This interview first appeared in World War II magazine in February 1999. It has been re-printed on this website with the permission of World War II magazine with the understanding that it is not for profit. I highly encourage you to subscribe to World War II magazine in order to provide the sort of support needed to produce future articles of this quality.
I N T E R V I E W
ILMARI JUUTILAINEN - FINLAND'S ACE OF ACES
By John Guttman
Neither Josef Stalin nor Adolf Hitler regarded their non-aggression pact of August 1939 as anything more than a postponement of inevitable hostilities between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. After they had divided up Poland between themselves in September, Hitler became embroiled in a war against Britain and France, while Stalin grabbed what he considered strategic territories adjacent to Russia. One concession Stalin sought was part of Finland's Karelian Isthmus on which he wanted to build air and naval bases. When Finland refused to give up her lands the Soviets bombed Helsinki and launched and invasion on November 30, 1939.
The ensuing conflict, known as the Winter War, ended on March 13, 1940, with the Soviet occupation of 10 percent of Finnish land, but not before the Red Army had suffered several humiliating defeats at the hands of the Finns. The Voyenno Vozdushny Sily (Red Army air force, or V-VS) had suffered even more disproportionate to the outnumbered but highly skilled pilots of the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish air force).
Epitomizing the elan and training that made the Ilmavoimat so formidable was Eino Ilmari Juutilainen, whose 94 and one-sixth official victories made him the Finnish ace of aces. In an exclusive interview with Military History editor Jon Guttman, "Illu" Juutilainen described his most notable exploits during the Winter War and in the Continuation War, as Finland called her participation in World War II as a co-belligerent rather than a formal ally of Germany.
Military History: Could you tell us about your prewar background?
Juutilainen: I was born in Lieksa on February 21, 1914, but I spent my childhood in Sortavala. As a teenager I was a member of the Volunteer Maritime Defense Association and we had a fine time sailing at the Laatokka Sea.
MH: What inspired you to take up flying?
Juutilainen: There was an Ilmavoimat base in the middle of our town, and it was a permanent source of interest for all of us youngsters. Many of us became pilots later - for example, my Winter War flight leader and Continuation War squadron commander, Eino "Eikka" Luukkanen. One important inspiration was a book about the Red Baron; Manfred von Richthofen, which my older brother gave me. I remember sitting by the upstairs window, dreaming about aerial maneuvers. I began my national service as an assistant mechanic in the 1st Separate Maritime Squadron from 1932 to 1933, then got a pilot's license in a civilian course. I then joined the Ilmavoimat as a noncommissioned officer and got my military pilot training in the Ilmasotakoulu (Air Force Academy) at Kauhava from 1935 to 1936. I had the opportunity to choose my first assignment, and on February 4, 1937, I went to LeLv (Lentolaivue, or air squadron) 12 at Suur-Merijoki Air Base near Viipuri. In 1938 I went to Utti Air Base and got one year of really tough fighter flying and shooting. Then, on March 3, 1939, I was assigned to LeLv 24, a fighter unit equipped with Dutch-built Fokker D.XXIs, at Utti Air Base.
MH: What was training like in the Ilmavoimat?
Juutilainen: The international trend in the early 1930's was to use a tight, three-plane formation, or "vic", as a basic fighter element. The fighter pilots in Finland knew that they would never get large numbers of fighters, and they considered the large tight formations ineffective. From studies conducted between 1934 - 1935, the Ilmavoimat developed a loose two-plane section as the basic fighter element. Divisions (four fighters) and flights (eight aircraft) were made of loose sections, but always maintaining the independence of the section. The distance between the fighters in the section was 150 - 200 meters, and the distance between sections in a division was 300 - 400 meters. The principle was always to attack, regardless of numbers; that way the larger enemy formation was broken up and combat became a sequence of section duels, in which the better pilots always won. Finnish fighter training heavily emphasized the complete handling of the fighter and shooting accuracy. Even basic training at the Air Force Academy included a lot of aerobatics with all the basic combat maneuvers and aerial gunnery.
MH: What were your feelings when the war broke out on November 30, 1939?
