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Olli Sarantola: Fiats , Brewsters And Night Fighters

Quick index:
To the service and pilot training : Training and farm work | Flight training with various planes | Dive bombing at Menkijärvi
Night fighter training in Germany: Departure to Germany | Impressions of the Germans | Any role models? | Top class night fighter training | Bumblebee among the searchlights | Bad luck with the radio | Finland withdraws from the war and pilots are interned - troublesome homecoming | Night fighter book by Jaakko Hyvönen and happy ending to the trip to Germany
Other discussions t | Fiat as a warplane | From Fiats to Brewster | Keep your head on a swivel when flying a slower plane | The most frightening experience | About the weapons of Brewster and Messerschmitt | The most essential feature of a fighter - against superior numbers | To the war, involuntarily or eagerly? | About the machine gunners of the bombers | About the bases of Fighter Squadron 26 | About radio operation | Flying ended at the start of civilian life | Miscellaneous stories | The farewell | Credits


Olli Sarantola
Into the air warfare school 4.6.1941, pilot course (aviation officer course) 13.
Into active duty 1943.
First combat unit HLeLv (fighter squadron) 26, equipped with Fiat G.50 fighters.
Squadron switched to Brewster in March 1944.
13.6.1944 to night fighter training in Germany.
After returning from Germany, Olli transferred to HLeLv 30.

We invited Olli Sarantola as our guest to the theatre restaurant Tillikka in Tampere 19.3.2001, to enjoy our hospitality and for an interview. The former combat pilot, aged 79, accepted our invitation. Before this Olli visited the Urban Blitz 2001 event of virtual pilots in February 2001 (read a report of this event).

Present: Jukka "Grendel" Kauppinen, Jan "Jochen" Nousiainen, Erkki "Oh-eni" Nieminen, Sakari "Julle" Rantanen, Kari "Koko" Riekki and Pentti "Buffalo" Kurkinen.

The text of this article is mainly a transcription of the discussions during the meeting. Text is mostly in it's original form, although it was tidied up a bit when it was written (and a bit more when translated to English).

Original Finnish language article translated to English by Petri Hallberg. Thanks!

To the service and pilot training

Sarantola was on pilot course (aviation officer course) 13. In fact Sarantola and his associates took part in two officer training courses, since after starting in the air force in the summer, in the end of October they were ordered to infantry officer school in Kankaanpää. After this they returned to Kauhava to learn about air warfare.

Training and farm work

The course started on 4th of June 1941 and divided into three flying groups. The first group consisted of guys of whom some had been on a pilot course already during the winter war. Some of them were so-called "Vaasa course participants" who had took part to motor flying courses organized by air defence association, referred as "Vaasa courses". Overall it meant that we had to wait a little longer before getting into a combat unit. It happened that when the Continuation War begun, our casualty rate was estimated in the headquarters to be higher than it turned out to be. That's why we had to wait until '43 before we got into a combat unit. While waiting we did some farm work in Kauhava and so on. So it took a bit longer than expected. I was in the third flying group, which was always the last in every aspect.

By the way, one of my course mates was Eero Salmela, now deceased, but once the Commander-in-Chief of the air force. I remember giving him some hard time, quizzing him for the school tests, when we were in the school.

So there was no hurry during your training?

No, exactly the opposite. It also happened that when we were wasting our time there at Kauhava, doing farm work, chopping wood and stuff, it started to annoy us. 15 of us made a petition to be transferred to another branch of the armed forces, to get to the front. Our petition was of course declined.

It might have been Olli Kepsu who mentioned some similar affair?

Yes, he was. One of the initiators was Olavi Kauppila, who was from Tampere. But I don't think that more than 75 to 80 guys finally passed the course, every now and then someone was dropped out.

Flight training with various planes

What kind of equipment was used in the training?

Almost everything. We started with a Smolik, of course, which to my knowledge was a very good basic trainer back then. It was reliable, simple and so on. After that there were of course Stiegliz and Viima, I also flew a Tuisku and then there was this... I performed some air-to-ground gunnery with it, some English biplane, a trainer.

Was it Bulldog? Or Gauntlet?

Yes, Gauntlet. I have types of the Bulldog too and one of our guys even did a somersault with one. He landed a Bulldog all over the field in Palojärvi and lost his life in the process. Gauntlet, yes. We also flew a lot with Pyry. Because of this waiting we also had some extra program during the course and we got Lauri Larjo, an enthusiastic aerobatics pilot, as head of our course. Among other things he had the Finnish record of flying upside down, and he was quite a warrior. He pressed us pretty hard with Pyry, which was a good thing.

