The Finnish Air Force is one of the oldest in the world, predating the British RAF and the Swedish Flygvapnet. And Finnish pilots have long had a reputation for being among the world’s finest. In their early days, they spent their time fighting amongst themselves in a Civil War and then against the Russians during the Winter War.
The Finnish Air Force had intentionally low numbers as only the very best pilots were allowed to join their ranks. Around this time frame, both the Finns and the United States Marines flew an airplane known as the Brewster Buffalo. While the Marines had a terrible rate of success with the plane; the Finns were far more successful.
This is the story of the Finnish Air Force and the Brewster Buffalo.
American pilots loathe the Buffalo
The Buffalo was one of the first planes to be built by Queens, New York’s Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. In 1938, after testing against the Grumman F4F Wildcat, the Navy selected the Buffalo to be its first monoplane. Before the planes were even in the air, the Navy became upset with Brewster’s frequent delays and poor management. Once the Buffalo took to the air in the Pacific, it was soon proven to be obsolete. The plane was slow and overweight, no match for the Mitsubishi A6M Zero’s flown by the Japanese. In order to compete with the Japanese planes, the Buffalos needed a more powerful engine. But the aircraft was already maxed out size-wise.
The Navy stopped using the F2A-3 model or any planes from Brewster and shipped some of the planes off to the Marines. The Marines had little success with the fighters. One squadron, VMF-221, lost 13 of their 20 Buffalos at Midway. Any models still available after that were shipped to training squadrons.
The Finns and the Winter War
In 1939, Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union in a battle that was later dubbed the Winter War. While the Finns were primarily outgunned by the Russians, they fought fiercely. The Russians gained little ground and suffered heavy losses. The losses were so bad, in fact, that it hurt the Soviet Unions International reputation. However, at the end of the 3-month war, Finland ceded 9% of its territories to the Russians.
During the Winter War, the Finns proved that their pilots were superior to the Soviet Union’s. Finland’s fighters were able to shoot down 200 Russian aircraft while only losing 62 of their own. Ground soldiers using anti-aircraft weaponry shot down an additional 300 Soviet planes.
In April of 1939, worried about a Russian incursion, Finland contacted the United States requesting to purchase fighter planes as soon as possible. 44 F2A-1 variants, known as the B-239E, were sent to the Nordic country. The aircraft, however, did not make it into the skies during the conflict.
Finland’s World War II Experience
Finland had an unusual experience in World War II. The country was neutral, but also still eager to fight Russia following the Winter War. The Winter War had overlapped somewhat with the Second World War. In the Continuation War, which ran from 1941-1944, Finland, along with Germany and the other Axis powers took on the Soviet Union. The Lapland War fought in 1944, saw the Finns fight against former ally Germany in an attempt to expel them from their land.
During the Continuation War, Finnish pilots continued to dominate their Russian counterparts. Much of their success came from using the swarm method. This consisted of four planes with the lower two planes baiting the enemy and the higher two intercepting them. The Russians were never able to find a good countermeasure to this move.
Finland’s Ace Ilmari Juutilainen
Many of Finland’s pilot’s racked up huge scores during World War II. According to Historynet, “thirty-six of Finland’s 96 top fighter pilots became aces in Brewsters, including six of the top 10. For perspective, four Finns scored 20 or more victories in Brewsters, a record only exceeded in U.S. service by five P-47 pilots.” But none were more successful than Ilmari Juutilainen.
Juutilainen flew for the Finnish Air Force from 1939 to 1944. During that time, he racked up 94 confirmed aerial combat victories. This is the highest number for any non-German fighter pilot in recorded history. Plenty of Juutilainen’s wins came while flying a Brewster Buffalo. He racked up 34 wins while flying a B-239. Juutilainen, who lived until the age of 85, flew for the last time in 1997, at the age of 83.
Despite Finland’s late war defection to the Allies, they were punished by the Russians at the end of World War II, having to again cede almost 10% of their land. The remaining Finnish Brewster Buffalos had their last flights in 1948 and were scrapped in 1953.