Above is a nice snap of characteristic fighter of FAF in "Winter War": Fokker D-XXI. This one above, "FR-76" was delivered to Finland on 4 November 1937. This aircraft was experimentaly armed by 2 x 20mm Madsen cannons (visible under wings) and was used in Lentorykmenti 2. "FR-76" was damaged on 18 Januar 1940 and after repairing (and replacing cannons by standard guns), on 8 February 1940, was moved to 3./LLv 24. Flew on this plane on 5 March 1940 Sgt. Mauno Mikael Frantila was killed in combat (near Virholahti). His defeater was Cpt. Nikolai Kidalinski from 7. IAP (59. IBA). The wreck of "FR-76" was shown in summer of 1940 as a war trophy in Leningrad. In text is a snap of the SB-2 M-103 "Katiushka" bomber, destroyed in Januar of 1940.
Jorma Sarvanto was born in Turku, 22nd Aug. 1912, when Finland still was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Imperium. His father was Kaarle Konstantin Sarvanto, a patriot, tailor by trade and his mother Amanda Gustafsson.
Growing up in independent Finland, the young Sarvanto was interested in aviation and the glorious Aces of the First WW. He read all that he could find about von Richthofen, Ball, Guynemer and others. Participation in voluntary Civil Guard duty strengthened the patriotism of the young man, taught him to shoot and prepared him for military career.
Sarvanto matriculated in May 1933, 3 years later than others of his age, which may imply that he was not an exemplary scholar... But he needed the diploma to enter into military career. He started his compulsory military service in June that year, when he was called up to Pori Infantry Regiment. Marching on dusty road in full gear, wearing steel helmet in a hot day during the infantry basic training was not what he expected of military life. Private Sarvanto applied for training in Air Force when the officer trainees were selected. He passed the physical examination and every tests and was admitted in Reserve Officer Pilot Course no.4 at Kauhava Air Base. From the very first day he felt he had arrived in the right place for him. He completed his course and his compulsory military duty in 1934 as reserve officer. Sarvanto returned briefly to civilian life. It was the time of the Great Depression and high unemployment.
Immediately Reserve Ensign Sarvanto sought admission in the Cadet School, Air Warfare Section for training to cadre (professional) officer, and was admitted in autumn 1934.
Sarvanto completed his training as pilot and as observer in May 1937. He was promoted to the rank of Ensign at a ceremony in the presidential palace along with his fellow cadets, the President of the Republic being the official C.-in-C. of the military forces of Finland.
Sarvanto was at first commanded to Lentoasema 1 (Air Base One) at Utti, a fighter base flying old Bristol Bulldogs in attendance of new equipment. New equipment was already in use in Lentorykmentti 4 (Flight Regiment 4), his following unit in 1938, which was operating modern Bristol Blenheim Mk.1 bombers. There he served as Observer Officer, responsible for navigation and bomb aiming. But ensign Sarvanto wanted to be a pilot, and the pilot vacancies were all occupied by senior officers or NCOs.
Sarvanto was promoted to Lieutenant and according to his wishes transferred to Fighter Squadron 24 based at Utti, although his commanders in LeR4 were unwilling to allow the transfer. The date was 16th May 1939.
Squadron 24 had received new Fokker DXXI fighters in 1937. The planes were made in Finland under license. They were powered by licence-made Tampella Bristol Mercury 850 hp radial engines and armed with 4 Browning 7,7 mm machine guns.
Lieutenant Sarvanto excelled in Fokker training. His gunnery was first class: in average 92% of the ammunition he fired at a towed target "sock" were hits. The pilots also fired at ground targets and small parachuted sand bags over Lake Ladoga.
As a person, he was described by his fellow pilots as introverted, pensive and calm - he was an exception among the more extroverted fighter pilots. His nickname was "Zamba" due to his musical hobby: he played saxophone and could use a guitar, too.
His flight commander estimated him as follows: "Lt. Sarvanto is by character considerate yet not slow, conscientious and has a military bearing." He also was found fit to be a division leader. (division - four fighters)
During training in summer 1939, as the clouds of war became more and more menacing, lt. Sarvanto and his fellow pilots learned to live with the characteristics of their Fokkers. The DXXI was by 1939 slightly obsolete with fixed undercarriage and weak armament. The plane was too slow for bomber interceptor and not manouverable enough to engage in dogfights with potential adversary fighter types. On the other hand the Fokker was a stable gun platform also in 20 to 60 degree dives and able to outdive any potential opponent. The pilot could also turn the plane with ailerons during a vertical nosedive so that the fighter came out of the dive to a different direction from the one he entered the dive, thus confounding the adversary. -The DXXI also was simple to maintain, which was significant considering the anticipated need to disperse the flights into field bases - frozen lakes without hangars or any service facilities. The FAF squadrons were large units, which could operatively split into smaller units or Flights of 8 to 12 planes to operate from individual bases.