Juutilainen: I was mentally ready, because the signs had been so clear. Still, it was hard to believe that it was really true when we took off on our first intercept mission. I think in general the people were angry. We knew, of course, of Stalin's demands that we give the Soviet Union certain areas to improve Leningrad's security. And our answer was clear enough: No way! The nation's reaction to the war was not analytical - it was emotional. The feeling was, "When I die, there will be many enemies dying, too."
MH: What sort of preparation occurred?
Juutilainen: As the international situation worsened, our defense forces started so-called extra exercises in early October 1939. All fighters and weapons were checked, more ammunition belts loaded, and maintenance equipment and spare parts packed on the lorries to be ready to move. On October 11 we flew from Utti to Immola Air Base, which was nearer the border. Shelters were built for the fighters and we kept flying combat air patrols - careful to stay on our side, so that we didn't provoke the Soviets. The younger pilots got additional training in aerial combat and gunnery. During bad weather we indulged in sports, pistol shooting and discussions about fighter tactics. Our esprit de corps was high despite the fact that we would be up against heavy odds. We were ready.
MH: What was the Fokker D.XXI like to fly?
Juutilainen: It was our best fighter in 1939, but the Soviet Polikarpov I-16 was faster, had better agility and also had protective armor for the pilot. I flew later a war booty I-16, and it did 215 knots at low level and turned around a dime. I liked that plane. In comparison, the Fokker could make about 175. The D.XXI also lacked armor, but it had good diving characteristics and it was a steady shooting platform. I think that our gunnery training made the Fokker a winner in the Winter War.
MH: Can you describe your first fight?
Juutilainen: December 19, 1939, was the first real combat day after a long period of bad weather. I had some trouble starting my engine, and so I got a little behind the rest of my flight. When I was close to Antrea, I got a message of three enemy bombers approaching. After about half a minute, I saw three Ilyushin DB-3s approaching. I was about 1,500 feet above them and started the attack turn just like in gunnery camp at Käkisalmi. The DB-3s immediately dropped their bomb loads in the forest and turned back. I shot the three rear gunners, one by one. Then I started to shoot the engines. I followed them a long way and kept on shooting. One of them nosed over and crashed. The two others were holed like cheese graters but continued in a shallow, smoking descent. I had spent all of my ammunition, so I turned back. There was no special feeling of real combat. Everything went exactly like training.
MH: What were the circumstances of your 1/6 shared victory on December 23?
Juutilainen: At that time, Soviet bombers flew without fighter escort, and that was a typical situation when our flight attacked a formation of Tupolev SB-2s. Several of us shot at several targets, and the kills were then shared, because it was impossible to distinguish a decisive attack. Later, I stopped counting those shared cases and always gave my share to the younger pilot.
MH: What about your first encounter with an I-16 on December 31?
Juutilainen: That was a classic, old time aerial duel. I was initially in a very good position behind that Red pilot, but he saw me and started a hard left turn. I followed, shooting occasionally, testing his nerves. Our speed decreased as we circled tightly under the cloud deck, which was as low as 600 feet. My opponent's fighter was much more agile than mine, and he was gradually gaining the advantage, so I decided to pull a tactical trick on him. As he was getting into my rear sector, I pulled into the cloud, continuing my hard left turn. Once inside it, I rolled to the right and down, out of the cloud. I had estimated right - I was again behind my opponent. When he next saw me, I had already closed to a range of about 100 yards. He apparently decided to outturn me, as he had done before. I put the sight on him and squeezed the trigger. My tracers passed a few yards in front of him, and I eased the stick pressure to adjust my aiming point. My next burst struck his engine, which began to belch smoke. I continued firing, letting the tracers walk along the fuselage. Then once more I pulled hard, taking a proper deflection and shot again. There was a continuous stream of black smoke as the target pitched over and went into the forest.
MH: What other missions did you carry out besides interception?
Juutilainen: Our reconnaissance aircraft were obsolete, so they had to carry out their missions at night or in bad weather, while we flew many daytime reconnaissance missions in our fighters. We also occasionally carried out some ground-attack missions until the last days of the war, when the enemy tried a flanking offensive over the ice of the Gulf of Finland at Viipuri Bay. Those were decisive operations, but for us fighter pilots they were also the most miserable missions of the war, for the Soviets massed their fighters to cover the ground troops. We could achieve surprise by using the weather conditions and coming from different directions every time, quickly attacking over the ice, then fighting our way back to base to rearm and refuel for a new mission. During those missions, I personally fired some 25,000 rounds into the Red Army.
