The Interview of Martti Lehtovaara
"I was on a summer picnic with my parents when an army plane flew by. That's when I got strong desire to become a pilot. I was ten years old at the time. I began building model airplanes at Pyhäjärvi, and since then I always had a model project going on, even after moving to Salo via Turku.
I started the Salo Aviation Club with my brother Aarre and Kaarlo Valpas. It began as a model plane club, though some already dreamed of building a real glider. Pentti Saarinen, Orvo Sarin, Leo Helle, Reino Hakala and Calle Bruun began building one. The blueprints were taken from models, the wing profile was decided on Clark Y. The builders were all model enthusiasts. In 1937 a delegation from the Varsinais-Suomi Air Defence Association came to see our work. Through them we got a Germaun Grunau-9 glider plane kit and we began building it. The plane was first displayed at an air show at the Artukainen airfield at Turku, on May 1938.
We began glider pilot courses at Artukainen and I got the A badge there. Veikko Linnaluoto, Mikko Moisio and Armas Lehtiö were the trainers. Those Turku people had a fine car, a Marmon (seen also in some movies by Suomi-Filmi) that was used to pull planes on ground. Then they increased speed and I did some hops. Next was practising disengaging the pull line. I was flying free. Finally, they pulled me properly up in the air, and the A badge was earned.
That first flight time was 25 seconds. The Marmon was used for pulling, its differential was cast full of lead so when turning the inner wheel tossed gravel high. A drum was installed in the left rear wheel's stead and the tow cable was drawn from there through a cutter ("the guillotine") to the hook in the plane at the other end of the runway. The wincher, Lehtiö or Moisio, was signalled with flag to throttle up the car, and the plane took off. The A badge required a straight flight.
At the time the only vehicles we had to travel from Salo to Turku were bicycles. We lodged at a school and ate at some bars. While at Turku I took the B course, which included turns and such. Next summer I spent at Jämijärvi, where I got the C badge. There we flew with a Grunau Baby II, taking off from a slope with a winch and rubber rope.
My brother, Urho Lehtovaara who later received the Mannerheim Cross, was already studying at the Reserve Pilot Course at Kauhava. He urged me to apply there too. I did and waited for the invitation to the psychological tests at Helsinki. It took a long time before I received a letter from the police station that I was invited to the Military Pilot Course 2 at Kauhava. I didn't need to take the Psychs, cos "I had already been there once". I guess they confused me with Urho?
The course began February 1st, 1940. Those participating were Sauli Jankavaara, Unto Harri, Olli Mäenpää, Veikko Ikävalko, Veikko Laakso, Tapio Järvi, Urho Lehto, Viljo Ovaskainen, Erkki Komonen, Veikko Tolvanen, Tauno Heinonen, Helge Krohn, Antti Silen, Diva Hietala, Yrjo Hakulinen, Allan Koskinen, Jouko Lilja, Lauri Hovilainen, Ilmari Harju, Berndt Schulze, Emil Vesa, Erkki Siponmaa, Ake Hohenthal, Göran Kullberg, Arvo Helin, Orvo Helenius, Olavi Raitio, Yrjo Kalamo, Pentti Koivisto, Erkki Linden, Risto Pennola, Jalo Ahlsten, Heikki Kontteli, Veikko Railo, Nils Trontti, Leo Lindgren, Kalervo Juvonen, Kaarlo Temmes, Ilmari Koskelainen, Veikko Pietilä, Johan Durchman, Sakari Kivistö, Reino Nikula, Simo Viherlaakso, Matti Durchman, Väinö Vähänen, Heimo Heinonen, Onni Kuuluvainen, Osmo Lehtinen, Mikko Siren, Matti Jaakkola, Rauni Juselius, Veijo Levanto, Matti Hellen, Mauri Ollikkala, Esko Hyvärinen, Ben Liden, Risto Lilja, Erkki Helin, Aarno Juurinen, Erkki Hovi, Olli Wallenius, Erkki Eerikainen. All these received Finnish Flight Badges #706-1102 between July 21, 1941 and September 6, 1943. There was also Niemelä, who got killed before earning his badge.