Afterwards we have been thinking about the allegations of Pyry being a cumbersome plane... We had our share of kaputts, but I think that it was a pretty good transition plane in those conditions. And in reinforcement squadron in Vesivehmaa I mostly drove a Fokker Wasp. There were some other types too, but I never counted how many I had. Anyway, there was a lot of old equipment lying around in Kauhava.

How about this Pyry, as it is claimed to be hard to fly?

I never experienced that. It required accurate flying but they say that it was prone to wing stall in hard turns and I never got into such situation. So, I have quite pleasant memories of Pyry. It was a nice plane.

It has been implied, that it was an excellent trainer since it forced you to fly itself.

Yes, it did require precise control, that's true. Afterwards I have seen texts about it's flaws, but I don't remember such incidents. We lost one, though. Vuotinen, and he had captain ...I can't remember... as his instructor. For some reason they crashed upside down to the yard of some house and burned. I don't have any information about what happened, maybe it was a control mistake of some sort.

Dive bombing at Menkijärvi

We did some dive bombing with Tuisku in Menkijärvi. Those training bombs, how much they might have weighed, were lead lumps with sheet metal tails. It was hard work digging the lead up in the middle of all that bombing. When the guys got a leave, the lead was monetary material. There were never any accidents anyway.

And that was private enterprise, nothing to do with the army. Those lead lumps went in about one meter deep in that terrain. The tail separated of course and in between there was this gunpowder charge which indicated the point of impact.

I think Kauko Aho told us about one guy standing in the target area and other bombing right in front of him to make it easy to find the lead?

The gyus did come up with stuff like that. Back then the lead really was worth some money during the leave.

So, we did have a lot of time for training, but the level of training is a different matter. I'd say that the basic training for each new type was poor, can't deny that. Also in the combat units. The basic training could have been more efficient.

What made you feel the training was bad, was it outside factors or the unskillfullness?

I'd like to claim that the superiors did not know these matters well enough back then. For example, I had a Fiat as my first combat plane and the type training was practically just looking through different switches, gauges and values and then off to the air.

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

Listen here

Olli Sarantola tells about night flying in Germany.
MP3-file. Lenght 4:13 min, 756 kt.

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.

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

Listen here

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.

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.

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

Listen here

Olli Sarantola tells about the internment of Finnish pilots and their homecoming.
MP3-file. Lenght 7:12 min, 1270 kt.

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.

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.

Fiat G.50 / Virtuaalilentäjien kokoelma Other discussions

Fiat as a warplane

Was the throttle of Fiat such that the throttle went up when you pulled the lever back?

I must admit, that after 50 years, I don't remember every detail like that.

Listen here

Olli Sarantola tells about Fiat fighter and his first combat flight.
MP3-file. Lenght 2:25 min, 429 kt.

Arodynamically Fiat was a fine and robust machine. But of course it was obsolete and slow. And what I considered to be it's greatest weakness was the armament. There were two rat guns on the nose, in good position, but something in the synchroniser slowed the rate of fire on certain revolutions, to "päh päh päh". I think that was it's greatest weakness.

It didn't have a variable pitch propelled did it?

No, it didn't. (Actually it did, poor question)

The problem of a fixed pitch prop is that the revs vary a lot.

It was something like that.

Generally it was a really good, robust plane and you could pull even foolish tricks with it. It took it really well. But the other peculiarity I already mentioned the last time was that in my experience it was the hardest plane to land. It had a pretty high undercarriage and it had to be landed just on three points. And if you made the landing so that the tail wheel was in the air 30 to 40 centimetres, it departed and you couldn't control it no matter what you did. In my experience it was the hardest plane to control when landing.

What's your opinion on the fact that Fiat has got a bad reputation as being unreliable, mechanically, the engine, landing gear? Had these problems already been corrected when you started flying Fiats?

All those problems existed, I too experienced them... It was supposedly my first combat flight, we took four planes to find one Pe-2 over Laatokka, it was there somewhere doing photo reconnaissance. There was this problem that you didn't always get the landing gear all the way in, they stayed a bit ajar. If that happened, you could try to close them with a hand pump. And this happened to me. I couldn't close them with the hand pump either... I didn't even notice it, even the gear light went off even though they were a bit out. Reijo Paronen took us all back, because I would have had a disadvantage with the landing gear.

