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December 3rd, 2012, 09:04 pm
The Saga of Jorma
Since one of the blogs started talking about the Finnish ace Jorma Sarvanto and his fantastic fight with Soviet bombers on January 6, 1940, I decided to post an article published under the pseudonym Maxim Immelmanov in the fourth issue of Aviapark magazine of 2009. In it, I set out my views on this event and spoke about the reasons that prompted me to doubt the adequacy of its "generally accepted" version.
FOUR MINUTES OF JORMA SARVANTO
"At about noon on January 6, 1940, seven DB-3s from the 6th DBAF, headed by the commander of the 3rd Squadron, Major V.D. Maistrenko, returned after a raid on the cities of Pieksämäki [sic] and Kuopio. Lieutenant Sarvanto climbed to intercept from Utti, since the rest of the fighters, that had recently returned from mission, had not yet managed to refuel.
After the Fokker of Lieutenant Sarvanto coded FR-97 landed in Utti at 12.25, the mechanics counted 123 holes in it. Then it was found that six DB-3s were shot down by Sarvanto within four minutes - from 12.03 to 12.07. The first three bombers fell on the southern outskirts of the Haukkasuo swamp, about 8 to 10 km south of Utti, the fourth between the villages of Sippola and Inkeroinen, 18 km south of Utti, and the other two between Inkeroinen and the village of Yulianummi, located about 28 km south of Utti. All six DB-3s were completely destroyed, and of the 24 people on board, only two escaped and were captured.
Having gained six victories at once during one flight, Lieutenant Sarvanto became the first Finnish aviation pilot to reach the milestone of five victories, which gave him the right to be called an ace. As soon as the details of this battle became known, the press paid much attention to Sarvanto, making him a well-known personality not only in Finland itself, but also abroad. "
In one way or another, the events of that clear and frosty January day are described practically by all Western historians, and from the beginning of the 1990s, by Russian historians.
In the days of the USSR, this battle was not mentioned at all in Soviet historiography, since we preferred to keep silent about such fatal defeats of the "Red Star Falcons". And when, with the advent of the “era of glasnost”, a stormy stream of Western military-historical literature poured into Russia, Russian aviation enthusiasts learned a lot, but this knowledge was far from always pleasing. One of such unpleasant discoveries was the news that a simple Finnish guy by the name of Sarvanto on the far from the best at that time Dutch Fokker D-XXI fighter managed alone and in just a few minutes shot down as many as six Soviet long-range DB-3 bombers, calmly by shooting them as targets in a dash.
An irrefutable proof of the authenticity of this story is the fact that the squadron of Major Maystrenko, according to the declassified documents of the 6th DBAP, was actually destroyed during the raid on Finnish targets on January 6, 1940. Of the nine a/c that departed for the mission, one returned due to a technical malfunction, one was shot down on the way to the target, and six more were shot down in an air battle with Finnish fighters on the way back. It would seem that everything converges, despite the fact that the destruction in four minutes of six large twin-engine bombers with just one fighter, armed with four rifle machine guns, looks extremely unlikely.
But the Finns claimed that Sarvanto acted alone, and they had to believe, although none of the pilots, including much more experienced ones (by the time of his fantastic success, Sarvanto had only twice participated in air battles), could not repeat his achievement. True, some aces, for example, the German "expert" Erich Rudorffer, the Soviet pilot Alexander Horovets and the American David McCampbell, recorded more victories in one battle, but in all these cases it was a question of small single-engine cars. In addition, these pilots fought on fighters with much more powerful weapons (heavy machine guns or cannons) than a brave Finn.
In the year 2000, the magazine Aviamaster published an article by Vladimir Kotelnikov, “Soviet long-range bombers in the war with Finland,” in which the description of the battle of Sarvanto, made on the Soviet side according to reports of crew members of the bomber who survived that battle under the command of Lieutenant Ageev, first appeared. According to these reports, the Maistrenko squadron in the Utti area attacked not one, but eight or nine Finnish fighters! Together, they shot down six bombers in about 10 minutes, while Ageev managed to escape from the pursuit with a deep dive and safely return to his airfield. Overestimating the size of the enemy is not uncommon in military reports, but it is hard to imagine that a single plane in the eyes of several aviators turned into eight or nine. Thus, the feeling of bewilderment from the Finnish interpretation of events intensified even more.
