Night fighter training in Germany
The most exceptional phase in Sarantola's career was the transfer to night fighter training in Germany. We interviewed Olli about the trip to Germany and the night fighter training especially because of the request of certain American author and used his questions..
Departure to Germany
The Finns left to Germany at June 13th 1944. We stayed in two bases. The first one was a few dozen kilometres south of Leipzig in a town called Altenburg, about eight kilometres south of the town was the airbase of Leinawald. There were combat units in different dispersal airfields, but our main airfield was this Blindflugschule where we got all our instrument flight training.
After this we got our actual night fighter training with Messerschmitt in a place called Ludwigslust, which is located about halfway between Berlin and Hamburg. It was located a few kilometres in the East German side.
I kept a sort of a diary with my lecture notes, but after the war as I was studying and still lived with my parents, during some move the notes were lost and I never found them again.
We had, now retired, medical officer Colonel Juha Helle with us. He also kept a pretty accurate diary and one time after the war when we met, he copied his diary for all of us. When I read the diary I added some of my own notes to it, since I didn't agree on everything. It is now in Kauhava tradition guild. I also gave them my German flight log for copying.
In Germany there was quite a contradiction between different schools about how night operations should be conducted. I believe it severely impaired their operations. It was a big operation of a big country. A huge ground organisation, but those discrepancies. They were arguing about the superiority of Dunkle Nachtjagd, which was done with 110s and radar guidance, and Helle Nachtjagd, which was taught to us. That was done above the targets with the support of searchlights. Just like day operations and it was done with 109s.
Assessed afterwards, the 110 was apparently a bad choice. It was a clumsy, slow plane and when radar antennas were added it became even slower. And that probably wasn't a good solution. If you think of the English Mosquitos, they were apparently the best planes of the last war. It was an excellent plane which performed wonders. It was good in various roles.
Impressions of the Germans
How about these people? Did you meet any of these and if you did, do you remember anything about them? Karl 'Nasen' Mueller, Kurt Welter, Oberst Hajo Herrmann?
I didn't meet him there, but I met Hajo Herrmann later in "Fellows of the Clouds" meeting (Pilven Veikot, Finnish WW2 pilot's guild). He has written two books. Hajo Herrmann was one of the gyus who argued against Kammhuber's style a lot and I don't know which one in the end was right. Except when he was visiting "Fellows of the Clouds" I didn't get a very positive impression of him. He was taken a prisoner of war by the Russians, or he surrendered. According to him he was the commander of some unit in Tirol, located in northern Italy, and when they started to discuss about cease-fire there, he claimed to have flown to Budapest to meet the Russians in order to arrange some matters and was captured this way.
To me some of his accounts seemed somehow illogic. I bought both of his books, though. The only one of that kind of persons I can recall was the commander of technical crew. If I remember correctly, Major Falderbaum. Before the war he was still a NCO and won some championship in aerobatics flying, was it even the world championship. He showed us one of his programs there in Altenburg with a Bücker Jungmeister and that chap really could fly.
Any role models?
Did you have any role models in the air force, either Finnish or German? Were there some people in Finland or in Luftwaffe who to you seemed especially good in night fighter operations?
Actually we had very little contact with German night fighter pilots. We met some when they had landed to Ludvigslust at night and were waiting for their next sortie. But in that sense, we never met any big names. I've of course read about them afterwards, as also about the pilots from other countries.
Some of their guys were really phenomenal, like this Bubi Hartmann, who has the largest "account" in the world. He was just my age, by the way. He was a very young man wen he started at the east front. And he is a phenomenal guy, also because when Galland was putting together a jet squadron and asked also Bubi Hartmann to join, he stayed with his own group. He was somewhere in Czechoslovakia when he was captured and he was convicted as a war criminal in Russia getting 25 years. He was in there for ten years in pretty harsh conditions. He got out because this German federal chancellor, that short fat guy, made a deal with Hrutsev, so that Hartmann and some others got out after being there for almost 11 years. Even after that Hartmann became the commander of the first jet fighter squadron of West Germany and held that position for several years. Later he fell into disfavour, some disagreements arose...
Actually Hartmann was right also that time, Luftwaffe was not ready for those planes and they had a huge amount of accidents.
But in that sense we never came into contact with any of those aces in any way. Though it happened, that one of the sergeant majors of our class, Oberfeltfebel Leichmann, who had been an instructor during the whole war and tried all the time to get to a combat unit. When our course ended he went to Jüterbock, where we also visited. It was a huge airbase on the east side of Berlin.