14 of these got killed in action, and four in flying accidents. This was my course, which included both officers and warrant officers.
We all were together at Kauhava, then some went to the airfield at the frozen Lake Menkijärvi, the others were sent first to courses in Sweden before joining the rest. At Kauhava we lodged at a school and walked to the field at morning. My first solo flight was at Lake Menkijärvi, with a Smolik. From there we were sent to the Reserve Flight Regiment 2, commanded by Major Nuotio. We learned the Gauntlet, then at Pori the GT, Pyry and FR. Some were sent to the Reserve Officer School.
I was assigned next to the Squadron 32, commanded by Major Carlsson. My company commander was Lieutenant Veikko Teuri, whom I had met already at Parola.
The Continuation War began on June 25th, 1941. We flew escort flights from Hyvinkää to Helsinki with the FR, and never met the enemy. Then suddenly I was transferred to the Brewster squadron (24), and in Ahola's flight, first at Rantasalmi and then to Lunkula at the shores of Lake Ladoga, to replace the Squadron 26 that had moved to the Isthmus. We did recon flights over the Murmansk railway, patrolled the Syväri track and destroyed several locomotives. We shot the steam out of them. At New Ladoga we found an airfield, and were assigned to raid it. We shot many planes on ground, I drew smoke from a I-153 in flight but didn't see it fall. I got two planes on the field. When the day was over, we listened to radio news telling how Finnish fighters had destroyed seven train engines on the Syväri track, among others.
After Lunkula we were a short time at Solomanni. We lodged in the only house still standing, a nursery home or something. Next we were stationed at Tiiksjärvi, from where we flew the longest recon flights all the way to Archangel. We lodged in barracks that were partly dug in ground. We did fishing and hunting. Almost every night the field was raided from the R-5 side. On May Day there was heavy bombing, they dropped small phosphorus devices that caught fire in sunlight. They hit our AA stores and the rounds kept going off all day long.
Our biggest battle was fought at Säämäjärvi, we got 14 kills. Thirty years after the war we found out that Mannerheim had sent a thank-you telegraph, but the squadron never received it. It had got lost. Our opponents were mainly Hurricanes with wood propellors.
After Tiiksjärvi we were stationed a long while at Suulajärvi on the Carelian Isthmus, though we spent some time at Römpötti, at the sea coast. Lt Kim Lindberg was there among others, who was a liaison officer in Capt Jussi Laakso's staff at Immola on June 4th, 1942, when Hitler came to meet Mannerheim. He had an 8mm film camera that he used a lot. Film was hard to get, but he was sometimes in Germany working as interpreter for our SS men, and brought some film with him. All the pilots lived in the same barracks, though officers and warrant officers in different sides.
It was busy over the Gulf of Finland. Once we were patrolling, when I spotted two planes below us. Others didn't see them. My radio didn't receive, but Vikke Pyötsiä on my wing could hear me. I told him to waggle his plane if he's coming with me, soon they'd get away. He did, so I dove after the enemy.
As a young sergeant I was the last in the flight of six planes. I took the leading plane to my sights and pushed trigger just when it rolled away. So I took some lead and saw the tracers hit. I had to pull up but Vikki saw it fall. More enemies were on their way and another flight of ours had been alerted, Kim with it. Our planes were scattered, so he began calling them together. I ended up on his wing. I got to shoot down another plane, both Yak-1's. It was a tough battle, but the Brewster was a solid plane that had a long operational time, four hours.