The squadron leader, Captain E. Magnusson, had as a volunteer participated in the Spanish Civil War in the ranks of the German "Legion Condor" finding out about modern air warfare and trained his men - who in practice constituted the Finnish Fighter Force - accordingly. He also used for training flying fuel that he had no authority to touch. Capt. Magnusson , Lt. Sarvanto and all the other Finnish officers up to Marshal Mannerheim knew what to expect if the war broke out and Finland would be involved: desperate battle against numerically and materially superior aggressor in the air, on the sea and on the land. Despite that, the armed forces were spiritually if not materially ready to defend Finland and the nation did not want to yield to foreign pressure, however threatening. Lt. Sarvanto had time for private life, too: he was married in the medieval National Cathedral in Turku in August 1939 with miss Eine Artemo. Their honeymoon was cut short by the breakout of the Second Word War...
Soon Soviet Union suggested negotiations to Finland "on actual matters". The alarmed Finnish Government mobilized the reserves on Oct 10, but the operation was called "Extraordinary repetitions" in order not to alarm people nor to provoke the Soviet Union.
The Winter War broke out 30th November 1939. At Stalin's orders, a border incident was fabricated at Mainila two days earlier. The Soviet propaganda claimed that Finland was going to invade the Soviet Union, the non-agression pact was denounced one day later by the Soviet Union and the day after that the Red Army invaded Finland.
As to the FAF, it had 115 airworthy planes of which the only first-line fighters were the 36 D XXI's of Sqn.24. The Soviet Air Force numeric superiority was at least 20-fold. The task of Sqn.24 was to intercept enemy bombers and prevent their attacks on vital transport links and other important military objects.
Sarvanto's Flight Commander, Lt. Jaska Vuorela
ordered on the first day of the war:
- Every one shall write on a piece of paper the name and address of his next of kin, so that we shall be able to send your corpse home!
The pilots heeded his idea and shaved the moustache that every man had been growing and grooming since the Mobilization, "to make their corpse look better".
The first Finnish victory was officially claimed the 1st of Dec. by Capt. E. Luukkanen. He shot down one SB-2 bomber. That day Lt. Sarvanto did not fly. From the ground he witnessed how enemy SB-2 bombers attacked his home base at Immola and how the squadron leader Capt. Magnusson shot down one of the attackers. That day the squadron shot down 10 enemies and lost one FR with pilot - to own AA ! Weather did not allow flying for the next three weeks of the month.
Lt. Sarvanto received his baptism by fire on 19th December. He had had two unsuccessful missions, but during the third at sunset (about 15.30) two Fokkers of his flight intercepted two SB2 formation, shooting down one. Sarvanto watched from a distance the tracers in the darkening sky, then he saw the SB catch fire and nosedive totally engulfed in flames. Now he fully understood what air war was about. That day the squadron shot down 11 bombers and 2 fighters.
Lt. Sarvanto scored his first two victories on the 23rd December. In the morning the flight was protecting the strategically important front section at Summa . He saw how one Soviet R-5 was shot down by Fokkers. Else the one hour patrol was uneventful, until it was time to return for refuelling. He was almost "at home" as he received a report of 9 SB south of Antrea. He was now alone and low on fuel, but he turned to find the enemy among the shrouds of frozen mist. With his ski undercarriage he could do emergency landing on any open space. Suddenly he saw a formation of SB-2 bombers ahead!
Sarvanto attacked the left wing bomber of the formation, which released its bomb load at once. After one salvo he looked back - there was one of the SB's, its observer shooting at him with his double nose mounted MG. The fighter pilot dodged by pulling up, then doing a half roll. When recovering his Fokker from the awkward position the SB flew over him. Sarvanto pulled the stick and got the bomber in his sighting telescope: he fired at both of its engines in turn, the SB nosedived in flames. The bomber crew had saved the wing SB-2 at the cost of their own lives. The bombers belonged to 44.SBAP. The first victory was scored but Lt. Sarvanto was too busy to think about it.