MH: What were your feelings when Finland was forced to accept Soviet terms in the end?
Juutilainen: I was disappointed. We had been able to stop the Soviet offensive, they had gained only a limited land area, and we had inflicted heavy losses on them. Thanks to small losses and deliveries of new Gloster Gladiators, Fiat G.50s and Morane-Saulnier MS-406s, our fighter force was stronger than it had been at the beginning of the war. We felt ourselves winners, but now we had to give them some areas that were firmly in our hands. Later, when the economic situation became clearer, the decision was more understandable. Sweden was neutral, Germany was hostile and support from France and Britain proved to be inadequate. Finland simply did not have enough resources to continue a prolonged campaign alone. Ultimately, the important thing was Finland's independence. We had been fighting to save that, and we had indeed saved it. I think we also taught a lesson to Stalin and company: If you threaten Finns, they do not become frightened - they become angry. And they never surrender.
MH: What did you do between March 1940 and June 1941?
Juutilainen: At the end of March 1940 we flew from our last wartime base, Lemi (which was on the ice of a lake) to Joroinen, where our fighters were overhauled. Then we gave our Fokkers away and began to familiarize ourselves with a new fighter, the Brewster B-239. Some of those planes had already arrived in the last days of the Winter War, and now they were picked up from Trollhättan, Sweden, where Norwegian mechanics were assembling them after sea transport. American test pilot Robert Winston acted as his company's representative in that process. The Brewsters were flown to Malmi Air Base near Helsinki, and our squadron started to operate there. On June 14, 1940, two Soviet bombers shot down one of our airliners over the Gulf of Finland, shortly after it had taken off from Tallinn, Estonia. I was searching for the plane with my Brewster, and I found a Soviet submarine in the middle of aircraft debris, obviously looking for diplomatic mail. In August 1940, we moved to a new base at Vesivehmaa, north of Lahti. There, we tested the Brewster's performance and gunnery characteristics and found both to be quite good. Many pilots put all their bullets in the target. On June 17, we got and order to stay at the base, in continuous readiness, so we guessed that we would be at war rather soon.
MH: What were your impressions of the B-239?
Juutilainen: I started my Brewster flights in the beginning of April 1940, doing all the aerobatics maneuvers, stall and dive tests. I was happy with my Brewster. It was agile, it had 4.5 hours endurance, good weaponry - one 7.62 mm and three 12.7mm machineguns - and an armored pilot's seat. It was so much better than the Fokker that it was in another category. If we had had Brewsters during the Winter War, the Russians would have been unable to fly over Finland. It was also a "gentleman's traveling plane", for it had a roomy cockpit and room in the fuselage, as we used to say, for a poker gang. We unofficially transported mechanics, spare parts, oil canisters etc. in our Brewsters. Once, though two pilots went a little too far - a flight sergeant was flying, and in the fuselage was a second lieutenant, his friend, his dog and a lot of baggage. Upon landing the plane went off the runway and the suitcase came out. Both pilots were punished. Humorously, the lieutenant's sentence started with: "As the commander of the crew of a single-seat fighter..."
MH: What was the situation in Finland at the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941?
Juutilainen: It was rather problematic after the Winter War. The Soviet Union continued its pressure, and Vyacheslav Molotov (Soviet commissar for foreign affairs) during his visit to Germany in November 1940 demanded Finland as Russia's share of their 1939 pact. France and Britain were at war, and it was very difficult for Finland to improve her defenses. Then, rather unexpectedly, Germany's hostile attitude toward Finland changed. During its preparations to invade the Soviet Union, Germany saw Finland as a useful partner. Finland did not like a political alliance with Nazis, but military cooperation with Germany was the only option to counter the Soviet threat and it presented an opportunity to get back the stolen land areas. Preparations for war were complete when Germany invaded Russia, but Finland joined the war only after the Soviets had made several air raids against Finnish targets on June 25, 1941.
