Interview by Jon Guttman,
An autographed photo of Ilmari Juutilainen in
the cockpit of Brewster BW-364 at Hirvas base 1942
In two wars, Ilmari Juutilainen and his fellow
pilots helped preserve their country's independence and taught the
Soviet Union a lesson: "If you threaten Finns, they do not become
frightened--they become angry. And they never surrender."
Ilmari Juutilainen scored more than 94 victories in two
wars, flying Fokker D.XXIs, Brewster B-239s and Messerschmitt Me-109Gs.
Neither Jossif Stalin nor Adolf Hitler regarded their
nonaggression pact of August 1939 as anything more than a postponement
of inevitable hostilities between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
After they had divided up Poland between themselves in September, Hitler
became embroiled in a war against Britain and France, while Stalin
grabbed what he considered strategic territories adjacent to Russia. One
concession Stalin sought was part of Finland's Karelian Isthmus on which
he wanted to build air and naval bases. (Stalin`s real plan was to
occupy the entire Finland just like the Baltic countries, see Edvard
Radzinski`s book "Stalin". FTA remark) When Finland refused to
give up her lands the Soviets bombed Helsinki and launched and invasion
on November 30, 1939.
The ensuing conflict, known as the Winter War, ended on
March 13, 1940, with the Soviet occupation of 10 percent of Finnish
land, but not before the Red Army had suffered several humiliating
defeats at the hands of the Finns. The Voyenno Vozdushny Sily
(Red Army air force, of VVS) had suffered even more disproportionate to
the outnumbered but highly skilled pilots of the Suomen Ilmavoimat
(the Finnish air force).
Epitomizing the elan and training that made the
Ilmavoimat so formidable was Eino Ilmari Juutilainen, whose 94
official victories made him the Finnish ace of aces. In an exclusive
editor Jon Guttman, "Illu" Juutilainen described his most notable
exploits during the Winter War and in the Continuation War, as Finland
called her participation in World War II as a co-belligerent rather than
a formal ally of Germany.
Military History: Could you tell us
about your pre-war background?
Juutilainen: I was born in Lieksa on February 21, 1914,
but I spent my childhood in Sortavala. As a
teenager I was a member of the Volunteer Maritime Defence Association
and we had a fine time sailing at the Laatokka Sea.
MH: What inspired you to take up
Juutilainen: There was an Ilmavoimat
base in the middle of our town, and it was a permanent source of
interest for all of us youngsters. Many of us became pilots later - for
example, my Winter War flight leader and Continuation War squadron
commander, Eino "Eikka" Luukkanen. One important inspiration was a book
about the Red Baron; Manfred von Richthofen, which my older brother gave
me. I remember sitting by the upstairs window, dreaming about aerial
manoeuvres. I began my national service as an assistant mechanic in the 1st Separate Maritime
Squadron from 1932 to 1933, then got a pilot's license in a civilian
course. I then joined the Ilmavoimat as a non-commissioned
officer and got my military pilot training in the Ilmasotakoulu (Air
Force Academy) at Kauhava from 1935 to 1936. I had the opportunity to
choose my first assignment, and on February 4, 1937, I went to LeLv
(Lentolaivue, or air squadron) 12 at Suur-Merijoki Air Base
near Viipuri. In 1938 I went to Utti Air Base and got one year of really
tough fighter flying and shooting. Then, on March 3, 1939, I was
assigned to LeLv 24, a fighter unit equipped with Dutch-built Fokker
D.XXIs, at Utti Air Base.
MH: What was training like in the
Juutilainen: The international trend in the early 1930's
was to use a tight, three-plane formation, or "vic", as a basic fighter
element. The fighter pilots in Finland knew that they would never get
large numbers of fighters , and they considered the large tight
formations ineffective. From studies conducted between 1934 - 1935, the
Ilmavoimat developed a loose two-plane section as the basic
fighter element. Divisions (four fighters) and flights (eight aircraft)
were made of loose sections, but always maintaining the independence of
the section. The distance between the fighters in the section was 150 -
200 meters, and the distance between sections in a division was 300 -
400 meters. The principle was always to attack, regardless of numbers;
that way the larger enemy formation was broken up and combat became a
sequence of section duels, in which the better pilots always won.