Sarvanto chased the remaining 8 SB's which were just as fast as the Fokker, however he caught one that was left behind. Its engines were leaving a smoke trail, another Finnish fighter pilot had already engaged that one. He approached carefully keeping behind the enemy tailplane. Then he fired at the gunner, hit him and kept approaching. He fired at the bomber engine in such a short range that he saw his bullets hole the enemy wing. The SB pilot kicked rudder and his prop backwash nearly turned the Fokker upside down. The Finnish pilot had to push the stick to the side to stabilize his fighter, then he kept firing at each engine in turn. Oil splashed on the Fokker, soiling the gunsight but at a range of some 20m Sarvanto could not miss. The SB was doomed, its pilot tried to pull up to evade the bullets but the engines did not deliver power any more. The bomber went into ever steepening final dive which ended in an explosion , smoke column and fire at Noisniemi.
Now Sarvanto remembered how little fuel he had left, and turned toward a camouflaged supply base at Ihantalanjarvi. As he had landed his engine began to lose revs due to fuel starvation.
On the 25th in the morning the pilot saw several contrails at 6000m approaching from the south. The flight was scrambled. Lt. Sarvanto climbed toward the enemy, but as he was just 500 m behind, the engine of his Fokker failed! He turned to glide to the base, seeing how his brothers-in-arms shot down three SB-2's. Suddenly he saw 6 SB-2 below: having enough altitude, he turned his gliding fighter towards the enemy and feigned attack. The enemy bombers released their loads and fled. At landing Sarvanto tried to restart the engine but the cockpit was filled with black smoke. Despite that, he brought the plane home in one piece. It turned out that one piston of the Mercury engine had been split due to overstress.
The Fokker squadron had been very successful in their actions. The 100th victory was celebrated on the 31st Dec. (Remark: actually the score was lower. But due to the pilots' desperate task to fight tremendous superiority, this was a good chance to boost morale.) Usually the squadron leader, now promoted to Major, had ordered silence and lights off in his pilots' "dormitory" at 20.15 hrs. but now he summoned the men of the flight he personally led at 23.00 hrs and made a speech, then offered the men some brandy before sending them to bed at midnight.
On 6th Jan Lt. Sarvanto had his field day: he shot down six DB-3 bombers in a five minute battle on the area of Utti - Tavastila. He became word famous for a while. Newspapers all over the world published his picture and considered his feat a word record. (separate story)
Having suffered considerable bomber losses (at least 50 by 7th Jan) to Fokkers the Soviet Air Force no more sent out unescorted bombers. Now the Fokker pilots had to attack from a higher altitude, dive past the escort fighters, take a quick shot at the bombers and disengage by diving on if only possible. By February new fighters (30 Gladiators, 30 Morane-Saulniers, some 30 Fiat G50) started becoming operational, but no relief to Fokker pilots who were logging up to 6 flying hours a day. At the same time virtually half of the Soviet air force was concentrated on the Finnish front, providing a 30 to one superiority ratio.
Lt. Sarvanto fought on. On the 17th of Jan he was playing "lone wolf" as the best pilots had done in WW1. He received message about bombing of Lappeenranta, so he took altitude and waited for the returning bombers. Soon he saw 9 SB-2s (of 54. SBAP) 2500 m below flying south. He dived at them and easily caught a straggler, shooting it in flames. As he attacked the wing SB, again the other bombers slowed down to allow their gunners to fire at the fighter. He had to leave one smoking SB as they crossed the front line and I-16 fighters appeared, approaching in a threatening manner. Sarvanto dived to the "deck", the enemy fighters were left behind, then he had to dodge the tracers of the enemy AA machine guns before he was safe again.
Sqn 24 had not had a single casualty between 2 Dec and 29 Jan despite several heavy battles. Then losses began to mount. Lt. Vuorela crashed in bad weather on the 30th Jan. Res. Ensign Harmaja was killed in a dogfight alone against 30 I-16 on the 1st Feb over the Gulf of Viipuri.
Lt. Sarvanto was posted as the commander of the 1st Flight after Capt. Carlsson had been wounded. He selected as his wingman a Danish volunteer, Lt., Count Erhard Frijs who had proven himself as a tenacious fighter pilot.
