Although the first regular air link between KAUNAS and Lithuania’s seaside resort PALANGA eventuated rather late, on June 3, 1939, it had, quite naturally, its own pre-history – indeed, a pre-history which was subject to enforced circumstances. For one, originally the air connection was intended to connect the country’s capital with its main port and commercial hub KLAIPĖDA.
As early as 1934 the Lithuanian Ministry of Communications had received a request from the Lithuanian Aero Club for financial assistance to introduce a regular domestic airline KAUNAS – KLAIPĖDA to be served by a three-seater plane. As the idea was picked up by the press and the state-run news agency ELTA, the following year, 1935, witnessed an expanded suggestion by the Aero Club to establish air links with some important country centres as well. However, nothing was done for a year or so. Then, an indirect support came from Latvia where a domestic air route RIGA – LIEPAJA was inaugurated on May 15, 1937.
As ELTA reported, the Latvian step spurred the Lithuanian Ministry of Communications to place an order with a British manufacturer to supply two passenger planes. They were PERCIVAL Q6 bi-motored 7-person capacity machines (2 staff plus 5 passengers). ELTA was happy to announce that the first plane arrived on July 30, 1938, and the second followed suit on August 12. Before long, on September 10, they were christened “Stepas Darius” and “Stasys Girėnas”. Together, the two aircraft (with intentions for more ?) formed the “Lietuvos Oro Linijos” [= Lithuanian Air Lines] with appropriate inscriptions on their wings.
A contemporary photo of the “Stepas Darius” aeroplane.
Test flights were undertaken without delay and took place daily from September 5 to 17, 1938. They clocked up 34 flights, covered 7,480 km and carried 31 passengers. The space covered extended from Kaunas to Klaipėda, and the first intended flying season was to start the following year 1939, from May to October. Moreover, the new route was to supplement the regular daily run by the German “Lufthansa” which was covering the Baltic wing Berlin – Kaunas – Riga – Helsinki. In addition, the Baltic area (including Kaunas) was also to be served by the Polish “Lot”.
(For further details of international flights via Kaunas see the author’s series of articles in the LPS journal, Nos. 227 – 229.)
The Lithuanian planning of the KAUNAS – KLAIPĖDA air route was fatally interrupted by the German occupation of Klaipėda (as Memel) on March 22, 1939. The intended air link had to be diverted to PALANGA, which in certain respects had already been taken into consideration in the preceding planning. Speeded up by the new political events, improvements were made at the emerging Palanga airport, which included a radio station capable of communicating both with Kaunas airport and the planes in flight.
The definite date of the amended first regular flight KAUNAS – PALANGA was set, by the Ministry of Communications, as June 3, 1939. To mark the First Flight of the “Lietuvos Oro Linijos” Lietuvos Pašto Valdyba [= Lithuanian Postal Administration] arranged for a Commemorative Cancel. It was used only for the first Flight, and the items so dispatched were [had to be ?] registered at the Kaunas Central Post Office.
First Flight cover, Reg. No. 594, addressed to the pilot Simonas Mickūnas, using a letterhead envelope of the Ministry of Communications.
As reported by ELTA, the first flying season KAUNAS – PALANGA lasted from June 3 to September 4, 1939. The flyers were Simonas Mockūnas and Jonas Dženkaitis. Surviving statistics show that the planes carried 794 passengers of whom 620 were male, 162 female and 12 children. The flights also carried 3,476 kg mail and 3,783 kg freight. The total number of flights made was 218, the total air distance being 48,200 km.
The first flight items (so far only covers are known) each had its own Kaunas Central Post Office postal registration number. However, these items were numbered independently as well, in the range of below 1000 and above 1000, The precise quantity of items carried on the first flight has not, so far, been established, though it is possible that this information is still extant in some archive. Moreover, it is not certain who did the independent numbering of the flown items, in ink in top left corner. It may have been the flyers or assistant staff, but it has also been suggested, without clear evidence, that the numbering in ink was done at the receiving post office PALANGA. Whatever the case may be, each flown FF item was backstamped making use of the “PALANGA c” date canceller. Another registered cover No. 618 is shown below.
First Flight cover, Reg. No. 618, addressed to the Palanga Postmaster Stasys Jazdauskas.
In the postwar period it became clear that the quantity of the KAUNAS – PALANGA first flight covers was small, making such covers desirable and valuable. This fact offered a temptation to forgers, so that at least one imitation of the original oval-shaped commemorative canceller has been manufactured with considerable care. Despite attention to details, the forgeries do contain some differences visible to naked eye. One such example is shown below.
A recent forgery of a FF cover using black ink for the manufactured canceller.
Moreover, forgeries exist not only with the cancel in black ink but also in red as shown below.
A somewhat recent forgery of a FF cover using red ink.
(A few other examples of forgeries of FF covers can be seen on this website in the Fakes and Forgeries Database section.)