We wouldn't have caught it anyway. At the most with good luck, if we had got a lot more altitude, but that flight was pretty vain.

I understand that the plane could be pushed through any maneuvers without worries?

Yes, it was a robust plane. It was a very robust plane.

I remember reading that it could handle 14 Gs.


How did Fiat handle in high speeds? For example, did the controls stiffen up when diving, how were the controls in high speeds?

I don't have any recollection of difficulties pulling out of a dive. And in Kiltasilta we had a lot of time to practice with that machine. And twist and turn at the sky. As a whole it was a nice plane to fly hard. It was a robust plane.

How was Fiat with that open cockpit, was it colder than with a canopy, for example could you feel the wind?

Of course it is, but it was pretty well protected when you lifted those sides up. It did happen to me once, when at the early stages I was twisting and turning hard, I don't know exactly what I did, but my goggles flew off - they were never found.

From Fiats to Brewster

Brewster B-239. Kuvan lähde: SUOMEN ILMAVOIMIEN LENTOKONEET TALVI-, JATKO- JA LAPIN SODASSA Did it go that way, that when you got to the combat units in '43, the plane was Fiat


At what stage did the plane change? Just a moment, you were in 26th and 30th, did the squadron change or the plane.

No, the 24th which was under command of Joppe Karhunen at that time (the old squadron of Eka Magnusson) got Messerchmitts, they gave their Brewsters to us. We got them somewhere in march '44. This 26th was the only fighter group taking part in the war of Lapland, to which I didn't take part because of the trip to Germany. After returning from Germany I was assigned to 30th and when that war was over, I started to make the arrangements to get out of service. I got out already in October after referring to my studies.

Keep your head on a swivel when flying a slower plane

In the final stages Russians begun to have superior planes compared to Finnish ones. How did that feel in your mind knowing that you are going into battle with a slower plane... Did it feel like death penalty or did you know that you would return?

Noo, you just had to keep your head on a swivel even more, follow the situation at all times. In the spring of '44 they couldn't... We did mostly reconnaissance and escort missions... At that stage Messerschmitts, 24th and 34th that is, did most of the fighting, we had no part in that.

I read that one of these air force commanders visited just after the summer battles had started and then this Fiat squadron that had been in the rear was transferred to another airfield there were young men in Fiats eager to co into combat. They were waiting to get into fighting and thought that they were being transferred to the front. This commander said that "sorry boys, you are not going into front line combat, you are to cover the transfer of Karelian army (from East Karelia) into Karelian Isthmus, you will guard these bridges." The author said that the pilots had been really disappointed and sad. But then the commander had told them that new G-6s were coming from Germany soon and when they arrived they would get the older G-2s of the 24th. That made the guys smile again.

But I remember that when... That back then the 26th was the only squadron with fiats, nobody else had them... When we got the Brewsters from 26th to 24th, the Fiats were sent to reinforcement squadron in Utti, to act as transition fighters. I don't know if also some other arrangements were made, but at least I remember it that way. I personally flew one Fiat from Heinjoki to Utti.

I'm positive that Fiats flew combat missions too in the summer of '44 and got two victories.

Yes, apparently this did happen.

They were way back in the rear anyway...

Yes, it was hopelessly... of course obsolete, like I mentioned earlier. The armament was simply scandalous.

The most frightening experience

Which was your most frightening experience?

Well (thinking). It's kind of hard to compare them, but it was scary when I had to play against larger numbers in a Brewster for the first time. There were four Brewsters up, it was in the beginning of June when it was worst (the summer battles of 1944 "summer war"). When suddenly there are dozens of them around, you do have to be careful. But otherwise, I can't say what was worse than that.

I should say, that in the beginning of June during the offensive of Karelian Isthmus the numbers were really overwhelming and we were flying obsolete planes. Brewster was already so damn soft even though it had been a good plane in the beginning.

Once I was flying with Ate Lassila, Olli Riekki and Matti Kukkonen (here started a long discussion about the family Riekki, as we find a relative of the mentioned Olli Riekki, WarBirds pilot -koko-, from the table) as fourth and flew through a cumulus cloud there was this stream ahead. According to air control center there were 124 bombers on their way to Viipuri. Ate Lassila, who was kind of cautious and thinking just watched as Olli Riekki took off out wing, dived and shot down one DB continuing straight to low level because there were at least 40 La-5s above. And in between us with four old Brewsters. That's how it was then, just insane.

