March 5, 2013 (Updated January 24, 2014) – Marja (pronounced “Marya”) Lampi, daughter of the late fighter pilot Heimo Lampi (1920-1998), often thinks of her famous father. At the request of this writer, and with old, grainy, black and white photographs before her, she discussed Heimo’s extraordinary life. Marja also commented about the National Museum of Naval Aviation’s recovered Finnish Air Force (FAF) Brewster fighter, which is now on loan to the Finnish Air Force Museum.
Marja began by stating that Heimo Lampi was born in Hollola on February 29, 1920. He was only 3 months of age when his family moved to a town called Sortavala. In those days the community was a part of Finland and called “Finnish Karelia.” The village was adjacent to Lake Ladoga (Laatokka in Finnish). Heimo’s father was an official whose responsibility was issuing fishing permits and addressing related matters in that area. His parents had 8 children. Heimo was the eldest son and had 3 elder sisters. When he was 13 years of age his father died of cancer. Marja explained, “As a result my father had to leave the school and go to work to earn money for the family. His youngest brother was at that time 3 months old. My father worked as an errand boy at a hardware store. Heimo gave all his earnings to his mother.”
The conversation then switched to how her father became interested in aviation. She said, “Near his childhood home in Sortavala was an aerodrome named Kasinhäntä. All the young boys admired the pilots and aeroplanes. Heimo and the others saw different makes of airplanes including the IVL A.22 Hansa, which was a Finnish copy of the German Hansa-Brandenburg W.33, Junkers G 31s and Blackburn Ripons. Most of the impressionable lads thereafter expressed a desire to fly. “Actually,” she interjected, “Six of them did become pilots in the war with the Soviet Union (USSR).” Marja continued, “My father’s big dream was also to become a pilot, and he strove to achieve this goal. At the age of 16 Heimo was a member of a sailplane club and began building gliders.” Marja added, “My father dreamed of a career as a pilot, and he did not foresee the grueling war years ahead and the tough air battles to come.”
How did Heimo come to join the Ilmavoimat (FAF)? Marja explained, “In Finland, then as now, military service or alternative social service is mandatory. My father was accepted into the army at the age of 18. He was to become an assistant mechanic in the Finnish Air Force. Father progressed to pilot training only after completing rigorous and multifaceted training courses, passing many examinations and obtaining some practical experience. The pilot course took place in the western part of the Finland. Although the training usually lasted 15 months, the neophytes finished early because the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union began on November 30, 1939. In point of fact my father’s course encompassed only five months. The fighting lasted 105 days. Father and his fellow trainees did not take part in this conflict, but during the ensuing Continuation War from 1941-1945 he would see considerable action throughout the entire fight.” Notably, Marja pointed out that in “early 1940 Finland lost father’s beautiful hometown of Sortavala temporarily to the Soviet Union.”
During the Winter War it became all too apparent to FAF leaders that their biplane and monoplane types with fixed-undercarriage were practically obsolete. Thus, obtaining more modern aircraft, particularly fighter planes, became a priority. Purchasing representatives sought products from countries outside Europe, where World War II was in its early stages and available planes were scarce. Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 provides (page 10) the following details: During “April 1939 the Finnish government contacted the Roosevelt administration . . . as part of its search to hastily acquire modern combat aircraft for its air force.” Subsequently, and fortuitously for Finland and Heimo, on “December 16 . . . a contract was signed with Brewster for the provision of 44 Model 239 fighters powered by the export-cleared 950 hp R-1820-G5 Cyclone engine.” The importance “of this purchase was starkly revealed on 30 November 1939 when the USSR invaded Finland following the cancellation of its non-aggression pact with the country 48 hours earlier.”
The crated Brewsters were aboard merchant ships in early 1940. The vessels sailed to Bergen, Norway. After arrival, the crates went by railroad to Trollhättan, Sweden, where SAAB assembled them. The first 4 Brewsters arrived in Finland on March 1, 1940. Armament on the new FAF fighters initially consisted of one .30-calber and one .50-caliber machine gun in the nose cowling and a single .50 in each wing.