Finally, in the same 2000, an article in the history of aviation magazine, signed by Finnish authors Heimo Siropää and Igor Kopiloff, “Once again about the extraordinary luck of Jorma Sarvanto” was published. It is very meticulous and involving extensive quotes from the post-war memoirs of Sarvanto himself sets forth the "canonical" Finnish version of the battle. Obviously, according to the authors, the published text was to completely dispel doubts about the veracity of this version. However, a careful reading of this article raised even more questions, and the numerous "oddities" contained in it allow us to conclude that it did not reach its goal. Moreover, the materials of the article, contrary to the efforts of the authors, actually destroy the legend of the “lonely miracle hero”.
So, we give the floor to Messrs. Kopiloff and Siropiaa. According to the combat schedule, on January 6, 1940, at the Utti Finnish airfield there was the 4th link of the 24th fighter squadron (LeLv 24) consisting of six Fokker D-XXI fighters with serial numbers: FR-81 (Junior Lieutenant Mustonen), FR -92 (Lieutenant Sovelius), FR-97 (Lieutenant Sarvanto), FR-99 (Major Magnusson), FR-102 (Senior Sergeant Ikonen) and FR-115 (Sergeant Sillanpää). True, the FR-102 was sent for pperiodic maintenance the day before, but on the morning of January 6, Lieutenant Sovelius ferried the a/c to Utti, attacking the DB-3 group on the way and shooting down one bomber.
It was that same squadron of Major Maystrenko, flying for their target. At about 10.10 (Finnish time), they were attacked by fighters [sic] and suffered the first loss - the a/c under the command of the squadron commissar, senior political instructor Gramotkin. In addition to Sovelius, from the Finnish side, junior lieutenant Mustonen and another pilot took part in the battle [sic], whose surname Kopiloff and Siropää do not mention. Sarvanto remained at the airport, because his aircraft could not start the engine. Around 11:00, all three Finnish fighters landed in Utti. It should be added that the Soviet pilots from Ageev’s crew estimated the enemy’s strength in that battle to be seven or eight aircraft.
About an hour later, seven bombers, freed from the bomb loads, returned along the same route. The path again lay near the Utti aerodrome, and there pilots were already waiting. The Fokker motor of Jorma Sarvanto this time started normally, and the future Finnish ace went into battle, which brought him worldwide fame. Soon Sergeant Ikonen followed him, and after a while the second lieutenant Sovelius took off, but, according to Kopiloff and Siropää, neither of them managed to enter the fray until Sarvanto shot down six Soviet aircraft alone.
Ikonen attacked the surviving bomber of Lieutenant Ageev, to no avail having shot all his ammunition at it. Then the same DB-3 was fired at by Sovelius. According to him, he "from a distance of 300 m fired a long burst at a bomber, as a result of which the enemy's left engine caught fire and the a/c began to fall." The fall of the Soviet machine was confirmed by the Finnish air support stations, but in reality Ageev’s plane was not shot down and safely returned to the airfield. At the same time, neither his left nor right engine was burning, and the only damage found after landing was a bullet chamber of a linen sheathing of the elevator. [sic]
Jorma Sarvanto himself (translated by Kopiloff and Siropiaa) described the ups and downs of the battle:
"I was gaining altitude, heading North, because the radio informed that the DB-3 group was already on the way. When they appeared ahead, my heart sank - seven large silver bombers were in close formation above me. (…)
Suddenly reddish-yellow lights fluttered on the fuselages, and machine-gun tracks swept in my direction. At times, bullets hit the plane, and then I began to fidget in the seat, trying to become as small as possible and hide behind a wide engine. Slightly lowering the nose of the Fokker, I set the sight just above the target at the level of the bomber's turret. A short burst pierced the enemy’s aircraft, and his turret was silent. The same thing happened with the second and third machines. Now, only four gunners were firing at me. This allowed me to significantly reduce the distance, probably to less than 100 m, after which I took aim at one engine of an enemy bomber.
A few short bursts lit him up. Now I was able to focus on the next opponent. However, the remaining four gunners continued to shoot, and I constantly heard the sounds made by their bullets that hit my plane. At one point, I almost was too much ahead , which was very dangerous, since my plane could be at a very short distance by twin twin Mgs. In this situation, I could not count how many a/c were hit. They flashed and fell somewhere down. (...)