With Mosquitos the situation was, that Göring had promised 25 bottles of champagne for every Mosquito shot down. And this Leichmann character shot one down on his first night mission. We had quite a party there.
Top class night fighter training
How was the quality of the training? You previously told that the quality of instrument flying training was really good?
First the Germans put us in a Gotha, which is pretty close to our Tuisku. They probably wanted to see if we could fly at all. Of course we could, as all of us came from combat units. Then we flew Arado a lot. Arado's performance was a pretty close match with our Pyry, but it had a retractable landing gear and variable-pitch propeller. With that we did a lot of instrument flying.
In the end I never checked my own logbook, but that book says we got about ten night flying hours in a Messerschmitt at the end. I think it was a little more. When we got to Ludwigslust and got the type training to Messerchmitt, we also did some daytime flying, IFR flying in clouds and gunnery etc. The night flights begun with takeoff and landing rehearsals.
Logbook check: 27 flying hours in Me 109. Only personal flight hours counted - some more in two seater 109 G-12.
Did any of the Finns have previous Messerschmitt training before going there, or had you only flown other types? Did you yourself have any Messerschmitt training or did you go there without any preparation?
No, I didn't have any experience. Let's see if there's any Messerschmitt pilots there. I have a name list here and six of us are still alive... We were taken from these, how should I put it, weaker squadrons. After a quick check it seems that there's only one guy who might have had type training for Messerschmitt, Erkki Saarela. He was in 3rd regiment's HQ at the time. But I think it was a new plane for everyone else.
That book claims that there were about 10 night flying hours in Messerschmitt. But there was more. Overall we flew about 80 hours, about half of them in Messerschmitt. But a lot of it was day flying. Cloud flying during daytime.
How was the type training for Messerschmitt done in Germany? Was the training good?
One important thing they had and Finns didn't were the two-seaters. They had fitted a seat for the instructor behind the normal cockpit in 109 and the type training was given with that plane. And with that plane the takeoff sequence was taught. If we had had even a couple of those planes, we would have saved a lot of money. It might be that the Germans didn't have enough of them either, because they weren't serial produced. With that plane everyone made about ten take-off and landing rehearsals and after that it was normal flying.
One thing that people wonder about those G-12 two-seaters is if they had any armament. Any recollection about that?
I can't recall, but I think that there wasn't. Why would they have any? That plane was just for type training and for learning the takeoff sequence. There was no need for weapons, because gunnery training was done with normal planes.
Last question regarding the training: How do you feel, in your opinion was the training good enough for night operations?
Yes it was. At least compared to any Finnish training it was good, competent training. Even then, summer of '44. Especially in the way they pressed instrument flying through. You might not think about it, but if you are flying in Finland at night, you can almost always see at least a trace of the horizon. But in Central Europe you can't see it. It's that much darker and there is much more haze in the air, so there's no visual aid from the horizon. It's total instrument flying, from the beginning to the end.
In Altenburg they had these simulators, like the ones we had in Kauhava and we used them a lot. And then we flew a lot with the Arado using a hood. And like I said (reference below), when I drove a Beaver from Tampere to Oulu in 1963, I had no trouble whatsoever with the instrument flying.
Bumblebee among the searchlights
The last training flight is a good story, it's not mentioned in that book. I'll have to tell it. So, we were in Ludwigslust, which is located about 150 to 200 kilometres west of Berlin. It was an old cavalry garrison town from the times of the empire. Our airfield was the old cavalry training field and it was the worst runway I've ever used. A bit convex dirt field with tussocks, it was pretty disgusting.
Olli Sarantola tells about night flying in Germany.
MP3-file. Lenght 4:13 min, 756 kt.
FINNISH - SUOMEA
That attack rehearsal was pretty nice. It was over Berlin, a part of Berlin was training with searchlights and one Dornier was acting as a target, flying up there. Our task was to take off from Ludwigslust and engage the Dornier.
We were told that there were over 200 searchlights of 2-meter diameter and that was pretty awesome... We received instructions beforehand, that because the English attacked practically every night, an attack was not informed over radio, but with these searchlights. In case of an alarm, all searchlights would first point straight up an go out after a while. Then a group of lights would light up and then go down to an angle of 45 degrees and behind them there would be a backup airfield. It was the airfield of Fernoufen.