After the cessation of the Winter War, the Model 239s went to Lentolaivue (LLv) or “Flying Squadron” 24. The documentary Hunt for the Lost Brewster documents that, upon seeing the planes aloft, the unit’s pilots were eager to fly the new birds. On the referenced video one of the former LLv aviators states the Model 239 was the “Pearl of the Sky.” He notes the small number of fighters, and their pilots, practically controlled all the airspace by themselves.
With matters between the USSR and Finland unresolved, and National Socialist (Nazi) Germany beginning to invade the Soviet Union, in June 1941 Heimo found himself flying Brewsters with LLv 24. June 25, 1941, was to be a fateful and memorable day for Heimo and LLv 24. The authors of Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 (page 11) state, “At 0600 hours on June 25, the first Soviet bomber formations were spotted entering Finnish airspace near Turku. This news also reached nearby Selänpää, where 2/LLv24 was located . . . .” Corporal Heimo Lampi strapped into BW-354. A number of Brewsters scrambled to engage what turned out to be Soviet Air Force (SAF) Tupolev SB-2 bombers.
Heimo preserved the details of the action in writing. His after-action account, also contained in Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 (pages 11-12) and Finnish Aces of World War 2 (pages 17-18), is as follows: “Five minutes after takeoff I observed a large formation of enemy aircraft. I attacked the bomber on the extreme right and set it on fire with my first burst. The aircraft went into a vertical dive and crashed into a forest. I then fired at two bombers on the right side of a three-aeroplane formation. One of the aircraft began to trail smoke and lose altitude. Chasing after it, the bomber slowed up so much that I had to pull away to the right to avoid a collision. This allowed its rear gunner to fire at me from very close range, although his aim was poor. Having dropped a little way behind my target, I turned back in behind its tail once more and hit the bomber’s port engine with a short burst. Now trailing flames as well as smoke, the aircraft dived into the water.” Lampi had scored the FAF’s first victories in the Continuation War.
Marja remarked, “Heimo received the call sign of ‘Sonny’ on July 3, 1941, after an elder and more experienced squadron mate by the name of Yrjö Turkka saved him during a battle.” The nickname was evidently somewhat of a squadron joke. It was a tag that would stay with him throughout his wartime service, and Heimo accepted the moniker with good nature.
On March 30, 1942, Lampi was piloting one of eight machines led aloft by First Lieutenant Lauri Ohukainen of 2/LLv 24. The ships were to reconnoiter the Seesjärvi-Ontajärvi Isthmus area. East of Rukajärvi the B-239 pilots bounced 12 SAF Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIs. In the ensuing scrap, FAF pilots shot down eight of the Hawkers. Two of the Hurricanes fell to Lampi (who was now a staff sergeant) and BW-354’s machine guns. Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 includes Lampi’s report on page 25. Heimo wrote the following: “At 1550 hours we spotted a formation of six-seven fighters below us at an altitude of 5000 metres. Diving down to attack them from head-on, I initially fired at two aircraft but failed to see any results. I then fired at a Hurricane flying ahead of me, and this aeroplane rolled onto its back at a height of 300 metres and crashed into the forest. Spotting a second formation of Hurricanes arriving from the southeast, I fired at two aeroplanes but missed my targets. The Hurricanes then attempted to flee, and I chased four of them with Sgt Koskela. Singling out a fighter that was just 80 metres above the ground, I hit it repeatedly until it crashed into the forest – the wreckage smoked profusely. We had fought with some 12 hurricanes in total, and during the initial phase of the engagements they had held their own. However, once they attempted to disengage and head for home, they did not even bother maneuvering in order to throw off our aim. Their sole intent was to reach their base as quickly as possible. This in turn made them easy targets.”
Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 indicates (page 26) that, in May 1942, the abbreviation for Lentolaivue was redesignated and “LLv” became “LeLv.” Additionally, the book Lentolaivue 24 notes (page 123) that Lampi left for officer training school on January 9, 1943, and returned on June 15, 1943. He received a promotion to second lieutenant “three months later.”
The last Brewster kill (detailed in Lentolaivue 24, pages 80-81 & Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2, page 41) claimed by the renamed Hatvittalentolaivue 24 occurred in April 1944. Heimo was at the controls of BW-382. His victim was a SAF LaGG-3, which crashed onto the ice after Lampi’s successful attack.
Heimo transitioned into weary Messerschmitt Bf-109G-2s during the period of March-April 1944. The now veteran junior officer received aircraft MT-232. Yet, he would also score while piloting MT-235 and another Bf-109.
On May 17, 1944, Heimo downed a LaGG-5 over Olonez. A Bell P-39, LaGG-5 and IL-2 fell to his fighter’s guns on June 20, 1944. Ten days later Lampi shot down a Yakovlev (Yak) 9 over the same area. July 2, 1944, brought victory over an Il-2, and his string ended with the downing on July 10, 1944, of another LaGG-5. All six of Heimo’s final victories were over the Karelian Isthmus. Descriptive accounts of Heimo Lampi’s aerial combats are online and within Ossi Juntunen’s article titled Heimo Lampi – The Pilot and the Writer.
War with the USSR officially ended on September 4, 1944, but fighting continued until the following day. Heimo solemnly reflected on his dead comrades’ sacrifices. Also disturbing to him was the fact that his beloved Sortavala would be within the Soviet border. Marja remarked, “This was a huge tragedy. Finns living in the area left their homes and started a totally new life as their former home district was then behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ of Soviet Communism.”
Statistics contained in Lentolaivue 24 (page 120) indicate that, in total, Heimo logged 268 sorties and downed 13.5 enemy aircraft. Flying Brewsters, Lampi downed 5.5 enemies. He tallied 8 more in Bf-109s.
Second Lieutenant Lampi continued his studies and resigned from the FAF on October 26, 1946.
To survive and thrive in aerial combat a fighter pilot and the machine had to essentially meld into an amalgamation of flesh, blood, aluminum, steel, oil, rubber and fabric. Man and machine became essentially “married” to one another. Thus, pilots often became deeply attached to their personal machines and often referred to them as beloved women. This behavioral phenomenon is somewhat analogous to biblical verses relating to marital unions. For example, in Ephesians 5:31 the writer states: “For this cause shall man . . . be joined . . . to his wife, and they shall be one . . . .” Heimo was no exception regarding this mysterious affection. Marja explained, “My father loved the Brewsters and especially BW-354. This particular aeroplane was his mate.” She continued, “Father said he even talked to it, and he was very sad when it crashed into the Gulf of Finland while being flown by another pilot.”
In her reply to a question about Heimo’s religious foundation, Marja stated that her parent “always held a deep belief in God. He was always close to the creation. Heimo loved nature. Furthermore, warfare intensified his connection to the Divine.” Four incidents may explain why this process took place.
The first took place during Lampi’s initial combat sortie on June 25, 1941. Heimo took off with a second pilot and approached the large formation of bombers. Puzzled as what to do, because a state of war did not yet formally exist, Lampi cruised blithely ahead toward the intruding aircraft. As he unwisely approached the right side of the formation at close range, a gunner fired at Heimo’s airplane. He evaded the unexpected string of tracers and invisible bullets, and soon shot down the impudent Soviet crew.