MH: Can you describe your first victory of the Continuation War?
Juutilainen: We were at Rantasalmi Air Base on July 9, 1941, and we received information that Soviet aircraft were coming to attack our army troops early in the morning. We took off at 4 a.m. and after about half an hour's waiting, we saw the first enemy aircraft - Polikarpov I-153 "Chaika" (gull) biplane fighters. The battle started at 13,000 feet, just west of Huuhanmäki railway station. I had already made a couple of attacks when I saw some movement below, against the surface of the lake. There were enemy fighters trying to escape. I dove after them and quickly caught up with one of the Russians, who was flying right at treetop level and who obviously thought he was safe down there. At a range of about 20 yards I squeezed the trigger. I had to pull my plane up to avoid a collision, and the Chaika crashed right into the forest. At that point, my engine started to sputter, while at the same time a Chaika was approaching me from directly ahead and above. I set up for an emergency landing in a small field near the village of Miinala. Just as I was about to land, my engine came back to life. The Chaika apparently didn't see me and passed directly overhead. I turned quickly after it.
After a while, I saw a new target, which seemed to be joining the plane I was chasing. They flew over Sorola Island and, after getting to the Laatokka Sea, turned and headed for their home base. At that point, I rammed the throttle full power and went for them. Aiming carefully at the wingman, I fired. Maybe the enemy pilot suspected danger, because he broke away at the same moment. But it was too late - my bullets had done their work. I had no time to fire at the other airplane because he broke away at the same time and disappeared among the small islands. I was tempted to go after him, but my rough-running engine deterred such thoughts. Partly unsatisfied about the unfinished work, I flew home. Esprit de corps at the base was high. This had been the first real, large aerial engagement of the war, and our squadron had destroyed nine enemy aircraft.
MH: What about the circumstances of your downing three I-16s on August 18, 1942?
Juutilainen: We had come to the Gulf of Finland area. On the evening of August 18, an alarm came in, and the entire flight hurried into a big air battle near the Soviet Island of Kronstadt. Planes were coming from all directions - I-16 "Ratas" (rats), Hawker Hurricanes and even a Petlyakov Pe-2 was dashing into the fray. I got one Rata in my sights, approaching it from above and behind. I put some metal into his fuselage. The airplane went down and very nearly took a comrade with it. I pulled up in a very tight turn to keep my back clear. I flew amid the anti-aircraft fire of eight guard ships, which happened to be on the sea below me, until I got back in the melee. I had time to notice more enemy fighters taking off from Kronstadt to join our merry-go-round.
At one point we estimated that there were about 60 enemy planes in the furball. One Rata attacked me from straight ahead and below. I rolled inverted and simultaneously pulled back hard on the stick. I aimed quickly, fired into his fuselage and his airplane spun, crashing into the sea. Again I had to climb in that anti-aircraft fire. I was dodging one diving enemy fighter when another flew right in front of me. Staying tightly behind the target, I fired a long burst and began to think I would run out of ammunition. Finally, it fell in flames into the sea. By then it was becoming so dark that it was very difficult to determine friend from foe, so both sides began to retire. One of our pilots, 2nd Lt. Aarno Raitio, had bailed out and died in the stormy sea that night. The enemy lost 16 aircraft.
MH: Do you recall any other memorable combats in the B-239?
Juutilainen: Yes, there was another engagement over the Gulf of Finland that was rather peculiar. We had just attacked a formation of MiGs and Supermarine Spitfires on September 20, and I was just about to shoot a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3 when my propeller transmission broke and my engine power decreased. I reported my status and asked for help, if anybody could afford to do so. One of the enemy fighters was moving into a good firing position a little below me. I quickly rolled my fighter inverted above him. My unexpected maneuver apparently frightened him, because he broke off and dove away. I sighed with relief, then tried to make my way back to base while carefully watching the enemy aircraft above me. Sure enough, a Spitfire came in from behind and above, expecting an easy kill. I tried to look as though I didn't see him.
