Risto Olli Puhakka

Risto Olli Petteri Puhakka was born in Sortavala (Serdobol after being ceded to Soviet union in WW2) on 11 April 1916. His father was a lawyer. The well-off family had a summer house near Kasinhäntä which was an air base for seaplanes. Every summer Olli saw buzzing planes take off and land. A family friend, Major Stenbäck from the base was wearing a beautiful blue uniform with the Pilot's Insignia when visiting the Puhakkas. Once the major sent a skilled aircraft mechanic to help the boy to build a plywood canoe. Later Puhakka said that on that day he sold his soul to the Finnish Air Force.

Puhakka started his flying career when doing his compulsory military service in 1935. He was trained into reserve officer pilot. In training it was found that Puhakka had exceptional talent for flying and specially aerobatics. For example, he could fly a slow horizontal roll without losing altitude while in inverted position. This was remarkable because physically the young man was (and always remained) slender in frame, his weight never exceeding 50 kg although he was of normal height.

According to Hans Wind a successful fighter pilot had to have strong upper body and arms to be able to wrench his plane to the extremes of its performance. For example the Me 109 G horizontal rudder was notoriously heavy: for each G the pilot had to pull the control column with a force of 8 to 9kp. At a speed of 500 km/h a normal pilot was not able to pull more than 4G, and in higher speeds a pilot needed both hands. But Olli Puhakka was able to control the Me 109 with his artist's physique better than most other pilots..

Puhakka completed his service and then began studies in the Law faculty of Helsinki University in 1936. His father advised against flying as career. In his free time he often flew with the plane of the University Aviation Club, logging 50 hours up to 1939.

Reserve Ensign Puhakka was mobilized in the summer of 1939 and accepted in Fokker D.XXI training as the only reservist pilot. In the nightmare of the Winter War he proved himself, scoring 4 bombers with D.XXI and one I-16 plus one DB-3 with Fiat G.50. These were confirmed, he damaged several other enemy aircraft. He was always calm, however great the enemy superiority. His acute sight picked the enemy from afar and his reactions in battle were quick.

He was ordered to Squadron 24 to fly a D.XXI up to late January, then in his own Squadron 26 he flew "Gladiators" until the first Fiat G.50 planes became operational. Puhakka fell in love with the Fiat: the light steering was just as made for him, and the twin 12,7 mm MG was efficient - when not jammed. Puhakka later told that there cannot be anything more frustrating than getting the enemy in your sights and then finding oneself unarmed.. The Fiats suffered terribly from the cold weather. The castor oil lubricated engine and the pneumatic subsystems were designed for Africa, not Arctic. But the competent Finnish mechanics learned to keep this exotic bird alive, albeit with great effort. Fiat G.50 competed with the Morane 406 as the worst aircraft type of the FAF from the maintenance point of view.

When the war restarted in June 1941, the commander of the Fiat squadron, HLeLv26, major Raoul Harju-Jeanty, wanted to prove what his pilots and fighters were really worth. Soviet bombers attacked Finnish towns and airfields in the morning of the 25th of June without provocation from the Finnish forces. At 11.40 15 SB-2 bombers attacked the squadron base at Joroinen and were intercepted by Fiats. Ten of the bombers were shot down, the rest escaped in clouds. That was a good start but not for Lt. Puhakka. His MG ammo belts were jammed due to aerobatics performed the day before.

On 13 July 1941 he shot down 1 SB-2 and on two separate missions one I-16 in each, the first in exceptional circumstances.

A week later, on 20 July, he flew a special reconnaissance mission, the target being Sortavala, his old home town, occupied by Soviets. On target he was bounced by five I-153, known as very manoeuvrable fighters. Lt. Puhakka stayed calm, knowing the performance of his own and the enemy aircraft. The enemy pilots had been attacking him without result for 10 minutes when one of the I-153 came to the firing pass at a too high velocity and passed the Fiat - to be immediately shot down in lake Ladoga. The enemy threw in the towel - the I-153's disengaged and left. Puhakka landed at base with undamaged plane and reconnaissance results. The victory was not confirmed due to lack of evidence.

The commander of the Flight Regiment 3, to which HLeLv 26 belonged, assigned Lt. Puhakka to a special training task late in 1941. As a master of air combat Puhakka travelled from one fighter unit to another and then to training bases, training pilots and sharing his experience.