Seconds later Lampi targeted the leading bomber but made another mistake. He soon found BW-354 in the midst of crossfire from surrounding SB-2s. Nevertheless, the aggressive Finn was able to dive and close on the wounded target. The barrels of the bomber’s defensive machine guns pointed harmlessly skyward. This sight deceived Heimo into thinking the gunner was dead. Suddenly, the “harmless” guns swung down and around. The barrels then pointed directly at the Brewster, and the gunner fired. Lampi’s BW-354 took damaging hits. Petrol from punctured fuel tanks began flowing about his feet. Although he was able to down the fleeing bomber, Heimo afterward nearly passed out from breathing petrol fumes. Desperate for air, he flung the canopy back. Lampi piloted the wounded Brewster back to the airfield. After touching down he applied the brakes, and the fighter lurched to the side. The right brake had failed. Fortunately, a burst of throttle straightened the careening aeroplane. Understandably shaken by the ordeals, Heimo had nonetheless inexplicably survived.
Another close call took place during an intercept on June 30, 1941. Lampi climbed to an altitude of 9,000 feet during an interception. However, the inexperienced pilot had forgotten to properly switch on his oxygen supply. Heimo fainted but recovered at around 3,000 feet. Again, “Sonny” had escaped death.
On another occasion, July 3, 1941, Lampi dove to attack one of three SAF Polikarpov I-153 biplane fighters only to alarmingly discover that he had not switched on the gunsight and had inoperative guns. As Heimo frantically attempted to charge his machine guns he overshot his intended victim, exposing the Brewster and himself. Another Brewster pilot saw what was transpiring and came to Lampi’s rescue, shooting down the Soviet plane latched onto Heimo’s tail, damaging a second and causing the third enemy to flee.
A fourth event provides further insight as to why Heimo’s faith deepened. During one sortie in a Bf-109, Lampi heard a voice over his radio. An unseen entity commanded, “Turn!” Heimo did not hesitate. He stomped on a rudder pedal, simultaneously thrusting the control stick toward the same side. The Messerschmitt banked sharply just as a shadow flashed past. A fighter, a Yak 9, had been rapidly closing on his tail! The Soviet pilot had either been just beyond firing range or his bursts of fire missed due to Lampi’s abrupt maneuver. After an inquiry, investigators concluded that the urgent transmission was not for Heimo but rather directed to a pilot elsewhere. Nonetheless, the warning, received in the nick of time, had saved Heimo Lampi’s life. God had again been gracious.
Expounding on Heimo Lampi’s spiritual side, Marja recalled, “My father enjoyed being in peace. The summerhouse by the lake and forests were his earthly paradises. He undertook long walks and would sometimes come back with berries. Father was very interested in birds. He enjoyed their singing and locating their nests.”
Marja is of the opinion that her father “most strongly felt God within.” She provided an example of his peace with God. Marja elaborated stating, “On the evening before father went to the hospital for his first bypass operation he was reclining in bed. Father was reading Philokalia, which is a collection of writings that center upon practicing the virtues and spiritual living. Suddenly, he saw a big light in the room. At first it was not as bright but steadily became brighter. Father understood the light as symbolizing earthly life and the brighter life to come. The hospital staff were surprised by father’s inner peace and the fact that he did not want any tranquilizers. He slept well before the operation.”
Heimo “was an active member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but did not attend services every Sunday. Nevertheless, he served in the synod judiciary by being on committees and writing articles for the Evangelical Lutheran newspaper Kotimaa.” Not surprisingly, Lampi’s opinions carried weight within the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran community.
Mr. Lampi also reached beyond the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1979, he visited a Russian Orthodox Church with the Evangelical Lutheran archbishop Mikko Juva. Heimo also enjoyed close relations with the Greek Orthodox Church of Finland. His neighbor in Sortavala was the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Finland. After the war the archbishop moved near Lampi in Kuopio. Marja noted, “My father became a close friend of the new archbishop Paavali after my sister Kristoduli decided to become a Greek Orthodox nun.” At first the decision shocked Heimo, but he later supported her decision. This daughter eventually made many important translations, such as Philokalia, and books for the Greek Orthodox faithful. Kristoduli’s devotion to Church service was a source of pride for her father.
Commenting about her first learning of her father’s past, she said, “My father spoke about Sortavala and Laatokka often, but to me these places were simply like stories. I thought I’d never see them. However, nowadays one actually can drive there and back from the summerhouse in one day.”
