ACE of ACES – Finland’s Ilmari Juutilainen. The top scoring non-German fighter ace of all time.

Ilmari Juutilainen 4

Eino Ilmari “Illu” Juutilainen (21 February 1914 – 21 February 1999). Has the distinction of being the highest scoring Fighter Ace of World War II outside of the Luftwaffe.

He participated in both the Winter War of 1939-40 and the Continuation war of 1941-44. During 437 sorties he accumulated 94 aerial combat victories, he  claimed a total of 126 victories, however 32 victories cannot be confirmed by his fellow pilot’s or from observations made by Finnish ground units.

Ilmari Juutilainen entered the Finnish Military on the 9th of September 1932 for his compulsory military service. He began serving as a pilot in 1935 and on the 1st May 1935 was promoted to sergeant. Juutilainen joined Lentolaivue (Squadron) 24, on March 3rd 1939 operating from Utti. As tensions between the Soviet Union and Finland escalated, LeLv 24 was transferred to Immola close to the Soviet-Finnish border.

When the Winter War broke out on the 30th November 1939, Ilmari Jutilainen was flying the Bristol Mercury Powered Fokker D.XXI ‘White 3’ FR-106. An example of the Mercury Fokker D.XXI flown by the top scoring fighter ace of the Winter War,  Jorma Kalevi Sarvanto which  can be seen below.

Ilmari Juutilainen 8

Juutilainen scored his first victory on the 19th December 1939, when he shot down an Ilyushin DB-3 Bomber and damaged two more. At the end of the Winter War on the 13 March 1940, Juutilainen had achieved one shared and two individual victories.

At the beginning of the continuation War on the 25 June 1941, Juutilainen had transferred to Brewster 239 BW-364 ‘Orange 4’ and was assigned to 3/LeLv 24.

Ilmari Juutilainen 6
Juutilainen discussing fighter tactics with fellow pilots on BW-364

On the 21st July 1941, Juutilainen and five other Brewster 239s scrambled to intercept Soviet fighters from 65th ShAP that were strafing Finnish troops near Käkisalmi. During that sortie, he destroyed a Polikarpov I-153 ‘Chaika’.

From that engagement to the next just a few days later on August 1st, Juutilainen had been promoted to Vääpeli (Warrant Officer). On that sortie, 7 fighters under the command of Luutnanti Karhunen, destroyed six I-16s near Rautjarvi. Juutilainen claimed two of them.

Ilmari Juutilainen claimed a further two aircraft, when on the 6th February 1942 his flight of pilots from LLv 24 intercepted seven Tupolev SB Bombers being escorted by 12 MiG 3s. Juutilainen added a further two SBs to his tally.

Brewster 239
Brewster 239

Juutilainen later recalled this action:

“I noticed the bombers at 3,000 metres, and radioed the boys about them. As we intercepted the Soviet aircraft, I spotted a formation of three SBs heading for a nearby railway line and dived after them. Targeting the aircraft to the left of the formation, my fire set its port wing aflame. The SB crashed next to the railway line. Just as I started after the lead bomber, I observed a MiG fighter closing in on me. In spite of the threat posed by the latter, I managed to hit the bomber in the starboard engine, which poured out smoke and oil. Moments later the aeroplane rolled over to the right and plunged into the forest close to the railway line.

Turning my attention to the MiG, which was above me, I managed to shoot at it as we raced towards each other. My aim was good and the fighter started to trail black smoke from the engine. He banked away to the east, losing altitude as it went”.

Whilst flying the Brewster 239 during the Continuation war, W/O Ilmari Juutilainen scored 34 aerial combat victories.

Juutilainen posing on the tailplane of his Brewster 239 after his 20th Kill.
Juutilainen posing on the tail-plane of his Brewster 239 after his 20th Kill.

On 27-28th March 1942, 3/LLV 24 based at Immola made preparations for a Finnish Army offensive in Suursaari, in the Gulf of Finland. Despite being outnumbered by nearly 10-1, the Finnish Air Force lost no aircraft to aerial air combat against the Red Banner Baltic Fleet Air Force during this campaign.

In 1943 Juutilainen was transferred to LeLv 34 where he transferred to the new Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 Fighter. Warrant Officer Juutilainen would shoot down a further 58 enemy planes in this type, which at the time represented a quantum leap forward in technology giving the Finnish Air Force parity with their Soviet opponents.

The aircraft below belongs to Luutnanti Eero Riihikallio but is representative of the type flown by Juutilainen.

Ilmari Juutilainen 12

Juutilainen’s recollections of the Bf 109G-2:

On February 8, 1943, I joined the newly formed LeLv 34, and on February 10 we flew to Germany to get our new Me-109G-2 fighters (see Messerschmitt Me-109s to Finland). We flew familiarization flights in the German fighter school at Werneuchen. The Germans had prepared a rather extensive course for us, but our leaders told them that we had come to pick up our fighters and not to learn how to fly. I flew once in an Me-109E and two flights in the Me-109G, testing its performance and manoeuvrability. I would say that whereas the Brewster was a gentleman’s airplane, the Messerschmitt was a killing machine.

The La-5 was more agile than the Me-109G but otherwise in the same category. We Messerschmitt pilots had no special problems with La-5s, but Brewster pilots had to use tactics in which they flew in several divisions – one above the other, with a great height difference – to cover each other. I often used one tactical trick against the La-5 that worked every time. When a La-5 pilot got behind me, I started a climbing turn, so that the enemy pilot would point his guns at me but could not take the proper deflection. Usually he fired and, of course, missed. I gradually tightened my turn, and the enemy pilot tried to pull more and more deflection. If we started at low level, it took me some 13,000 feet before the enemy began to lose his speed and turned down. Then I just rolled after him and shot him down.

Ilmari Juutilainen 13
Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2

Juutilainen refused an officer commission, fearing it would keep him from flying.

His 94th and last victory was a Li-2, the Russian version of the Douglas C-47, shot down on 3 September 1944 over the Karelian Isthmus. After the wars, Juutilainen served in the air force until 1947. He worked as a professional pilot until 1956, flying people in his De Havilland Moth. His last flight was in 1997, in a double-seated F-18 Hornet of the Finnish Air Force. Juutilainen died at home in Tuusula (Tusby) on his 85th birthday on 21 February 1999.

Juutilainen finished the war without a single hit to his plane from enemy fighter airplanes (once he was forced to land after a friendly anti-aircraft gun fired at his Bf 109). Like Japanese fighter ace Saburo Sakai, Juutilainen never lost a wingman in combat. He also scored the first radar-assisted victory in the Finnish Air Force on 24 March 1943, when he was guided to a Soviet Pe-2 by a German radar operator, who was testing out the freshly-delivered radar sets, that officially became operational 3 days later.


All models represented in this article are featured in this blog.

Richard Reynolds.

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