionage charges. Assigned to London since September 1939, after five years as an embassy code clerk in Moscow, the 29 year old American was charged with violating the British Official Secrets Act, by stealing diplomatic cables from the embassy and then passing them to the British Union of Fascists for transmission to Rome and Berlin. News of Kent’s treachery staggered the State Department leadership so the Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, who was responsible for managing the State Department’s worldwide codes and communications systems, was left speechless. Overwhelmed by German slicing through Western Europe and the critical need for secure communications, he faced his most dreaded fear that America’s most sensitive diplomatic codes would be completely compromised. Referring to Kent’s arrest, Long confided to his personal diary admitted that his act of espionage, could mean that (American) communications system is no longer secret. Still staggering from Kent’s treachery, the State Department received the knock-out hit with the report of the sudden death, in June 1940, of Henry W. Antheil, a U.S. Navy enlisted man assigned to the American legation in Helsinki, Finland. Before his transfer in September 1939, he too had worked for five years with Kent at the American Embassy in Moscow. He died when the Finnish airliner that he was traveling on was shot down over the Baltic Sea by Soviet fighter bombers. At the time of his death, he was a cryptologic courier who maintained diplomatic communications machines and supplied new codes and ciphers for American embassies throughout Central Europe and the Soviet Union. Henry’s long tongue made him one of the objects of the 1950s FBI investigation into Soviet agents in the US State Department, but eventually he was posthumously cleared of all accusations (http://fbistudies.com/resources/louis-beck/).
It is believed that Henry W. Antheil Jr. had been given some top secret materials to transport to Helsinki. Estonian researchers, who have been working on the case, still claim that Antheil’s suitcase contained blueprints for the Soviet occupation of the Baltic republics, that the US embassy in Tallinn obtained them a day before. Less than 24 hours after the Kaleva airliner downing, the Red Army rolled into Lithuania and on June 16, the Soviets were in Latvia and Estonia. If the United States had learned about these plans, Washington would have pressed its European allies to contain Stalin. So that, perhaps it wasn’t the American courier the one who Soviets wanted to eliminate. Another theory concentrates on the two French diplomats who also boarded the Kaleva. They were heading for Paris with two pouches whose contents were no less mysterious than Antheil’s baggage. Some WWII historians believe that the Frenchmen carried transcripts of a meeting that several days earlier French ambassador in Moscow Erik Labonne had with Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov. Probably Molotov had condemned Hitler, still the Soviet ally and when Germans were in Paris, the Soviet Union’s two-faced policies would have been uncovered. On June 15, 1940, the talk of the day was the German occupation of Paris therefore the crash of Kaleva was hardly mentioned in American newspapers. But when it did appear, it was usually on the last page. Time magazine reported the following on June 24, 1940: “Died. Henry W. Antheil Jr., 27, attach of the U.S. Legation at Helsinki, younger brother of noted Composer George Antheil, when the Finnish airliner in which he was flying from Tallinn, Estonia, to Helsinki mysteriously exploded in mid-air and plunged into the Gulf of Finland.” Eventually In 2004, the US Department of State placed a gold star in the memory of Henry W. Antheil, Jr., on the Wall of Honor at 23rd and C Streets, NW, Washington, DC. Henry W. Antheil’s sacrifice for the nation was finally and properly honored at the American Foreign Service Association’s (AFSA) Memorial Plaque Ceremony at the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Lobby on May 4, 2007. The event, part of the annual Foreign Affairs Day celebration, honors those U.S. Embassy employees who have lost their lives while serving their country overseas in the line of duty. U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns read a message from President Bush and paid his respects to the families of those employees who were added to the plaque.
Following the request of Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo to his U.S. counterpart, Robert Gates, in January 2008, USNS Pathfinder vessel was sent to Tallinn. The “Pathfinder” is one of seven noncombatant oceanographic survey ships owned by Military Sealift Command and operated on behalf of the Naval Oceanographic Office, or NAVOCEANO. These survey ships are forward-deployed year round surveying the world’s oceans using a variety of sonar systems to collect data in coastal and deep sea waters. The ships are operated by U.S. merchant mariners while a team of civilian hydrographers from NAVOCEANO are embarked to carry out the survey mission. Oceanographic survey ships have a history of being asked to find missing aircraft. In January 2007 Pathfinder’s sister ship USNS Mary Sears was part of a team that successfully located a commercial jetliner that had disappeared off the coast of West Sulawesi, Indonesia. Military Sealift Command operates more than 110 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that deliver combat equipment to troops, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world, resupply Navy ships at sea, and perform a variety of other missions for the Department of Defense. NAVOCEANO employs more than a thousand civilian, military and contract personnel and is responsible for providing oceanographic products and services to all elements within the U.S. Department of Defense. Neither the Kaleva’s wreckage nor the bodies of the nine people aboard have been found, after a six-day search of the area where Estonian and Finnish researchers believed the Kaleva might be. Unfortunately the USNS Pathfinder search came up empty despite the use of three Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV). However if other ships may find one day the Kaleva’s mysterious wreckage, surely the entire history of the Cold War will be written again.