When the Spitfire came into firing range, I made a quick, controlled roll, stamping heavily on my rudder bar. My fighter slid heavily sideways, and I continued with a hard level turn of about 90 degrees. The enemy couldn't keep me in his gunsight, and at the end of the maneuver he was so close that he actually slid past me. I quickly turned back to my original heading and the Spitfire was in front of me, pulling up to the right. My speed was gone, but the range was short, about 70 yards. I aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger. The tracers hit the target like a whip, and the plane started to smoke heavily. Almost vertically and slightly inverted, it crashed into the sea. Then, almost immediately, another Spitfire arrived to avenge his comrade. I pushed the throttle open and the engine stopped! It was a really nasty feeling. The enemy plane came in above and behind at high speed, so I made a tight turn under its nose. The Spitfire couldn't turn with me and after a failed attack, continued its dive toward Lavansaari. I turned my plane toward the Estonian coast, intending to make an emergency landing. Then I noticed that when I didn't put the throttle in a full-power setting, the engine would cough back to life. I had again begun to climb toward my flight when a MiG attacked me at an impossible deflection angle. There was no need to even dodge. Then I saw a MiG-1 dive steeply toward the water, but it pulled up at the last moment. Now it was my turn to do the attacking. The MiG didn't seem to notice me at all and pulled up right in front of me. I had only to change my nose position slightly to line up the target, then I squeezed the trigger. The plane rolled over and went into the sea. When I again began my climb, I found our pilots controlling the area, and I joined them.
MH: Did you have any general impressions of the Soviet airmen?
Juutilainen: There were very good Soviet pilots, and then there were those who were not so good. They usually handled their airplanes quite well, but I think their shooting accuracy was not as good as ours. Maybe they didn't emphasize individual pilot skills as much as we did, counting more on numbers.
MH: What about their aircraft, including Western Allied Lend-Lease planes like the Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire or Curtiss Tomahawk?
Juutilainen: The I-16 was in the same category as the B-239. The Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 was faster but not very agile. The Lavochkin La-5 and Yakolev Yak-9 were clearly better than the Brewster. The Hurricane was a rather easy opponent to deal with, especially at low level. No problems with the Tomahawk, either. The Spitfire, of course, was superior to the Brewster.
MH: Didn't you also shoot down a captured Heinkel He-111 that the Soviets tried to use for a clandestine mission?
Juutilainen: The He-111 incident happened on October 20, 1942. I was chasing a Pe-2 into a cloud over the Gulf of Finland when I suddenly came up behind a Heinkel. Of course, at first I thought it was a German plane, and I decided to let him be, but when the rear gunner began to fire at me, I decided to shoot back. It was then that I noticed there were no national emblems anywhere on the plane. After shooting the rear gunner I set both of its engines on fire. Three men bailed out of the plane's belly, but they all died in the cold water of the Gulf of Finland.
MH: When did your unit receive Messerschmitt Me-109Gs?
Juutilainen: On February 8, 1943, I joined the newly formed LeLv 34, and on February 10 we flew to Germany to get our new Me-109G-2 fighters. We flew familiarization flights in the German fighter school at Werneuchen. The Germans had prepared a rather extensive course for us, but our leaders told them that we had come to pick up our fighters and not to learn how to fly. I flew once in an Me-109E and two flights in the Me-109G, testing its performance and maneuverability. I would say that whereas the Brewster was a gentleman's airplane, the Messerschmitt was a killing machine.
MH: On August 31, 1943, you downed your first La-5. Was the appearance of that new Soviet fighter disturbing to you and your colleagues?
Juutilainen: The La-5 was more agile than the Me-109G but otherwise in the same category. We Messerschmitt pilots had no special problems with La-5s, but Brewster pilots had to use tactics in which they flew in several divisions - one above the other, with a great height difference - to cover each other. I often used one tactical trick against the La-5 that worked every time. When a La-5 pilot got behind me, I started a climbing turn, so that the enemy pilot would point his guns at me but could not take the proper deflection. Usually he fired and, of course, missed. I gradually tightened my turn, and the enemy pilot tried to pull more and more deflection. If we started at low level, it took me some 13,000 feet before the enemy began to lose his speed and turned down. Then I just rolled after him and shot him down.
MH: Your score includes seven Ilyushin Il-2s. How did you manage to bring down those armored ground-attack planes?
