Oiva "Oippa" Tuominen

Oiva Tuominen

Oiva Emil Kalervo Tuominen was born in Iitti, Southern Finland on 5 March 1908. In 1917 he saw for the first time in his life an airplane, a Russian flying boat. Immediately he decided to be a pilot some day. But the path in the cockpit was not straight.

Tuominen began to approach his dream when he did his compulsory military service in the Air Force. He was trained as assistant mechanic in 1926. Complying with his mother's wish, he did not apply for "dangerous" pilot training , but chose to become professional aircraft mechanic instead. He earned his living as FAF mechanic up to 1933, then he could no more resist the call of his dream. He applied for and was accepted to NCO pilot training course. After training he was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to LeLv 26, a fighter squadron equipped with Bristol "Bulldogs". He showed good flying and shooting skills, but his superiors considered him stubborn - but is that a fault in a fighter pilot?

n the Winter War Senior Sgt. Tuominen was commanded to Squadron 24 to fly Fokker D.XXI. He opened his score on 25 December 1939 with a shared SB-2, then another on 19 January 1940. He was transferred back to his own squadron on February to fly the new Gloster "Gladiators". His first flight with the new fighter on the 2nd of February 1940 turned into a nightmarish battle against at least nine I-16. But Tuominen was not only able to survive that, but also shot down two of the attackers before the enemy had to disengage due to lack of fuel. Here is detailed describe of this unbalanced duel:

Sr.Sgt. Oiva Tuominen was in Utti Air Base on the 2nd February 1940 familiarizing himself with a new fighter. It was a Gloster "Gladiator" Mk.II, coded GL-258, fitted with a ski undercarriage. 30 of these planes were delivered from Britain via Sweden beginning on 8 January 1940. The fighters were put into service immediately, but there were technical problems due to the cold weather: minus 30 to 40 degrees C was a normal day temperature. The oil in the hydraulic synchronization of the fuselage MG's froze, jamming the guns, the compass liquid froze, too, and also ailerons tended to get stuck. The skilled Finnish mechanics had been able to eliminate the problems, however.

Tuominen, who had one and a half victories already when flying a Fokker D.XXI, climbed in the cockpit and examined the controls and instruments together with his mechanic. The GL seemed to be a straight forward piece of engineering, and as an experienced pilot he expected no problems. He turned on the radio and received a message: 27 bombers approaching Kouvola escorted by fighters. Tuominen ordered the engine to be started and took off.

As Tuominen was taking altitude he saw the bombers, but the escort fighter pilots saw him, too. Nine I-16 dived at the lone "Gladiator" near the town of Kotka. The Soviet fighters were flying in tight patrols of three. The first "trio" approached at high speed from behind and opened fire at 300 m. Tuominen pulled a tight curve and the tracers missed with a wide margin. The enemy passed and another trio approached. Again the Finnish pilot evaded the bullets without problem. The enemy pilots did not know how to make use of their superiority, but allowed their more manoeuvrable but slower target enough time to evasive action.

The enemy continued their "pendulum" attacks for ten minutes. Tuominen was wet with sweat, but his plane had not taken a single hit. Finally one I-16 patrol leader understood that a new trick had to be tried if they wanted to score a victory. The three Soviet fighters tried to out-curve the "Gladiator", which was not a good idea: the Finnish pilot easily could pull a tighter curve. Tuominen reached a good firing position in the rear sector of one I-16. He fired a salvo in the engine of the enemy fighter, which caught fire. The burning I-16 nose-dived and exploded on the ground.

The battle continued another ten minutes now over the ice of the Gulf of Finland. Tuominen could not disengage, and the enemy was not able to shoot him down. As the enemy was getting low on fuel, once more one I-16 patrol tried to engage in curving contest, with the same result: Tuominen's "Gladiator" slipped behind one I-16 and he fired a lethal salvo in its engine.

As the second I-16 exploded on the Baltic ice, the seven enemies disengaged and took course to South. Tuominen was left alone, he looked around and took course to North. He landed at the base with two victories and drenched in sweat despite the cold. His self-confidence had been given a boost.

On 13 February 1940 at Värtsilä, flown on "Gladiator" "GL-255", he shot down in seven minutes three SB-2 of 39 SBAP and damaged the fourth. Lt. Ulrich ("GL-257") finished that one off and downed another SB. The enemy lost 5 bombers of the 9-plane formation.

Sr.Sgt. Tuominen became the top Gladiator ace with 6 1/2 victories. His Winter War score totalled eight, and at least four unconfirmed. In March, for example, flying a Fiat G.50 he attacked enemy bombers being fired at by Finnish AA at Kouvola. Two enemies were shot down, but credited to the AA. Tuominen demanded that the wrecks should be examined to determine who downed them, but his squadron leader refused.

As the war broke out again in June 1941, Sr. Sgt. Tuominen had acquired an excellent skill in flying his Fiat G.50. His self-confidence, never weak, had been even stronger. Once his Squadron Leader, Major Raoul Harju-Jeanty, gave him a talking-to for inverted flying over a lake at wave tops. The pilot retorted that he, Tuominen, was able to do whatever he wanted to do, while others were able to do only what they could. Tuominen was never at a loss for words and was a great storyteller, too. But he did not endear himself to his superiors.

Tuominen was under arrest on 25 June 1941, punished for flying over the Soviet border without permission some days earlier. That day 15 SB-2 bombers attacked the Fiat base in Joroinen. The FA pilots pursued the enemy and only two of the enemy bombers escaped in the clouds.