And it happened to me, that just when I was engaging the Dornier, an alarm was made. It was an unforgettable feeling, think about 200 2-meter searchlights pointing straight up. You felt like a bumblebee weaving around the lights, especially because you had to stay out of them. They were so blinding, that you had to be really careful not to look at them. So, I landed in Fernoufen and in there we got some food and waited for the night raid to be over. Around 4 or 5 in the morning we headed for home.
But this one guy from our group didn't speak German. The entrance requirement was that all trainees should speak German at least passably. I don't know how Helppi had got in, but he didn't speak a word of German. We taught him as much as we found time, first numbers and so on. In this mess Helppi landed on a totally wrong airfield for some reason. It was apparently some sort of storage field. There were long rows of fuel barrels and about a squad of older men and a lieutenant with just one leg.
Think about the situation - the pilot is in Finnish uniform and doesn't speak a word of German. He lands there low on fuel. All the others had already flown home and Helppi is missing and not a word is heard of him; what might have happened. No problem, at the dawn Helppi flew home to Ludvigslust. He had got fuel from the airfield he landed on, then with that one-legged lieutenant the group there turned the plane to right direction and then they helped him in the air from that small airstrip. And that's the way he got home.
That was our last exercise and it was a good one. Fine job.
Bad luck with the radio
I had this one incident in Germany with my radio. We had been emphasised that we should use the radio as seldom as possible, because the Germans tried to babble on them. There were also other courses going on at Ludvigslust at the same time. At that stage, in July '44, they were training multi-engine pilots to fly single-engined planes. And those lads really couldn't drive a single-engine.
Olli Sarantola tells about radio operation and his night fighter flight in the dark skies of Germany.
MP3-file. Lenght 5:39 min, 995 kt.
FINNISH - SUOMEA.
Anyway, there was a lot of babble over the radio and on one occasion my task was to fly into cloud - there was an overcast - and do free instrument flying in the clouds for an hour before returning. That's what I did. When I was starting the plane, I switched the radio on for a moment to check that it was working, it did and I switched it off. After flying in clouds for an hour and you come down - the overcast was in about 1000 to 1500 meters - you really don't know where you are, that's a fact.
I started to contact the air traffic control to get a bearing home, but my transmitter wouldn't work. The received had worked, but the transmitter didn't. Well, I started to think about my location and look at the scenery. There was Elbe river, no doubt about it, and what was that city over there? When I got closer I noticed that Elbe widened into sea and the city was Hamburg, which had been bombed big time. I identified it immediately from the damage, it was Hamburg for sure.
Then it popped into my mind, that this coastal area is a region where German AAA would shoot at any plane, own or enemy, without warning. Back into the cloud - fast. But now I knew where I was. Then the Messerschmitt's warning light lit up, it had this light which came on when there was enough fuel for 20 minutes of flying.
Now I started to think whether I would get home with that fuel or not, what should I do. There was this one airbase closer to me, one where the Germans tested their rocket planes, but we were not allowed to land there because of the secrecy. So I thought that I wouldn't bother landing there, I could probably get home.
Finally I got to the airfield and started to make a landing, but one German had flipped over while landing and airfield duty officer shot a red flare to my face. An I even obeyed it! I turned hard to make a new landing. The duty officer shot another flare, but that time I made the landing anyway, by the flipped-over plane. Then I started happily taxiing to the parking area and about hundred meters before the platform my fuel ran out.
Then our Oberfeldtfebel Fleischmann, who was a really nice guy, came and gave me hell. He was really pissed off. Why? He said that I pulled such a hard turn over the hangars that it was a miracle I didn't stall the plane. I just said yes, yes, and didn't tell him about anything else. I was lucky that time.
Finland withdraws from the war and pilots are interned - troublesome homecoming
We were about to leave Germany, the training was over. We had an excursion to a couple of bases to see the operations of their units and then we all gathered in Berlin. Against the information presented in that book, the plan was that the group I was in was leaving "tomorrow" to get the first five night fighter version Messerschmitts that would then be flown to Malmi. The other guys were going to drive "Junnu" -single-engined ambulance planes. They even had to leave their own stuff to be transported by other means because they were going to carry Panzerfaust ammunition in the planes.
Olli Sarantola tells about the internment of Finnish pilots and their homecoming.
MP3-file. Lenght 7:12 min, 1270 kt.
FINNISH - SUOMEA.