Juutilainen: The Il-2 had really tough armor, and from directly behind you could only eliminate the rear gunner. There were three separate armor plates behind the pilot and the engine. The aircraft flew usually at low level, so the only approach was from above. We attacked their formations from both sides to disperse their defensive fire. From the side and above, one could shoot at a place in the armpit of the Il-2's wing, which normally caught fire.
MH: You are also credited with a Lockheed P-38 Lightning on July 10, 1943 - along with two I-153s. What was a P-38 doing over Finland at that time?
Juutilainen: Our squadron's intelligence officer identified it only after I described it to him. Our radio intelligence guys told us later that the enemies we met that day were ferrying new fighters to Lavansaari and bringing old planes out. Maybe the Lightning's visit had something to do with that exchange. We didn't see them later.
MH: Another unusual plane on your victory list is the North American P-51 Mustang of which the Soviets received only 10. Could you describe your two encounters with the Mustangs?
Juutilainen: The only time we saw Mustangs was during the peak of the Soviet summer offensive of 1944. The Mustangs we met were older models, with Allison engines. On June 26 we had just been escorting Bristol Blenheim bombers and were returning over the front line when I saw a Mustang approaching me from my right side in a right turn with his belly toward me. I yanked the throttle to idle to let it slide past me. The Mustang pilot, however, recovered his turn and then saw me. He also pulled his throttle back, and I saw long flames backfiring from his exhaust pipes. He also kicked his rudder to slow down, but I was doing the same thing, and because I had started sooner than he, the Mustang slid right out in front of me. The Mustang pilot then went to full power and tried to shake me off his tail with a climbing turn. In so doing he made his last mistake and flew directly in front of my gunsight. I fired, and soon the Mustang was burning in the forest near Tammisuo. Two days later my section was returning from a reconnaissance mission and made the usual detour to have an aerial engagement before returning to base. Soon we saw an Il-2 formation coming toward us escorted by three Mustangs. One of them pulled left and the other two went into a dive. In a tight diving turn I went after the airplane that had broken left, firing short bursts to break the pilot's mental backbone. It worked, for he apparently got nervous and went into a dive. The pilot kicked his rudder, but much too rapidly, only causing the tail to waggle while his plane stayed rather comfortably in the middle of my sight. The target was at an altitude of about 150 feet when it caught fire and crashed into the tall pine trees.
MH: On June 30, 1944 you tied Jorma Sarvanto's one-mission record of six victories. Was yours also in a single mission?
Juutilainen: It was during one mission, but in three separate engagements. The first started when our four sections met about the same number of Bell P-39 Airacobras, during which I shot down two in the Viipuri area. Next I thought there was a dark cloud in the eastern sky, then looked again and realized that it was an enormous formation of enemy planes heading for Tali. We regrouped, climbed and called more fighters to the scene, then we attacked. In that battle I shot down two Yak-9s over Juustila. When the fight was over, we continued our patrol, and the next enemy formation came from the direction of Viipuri, including Pe-2 dive-bombers, Il-2 ground-attack planes and La-5 fighters. We attacked, and I first shot down an Il-2 between Juustila and Tali and then got an La-5 near Viipuri. My fuel-level warning light had been blinking for quite a while, and I called the other guys to break off. Only during the flight home did I realize that I had shot down six enemy planes. After landing our fuel was practically gone. Also, all of the ammunition was gone.
MH: What were the circumstances of you last confirmed victory?
Juutilainen: On September 3, 1944, my section was on a reconnaissance mission, and I was flying at 1,600 feet when a Yak dashed toward me from directly ahead. I shot in his face and he dove under me. I turned around but couldn't see him anymore. After a while, I noticed a twin-engine airplane in front of me. I identified it as a Douglas DC-3 transport, having the Soviet designation Lisunov Li-2. I looked around suspiciously while I sneaked up behind it. I fired first at the fuselage, then at an engine, which started to burn. Then I fired again at the fuselage. The plane crashed in a field near Nurmijärvi.
MH: Where there any other combats in the Continuation War that particularly stand out in your mind?
