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First combat in a Brewster fighter

[This account by Heimo Lampi was provided by his daughter, Marja Dmitriev, and is copyright 2004 by the Lampi family. I have edited the translation slightly. Photo on the right, from a Finnish newspaper, shows Corporal Lampi shortly after his June 25 baptism of fire -- Daniel Ford]

Corporal Lampi After having completed my fighter pilot course, I got unbelievably lucky. I got accepted as a pilot to Lentolaivue 24 (Squadron 24) whose reputation was linked to the Winter War [of 1939-1940], the squadron that was commanded at the time by Erik Magnusson and [in which] Jorma Sarvanto, one of the great pilot heroes of the Winter War, was serving. Almost all of the pilots of the squadron, experienced fighter pilot guards, had been toughened by the Winter War, and I, among that group, a mere 20 year-old and beginner, really felt like a school boy.

That is when it all began, the long close friendship lasting years with that same plane, the [Brewster] BW-354. A friendship consisting of about 200 war flights in which many hardships had been shared. We flew gently over the Gulf of Finland, a pit in my stomach throughout the anti-aircraft hell of Leningrad and the incredibly freezing temperatures on the Murmansk track. We even went to see when the American flight squadron came from the Arctic Ocean to the Archangel port and on the return flight my heart turned cold with excitement wondering whether or not there would be enough gas to get back to the home airfield. That’s when I experienced that sad shattering finale when my friend [the Brewster fighter] who had been on loan to another pilot died in the anti-aircraft hell of Leningrad.

In my book it really died just like my pilot companion died.  I mourned it as if it were a real living creature. It was no longer a dead object for me, rather a close friend, my buddy, whom I trusted and who I could even talk to.  Setting off on the Archangel trip, I tapped him on the side and said: "Listen, friend, remember to drone well because if you get tired on this one, there is no walking back!"


My old friend of course knew how to drone well and we even had twenty litres of gas left after the return flight home.


Ever since my first flight, the BW-354 became my lifetime memory.


The old friend Messerschmitt who was a real hard fighter was my next plane after the Brewster, but it totally lacked in humaneness. I could not love it the way I loved my friend Brewster.  Nor any other plane for that matter.

Big Bomber Formation in Inkeroinen– Northwest Bound

“ It goes like this, young man, in a real war when the alarm goes off, don’t start lining up over there by the airstrip, rather shoot off like lightening into the sky and once there, build up the formation – if, that is, there is time for it”, Yrjö Turkka, the old flight master, said advising me, the youngest flight corporal. 

  “And, Captain sir, shouldn’t that boy do a bit of target shooting since he hasn’t even shot a round in the whole engine?” he continued turning to flight leader Captain Leo Ahola.

  “Certainly”, answered the captain, “Let’s build a target on the edge of that field, then we can practice shoot tomorrow morning.”

  This conversation took place on the evening of June 24th 1941 in a tent at the Selänpää airfield, where some of the flight pilots of the second flight, Squadron 24, commanded by Captain G. Magnusson were being temporarily lodged.  No one had the faintest idea that Finland would once again be at war the following day even though we were all well aware that the situation had become critical also for us.  We had received strict and clear instructions from our commander to avoid doing anything that could be a motive for conflict for the Soviet Union.  Among the many things strictly forbidden were training flights on the eastern side of the Kouvola-Mikkeli-Pieksämäki railway line.

  The next day, that is the morning of June 25th at 7:10, the army phone of the flight leader rang fiercely.  What kind of hurry is the Center [headquarters] in that they have to ring so many times?

  “A big bomber formation in Inkeroinen.  Northwest bound.  Flight altitude is 1,500 meters.  Planes are dropping bombs on Inkeroinen.”

  That message succeeded in waking up the fighter pilots from their deep sleep in no time at all and causing a heated hubbub in the tent.  Some starting to look frantically for their shoes, others for their flight headgear or whatever else as they had never seemed to manage to get into “battle order.”

  I pulled on my pants but had no time to button them; I grabbed a shirt and my head gear and went running to the airfield as fast as my legs could carry me to my plane parked among the trees.  Once there the aircraft man Corporal Andreas Donner and his assistant soldier Röksä got the Brewster fighter plane ready in flying condition in record time.

There was no time for using the test and heating system as I remember the instructions of my experienced teacher: like lightening into the sky!  My foot on the gas, the engine will surely warm up that way!

  Soon I am in the air in a sharp rise.  Able to steer my plane’s control stick with my knees, I secure the straps of the parachute which in the hurry to leave had remained open; I connect the energy current to the machine gun and to the sight, and start studying the map calculating the possible meeting place of the bomber planes.  Our other planes are nowhere in sight, although I noticed that Turkka and Sergeant Eero Kinnunen had been able to take off before me: the training they had received in the Winter War has made them agile.

  I reach a height of 1,500 meters when all of a sudden I notice ahead of me a bomber formation emerging in the front left cirrostratus.  I see an impeccable formation of 27 Russian SB bombers swinging deep within the Finnish border.  And it was not even wartime – at least not to my knowledge.  I immediately swing my fighter slightly above the bombers to the left.  I am a bit confused.  I take a quick look around me - I do not see my own or even the foreign bombers.  My heart pounds with excitement and my trembling hand slightly shakes the control stick – the battle which was about to begin rippled through every one of my cells.