Finnish fighter training heavily emphasized the complete handling of the
fighter and shooting accuracy. Even basic training at the Air Force
Academy included a lot of aerobatics with all the basic combat
and aerial gunnery.
MH: What were your feelings when the
war broke out on November 30, 1939?
Juutilainen: I was mentally ready, because the signs had
been so clear. Still, it was hard to believe that it was really true
when we took off on our first intercept mission. I think in general the
people were angry. We knew, of course, of Stalin's demands that we give
the Soviet Union certain areas to improve Leningrad's security. And our
answer was clear enough: No way! The nation's reaction to the war was
not analytical - it was emotional. The feeling was, "When I die, there
will be many enemies dying, too."
MH: What sort of preparation occurred?
Juutilainen: As the international situation worsened,
our defence forces started so-called extra exercises in early October
1939. All fighters and weapons were checked, more ammunition belts
loaded, and maintenance equipment and spare parts packed on the lorries
to be ready to move. On October 11 we flew from Utti to Immola Air Base,
which was nearer the border. Shelters were built for the fighters and we
kept flying combat air patrols - careful to stay on our side, so that we
didn't provoke the Soviets. The younger pilots got additional training
in aerial combat and gunnery. During bad weather we indulged in sports,
pistol shooting and discussions about fighter tactics. Our esprit de
corps was high despite the fact that we would be up against heavy odds.
We were ready.
Fokkers at Immola Air Base, autumn 1939.
MH: What was the Fokker D.XXI like to
Juutilainen: It was our best fighter in 1939, but the
Soviet Polikarpov I-16 was faster, had better agility and also had
protective armour for the pilot. I flew later a war booty I-16, and it
did 215 knots at low level and turned around a dime. I liked that plane.
In comparison, the Fokker could make about 175. The D.XXI also lacked
armour, but it had good diving characteristics and it was a steady
shooting platform. I think that our gunnery training made the Fokker a
winner in the Winter War.
MH: Can you describe your first fight?
Juutilainen: December 19, 1939,
was the first real combat day after a long period of bad weather. I had
some trouble starting my engine, and so I got a little behind the rest
of my flight. When I was close to Antrea, I got a message of three enemy
bombers approaching. After about half a minute, I saw three Ilyushin
DB-3s approaching. I was about 1,500 feet above them and started the
attack turn just like in gunnery camp at Käkisalmi. The DB-3s
immediately dropped their bomb loads in the forest and turned back. I
shot the three rear gunners, one by one. Then I started to shoot the
engines. I followed them a long way and kept on shooting. One of them
nosed over and crashed. The two others were holed like cheese graters
but continued in a shallow, smoking descent. I had spent all of my
ammunition, so I turned back. There was no special feeling of real
combat. Everything went exactly like training.
Luukkanen, Juutilainen, Dahl, Alho and Fokker D.XXI
MH: What were the circumstances of your 1/6
shared victory on December 23?
Juutilainen: At that time, Soviet bombers flew
without fighter escort, and that was a typical situation when our
flight attacked a formation of Tupolev SB-2s. Several of us shot at
several targets, and the kills were then shared, because it was
impossible to distinguish a decisive attack. Later, I stopped
counting those shared cases and always gave my share to the younger
On the right LLv 24 pilots: Lt. E. Luukkanen (front left),
Sgt. I. Juutilainen, Sgt. J. Dahl (on the wing) and Sgt. M. Alho.
MH: What about your first encounter
with an I-16 on December 31?
Juutilainen: That was a classic, old time aerial duel. I
was initially in a very good position behind that Red pilot, but he saw
me and started a hard left turn. I followed, shooting occasionally,
testing his nerves. Our speed decreased as we circled tightly under the
cloud deck, which was as low as 600 feet. My opponent's fighter was much
more agile than mine, and he was gradually gaining the advantage, so I
decided to pull a tactical trick on him. As he was getting into my rear
sector, I pulled into the cloud, continuing my hard left turn. Once
inside it, I rolled to the right and down, out of the cloud. I had
estimated right - I was again behind my opponent. When he next saw me, I
had already closed to a range of about 100 yards. He apparently decided
to outturn me, as he had done before. I put the sight on him and
squeezed the trigger. My tracers passed a few yards in front of him, and
I eased the stick pressure to adjust my aiming point. My next burst
struck his engine, which began to belch smoke. I continued firing,
letting the tracers walk along the fuselage. Then once more I pulled
hard, taking a proper deflection and shot again. There was a continuous
stream of black smoke as the target pitched over and went into the
MH: What other missions did you carry
out besides interception?