On the 3rd Feb evening the air surveillance reported 30 unescorted bombers. The Fokkers at Ruokolahti base scrambled. The pilots saw three 9-plane squadrons of DB-3 bombers, which all turned South having detected the Fokkers. Lt. Sarvanto shot down one and damaged another. The Fokkers' machine guns malfunctioned due to extremely cold weather, although the armourers had removed all oil and grease from the Brownings and lubricated their gliding surfaces with graphite. Only two enemy bombers were shot down. The same day a Danish volunteer, Lt. Fritz Rasmussen, was shot down and killed in a battle over Imatra.
On the 15th Feb Lieutenant Sarvanto had to climb to 7000 m to find unescorted bombers. He intercepted three DB-3 of 1.MTAP, shooting down one, the other two escaped, being faster than the Fokker in high altitude. He intercepted and damaged 3 bombers on the 16th and 2 more on the 17th. By now the squadron was desperately short of tracer, armour piercing and incendiary ammunition. The pilots had to use mostly plain solid bullets, nearly inefficient against well-armoured Soviet aircraft.
On the 18th 5 Fokkers intercepted 12 unescorted bombers. Sarvanto attacked 3 DB-3s that were flying behind 9 SB -2s, which the other fighters engaged. First he eliminated the rear gunners of two bombers - the third bomber dived and escaped. Sarvanto worked methodically, having nothing to fear. He fired at the left engine of the nearest DB, making it stop, then he aimed at the right engine, the Fokker riding on the slipstream of the victim. One brief salvo transformed the DB into glider. The remaining DB was more active, it "squirmed" to avoid being hit. Sarvanto hung after the bomber and fired every time he had the target in his sights. But his machine guns were jamming, he could make only one or two shoot at a time. The DB escaped. At the base Sarvanto scolded the armourer who had loaded his ammo belts.
On the 19th Feb Sarvanto was flying in a section (4 fighters) that intercepted 6 slow ski-equipped SB-2 that did not have fighter escort. Sarvanto attacked the wing bomber and made its engines smoke, but two other SB s slowed down to enable the gunners to shoot at his FR, one from each side. He managed to get the other SB rear gunner in his sights and kill him, but now he was flying wing to wing with the other SB whose gunner kept getting hits in his FR . Sarvanto throttled back his engine and desperately tried to turn his guns at the enemy. The Fokker nearly stalled, but he saw the SB turret in his sighting scope and pushed the trigger just as oil splashed on his windscreen. The last thing he saw before the scope went black was how the SB gunner collapsed behind his weapon. The fighter pilot disengaged, fearing engine damage. His wingman, Sgt. Kinnunen finished off the damaged SB. The score to Sarvanto was one shared SB, two damaged. But his wingman never returned, the body of Lt. Frijs and the wreck of his FR were found near the remains of a SB-2.
On the 21.Feb he shared one DB-3 with two other pilots, an incident he did not consider worth describing. That was to be his final, totalling 12 5/6 confirmed victories in Winter War. Once in February he bounced I-16 fighters strafing his base but his bullets did not have any effect on them. Twice he escaped I-16 attack with the only means available to the Fokker D.XXI: vertical dive to the treetops.
Few days later, on 29. Feb, he witnessed on the ground the black day of the FAF: 6 I-153 and 18 I-16 bounced the Ruokolahti base and shot down 5 Gladiators of Squadron 26. One FR piloted by Lt. Harmaja rammed with one I-16. The fighter pilots were told that bombers were approaching. Only they were not bombers but fighters with auxiliary tanks. Some fool for an observer had believed that the fuel tanks under fighter bellies made them bombers! During the battle the enemy pilots strafed the base, and the ground personnell retaliated with every weapon at hand - mainly pole mounted machine guns taken from destroyed Soviet bombers. Mechanic Saunamaki managed to shoot down one enemy.
Starting from mid January 1940 the enemy escorted the bomber formations with strong fighter formations. The Fokkers, which were far too few in number, had to climb above the enemy, then dive through the fighter escort before getting the bombers within shooting range. The Fokker pilots had time for one fast salvo before they had to retreat by a steep dive, pursued by the Soviet fighters. Major Magnusson gave orders to disperse the flights in "clandestine" bases, on lakes that the enemy could not suspect to be used as fighter bases. Even then the Fokkers had to be well camouflaged and dispersed in the coastline forest. The primitive bases made the work of the pilots difficult, but they managed to keep their aircraft operational.
