Flying Tigers
revised and updated
BW-372's last mission
BW-372's last mission (print courtesy Gripenberg Design Oy, Helsinki)

Lt. Pekuri flies BW-372 on its last mission

In June 1942, BW-372 was assigned to Lieutenant Lauri Pekuri. At 82 and a retired colonel, he gave this account of his last mission on Finnish television:

"We were engaged in combat next to the Russian airfield.... My wingman was Sergeant Anttila, a young fellow in his first fight. When I gave the order to disengage, Anttila couldn't comply. I looked and saw a Russian aircraft--it was a British-made Hurricane--behind him, firing from a somewhat long distance and scoring hits. Black smoke started to pour out of Anttila's aircraft, his engine stopped and he began to glide down. I managed to shoot down the Russian fighter and thus prevented him from completing the damage he had done."

BW-372 preparing to take off from a snowy field in Finland, February 1942.

"After this I disengaged from the fight. I flew on the deck at full power for 40-50 km.... I was awakened by bullets hitting my aircraft-- they made quite a racket--and my left wing tank caught fire. The Russian, I believe it was a Hurricane, overtook me at high speed just a few meters higher, and suddenly I found him right in front of me, practically filling my whole gunsight. Instinctively, I pulled the trigger, and the Russian aircraft caught fire and crashed into the woods."

His Brewster on fire and its Wright Cyclone barely ticking over, Pekuri made a wheels-up landing on the water. The plane flipped over, but righted itself sufficiently that it sank nose-down into the lake. (It was on its belly when Villiard's team found it. At Pensacola recently, an admirer noticed that the propeller blades were bent around the engine, showing that they had been spinning when the plane hit the water.) The young lieutenant evaded capture and made his way back to Finnish lines. He was married a few weeks later, his eyebrows still singed from the flames that had enveloped BW-372's cockpit.

Overall, Pekuri was credited with 10.5 Russian aircraft on Brewsters, making him the ninth-ranking Buffalo ace in Finland--and the world, of course. He later flew a Messerschmitt Bf-109, accumulating an additional 8 kills before he was shot down and captured in June 1944. He was released from prison camp at the end of the year, after Finland signed its second armistice with Russia, and in time became the first Finn to fly faster than Mach 1.0.

After looking at the battle damage shown in photographs of BW-372, Colonel Pekuri decided that some had been inflicted by explosive shells and that his attacker was actually a MiG-3 fighter. He died in 1999, after his airplane was lifted from the chill waters of Big Kolejärvi Lake, but too soon to learn its fate.

Next: 2 - Found in a Russian lake

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