At some point, I found that in front of me there was a single enemy aircraft, the gunner of which
for some reason did not shoot at my fighter. This surprised me, and I, deciding to find out what was the matter, got very close. It was very dangerous, since both aircraft were separated by a distance of literally a frw meters. A sudden turn could be fatal for me, but, looking into the turret, it seemed to me that I could see the gunner sitting motionless on his seat. Perhaps he was seriously injured or killed.
Slightly reducing the speed, I retreated and, taking aim at the motor, pressed the trigger. However, the usual sound of machine guns did not follow. I tried to reload the weapon, but this time all four trunks of my car were silent. The enemy plane was ahead and I remember that at first I had the idea of using a gun, and then breaking the enemy’s rudders with a propeller. However, casting a glance at the console of my a/c, which was a mess of broken pipes, riddled plywood and torn fabric, shreds of which fluttered in the wind, I realized that my Fokker could not stand such a test.
I turned back and began to turn around smoothly at an altitude of 1000 m. Inkeroinen's factory smokestacks were visible below, and then Myllykoski could be seen in the haze. (...)
I continued to fly cautiously toward Utti. Two Fokkers came across me, but I was afraid to answer them with a traditional greeting by wiggling wings. I did not dare to perform the victory loop over the airfield, and went to the landing right away. It immediately became clear that the flaps were also damaged, and therefore I had to land at a too high speed, which took me up to the dispersal area.
I got out of the cockpit of my plane, feeling not too well, but my comrades who were nearby began to rock me with shouts of "Hooray!". My commander, Major Magnusson, came to us. I stood at attention and reported: “Major, Sir! An interception flight has been completed. An incomprehensible number of enemy aircraft has been shot down ...” Then Kopiloff and Siropiaa write that the Sarvanto machine received 123 bullet holes.
I think, not only me, but also other readers of this fascinating story, had a whole series of questions for its author.
Firstly, why when receiving a message about the approach of Soviet bombers from six fighters standing at the airport, only three took off, and even then not right away? Kopiloff and Siropiaa write in their article that the Sovelius’s a/c was repairing a small wing damage sustained in the first battle, and Mustonen’s plane was not refueled after the previous departure (although an hour has passed since it landed, and this is more than enough to pour gasoline and replenish ammunition). But why was Ikonen's flight delayed? Why didn’t Sergeant Sillanpää take off, and Major Magnusson, instead of leading his subordinates into battle, remained in the airfield?
Secondly, judging by the story of Jorma Sarvanto, the Soviet gunners literally riddled his a/c, and this happened at the beginning of the battle. Meanwhile, it is known that the maximum speed of the Fokker D-XXI fighter on bulky winter skis does not exceed 430-440 km / h, which is only slightly higher than the maximum speed of the DB-3 bomber flying without bombs and with half fuel. But 123 hits, even if not a single bullet touched the vital structural elements (which is surprising in itself), inevitably had to lead to numerous damage to the skin, and this negatively affects aerodynamics and inevitably leads to a decrease in speed.
How could the Fokker, whose planes were "a mess of broken pipes, riddled plywood and torn percale, shreds of which fluttered in the wind", withstand a speed equal to the speed of an intact DB-3? By the way, anyone familiar with the design of the Fokker D-XXI fighter knows that there are no pipes in his wing. It is entirely made of wood, and the canvas on it is present only in the casing of ailerons. But if this skin is broken, the ailerons cease to function and the plane loses control over the roll.
Kopiloff and Siropiaa write in their article that the low fire performance of the shooters was due, inter alia, to the fact that the Fokker was equipped with a radial air-cooled engine “insensitive to hit by rifle caliber bullets”. However, hits into the engine cylinders disable them, and although a radial motor can work even with several “knocked out” upper cylinders, it drastically loses power, which in turn leads to a drop in speed. Crankcase and lower cylinders are even more critical, as in this case the engine will soon "sieze" due to oil leakage. Consequently, if at least one bullet fell into the engine of the Sarvanto fighter, the pilot could not continue to pursue the Soviet bombers.
Thirdly, Sarvanto, judging by his story, counted the number of enemy vehicles before the battle, making sure that there were seven of them, and only one bomber survived at the end of the battle. If you follow the version that Sarvanto fought alone, it is rather strange that he could not determine the number of his victories. Against the background of these "paradoxes", the DB-3 twin nose mounts seem to be a trifle, although there was only one machine gun in the nose turret of the Ilyushin bomber.