During the final days of the war 4th to 11th March Sqn.24 was assigned to ground strafing attacks at the columns of the Red Army advancing on the ice of the Gulf of Finland at Viipuri. Among the other pilots Lt. Sarvanto fired more than ten thousand MG rounds in two weeks at the enemy infantry on open ice. During the final days of the war the enemy soldiers did not even try to take cover to avoid fighter fire, obviously thery were not trained what to do when attacked by aircraft. The enemy positioned AA weapons on the ice and set up fighter bases in immediate vicinity. Once Sarvanto was bounced by three I-153, but was saved by the enemy tactics and poor gunnery. The enemy fighter wingmen were not allowed individual flying, they were trained to follow the leader and to fire their guns when the leader did, whether or not having any target in their sights.
The war ended on 13th March 1940. Finland had retained her freedom at the cost of 23000 men killed in action and loss of 13% of the territory. 25 of the DXXI's were airworthy that day. FAF pilots had shot down 207 enemy planes and lost 68 of their own aircraft to enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire. 54 pilots and airmen were killed in action, 75 wounded. Squadron 24 had scored 119 confirmed victories at a price of 7 pilots killed and 12 Fokkers destroyed. The Finnish pilots had succeeded in sometimes preventing enemy air raids, and often disturbing and limiting enemy operations.
The most painful experience of the war to Lt. Sarvanto was the loss of a friend, Lt. Vuorela on the 30th Jan. In the afternoon of that day heavy air activity was interrupted due to rising fog. Pilot Vuorela was to transfer FR-78 from Ruokolahti base to Lappeenranta for overhaul and he took off without permission, believing to be able to arrive before the weather would get too bad. When Sarvanto called the base to warn about fog in Lappeenranta, it was too late. Vuorela did not respond to radio calls, either. At night a crashed Fokker with dead pilot in it was found in a forest.
A fighter pilot had to fight not only the enemy but the elements, too.
Squadron 24 was re-equipped in April with American Brewster fighters, purchased in January but failing to arrive in time.
At the request of a publisher he wrote a book about his war experience, titled "Havittajalentajana Karjalan taivaalla" (in translation about "A Fighter Pilot above Carelia") which was reprinted a few years ago at the 50th anniversary of the Winter War. The book is very interesting although processed by censorship cutting details and containing some patriotic tendency.
Finland was again drawn in the war as the German Army invaded Soviet Union in June 1941. Lt. Sarvanto was a Flight Commander in Squadron 24. He shot down one SB-2 on the 25th June and one PE-2 on the 29th June 1941.
Lieutenant Sarvanto was promoted to the rank of Captain on the 4th August 1941, and transferred to the Air Force Headquarters on the 19th Oct 1941. Then he served as test pilot from 8th May to 17th July 1942. He was commanded that day to Germany for special tasks involving procurement of material for the Finnish Air Force, and he returned to his old squadron on the 16th Jan 1943. He had not lost his touch but scored two more victories, 21st April 1943 one Yak-1 and 9th of May one Yak-7. His total score is 16 5/6 confirmed victories.
On 9.7.1943 he started his studies at the Military Academy, making it possible to advance to higher grades. Having completed the academy he served as the commander of Replacement Squadron 35 from the 22nd June to the end of the war.
Jorma Sarvanto retired from the FAF service as colonel lieutenant on 8th June 1960.
Sarvanto was a modest man and he did not allow his Ace reputation to influence his private life , which ended on 16th October 1963. He had one son and three daughters. His hobbies were shooting with rifle and pistol, swimming, music and the English language.
Sources: Sarvanto, Havittajalentajana Karjalan taivaalla (1940), Keskinen-Stenman-Niska, Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia 3 (1977) Karhunen, Talvisodan taistelulentajat (1989), Finnish Fighter Aces,2nd ed. (1994), Ilmari Juutilainen, Punalentajien kiusana (1988 edition), Keskinen&Stenman, Ilmavoimat Talvisodassa (1989). I also want to thank Mr. Kari Sarvanto for information provided.
Here is color profile of Fokker D-XXI "FR-76", tactical code "blue 8", from 3./LLv 24, flown on 5 March 1940 by Sgt. Mauno Mikael Frantila. Profile of Servanto's Fokker you can discover in another story: Jorma Sarvanto and six kills in five minutes.
2001.02.05, © WW II Ace Stories.