All this was cancelled, because while we were spending time in Berlin, we saw newspapers saying "Finland auf geferlichen vege" - we were in the process of making a truce with Russians. At the same evening some big shot escorted by a soldier came to our hotel and said that you gentlemen are coming with me. It wasn't any worse than that. We were taken to Friedrichstrasse to hotel Hermes, which was reserved to accommodate travelling officers. We settled in and stayed indoors. There was one man with a rifle seemingly guarding us and food was brought in - and so we were interned.
Our embassy had already earlier moved outside Berlin because of the heavy bombings. Immediately after that they had left for Sweden, and we couldn't contact the embassy in any way. But mr. Ervi was an aviation representative and he was still in Berlin. We finally made contact with him and started the attempts to get us released. After a while a captain came from the headquarters acting really grand and read a phone message informing that we are free to leave and that a Finnish trading ship was offloading in Stettin and that we could get away in that. He made a ceremonious speech how "brothers in arms" now separate and asked for everyone's signature to that phone message. They gave us food for a week and later that proved it's value. There were large paper bags of sausages, bread, marmalade etc. We got on a train and made our way to Stettin. I don't remember how we got to the gate of a paper mill where the ship was docked.
It was pretty hard to get through the gate at night. Another tough spot came when we got to the ship and the skipper said that he wouldn't take us on board. They were these Swedes from Ahvenanmaa and apparently pretty leftist. The skipper said that the crew wouldn't accept anyone. Then he told that he doesn't have enough food. We said that we do, and practically pushed ourselves on board. We didn't get any cabins or anything. That ship was carrying timber to that pulp factory. So we rowed across Oder river, cut some reed and got some tarpaulins, of which we made a tent to the deck. That's where we lodged.
A bunch of POWs was loading the ship and that was a sorry sight, they were in poor shape. Two men tried to lift this two meters wide stack of paper and hardly managed to do so. We went there and said that we could do the loading quickly ourselves and also the crew of the ship agreed that we should do it ourselves to get out of there fast. But the Germans wouldn't let us do it. It took many days, but finally the ship was ready. We departed and first sailed down Oder to Odermunde, it was quite a distance, dozens of kilometrer. When we got to Odermunde in Baltic Sea, there were many ships anchored. The harbour pilot gave us an order: "Anchor there and wait for tomorrow, then you will be led out in a convoy."
There was a large minefield along the coast and there were only small passages through, marked with light buoys. When we got behind other ships, the skipper put the harbour pilot to a boat and left out at night by himself, following the line of light buoys. The sea was even quite rough, but that didn't stop him. Next morning we were in Kalmari, Sweden. That was the only good thing that skipper did.
But our trouble didn't end there. The captain wanted to stay in Sweden and apparently he had even received an order from the shipowner to stay in Sweden, considering the situation at that time. We didn't have any weapons, we were not allowed to take any sidearms with us when we left. But finally we went to the captain's cabin and told him that if he wanted to stay alive, he would take us to Finland. He sailed to near Stockholm staying carefully in Swedish waters and from there he slipped during night to Maarianhamina, kicked us out and left back right away. So, we got to Maarianhamina and from there we took the Stockholm-Turku liner Eolus to Turku and our journey ended.
Night fighter book by Jaakko Hyvönen and happy ending to the trip to Germany
That (book) is my only copy; I originally bought two of them and gave one to fellow pilot who took part in that trip to Germany but has now passed away, he used to live in Argentina. Like I said, my more detailed memoirs of that trip should be there in Kauhava air guild.
Somehow it seems that Jaakko Hyvönen or someone else has been in a hurry when writing this book. I feel that those accounts by Masa Kalima and Erkki Ihanni need some focusing.
That claim that that we didn't know if the country was not occupied or not before we got to Finland was not true. As soon as we got to Kalmari and saw Swedish newspapers, we got some information about the situation. We wouldn't have gone to Finland at all if it had been occupied by Russians.
But as a whole it is a good account of our trip, which was interesting and enjoyable. And even lucky considering that I too got away from the controls of Brewster just when the summer battles were raging at their worst. We lost a lot of guys there and later this group from 26th that was in the War of Lapland flying Brewsters, they received a lot of damage and had many accidents. The weather was really bad there, the missions were absurd. They had to fly reconnaissance missions from Kemi to as far as the Arctic Ocean. And then there was the German light AAA, I hear that it was pretty heavy at the fjeld slopes.
For what I've heard it wasn't even light AAA, but especially radar guided 88 mm, which could shoot to high altitudes.
Yes, they had a lot of different hardware, but especially when the clouds were low and you had to fly low often, then these Vierlings were really dangerous.