Tuominen reopened his score at Joensuu on 4 July as he shot down 4 SB-2 in quick succession with FA-3. He scored another 2 ten days later (on 14 July) and one on 30 July 1941.

On 5 August 1941 Tuominen and Sgt. Paronen escorted a novice, ensign Bruun on his first mission. They encountered four enemy I-15 bis fighters. Tuominen shot down two, Paronen one. They decided to take a prisoner, forcing the last I-15 fly between two Fiats to the Finnish base. But the enemy pilot resisted, and Tuominen ordered Bruun shoot the enemy down while the two other Finnish pilots made sure that the enemy did not get away. Back at the base the squadron leader at first refused to believe what had happened, only after all three pilots told the same story it was believed. Tuominen was credited with one kill only, however.

Finnish Air Force's first Knight of the Mannerheim Order, Air Master Sergeant Oiva "Oippa" Tuominen in a Fiat fighter in September 1942.

Tuominen was promoted into Sergeant Major as his score was 18. He also became the first FAF holder of the Mannerheim Cross on 18 August 1941. At that time he was the number one ace with a score of 14 (8 Winter War and 6 newer victories), and Air Force needed a Knight, too. The main reason for his success was a burning desire to fly and fight the enemy. He often abandoned the formation and went to look for the enemy, just in WW1 style. Although the enemy was avoiding battle with larger formations, a single plane was less respected. Tuominen knew that having enough altitude he could attack any number of enemies and disengage at will by diving. The Fiat could outdive both I-16 and I-153 and at a competent pilot's hands out-curve them. Tuominen never met a Soviet pilot superior to himself.

For several months in 1941-1942 Squadron 26 was grounded due to technical problems: the engines of the Fiats were worn out and could not be replaced fast enough. In 1943 Air Master Sergeant Tuominen had 31 victories as he was transferred to HLeLv 34 equipped with Bf 109's. His first victory with "MT-212" was a Pe-2 at Kotka on 2 June 1943 as he virtually shot down himself and made a forced landing in the sea.

Tuominen scored five more victories in 1944, totalling 42. That was not bad for a 36 year old fighter pilot. But he did not excel as he did in 1941-1942. There was no room for lone wolves any more in the confined theatre of war at the Karelian Isthmus. The enemy was better trained, equipped with radar and led with radio, and as usual, numerically superior. Moreover, the Finnish fighters were concentrated in escorting bombers on the strikes against enemy troops and material on the front line.

After the war Tuominen resigned from FAF service and became a taxi operator. He remained an active hobby pilot as long as he could. He died on 28 January 1978.

Finishing "Oippa" story we can tell a small anecdote. This is the story that Tuominen loved to tell and which is repeated in most books mentioning him. Therefore you, my dear foreign readers, shall not be spared.

It was the 2nd June 1943. Tuominen had just returned from leave back to his base in Kymi as there was a scramble. All the Me's of the flight took off to intercept enemy bombers heading for Kotka. Tuominen took off a little later with his "MT-212", still wearing his best blue uniform (the type also known as "boozing overall"). He saw how the escort fighters engaged the Finnish fighters, leaving the bombers exposed to him.

Tuominen saw six Pe-2 ahead and easily caught them. To save ammunition he fired at the first one at a range of 30 m. But it was his first actual battle flying a "Mersu", so he underestimated his firepower. The hits of his 20mm shells made the victim's fuel tank explode and the Pe-2 disintegrated in mid-air. Tuominen just barely avoided total collision with the left wing of the bomber by pushing the stick, but his prop hit the debris.

The Me engine began to vibrate so that Tuominen believed to see half a dozen engines on the nose of his fighter. He had to cut the ignition. As the engine stopped he saw that the prop blades were bent like the horns of a ram. He had to make a belly landing in the sea. Fortunately Someri island was nearby. Tuominen ejected the cockpit canopy and tightened his seat belts.

The damaged Me hit the water a few minutes later and glided on the surface before stopping about one hundred meters from the island. The pilot opened his seat belts, then commanded in a loud voice:

- Ghost of the plane, OUT! (As an old mechanic he knew every plane has a spirit.)

Then Tuominen inflated his life vest and the fighter sunk below him. A boat came to pick him up, but the pilot politely declined and preferred to swim ashore for his health. The coast artillery captain commanding the small fortress island came to meet the pilot as he waded ashore. They shook hands, Tuominen introduced himself and told that he took the opportunity to visit Someri as he happened to have his better uniform on.

The pilot was taken in the commander's quarters and given a dry set of clothes while his own were hung to dry. Then the two men took a couple of drinks to prevent the ill effects of the cold sea water. Tuominen, a great storyteller, had a lot to tell about his numerous victories and air battles. Then came up the question of his rank: Flight Master was a rare title, and the captain was not sure what that Air Force rank equalled to. So he asked:
- Flight Master - is that equal to Master of the Riders ? (an ancient Cavalry rank, still in use at that time, being equal to Captain.)
Tuominen smiled broadly, sipped from his glass and said in a firm tone:
- At least equal ! (In reality he had the highest rank of an NCO)
The captain was so delighted for having the chance of making the acquaintance of a famous pilot and fellow officer that he immediately suggested friendship on first-name basis.

Oippa's Messerschmitt Bf-109 G-6, MT-212 being stripped down