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At Oulu, summer 2004
Interview: Jukka O. Kauppinen, Martti Kujansuu
Transscript, translation into English: Martti Kujansuu
Photos: Jukka O. Kauppinen
During the World War II mr. Aarne Vuopohja served in the FinnishAir Force as assistant mechanic, at LentoRykmentti 4 (Flight Regiment 4), which was the bomber arm of the FiAF. Vuopohja worked for example with the Pe-2 planes. He was interviewed in the Virtual Pilots' summer camp Mosquito Meeting 2004, at Oulu.
Also present was mr. Tapani Elo, who served in a SB-2 squadron. He served in the maritime reconnaissance squadron hunting for Soviet submarines during the Continuation War.
My name is Aarne Vuopohja and I was born in 1925. I have born in a near-by Pikisaari-island and I live there. I have been most of my life elsewhere than Oulu, just few years ago I moved back to Oulu. I was at the Air Force during the wartime, I was called into service to Luonetjärvi. The airfield at Luonetjärvi was just completed. The buildings and barracks were completed to the Winter War, a little earlier. I served there during my conscript time. After that we where transferred to Utti. At Utti we attended assistant mechanic course. After that we were transferred to Flying Regiments. I got transfer to Flying Regiment 4 which was at the time at Onttola or scattered in many airfields, among other things at Luonetjärvi. Onttola was our main airfield.
I served as assistant mechanic and after that the war was over. Here at Oulu I attended a vocational university and left abroad. I many years abroad. At sea five and half years. I worked then at land. I got married, came to Finland and I served under Antti Vihuri as a chief at repair workshop at Catepillar. From there I moved to public sector as civil servant. I retired and I live at Pikisaari. My military rank is sergeant.
- About your work during the war. You were mechanic, what kind was so called ”normal” day?
Let's say it was hard work. I was on holiday, I got hurt, I was many months away. When I was working, how could I describe mechanics' work, it was hard. If you got a lousy Mechanic working with the aeroplane, assistant Mechanic will have much work to do. I worked with aeroplane which had always faults. We had solidarity among ourselves. We had famous peoples with us like Jaakko Ranta as our Flight Leader. Every bomber pilot must to know who Jaakko Ranta was, I was available to him. Mechanics and assistant mechanics bustled and it was hard work. Particularly when we had much to do, changing engines, maintenance, refueling, it was the same all the time. In ordinary civilian airfield.
- What kind of training had you got for the task?
Elementary school, basic training and then the assistant mechanic course.
- What this training consisted?
The assistant mechanic course was three-phased. Then it changed to regular training. The second phase was that they trained you to a regular mechanic. Those who were NCOs got so called ”moonlight ribbons” or silver ribbons. There were corresponding mechanic and few other mechanics in every bomber in a bomber squadron.
- So they each had their own planes and you had also your own planes?
That's correct. One didn't get to know well anybody else than the pilot, observer and the gunner. And then the corresponding mechanic. We worked in close co-operation. When the plane came from the mission we refueled and maintained it together. There was great co-operation and solidarity.
- When one had so good co-operation, so the pilots could trust the work will be done well?
We had many personnelities on the group. Corresponding mechanic had been receiving the planes in Germany. He was in a high position in the hierarchy of the mechanics. Then according to that the observer was as the pilot, a good man. He belonged to the regulars of course. We had very good people. I can't remember anymore all the names and it's useless to remember them here.
- After these courses you were assigned to Flying Regiment 4. Then you got bombers to maintain. These must have been a whole new thing you to learn?
I was like an apprentice. One couldn't demand much from the assistant Mechanics. We had some assistant mechanics, what I have heard later, that they were the best mechanics at the Regiment. Nowadays they have some kind of technical training.
- What aeroplanes did you maintain at the Regiment?
I was assistant Mechanic of the Pe-2, we had three mechanics maintaining of the aeroplane. Sometimes we were helping with other planes too.
- What was the Pe-2 like from mechanic's point of view?
Well, I felt like it was a fantastic aeroplane. It's performance was great, what the pilots told me. They were happy. From the mechanic's point of view it wasn't such a great plane, it was narrow and difficult, there was no room. One's hands didn't fit anywhere.
- Who did they get spare parts to aeroplane like this?
All spare parts came from Germany. The Germans had got them as war trophies. Then they had made a superficial check on them and sold to us. Likewise as (the Germany's) the satellite states, Finland also bought these Pe-2s, we had three of them? The spare parts came the same way as they came to the Junkers.
- How often were the engines replaced?
They (Pe-2s) had Hispano-Suiza –engines and they didn't included any kind of service manuals. When (the engine) started to smoke then… It was like that, they were worn out. Nowadays at Finnair when it is the time, the engine is replaced, even when it is in good shape. The Finnish army had go extra money to waste during wartime. When an aeroplane fall, so it fall.
- One didn't have many engines to change?