For clarity, the article in the History of Aviation was provided with a map on which the crash sites of all planes allegedly shot down by Sarvanto, as well as the bomber shot down by Sovelius in the first battle, are marked. [Omitted here]
When looking at this map, the “two-kilometer” flight immediately draws attention to a very curious moment: the third, fourth and fifth planes crashed about the same line, a few kilometers from each other, as it should be if they flew in a straight line, and they were subsequently attacked and shot down one fighter. But at the same time, the first three bombers lie almost close to each other, as if in the corners of a triangle, and the distances between the places of their fall do not exceed one and a half kilometers.
This could only happen if they were attacked and shot down by several fighters almost simultaneously. Fifth and sixth DB-3 also collapsed suspiciously close to each other. If we take the flight speed of these bombers at 400 km / h, then, based on the distance between the points of their fall, it turns out that both of them were shot down within 10-15 seconds. This looks especially “piquant” given that Sarvanto could fire at them from only two synchronized machine guns, since the ammunition of its wing mounted “Brownings” had to end earlier (the Fokker D-XXI fuselage machine guns had ammunition of 500 rounds per barrel and wing - only 300 each).
In addition, in the memoirs of Jorma Sarvanto it is written that after ending the pursuit of the last bomber, the pilot looked down and saw "smokestacks of Inkeroinen factories" underneath. But, judging by the map, the fifth and sixth bomber Sarvanto shot down eight to ten kilometers southeast of this town, and then, according to him, he flew further south for some time after the seventh DB-3. Thus, at the time of the reversal to the reverse course, it was not Inkeroinen that was visible under it, but Karhula and the Finnish coast.
Thus, at the time of the reversal to the reverse course, under it was not Inkeroinen, but Karhula and the coast of the Gulf of Finland. Consequently, either the pilot’s story does not correspond to reality, or the marks on the map are incorrect, or the other two aircraft were shot down by someone else.
Now let's try to analyze the above. Numerous absurdities in the Finnish picture of the battle suggest that it is a propaganda fiction born with the goal of creating the image of an epic hero alone crushing enemy hordes. But all the contradictions are removed, if we assume that in fact several Finnish pilots participated in the battle against the Maistrenko squadron, who, together, shot down six bombers.
These were probably Sarvanto, Sovelius and Ikonen, and possibly also Magnusson, Mustonen and Sillanpää. In this case, it becomes clear why the first three and the last two downed DB-3s crashed next to each other, why Sarvanto deployed his badly damaged Fokker over Inkeroinen and why, upon his return, he could not report how many planes he personally shot down.
Sovelius is also relieved of the suspicion of lies, because he could honestly declare that the bombardment fired by him broke out and crashed to the ground, but only if it was not Ageev’s plane, but one of the a/c subsequently recorded on the account of Jorma Sarvanto.
Be that as it may, the success achieved by the Finnish Air Force on January 6, 1940 is beyond doubt, no matter how many pilots they need to divide the planes they shot down that day.
It is also certain that Jorma Sarvanto contributed to this success, perhaps more significant than other pilots, because it was not for nothing that they decided to make a propaganda symbol out of it. And his name is forever included in the list of world aviation legends.
1- In general, it is indeed true that no man is more blind than the one who does not want to see. Also, sometimes the truth indeed does surpass fiction.
2- The author is grossly overestimating the propaganda and “maskirovka” capabilities of the Finnish military during the Winter War. ( for example the LeLv24 war diaries should all have been fiction and forgery from start to finish). Also, a complete totalitarian state is needed to make this kind of propaganda coup work.
3-If the Sarvanto case would have been just a bag of propagandistic hot air, it would have been punched immediately post-war, for example by Finnish domestic Communists eager to discredit their nation.
4-The alleged survival of Ageev's a/c may with equal justification called just a piece of propaganda.
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Finnish pilots (most of them were basic trained fighter pilots) were well trained and the easiest and simplest attacking methods were carefully studied in Finland before the Winter War. It was ensured in training that every pilot could really hit the enemy. The attack distances were usually as short as possible to save ammunition, to ensure effective firing and to guarantee hits. Also when attacking against defending formations it was important to avoid too many gunners shooting the attacker at the same time. This was also carefully studied in the 1930's. Usually a pair of fighters attacked a formation from different directions to disperse defensive fire. On the other hand shooting at 30 - 90 degrees left or right from the bomber directs most bullets away of the fighter and makes counter fire less dangerous because the trajectory of bullets turns backwards.
These were the basic methods to shoot down so many enemy planes.