Juutilainen: Well, there was one combat during which I didn't fire a shot. On March 8, 1944, I was returning from a reconnaissance mission and approaching Suulajärvi when our control center reported four enemy fighters very near our base at an altitude of 13,000 feet. I began to climb, hoping ardently that the enemy would wait for me, because it was a rare opportunity to fight this deep in our own territory. I was already at 12,500 feet when I saw four La-5s in a nice formation about 1,500 feet below me, between Perkjärvi railway station and our base. As I approached from behind and above, I found myself admiring their sleek forms and beautiful camouflage paint job. I got the leader in my sight, sure of achieving surprise. I was just about to press the trigger when, like an explosion, they broke away in different directions and tried to climb above me. They had seen my approach and waited for just the right moment. That was no wonder, for my radio intelligence controller informed me that the leader of my adversaries was an ace named Medvetjev (probably colonel Aleksandr A. Matveyev, the commander of the 275th Fighter Division, who would survive the war with 15 victories).
I had more speed than my adversaries, so I pulled off and above them. They kept on climbing, and whenever I tried to turn into one of them, he would dive and the rest would pile in behind me. At the very moment the battle began, my fuel warning light blinked on. That meant I still had enough fuel for 20 minutes of cruise power. Unfortunately, it was much less time if I had to stay at maximum power, which was now the case. Our radio intelligence controller told me that Medvetjev had requested more fighters into the battle, so during every turn I squinted toward the sun from where the additional force would surely come. Our altitude was then about 20,000 feet and I had not yet put on my oxygen mask. I grabbed it from my side, turned the valve open and without time to properly snap it on to my helmet, jammed it on to my face gripping the middle rib of the mask with my teeth.
There was a nasty consequence to that makeshift arrangement. I was breathing heavily, and my humid breath was escaping out of the side of the mask and frosting up the inside of the canopy, except for the bulletproof windshield directly in front. Then the first reinforcement arrived, another La-5 whose cannon flashes I could see from long range. I pulled steeply under his nose and immediately after that pulled my plane up into a tight climbing turn, simultaneously using my thumbnail to scrape a small area of frost off the panel on the side where the enemy ought to be. Just as I had expected, there was the nose of an enemy fighter visible through the peephole. It was firing and the burst passed so close underneath my plane that I was tempted to rise up in my seat. It was very hard to keep all five of my opponents in sight especially when some started climbing to attack me from above and behind while the others were forcing me to turn. I caught a brief glimpse of swirling snow at our base 26,000 feet below, indicating that our fighters were taking off to help me. It was a comforting sight! I only wished I could hold those wolves for the time it would take them to climb to our altitude. The radio intelligence controller told me that a sixth fighter had joined Medvetjev's group. We had been dogfighting for 15 minutes, and I was soaked with sweat. I dodged another attack by pushing under the enemy's nose, turned into another plane attacking from above, then got the enemy in front of me in turn and had an opportunity to shoot. I frantically scraped another peephole and was following the enemy tightly when my engine coughed and quit from fuel starvation.
I made a diving turn under another enemy fighter that was firing at me, continuing in a vertical dive. It was now my only salvation. I knew that the La-5 had the same diving speed limit as the Messerschmitt - 513 knots - so I let my Me-109 fall vertically for 20,000 feet, and the speed rose to 595 knots. The controls seemed to be fixed in cement, and my ears were buzzing like telephone lines. At 6,500 feet, I started a slow pullout and turned the trim wheel. The nose began to rise slowly, but the ground was rushing up at me. Anytime now, I expected the wings to break off. As speed began to decrease, my elevator response increased and I was able to apply more and more back stick. The airplane achieved level flight at a height of 500 feet and my speed was down to 485 knots. The danger was over. I converted my speed to altitude and circled the base preparatory to an engine-off landing, lowering my gear and flaps and making and otherwise uneventful recovery. Our base personnel told me that two enemy planes followed me down, but broke off their pursuit after descending about 5,000 feet.
MH: How did you react to the second armistice on September 4, 1944?