Now and then we had spare engines.
- Was Tampere the main base for repairs?
Not one of our planes were at Tampere. Minor repairs were made at the field.
- How large repairs were made at the field?
We had a large hangar at Onttola, the engines were changed there.
- If larger repairs were needed, they were sent to Tampere?
If we had crashed planes. If the aeroplane could fly then it was taken to Tampere. One Pe-2 was so badly damaged and it was unable to fly so it was taken by train to Tampere and flown back.
- What kind of situation it was?
The aeroplane taxied over an aeroplane and hit it with wing tip.
- How much work it was to disassemble an aeroplane of that size and put it into a train?
The wings could be easily detached.
- How many Pe-2s did you have?
We had two. I only heard about having three of them.
- That's a small number. Only two Pe-2s you had, one could almost say that there was a small ring of Pe-peoples and –mechanics.
And pilots who could fly, use them. These aeroplanes were almost exclusively at the photo reconnaissance units.
- Were any of these aeroplanes lost?
A plane was lost somewhere behind the Svir River.
- One plane was destroyed in the bombings, was the third one preserved?
I don't know. Our Flight had two.
- Then you know this gentleman Immu Rantala and other Petljakov-pilots?
They were, but no friendships were born, it was ”that”. Assistant mechanics were assistant mechanics and we didn't spend much time with the pilots. We were working at the aeroplane when the others were eating.
- How it was, to maintain the Pe-2, when no manuals were available and the spare parts came from Germany and Pe-2 was a new, strange plane?
It was an amazing plane – and good. We had a sergeant major called Pulli, chief mechanic, so we called him, he was fetching the Pe-2s in Germany. He got to know the aeroplanes in Germany and the germans trained him. He was a capable man. He didn't speak foreign languages, didn't speak french, spanish or german. Was he so capable or what, but he was the chief of the technical side of the Pe-2.
- Where there any special markings on the Pe-2?
I don't remembeer. There were own markings that nobody asked.
- One could easily imagine that technical personnel must have been quite creative…
Oh yes. Let's say that I was frighten to see the first time the aeroplane goes to an engine change and none than the chief mechanic knows what to do. Three of us were just came from the mechanic training and haven't seen much aeroplanes before. Tight situation. When a crowd like that starts to change the engine it requires a bit of fate from the leaders will they success…
- How many hours it took to change the engine?
It might take two weeks, not a small thing. Of course if everyone would have worked at full speed, when the aeroplane arrived and best men to work with. If one would have had a hurry and a special team would have been assembled, so faster could have been possible, but we only were assistant mechanics…
- Not quite an engine change to a Volkswagen Beetle?
I have done few engine changes to my Volkswagen, so when you compare that to changing a Hispano-Suiza, Volkswagen is a trifle when comparing to that. Morane also had a Hispano-Suiza.
- What I have been talk to Väinö Mäntymaa. A man with no linguistic abilities was sent to Sweden to receive Moranes.
Let say, that Väinö Mäntymaa goes to Sweden, to receive a Morane-squadron. A lot of truth. You must to talk to Sakari, he has flown many combat flights. I only tell stories about engine- and oil changes.
- It's kind of work that keeps the aeroplanes flying. I feel there has been too few writings and talking about it, so that's why it's important that we talk about it too.
- What about armament? A basic armament or did you remove something?
We had separate men for that. I have once shot from Pe-2's waist gunner position, the forest caught fire. I crawled under the aeroplane and the cartridge belts were in place and my big toe touched slightly the trigger. That's it about my shootings.
That machine gunner Tapani, you may know him. After that came strict orders to never leave a loaded gun. When the aeroplane come from combat mission, empty the magazine. In the situation in question ammunitions were inside the gun. I went there and turned – and my big toe touched the trigger. There's a tight spot under the belly of Pe-2. Not enough space to turn.
Tapani Elo: That was a criterion to choose radio operators and gunners, shorter than 170 cm.
Vuopohja: It was so tight spot and when one went there from below, one must go there back first. There were handles and you must be a weightlifter and pull yourself first up and then kick the hatch to get some support, got your back on the aeroplane.
There my foot touched the trigger and there went the ammunitions. That gun on there, the waist gunner's gun on Pe-2, a heavy gun.
We had separate men who handled the bombs and guns, seperate men for the reconnaissance cameras. It was well organised that when the aeroplane came to the airfield, men were ready and everyone knew what to do, Mechanics knew exactly what was their job, ordnancemen knew theirs.
- How many men altogether were working with the aeroplane?
Observer, pilot, radio operator / gunner, three were part of flying crew.
- What about maintenance crew?
Where I were we had two assistant mechanics and one corresponding mechanic. That was it. Two were on the weapon side who maintained and placed the bombs on the bomb racks.
- So, five more in addition to the flying crew?
There were more. Starter trucks, trucks with starting engine on the cargo area. Then were petrol truck drivers. They were part of other personnel. Three flyers and 7-8 ground personnel.