About the weapons of Brewster and Messerschmitt

There was no cannon, were there other significant differences compared for example to Messerschmitt?

Of course the biggest difference was that the weapons were in the wings. The deflection and distance had to be thought of in a different manner.

Like Hornet now, both are carrier planes. I feel that it fit our strategy back then and these do so now too.

What kind of weapons there were when Messerschmitt was used in air-to-ground gunnery? What weapons were used for target practise?

Just the normal armament. 20 mm cannon in the spinner and two rat guns on the nose. And I have to say that the weapons were excellent. They were all so closely grouped.

The most essential feature of a fighter - against superior numbers

What did you consider to be the most essential feature of a fighter, was it speed or armament or visibility or what was the most important thing?

Well, in the end I think the speed is the most important feature because you can either - depending on the plane type - dogfight or zoom. We did suffer from the lack of speed, these Russian La-5s were helluva machines.

Valte Estama was asked what in his opinion was the worst adversary plane encountered. Valte thought about it for a while and answered that they were all bad, but the worst was the one that came from the above and behind. Valte didn't start comparing them at first, but then he stated that La-5s were worst because they seemed to have the best pilots.

This was of course true, that the best crews flew La-5s.

They were guards squadrons that had La-5s at that stage...

But for example in Airacobras that Russians had quite a lot had a lot worse crews. But about that, nobody... I don't remember anyone - and I would remember if it had happened - any case where some guy would have tried to avoid going into combat using some trick... We were always ready to go, but in the spring of '44 we kept our locker neatly packed all the time so that nobody else would have to do it... It was like that then...

But actually we didn't always even know how superior the numbers we were going up against were. The situation came up and we left. Like I said, in 26th we did mostly reconnaissance and bomber escort missions, which could be tricky because skirmishes did occurred. But in July '44 the actual air battles were a job for the Messerschmitts'.

They had tough times too. Like what happened to Hasse Wind. Hasse got this reconnaissance mission where he had to check the situation in the friends lines and he took... What was his name... Nipa Katajainen with him. They got into a fight and got separated. Hasse was hit pretty bad and he flew under some power lines and landed to the base seriously wounded. He was just worried because he thought Nipa had been shot down, but he hadn't. They just had to fly along the lines in two Messerschmitts for a while and they got into a fight like that right away.

To the war, involuntarily or eagerly?

Were you reluctant to go into war or did you feel you could do some good? You must have a lot of feelings in a situation like that, not all good but...?

At least our group were all young and eager. I was... I wasn't even 19 when I started in Kauhava. In that age you tend to be eager. But I think our group was somehow above the average. We even had that small rebellion... I'm just saying that when we had to wait so long before getting into the combat units, when we finally got there we were happy.

Was Kauko Aho at the same time...

We were on the same course.

I remember him talking about this rebellion that he was also applying for a transfer to infantry if he couldn't fly.

But Kake was a machine gunner already in Winter War. He went to the pilot course in Kauhava between the wars.

About the machine gunners of the bombers

I wanted to ask about the gunners of bombers. At least in the books it is often stated that the Soviet gunners hid - but Finns of course didn't - did the gunner have any chances against a fighter?

Well, for example the rear turret of a Junkers was a pretty good place... I don't know things that well, since I'm not a multi-engine pilot, but I have an impression that it was pretty well armored. But in Blenheim the lad back they had to hide if the plane was under heavy attack. But the rear gunner in all the bombers had to be taken seriously. Can't deny that.

In the middle for example the armament of Dornier bomber was discussed.

In B-17 stream there were also planes that didn't carry bombs, only extremely heavy armament for protection. (This starts a long discussion among other things about this failed experiment, general discussion about Flying Fortresses, battles of the Pacific, Zeros and the tactics they used, victories of Sakai and so on.).

Yes, Pe-2 was one of the best Russian planes, no doubt about that.

The conversation about general subjects goes on, among other things the practical jokes Wind used to do, conditions of Germans in the eastern front etc.

About the bases of Fighter Squadron 26

Where was Fighter Squadron 26 stationed during the trench war?

We were in Kilpasilta in Rautu, that's where I went and then in the spring of '44, was it March or April, when we moved to rearward to Raulammi in Heinjoki. That was a good move, since Kilpasilta was much too close to the lines. Thinking about being only 18 kilometres from the lines and with old Fiats, what can you do... Absolutely nothing.

The neighbours were able to surprise, get above the field to attack...

