Flying Tigers
revised and updated

'It's so wrong, what has happened'
(Marja Lampi's story)

From a telephone interview in 2003 or 2004, while BW-372 was still in Pensacola. At that time, Marja went by her married name of Dmitriev. My questions and comments are in brackets. -- Dan Ford

[When did you first hear about the Brewster in Russia?] It was in 1993. Of course my father had known it much earlier, that there was one in the Baltic Sea and another somewhere in Karelia, but I didn't talk to him about the aircraft until Vic Sargon visited my father. I think he was also a pilot or something to do with aviation during the war, and then he went to the United States. He knew that the Pensacola Museum was interested to find the Brewster.

He came to visit my father, who told him that there should be Brewsters in Russia. Vic Sargon wrote to the museum in Pensacola. I have his letter to my father written on March 17, 1993 where he says: "It seems clear that the new director of the Museum, Commander Rasmussen, is not as interested in Brewster B-239 as the boss before him, Admiral Furlong." For a long time we didn't know what to do, because there was no answer. Then the answer [came] that they very much wanted this, and that Marvin Kottman would be the backer.

'We started to work'

After that we started to work actively. I went to Russia in May 1994 and I met Vladimir Prytkov. We were talking by telephone with Marvin, and writing our first agreement. Later I got some money [for travel expenses]. I got $1,000, but I have spent much more.

Then we were waiting for Gary Villiard to come, and then I went [to St. Petersburg] for the third time to meet him. That's the picture which you have on your page. It was toward the end of June when Gary Villiard came. Then they started working in the Baltic Sea. Of course it was Vladimir Pritokov and his Petro Avia company that was doing all the work, not Gary Villiard. As Vladimir himself is deeply interested in aircrafts, he was wondering why Villiard was just laying on the beach showing very little interest to the process. We had the knowledge that there is one whole aircraft [BW-388]; it was standing on the icy water in the beginning of May 1942(?), the pilot Pekka Lilja was still alive and sitting on the wing, but he died of cold when the aircraft sank down.

Bruce Miller from New York brought to Helsinki a sonar. This was all paid by Marvin Kottman. I drove the sonar and Miller over the Russian border. They were searching about three weeks, maybe a little bit more. Then the [alloted time] was finished; everybody had to go do other things.

They decided to continue, not only in the Baltic Sea but also in Karelia. We had known all the time that there is this aircraft, BW-372.

'A Brewster in Karelia'

In spring 1995 there were some rumours about a Brewster in Karelia. Gary—and of course also Vladimir—went there through Helsinki, but they didn't find anything. Timo Nyman went once in May to Karelia, he was almost sure that he'll find something but he didn`t.

Prytkov had never been in the Finnish archives, so he came over here to have a look in December 1995. We were in the archives with him and with Timo Nyman. Later Prytkov's friend visited also the Moscow War archives and their coordinates were more exact than what we had. Gary Villiard has never been in the archives. Prytkov visited with me my father and got the coordinates from him; later, when arrested, Prytkov tells about it in a video I have received from Mr. Pekuri. My father told Vladimir Prytkov exactly what happened and where it could be. My father and Pekuri knew each other very well. All the Brewster pilots knew and know each other very well, because of the time and experiences they had gone through during the war.

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

Later Vladimir Prytkov spent several winters searching alone, on the frozen lakes. You must imagine what it is, just you and the cold nature, most of the time it is very dark. He has worked so hard for this, and he has got nothing. Every eliminated lake is a step forward in searching. Prytkov was also responsible for the very professional lifting operation and the treatment of the aircraft straight after the lifting. Thanks to him the aircraft is now in excellent condition.

Also it is a big difference to talk about an aircraft which you try to find and to talk about the one which has been found. You must have a strong mind, vision and optimism to spend your time in searching. Many people were friendly smiling at us. There were many unbelievers.

After December 1995, I didn't know anything about it. I heard the next time in August 1998, that they had found it. So it is not my duty to tell what happened. They had the coordinates, and they had all these very expensive instruments, and knowledge and so on, so we were no more use, and nobody informed us what happened. My father also wondered very much, because to an old pilot it was very interesting. But all these specialists, they couldn't have met without our planning and finding them. We did all the groundwork. It's so wrong, what has happened. Without our work, there would not be any Brewster.

As my father died in June 1st, 1998, another Brewster pilot, Vaino Pokela, who had also helped the group with his knowledge, called me in August 1998 that he had heard that the Brewster had been found. We didn't know who had found it. It was early in the morning on TV. It showed a picture of Vladimir Prytkov, and he was arrested. I was so worried. There was Vladimir's brother, and his son, and also some other specialists working for him.

'They change companies'

Then they showed a bag with Gary's name, and when I saw it I was so worried what had happened. I called to Marvin Kottman [in Nebraska], telling that now they are in jail and Gary has disappeared, nobody knows where he is. Then it came out that Gary was already in the United States with a video of the Brewster's discovery trying to sell the aircraft.

Marvin Kottman and I went to Russia on September 15 [and tried unsuccessfuly to buy the aircraft from the Republic of Karelia, a story that is told elsewhere on this website].

One or two weeks after we came home to Finland, we learned from the Finnish military attache in Moscow that Michael Ryan called to him and wanted to sell the aircraft to Finland. He gave a Moscow address where the aircraft is, but then something happened and they didn't let the military attache to see it. Michael Ryan was already after one or two weeks selling the Brewster! He is working for this VAP [a Russian company dealing in aircraft]. Michael Ryan is the owner of Millennium Development and also in a directorship of VAP. They are all working for the same people, one of them being Valeri Zakarenkov.

This is very typical to the Russian Mafia. They change companies, so that nobody can know who owns the aircraft. [The actual exchange of BW-372 for three surplus patrol planes was arranged by a company named Vintage Holdings, in which Villiard is evidently a partner.] I'm not a specialist in how they work, but it is clear that the ownership is somewhere else. It is not Gary Villiard himself.

In December 1998 I received a letter from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation telling that as there was an increasing corrosion process going on in the aircraft they had given the permission to take out from Russia the remains of the Brewster. After "the remains" had come out their price was first $10 million! Now we had heard that "the remains" turned out to be an aircraft in excellent condition!

I got the letter from the Ministry of Property in Russia in 2003, and it was written there that the Russian Federation owns the aircraft. It was written in Russian, and I sent it to the [U.S.] Department of the Navy. I got the answer that they don't understand Russian and that is why they can't read the letter. I had to translate it to them (How can U.S. forces work if they only know English?) . After two days Stephen Vanotte writes to me that he has enclosed two documents—I have the letter here—that relate to recovery of the Brewster Buffalo, which is now in the possession of Vintage Holdings, and so on. And then he sent me my own translation [of the letter from the Russian Ministry of Property] and the original Russian letter addressed to me! What can I think about the intellectual level of the U.S. forces after that? Besides, I could see on the fax that these copies of my letters had also been in Villiard's fax.

Next: 6 BW-372 on display in Finland

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Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

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