Marja’s mother worked as a teacher and hailed from Helsinki. She added, “My parents met at Helsinki-Malmi Airport. At the time my father and his unit were protecting the capital with their Brewsters. It was a tense period, and one pilot had to be in his plane and ready to fly if needed. Mother belonged to the Lotta Svärd, the women’s volunteer paramilitary auxiliary. Her maiden name was Anna Ollikainen. She was delivering coffee and bread to my father while he was sitting in his plane’s cockpit on ready alert. They were married in April 1944.”
Marja explained that after the war her father “stopped flying due to chronic medical maladies.” During the years of hostilities Heimo had developed arthritis in both legs and arms. Furthermore, he had suffered from physical and mental exhaustion. Once, Lampi fell sound asleep in the cockpit after landing. Admirably, he had declined to stop flying at the time because of his senses of duty and loyalty to fellow overburdened pilots.
Marja also described Heimo’s post-war relationships with his fellow pilots. She explained, “He remained in contact with the closest ones. After their children had grown up, the men started to meet regularly. The group included Mikko Pasila, Lasse Kilpinen, Pelle Sovelius and Tappi Järvi. My father’s best friend was Mikko Pasila who became a surgeon, a children’s heart specialist. We met with his family every summer.”
Marja reflected on her father’s education. She said, “During the quiet periods of the war my father had studied during his spare time. Marja commented, “Some of his FAF colleagues teased him. They said, ‘You don’t even know if you’ll live through tomorrow. Why pursue studies?” Nevertheless, Heimo finished High School in 1945. After that he went to university to study law. “When I was born in 1949,” she said, “my father had finished his law studies at Helsinki University and became a judge in a Court of Appeal. The court was relocated to Kuopio after having previously been in Finnish Karelia.” Heimo eventually became President of the Eastern Finnish Court of Appeal.
Additionally, for years Mr. Lampi was the chairman of investigating committees formed after civil or military aviation accidents. Marja interjected, “He was a very honest man and not particularly interested in making a lot of money. For example, father refused to fly free because he said he must be objective in his investigative work.” Judge Lampi retired at the age of 66.
Daughter Marja elaborated a bit about her father. She said, “He was a loving father and husband, a modest, honest and human person who loved nature and fishing. Mother often said he was the best husband in the world.” Heimo Lampi also loved to write and was one of the winners in a big Finnish novel writing competition in 1960. After that, he wrote several books. These works were about the war and flying, his life in general, fictional detective stories and commentaries to a newspaper. The articles were also published as books.” Marja added, “He died on June 1, 1998, and only a few days before I posted his two last articles to the newspaper.”
The respectful and loving daughter then spoke about her upbringing. Marja confessed, “I really had a very happy and peaceful childhood in a town called Kuopio. Marja stressed, “To me, father was first of all, of course, my daddy and a judge. He went to court in the morning but studied the cases at home. Therefore, he came back at midday.” “In those days,” she explained, “there were 4 siblings. Another came later. I remember how we would wait for father to come home. When he opened the door we all ran into his arms.” Offering more information, Marja said, “As a child I knew that my father had been a fighter pilot. He let us play with his flying gloves, hood and waistcoat. These items are now in a museum.”
Reflecting upon her interest in aviation, Marja said, “In my early teens I was gathering photos of planes, but I think it was kind of a superficial interest. I just wanted to make my father happy. Much later, starting from 1992 when we were planning the search for the Brewster, I really began to understand the war, aviation and my father’s role in Finnish history.”
Speaking about the recovered Brewster, Marja related the following: “The prospect of seeing a Brewster after all the years greatly excited my father. The plane was so interesting and it is a very rare artifact that represents an important legacy. After all, with Finns at their controls, the Brewsters excelled and established an exceptional and unmatched victory record. My father and I could not talk enough about the project. We were a very close team.”