Juutilainen: Personally, I was so used to the fighter pilot's life that I really had bittersweet feelings when we stopped combat flying. The Continuation War ended very much like the Winter War. We were able to stop the Soviet offensive, and again our fighter force, thanks to the small losses and continuous deliveries of aircraft, was stronger than it had been at the beginning of the war. During July, we noticed that Soviet pilots began to avoid aerial combat, and at the end of that month, they fled when they saw us. During our reconnaissance missions, we also saw that the Soviets had started to remove troops from the Karelian Front. This had been the only Soviet offensive to fail during their advance westward. On the other hand as in the Winter War, Finland did not have the resources to continue the fight alone when Germany was collapsing. So we gave the Soviet Union some areas that were in our hands when the war ended. Again, the independence of Finland was the most important thing. We had saved it again and thus made one interesting point. Of all the countries in the European theater that participated in World War II, there were only two that were never occupied: Finland and Great Britain. We developed quite civilized relations with the Soviet Union after the war and benefited economically by importing oil and raw materials while exporting industrial equipment and products. But every time they tried some of their political tricks, our leaders firmly said no. And they retreated each time.
MH: Did you fight the Germans after the armistice?
Juutilainen: There was a plan for our squadron to participate in operations against the Germans in Lapland, but it was then canceled.
MH: What decorations did you receive from your government?
Juutilainen: I was one of only four people - two of whom were fighter pilots - to receive Finland's highest medal, the Cross of the Mannerheim Order, twice. (The other was Hans Henrik Wind, the second-ranking Finnish ace with 75 victories.) I got my first Mannerheim Cross on April 26, 1942, and became a "double knight" on June 28, 1944. In addition, I received the Medal of Freedom, the Cross of Freedom 4th Class with Oak Leaves, and the Cross of Freedom 3rd Class with Oak Leaves.
MH: In retrospect, which wartime role did you prefer when you were in the air - lone wolf, team player or leader?
Juutilainen: I guess I was each one of those, depending on the situation. I tried always to carry out my mission completely, so I often chased the enemy long distances and stayed in the arena as long as possible. Therefore, there were many occasions when I found myself alone, although it was not planned to be so. I lost almost 30 kills from my score because of that. In the Ilmavoimat, we had a rule that to confirm a victory, either the wreck of the downed plane had to be found, or some eyewitnesses had to see it fall. Many times I asked for cameras for our fighters, but we didn't get them. Most of the time, I was a team player, since that was the way we had been trained. Quite often I flew as top cover, and it was a respected position in our formations. I was also a leader in section and division formations, and I often was an instructor, too.
MH: Were there any fellow Finnish airmen whom you particularly admired?
Juutilainen: I considered all my colleagues top guys. If I had to pick just one, it would be Oiva Tuominen. He was a brilliant pilot and an exemplary combatant, with 44 victories. When he saw an opponent, which he usually did before anyone else in the flight, he had already formulated a strategy and proceeded to implement it
MH: What of your postwar aviation career?
Juutilainen: I stayed in the Ilmavoimat until May 17, 1947, when I retired. I then continued flying in general and commercial aviation. I also had my own de Havilland Tiger Moth, which I could fly on wheels, pontoons or skis. I have flown only occasionally since the mid-50's.
MH: Have you met any Axis colleagues or former Allied opponents since the war?
Juutilainen: After the war, I met a very interesting old French pilot, Robert LePetit, who had been a squadron commander in World War I. He told many interesting stories about the French ace of aces, René Fonck. I also met a Russian general. He told me that he had heard about me almost every day during the war and now he wanted to meet me. We discussed all kinds of things, and then I offered him a flight in the Messerschmitt. He just smiled - he was already so fat that we would have needed a shoehorn to get him into the tiny cockpit of the Messerschmitt. I also met some Allied airmen. One of them, an American, had been in Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and flew 33 missions over Germany. It was interesting to hear about those operations. In Finland, we have a brotherhood of wartime pilots. We meet once a month and enjoy the friendship that is refined by hard times.
MH: Do you have any additional comments on any aspect of your career in aviation?
Juutilainen: I think that history has shown the value of air power. If a nation wants to be free and independent, it has to invest in the fighter force. In those investments, quality is much more important than quantity. And the quality of the personnel is more important than the quality of the materiel. Well-trained, first-class fighter pilots are a nation's strategic assets, which must be kept in good shape.
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