Yes, and in '44 Airacobras attacked every now and then, showing themselves to us, and we couldn't do anything else than run for cover.

Was that the most common plane you saw?

Listen here

Olli Sarantola tells about Soviet Airacobras.
MP3-file. Lenght 0:39 min, 120 kt.

At that stage yes, in the beginning of '44, there was unit or units using Airacobras. And they did show off in a grand way, although it later became apparent that they didn't have the best pilots, more like... But id had this huge, what was the calibre of that cannon, shooting through the propeller axis. One hit from that weapon and that's it.

At this stage Olli looks at his meal which proved to be oversized, and the nerds repeat hearsay about the muzzle flash of Airacobra's cannon and other features, also about Airacobra's different armament versions.

Yepp, that might be, but when you think that a plane has a almost 40 mm cannon shooting through the propeller axis, that's an awesome weapon.

About radio operation

Thinking about the difficulties we had back then, one thing that was poor was our radio operation. In Fiat they hardly ever worked, in Brewster they did, and in Morane probably didn't, in Messerschmitt they worked, but they all had... All these had different wavebands, so that practical co-operation was non-existent. In '44 we didn't talk over the radio that much, unfortunately. That was poor.

Flying ended at the start of civilian life

My flying ended when I changed to civilian life. Just once I was in reserve exercises. There were some of my course mates, Eppu Salmela was the Air Force Chief of Staff and Repe Nykänen was already the Commander of Kuopio airbase. Eelis Lähde was the Head of School in Kauhava Air Warfare School and so on. They had a gunnery exercise near Oulu and I was wondering why I never got to the reserve. So they arranged me there.

In '63 there was this large defence forces exercise in Tampere and we were in Vuorisvuori leading air war. MiGs flew in to attack from Kuopio. I think we were there for two weeks. I spent two weeks as an air combat controller (GCI) and that was a nice job.

When we were about to leave for home there were four of us going to Oulu. We got a ride in a Beaver first from Tampere to Halli and from there to Oulu. I Sat down beside the captain and drove the plane to Oulu in clouds all the way and had no difficulties whatsoever. The instrument flying I learned in Germany was so good that I had no trouble at all, after 20 years not flying. The only thing that was odd to me was the radio traffic, that I left to the captain. And all those rules they have up there nowadays, we didn't have any back then.

Miscellaneous stories

Abouth Ernrooth's death in Pyry... They say that Ernrooth and Larja had some kind of dispute about Pyry's flying characteristics and that's why...
That's possible. Larjo was in a certain way kind of a difficult person. He was the squadron commander of 26th. And he was shot down there, I was already in Germany at that point.

How about the knowledge about neighbour's planes? Did you know about their performance characteristics?
We did know their flying characteristics somehow - that wasn't a problem. Every now and then we revised them.

Jochen asks about a fighter pilot living in Hervanta
In Hervanta, who might that be? Wait a minute, is it Mattelmäki, does he live there? I think... Mattelmäki (formerly Nieminen) might be the oldest member of Tampere Ilmasilta (air guild), he was a top pilot during the Winter War... He is one of our (of Tampere area war pilots) top scores, maybe even second or third largest. In Continuation War he was a test pilot in Tampere and still lives here. He has to use a cane now, but he is already old... must be... not far from 90.

Valte Estama was mentioned. Olli told that Valte was one of those war class boys, "if I remember it correctly." We are remembering what Valte has told about the cannon of Morane and ask about a term that Valte used "puhaltaa läpi (blow through)" that we haven't encountered in any other aviation books. "Was it a term only Morane-pilots used?"
"Oliko se Morane-miesten oma termi?"
Apparently yes.

The farewell

Well, gentlemen. Thank you for company and your hospitality. I appreciate it a lot. I want to thank you for your hospitality and wish all the best for virtual pilots.


This page contains a summary of interview and discussions we had with figter pilot Olli Sarantola. The article is based on a tape recording made of these conversations. We met Olli Sarantola in Tampere 19.2.2001, in a meeting organized by Virtual Pilots' association. (c) VLeLv (Virtual Squadron) Icebreakers 2000/2001, Virtual Pilots' Association.

Pictures: Pentti "Buffalo" Kurkinen, Olli "Ok" Korhonen and Finnish Air Force in Winter-, Continuation War and War of Lapland.

Text by Jukka "Grendel" Kauppinen and Erkki "Oh-eni" Nieminen.

Translated to English by Petri Hallberg.

Viimeksi muokattu: 2003-10-23 13:42