- Did the planes have any accidents other than the crash with another aeroplane?
My shooting, it was a considerable accident too.
- The fire was extinguished?
Yeah, it didn't have time to spread. Nothing really happened, other than that the gunner got blames. It was an autocannon, not a machine gun. It was a 20 mm autocannon. It was situated at the belly, facing down.
- Did the situation in question happened inside the hangar or outside?
Outside, only the largest work were done inside.
- What about when the Fourth strategic offensive started in 1944, you must have been hurry?
At the time I was on sick leave. When I think it now, it would have been very healthful to be there, but maybe it was rescue. It must have been terrible to them who were there. Think about pilots – when they got aeroplane to the airfield, they didn't have time to sleep, to do nothing. All the time they flew at Karelian Isthmus.
Full bomb load all the time, it continued for many weeks. It was a tough situation.
- From the flight logbooks it seems that these bomber pilots, Blenheim pilots, could have three, four sorties in a day at it's worst. Long flights too.
They were automatically long since the airfields were at Joensuu, Luonetjärvi, Joroinen, Varkaus. We didn't dare go to Immola, it was too close to the front and it belonged to the Germans. I believe that the German dive bombers were very important thing. They also had fighters, Focke-Wulfs I think. Valte could tell a lot about them. He had been at the same airbase with them and saw them in action.
(Obs, now speaking about Onni Paronen)
(Onni is) Unusually humble person. He don't talk much. He has gone through so many different kind of aeroplanes, all the main planes of Finland. He was also a pilot at Aero. But before that he had gone through Fiats, Brewsters and Mersu's. He has a lot of experience and is one of the most experienced pilots in Finland. He has been with (aviation) right from the beginning. The first time I was on an aeroplane was in 1938. There was a photo-reconnaissance plane at Kemi airport, a two-engined De Havilland named ”Lappi”. Onni has flown it. I showed a photograph from the plane to Onni and he said that it's a familiar plane. ”Have you been on that plane”, Onni ask and I said I have been when I was little. My father called from Kemi and said you could fly to Oulu in an aeroplane if you don't miss the train. I run to the train station and didn't miss the train. Near the airport I left the train, ran and reached the plane. It was nice two-engine plane, magnificent plane. I could carry six passengers.
Elo: What was the another plane named?
Vuopohja: "Lappi” and ”Salama”
Elo: Onni's son has interested from his father's history and have wrote biography from the beginning to retirement. Onni said that it's made for next generation and family. I'm sure it's nice. Generally Onni is lazy to give interviews and such.
Elo: He's abstemious what goes to war.
Korva: Excluding the cases of shooting moose.
Elo: I wonder what was the plane when boots flew and blood poured. He started to walk, found a house and from there a housewife met him (indistinct, apparently the housewife ran away or was very carefully). He said that at the time all sorts of partisans were moving about.
Vuopohja: He made the crash landing to the Finnish side?
Elo: Finnish side, yeah. The plane had crashed into top of birch. (The aeroplane) flew in low-level, it wasn't really crash landing. Onni told ”the housewife was so distressed and I didn't doubt when blood was pouring from his face”. Onni tried to explain that he's a finnish pilot and the plane is there in the birch grove. He wanted to contact the base to get the plane and him to back to the base. Then the housewife calmed down and advised him to a house where a phone could be found.
((The conversation turned to photographing))
Elo: Something about the photographing lab. Do you remember Saru, ”Retkuska”, Captain. He made a crash landing to the north during the Lapland War. It must have been in 1944, because he met us at the Jyväskylä station and he had made his last crash landing. He came back to Finland by boat. Not long after he was convicted from espionage. There was a Captain Iisalo at Luonetjärvi and this Retkusalo introduced himself, he was no Iisalo but Retkusalo! It was saying of his own.
Vuosalo: Think about what was there at the fourth floor of the barracks at Luonetjärvi. The whole Finnish Air Force's photograph archive. All what was photographed, the whole archive. All maps were at the next, third floor. I have something from there, at least bowl from the lab. A steel one, I used it as a dining bowl, it was really nice bowl. They used to keep chemicals there. It was a treasure.
Elo: People used to go there where the maps were. Strange thing it was open. I too went there many, many times. Afterwards I wondered who could anyone go there. Whole Finnish war history, aerial photography, Finnish maps. Photograph maps were better than maps. All in there was within reach of anyone.
Aarne Vuopohja and Tapani Elo
Aarne Vuopohja ja Tapani Eloa were interviewed at Oulu, at summer 2004.
Interview: Jukka O. Kauppinen, Martti Kujansuu
Transscript, translation into English: Martti Kujansuu
Photos: Jukka O. Kauppinen
Copyright VLeLv Icebreakers / Virtuaalilentäjät r.y. / Finnish Virtual Pilots Association 2007.