I was sent to the Army Hospital for pneumonia in Autumn 1943. Upon returning I was sent to Utti for Messerschmitt training. Generally I fared well through the war with little damage. Once at Kontupohja the landing gear didn't work and I had to do a belly landing, the propellor broke. At Lappeenranta the plane began to turn at take-off and I almost hit a building. I cut the throttle, so the plane spun and the gear broke. That plane was a long time in repairs. Once at Tiiksjärvi the engine stopped over the field, but I could glide to landing. And once I was flying from Hyvinkää to Artukainen with the Sääski, when the throttle froze over Salo and I had to land on a field at Joensuu. The plane went over. I had a first time flyer with me and he was a little upset. We were supposed to take spare plane parts to Artukainen.
In Summer 1944, the Squadron 26 needed BW pilots. Lt Oiva Louko, SSgts Kaarlo Saukkonen and Oiva Hietala, and me went. We reported to Major Lauri Larjo at Mensuvaara. 2ndLt Eero Hallfors came too, later.
An old friend from Salo, Lt Bruun was there. We flew recon from Värtsilä. I flew once with Bruun when he flew low following enemy ranger tracks. The rest of us escorted him higher. Enemy interceptors attacked us, and Bruun joined us when he saw there was a fight going on. (The tracks led to an abandoned tank, which probably served as a lodging.)
From my time at Squadron 24 I remember seeng a biplane trainer on a patrol flight. I couldn't shoot, my mg's were frozen.
We had only 40mm AA guns at the base, and they couldn't shoot down the nightly disturbance. The Germans brought there 108mm cannons and one night scored a direct hit in a plane. There wasn't much left of it. We found some food tins.
When at Squadron 26, enemy fighters raided the Värtsilä base on Summer 1944. I was in a BW at the SE corner, when Louko took off and turned tight as soon as he got the gear up. A fighter came straight at me, and I'm still angry at myself for not shooting right at his face, he was in my sights. We fought for an hour and didn't get anything done, even with Moranes and Messerschmitts joining us. One russkie tried to shoot me, I could hear the MG fire. Sipomaa ended up high without oxygen mask, he had to come to land right through the furball.
Lt Castren was grounded after belly landing with a FA. He stood there unhappy, so Bruun asked if he wants to join the battle. He got permission to take Bruun's plane and began the take-off. A couple of Russians spotted him and came after. Bruun called to mechanics in the tent to come and see how Cassu gets shot down. Everyone thought that's what would happen. There was no radio to warn Cassu. The lead plane missed first, but on the second attempt hit the base of the left wing and drew black smoke. That's it, people thought, but Cassu only dodged and went on with the take-off. The Russians left him alone. Cassu had to land when the oil pressure dropped. The mechanics dove to ground again.
After I landed, one of our assistant mechanics or gunners came to offer me a cigarette for saving his life. It felt funny to me when his hands shook so bad he couldn't strike a match. I don't think the AA fired a single shot.
When the war ended, Bruun led us to Onttola and I went on vacation to Salo. I was sent to the military hospital again, Bruun went to the Lapland War."
After the war, Martti Lehtovaara spent some years with sailplane flying, working as a teacher, until other assignments presented themselves. Lehtovaara built his civilian career in a consumables laboratory at Salo, and now lives there as pensioneer.
There were 28 people from Salo in the Air Force during the war, an enormous number considering the population. Aviation enthusiasm and patriotic attitude paid off.
Update by Göran Bruun: I asked Lehtovaara how many planes he thinks he shot down. The score is three, plus two that were shot on the ground.
This interview was conducted by Carl-Erik Bruun and Göran Bruun on March 22, 1995. Proofread and prepared for publishing by Göran Bruun on June 2004.
Interview by Carl-Erik Bruun (1995), augmented by Göran Bruun (2004)
Transcription: Göran Bruun
Photos: Göran Bruun
Proofreading: Jukka O. Kauppinen
English translation: Lt(jg) Markku Herd, Finnish Navy.
Other sources: The book "Sotaohjaajakurssi 1-4" (=War Pilot Course #1-4).
Copyright Göran Bruun 2004