Marja pointed out that Heimo Lampi “was the person who started the project to locate and raise BW-372 from the lake.” Sadly, Marja noted, “Father never got to see the Brewster because he died on June 1, 1998.” She added, “His funeral was held on June 17, the same day project diver Timo Nyman dove down into the lake and discovered BW-372 resting on the bottom. As an aside Marja added, “My father’s June 17 memorial service was also just couple of months before the aircraft was raised.” In hindsight, Marja wonders if her father would be as enthusiastic about BW-372 now in light of the trying ordeals, suffering, persecution and rejection she and others have had to endure.
Referring to the discovery of BW-372, Marja stated the following: “Mr. Nyman had been researching the history and exploits of Lentolaivue 24 since the 1970s and was the one who confirmed and documented on film the submerged Brewster. Timo was thrilled to be the discoverer because, in part, his godfather, Finnish Air Force pilot Eino Peltola, died when he and his Messerschmitt went down into the Gulf of Finland.”
After Heimo’s passing, Marja explained that she soldiered on “by shouldering the bulk of the responsibility.” She appreciatively noted that “Kristoduli has been an active supporter and encourager from the start.” Marja takes issue with organizations and representatives who continue to give the credit for the search and recovery to others. She added, “Tellus Tops Films’ documentary Hunt for the Lost Brewster provides an insight into the issues and circumstances.”
With the release of Hunt for the Lost Brewster, Marja hopes and prays the full and factual saga of BW-372’s discovery and retrieval becomes widely known. She has worked hard to bring the complete story to the legion of Brewster aficionados. Her objective may be finally in sight.
The author (John Stemple) thanks Marja Lampi for her cooperation and assistance during the preparation of this article and for providing a copy of Hunt for the Lost Brewster.
Notes: There is often confusion about the national marking applied to Finnish Air Force aircraft. Sources, including the online Finnish Air Force in World War II page, stress that the middle-blue blue swastika on Finnish planes was “completely unrelated to the Nazi swastika. Historically the blue swastika was a symbol of good fortune in Finland dating back to 1918 when the Finnish Air Force was presented with its first aircraft as a gift from Swedish Court Eric von Rosen.” Finnish Army armor and vehicles also sported the symbol. Finnish Air Force utilization of the swastika ended after World War II because of the symbol’s negative association with Nazi Germany.
The above Web page makes other points: “Notwithstanding Finland’s declaration of war against the Soviet Union, American and British attitudes toward the Finns were generally sympathetic due in no small part to the fact that Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies were not tolerated. Many Jewish refugees made their way to Finland and ironically, joined in the fight with Germany against the Soviet Union.” Also, when the Lapland War (September 1944) began, the “FAF had only 70 operational planes remaining. They were able to do little more than harass the retreating Germans . . . .”
Sources and Suggested Readings
Kari Stenman and Kalevi Keskinen, Lentolaivue 24 (Osprey Aviation Elite 4), Osprey Publishing: Oxford, 2001.
Kari Stenman and Andrew Thomas, Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 91), Osprey Publishing Midland House: Oxford, 2010.
Kari Stenman and Kalevi Kesinen, Finnish Aces of World War 2 (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 23), Osprey Publishing Ltd.: Oxford, 1998.
Ossi Juntunen, Heimo Lampi – the Pilot and the Writer, Internet: www.elkney.pl/acestry/lampi.htm
Jim Maas and Don Greer, F2A Buffalo In Action, Squadron Signal Publications: Carrollton, Texas, 1987, pages 10-14.
List of World War II Aces from Finland
Finnish Air Force
Ossi Juntunen, Heimo Lampi – The Pilot and the Writer
Lentolaivue 24 (Flying Squadron 24)
Who Found the Brewster Anyway?
Finland – Blue Swastika on Finnish Airplanes
Finnish Air Force
Rachel Bayvel reveals the extraordinary story of the Finnish Jewish soldiers who fought alongside the Germans in the Second World War
Fantasy of Flight’s Po-2