Juutilainen: Our reconnaissance aircraft were obsolete,
so they had to carry out their missions at night or in bad weather,
while we flew many daytime reconnaissance missions in our fighters. We
also occasionally carried out some ground-attack missions until the last
days of the war, when the enemy tried a flanking offensive over the ice
of the Gulf of Finland at Viipuri Bay. Those were decisive operations,
but for us fighter pilots they were also the most miserable missions of
the war, for the Soviets massed their fighters to cover the ground
troops. We could achieve surprise by using the weather conditions and
coming from different directions every time, quickly attacking over the
ice, then fighting our way back to base to rearm and refuel for a new
mission. During those missions, I personally fired some 25,000 rounds
into the Red Army.
MH: What were your feelings when
Finland was forced to accept Soviet terms in the end?
Juutilainen: I was disappointed. We had been able to
stop the Soviet offensive, they had gained only a limited land area, and
we had inflicted heavy losses on them. Thanks to small losses and
deliveries of new Gloster Gladiators, Fiat G.50s and Morane-Saulnier MS
406s, our fighter force was stronger than it had been at the beginning
of the war. We felt ourselves winners, but now we had to give them some
areas that were firmly in our hands. Later, when the economic situation
became clearer, the decision was more understandable. Sweden was
neutral, Germany was hostile and support from France and Britain proved
to be inadequate. Finland simply did not have enough resources to
continue a prolonged campaign alone. Ultimately, the important thing was
Finland's independence. We had been fighting to save that, and we had
indeed saved it. I think we also taught a lesson to Stalin and company:
If you threaten Finns, they do not become frightened - they become
angry. And they never surrender.
MH: What did you do between March 1940
and June 1941?
Juutilainen: At the end of March 1940 we flew from our
last wartime base, Lemi (which was on the ice of a lake) to Joroinen,
where our fighters were overhauled. Then we gave our Fokkers away and
began to familiarize ourselves with a new fighter, the Brewster B-239.
Some of those planes had already arrived in the last days of the Winter
War ( see Brewsters to
Finland), and now they were picked up from Trollhättan, Sweden,
where Norwegian mechanics were assembling them after sea transport.
American test pilot Robert Winston acted as his company's representative
in that process. The Brewsters were flown to Malmi Air Base near
Helsinki, and our squadron started to operate there. On June 14, 1940,
two Soviet bombers shot down one of our airliners over the Gulf of
Finland, shortly after it had taken off from Tallinn, Estonia. I was
searching for the plane with my Brewster, and I found a Soviet submarine
in the middle of aircraft debris, obviously looking for diplomatic mail.
In August 1940, we moved to a new base at Vesivehmaa, north of Lahti.
There, we tested the Brewster's performance and gunnery characteristics
and found both to be quite good. Many pilots put all their bullets in
the target. On June 17, we got and order to stay at the base, in
continuous readiness, so we guessed that we would be at war rather soon.
Fokkers at Joroinen ice base, April 1940
MH: What were your impressions of the
Juutilainen: I started my Brewster flights in the
beginning of April 1940, doing all the aerobatics manoeuvres, stall and
dive tests. I was happy with my Brewster. It was agile, it had 4,5 hours
endurance, good weaponry - one 7,62 mm and three 12,7 machine guns - and
an armoured pilot's seat. It was so much better than the Fokker that it
was in another category. If we had had Brewsters during the Winter War,
the Russians would have been unable to fly over Finland. It was also a
"gentleman's travelling plane", for it had a roomy cockpit and room in
the fuselage, as we used to say, for a poker gang. We unofficially
transported mechanics, spare parts, oil canisters etc. in our Brewsters.
Once, though two pilots went a little too far - a flight sergeant was
flying, and in the fuselage was a second lieutenant, his friend, his dog
and a lot of baggage. Upon landing the plane went off the runway and the
suitcase came out. Both pilots were punished. Humorously, the
lieutenant's sentence started with: "As the commander of the crew of a
The unfortunate "Transport Brewster",
BW-354 at Immola October 15, 1942