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Lampi's Buffalo
The Brewsters on their way to Murmansk. Lampi's #6 in the foreground.

  I turn my plane into a gentle dive to the extreme left alongside the flying SB. I still want to be absolutely sure that there is no mistake.  The long rattling series coming out of the SB double machine guns towards me is a clear enough answer.  I press the control stick and outflank a little downwards to get away from the spray of machine guns.

  “That’s just fine”, I say to myself, “ the neighbor shot first, the possibilities have been fulfilled. The game in my opinion can begin.”

  When I outflank, I arrive behind the right wing of the formation about one hundred meters from the last plane.  The distance is still too great – at least according to the training I received on my flight course -, but since I do not have any experience with my fighter’s shooting characteristics, I decide at once to shoot a test round.

  Soon my light ring sight is aimed at the end of the left engine of the SB, I pull up a bit steeper and press the electric button of the control stick.  A roaring boom of four 12 millimeters rattles the cockpit and the bitter gun smoke from the machine gun invades my nose. The fight has begun. I see how the tracer spray hits straight towards me and a black smoke cloud gushes out of the engine with small red flashing flames.  I stop the shooting for a moment and take a 50 meter distance from the sight of the plane’s right engine.  After the short round of firing, even it starts to burn. 

At the same time, I notice that a SB machinegunner is firing at me from such a short distance that I can get his weapon from him. I step on the pedal with my right foot and the plane does what is known to flight students as a ”cow’s turn”; then I let my machine gun give a farewell caress to the body of the SB aircraft.  The plane takes a nose dive and is soon one with the enormous sea of fire. I look on in fascination until the bright flare and firing statue fluttering high prove having discovered the end of their journey.  I have achieved my first air victory.

  Now there is no time to remain contemplating the scene since, on account of my attack, the bomber formation that has retreated even more tightly continues to thunder on ahead.  The small city of Heinola looms ahead unaware of what will happen and the formation has apparently been commanded to bombard the city in which many people working at their daily business – about 30, will soon discover – that they are living the last minutes of their lives.

  An idea flashes into my mind: I must force as many planes as possible to drop their bombs into the forest before the formation reaches the city. I attack the right wing of the formation once again, but now there is no time for accuracy work.  I shoot cartridges saving a short round for the first left engine of the SB.  The already familiar smoke cloud comes out as a part of the series.  The plane drops its bomb, gets out of the formation through a gentle dive curve and turns the plane back by flying with one engine.  Its fate ended on its return flight with Lieutenant Jorma Sarvanno’s shooting it down in a shower of machine guns. 

  I attack the formation once again.  The next plane drops its bomb immediately as my machine gun tracer aims at it. The tracer may have hit the machine gunner because the firing stops right there and the barrels of the weapons point towards the sky.  The next plane gets a round in its engine and begins to pump out black smoke into the sky.  The bombs continue to drop to the ground, the plane separates from the formation and circles back.  – Even its destiny was marked with the troublesome return flight back. – Already two planes attempt to pursue my machine gun shower, bombs drop, but there are no signs of damage to my plane.

  Now I start feeling a bit hot, as from both sides I feel the wind on my neck from the double machine guns a short distance and can just guess what kind of a nickel sheet is whistling near me.  I push the throttle lever down to the floor, outflank and wrench myself up into a rising curve to the right side of the formation’s ”box seat”.

  I wipe the sweat off my face, open the hood of the cockpit a crack to get a bit of fresh air and look at the new side of the formation where I had attacked. At the same time I notice another Brewster to the left wing of the attacked formation, whose tail number I recognize as being the plane of Sergeant Eero Kinnunen.  Ruthlessly it sinks into the close distance and I barely have the time to even realize what is happening when two SBs crash down burning. There the old air fighter showed a prime example of an attack.

  But now what?  In the midst of the attack, Kinnunen’s plane swings sharply, its nose turns straight towards the ground and dives downwards.  Afterwards I look into the depths astounded and even see a lower plane straightening out and taking the direction of our home field. – Coming back from the flight, I heard that the SB machine gun fire had hit the cockpit of Kinnunen’s plane and Kinnunen’s hand had been mildly wounded.

  Now I could see Heinola straight under me and I realize that I do not have any other possibilities to prevent the bombarding.  I look at the new attack sight.  The formation is led by a three-ship squadron and I decide that the flight leader of the formation is sitting in the leading plane. Then I make a quick but firm decision: I will shoot the leading plane down, whatever the price!

  Just as I had made my decision, I had already started to put it into practice. I storm down the engine of the formation with full gas, at the same time I change my flight direction and am soon diagonally backwards below the back of the leading plane. I pull up the towards the leading plane and lean in closer to my target in order to make sure the leading plane “sits” in the nose of my target.

Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

Corporal Lampi
[At right: Corporal Lampi photographed 15 minutes after his first fight, 25 June 1941]

  The target is looming bigger and bigger.  Now!  Again the 12 millimeter shakes my plane and the firing whips towards the target.  I see the jet of bullets come close to grazing the left engine of my plane, but it passes it by.

  I reach the same height as my target and have to stop firing and check the sight. The tracer emits a shrill sound from my plane, I see a jet of gunfire sweeping over the SB’s left engine so that it begins to weakly smoke.  But now all of a sudden I have other things to do. 

  The whole time the machinegunners of the leading squadron are ejecting rounds at me, but without hitting.  Now the leading squadron gets quick assistance from the wing squadrons.  All of a sudden I notice that I am encircled. All around me swinging bomber planes fire towards me in a whirl.  I dive sharply so that my destruction in this game is a question of a moment.

  But I do not let go of my leading plane.  It must come down!  As my declared death sentence is imminent.

  I turn again for a new attack and I notice that the same leading plane has separated from the formation.  It is presently in a sharp dive with its nose towards the oncoming direction of the bombers. Apparently its left engine is so badly damaged that the plane can no longer remain in the formation and is now trying to get rid of me by plunging.   It has let its bomb off into the wind.

  Now I do not hesitate a moment, in the blink of an eye I turn my plane into a sharp dive and try to meet up with the SB which is sinking continually downwards. Its apparent goal is to fly to the surface, so that I can not attack it from underneath rather only from directly above so that its machinegunner can fire at me without any obstacles. I muster up the last remnants of power from my engine and catch up quickly with the SB.  This game must end quickly so I can go and pursue other planes during their return flight. – But something else was waiting for me.

  I was only about one hundred meters from the plane when it straightened into a surface flight.  At the same time I notice the slow circling of its propeller blade, indicating the pilot has put the engine in idle position.  I also notice that the barrels of the machine guns are pointed towards the sky which is a sign that the machine gunman has at some point during the combat been wounded.

  I now try to get my sight on the SB, not too successfully, however, as my great speed in no time has brought me on top of the bomber that has slowed its speed down on purpose.   I point the nose of my plane downwards, but am now in danger of colliding with the left wing of the SB. The distance is only about 10 meters.  Although I try everything possible to slow down the speed of the bomber, I do not manage to get into a shooting position, I just swing alongside the bomber.

  At the same time I see something which makes my heart leap.  All of a sudden about 30 meters away pointing towards me are the barrels of the machine guns and I see clearly the eyes of the gunman who is standing as he aims at me.  An old, familiar trick from World War I has succeeded – and there I am on a tray, ready to go down, unable to fire back.

  I am not able to do a thing when the machine gun round starts firing in front of the cockpit of my plane.  I hear a shot when a bullet hits the cartridge belt of the machine gun to the right ahead of me and breaks it.  Another bullet wipes the rivet row of the gas tank in front of my leg so that two rivets fly loose and gas starts to gush out onto my legs.  I realize that destruction is imminent now and at the same time I gather all my strength by struggling to make a sharp battle immelman to the left while the jet of the bullets accompanies me closely.  Another moment yet and I’m safe.

  Now I am really flaring.  First at myself and then at the one who just fired at me.  I pull at the cockpit of my Brewster towards the bomber plane despite the gas which is sputtering about and go into an angry dive.  In my thoughts I am screaming at my adversary: you will go down!  Go down, no matter how difficult you are!  I will fight even as far as Moscow, but you won’t be coming home from this trip!

  I force myself to calm down, take sight of the SB point already far off and approach it quickly.  I see how my recent attacker is pointing his guns towards me and already starts to shoot a short series from afar.  The first thing I have to do is set accounts with him!  I take sight of my machinegunner, who I now see clearly and when I put my finger on the trigger, I am sure I have made a hit.  The man lets go and the barrels point upwards.  I see from close that now nothing is happening. First me, now you, it is war’s merciless law, I am able to think while preparing my plane for my last attack.

  The left engine of the SB is weakly smoking but the right one is still pulling at full force, anyway in a flash it is now the fires coming out of my machinegun. Still one hit to the left engine and at the same moment the plane dives over a little lake and falls straight down into it.  A couple of flashes on the surface of the lake and the game is over. – The commander of the squadron, Lieutenant-colonel Feodor Panjusik, has flown his last flight.

  I make an honourary circle over the place, I rock my plan to the people waving on the beach and I turn towards home.

  A quiet languor fills my soul.

  I crack open the hood of the cockpit as the gas leak is starting to make me dizzy.  I notice that my legs are completely drenched in gas so it is continually splashing the hole of the rivet. One small spark and my whole plane will explode to pieces.

  Like waking up from a dream I notice quickly the beauty of the nature below me.

  I am soon at the home airfield and I start to descend.  Then I experience my last start: to get onto the surface of the airfield I step hard on both of the wheels’ brakes but only the right side works.  My plane is close to falling on its wings, but with the help of the strong engine I am able to correct it. – The reason for this will be discovered later when the damages on the plane obtained in the fight are studied.  The brake fluid tube was shot broken in the battle and that’s why the wheel was unable to brake.

  Still a short roll to the parking place, gas closed and ignition off.

  My first war flight has ended.

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