He returned to his old squadron in June 1942. The faults of the Fiat fighter became more and more apparent by now: the fighter was underpowered and its range (about 1,5 hrs flying time at best) was insufficient. However Puhakka managed to shoot down one Pe-2 bomber, a plane 100 km/h faster than his fighter. On 29 December 1942 he was promoted to Captain and on 6 February 1943 Puhakka was selected to Messerschmitt training in Germany. He became the flight commander of 1/HLeLv 34, which was a very rare task for a Reserve Officer. He scored his first victory with Messerschmitt on 19 April 1943 flying MT-204 as he shot down one La-5 over the Gulf of Finland. Soon the squadron leader, Major Luukkanen, considered Captain Puhakka as his best pilot and flight commander. (The best pilot is not the same as the top ace, who was Illu Juutilainen, whose qualities were different from Puhakka's.)

Olli Puhakka, his Messerschmitt and - a very pretty girl.

In combat on 20 July 1943 he scored four victories with MT-216. On 17 May 1944 27 Pe-2s escorted by 15 Yak-9s/La-5s attacked Kotka at 10.30 a.m. 11 Me's took off from Kymi air base to intercept them. Attacking from below through the friendly AA fire Puhakka shot down in two minutes 3 Pe-2 bombers and other pilots five more until the escort fighters intervened. In the ensuing dogfight the enemy lost 3 Yak-9 and shot down one Me.

Capt. Puhakka's score was 33 in early June before the Soviet offensive, during which he scored 11 more victories. On 17 June 1944 he shot down one Po-2, one Pe-2 and one Il-2M, but the Shturmovik's rear gunner damaged the MT-419 so badly that he had to make a forced landing. It was officially mentioned later as a tribute to his pilot's skill that he managed to bring the damaged fighter over the front line and then make such a successful belly landing that the Bf 109 remained in repairable condition.

On 19 June 1944, in the evening Capt. Puhakka led 8 Me's and Capt. Wind another ten to intercept dozens of enemy aircraft in Viipuri-Koivisto area. The Finnish pilots managed to shoot down 15 enemies (6 Pe-2, 3 P-39, 2 Il-2M - one by Puhakka, 2 La-5, 1 LaGG-3) without losses. A week later, on 26 June, early afternoon Capt. Puhakka took off leading 8 Me's against 20 Il-2s strafing Finnish troops at Tali, where the Red Army tried to break the Finnish front. The enemy was escorted by fighters, and another 5 Me's joined the battle. The enemy lost 7 Il-2 planes, one Mustang, one Airacobra, one La-5 - this one by Puhakka, who as usually voluntarily engaged the enemy fighters to enable the others to get at the Shturmoviks. No Finnish Messerschmitts were lost.

Two days later, on 28 June afternoon, 60 to 70 Shturmoviks were once again strafing at Tali, escorted by group of 40 fighters. Capt. Puhakka led eight Me's to intercept, and 30 min later eight more Me's from HLeLv 24 arrived at the scene. The enemy lost six IL-2, two Yak-9, two Mustangs, one Airacobra ( this one by Puhakka). No Me's were lost.

By early August it was evident that the Red Army could not reach its objectives with the forces at its disposal on the Finnish front. Peace negotiations were started and an armistice was concluded. The Soviet-Finnish war ended for Finland on 4 September 1944 and next day for Soviet Union.

Capt. Puhakka received the Mannerheim Cross no.175 on 21 December 1944. His total score is 42 victories. He continued service in the FAF until 25 July 1946 to become a pilot in Finnair. He never returned to his law studies, interrupted in 1939.

Olli Puhakka was the Finnair chief pilot. He was involved in the purchase of new aircraft types and it was he who piloted the plane when the President of the Republic officially visited abroad. The Harmon statue was granted to Puhakka for contributing to the development of Finnish civil aviation. He retired in 1971. Olli Puhakka died in February 1979.

Flying this 2./LLv 24 Fokker D.XXI, FR-117 Olli Puhakka downed over Kavantsaari one SB-2 belonging to 54. SBAP. Second SB-2 of this formation was destroyed near Vuoksi by Lt. Urho Nieminen. That same pilot, flew on FR-98, soon got another bomber over Valkjarvi. Fourth "Katiushka" was hunted over Muolaa by Sgt. Lasse Erik Aaltonen, piloted D.XXI FR-105.