First combat in a Brewster fighterBy Heimo Lampi
After having completed my fighter pilot course, I got unbelievably lucky. I got accepted as a pilot to Lentolaivue 24 (Squadron 24) whose reputation was linked to the Winter War [of 1939-1940], the squadron that was commanded at the time by Erik Magnusson and [in which] Jorma Sarvanto, one of the great pilot heroes of the Winter War, was serving. Almost all of the pilots of the squadron, experienced fighter pilot guards, had been toughened by the Winter War, and I, among that group, a mere 20 year-old and beginner, really felt like a school boy.
That is when it all began, the long close friendship lasting years with that same plane, the [Brewster] BW-354. A friendship consisting of about 200 war flights in which many hardships had been shared. We flew gently over the Gulf of Finland, a pit in my stomach throughout the anti-aircraft hell of Leningrad and the incredibly freezing temperatures on the Murmansk track. We even went to see when the American flight squadron came from the Arctic Ocean to the Archangel port and on the return flight my heart turned cold with excitement wondering whether or not there would be enough gas to get back to the home airfield. That’s when I experienced that sad shattering finale when my friend [the Brewster fighter] who had been on loan to another pilot died in the anti-aircraft hell of Leningrad.
In my book it really died just like my pilot companion died. I mourned it as if it were a real living creature. It was no longer a dead object for me, rather a close friend, my buddy, whom I trusted and who I could even talk to. Setting off on the Archangel trip, I tapped him on the side and said: Listen, friend, remember to drone well because if you get tired on this one, there is no walking back!
My old friend of course knew how to drone well and we even had twenty litres of gas left after the return flight home.
Ever since my first flight, the BW-354 became my lifetime memory.
The cold friend Messerschmitt who was a real hard fighter was my next plane after the Brewster, but it totally lacked in humaneness. I could not love it the way I loved my friend Brewster. Nor any other plane for that matter.
Big Bomber Formation in Inkeroinen– Northwest Bound
“ It goes like this, young man, in a real war when the alarm goes off, don’t start lining up over there by the airstrip, rather shoot off like lightening into the sky and once there, build up the formation – if, that is, there is time for it”, Yrjö Turkka, the old flight master, said advising me, the youngest flight corporal.
“And, Captain sir, shouldn’t that boy do a bit of target shooting since he hasn’t even shot a round in the whole engine?” he continued turning to flight leader Captain Leo Ahola.
“Certainly”, answered the captain, “Let’s build a target on the edge of that field, then we can practice shoot tomorrow morning.”
This conversation took place on the evening of June 24th 1941 in a tent at the Selänpää airfield, where some of the flight pilots of the second flight, Squadron 24, commanded by Captain G. Magnusson were being temporarily lodged. No one had the faintest idea that Finland would once again be at war the following day even though we were all well aware that the situation had become critical also for us. We had received strict and clear instructions from our commander to avoid doing anything that could be a motive for conflict for the Soviet Union. Among the many things strictly forbidden were training flights on the eastern side of the Kouvola-Mikkeli-Pieksämäki railway line.
The next day, that is the morning of June 25th at 7:10, the army phone of the flight leader rang fiercely. What kind of hurry is the Center [headquarters] in that they have to ring so many times?
“A big bomber formation in Inkeroinen. Northwest bound. Flight altitude is 1,500 meters. Planes are dropping bombs on Inkeroinen.”
That message succeeded in waking up the fighter pilots from their deep sleep in no time at all and causing a heated hubbub in the tent. Some starting to look frantically for their shoes, others for their flight headgear or whatever else as they had never seemed to manage to get into “battle order.”
I pulled on my pants but had no time to button them; I grabbed a shirt and my head gear and went running to the airfield as fast as my legs could carry me to my plane parked among the trees. Once there the aircraft man Corporal Andreas Donner and his assistant soldier Röksä got the Brewster fighter plane ready in flying condition in record time. I jump into the cockpit, wriggle on my shirt and fix my headgear; during that time the plane is ready for flight. A fierce howl comes out of the flywheel after I start up the clutch and after a couple of sputters, the engine starts to rumble.
There was no time for using the test and heating system as I remember the instructions of my experienced teacher: like lightening into the sky! My foot on the gas, the engine will surely warm up that way!
Soon I am in the air in a sharp rise. Able to steer my plane’s control stick with my knees, I secure the straps of the parachute which in the hurry to leave had remained open; I connect the energy current to the machine gun and to the sight, and start studying the map calculating the possible meeting place of the bomber planes. Our other planes are nowhere in sight, although I noticed that Turkka and Sergeant Eero Kinnunen had been able to take off before me: the training they had received in the Winter War has made them agile.
I reach a height of 1,500 meters when all of a sudden I notice ahead of me a bomber formation emerging in the front left cirrostratus. I see an impeccable formation of 27 Russian SB bombers swinging deep within the Finnish border. And it was not even wartime – at least not to my knowledge. I immediately swing my fighter slightly above the bombers to the left. I am a bit confused. I take a quick look around me - I do not see my own or even the foreign bombers. My heart pounds with excitement and my trembling hand slightly shakes the control stick – the battle which was about to begin rippled through every one of my cells.